12 November 2013


What are the economic consequences of people living longer?
Writing on the wall: Ashok V. Desai

Till a century or two ago, people could be reasonably sure of dying early and in harness, so they did not have to worry about how they would get through old age. The rise in living standards and reduction in sickness have created the problem of a second childhood: people are at risk of living beyond the age when they can support and look after themselves, and of becoming dependent. Luckily, there is a correlation between standards of living and longevity; societies that bear higher burdens of caducity also have greater resources to bear them. The rich countries created a number of mechanisms — public pensions, forced savings for the private sector, old age insurance, etc — to look after the aged. But two old systems — defined-benefit systems, which give an assured pension irrespective of what a retiring man contributed, and defined-contribution systems, where he earns a return on what he himself has contributed — still dominate.

Longevity does not only create financial problems. Old people also require more help in day-to-day living. Rich countries have the resources to afford that. But they are also more short of workers, whose help many old people need to get through life. Longevity-related problems have engaged the attention of governments of richer countries; an essential component of their solution is pensions. The Organization forEconomic Cooperation and Development, a club of rich countries, has done much work on them.

It finds that countries have tried to cope with the rising burden of pensions in three ways. Some have raised the age at which people qualify for pension. That is not a perfect solution, for people may live even longer; so some countries have explicitly linked retirement age to national longevity. Still, contributory pension schemes reward old people irrespective of their age and need. So some countries redistribute incomes between pensioners on the basis of equity, just as with income tax. Finally, some countries have tried to induce or force people to save more for their old age than they voluntarily would, so that they would cost the state less. Universal pensions paid by the state were the ideal amongst industrial, especially European countries. But they provide only about three-fifths of the pensions. The rest of old people’s income comes more or less equally from private pensions and working beyond the pensionable age.

NDU Press announces the publication of Joint Force Quarterly 71

NDU Press announces the publication of Joint Force Quarterly 71 (4th Quarter 2013). 

In light of the ongoing developments in Syria, this issue considers Operation Odyssey Dawn, the 2011 United Nations mission to protect the Libyan people from their own leader. Three articles look at this operation from diverse angles and demonstrate how many questions still remain regarding the use of outside military force within sovereign nations. This issue also presents the 2013 7th Annual Secretary of Defense and 32nd Annual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competition winners. This year's competition has yielded some outstanding writing on a much wider range of topics than usual.

Military: The Grid of Violence

Military & Aerospace
Military: The Grid of Violence
Issue Vol. 28.4 Oct-Dec 2013 | Date : 11 Nov , 2013

Violence unleashed upon a nation can only be met by developing the capability to counter the violence. In the twenty-first century, unless societies with deep-rooted beliefs in non-violence and pacifism secure themselves with a grid of violence provided by a lean and mean military machine, their survival as a nation-state will be in question.

If there is no grid of violence to protect and preserve the community preaching non-violence then ‘Tibet’ happens.

Military is an instrument of violence and not non-violence.

The Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force are meant to respond swiftly to neutralise violence let loose by the enemy to overwhelm a pacifist society. Thus, war-waging capabilities are required to be superior to that of the enemy. This in turn helps protect the trading community that generates wealth not only for itself but for the nation as well. The population can thus be secured from outside interference and can continue to practice its way of life and conduct its business successfully.

If there is no grid of violence to protect and preserve the community preaching non-violence then ‘Tibet’ happens. Violent communist China gobbled up Tibet, which was independent and committed to non-violence. Steeped in the philosophy of peaceful co-existence exported from India, Tibet practically maintained no military force to defend its way of life. Lhasa looked up to New Delhi to protect it from invasion by China. However, the two nations rooted in concept of ‘non-violence’ were unlikely to rush to each other’s defence even though it was definitely in India’s national interest to halt Chinese advance into Tibet. British India had a military plan in place to defend Tibet but the confused peaceniks of Independent India, afflicted with withdrawal symptoms, had none.

Today, unfortunately, a large part of the Tibetan population stands displaced from its homeland and lives in exile in more than forty countries. The remaining population is subjugated by the demographic changes caused by the Han Chinese in its homeland. Worse, a culture similar to that of India was snuffed out. In so doing, not only geographical but also cultural space was permitted to be usurped in India’s vicinity.

First with Everest news

by Lieut Gen (retd) Baljit Singh

BY courtesy of friends, I have enjoyed scripts emerging from the mountaineering fraternity, mostly in the UK and Europe as also some from Japan, the US and China marking the year-long celebratory-calendar of the Diamond Jubilee of the ascent of the Everest, back in 1953. Altogether, it has been an exceptional reading experience, though I was surprised that no one recalled the quintessential episode from the Everest memorabilia. Breaking the news first on June 2, 1953, was a hilarious journalistic scoop by the Editor-in-Chief of The Times, London, who had succeeded in concealing the fact from the world, for some time, not by default but through a deliberate and pleasant subterfuge!

Once Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were spotted descending from the summit on May 29, with success writ large on their countenances, James Morris, The Times correspondent, sprang into action. For The Times had partly sponsored all Everest expeditions beginning with 1921 and was naturally anxious to be “the first with the news”. But this time around the stakes seemed higher, as rival correspondents from The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail (especially positioned at Kathmandu) had also deployed tentacles far and wide.

So the stage was set for an Oriental intrigue, and Morris was quick to first devise a secret code to cover the names of the climbers, of success, failure etc, and more importantly, he got two Sherpas motivated to convey his report within the day, to the police post at Namche, an incredible 48 km away. In the event, Morris' news-breaking message had read "Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned may twenty nine stop awaiting improvement stop all well,” and the two Sherpas practically ran the distance, handed in the message to the radio-operator and earned a bounty of pounds 30!

When decrypted in London at 4.15 pm on June 01, 1953, it in fact read “Everest climbed Hillary Tenzing May 29!” Just as many eyes had misted at the Base Camp, so presumably they did at The Times office in London. Be that as it may, the Editor was in a quandary whether to break the news in the evening edition or keep it “hidden” till the Queen’s coronation the next morning? Buckingham Palace approved the latter option, and the rest is history.

The Everest has since been climbed by hundreds; men, women and even a 13-year-old Canadian lad but in my reckoning there are simply three befitting icons of the Everest. The first is surprisingly, from the genera of the “Unknown Soldier” namely, Naik Tejbir Bura from the 2nd Battalion of 6 Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army. Being the orderly of Brigadier C G Bruce, the leader of the 1922 expedition, Tejbir prevailed upon his sahib to take him along. Having reached the Base Camp, Tejbir felt that he could match any “sahib-climber” on the mountain and indeed emerged one among the four who reached 25,725 ft ASL on 24 May 1922, the highest that man had ascended, yet! Besides the sahibs, Tejbir was also awarded the Winter Olympics Gold Medal which is on permanent display at the Gurkha Brigade Museum, London.

My second icon is the Austrian, Reinhold Messner who in 1978 set out solo from the North Col Camp VI, summited successfully and descended via the South Col, all without oxygen and in one day! Lastly, perhaps no one will grudge that the ultimate Everest Summit should belong to the New Zealander, who a few years ago ventured out on the Everest with two artificial legs. Short of the South Col, one leg got damaged beyond spot-repair. Unfazed, he contacted his wife in New Zealand over the cell-phone, who arranged a replacement flown to Kathmandu and thence lowered by a helicopter close by his tent. That indomitable man strapped the new limb, reached the summit and exchanged the happy news with his wife, before descending! The mystique of the Everest and the poise of Queen Elizabeth II are simply among the cherished elements of our times!

Had it not been for Sardar Patel

Karan Singh : Mon Nov 11 2013

The nation will remain grateful to him for its peaceful transition from feudalism to democracy

In view of the recent burst of interest in the media, I would like to recall the association that I was privileged to have, over six decades ago, with the great Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In fact, had it not been for the Sardar, I would have spent the rest of my life in a wheelchair. In my youth I had developed a problem in my hip and had been confined to a wheelchair for many months. When Gandhiji visited my father in August 1947, I insisted on sitting in at the meeting and my chair was wheeled in under the chinar tree at Gulab Bhavan Palace with its magnificent view of the Dal Lake.

When towards the end of October, after the Pakistani tribal invasion, we moved to Jammu on the advice of V.P. Menon, my chair was brought down in a station wagon. In November 1947, Sardar Patel visited Jammu and came to see us. When he learnt that I had been confined to a wheelchair for six months, he told my father that I should immediately be sent to America for treatment. Since I was an only child, my mother, of course, was very reluctant for me to go abroad. But my father realised that Sardar's wise advice needed to be followed. As a result, arrangements were made to send me to New York for medical treatment, and it was due to surgery and prolonged treatment in the United States that I was able to walk again and finally resume a normal life, including playing tennis (doubles), badminton and golf. I, therefore, owe an undying debt of gratitude to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, without whose intervention I would certainly have spent my whole life under a severe handicap.

In 1949, relations between Sheikh Abdullah and my father, Maharaja Hari Singh, had become so estranged that it was no longer possible for both of them to continue to function in the state. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel finally took the decision to ask my father to leave the state "for a while" and appoint me as his regent, although in fact he never returned to the state. In this context, the Sardar invited us to come to Delhi, and at a meeting with my parents, broke the news to them. Sheikh Abdullah had insisted that my mother should also leave the state because she was active in helping the tens of thousand of refugees who were streaming into Jammu from the areas occupied by the Pakistani incursion, including Mirpur and almost all of the erstwhile Poonch Jagir, except the town.

This came as a severe blow to my parents, who were shocked that after acceding to India they were now being virtually exiled from the state. However, they had no option but to accept, and it was decided that my father would issue a proclamation appointing me as regent on June 20, 1949, soon after I had turned 18. Before then, while we were still in Delhi, Sardar Patel graciously invited me to spend a fortnight with him in May at the Dehra Dun circuit house. He was keeping poor health and was nursed with great affection by his daughter Maniben Patel. He would call for me from time to time, and I had the privilege of hearing his views on various matters, including, of course, Jammu and Kashmir, where he did not share Nehru's very close and trusting relationship with Sheikh Abdullah.

Indian PM’s China Visit: In Pursuit of Peace Along the Borders

It is rare that a summit between two countries is held twice in the same year. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing came only about five months since their meeting in New Delhi in May this year. What were the compelling circumstances that might have driven Dr. Singh to proceed for another summit? It can be easily perceived that the visit was driven by domestic political factors and his desire to further engage the new political leadership of China. He wanted to have a last shot at improving relations with Pakistan and China before he retires from politics as the case seems to be when India goes for general elections in 2014. He also advanced his summit with Russia that was due in end November or early December. The only possible regional and international context could be that the Emperor of Japan would be visiting India in end November (a very significant visit since it is not common for the Emperor to undertake such visits) and therefore the visit to Beijing, most likely the last one, could also be interpreted as a kind of balancing exercise. It also needs to be remembered that Dr Singh had also a meeting with US President Barack Obama in end September and some of the agreements concluded with Washington especially on defence cooperation may have caused consternation among the Chinese leadership.

The Joint Statements issued at the end of summits are also, in some ways, a good barometer of what transpired during the meeting. What is included in the joint statement could be as important or even more significant as what is left out. This time the joint statement was somewhat pithy compared to the previous one in May. While the May summit covered a broad expanse of the issues, this time it was largely restricted to bilateral issues with limited reference to the regional and international issues. But more than the joint statement, it was Manmohan Singh’s address at the Central Party School in Beijing that underlined the philosophical underpinnings behind mutual Sino-Indian engagement. However, that does not mean that there were no practical considerations for his visit. With an eye on coming elections, Singh was more keen to address some of the contentious bilateral issues like maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC, stapled visas, sharing of river waters, and concerns about the ever increasing trade imbalance with China.

From the Indian perspective, the single most important achievement of the visit has been the signing of Border Development Cooperation Agreement (BDCA). There are some thinkers of the conservative school of thought who feel that there are many ambiguities in some of the clauses of BDCA agreement and how will this agreement be of any practical use when the previous agreements of 1993, 1996 and even 2005 have not been able to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC. On the other hand, largely the official perspective is that it is a satisfactory agreement and it would be conducive to avoiding incidents between Indian and Chinese armed forces along the border/LAC. It is also being said that the BDCA was signed despite the opposition to it by some quarters of the PLA which is being perceived as becoming somewhat more assertive in the current power configuration in China.

Holding of the much stalled joint counter terrorism exercise between both the militaries in November is another positive step towards building mutual confidence. Regular defence exchanges would also promote military to military relationship.

Accessing Afghanistan and Central Asia:Importance of Chabahar to India

This report seeks to examine the significance of the Chabahar Port for India. It discusses the constraints and challenges that lie ahead for India in this regard as well as the steps taken by Tehran to develop the port. 

Let’s stop flattering India so much

Ayaz Amir

The centre of the Pakistani solar system is not the sun, as innocents may tend to believe, but our elephant-like neighbour to the east, from whose bosom once-upon-a-time we were carved: India. We may be fighting a war on our western frontier and the greatest threat to the idea envisioned by our luckless founding fathers may come from the forces of religious extremism – whose creation in present form and shape is one of the singular achievements of our defence establishment – but all our war doctrines are based on the real or presumed threat from the east.

Thus, while the world marches on we remain trapped in a time warp, fighting the battles of the past, obsessed with the perception of a threat which spurs us on to a nuclear arms race underpinned by no sense of logic or rationality…as the rest of the world understands these terms.

How much land does a man require? famously asked Leo Tolstoy. How much nuclear security does a country require? In a reasonable world five nuclear bombs would be enough to ward off real or chimerical dangers. If Al-Qaeda had a single nuclear device the United States would not know how to deal with the threat. We may be a beggar country but, Allah be praised, we have enough nuclear bombs, and missiles to carry them, to spread death and destruction across the entire sub-continent.

Yet our supreme custodians of the national interest, self-appointed protectors of our ideological and geographical frontiers, are not satisfied, continuing to articulate and champion a national security doctrine out of sync with the times.

If the bombs at our disposal and more than half a million men, and mercifully a sprinkling of women, under arms are not enough to impart a sense of security to this putative citadel of Islam – another of our mythical notions – then Ares, the god of war, can descend from Olympus and we will not be secure.

Yes, we have problems with India and will continue to have them. But surely we are not envisaging a recourse to arms to settle these problems. We should stick to our viewpoint on Kashmir and, in this regard, be guided by the wishes of the Kashmiri people. If we have water problems with India we must talk to resolve them. If both countries are engaged in the most senseless of standoffs anywhere in the world – on the dizzying heights of the Siachen Glacier, the only way for common sense to make an appearance is through negotiations.

Except for the first Kashmir war, 1947-48, which allowed us to acquire the portion of Kashmir in our possession, all our subsequent wars with India were exercises in unmitigated folly. In the name of the national interest and, from Gen Zia ul Haq’s time onwards, in the name of ‘jihad’, our supreme keepers of the national flame have done things which in other countries would have called for the requisitioning of a determined firing squad.

Haven’t we gone through enough but must we still learn no lessons? Yes, the Pakistan-India border remains one of the most militarised frontiers in the world. Yes, there is an unbroken chain of military cantonments on the Indian side of the border, just as there is a similar chain – from the mountains of Kashmir to the sea – on our side. But we should be reversing this state of affairs, not advancing it.

Hunger Games

AK Niazi is the Pakistani General whose photographs adorn maximum walls and books in India albeit in the unenviable position of signing the instrument of surrender and handing over his pistol signifying 93,000 prisoners of war. His book, ‘The Betrayal of East Pakistan’ released in 1998, six years before his death at the ripe age of 83 alleges that Zulfikar Bhutto connived with Yahya Khan, Rao Farman Ali and Tikka Khan to abandon East Pakistan leaderless amidst the worst genocide perpetuated by Tikka Khan just to save their own authority and consolidate power in what remained of Pakistan. Significantly, Gary Bass in his book 'The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide' describes the Pakistani army crackdown in East Pakistan one of the worst humanitarian crisis of the 20th century, killing hundreds of thousands of people and sending 10 million refugees fleeing to India. Niazi writes, “The final plan for the dismemberment of Pakistan was hatched between Yaha Khan and Bhutto at Larkana, Bhutto's home town…. All the efforts of Yahya's junta and Bhutto's coterie were directed towards losing the war… They neither desired a political settlement, nor did they want a cease-fire.” No wonder the book is banned in Pakistan.

But if this is the legacy in Pakistan of the politico-military connivance that in hunger of power does not mind playing games that divides their own country, where is the surprise of the Nawaz Sharif-Kayani nexus and more importantly Nawaz Sharif now baring fangs? His feigning he knew nothing about the Kargil intrusions was abjectly naïve, for if that was true he could have never make it to the top job in a country like Pakistan. Given the present state of radicalisation in Pakistan, he would not have made it to Prime Minister now without support of the radicals. That is the reason his constituency (Pakistani Punjab) officially doles out millions to terrorist organisations and radical mullahs like Hafiz Saeed with full state protection, hold massive ant-India rallies openly, attended by serving and veteran politicians, military and government officials. Then is the question of the nemesis of Pakistan – the ISI which is pure military, rather two sides of the same coin) and linked with some 15 odd terrorist organisations including Al Qaeda-Haqqanis, Taliban (both Afghan and Pakistan), Let, HuM, HuJi, JeM, HM, LeJ, D Company, IM, AHAB, HUJI BD, JMB, JMJB, Indian Maoists, IM, PFI etc. Not only are the two Talibans interlinked, Maulvi Fazlullah, Pakistan Taliban Leader admits, “Pakistani leaders approach us when their relations sour with the US.” If Fazlullah resides in Kunar (Afghanistan) as guest of Afghan Taliban, his escape from Pakistan was facilitated by the ISI. As for Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar, General John Allen, Commander, US & NATO Forces in Afghanistan had stated in August 2012, “Omar lives in Pakistan, as do many of his commanders. From that safe vantage point, they have sent hundreds of young impressionable and helpless youth to their death and detention in Afghanistan. For this, they must forfeit their honour and any claim to Islamic virtues.”

Zardari once tried to tame the ISI by saying they would be brought under the Ministry of Interior but ate his words within 24 hours. The military-ISI is factually uncontrollable having seeped into every nook and corner of governance. Tarek Fatah, famous Pakistani author and political analyst says Pakistani Generals are only interested in money and their zamindari. Their enormous land holdings individually run into thousands of acres. Recently, Peshawar High Chief Justice Dost Mohammed Khan said, “Nobody including the federal government and Parliament is prepared to bring in legislation to control the ISI.” Nawaz Sharif almost burnt his fingers with the ISI-military during his earlier stint. He is not about to attempt it a second time. Why he is being hailed as a “changed man” is because he has decided to not only join them but also throw his full weight behind them. That is the reason for leaving no stone unturned to internationalise the Kashmir issue, relentless provocations astride the LC and deliberate violation across the international boundary as well. Undoubtedly, the prospect of achieving strategic depth in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal has induced a heady feeling, throwing logic to the winds. Drawing upon the horrendous genocide in East Pakistan, this time plans are afoot to perpetuate genocide across borders in India and Afghanistan. That is why scores of Mujahid battalions are being mated with the Taliban, and LeT with army regulars, as leaders for operations in India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Is Hatf-9 Inherently Destabilising?

Gurmeet Kanwal
Strategic Analyst, Delhi 

On 05 November 2013, Pakistan’s Strategic Forces Command once again tested the 60-km range Hatf-9 (Nasr) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Salvoes of four missiles were fired from multi-tube launchers. According to the ISPR, the nuclear-tipped Nasr missile has in-flight manoeuvre capability. The missile was first tested in April 2011 and then again in May 2012 and in February 2013. It is reported to be a replica of the Chinese M-20 missile.

Dr Shireen Mazari, Chief Executive Officer, Strategic Technology Resources, has said that the Nasr missile is a technology demonstrator and has not yet been inducted into the nuclear arsenal. "We are signalling our acquisition of tactical missile capability and miniaturisation technology. This will allow our already developed cruise missiles - the Hatf-VIII (Ra'ad), which is an air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) and Hatf-VII (Babur), which is a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) - to be miniaturised for sea-launched submarine capability in order to move on to a second-strike capability."

Tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) like the Nasr are inherently destabilising and there are several compelling reasons for leaving these out of the nuclear arsenal. Firstly, these are extremely complex weapons (particularly sub-kiloton mini-nukes, because of the precision required in engineering) and are difficult and expensive to manufacture and support technically. Inducting them into service even in small numbers would considerably raise the budget of the strategic forces. 

Secondly, the command and control of TNWs needs to be decentralised at some point during war to enable their timely employment. Extremely tight control would make their possession redundant and degrade their deterrence value. Decentralised control would run the risk of their premature and even unauthorised use – Kissinger’s ‘mad major syndrome’. Thirdly, since the launchers must move frequently to avoid being targeted, dispersed storage and frequent transportation of TNWs under field conditions increases the risk of accidents. Lastly, the employment of conventional artillery and air-to-ground precision weapons by the enemy may damage or destroy stored nuclear warheads. 

It was for many good reasons that the US and its NATO allies and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact forces developed, produced, stockpiled in large numbers and planned to use tactical nuclear weapons as weapons of war. Even the mini-nukes and the so-called ‘clean’ enhanced radiation neutron bombs would have, if used in substantial numbers in a European war, afflicted a few hundred million civilians, including future generations, with long-term radiation sickness of incalculable magnitude. 

Population Aging in China: A Mixed Blessing

By Yanzhong HuangNovember 10, 2013

China is rapidly getting older. Three decades ago, only 5 percent of the population was over 65; today, 123 million people, or 9 percent of the population, are over this age. A report released by a government think tank forecasts that China will become the world’s most aged society in 2030. Further, by 2050 China’s older population will likely swell to 330 million, or a quarter of its total population.

Rapid aging in China has been driven by three distinctive developments. First, robust economic growth over the past decades has been associated with increased average life expectancy in China—from 68 in 1981 to 74 today. Second, the generation of baby boomers (those Chinese born in the 1950s and 1960s) has started to join the older population. Third, the draconian population control policy, introduced in the early 1980s, resulted in an extremely low fertility rate, further increasing the proportion of the older population.

Beyond social impacts, population aging affects economic performance, and it does not bode well for China’s international competitiveness. It leads to a drop in the proportion of the productive labor force, which in turn raises the average wage level, making China less competitive in labor-intensive industries. In years past, China was able to rely on almost unlimited low-cost labor in achieving its double-digit economic growth. However, if China is approaching its Lewis turning point, a point at which China would move from a vast supply of low-cost workers to a labor shortage economy, it could quickly lose its competitive edge to other emerging economies that still enjoy significant demographic dividends. Indeed, according to an OECD report, China will be surpassed by both India and Indonesia in terms of economic growth rate after 2020. Meanwhile, rapid population aging means that China will not stand in good stead to adjust its industrial structure and move to capital- or technology-intensive industries, and China’s “advantages of backwardness” (to borrow from Alexander Gerschenkron) in competing with developed countries will also be undermined.

While China is not swimming against the population aging tide, the speed and scope of the change has caught Beijing off guard. Pensions, health care, and social security systems are still underdeveloped. China’s pension fund, put in place in 1997, is unable to keep up with aging population, and the pension reserve level remains extremely low. According to Dai Xianglong, chief of the National Council for Social Security Fund, pension reserve accounts for only 2 percent of China’s GDP, compared to 83 percent in Norway, 25 percent in Japan, and 15 percent in the United States. As a result of the low reserves, the benefit level is very low, especially in the countryside, where the pension fund only covers approximately one-third of the elderly people, who each receive a monthly payment of only $12. Services and facilities geared toward elderly care (e.g., retirement homes, nursing homes, and rehabilitation care) are still rare, even though nearly 23 percent of the older people in China cannot fully take care of themselves. It is hard to believe, but I was once told that the president of Peking University had to put a retired professor in a hospital for one week when the manny hired by the professor returned to his hometown during the spring festival.

Nepal's democratic hopes, and Indian and Chinese interests

Vikram Sood
07 November 2013

Nepal's efforts to establish a parliamentary democracy have had their difficult and almost hopeless phases for the last decade where political fault lines accentuated since the assassination of King Birendra. The country will hold elections on November 19 if all goes well.

There is still some bad news with threats of boycotts and an armed struggle by breakaway elements of the Maoist hardliner camps. In reality, these groups may just be hoping to scuttle the elections, and chances of political stability in Nepal remain low. Nepalese politicians, with some gentle nudges from India may be able to find their way but what should worry India is the growing presence of China in Nepal.

Chinese long-term planning for its periphery is different. In Nepal, it leaves the political wrangling and sorting out to India. Their suggestion to Nepal that it should consult India and rely on it for economic development is a smart move. Indian involvement, however restrained and subtle to the point of non-existence at times, gives India the role of a marriage counsellor where one of the two parties is always less happy than the other. The Chinese approach in Nepal is similar to theirs in Pakistan. It preserves its 'higher than the mountains deeper than the oceans' friendship with Pakistan by playing on that leadership's fears of India, provides vital military and nuclear assistance and invests in infrastructure projects that benefit China first. The Chinese leave political wrangling and manoeuvring to the Americans who remain prime targets for Pakistani anger and perfidy despite all the assistance they give.

For the present, China may be unable to match India's economic and political profile in Nepal. It will thus lie low as it gradually builds its capacities over the years. China thus concentrates on strengthening its strategic position by being equidistant from all parties and offering assistance for infrastructure and economic development of the country. China has now become a reliable partner in Nepal's development, in the areas of infrastructure and human resources development, education, health and food assistance. Tourism and the volume of Nepal-China trade have grown along with the remarkably wide trade imbalance. China has sought to push its business and strategic interests by developing road networks across the Himalayas from Tibet.

China has also successfully sought a thrust towards India's Gangetic heartland by pushing into Nepal. It took 22 years to construct the Qinghai-Lhasa railway, accompanied by massive infrastructure development in Tibet of highways, airports and military bases. Now China plans to extend the railway from Lhasa to Yadong and Zhangmu on two flanks of the Nepalese border after extending the rail link to Xigatse in Tibet close to the Nepal border. Nepal wants that this link be eventually connected to Lumbini on the Indian border. In response to this, India has proposed six rail links with Nepal in Birgunj, Biratnagar, Bardibas, Nautanwa, Nepalgunj and Kakarbhitta.

In addition to the Lhasa-Kathmandu road link, the Chinese have built a four-lane concrete highway through Eastern Nepal, terminating close to the Siliguri corridor. Nepal too has sought Chinese support to construct four highways on Nepal-China border. While the Indian requests for opening consulates at Biratgunj and Nepalgunj await Nepalese approval, the Chinese will open a consulate in Pokhara in exchange for a Nepalese consulate in Guangzhou. In exchange for all this, the Chinese have succeeded in a change in Nepalese policy towards Tibetans fleeing from Tibet. On a visit to China in July this year, the Nepalese Army Chief, General Gaurav Shamsher Rana, promised that Nepal would take strong action against any 'anti-Chinese' (short hand for Tibetan) activities in Nepal. China and Nepal agreed to widen their defence and security ties including training cooperation.

CA Elections in Nepal: Is there Hope for Madhes?

Sisir Devkota
Research Intern, IPCS 

The second round of CA elections has provided hope for the historically exploited people of the geographically flat plains (Madhes/Terai) of Nepal. The hopes are high at this time because the people in Madhes have an outstanding chance to choose their representatives for the Constituent Assembly. It is an outstanding chance because many minority groups now have the legal opportunity to vote unlike previous elections and play their part in formulating an inclusive constitution. Nevertheless, major obstacles overshadow the aspirations of southern Nepal – political scepticism and the lack of unified leadership. This article will argue that even after the elections take place successfully, Madhesi Nepalis will continue to face difficulties.

Lack of Leadership and the Politics of Distrust

There is a serious contradiction between the agenda of the Madhesi representatives and their political actions. One of the prime demands of the Madhesi leaders is to form an autonomous Terai region consisting of a single province. But an enquiry into their proposed ‘autonomous province’ shows divided opinions on the re-arrangement of administrative units amongst the southern-based political parties. The colossal distrust stems from the ethnic and linguistic diversity in the region, causing social disputes and caste stratification within themselves. Furthermore, the unstable and unfixed political ideology and affiliation of Madhesi leaders has created factions within the political party and has exposed a rather incompetent and inconsistent side of the politicians. Indeed, the division of Nepal Sadbhavana Party into the Mandal and Anandidevi factions, Madeshi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJF) into Democratic and Ganatantrik ideologies and the sharing of the same agenda by two parties (Tarai Madhesi Loktantrik Party and Tarai Madhesi Loktantrik Party-Nepal), is a sorry situation for the inhabitants of southern Nepal. 

The lack of leadership reflects the intricacies involved in strategising Madhes politics. Although the Madhesi political parties are contesting the upcoming elections, they have varying electoral agendas, creating moral dilemmas for the southern population. In fact, consensual politics is in such a poor state that leaders of Madhes-based political parties strategically filed their candidacy late to avoid fierce competition in the polls. Also, leaders from different political parties have repeatedly expressed their concern over how they would negotiate with each other in the light of their different take on political issues.

The Problematic Nature of Madhesi Politics

First, Madhes-based political parties are not only newly formed units but comprise of leaders who have defected from major political parties like the Nepali Congress (NC) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). This has created a sense of suspicion regarding whether the old leaders from new parties would disappoint people once again as they did with their past ideological affiliation. Also, competing in the historical Constituent Assembly elections with major political forces of Nepal is also a disadvantage for the Madhes units as not securing enough seats would directly harm the Madhes promise in the new Republic of Nepal. 

Second, the widely prevalent ideological defection among Madhes-based parties has led to some political leaders moving away from mainstream politics and launching an armed struggle against the government as well as towards a specific section of the ethnic population instead. 

Hiding the Elephant : India, Sri Lanka and the Crisis of Commonwealth

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Paper No. 5596 Dated 11-Nov-2013
Guest Column by Prof. Ramu Manivannan

A view that India’s “paramount security and strategic interests” in and around Sri Lanka and India’s national interests dictate that the Prime Minister should represent the country at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, Sri Lanka needs to debated.

This view has conveniently bypassed two important questions regarding the recommendation and choice of Sri Lanka as the host for CHOGM and, another serious one for that matter, that why Sri Lanka should be suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations? This is not at all surprising given the role of Indian government in covering the distance before it unveils its next strategy.

The Government of India has no doubt succeeded in promoting Sri Lanka as the venue for the CHOGM-2013 as part of its larger interest in securing international legitimacy for the Mahinda Rajapakse led government in Sri Lanka when the cries for credible international investigation into the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the final phases of the brutal war that ended in May 2009 could be heard loud and clear all over the world. This is a matter of considerable concern to the UPA government in India and particularly to the MEA which provided a diplomatic cover to the Indian government’s political and military assistance to the Sri Lankan government’s military resolution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. 

The complicity factor is haunting the Indian government with the growing revelations and extent of international campaign against the Sri Lankan government and its political leadership. The political, economic, military and diplomatic support extended by the Indian government to the Sri Lankan government in its approach to military solution has consistently been known by the international community. India’s role and contribution to the military resolution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has been acknowledged by the now estranged Sri Lankan war trio, Mahinda Rajapakse, Gotabaya Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka in several national, political and diplomatic forums. 

Basil Rajapakse had gone on record to observe that Sri Lanka had only fought “India’s war”. There are more formidable evidences of the war crimes and dehumanized conduct of the Sri Lankan armed forces emerging, including the Channel 4 (authenticated by a team of international experts) documentaries. Gotabaya Rajapakse has in fact said that there was a six member council that met daily during the final months of the brutal war, and composed of three top ministerial advisers from the Government of India who along with three from the Sri Lankan Government had conducted the war on a day to day basis until the final days of the war, and that, undeniably proves our fears that we are also complicit to the emerging ground realities of the military resolution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. There is a deafening silence of the Indian government to all these revelations. 

Indian diplomacy has never before suffered such moral bankruptcy as revealed in its role in the recent decades in Sri Lanka. We are pretending to look away from the humanitarian crises that we had contributed in Sri Lanka through an unsuspecting collusion of politicians and bureaucrats in defining the interest of UPA as the national interest(s) with generous distribution of power, privileges and rewards including safe kicks to upstairs for people involved in key decision-making roles with appointments to National Security Council, as ambassadors abroad and governors at home. There is no end to our dismay in India because our politicians do not retire on their own choice and with the clique of ambitious bureaucrats, who do not want to retire, make a deadly combination of defiance against truth. This is one of the tragedies of our public life without any scope for democratic debate denied in the name of national interest. 

MYANMAR: Nationwide Ceasefire

Paper No. 5599 Dated 11-Nov-2013
By C. S. Kuppuswamy


A lull in the civil war that has ravaged the country for the last six decades seems to be in sight. 

Following a meeting held at Myitkyina (04-05 November 2013) between the Union Peace-making Work Committee and a collection of most ethnic groups of the country, an agreement has been reached towards establishing a nationwide ceasefire to be followed by a framework for political dialogue and then the facilitation of political dialogue.

Earlier, ceasefire agreements have been entered into in 1989-90 and again in 2010-11 between most of the ethnic groups (separately) and the government. These agreements have been broken by the government troops or the rebel groups for some reason or the other. This is the first time the government has agreed to enter into a ceasefire at the national level with a coalition of most of the ethnic groups.

It was in June 2013, when the Government Chief Peace Negotiator Aung Min (a minister in the President’s office) conveyed the intension of President Thein Sein to have a nationwide ceasefire agreement between the government and the ethnic groups. The President reiterated this in his address at the Chatham House, UK, on 15 July 2013. Since then the process has been set in motion culminating in the meeting held at Myitkyina on 04-05 November 2013 between the Union Peace-making Work Committee and a confederation of ethnic groups.


The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) is the only major ethnic group which had not entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government following the break up in 2011 of the earlier ceasefire agreement resulting in major clashes and even use of air power by the government troops.

Calling it a nationwide ceasefire without the participation of KIO would have been a misnomer. Hence the Government persisted with the KIO in a series of peace talks. In the last round of talks held at Myitkyina from 08-10 October 2013, the Government entered into a seven point agreement with the KIO paving the way for a nationwide ceasefire. The government had also agreed at this talks for the KIO to host a conference, at Laiza (the KIO Head Quarters), of all ethnic groups for co-ordinating their demands for signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement. It will be interesting to note that besides the UN Special Advisor, the Chinese were in full strength as observers.

Developments in Bangladesh are a Cause for Serious Concern

Paper No. 5600 Dated 11-Nov-2013
By Bhaskar Roy

The stand off between the Awami League (AL) led government and the BNP led opposition has reached such an explosive point that unless a compromise is found between the two very soon, the country might go up in flames.

BNP chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has taken the political battle against AL president and Prime Minster Sk. Hasina to a personal level. It appears that Khaleda Zia has made it a point that Sk. Hasina does not remain prime minister during the period leading up to the general elections which is already due. She wants a return to a caretaker government system to conduct the polls. The provision was deleted from the constitution when the present AL led government came to power in 2009.

The caretaker government (CG) system is not easy to defend either. The CG was supposed to conduct elections within 90 days of the completion of the incumbent government. But in 2006, when the BNP was completing its term, the system fell apart. There was an attempt at a BNP supported military coup. The BNP led alliance in which the other major player was the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), initially pushed their people into in the CG. Then the army became a player from the background. There was an attempt from outside to neutralize the two ladies politically- the infamous “minus two” formula. All concerned should realize that this formula is alive and active.

The hartals (closedowns) led by the BNP are getting increasingly violent. The JEI and its students’ front, the Islamic Chaatra Shibir (ICS) have particularly resorted to planned violence using improvised explosives or bombs. Those suffering the most are the common people who have died trying to earn their daily bread. And the country has started to hurt badly economically.

The AL led government made mistakes, some serious ones, in terms of corruption. After 1975, all governments that ruled were corrupt, the worst being the BNP-JEI led government form 2001-2006. The AL led government under Sk. Hasina had many redeeming features. Statistics need not be quoted ad nauseum. Bangladesh was beginning to be seen much beyond its borders. News from Bangladesh was no longer about terrorism but counter terrorism. The roots of the current problem are not the elections and caretaker government issues. They go much deeper. Sk. Hasina had promised to the nation that she would try the 1971 liberation war criminals and bring them to justice. Two International Crime Tribunals (ICT) were set up for the purpose. At least six have been sentenced to death, one to life imprisonment, and more are being tried. The ICTs may be criticized by human rights organizations like the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. But these tribunals had a job to do and are doing it well with all legal facilities open to those being tried.

As these trials proceed, they will unravel many other sinister plots to deny the aims of the liberation war even after liberation.

PLA starts inducting new light tank

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Project 2049 Institute– A big picture look at China’s current military strategy.
Christopher F Foss, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
06 November 2013

The PLA has started to field a new light tank armed with a 105 mm gun. Source: Chinese internet

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has started to field a new light tank armed with a 105 mm gun.

The new tank will replace the PLA's Type 62 and Type 63 light tanks. Its estimated weight of around 30 tonnes could give it significant export potential given that main battle tanks (MBTs) are often too heavy for road networks and bridges.

The light tank will also give the PLA operational flexibility inside China. The PLA's latest Type 99 series MBT weigh at least 50 tonnes, which, coupled with their overall size, makes them difficult to deploy to some parts of the country.

The light tank, which may have the designation of the Type 99A2 (which, confusingly, is also the designation of the latest version of the Type 99 MBT), is of conventional layout with the driver at the front, turret and fighting compartment in the centre, and the diesel power pack at the rear.

Main armament comprises a stabilised 105 mm rifled gun fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve with a 7.62 mm co-axial machine gun.

In addition to firing conventional natures of 105 mm ammunition, including the latest BTA2 armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot round, it can also probably fire the GP2 105 mm laser-guided missile, which has a maximum range of 5,000 m and is fitted with a tandem high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.

The hull and turret appear to be of all welded steel armour construction with the upper part of the suspension covered by a skirt in some photographs.

Explosive reactive armour is fitted to the front and sides of the turret to provide a higher level of protection against weapons fitted with a HEAT warhead. The flat hull sides would make it easy to fit additional armour if required.

Suspension consists of six road wheels with an idler at the front and drive sprocket at the rear, and three track return rollers. It is probable that the suspension is of the hydropneumatic type, which allows the driver to adjust the ground clearance to suite the terrain.

The PLA first deployed the Type 62 light tank in 1962 and amphibious Type 63 light tank in 1963, both of which were armed with an 85 mm gun and manned by a crew of four. A number of Type 63s were upgraded to the Type 63A configuration with enhancements including a 105 mm gun and additional protection.

The PLA has started to phase the Type 63A out of service with the introduction of the ZTD-05, the 105 mm direct fire version of the ZBD-05 amphibious assault vehicle. Some have been sold to Venezuela to boost its amphibious capability.

Some analysts have also speculated that the new light tank is a replacement for the Type 89 (PTZ89) 120 mm self-propelled anti-tank gun, which was built in small numbers for the PLA but never offered for export.

R2P down but not out after Libya and Syria

Gareth Evans 9 September 2013

The world’s failure to respond effectively to ongoing atrocities in Syria may mean Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is down, but it’s not out. R2P still offers a principled approach to react to a chemical weapons atrocity in the face of likely Security Council vetoes. Translations: Españolالعربية.

The lack of consensus in the UN Security Council as to how to react to mass atrocity crimes in Syria, including now the horrific use of chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus last month, has raised obvious questions about the current vitality and utility of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which was unanimously embraced with so much hope and fanfare by heads of state and government at the World Summit in 2005.

Demotix/Hafzi Mohamed. All rights reserved.

But while R2P may be down, it’s not out, for four reasons I will spell out in turn. First, there is effectively universal consensus now about its basic principles. Second, those principles have shown their worth in real-world cases, and the Security Council has continued to invoke them, even after it divided over Libya and became paralysed on Syria. Third, there is a principled way through the dilemma now facing policymakers as to how to react to the chemical weapons atrocity in the face of likely Council vetoes. And fourth, it is possible to see how the consensus that matters most—in the Security Council, on the hardest of cases—could be re-created in the future. 

As to R2P’s general acceptance, the best evidence for R2P lies in the statements made in successive annual General Assembly debates on the subject since 2009. No state now disagrees that every sovereign state has the responsibility, to the best of its ability, to protect its own peoples from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other major crimes against humanity and war-crimes. No state disagrees that others have the responsibility, to the best of their own ability, to assist it to do so. And no state seriously continues to challenge the principle that the wider international community should respond with timely and decisive collective action when a state is manifestly failing to meet its responsibility to protect its own people. Certainly there is less general comfort with this last pillar than the first two, and there will always be argument about what precise form action should take in a particular case, but the basic principles are not under challenge.

As to the real-world worth of these principles, there is plenty of evidence that R2P means more than just words. Most notably, there have been the cases of Kenya in 2008, when diplomatic action was quick and effective, and of Cote d’Ivoire and Libya in 2011, when the Security Council authorized the use of military force. If the international community had acted as decisively and robustly in the 1990s as it did in response to the threatened massacre in Benghazi, the 8,000 men and boys murdered in Srebrenica and the 800,000 men, women and children slaughtered in Rwanda might still be alive today. And, whatever its subsequent divisions over Libya and Syria, since 2011 the Council has continued to invoke R2P language in appropriate resolutions (for example, those on Yemen, South Sudan and Mali).

The disagreement now evident in the UN Security Council is really only about how the R2P norm is to be applied in the hardest cases, the sharp-end cases, those where prevention has manifestly failed, and where the harm to civilians being experienced or feared is so great that the issue of military force has to be given at least some prima facie consideration. But of course these are the talismanic cases, and if consensus has broken down at the highest political level on how they should be handled, there is a danger of flow-on risk to the credibility of the whole R2P enterprise. So how can that consensus begin to be restored? The immediate need is to navigate a way through the current chemical weapons dilemma in Syria in a way that does not make it even harder to find consensus in the future. And the longer-term need is to address the underlying problem itself, viz. the breakdown of trust that occurred during the implementation of the mandate to intervene in Libya. 

Surprisingly stable for the moment

With aplomb, the king is weathering storms at home and abroad
Nov 9th 2013 | AMMAN |From the print edition

AT THE outbreak of the Arab spring few thrones looked as precarious as that of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Squeezed between bigger, beefier and more turbulent neighbours, his resource-poor kingdom faced mounting friction at home. Trouble brewed between the numerical minority of native “East Bankers” and the relatively disenfranchised majority of Jordanians who are of Palestinian descent. Government critics, both Islamist and secular, jockeyed to exploit street-level discontent. The king’s traditional immunity from criticism had worn dangerously thin, his talk of reform belied by such enduring woes as a yawning wealth gap, corruption, an intrusive security apparatus and heavily stage-managed politics.

“No one would have bet on Jordan back then,” admits a former minister. But now, three years later, he reckons that King Abdullah is at the zenith of his power. Other observers agree. A mix of serendipity and political skill have not just helped the 51-year-old Jordanian monarch avoid the fate of other Arab autocrats. They have steered his 6.5m subjects through a period of unusual stress, worsened by such factors as a growing energy import bill and the influx of some 700,000 Syrian refugees.

Despite that extra burden, the ironic truth is that Syria’s misfortune has, so far at least, worked to King Abdullah’s benefit. Worried allies such as America and Saudi Arabia have poured in aid to bolster what they see as a vital buffer state. At the same time the devastation of Syria’s civil war, along with unrelenting violence in Iraq and enduring political divisions among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, have combined to cool Jordanian tempers. “The appetite for the kind of mobilisation that could generate real change has very much diminished,” says Mouin Rabbani, an analyst in Amman, Jordan’s capital.

Whereas ordinary Jordanians seem simply relieved that their king has kept them out of neighbouring conflicts, those troubles have driven a wedge into Jordan’s political opposition. Secular groups are fiercely divided between friends and foes of Syria’s embattled regime. The Muslim Brotherhood, long the most powerful opposition force in Jordan in its guise as the Islamic Action Front, has also split into warring camps, with the recent overthrow of Egypt’s Brotherhood president prompting some of its Jordanian adherents to argue for a less combative approach.

In a sign of declining opposition clout, street protests against cuts in food and fuel subsidies have drawn diminishing crowds. Policy changes as well as luck have helped to blunt criticism of the king. Queen Rania, whose glamorous profile riled conservatives, has largely withdrawn from the public eye. Constitutional reforms have gone part of the way to meet reformers’ demands, and high-profile anti-corruption cases have partly appeased critics of the government.

Oil Shock and Revolution Reshape Indonesia’s Fortunes

November 11, 2013
By I.B. Made Bimantara

Forty years after the oil shock Indonesia and the world are on the verge of another energy game changer.

Last October marked the fortieth anniversary of the 1973 oil embargo that brought the world to its knees. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia, cut oil production and shipments to the United States and other countries that were supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. By March 1974, oil prices had quadrupled from around US$3 to $12 a barrel.

“The oil crisis set off an upheaval in global politics and the world economy,” wrote renowned energy expert Daniel Yergin in the Wall Street Journal. After the shock, it was widely perceived that the era of cheap and plentiful oil was over and the world would have to live in an age of limitations. The sudden realization of the vulnerability of countries to wild fluctuations in oil prices has brought with it profound global changes. Through it all, the shifts have reshaped the fortunes and international position of Indonesia.

Consider the differences between Indonesia in 1973 and the country today. First, Indonesia has moved from exporter to importer of oil. Four decades ago, Indonesia produced more than a million barrels of oil per day, accounting for 60 percent of its exports, with oil revenues contributing about 70 percent to the state budget. The windfall spurred high economic growth into the early 1980s. But the boon also led to some unfortunate excesses: rampant corruption, political repression and fuel subsidies that distorted price and handicapped Indonesia’s finances. Now the 1970s daydream of an oil-rich Indonesia is confronting the realities of the 2010s – a painful process. The high economic growth rate and the artificially low price of fuel in Indonesia for the past forty years pushed domestic demand for oil to 1.5 million barrels a day in 2012, even as production has fallen from the heights of the 1970s, to about 850,000 barrels a day presently. To relieve the pressure on its finances, Indonesia is slowly weaning itself away from fossil-fuel subsidies – an unpopular and politically precarious move that Indonesia must continue to make. To meet its immediate domestic demand, Indonesia must continue to rely on imported oil, especially from the Middle East. But unconventional sources of oil and gas may present a promising option down the road.

Second, the shale oil and gas revolution is a game changer. For many years, geologists have found huge quantities of shale oil and gas locked in shale-rock formations beneath the earth’s surface. But they were too expensive and technically too difficult to extract. Until now. Bryan Walsh wrote in Time magazine that two innovations made it economical to pump oil and gas out of the formations. Pioneering companies drill vertically down into the shale and horizontally through the rock while forcing millions of liters of water mixed with chemicals at high pressure to fracture the rock. This technique, known as “fracking,” unlocks the trapped oil and gas from the rock structures.

Revolutionary Pragmatists **

Why Iran's Military Won't Spoil Détente with the U.S.
November 10, 2013

Revolutionary Guards march in a parade in Tehran (Courtesy Reuters)

It is fair to assume that any deal between Iran and the United States to freeze Iran’s nuclear program will be greeted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with cries of “Death to America!” Hassan Rouhani was elected president earlier this year with a mandate to seek just such a deal. But he still has to reckon with the fact that Iran’s most powerful military force has traditionally been a bastion for ideological hard-liners uninterested in building closer relations with the United States.

At the same time, any hope that the Revolutionary Guards have of playing the spoiler in a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement will be undermined by the fact that the force is implacably divided against itself, between those who are dead set against closer relations with the United States and those who are likely to support a deal.

This is not to suggest that the Revolutionary Guards don’t pose a threat to détente; its most hard-line factions certainly do. And those tend to be the most vocal -- or at least the most visible. On September 30, just a few days after Rouhani’s breakthrough telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, the chief of the Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, labeled the move a “tactical error,” adding that his forces would be monitoring the issue in the future so that it could issue “necessary warnings.” Two weeks later, on October 13, Jafari declared that “the people have figured out what [the reformists] are up to and will not be duped by their provocations in the interests of the enemy.” That same day, Yahya Rahim Safavi, a general in the Guards, expressed the Islamic Republic’s standard ideological line against relations with Washington when he said that the United States had proved repeatedly that it could not be trusted.

Around the same time, however, other prominent Guardsmen were offering a strikingly different message, by way of a revisionist interpretation of recent Iranian history. In early October, the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served as commander in chief of the Guards during the Iran-Iraq War, published an article recounting that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, had repeatedly made clear in the early 1980s that he wanted the Iranian government to stop needlessly taunting the United States with the slogan “Death to America.” Rafsanjani also pointed out that, in April 1980, Khomeini said that “Should our awakened and noble nation permit, it will establish a very normal relationship with the United States, just as with other countries.” A founding member of the Guards, Mohsen Rafighdoost, gave an interview on October 21 concurring with Rafsanjani's assessment of Khomeini's views, pointing out that Khomeini dissuaded him from setting up the Guards' headquarters at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. “Why do you want to go there?” Rafighdoost recounts Khomeini asking him. “Are our disputes with the U.S. supposed to last a thousand years? Do not go there.”

This emphasis on Khomeini's overlooked pragmatism is entirely consistent with the preferred self-image of an increasing number of Guardsmen. Although the Guards were founded as an ideological organization, they have become vastly more pragmatic as they’ve acquired more power in the Iranian establishment. The Revolutionary Guards are no longer simply a military institution. They are among the country’s most important economic actors, controlling an estimated ten percent of the economy, directly and through various subsidiaries. And those economic interests increasingly trump other concerns. And, although the force can corner a greater share of the domestic market under the sanctions regime imposed by the United States because the private sector has a chronic shortage of funds, many Guardsmen are aware that they stand to gain much more if Iran strengthens its ties to the rest of the world. Companies controlled by the Guards would likely win a lion's share of new foreign investment. But that would require, of course, reaching some sort of accommodation with the United States on the nuclear program.