26 December 2013

Healthcare for veterans, by veterans



Under the Ex-servicemen’s Contributory Health Scheme, one polyclinic has been opened in every district of the country. But a lot more needs to be done to help the growing community of defence veterans
Brig M.L. Kataria (retd)

WANT MORE: As the healthcare system becomes advanced, ex-servicemen’s polyclinics need specialists. Tribune Photo/Mohd Amin War

A historic decision was taken by the Government of India, Ministry of Defence, in December 2002 to provide comprehensive health care to 10 million ex-servicemen and their entitled dependants, through Ex-servicemen’s Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), which was launched in January 2004. There is no parallel to this gigantic healthcare project for ex-servicemen and their entitled dependants.

The Scheme was envisaged to provide an ECHS polyclinic in every district of the country. To start with a total of 227 polyclinics, 104 in military stations and 123 in non-military stations, were established. Over the years 200 more polyclinics have been added. Thus, there are 427 polyclinics scattered all over the country. This number will further increase.

In order to take off the workload on military hospitals, nearly one thousand private/civil hospitals and diagnostic and specialty centres have been empanelled across the country for referral of patients by the ECH polyclinics annually and about one million have been referred for diagnosis, treatment and admission annually to the empanelled centres.

The annual budget outlay of the Ministry of Defence for ECHS is Rs 1,500 crore, which will escalate with each passing year. Therefore, an in-depth review of the functioning of ECHS for the last ten years is necessary.

Review committee

The ECHS needs a review in toto, including the type and functioning of the polyclinics, the requirement and composition of the regional directorates, empanelment of private/civil hospitals, specialty and diagnostic centres and their rate structures.

The proposed review committee should have experts from various fields like medical, finance, management, bio-medical equipment and 
ex-servicemen.

THE MAGICAL PAINTER WHO TOUCHED THE STARS

Naresh Kumar reminisces about M.F. Husain, an unfettered, restless and creative genius

We first met M.F. Husain at a dinner party in 1963 in Delhi. Tall, slim with bare feet and windblown hair, he was a striking figure. We were Husain fans and were very happy and excited to meet him. Sunita asked Husain if he was interested in tennis and invited him to witness the finals of the National Championship between Vijay Amritraj and Mal Anderson the next day at the Delhi Gymkhana Club. His enthusiastic acceptance surprised us. He was at the courts bang on time the next day. It turned out to be a very exciting match. In the final stages of the fifth set, Sunita said that Amritraj was sure to win. Husain disagreed and said that he thought that Anderson would win. “Let’s bet on it”, he said. “If Amritraj wins I will give you one of my paintings and if Anderson wins you give me one of your paintings!” These were outrageously generous odds by any standard and Sunita happily accepted, half in jest. Surely Husain was not serious.

Amritraj won and we avoided mentioning the bet. The next morning, when we came down to the reception of the Oberoi Intercontinental Hotel, they told us that Husain had come early in the morning and had left a painting for Sunita. It was a striking 4ft x 3ft canvas, a spectacular ‘Husain Horse’ done in oil that was still wet. The arched neck and bold lines exuded power and pride. We were over the moon and could not believe his generosity. We wanted to thank him but could not locate him. So we called his son, Shamshad, and asked where could we find him. To our astonishment, he gave us three options: one of the coffee shops at the Oberoi Delhi, a second one in Madras, and a third in Bombay. Shamshad said that Husain carried air tickets to most destinations in his battered khadi jhola and just took a flight to any of the places in the morning. He never carried any baggage. He was an unfettered soul who flew with the impulses of the moment, always searching to breach conventional barriers. Eventually we located him in the coffee shop at the Oberoi in Delhi and thanked him profusely. Indebted, I told him that whenever there was an important tennis match, I would always keep a seat for him in case he was interested to watch the game. The years flew by and he invariably turned up for the major tournaments in India and the Davis Cup matches. An ardent fan of Chris Evert, he was very fond of Wimbledon and watched the tournament with us every summer. In fact, a couple of weeks before he passed away, he talked his way out of the ICU at the Royal Brompton Hospital to come and watch the final of the French Championships with us on television. Frail and wobbly, he pushed aside my helping hand and said, “let me walk like a drunken sailor”. I have never seen such a robust, fearless spirit. I remember one summer in London when Husain hurt his right wrist badly in a fall. Everybody was very worried. With a dismissive wave of his left hand, he said, “No problem, I have already done a painting with my left hand!”

INDIA MISSES THE BUS - Elementary education is in a shambles in this country


Dipankar Dasgupta

The much lauded book, An Uncertain Glory, by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen carries an easily missed subtitle, India and Its Contradictions. Somewhat in the spirit of a game of chess, where the Queen is the true source of power and the King has titular significance at best, An Uncertain Glory is a nebulous title (chosen from a minor Shakespeare play) that relegates to its subtitle the responsibility of summarizing the fundamental objective of the book for the lay public.

It is not as though the sharp contradictions that characterize the social, economic and other spheres of the country were totally unknown. However, the Drèze-Sen exercise lends well-researched credence to the experiences many Indians lament over, as they travel to work in overcrowded suburban trains or relieve themselves in unrelieved gloom at public facilities. Moreover, it is Chapter 5 of the book, The Centrality of Education, that truly excels in identifying education as the key to the liberation of our society from the clutches of a contradiction — an enormous contradiction, in fact — that precludes the majority of the 120-crore-plus Indians from reading a single printed word in the book.

The chapter in question presents in detail the shambles in which India has landed vis-à-vis elementary education. To quote, “About 20 per cent of Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14 years were not attending school even in 2005-06, and about 10 per cent of children of that age group had never been enrolled in any school at all. The neglect is particularly strong for Indian girls, nearly half of whom were out of school in large parts of India...in the same year.” Against this background, a cruel joke stares us in the face when we boast about our nuclear capabilities or launch a Mars-bound spacecraft.

Nannygate: U.S.-India Relations Rocked


Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)

Source URL (retrieved on Dec 25, 2013): Source Link
December 24, 2013

The diplomatic row over the arrest and strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade by U.S. law enforcement officers has built to a genuine crisis in bilateral relations. The dispute threatens to derail a decade of hard work at the foundation of the India-US “strategic partnership.”

The public arrest, handcuffing and strip-search of Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, on charges of “visa fraud” stemmed from her allegedly making false statements on a visa application for her Indian nanny. She was also allegedly paying her about $3 an hour, less than minimum wage.

The nanny, Sangeeta Richard, left Khobragade’s New York residence in June after the relationship between the women became strained over increasingly long hours with little pay. Richard returned in July with lawyers and NGOs to demand back pay. Richard may or may not have planned her moves but her husband and two kids were “evacuated” from New Delhi apparently with the help of U.S. Embassy officials. Many Indians see this as a conspiracy.

The State Department allowed the prosecutor in New York to push ahead on the matter, apparently without considering the full ramifications on bilateral relations. President Obama has called the U.S.-India relationship “defining partnership of the 21st century [3],” but it took Secretary of State John Kerry six days after the diplomat’s arrest to make a phone call to New Delhi.

Whether the diplomat is guilty or not, Washington must consider the implications of a long, drawn-out public trial. The U.S.-India relationship, which has blossomed over the last decade, is crucial not only for regional peace and security in South Asia but also for the stabilization of Afghanistan, for ebbing the forces of religious extremism and for ensuring a fair balance of power in Asia.

Against these important strategic goals, it would seem reckless to squander the India-U.S. partnership over a version of “nannygate.” President Obama surely wouldn’t want to lose India, a country for which there has been consistent bipartisan support in Washington. Similarly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who staked his government on the successful conclusion of the 2008 civil nuclear deal with the United States, wouldn’t want the relationship to deteriorate as his term nears its end.

India-China Relations: Mutual Concerns


In the Indian perception, there are several major areas of concern that are limiting the growth of the bilateral relationship. The foremost among these is the unresolved territorial and boundary dispute. The other major concern is the “all-weather” friendship between China and Pakistan that is, in Chinese President Hu Jintao’s words, “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans”. The Indian government and most Indian analysts are convinced that China has given nuclear warhead designs, fissile material and missile technology as well as fully assembled, crated M-9 and M-11 missiles to Pakistan, as has been widely reported in the international media. China and Pakistan are also known to have a joint weapons and equipment development programme that includes Al Khalid tanks, F-22 frigates and FC-1/JF-17 fighter aircraft. China’s military aid has considerably strengthened Pakistan’s war waging potential and enabled it to launch and sustain a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and in other parts of India. By implication, therefore, it is also China’s proxy war.

From the Indian perspective, there are several other contentious issues. These include China’s continuing opposition to India’s nuclear weapons programme; its deep inroads into Myanmar and support to its military regime; its covert assistance to the now almost defunct LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka; its increasing activities in the Bay of Bengal; its attempts to isolate India in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) while keeping India out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation; and, its relentless efforts to increase its influence in Nepal and Bangladesh. China’s efforts to develop port facilities in Myanmar (Hangyi), Chittagong (Bangladesh), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Maldives and at Gwadar in Pakistan are seen by many Indian analysts as forming part of a “string of pearls” strategy to contain India and develop the capacity to dominate the northern Indian Ocean region around 2015-20. Though at present the Indian Navy dominates the northern Indian Ocean, a maritime clash is possible in future as the PLA Navy begins operating in the Indian Ocean – ostensibly to safeguard its sea lanes and protect its merchant ship traffic. Hence, China’s moves are seen by Indian analysts to be part of a carefully orchestrated plan aimed at the strategic encirclement of India in the long-term to counter-balance India’s growing power and influence in Asia, even as China engages India on the political and economic fronts in the short-term.

As both China and India are nuclear-armed states, it is in the interest of both to ensure that strategic stability is maintained and that the risk of accidental or unauthorised nuclear exchanges is minimised. This would be possible only if negotiators from both the sides sit down together and discuss nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) and nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs). However, China’s insistence that it cannot discuss nuclear CBMs and NRRMs with India as India is not a nuclear weapons state recognised by the NPT is proving to be a stumbling block. China’s official position is that India should cap, roll back and eliminate its nuclear weapons in terms of UNSC Resolution No 1172. That is unlikely to happen. India has been recognised as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology and has been given a backdoor entry into the NPT through the NSG waiver and the IAEA safeguards agreement. India has also signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with France, Russia and the United States (US). It would be in the interest of both the countries to discuss nuclear CBMs and NRRMs so as to enhance strategic stability in Southern Asia. It is also in China’s interest to enter into a nuclear trade agreement with India as India is rapidly emerging as a large market for nuclear fuel and nuclear technology.

Return of the repressed

Wed Dec 25 2013, 

The Ugly Indian and the Ugly American have rediscovered each other.

India and the United States have gone from a strategic partnership to an almost full-scale cultural war. It is hard to remember a recent episode where the mutual accusations were defined not just by interest or specific injury, but a whole range of cultural attitudes whose utterance had long been suppressed. The American liberal establishment has suddenly rediscovered an India that is reactionary, exploitative, deceitful, feudal and incapable of the rule of law. India's response is: tell us something we don't know. India has discovered an America full of moral double standards, deep hypocrisy, conspiratorial duplicity, an oppressive criminal justice system and an insatiable urge to exert power just for the sake of it. The American response is: you would say that wouldn't you. Like many cultural wars, this one is now becoming self-fulfilling — the more each side describes the other, the more each side is convinced of its own virtue. The more the facts of the case are presented, the more general sociological indictments are produced. The Ugly Indian and Ugly American have rediscovered each other.

Of course, the episode looms larger in the Indian consciousness; our self-esteem is shaped by what others think of us. It is hard to shake off the odour of entrapment in what the state department did. But equally, we cannot deny the fact that the government of India made India legally and morally vulnerable by not doing its homework. It would be easy to dismiss this as an artefact of the IFS clinging to its privilege; after all, nothing like the fury unleashed when you cross the Indian bureaucracy. But there is more to this.

As Devesh Kapur recently pointed out, a crisis in Indo-US relations has long been in the making. There is, of course, the massive shift in perceptions of India that frames the reception of events. India's new economy used to be the darling of The New York Times, now its old society is subject to yawningly relentless indictment. India was the maturing great power, now it has become an infantile wannabe. It had a strong government, now it is flailing. But in India, the explosion of reaction goes beyond the IFS and sections of the media. The case has become a marker of our confusions over our relationship with the US.

Pakistan, 1971

Khaled Ahmed : Thu Dec 26 2013, 

Military voices now challenge the established narrative of the Bangladesh war.

Every year, December 16 is observed in Pakistan as a moment of morose stocktaking, in which India is held responsible for the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. However, over the years, the Pakistani media has taken to mixing the message. It now balances the short-term culpability of India with the long-term culpability of Pakistan.

This year, the familiar pattern was disturbed by the hanging of a Jamaat-e-Islami (Bangladesh) leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, for "war crimes" including the rape and slaughter of women, while he opposed the "war of liberation" for the new state of Bangladesh.

As the NGOs protest at the way Mollah was punished, the world has accepted the hanging. The Islamabad foreign office pointed to the violation of human rights in the "war crimes" tribunal, but called it an internal matter for Bangladesh. The Pakistani parliament, though, decided to condemn the hanging through a non-unanimous but bitterly-worded resolution that has not been taken kindly by Dhaka.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan — having recently won back Taliban and al-Qaeda protection — flexed its street muscle by protesting against the hanging of a man it feels affiliated to. It rightly expected the parliament to bend in deference to this new "empowerment". But the media in Pakistan has mixed the message more than usual this time. The "secret" Hamoodur Rehman Commission report on the atrocities committed by the Pakistan army in East Pakistan in 1971 has been taken out of the state's closet of collective conscience and quoted to great effect.

Unread books by honest military officers are now being quoted to the embarrassment of the Jamaat, which had thought the battle for its new leg-up had been won after the Mollah hanging. What Pakistan is still forgetting is the fundamental critique of its conduct towards East Pakistan contained in a book by senior bureaucrat, Hasan Zaheer — The Separation of East Pakistan (1994). In this, linguistic nationalism was more properly understood as the element which alienated the Bengali Muslim from the West Pakistani Muslim.

The idea of imposing Urdu on East Pakistan was born in the mind of a non-Bengali education secretary of East Pakistan, F.A. Karim, who was able to convince a dimwit Bengali central education minister in Karachi, Fazlur Rehman, to adopt it. It also caught the imagination of the governor of East Pakistan, Malik Feroz Khan Noon, not the brightest son of Punjab. He started the scheme of writing Bengali in the Arabic script. By 1952, there were 21 centres doing this in East Pakistan, funded by the central education ministry. The East Pakistan chief minister didn't even know that this was happening outside the primary school stream.

Zaheer writes: "Such was the insensitivity of the ruling party to popular issues that the East Pakistan Muslim League Council also recommended Arabic as the state language. This was not acceptable even to the West Pakistan intelligentsia." What happened to the Muslim League in East Pakistan in the years that followed is history.

Pakistan’s Persecuted Christians


By AKBAR AHMED
Published: December 23, 2013

Enlarge This ImageLAHORE, Pakistan — If ever there was a target for the Pakistan Taliban, I thought to myself, this would be it.

Besides the 750 graduating students and more than 2,000 guests gathered on the campus of Forman Christian College on Nov. 30 were the university’s American rector and two of Pakistan’s five provincial governors. Senior officials in Lahore had already warned the public to be vigilant. The police had information that the Taliban had dispatched suicide bombers to the city to take revenge for the recent killing of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a United States drone strike. Their targets would be senior government officials and foreigners, especially Americans.

Forman is Pakistan’s leading Christian educational institution, now celebrating its 150th anniversary. Only 600 of its 6,000 students are Christian; what’s remarkable is how fully integrated into campus life they are.

Like many non-Christian Pakistanis, I owed my education to Christian teachers, both at Forman and at my previous school, Burn Hall in Abbottabad, which was run by Roman Catholic priests. We loved and respected our Christian teachers, and they us. We never doubted that harmony and cooperation between faith groups were not only possible, but also completely normal. It was the reality of our lives.

I had returned after half a century to my old college (now a chartered university) to receive an honorary doctorate. Once there, I found myself transported back to one of the happiest periods of my life. It was a different Pakistan and it was a time of hope. Christians were very much part of the fabric of the nation.

The Myanmar Pipedream: Myanmar-Bangladesh-India pipeline

25/12/2013

The long awaited Myanmar-Bangladesh-India (MBI) pipeline has been dodged by regional geopolitics and political constraints between India and Bangladesh. First proposed in 1997, the 900 km pipeline was set to deliver 5 billion cubic meters of gas from the Swe field in Southern Myanmar to West Bengal via Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh. Sixteen years later, the pipeline remains comatose, and shows little signs of becoming a reality. Located in close proximity to India, Myanmar’s estimated 90 trillion cubic feet gas reserves offered an efficient means of securing India’s energy needs and thus had been envisaged as a salient component of its energy security policy. However, Bangladeshi roadblocks led to an impasse and subsequently the gas from gas reserves were allotted to China instead. Now at a time whenMyanmar has again called for bids on 30 of its offshore blocks India must be proactive to tap into the energy source in a timely manner and be prepared to bypass Bangladesh if the need arises. 

The Bangladesh Roadblock

The MBI project reached an impasse in 2005 after Bangladesh put forward preconditions that were unacceptable to India. Bangladesh’s intractable demands at that time included: a custom-free passage to and from Nepal andBhutan, a customs-free passage for hydro-electricity transmission lines to and from Nepal and Bhutan and the onus to reduce its trade deficits withIndia. Vary of setting a wrong precedent for future bilateral negotiations, Indiadid not concede to any of the demands.

Bangladesh’s proposed redressal has been attributed to two major factors, the first being the gross overestimation of Bangladesh’s gas reserves. With an estimated reserve of 2 trillion cubic meters of gas the government did not see the salience of the pipeline in 2005. Second, the BNP led coalition government that was in office at that time was vocally anti-India and thus had its hesitations in collaborating with India.

In the long run however, gas economics overruled domestic political game play. Since 2005 Bangladesh has constantly had a shortfall of gas due to its inability to tap into its gas reserves. Therefore the BNP’s 2007 initiative to renegotiate the pipeline was not surprising. The pro-India Awami League party that came into power in 2010 approved the pipeline project in 2010. India too amped its diplomatic efforts and in order to insulate itself from another change in government, at the risk of upsetting sitting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has also been courting opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia’s.

Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, December 23, 2013

DECEMBER 25, 2013

To catch Democracy Lab in real time, follow us on Twitter: @FP_DemLab.

Fadil Aliriza profiles Tunisian rapper Klay BBJ, the man with a unique ability to touch a society's raw nerves.

Brian Klaas explains why allegations of a power-grab by Tunisia's toppled dictator continue to haunt the country's democratic transition.

In the latest of his dispatches from the West African republic of Mali, Christian Caryl watches parliamentary elections in the legendary city of Timbuktu and reflects on the problems democracy faces there.

Elliott Prasse-Freeman argues that Burma's upcoming census will worsen ethnic conflict.

Christia Fotini and Ruben Enikolopov present the findings of an MIT study that shows why democracy-building efforts in post 9-11 Afghanistan may have had the opposite of their intended effect.

Peter Murrell worries that corruption studies rely too heavily on the honesty of those reporting the data.

James A. Robinson tracks the Democratic Republic of Congo's efforts to cure corruption.

And Anna Nemtsova examines Russian President Vladimir Putin's sudden decision to release an ex-tycoon from prison.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

In the Financial Times, Abigail Fielding-Smith presents an overview of the situation in Syria, where an end to the civil war looks less likely by the day.

In a study from the Legatum Institute's Transitions forum, Mark Dempsy explains why Libya should focus on reforming its financial sector if it hopes to build democracy.

In the National Review, George Weigel tells the story of the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union, and why its students and faculty are now fighting to bring Ukraine into the European orbit.

The Atlantic Council compiles the most significant moments of the Arab Spring transitions in an interactive timeline.

The International Center for Transitional Justice reports on Tunisia's new transition law -- a significant achievement that will help the country address past human rights abuses.

The Transnational Institute and Burma Centrum Nederland argues that Burma's transitional government has not done enough to address the rights of the country's ethnic minorities -- and that time is running out.

The Global Organizations of Parliamentarians Against Corruption finds that perpetrators of "grand corruption" are rarely brought to justice, and suggests measures to address the problem.

Writing for Forbes, Grant Tudor, of the social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka, explains how NGOs are wielding technology to force governments to pay attention to their marginalized citizens.

Transparency International releases its annual Corruption Index, ranking countries according to perceived levels of corruption.

(The photo above shows two victims of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic.)

- See more at: http://transitions.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/12/16/democracy_lab_weekly_brief_december_16_2013#sthash.HfWobWI6.dpuf

Japan’s Abe to Visit Yasukuni War Shrine

In a move certain to inflame regional tensions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit a controversial WWII shrine.
December 26, 2013

In a move certain to inflame regional tensions, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine on Thursday.

According to local media, Abe will visit the war shrine a year after he took power. The Yasukuni war shrine honors soldiers who died fighting for Imperial Japan, including a number of class-A war criminals. Visits to the shrine by Japanese policymakers always draws strong criticism from Japan’s neighbors, particularly China and South Korea, both of whom suffered greatly under Japanese colonization during the first half of the 20th century.

Abe’s visit is likely to be viewed as especially provocative given that Seoul and Beijing already consider him to be a highly nationalistic figure. Abe resisted visiting the shrine during his first tenure as prime minister. According to media reports, the last sitting Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine was Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. Koizumi’s visit was to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in WWII.

Abe has been weighing the issue of whether to visit the Yasukuni war shrine throughout his current term. He elected not to visit the shrine in August, although members of his cabinet attended a ceremony at the shrine, drawing sharp rebukes from South Korea and China. Abe did send a ritualistic offering of a tree branch with the cabinet members. There were also concerns that Abe would visit the war shrine during the Reitaisai festival. Abe again resisted.

Abe’s decision to visit the war shrine now will almost certainly be widely condemned by China. It will also anger South Korea leaders who have made moves to improve relations with Japan in recent weeks following China’s declaration of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The U.S. has also been known to urge Abe not to take actions that would be viewed as provocative in the region, such as visiting the Yasukuni shrine.

The move is likely to be popular at home, particularly among the conservative members of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). By visiting the shrine, Abe might believe he can win greater support for some of the tough economic and social reforms he is seeking to get through the Japanese Diet.

The U.S. Humanitarian Presence in Southeast Asia

U.S. humanitarian and disaster response capabilities are unmatched. It should work to keep them that way.
By Zachary M. Hosford
December 25, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited Tacloban in the Philippines to witness the recovery efforts following Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people and flattened an incomprehensibly large swath of land. With Operation Damayan, the U.S. military has once again demonstrated its unparalleled ability to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) missions, and its performance contrasted sharply with China’s failure to respond effectively to the devastation.

Without viewing their responses simply as an HA/DR competition between the two countries, relief efforts have a very real and consequential effect beyond the importance of saving lives, and the U.S. cannot take for granted that it will maintain its current edge – and its accompanying influence – indefinitely.

To increase its response time, effectiveness and influence, the United States should work with the Philippines to forward-deploy a hospital ship to the region to augment other U.S. rebalancing initiatives. Such a deployment would naturally complement efforts to establish a rotational troop presence and enhance maritime domain awareness and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

China undoubtedly fumbled its relief effort in the Philippines. By initially pledging a miniscule $100,000 in aid – raising its contribution only after being publicly lambasted – Beijing demonstrated that its ongoing maritime disputes with Manila trumped its renewed effort to improve relations with its neighbors. This did not go unnoticed in the Philippines or in the region.

Though the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) sent its Peace Ark hospital ship on a two-week deployment to the Philippines, it was too little, too late. And while Kerry joined Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as cabinet officials to recently visit the devastated areas, the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the Philippines was Rear Admiral Shen Hao, the deputy chief of staff of the PLAN’s East China Sea Fleet and commander for its humanitarian relief mission. Together, these efforts represent a continuation of China’s ham-fisted outreach to its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

But Beijing will learn from its mistakes. Aside from building and deploying a hospital ship modeled after those in the U.S. fleet, China has been constructing amphibious assault ships well-suited to conducting humanitarian operations. The U.S. should not only anticipate that the PLAN will build more hospital ships, aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships – all of which they could deploy to disasters in the future – but also that it will drastically improve its ability to effectively deploy those ships.

And though China’s relations with its neighbors, especially the Philippines, have been clumsily handled, the U.S. government must plan for China to be a more capable and active player in the region in the future. China still carries substantial economic leverage as it is the largest trading partner of many countries in the Asia-Pacific. Despite substantial outreach by the United States as part of its rebalancing, China’s massive regional trade will go a long way in helping it regain its influence after some notable foreign policy blunders. 

Silent Night

As a security vacuum continues to plague Egypt, the country's beleaguered Christian community fears a rash of kidnappings will only worsen during the holiday season. 
DECEMBER 24, 2013

MINYA, Egypt -- The last thing Mamdouh Farid remembers was the butt of a rifle raised above his head. Farid, a Christian from Upper Egypt, was driving home from his job at the local village health clinic when seven gunmen surrounded his pick-up truck. One of the masked men called him a son of a dog and struck him on the back of his head, then Farid's world went dark. 

For six days, his kidnappers tortured him, keeping him blindfolded and bound in an abandoned hut. The armed gang demanded $290,000 from his family for his release. It was an impossible amount for the 58-year-old, who supports a family of nine on just $200 a month.

"They beat me with their guns while on the phone to [my family], so they could hear my screams. With the pain, I couldn't keep myself quiet," Farid recalled.

Farid, who was abducted from the village of Hassan Basha in the governorate of Minya on Dec. 7, is only the latest victim in a rash of kidnappings that has plagued Egypt's Christian minority since the 2011 revolution. Over 100 people have been abducted in Minya alone, and the overwhelming majority have been Christian. The kidnappings are the result of a security vacuum left by years of political upheaval. With the state doing little to protect the country's vulnerable minorities, the Christian community has bore the brunt of the disappearance of law and order.

There has been a sharp increase in abductions following the military overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi this summer. At least 20 people were abducted amid the security breakdown that followed the bloody Aug. 14 dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Islamists.

As Christmas approaches, Minya's Christians fear the abduction epidemic will only worsen. As families venture out to visit friends and relatives in the holiday period, they also represent prime targets for would-be kidnappers.

Farid's kidnappers used some of the most brutal tactics yet to extract ransom money from his family. They refused to let him use the toilet, so he was forced to urinate on himself. He was given just one small piece of bread a day. He was beaten continuously. "When I asked for something to drink ,they gave me their urine in a cup," Farid said.

Farid's wife has breast cancer and diabetes, and he supports six orphaned nieces as well as his own two sons. With no money and nothing valuable to sell, his family had to beg from relatives, neighbors, and the local church to scrape together the ransom.

The kidnappers finally realized the impoverished family could not meet their extravagant initial demand and settled on $7,300 instead.

Farid was eventually left in a garbage dump a few miles from his village.

The Christian community has already paid out an estimated $750,000 in payoffs, according to the victims, who have formed a support network and document each new abduction case. The network's members describe being housebound and terrified during this holiday season.

Need for Enhanced Indian Surveillance in IOR


Indian Ocean, the third largest oceanic body in the world accounting for 20% of the total area of the world under water, holds a position of paramount importance for India. Since India occupies a central position in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the significance of the Indian Ocean to the maritime security of the country hardly needs to be emphasized. Rightly and appropriately, India considers the Indian Ocean as its own backyard. As pointed out by the historian K.M.Pannikar, “For India, the Indian Ocean is a vital sea. Her lifelines are concentrated in that area, her freedom is dependent on the freedom of that water surface.” On another front, Indian Ocean holds the key to the climatic dynamics of the Indian sub continent including monsoon on which is dependent the fortunes of the Indian agriculture, a major contributor to the Indian economy. Further, the Indian Ocean is also crucial to the energy security of the country. According to the Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, more than 80% of the world’s sea borne trade in oil transits through the Indian Ocean choke points.

In view of the rapidly expanding strategic importance of Indian Ocean, in recent years, there has been a growing clamour for strengthening and expanding the Indian presence in this vitally located oceanic body with a view to ensure the security of mainland India on a sustainable basis. Against this backdrop, sometime back, Avinash Chander, Director General of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) , had stressed on the need for India to put in place an effective mechanism to fully monitor IOR in a complete and three dimensional manner. To accomplish this objective, he has suggested the development and deployment of about 80-100 satellites designed for covering the IOR in a detailed manner .There are said to be 19 Chinese satellites keeping a watch over the IOR. As it is, the growing Chinese space based ocean surveillance capability with particular reference to the Indian Ocean has been a matter of concern for US strategic planners. In recent years, ocean observation space platforms have emerged as a major technological tool to keep a tab on the oceanic expanse on a sustained basis with a high degree of effectiveness.

By all means, India has vital stakes in the IOR even as the geostrategic focus of the world is shifting slowly to this region through which a bulk of world’s shipping trade passes. The changing geo-political stakes in IOR in the last decade has acted as a stimulus for the littoral nations to look seawards and this presents India with a challenging opportunity to expand its influence over the countries in the IOR. Rapidly shifting geopolitical environment underpins the need for India to not only safeguard its own interests but also cater to the security needs of island nations in IOR. Clearly and apparently, India would need to boost its naval capabilities to reach out to the littoral states with a greater degree of confidence. The recent handing over of India’s home grown Advanced Light Helicopter(ALH) Dhruv to Maldives for helping this island nation carry out search and rescue operations could imply a shot in the arm for the Indian influence in IOR.

Top 5 Battleships of All Time

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
December 26, 2013

Ranking the greatest battleships of all time is a tad easier than ranking naval battles [3]. Both involve comparing apples with oranges. But at least taking the measure of individual men-of-war involves comparing one apple with one orange. That's a compact endeavor relative to sorting through history to discern how seesaw interactions shaped the destinies of peoples and civilizations.

Still, we need some standard for distinguishing between battlewagons. What makes a ship great? It makes sense, first of all, to exclude any ship before the reign of Henry VIII. There was no line-of-battle ship in the modern sense before England's "great sea-king" founded the sail-driven Royal Navy in the 16th century. Galley warfare was quite a different affair from lining up capital ships and pounding away with naval gunnery.

One inescapable chore is to compare ships' technical characteristics. A recent piece over at War Is Boring revisits an old debate among battleship and World War II enthusiasts. Namely, who would've prevailed in a tilt between a U.S. Navy [4]Iowa [4]-class dreadnought and the Imperial Japanese Navy's [4]Yamato [4]? Author Michael Peck restates the common wisdom from when I served in mighty Wisconsin, last of the battleships: it depends on who landed the first blow. Iowas commanded edges in speed and fire control, while Yamato and her sister Musashi outranged us and boasted heavier weight of shot. We would've made out fine had we closed the range before the enemy scored a lucky hit from afar. If not, things may have turned ugly.

Though not in so many words, Peck walks through the basic design features that help qualify a battleship for history's elite -- namely guns, armor, and speed. Makes sense, doesn't it? Offensive punch, defensive resiliency, and speed remain the hallmarks of any surface combatant even in this missile age. Note, however, that asymmetries among combat vessels result in large part from the tradeoffs naval architects must make among desirable attributes.

Only sci-fi lets shipwrights escape such choices. A Death Star of the sea would sport irresistible weaponry, impenetrable armor, and engines able to drive the vessel at breakneck speed. But again, you can't have everything in the real world. Weight is a huge challenge. A battleship loaded down with the biggest guns and thickest armor would waddle from place to place. It would make itself an easy target for nimbler opponents or let them run away. On the other hand, assigning guns and speed top priority works against rugged sides. A ship that's fleet of foot but lightly armored exposes its innards and crew to enemy gunfire. And so forth. Different navies have different philosophies about tradeoffs. Hence the mismatches between Yamato and Iowa along certain parameters. Thus has it always been when fighting ships square off.

Top Ten Asia-Pacific Sports Events of 2013

From Tendulkar to Tanaka, The Diplomat looks back at the year’s defining sports moments.
By Samuel Chi
December 26, 2013

This has been quite an eventful year for Asia-Pacific sports. There were groundbreaking activities and controversies as well as an end of an era. We’ve covered a number of these watershed moments at The Diplomat throughout the year, so now, without further ado, here’s our list for the Top 10 Asia-Pacific Sports Events of 2013:

10. Rodman and Kim, BFF – In a bizarre twist, former NBA rebounding champ (and resident weirdo) Dennis Rodman somehow struck up a friendship with North Korea’s new dictator Kim Jong-un. Rodman, who was known for his outrageous wardrobe and behavior during his playing career in the 1980s and 1990s, has just visited Pyongyang for a third time, though he did not meet with Kim on this trip. Presumably, the young despot was a bit tied up after having recently disposed of his uncle.

9. (Most) Asian teams avoid groups of death – Three of the four Asian representatives drew favorable pairings in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, with South Korea and Japan having a reasonable chance to advance out of group play. The same cannot be said, however, for Australia, which is slotted with the finalists from the last World Cup (Spain and the Netherlands), as well as rising power Chile.

8. Inbee Park’s near grand slam – South Korea’s 25-year-old superstar dominated women’s golf, winning the year’s first three (of five) majors and finished with six tournament victories as well as the world No. 1 ranking.

7. Sachin Tendulkar hangs it up – The 5-foot-5 Indian cricket god finally called it a career after obliterating many of the sport’s all-time records. Tendulkar, 40, played in his 200th international test match in November, coming just short of recording another century.

6. New Zealand’s historic collapse – Emirates Team New Zealand had the America’s Cup in its grasp, needing just one more victory in the best-of-17 series to reclaim the oldest trophy in sports. Instead, Oracle Team USA completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history by winning eight straight races on the San Francisco bay to retain the cup.

5. Vettel speeds past competition all over Asia – German wunderkind Sebastian Vettel is already on his way to auto racing immortality after having won his fourth straight Formula 1 title at the age of 26. Vettel won 13 of the season’s 19 races, including the last nine. He did much of his domination in Asia, winning seven of the eight races held on the continent, and placed third in the season-opening race in Australia.

4. Adam Scott’s Master-ful breakthrough – After Greg Norman’s heartbreaking close calls at Augusta National, Scott finally ended the Aussie drought by becoming the first player from Down Under to claim the coveted green jacket. Scott, who defeated Argentina’s Angel Cabrera in a playoff, finished the year with a flourish. He tied for third in the British Open and fifth in the U.S. PGA before nearly completing the Australian treble, winning the PGA and Masters before losing by one stroke at the Australian Open.

3. Tanaka headed to U.S. after flawless season – Masahiro Tanaka had a historic campaign in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, going 24-0 in the regular season and then leading his Rakuten Eagles to a thrilling Japan Series victory over the storied Yomiuri Giants, saving the deciding Game 7 to complete a magical season. The Eagles on Wednesday reluctantly decided to post their star pitcher, clearing the way for Tanaka to sign with the highest-bidding team from Major League Baseball. The 25-year-old right-hander will be the most sought-after free agent in this offseason.

‘Ender’s Game’ and Maneuver Warfare

How the famed sci-fi novel reflects a revolution in military thinking

Kyle Mizokami in War is Boring

In the mid-1980s a theory of warfare gained new prominence. The idea is to avoid large force-on-force attacks, use speed instead of firepower and strike at the enemy’s vulnerabilities. Proponents describe it as fighting smart. You attack the enemy’s thinking, forcing on him an unending chain of hard choices.

Practiced sporadically in ancient times, used heavily in World War II and still practiced today, it’s called “maneuver warfare.”

At the same time the concept was gaining new popularity, an award-winning military science fiction novel was released. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is now a sci-fi classic.

By some strange, serendipitous coincidence, Ender’s Game is the best book on maneuver warfare ever written—and a contemporary of the theory’s renewed prominence. If you've ever read the novel, you've been exposed to some pretty smart ideas for waging war.The most widespread use of maneuver warfare was by the German army in World War II. Wikipedia photo

The novel and the doctrine

Ender’s Game was published in 1985. It’s the story of a boy who saves humanity from an alien menace. Earth has been twice attacked by insectoid aliens called “Buggers.” Earth’s government, acknowledging that it needs every advantage against the aliens, decides to breed military geniuses to lead human space fleets to victory.

The novel follows child genius Ender Wiggin as he undergoes command selection and then training, first participating in zero-g simulated individual combat and later commanding platoons of other prodigies and simulated fleets of Earth ships. Ender’s keen mind and his ability to innovate new tactics make him mankind’s best bet.

Warning, spoilers ahead.

Ender’s first taste of combat is in Battle School, where armies of 40 students each fight battles in zero gravity using training lasers. When a student is hit, he is out of the fight.

It’s conventional wisdom at Battle School that victory is achieved by killing off the other side. After that, the winners take the four corners of the enemy’s entrance gate and pass one soldier through it.

As a foot soldier in Salamander Army, Ender has an epiphany. The last soldier alive in a battle against Leopard Army, outnumbered nine to one, Ender freezes enough enemy soldiers just as they are about to touch the corners to prevent Leopard from controlling all of them.