20 July 2013

AVOIDABLE TRAGEDIES

Even before Uttarakhand, the CAG’s report showed that the disaster management authorities hardly functioned, writes Brijesh D. Jayal

It is now nearing a month since disaster struck the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, unleashing nature’s fury and shattering the lives of thousands of pilgrims and local people. The number of missing presumed dead and those confirmed dead is around six thousand and this figure could increase. While the pilgrims have reportedly been evacuated, life for many residents of villages not approachable on foot is precarious. The army is trying to build a new approach road to Kedarnath and the Indian air force and others continue to support the civil administration in its relief efforts.

If this huge loss to life and property does not make the nation reflect on its approach towards mitigating and managing disasters, what will? In this endeavour, what we should avoid are instant judgments that are the staple of electronic media debates and the temptation to fall back on ill-conceived remedies, the staple of poor governance.

Unfortunately, the signals so far do not give cause for optimism. Already, without an insight into the causes and an objective analysis of these, the state authorities appear to be on a spree of issuing policy initiatives. It is possible that having been caught flat-footed when disaster struck, they now want to be seen as proactive in order to soothe adverse public sentiment. This may be politically expedient, but the scale of the tragedy demands a more sombre and measured response.

This first entails an examination of every facet of this tragedy and then drawing lessons which, when implemented, will prepare not just the state, but also the nation, for the next disaster. That another disaster will strike the state is not really in doubt considering the fragile mountains prone to landslides, tectonic activity and climatic events, compounded by the huge influx of pilgrims and tourists during the appropriate season.

In a way, the state is only following the Centre, which, having enacted the Disaster Management Act, 2005, had come to believe that a large enough bureaucracy, housed in imposing offices in New Delhi and supported by a generous budget, will somehow ensure that natural or man-made disasters will now be taken care of. The thought that effective disaster management is an operationally driven rather than an administratively driven management challenge escaped our policy-makers.

The national disaster management authority born of this law is supposed to lay down policies on disaster management, approve a national plan and coordinate the enforcement and implementation of these. It is chaired by the prime minister, with a vice-chairman of cabinet rank and eight members of minister of state rank. If disaster management were a function of rank weightage, India could claim to be one of the best in business. The reality was exposed two months before disaster struck, when the comptroller and auditor general’s report on the performance audit of disaster preparedness in India was tabled in Parliament. The executive summary notes said that “the NDMA, which was conceived as the apex planning and supervising body, was found ineffective in its functioning in most of the core areas”. The report noted that the national executive committee, which coordinates disaster response on behalf of the NDMA, had met only three times in seven years instead of once in three months as mandated. The lack of a disaster management plan at the national level had a trickle-down effect on the states as they had no frame of reference to base their own plans on.

With specific reference to Uttarakhand, the CAG report pointed out that a state disaster management authority was formed in October 2007, but had failed to meet or formulate any rules, regulations, policies or guidelines.

When five days after tragedy struck the home minister admitted that there had been a lack of coordination between government agencies engaged in rescue operations, it seemed a cruel joke. To add insult to injury, he announced the appointment of an NDMA member to coordinate relief and rescue. He was an erstwhile home secretary whose very office had come under the CAG’s adverse criticism. This irony escaped the home minister.

Once the IAF swung into action, it realized that a massive air effort would be needed with the corresponding need for fuel. It came to know of the Dharasu and Gaucher airstrips, not through the state authorities but through Google search, and then flew in fuel bowsers to Dharasu in their giant Mi-26 helicopters and used C-130 aircraft shuttles as fuel tankers. This improvization laid the foundation for perhaps the biggest airborne rescue and relief operation in the country involving helicopters of the IAF, army and civil operators. But time and lives had already been lost.

The question that follows is, why is it that every time disaster strikes, we are caught off guard and it is left to the armed and paramilitary forces to pick up the slack?

Indian Military Aid for Afghanistan: Syrian Lessons

Monish Gulati
Independent Analyst 

There is a growing view amongst certain analysts that India’s reluctance to provide military (lethal) aid to Afghanistan particularly after the recent visit of the Afghan president to India, is indicative of a deficient Indian approach to Afghanistan, in terms of the want of in-depth evaluation, risk appetite and a coherent strategy. The viewpoint advocates the use of military aid as an instrument for achieving Indian foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan. Citing the case of the recent US decision to supply arms to the forces opposed to Syrian government, this article argues that it may not be a viable assessment.

Current Discourse

India’s response to Afghanistan’s repeated requests for military hardware assistance has been viewed as surprising and symptomatic of little policy planning and preparedness to realize Indian foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan. Further there is skepticism regarding India’s long-term strategy towards Afghanistan, despite its expressed desire to seek a larger role. One view is that “New Delhi never possessed and continues to lack the necessary commitment to take on a strategic role in the country that may require it to bear some potentially costly burdens.” New Delhi’s position on arms transfer to Afghanistan has even been found to be reeking of cowardice or even worse, India has no strategy for Afghanistan. 

There is also a foreboding that the complex unfolding of events in the coming days would test India’s present intensity of engagement into the transformational decade (2014-2024) and may even result in India having no presence at all in Afghanistan. This would be because New Delhi’s current policies are blindsided to the full range of possibilities in Afghanistan in the future , some of which can potentially reverses India’s engagement in that country.

In essence India’s Afghan policy is constrained by self imposed restrictions, desire to heed to regional sensitivities or playing second fiddle to the great powers, which has compromised its strategic objectives and its future engagement in Afghanistan. It has been suggested that given the history of India’s relations with the Taliban and its collaboration with the ISI, it is an appropriate time to counter the coming to power of the Taliban in Kabul through arms support to the Karzai government. India requires to do everything possible to ensure the defeat of the Taliban, even at the cost of “going counter to the US strategy”.

Syrian Lessons

The US arms to the Syrian rebels (Free Syrian Army) began after the chorus on US inaction on the Syrian conflict reached a crescendo amid mounting civilian casualties and human rights violations. Also the Russian army sales to the Syrian regime continued, clandestine arms sales from Iran to the Iraqi Shia militias and the Hezbollah prompted their intervention in Syria, the ‘redline’ on use of Chemical weapons was crossed and the peace talks in Geneva were stalling. However, the arms transfers have had undesired consequences.

U.S. and Western weapons instead have been reaching Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting to keep Bashar Assad's forces in power in Syria. Also in the hands of the rebels "that could one day be turned against the US,” as it's "extremely difficult" to distinguish between friend and foe in Syria. It has been concluded that “no amount of safeguards can guarantee that weapons will not fall into the wrong hands."

Also fractures have grown as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has increasingly maneuvered to distance itself from other Islamist factions in order to corner funding and weapons deliveries from the US. Rivalries have expanded within Syria's opposition after a senior member of the FSA was reportedly killed by a rival Islamist group (al Qaeda). 

Recently the US House and Senate Intelligence panel members have voted to block President Obama from arming Syrian rebels by placing severe restrictions on funding. There is a fear that the US administration plan would let weapons fall into the hands of terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda. The committee felt that if US is going to arm FSA it has to make sure that it can control what arms are out there so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Afghan Context 

There are some key distinctions to be made in the case of Afghanistan. First, India unlike the US role in the Syrian conflict is not part of any peace or reconciliation process in Afghanistan and has little influence on the participating parties. Two, India has no contributions to the ongoing NATO/ISAF military operations in Afghanistan and has serious reservations about doing so in the future. Three, India, unlike the US and the NATO is not part of any equipping programme of the Afghan National Security Forces. Last and importantly, India has no mechanisms to monitor or ensure that the weapons supplied by it do not fall in Taliban hands and are not used against the NATO/ISAF. In such a situation, given the unintended consequences military aid have, it would be ideal for India to step-up its assistance in training and maintenance of equipment where crucial gap in capability exits. Recent acquisition of Mi-17 helicopters by the Afghan Air force presents one such opportunity.

Chinese Goal: India's isolation and encirclement

Issue Net Edition | Date : 19 Jul , 2013

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

Recorded history shows that India and China have loomed large in each other’s consciousness from well before the first millennium. As both nations became independent almost at the same time, it was inevitable that both will compete for domination in Asia. While China has gone about achieving this goal in a most systematic manner, our China policy is confused, timid and lacks focus and will laid out goals. The result is that Chinese have hemmed us in South Asia and it is ensuring that we are not able to break out from this stranglehold.

A hostile and nuclear armed Pakistan in the West, a sullen Nepal in the Centre, a bullied and frightened Bhutan in the North East and inimical Bangla Desh and Mynamar in the East.

In order to achieve this aim, the Chinese have employed a two pronged strategy. Overland, she is cultivating India’s neighbours – and has managed to put a ring of hostile/inimical states around us. A hostile and nuclear armed Pakistan in the West, a sullen Nepal in the Centre, a bullied and frightened Bhutan in the North East and inimical Bangla Desh and Mynamar in the East. This is amounting to strategic encirclement of India. In the Indian Ocean, the Chinese strategy is better known as string of pearls strategy. The aim is to acquire port facilities starting from Gwader and Karachi in Pakistan, pressurising Maldives and Sri Lanka to grant berthing and refuelling facilities and naval base in Coca Islands in Northern Andamans.

The crucial difference between India and China’s standing in the South Asian Region is one of image. All South Asian nations fear China and in order not to annoy her, try and placate her by acceding to her demands. Whereas in the case of India, these very same nations hold us in contempt – our claim of India being in the race for Asian domination notwithstanding. They see India as a soft power unable to evolve a coherent policy in the neighbourhood and beset with a vast array of internal problems. Our neighbours see us appeasing China at every step and opportunity and feel it may be safer to follow the suit. Coming to our relations with our neighbours. Pakistan is openly hostile, pursuing its aim of balkanization of India with great focus and elan. Our response is patchy, confused and one of helplessness. With every terrorist attack, we run to USA asking her to restrain Pakistan. This is not helping our image in the neighbourhood. No self respecting nation should be whinnying before the super power but should take measures to counter an adversary. As far as Nepal is concerned, despite our bending over backwards to its needs, we have failed to stop it from falling into the Chinese arms.

Bhutan has more or less abrogated the India-Bhutan Treaty of 1950 which requires her to be guided by India in her foreign relations. Not only is she helpless to stop increasing Chinese intrusions into Western Bhutan but negotiating with China independent of India. Chinese want Bhutan to establish diplomatic relations with it which will happen sooner than later. Bangla Desh’s relations with India depend on which Begham is in power but irrespective of the regime, Bangla Desh can be expected to do the Chinese bidding. Chinese support to the Military junta in Myanamar is an open secret. They are grateful to China who is not treating them as untouchables like India. Apart from giving them the permission to establish a naval base of Coco Islands in North Andamans, talks of Stillwell Highway being resurrected are doing the rounds. So Mynamar is firmly in the Chinese camp.

Now the string of pearls strategy. Pakistan has already accorded berthing and refuelling facilities to Chinese navy at Gwader and Karachi. Chinese are now pressurizing Maldivas and Sri Lanka to do likewise. It should not come as a surprise to anyone if that happens. China helped Sri Lanka during its war against LTTE while we squirmed due to the pressure from DMK and other South Indian political parties. Maldives apparently has forgotten that we saved the govt of President Gayoom in 1987 from Muslim predators. It may well grant refueling rights to Chinese navy.

Economists & glorious uncertainties- Amartya refers to Bhagwati ‘attacks’

OUR BUREAU

Calcutta, July 19: Caps are off the mighty pens of two distinguished economists. So is a veil that has enveloped an intriguing relationship in the world of economics.

Fellow economists always felt a glacial undercurrent between Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen, two of the most respected economists who trace their roots to India. But true to the inexact science they are devoted to, the perception was rarely backed with empirical data from both sides.

The missing piece fell into place this week — where else but in the venerable columns ofThe Economist, the “newspaper” that has been taking part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”.

In response to a letter by Bhagwati in The Economist, Sen wrote: “I have resisted responding to Mr Bhagwati’s persistent, and unilateral, attacks in the past, but this outrageous distortion needs correction.” (See chart)

The nub of the debate is not new: Bhagwati has over the years come to be identified as a strong votary of economic growth and Sen as an advocate of welfare measures that will lead to growth.

What is new is that Sen, a Nobel laureate, has rarely made such pointed and specific references to Bhagwati, who many think deserves a Nobel — so much so that he was made the fictional winner of the prize in an episode of The Simpsons, the animated satire.

While Bhagwati has been making statements wondering why Sen will not engage in a debate with him and stating that “young Indians have little patience for people who hide behind their laurels”, Sen has been confining himself to debating the economic issue at hand.

“I cannot recall Sen responding like this in the past. He expresses views on issues but not on individuals or their remarks on him,” said Tarun Das, the former CII director-general who knows both the economists well.

On Monday in Calcutta, Sen had told economist Suman Ghosh who interviewed the Nobel laureate on behalf of The Telegraph that “I don’t like brawls”. Asked about Bhagwati, Sen had said: “Can I not talk about Bhagwati, please? I don’t like talking about Bhagwati. He loves talking about me, I do not like talking about him.”

Sen had laughed while ending the sentence on Monday. But something seems to have snapped after Sen concluded that Bhagwati “misdescribed” his past work and the new book.

It was not clear when Sen replied to Bhagwati’s letter that appeared in the July 13 edition ofThe Economist. Sen’s reply appears in the July 20 edition but the online version has already been uploaded.

In the reply, Sen has picked up the arrows (such as “lip service” and “horse before cart”) fired by Bhagwati. “It (that growth is helped by public support for education and health) can scarcely be like putting ‘the cart before the horse’,” Sen points out while concluding the letter.

Bhagwati told The Telegraph in an email this evening: “The criticisms are NOT ‘attacks’; intellectuals debate policy prescriptions all the time in countries like US and UK! I am also ‘unilateral’ because I am an intellectual, not an activist….”

A coincidence is that a book each of Bhagwati and Sen has been published in close succession. Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries by Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya was published in April. An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions by Jean Dreze and Sen came out in July.

Such “intellectual debates” need not necessarily be associated with books. Renowned economists do not usually split hairs in public on their areas of expertise — precision debates take place in the hallowed environs of academia. Differences mostly spill out in the open when they step out and prescribe public policy.

Bhagwati’s area of expertise is international trade and it is unlikely that Sen would have joined issue over any contribution Bhagwati has made in the field.

Both Sen, 79, and Bhagwati, 78, teach in the US now — Sen is the Lamont University Professor at Harvard and Bhagwati is the University Professor at Columbia.

They were in Cambridge in the 1950s when Manmohan Singh, now Prime Minister, was also a student there. Sen was in Trinity College while Bhagwati and Singh were in St. John’s College. In the 1960s, Sen and Bhagwati were at the Delhi School of Economics.

Both books have come at a time Manmohan’s second shot at the top is drawing to a close and a debate is raging in India ahead of the elections — whether stress should be laid on steps to revive economic growth or provide affordable grain to the poor as the food security drive aims to do.

7 Gems of Wisdom for Your Soul

Jun 25, 2013

Spirituality means different things to different people – to some it's about going to a specific place of worship, while others feel connected out in nature, running or practicing yoga. Some of us feel connected to specific religions, while others draw inspiration from a variety of people and places. In the spirit of oneness, these spiritual leaders offer wisdom that rings true for all of us – no matter what.

1. MOTHER TERESA
We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.

2. THE DALAI LAMA
Be kind wherever possible. It is always possible.

3. CONFUCIUS
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. 

4. JESUS
Let all that you do be done in love.

5. BUDDHA
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

6. RUMI
If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?

7. POPE JOHN PAUL II

The future starts today, not tomorrow.

Maoists raise Rs. 140-250 crore a year through extortion, protection rackets

Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times New Delhi, July 20, 2013

They wield influence in nearly 203 of India’s 708 police districts, routinely kill people and policemen in 90 districts, often have the last word in 27 of them, hope to lead a revolution and — by 2050, according to one account — overthrow the Indian State.

So how does the Communist Party of India (Maoist) find the money to keep the fire burning for the revolution?

A government-commissioned study concluded this month has told the home ministry that Maoists generate at least Rs. 140 crore annually from extortion rackets that target businesses — big and small — industry, contractors executing public works, corrupt government officials and political leaders.

“The largest and principal sources of income for the Maoists are the mining industry, public works and collection of tendu leaves,” the study says.

Police officer ML Meena has seen some of it first-hand.

In January this year, Meena, inspector general of police, Bokaro Range in Jharkhand, ordered a crackdown on trucks carrying coal from illegal mines in remote parts under his charge. In at least one instance, local policemen were also penalised for their brazen collusion with the coal mafia.

“Illegal mining is a key source of income for the Maoists,” said Meena, conceding that it was difficult — if not impossible — to put a figure on the size of the annual Maoist budget.

In 2010, the Intelligence Bureau came up with a much larger all-India estimate of Rs. 1,500 crore.

A year earlier, former Chhattisgarh police chief Vishwaranjan guesstimated that the Maoist budget was closer to Rs. 2,000 crore while chief minister Raman Singh recently put it at Rs.1,000-1,200 crore.

A senior government official associated with anti-Maoist operations suggested much of this was an exaggeration and that the actual amount could hover between Rs.140 crore and Rs. 250 crore.

Researchers at the security think-tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses — that conducted the study — tried to unravel some of the mystery surrounding Maoist finances.

The Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) fixes the annual amount to be collected at an all-India level in consultation with various levels. The zonal committee then conveys the decision on the amount to be collected from each source.

In mineral-rich Jharkhand — one of the biggest sources of funds for the rebels — police officers have noticed that Maoists generally collect 7% as levy from all development works from contractors in the areas under their dominance.

A similar figure — 7-10% levy — is cited as the rate for industrial and mining companies.

Often, the armed guerrillas don’t need to come into the picture at all.

“Usually, an over-ground member of the outfit is deputed to collect the money,” the study says. Each level retains some amount for its expenses, before sending its collections to the next higher level.

Home ministry officials in Delhi — that has been struggling to come up with ways to block the flow of funds to the Maoists — concede that choking the Maoists’ extortion industry is a big challenge for the security establishment.

So it was no surprise that when the chief ministers of Maoist-affected states met in June, this was one of the key points of discussion.

“It may be difficult to completely cut off their supply of funds but it is possible to curb the flow,” said the IDSA’s PV Ramana. This will be a very important element in the counter-Maoist action plan.

With inputs from Ranchi, Patna and Raipur

The great growth-dole trade-off

Surjit S Bhalla : Sat Jul 20 2013

With economic growth falling and subsidies rising, it would be interesting to see if poverty reduces faster over the next few years

There are several in-the-name-of-the-poor policies in India, and many, if not all, have a Nehru-Gandhi prefix. It is also the case that the prism of the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA is one of a poor India, a garibi hatao India. Policies are being made to help the poor, though many a non-cynic would say that this speciality of the Congress is geared towards winning elections, in the past and especially now. There isn't much working for Manmonia today — at least that is the assumption, belief and reality. So, in its inimitable style, albeit with hackneyed platitudes like "let not the perfect be the enemy of the good", the Congress has brought forth an ordinance to provide basic foodgrains to the poor.

The food security ordinance (FSO) seems to be predicated on the following economic and political calculation. First, hunger is a problem in India, and we have no less an authority than noted Nobel laureate and intellectual father, mentor and guide of Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council, Amartya Sen, in saying that that is the case. We also have the Sen and Sonia (SS) belief that poverty remains a huge problem in India, and that while India has excelled in growth over the last UPA decade, the growth has been very lopsided and inequalities have markedly arisen. Hence, we need more policies like the FSO and employment programmes to directly reduce poverty, rather than rely even half-exclusively on the trickle-down growth process. Further, the FSO cannot really be bad politically because the public, and especially a large fraction of the population, will be politically grateful for the food subsidy they would now receive from the Congress.

There is an alternative economic and political view of India. It is that poverty, hunger and malnutrition are problems for which the recommended policies are not only not perfect, but grotesquely wrong. What does ail the nation, and particularly the poor, is wastage of available food, bad water and worse sanitation (the unfortunate Bihar midday meal deaths were not caused by hunger or lack of availability of food). Government expenditures on clean water and sanitation and non-corrupt food delivery (cash transfers) will do more to help the poor than any amount of ordinances on food and employment. The question to be asked is: why aren't SS suggesting these policies, rather than parroting old, discredited and corrupt practices?

The advocates of the FSO believe that lack of calories is the major cause of malnutrition. But SS, the Congress and Manmohan Singh should know that there is as much a relationship between calories obtained from rice and wheat and malnutrition as there was between the number of radios sold in England in the post-War period and mental illness. If they do know the difference between spurious correlation and causation, they are not letting on.

In India, too much credibility is given to ideology and not enough to facts, and especially on issues pertaining to the poverty industry. Yes, I have chosen my words carefully — the poverty industry complex is huge, well nurtured, and encourages corruption. Most economists, politicians and intellectuals, of all ideological persuasions, believe that the PDS system of distributing foodgrains to the "poor" is the most corrupt system in the world. Yet, this is what the FSO will enlarge, encourage and endorse.

SS and the Congress will be right if they can show either that absolute poverty is large in India, and/ or that growth does precious little to reduce poverty. Fortunately, we don't have to rely on ideology to assess the relationship between growth and poverty reduction. We have the National Sample Surveys (NSS) for the last decade, including the just-released data for 2011-12. The table reports on growth and poverty levels for three separate indicators of poverty — all based on the Tendulkar poverty line, which has been extended to 2011-12. The Tendulkar line is very close to the World Bank poverty line of PPP $1.25 per capita per day.

The three different poverty estimates are based on different recall periods for items of household consumption. When a household is surveyed, the lead respondent states from memory (recall) as to what she has bought, and for how much, during the recall period in question. Uniform recall: all consumption over the previous 30 days. Mixed recall: same as uniform, except durable goods consumption is for a 365-day period. Preferred method: same as mixed, except for some food (such as fish, meat, fruits, etc), the recall period is for seven days. This method is "preferred" because experts believe that recall for perishables is most accurate via seven days. If recall is more accurate, so is the estimate of mean consumption, and so is the estimate of absolute poverty. Why the Indian poverty industry does not use the "preferred method" of collecting data is a subject best left for another occasion.

The recall period makes a considerable difference to one's estimate of poverty in India. In 2011-12, the three different estimates of poverty in India are: 22 per cent (uniform), 18.6 per cent (mixed) and 12 per cent (preferred). Incidentally, 12 per cent for 2011-12 is not much different from China's poverty, based on the same poverty line, in 2009-10.

Over the 10-year period of 1999-2000 to 2009-10, per capita NSS expenditure growth was 28 per cent, and this made possible a poverty decline of 18.2 percentage points (ppt). Between 2009-10 and 2011-12, NSS expenditure growth was 15.4 per cent (preferred method; see table for broadly similar results, no matter what the recall period). So, if the same amount of growth led to the same amount of poverty reduction, we should expect a poverty decline of (15.4*18/28) or 10 ppt in 2011-12. Actual decline: 21.7 - 12.3 = 9.4 ppt! Growth for poverty reduction, anyone?

Cherishing Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi: Week of the Tribals

18 July 2013
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS 

During the last week, two individuals from different Pashtun tribes in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) province (formerly the North Western Frontier Province) in Pakistan made news at the international level. The first was a young teenage girl - Malala Yusufzai from the Swat region, when she made that historical speech at the UN, designated as “Malala Day” and the second was Shahid Afridi, one of the best all-rounders in contemporary cricket, who single handedly won the match for Pakistan against the West Indies in the first one day match in Guyana.

Malala today is a household name in Pakistan. She came to the limelight last year, when Taliban shot her in the Swat region of KP, for advocating education for girl children. She wrote against the Taliban in public, when even the government and its security forces were afraid of going against the ultra conservative and essentially backward looking movement. The Taliban could not tolerate any threat from the society, certainly not from a girl, who is just fourteen years old.

When the Taliban is systematically targeting any opposition – whether the security forces of the State, or the tribal jirgas of the local society, how can it afford to allow a young girl child talk against what it believes as a fundamental objective – rejecting education to girls, and keeping women under purdah?

Malala today, no more an individual, has become a phenomenon within Pakistan. 

When the State and Civil Society were afraid of taking on the Taliban, she was fearless. She spoke and wrote against the Taliban. Subsequently, the Taliban shot her in her head; fortunately for her, and for the rest of civil society within Pakistan, and the larger humanity, she survived. She fought the bullet wounds, after being admitted in a hospital in UK. She has recovered from the wounds of a brutal Taliban attack, and continued her cause – voicing for education of girl children.

The above is not just a story of a young girl. This is a folklore and a contemporary history. It may be easy to speak about women’s rights in a highly secured and fully air conditioned five star hotel in a national capital. But speaking at the ground level, in a tribal district of KP, where even the State forces do not dare, or where the governments sign agreements with the Taliban to impose the latter’s version of Shariah, a teen age girl speaking openly should be totally embraced.

The Time magazine did the right thing; it published her photo on its cover in April 2013 and mentioned her as one of the hundred influential people in the world. The United Nations went a step ahead, by naming her birth date (12 July) as Malala day. It is not just recognition to Malala Yusufzai; it is recognition of the United Nations and the rest of us, of what she stands for. The UN invited her to deliver an address; and when she did, she spoke for many such Malalas, not only within Pakistan, but all over the world. She is a voice of sanity and what could be referred as a moderate civil society in any part of the world. Undoubtedly, she is a phenomenon, we should all cherish. She is an extension of whatever is left as humanity in all of us. Embracing her is embracing humanity. Embracing her is embracing us.

Unfortunately, two things happened within Pakistan. One section went over board and exaggerated. There were artificial cries and slogans, elevating Malala to a messiah. The social media went berserk. On the other hand, another section, the ultra conservative, saw Malala as a Western conspiracy. People went on record to say, that the attack on Malala was in fact staged by the West, to malign the Taliban. Others within this section, went even further down and questioned the reasons behind the UN announcing a “Malala day” and inviting her to address. Her speech was seen as a script written elsewhere, especially by the US. They pooh-poohed Madonna writing Malala on her back, and made fun that Johnny Walker should have a Malala Special. Worse, they referred her as a puppet and her father as a pimp. Can we go any cheaper than this?

Why can’t we embrace few good things that come in our way, when the rest of our contemporary history has nothing much to boast about, in a given situation? Have we become so cynical? Or are we so male chauvinist - we cannot afford to see a girl getting an accolade that we can never dream of? What is the big difference between us and the Taliban? They have shot her with bullets and wounded her physically; we are shooting her with words, and wounding what she stands for, and indirectly, killing ourselves, and digging our own graves.

Whatever may be the reason behind the hyperbole and derision, the truth is, Malala has become a phenomenon and represents whatever good in us. Let us cherish that little young girl for reminding our collective conscience. Despite all the evil, Taliban and its various avatars amongst us, humanity still exists. Malala is an expression.

The second major success story last week for Pakistan was once again from one of its Pashtun tribes – Shahid Afridi. For the cricket crazy sub-continent, the Boom-Boom does not need an introduction. With more than 7000 runs and 350 wickets in one day cricket, in today’s world, he is perhaps one of the finest all-rounders. The record will speak for him and he let his arm and bat speak during the first one day international against the West Indies, after being dropped during the previous series.

He may come from one of the Pashtun tribes and he may come from Pakistan. But like Boris Becker in his hey days, was he also not a role model for many of us? Especially the youth? Remember, like our own Sachin Tendulkar, he entered the cricketing world in his teens and has made a name for himself when he was barely 16? When he scored an ODI century in 37 balls, it was almost like Jim Hines breaking the 100 meters barrier by running in less than ten seconds, or Carl Lewis repeating the same later in the 1980s.

When he decimated the West Indies team with a seven wickets haul last week, after top scoring 76, it was almost a one man army for the Pakistan cricket team. Thankfully, the critics did not see an American conspiracy to ensure that the West Indies lose the match! Of course, the Boom Boom has his own flaws; he is temperamental, volatile and unpredictable. But is that not what makes him as one of the most dangerous players? If you take the boom boom out, then in fact, there will be no Afridi!

Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi are rare phenomena in Pakistan today. In fact, Pakistan needs more of them today. And so does the entire region in South Asia. We may belong to different nationalities, but whenever there is an opportunity to relish as a South Asian, we should not let it go by.

Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi, we cherish you. You are a part of us. You have made us proud.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir

Pakistan to try to mend fences with Afghanistan

By KATHY GANNON 
The Associated Press 
Published: July 18, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan is sending a top official to the Afghan capital this weekend to try to mend fences with its uneasy neighbor, and hanging in the balance are U.S. efforts to arrange peace talks with the Taliban.

The trip comes roughly two weeks after the Taliban closed their newly opened political office in the Gulf state of Qatar following angry complaints from Afghanistan that the Islamic militant movement had set it up as a virtual rival embassy, with a flag and sign harkening back to the days they ruled the country.

The political office was part of a U.S. plan to launch peace talks with the Taliban to end the protracted war, with American and other NATO combat troops scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year. But the talks ended before they could even begin amid the uproar last month.

Pakistan, which had helped persuade Taliban to agree to sit down with the Americans - and possibly with the Afghans after that - now contends that intransigence, suspicion and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reluctance to invite his political opponents at home to the negotiating table in Qatar is hobbling efforts to start the talks.

"They (Taliban) listen to us. We have some influence but we can't control them," Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's special adviser on national security and foreign affairs, told The Associated Press in advance of his trip to Kabul on Saturday.

"But they (Taliban) also say that the High Peace Council is not fully representative," Aziz said, referring to Karzai's 80-member negotiating team. "President Karzai should invite other people to join them."

Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council, told the AP that if the Taliban were making wider representation on the negotiating team a condition to restarting talks, then it "would be worth considering." But he was suspicious of Pakistan, wanting assurances first that the demand was from the Taliban and not Pakistan.

Rancor and suspicion between Pakistan and Afghanistan run deep. Kabul blames Islamabad for not cracking down on Taliban militants who use the border area as a base to carry out attacks on Afghans and international forces in Afghanistan. For its part, Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of sabotaging peace efforts with its provocative statements, overtures to India and refusal to acknowledge the bloody war Islamabad is waging in its border regions.

One senior Western official, who is deeply familiar with the peace talks, said the depth of the animosity between the two countries hinders efforts to reach a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

"It's kind of a no-win situation," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "When they're (the Pakistanis) not helpful, there's a lot of suspicion (from Afghanistan) that they're being unhelpful, and when they are helpful there's a lot of suspicion that if they're helpful then maybe this isn't something that's good for Afghanistan."

In a dozen interviews with U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials, and analysts who have long followed Afghanistan, the consensus was that a negotiated peace is unlikely before next year's troop withdrawal and the election of a new Afghan president in April.

They cited hurt feelings, bellicose statements, regional wrangling and Karzai's fear of being cut out of any peace deal that involves the United States. And they said there is a real risk of civil war in Afghanistan after 2014 when the last of the U.S. and NATO combat troops are scheduled to have left the country.

Although the sentiment among the officials and analysts was that Pakistan could do more, there was also an increasing wariness with what was seen as Karzai's strategy of belligerence in dealing with both Pakistan and the United States to keep them in line.

Last week the Taliban closed their political office in Qatar, at least temporarily, to protest the fracas that erupted at its opening in June over their use of the name Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the white flag that symbolized their five-year rule that ended with the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The Battle for Islamabad

BY ARIF RAFIQ | JULY 19, 2013

The Pakistani Taliban aren't headed off to fight in Syria. They're gearing up for an epic war at home.

The Pakistani Taliban are heading to Syria. At least that's what a number of unnamed and lesser-known Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders told various Western news outlets this week. But claims that the TTP are involved meaningfully in the jihad against the Bashar al-Assad regime are most likely overblown. They also obscure an even more dangerous reality: The TTP and its allies in Pakistan are gearing up for a long war at home, and Pakistan's civil and military leadership have no coherent strategy to prepare for it.

There are a number of reasons to be skeptical of the reports of TTP participation in the Syrian war. First, the TTP's chief spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid, hasn't commented on the matter, though it is common practice for the TTP to speak on the record through its spokesperson on most topics. Second, TTP commanders can't seem to agree on how many fighters are going to Syria and on what basis.

For example, one unnamed TTP commander told the BBC that 12 TTP-affiliated "experts" have made their way to Syria, while another told Reuters that "hundreds" of fighters have relocated there from Pakistan in recent months. There is also some disagreement about how TTP fighters are being received by the Syrian rebels. Mohammed Amin, described by the BBC as the TTP's coordinator for Syria, said that Syrian jihadists have told his group that "there's already enough manpower" in Syria and additional foreign personnel are unnecessary. But another unnamed commander told Pakistan's DAWN newspaper that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State in Iraq, an Iraqi militant group now involved in the Syrian war, specifically requested the TTP's support. This would indeed be remarkable, given that al-Baghdadi has been dead for three years.

The truth is more likely consistent with information attributed to a third Pakistani militant, who told AFP that fighters from Pakistan -- mainly foreigners from Arab countries and Uzbekistan, and based in the tribal areas -- have been heading to Syria on a relatively informal basis.

The war in Syria is indeed a compelling destination for many Arabs living in the Pakistani tribal regions. These areas have become less hospitable due to a combination of U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani military operations. For Pakistani jihadists with the TTP and its partner organization, the anti-Shiite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the sectarian aspect of the Syrian war resonates. As the LeJ has stepped up its campaign of killing Shiites in Pakistan, its propaganda is increasingly replete with angry diatribes against the Syrian regime and its supporters in Tehran.

The biggest reason why Syria might draw in some jihadists from Pakistan, however, has to do with how the conflict fits into the eschatological narrative of many militants. Al Qaeda Central and its partners in Pakistan, including the TTP, constantly refer to a set of hadith, or sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, that speak of an end-times battle in the Levant led by the Messiah and aided by armed forces from an area called Khurasan. These jihadists define the Khurasan region as encompassing Afghanistan and adjoining parts of Pakistan. And their noms de guerre, geographical references, and physical movements all suggest they believe -- or want others to believe -- that they are taking part in this prophesied war.

But for all the appeal of the Syrian war, the TTP's focus has been and will continue to be on Pakistan. Over the course of this year, in anticipation of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the group has been preparing a new narrative for a long war in Pakistan -- a war that is not justified by Islamabad's support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a primary rallying call for Pakistan's insurgents to date. 

The TTP has been reframing its war against the Pakistani state as Ghazwa-e Hind, or the Battle of India. Like al Qaeda's use of hadith that mention Khurasan, the TTP has deployed a set of prophetic traditions that speak of a Muslim conquest of India, a region the TTP defines as virtually all of South Asia, including most of Pakistan. One TTP video series titled Ghazwa-e Hind, for example, features rising preacher Abu Zar al-Burmi calling on Muslims to migrate to Pakistan to defeat its "infidel" rulers and establish true Islamic rule.

So far, the actual impact of the TTP's rebranding campaign on the discussion within Pakistan's jihadist community is unclear. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential power of the TTP's new pivot. The adoption of these prophetic traditions by the TTP is particularly clever since they have historically been used by jihadists connected to Pakistani intelligence to create a broader narrative for war against India. The TTP, in contrast, is using the same traditions to direct violence toward Islamabad -- not New Delhi. What the TTP fears is that with a weakened al Qaeda Central and an Afghanistan without an American presence as a rallying cry, Pakistani jihadists will mend their ways with Pakistani intelligence and go back to attacking India. In effect, the TTP is telling them to stay put -- the main jihad is here at home in Pakistan.

The TTP's PR strategy relies on more than prophetic tradition, however. The organization -- along with al Qaeda's Pakistan spokesman, Ahmad Farooq -- has been attempting to reach broader audiences by appropriating causes and symbols from mainstream, secular political discourse. In multiple videos, the TTP and like-minded preachers have called on ethnic Baloch separatists -- whose latest insurgency has been raging since 2004 -- to abandon their secular, regional struggle and join the jihad against Islamabad. Other video addresses by Farooq from around the time of Pakistan's elections in May of this year dealt with bread-and-butter political issues like electricity shortages and unemployment. Farooq called for a mass movement of the youth led by religious scholars -- an attempt to redirect youth energy away from mainstream political parties like cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Leaving Afghanistan

Lessons from the last time a superpower departed
BY LT. COL. SHANE A. SMITH

Is Afghanistan’s government doomed to fall soon after most NATO forces leave in 2014, as many in the government, intelligence and academic communities seem to think? A fair reading of the post-Soviet Afghan experience suggests otherwise — if we can properly apply the lessons of history.

President Mohammad Najibullah’s regime endured more than three years after February 1989, when the Soviet Union finished withdrawing all but a small advisory contingent of troops; it finally fell in April 1992. Most examinations of this time depict Najibullah’s defeat as inevitable, and the years a mere “tunnel” to Taliban rule. Yet nothing is foreordained, either then or now, and the period offers a valuable lens on our own time.

INDIVIDUAL FIXATION

For various reasons, all sides fixated on Najibullah, complicating the quest for an Afghan government that could be accepted as legitimate both within the country and abroad.

For the Soviet Union, Najibullah’s continuation in power validated its decade-long effort, or at least allowed it to save face after withdrawing. Moreover, Soviet leaders believed that any negotiations that led to Najibullah’s departure would jeopardize their standing as champion of Third World liberation movements. So Mikhail Gorbachev pressed for Najibullah’s inclusion in any future government structure even when it conflicted with other Soviet objectives, such as obtaining badly needed Western investment.

The United States appeared to view Najibullah as an embodiment of its proxy fight with the Soviet Union. This stance dictated that Najibullah was illegitimate and must go and that his inclusion in any future government would represent a U.S. failure. But Afghanistan was not a vital national security interest for the Americans. Once the Soviets had withdrawn, the U.S. should have been more flexible. While Washington remained rigidly wedded to ousting Najibullah, the ostensible U.S. ally Pakistan was using funding and equipment from mujahedeen supporters to sponsor its favorite candidate, the vehemently anti-American Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As for the mujahedeen parties, Najibullah personified all they fought against. He was a foreign puppet, an apostate and the former head of the KhAD secret police that had killed and tortured thousands. They rejected any direct negotiations with him, much less any discussion of his participation in a follow-on government.

This fixation on an individual leader kept the United States and USSR from negotiating toward an end state for Afghanistan that would allow its citizens to achieve some form of peaceful existence; it prevented the major mujahedeen parties from even considering a coalition government in Kabul that included elements of the regime. And it highlights maxims applicable both then and now. First, institutions must be supported over specific people. Second, opponents, even ones considered distasteful, must be included in dialogue and often in a negotiated government, especially when a battlefield victory is unlikely.

LOWERING THE TEMPERATURE

The regime did not immediately fall after the Soviet withdrawal. Indeed, the removal of combat forces, leaving only a small and unobtrusive contingent of advisers, greatly lowered the temperature. Disunity among the major mujahedeen parties escalated. Local field commanders grew more open to reaching some agreement, written or unwritten, with the government. The number of active fighters in the country decreased. With Soviet troops no longer fighting, many insurgents, viewing the jihad as over, went home. The conflict changed from a religious duty to a civil war, hardly as motivating to potential recruits.

Moreover, a seemingly startling transformation occurred after the bulk of Soviet troops had gone. The Afghan troops’ apparent lack of skill had often frustrated their Red Army counterparts, and few expected them to emerge as effective defenders of the regime. But with the burden settled squarely on their shoulders, the Afghan military surprised outside observers and, in retrospect, performed well.

The army grew stronger, while the mujahedeen failed to adjust to their new conventional roles. The army’s performance led to a positive re-evaluation of the regime’s prospects. Force redeployments also helped deny the mujahedeen the early, easy victories they expected. The army adopted a defensive posture to attrit insurgent forces and made extensive use of airpower, a capability the insurgency lacked and one which played into Afghanistan’s geography, in key ground attack and logistics roles.

The Afghans did struggle in many areas, including maintenance, logistics management, supply, engineering, clerical tasks, medical care, communications, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Such areas require continued training and advisory support by international forces.

MILITIA TROUBLE

Afghanistan’s long history has often seen the rise of the unofficial fighting groups dubbed militias; the state raised tribal levies periodically to confront foreign and domestic threats. During Najibullah’s reign, the formal state security strategy included efforts to woo local combatants into the regime’s fold through offers of financial support, cease-fires, titles, autonomy and weapons. It was hoped these fighters would make up for the loss of Soviet troops and lower the overall level of violence in the country to a manageable point.

The One-Child Policy May Not Be the Reason for China's Missing Girls

Posted By Joshua Keating
July 18, 2013

China's birth gender imbalance remains stubbornly large, despite public efforts to address the problem. In 2010, the sex ratio at birth was 1.19 boys for ever girl -- the biological norm is around 1.05 -- meaning there were about 500,000 extra male births. The imbalance is blamed for a wide variety of social ills.

It's often assumed that the imbalance is driven by China's official One-Child Policy, which was introduced int he late 70s, combined with access to ultrasound and abortion. If a couple can only have one child -- or two in the case of rural families -- they tend to opt for a boy. Sex-selective abortion is illegal in China but difficult to enforce. 

But an NBER working paper by economists Douglas Almond, Hongbin Li, and Shuang Zhang makes the case that the roots of the gender imbalance go back farther than the OCP. Specifically, they argue that it was the pro-market land reform policies and breakup of collective farms following the death of Mao Zedong that drove the trend in rural areas -- 86 percent of the country's population at the time. For rural couples, who were allowed to have two children and generally preferred at least one of them to be a boy, the second child was 5.5 percent more likely to be a boy after land reform was introduced in a given area. The introduction of the OCP, which happened around the same time, had an effect as well, but the authors find that it's almost entirely eliminated when you control for the effect of land reform.

Why exactly land reform had this effect is less clear. The authors consider a number of possibilities including gender bias in land distribution, increase in the demand for male labor, increase in demand for old age support, and the collapse of the rural medical system, but don't find empirical support for any of them. There is evidence to suggest that better educated, more affluent families are more likely to opt for the practice. 

Whether or not land reform is actually the culprit, it shouldn't be too shocking that the OCP isn't -- or isn't exclusively -- to blame. Sex-selective abortion is common in parts of India, where no such laws exist. And as Mara Hvistendahlwrote for FP in 2011, "Once found only in East and South Asia, imbalanced sex ratios at birth have recently reached countries as varied as Vietnam, Albania, and Azerbaijan."

This doesn't mean that the policy isn't still a bad idea for other reasons, but scrapping it may not be the answer to bringing back China's missing women.

America’s AirSea Battle vs. China’s A2/AD: Who Wins?

By Harry Kazianis
July 19, 2013


A recent query from a colleague asked a very simple question: If America’s AirSea Battle (ASB) was ever called into service against China’s anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/AD), who wins?

Yikes. The simple answer, without making loyal Diplomat readers suffer through a 10,000 word academic slog is… no one.

But first, allow me to back track a bit. One key aspect of both ideas that gets lost in the mix is in what situations conflict could occur and the possible escalatory nature of such a conflict. When it comes to a potential showdown between ASB and A2/AD, the devil is truly in the details. While pundits love asking and analyzing what weapons could be deployed and how they would be used, the situation in which such weapons come into play and what happens next is equally important. Context in a situation like this matters.

Let us consider for a moment the possible flashpoints in which U.S. and Chinese forces could clash. The two that come to mind would be some sort of escalatory crisis over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands or a situation involving territorial tensions in the South China Sea.

Of the two, the greatest chance of conflict — albeit remote despite current tensions — would be some sort of China-Japan conflict in the East China Sea. The most likely scenario would involve an accidental collision of maritime vessels or aircraft. Diplomatic efforts fail and for some reason, someone escalates matters and attempts to either land troops on the disputed islands or shooting accidently begins. In such a scenario, let’s assume American forces come to Japan’s aid.

So what happens next? Making predictions on such a scenario is nearly impossible, but we can draw some conclusions from the writings of Chinese and American scholars on the subject. 

When considering China’s A2/AD strategy, one popular theory is that China would go all in – launching massive saturation missile strikes on American and Japanese bases to gain the advantage and attain victory quickly. Missiles of various ranges and capabilities could be launched on allied airfields early to negate any advantage in technology or training. Anti-ship weapons would be used in mass to cripple naval forces – cruise and ballistic missiles specifically. Sea mines and submarines could be positioned around the disputed islands in an effort to deter reinforcements from deploying to the area. Anti-satellite weapons could be employed to blind allied forces and damage vital C4ISR, and cyber weapons could be utilized to gain the upper hand.

Many Chinese strategists even make the argument that it is to Beijing’s advantage to attack first, in mass and with overwhelming force – a Chinese missile-centric “shock and awe” if you will.

How would America and its allies respond? Again, making such predictions is difficult and much would depend on who struck first. If we assume a Chinese opening assault, first and foremost, American and allied forces would attempt to retain access to sea lines of communication (SLOC) and the ability to move forces into the area of dispute in order to bring overwhelming military power to bear.

Defense against Chinese missiles could prove a challenge if the number of missiles employed in offensive operations was greater than the number of interceptors available. American forces — if intelligence assets could detect an impending launch — could attempt a preemptive strike on Chinese conventional missile forces. They could also employ cyber strikes against the guidance and navigation systems of such weapons, in order to avoid escalating the situation by attacking the Chinese mainland. U.S. military planners would also seek to degrade Chinese command and control systems in an effort to blind the ability of PLA forces to conduct operations in any sort of synergizedway.

While many revel in the operational details or the possible employment of sci-fi like weapons and new military tactics, the key in any conflict is how decisions like dialing up or down military force would be made. How would China or the U.S. and Japan decide to escalate the conflict to say strikes on command and control satellites, or utilize cyber weapons that could have cross over effects beyond military targets? How would brave men and women on both sides make such judgments when the U.S. and China hold nuclear arsenals that could kill billions of people?

Then this is where it gets very interesting. A clear Chinese or Allied win would obviously have regional if not global implications. What if neither side gained a clear victory? Of all the possible scenarios when one thinks of the potential end game, a conflict that results in stalemate could be the most frightening of all. Does South Korea or Japan consider building nuclear weapons? Does a Cold War scenario develop between the U.S. and China? Does a budding arms race in Asia intensify? It seems even greater instability would be in Asia’s future.