31 May 2011

Busy but Not That Busy!

This week I will be busy working on the publication, which I edit; I guess this will leave me with almost no time to blog any story. However, I think I should be able to squeeze in some time everyday to share some good reads on the Web.

Like this article from the pages of the WSJ: "The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force."

The Economist has an interesting article on the faith-based rituals of the financial sector.

It may sound a little funny and weird but Central America has been one of my favorite childhood geographical regions. Nicaragua, Guatemala and the other Banana Republics in that part of the world have always fascinated me. 

The Christian Science Monitor has a fascinating piece titled, 'Is Guatemala becoming a narco-state'?

29 May 2011

Weekend Reads, Videos, & Masala

  • Is Greece on the verge of sovereign default? (Vox)
  • Sudan is back on the verge of war. (Foreign Affairs)


If you are interested in celebrity gossip, then check out http://www.thesuperficial.com/


Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is nicknamed the 'Iron Butterfly'. A few years ago, she was interviewed by the irrepresible Karan Thapar on the BBC.

If you are wondering why she has such a peculiar nickname, then watch the three-part video series of her BBC interview; trust me your respect for her (even if its momentary) would go up a few notches.

Part 1 of BBC Interview

Part 2 of BBC Interview

Part 3 of BBC Interview

25 May 2011

Germany brokers U.S.-Taliban Talks

For the last few years now, the U.S. has been desperate to pull out its troops from Afghanistan. For this to happen, a few major things have had to happen: defeating Al-Qaeda and other terror organisations, uprooting terror networks, dismantling all terror infrastructure (like terror training camps), strengthening of Afghan security forces (incl police), and establishment of political stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

The pullout issue has gathered pace in the last 18 months and has become even urgent after the death of Osama bin Laden. Playing on the U.S. domestic political fears Pakistan has been putting forward the idea of 'Good Taliban', i.e. moderate Taliban! Now what can the the moderate version of the ultra-extremist Taliban looks like is anybody's guess.

Taking it from here, the U.S. is holding talks with the Taliban (i.e. Afghan Taliban); these talks are being brokered by Germany. 
Here's an excerpt from Der Spiegel, which has an exclusive on the U.S.-Taliban talks.
The current negotiations revolve around the question of how security and stability can be guaranteed after Western troops withdraw. The central issue is the possible establishment of permanent American military bases in the country, a development the Taliban fears and categorically rejects. 
Germany's Foreign Ministry hopes to get the Taliban to renounce violence, recognize the Afghan constitution and sever its ties to Al-Qaida. "Taliban leaders say their agenda is purely regional. [...] Unlike Al-Qaida, they don't want to establish an emirate in Washington."

A short backgrounder on Taliban
The Taliban enjoys considerable support in the frontier areas, especially in Waziristan. Many of the tribes in these areas share cultural, tribal, regional, and ideological affinity with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants are also receiving support from another major source – the opium farmers in south Afghanistan who fear loss of livelihood if the Afghanistan government extends its control over these areas. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have assured protection to the drug farmers and dealers. In fact, the revenue from the illicit drug trade is one of the biggest sources of funds for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban remain active in much of southern Afghanistan. Today they are using this area to launch hit and run attacks against the Americans, as well as NATO’s ISAF, and then retreat into the safe havens in the frontier region.

The resurgence of the Taliban in the south and the northeast border with Pakistan poses a very serious threat to Afghanistan’s internal security. Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of providing arms and ammunition and safe haven to the Taliban.

The foreign forces face considerable problems in countering the Taliban. The reasons are not far to see: the Taliban know the terrain like the back of the hand and also have the backing of the local population as well as the Pakistani military and political establishment.

Pakistan's Taliban Fixation
Pakistan nurtured the Taliban because the latter furthered its cause. A long-sought aim of Islamabad has been to end the ‘two-border squeeze’, from India (in the east) and Afghanistan (in the west).

With a friendly dispensation in Kabul, which would do anything at its bidding, Pakistan did not have to worry about its western frontier. The presence of the Taliban came in handy for Pakistan as now it could focus on exporting terrorism to India. Another advantage was that Pakistan could now bundle off all terrorists, accused of terror attacks against western nations, to Afghanistan where they would find a safe haven.

When it comes to fighting the Islamists, Pakistan has always been a two-faced Janus. Even in the recent campaign against Islamist terrorists in the Swat and Waziristan regions, it has selectively targeted elements of the Pakistan Taliban while letting the Afghan Taliban go scot free. This balancing strategy makes sense from a Pakistani perspective — it is self-interested, not evil — but it creates real problems for the U.S.-ISAF effort in Afghanistan and raises the possibility of terrorism in the West. In the long run, it spells trouble for Pakistan as well. The recent Pakistan Taliban deadly attack on the PNS Mehran naval base could well be a portent of things to come for Pakistan. 

23 May 2011

India's Unwanted Baby Girls & Other Reads

  • India's unwanted baby girls. (BBC)
    'The BBC focuses on four major ideas: Missing Millions, Imported Brides, Kashmir Killing Fields, & Saving Bihar's Babies.'
  • How the Chinese challenge erupted. (Indian Express)
    'This article traces the most important reasons behind the Chinese invasion of India in 1962.'
  • IMF's next MD: A rigged race. (Guardian
'A short edit on how the tight race to find a successor to DSK is already rigged.'
  • Why the Pakistan Taliban attacked the Mehran naval base. (Rediff)
'Security analyst B. Raman on what prompted the Taliban attack the PNS Mehran naval base.'

22 May 2011

The pre-1967 Plan

On Friday the U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his most major foreign policy speech, after his Cairo address in April 2009. This speech, like the Cairo address, was especially meant to highlight his administration’s policy toward the Israel-Palestine imbroglio and the unrest in the Arab World. (You can access Obama's complete speech here.)

Here is Obama’s prescription to resolve the intractable Israel-Palestine dispute.
"For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.

"For the Palestinians, efforts to de-legitimise Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
"As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
"So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
"[T]wo wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
"I recognise how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened.”
1967 Six-Day War
So what was the pre-1967 border position like? In other words, what happened in 1967 that altered the Middle East map?

In 1967, under domestic pressure, the leaders of the Arab States decided to attack Israel. However, even before they could launch their invasion, Israel, which got wind of the impending attack, launched a preemptive air strike in which it pulverised over 70 per cent of the Egyptian military aircraft. In just six days, Israel defeated the pan-Arab alliance. This Six-Day War altered the Middle East map. 

The outright victory left Israel in possession of new territories:
(a) the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula (lost by Egypt); 
(b) the West Bank (lost by Jordan; so named as the territory is on the west bank of river Jordan), and
(c) the strategic Golan Heights (lost by Syria; annexed in 1981).

Also, the Israelis took complete control of the city of Jerusalem (which they annexed in 1980).

The UN asked Israel to withdraw from occupied territories (Resolution 242), but the latter turned a blind eye stating that doing so would endanger its own security.

Israeli reaction
Reacting to Obama's Middle East policy speech, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  
said that his country should not be asked to withdraw to the borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War.

In fact, he told Obama that Israel will confirm it would adhere to "assurances" given to  Israel by former American president George W. Bush in 2004. "Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centres in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) beyond those lines," Netyanyahu said.

He said that a "full and complete return" to the 1967 borders would be "unrealistic" and would make Israel "indefensible". Over 3 lakh Israelis have built Jewish settlements across the areas gained in the Six-Day War.

All in all, the shift in the American policy is a massive win for the Palestinians while the powerful pro-Israeli lobby is crying wolf.

Obama's intentions are good; however, given the region's history, it would take more than a miracle for these intentions to become a reality. The road to peace in the Middle East will be long and full of obstacles - religious, strategic, economic, and political.

(Picture taken from www.bbcnews.com)

20 May 2011

Friday Readings

  • What the Left Front did wrong in West Bengal (Telegraph India)
  • Interactive graphic on India-Pakistan-China border tussle (The Economist)
  • The politics of grabbing farm land for industrial use. (Tehelka
  • China and Pak hold fire against U.S. (Indian Express)
  • Midnight's Children shooting complete in Sri Lanka (BBC). Guys, get ready for massive Islam-is-in-danger protests in the Islamic World! I have read (and own) all the works of Salman Rushdie; Shame, Rushdie's political novel on Pakistan, is my favorite among his works. 

19 May 2011

Thursday Readings

  • Women graduates, including MBAs, earn less than their male counterparts, for the same work. (Washington Post)
  • Abbottabad raid was humiliating to Pakistanis, says US Defence Secretary. (CNN)
  • A terrific article, with a superb chart, on India's welfare schemes. (The Economist)
  • Terrorism after Revolutions. (Foreign Affairs; registration required - it's free!)

18 May 2011

Gaddafi's Libya - Part II

The current stalemate in Libya does not augur well for the rebels. The rebels, in control of most of eastern Libya, are running short on arms and ammunition. 

Challenging the might of Gaddafi’s powerful secretive state apparatus is no mean thing. The rebels stated on a positive note, capturing most of eastern Libya. However, even after more than a couple of months of the start of the rebellion, the anti-Gaddafi forces, even though backed by NATO, are not, much to their dismay, in a position to overthrow Gaddafi. 

Libya is no Egypt: the Libyan state is sparsely populated - just over 64 lakh in a country of 18 lakh sq km; Internet is tightly controlled; no private media is allowed; cities and towns are separated by hundreds of kilometers. In a country where the State controls all media and communication tools, information flow is slow and ineffective in mobilising public opinion (much in the way it happened in Tunisia).

In his radio broadcast to the rebels, the Libyan strongman threatened to storm the rebel-held areas, showing “no mercy, no pity. We will come. House by house, room by room...vengeance awaits rats and dogs... It’s over. The issue has been decided...We are coming tonight...We will find you in your closets.”

What has not helped the cause of the rebels is the lack of unanimity among the three major powers in the NATO, especially the U.S., the UK, and France - the U.S. says throwing out Gaddafi (does that include his assassination) is the major aim, France and UK have said that the objective is to protect the rebels by enforcing a no-fly zone, as suggested by the UN resolution.

NATO's military strikes have destroyed the Libyan air force while also killing one of Gaddafi’s sons. However they have not dented Gaddafi's brutal measures against his countrymen. 

With either side digging in heels for the long haul, it seems the Libyan stalemate is here to stay. 

Wednesday Readings

Under this head, I plan to add hyper-links to interesting articles on the Web. You can say these are my favourite reads for the day.

How superbrands' success is fuelled by sex, religion, & gossip. (BBC)

The Steve Ballmer Days are over. (The Brooks Review)

Pak-China: Even an all-weather friendship has limits. Please read the comments too. (The Economist)

New acting chief for Al-Qaeda. (CNN)

17 May 2011

Religion as Financial Destiny

I love infographics! Recently, The New York Times carried an interesting article, with a great infographic, by Don Leonhardt, titled Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny? The article focuses on the intricate relationship between religious affiliation and income earned. 

Readers should note that the data, culled from a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, relates to folks living in the United States. However, irrespective of the country, the infographic provides fascinating insight into the economic differences among the various religions in the United States. Like all bits of economic data, surveys, and infographics, this one too may have its share of detractors. It’s ok!

Says the author: "The most affluent of the major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent. On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists.... Some of the income differences probably stem from culture. Some faiths place great importance on formal education." 

So if there is one thing that connects the richest religions, it is education. And that is what makes their followers earn more.  

P.S.: Yesterday I had mentioned that today's entry will focus on the latest developments in Libya; now this will appear tomorrow.

16 May 2011

Gaddafi's Libya - Part I

Muammar Gaddafi has, for over four decades, evoked extreme reactions, both within Libya and without. After dethroning King Idris in a coup d'etat in 1969, the crazy colonel, who styles himself as the 'Leader of the September 1 Revolution', has turned Libya into a nation where fear stalks every person in every walk of life. For dictators fear has always been a handy tool - a kind of policy statement. 

Gaddafi brooks no dissent, a trait reflected in the lack of any political freedom in Libya. As Lord Acton had said, 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely', Gaddafi's rule comes with no accountability toward Libyans, something that has only made him a power-crazed autocrat.

Gaddafi's Libya is characterised by widespread corruption, high rates of unemployment, nepotism, and human rights abuses.

Libya's enormous energy wealth - it has the 10th largest proven oil reserves in the world - has long propelled the dangerous rule of Gaddafi, who has imprisoned thousands of political activists at home. Further he has often used petrodollars to finance terror campaigns carried out by Islamist organisations in foreign lands.

International condemnation stung Gaddafi, albeit briefly, after Libya carried out the bombing of the 1988 Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing over 265 persons, including several Americans, and also the bombing of a disco in Germany. Retaliation came swift: the U.S. Air Force bombed Tripoli, the Libyan capital, killing the adopted daughter of Gaddafi.

Gaddafi has long played the anti-colonial and pan-Arab rant to rally ordinary Libyans behind him and to prolong his rule; it seems the ordinary is fighting back, though with his back to the wall, against the might of a brutal dictator.

Tomorrow's post will focus on the latest developments in Libya.

15 May 2011

GoI Repeats Strategic Blunder

It seems that the Government of India (GoI) has not learnt its lessons even after burning its fingers in the 'Pakistan-is-a-victim-of-terror' bogey. I have no doubt that this stance of the GoI is nothing short of a strategic blunder.

On May 9 this year, in a TV interview, India's Home Secretary G. K. Pillai said that, "There is no doubt that Pakistan is a victim of terror. But at the same time, they are a sanctuary of terror also... There is a contradiction." 

It is not that Mr Pillai is the first GoI official to state this; he was merely parroting the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's 'soothing' words. In his efforts to foster peace with Pakistan, Dr Singh had gone to the extent of setting up a ‘Joint Mechanism’ with Pakistan to fight terror. Beat this - we partnered with the world's biggest sponsor of terror to fight terror! The Pakistanis must be laughing their asses off. 

Indian security and intelligence experts had slammed the ‘Joint Mechanism’ move. They say that by equating India and Pakistan as “victims of terrorism”, India seriously undermined the cornerstone of its Pakistan policy: that Pakistan is a direct sponsor of terror against India, and that for any peaceful and meaningful negotiations, Pakistan should stop such anti-India activities.

In fact, a strategic expert put it this way: “The next time there is a major terrorist attack against India, with substantial circumstantial and other evidence of Pakistani involvement available, Pakistan and its apologists in the international community will ask India to sort out the matter with Pakistan through the ‘Joint Mechanism’, which is now to be set up. To divert attention, Pakistan will allege that India has sponsored scores of terrorist incidents in Pakistan. If India objects to this, Pakistan will say that the Indian prime minister himself has acknowledged that Pakistan is a ‘victim of terrorism’.”

This is precisely what is happening now. On the international stage, even after being caught with their pants down in the 'Osama bin Laden-in-Abbottabad' case, the Pakistanis are crying itself hoarse that their country is a victim of terrorism. 

In a post 9/11 world, Pakistan has clearly exploited the West’s nervousness and compulsion and has extracted huge concessions—military and monetary—through threats and cajoling, for its so-called ‘cooperation’ in the ‘war on terror’. 

Post-OBL, the U.S. continues to turn a Nelson’s eye to Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, unless that terrorism is directed against its interests. You just have to look at their anti-terror policy - they say that 9/11 and 26/11 are not on the same page. In other words, your terrorist is different from my terrorist, seems to be the favorite line of the Americans.

While the U.S. has its own compulsions, especially strategic, India certainly does not have such compulsions to treat Pakistan with kid gloves. India should take the U.S. and other members of the big powers club, into confidence by apprising them of the critical need to rein in Pakistan’s dangerous activities. It remains to be seen whether the world has the capacity to recognise Pakistan’s persistent perfidy, and to evolve a workable strategy to neutralise it.

The Government of India’s response to Pakistan’s complicity in the Mumbai Terror Attacks can hardly be called consistent and mature. The GoI would warn of a stern and befitting reply to Pakistan on one day while on the next day it rules out the military strike option. Having strong anti-terror laws is not going deter terrorists, who come to kill innocent citizens and are willing to die in the process. We need to beef up our intelligence gathering machinery and strengthen the security apparatus. Rather than blow hot and cold, what the GoI needs to do is to come up with a comprehensive and pragmatic policy to end the Pakistan menace.

While the hawks in the Indian administration advocate a hard-line approach like an all-out war, India can ill-afford to go to war with a nuclear state like Pakistan that is armed to the teeth.

Dr Singh says that, “We cannot countenance a situation in which the safety and security of our citizens can be violated with such impunity.”
Brave words but if the charade of the GoI's current muddled Pakistan policy continues, it will not only embolden the anti-India terror groups but also strengthen the hands of the Pakistani Establishment, i.e. the Pak Army and the ISI, to continue their covert war against India with impunity. 

In any political decision, national interest should be paramount, and it is our national interest that should guide India's policy towards a rogue state like Pakistan. 

14 May 2011

Start with 'Farewell'

I know it is an odd way to start a blog, leave alone one on global politics and economics, with a poem titled 'Farewell', one of my most favorite poems.

'Farewell' appears in Agha Shahid Ali's The Country Without a Post Office. The poem reflects the author's angst over Kashmir's desolation - once a paradise, now a Hades.


I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed - as it withers - toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn't
have happened in the world?

I'm everything you lost. You won't forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive. You can't forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can't forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?

In the last two days there have been massive problems with the Blogger service; hope it all sorts out soon.