January 31, 2014

Incredible complexity

M K Bhadrakumar, Jan 31, 2014:


The US-Pakistani tango is a high-stakes game and it has commenced at a juncture when the Indian government is in limbo.

The US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue took place early this week in Washington after an interruption of three years following the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s secretive residence in Abbottabad in May 2011. These three years have been marked by much US-Pakistan discord and public acrimony. A brave attempt was made by both sides during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the White House last October to put behind the bitterness of betrayal and get on with the relationship.

But such deep wounds as Abbottabad take time to heal. At best, they could be cauterized for temporary relief. Indeed, bin Laden’s ghost was present at this week’s cogitation in Washington, as is apparent from the recent US legislation to make financial aid to Pakistan $33 million conditional on Islamabad pardoning and releasing the Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi (who secretly helped the CIA to track down the elusive al-Qaeda leader’s hideout). Whereas Pakistan sees Afridi’s collaboration with the CIA as an “act of treason”, Americans hail him as a hero. In turn, Pakistan seeks the release of lady doctor Aafia Siddiqui whom the US locked up for an 80-year jail term for allegedly firing at US soldiers. While Washington regards her as a cold-blooded murderer, she is the stuff heroism in the Pakistani folklore.

Clearly, this is much more than a war of words between two estranged partners. There is a crisis of confidence in their “spirit of cooperation”, to borrow the expression from the Pakistani foreign ministry statement condemning the US decision to link Afridi’s case to American aid. Meanwhile, hovering above is also the CIA-controlled drone mission haunting the US-Pakistan ties with President Barack Obama vaguely promising that he’d exercise greater “prudence” when Pakistani air space is violated in future and its citizens killed in missile attacks. The cup of Pakistani anger is overflowing.

The testiness in the US-Pakistani ties was apparent at the strategic dialogue. Washington tried to inject some romance in the run-up to the strategic dialogue with the US special representative for AfPak James Dobbins even penning an article in the Pakistani media affirming that the meet would be an “important opportunity to advance a comprehensive agenda of mutually beneficial initiatives” and a sign of the “firm US commitment to advancing our relationship with Pakistan.” But in the event, the strategic dialogue ended without a compass to navigate the journey ahead.

Sharif has since unilaterally ordered talks with Pakistani Taliban.

For the Obama administration, the key agenda item was the post-2014 Afghan scenario. Pakistan’s foreign and security policy advisor Sartaj Aziz said in his opening statement at the strategic dialogue meeting that the Afghan endgame provided “the overbearing and sobering background in which we are meeting to explore ways and means for transforming the post-2014 US-Pakistan transactional relationship into a strategic partnership.”

Strategic relationship

Pakistan needs to know what is there in it for its interests. To quote Aziz, “At what stage does a normal transactional relationship become strategic? Are there one or more thresholds that must be crossed before a relationship can qualify as a strategic partnership?” Interestingly, Aziz proceeded to spell out the three “important prerequisites” of a US-Pakistan strategic partnership. One, “mutual trust at all levels and among all key institutions”; two, respect for each other’s security concerns; and, three, US willingness to “convey” to India Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns” with the “same intensity” with which Washington exerts “a lot of pressure” on Pakistan over “issues of concern to India”.

Aziz dwelt on the Afghan scenario at some length to underscore that Pakistan is willing to cooperate with a “responsible and smooth drawdown” in Afghanistan and to facilitate “a continued flow of the lines of communication” as well as to “help in every possible way” the stabilisation of Afghanistan “including through a comprehensive reconciliation process” – provided, of course, Islamabad could “at the same time hope that our security concerns are comprehensively addressed.” He then summed up that a resolution of the Kashmir issue would have an all-round salutary effect on the range of issues.

To be sure, major security challenges lie ahead for India in the period ahead in its region. The US-Pakistani tango is a high-stakes game for both sides and it has commenced in right earnest at a juncture when the Indian government is in limbo and during the next 3-4 months at the very least, a new political order will be struggling to be born on the Raisina hills.

India’s politics is in disarray at a time when Delhi needs to connect the various dots and come up with a policy matrix of incredible complexity involving several interlocking templates – security situation within Afghanistan; evolving US regional priorities toward Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to optimise its ‘pivot to Asia’; rising tensions in the US’ equations with both China and Russia; US-Iranian engagement; India-Pakistan dialogue.

The last point becomes crucial since much time has been lost in engaging Pakistan in a meaningful dialogue due to our competitive domestic politics leading to the April poll. Maybe, the Bharatiya Janata Party estimates that a new government dominated by it can always pick up the threads of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dalliance with Sharif and, therefore, what is the hurry today about. But, as the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue forewarns, it will be first-rate naivety to imagine things are as simple as that. Lost time is never found again.

(The writer is a former ambassador)

January 27, 2014

Arrest and Mistreatment of Dr.Devyani Khobragade: Long-term consequences


A few long-term consequences may be predicted:

1. Yes, foreign diplomats will be “sensitized” to the need to follow the letter of American state law in employing domestic assistants, whether imported or local. This outcome could have been achieved through far less sensational or clumsy means.

2. Most diplomats will decide not to hire anyone of the sort. Their children will either stay back, or they will get grandparents to accompany them. The net loss is to the American tax base, and probably to the quality of upbringing that these children will experience, a loss blamed on America, creating resentment against America.

3. Many foreign missions will simply choose to replace the domestic assistant headcount with other designations covered by full diplomatic immunity. The population of undeclared and declared foreign secret agents, media experts and trade coordinators in America may thus be expected to rise, and with it, foreign influence.

4. The arrangement to deposit part of the US-earned wages directly to savings in the home country, will be abandoned, and the assistants left to fend for themselves in saving for their families.

5. Families all over the USA will recoil from the reports of this incident, and from any plans to hire domestic help if they can in any way avoid it. News reports already cite the extreme difficulty that many Americans have in finding enough hours at the wages that they can command, to make ends meet. This will be aggravated. Childcare quality will also suffer.

6. Any prospects of “live-in” domestic workers will be greatly reduced, since those benefits are not counted in hourly wages. Workers will be forced to commute long hours, and pay for their own quality of life. Childcare quality will suffer.

7. Governments all over the world will re-examine the operations of the US Embassy and Consulates in their countries, for tax evasion, visa fraud, giving out trafficking visas illegally, and various other nefarious activities. The credibility of the United States has been crippled by the revelations from the American Embassy School.

8. Employers will respond to extortionary pressures  by cutting back the hours of hourly-paid employees to stay within their own fixed budgets, with negative results all round.  Dictating both an hourly wage and a regular guaranteed number of hours per week for these workers is going to fail in most cases. Further, categorizing any call on live-in workers beyond a fixed working day as overtime, when they have probably been idle most of the day, will only destroy prospects for live-in arrangements.  Children may now be subjected to different “specialists” coming for a couple of hours a day, instead of a caring, beloved person whom they remember as “aunty”  through their early years.

9. In 2011, American farmworkers, grocery store cashiers, park attendants etc earned around $1600 per month,  averaging around $9.3 per hour, from which they had to pay all expenses and taxes.What I do not see is the prospect of childcare/ domestic worker monthly income rising above that earned by these workers.  Perhaps the market for childcare/cooking robots will rise rapidly, if those robots can be imported from China to help the present administration destroy yet another caring human service in the USA?

January 26, 2014

65th Republic Day: Magnificent display of India’s cultural heritage, military might at Rajpath

65th Republic Day: Magnificent display of India's cultural heritage, military might at Rajpath
India’s rich cultural heritage, its achievements in diverse fields and military prowess were on majestic display at the Rajpath on Sunday as the nation celebrated its 65th Republic Day amid tight security.

Marching down from the seat of power at Raisina Hills to Red Fort, the parade showcased India’s ‘unity in diversity’ and defence capability as thousands of spectators along the 8-km-long route cheered the contingents and the mechanized columns.

The well-turned out and synchronized military and police contingents led by General Officer Commanding (Delhi), Lt General Subroto Mitra, marched proudly to the lilting tunes of bands through Rajpath where President and supreme commander of the Armed Forces Pranab Mukherjee took the salute.

The march past was watched by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the chief guest of the Republic Day celebration, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the country’s top political and military brass, besides the diplomatic community.

Braving the winter chill, a large number of enthusiastic people came to witness the parade that culminated at the historic Mughal monument of Red Fort.

Minutes before the parade began, the Prime Minister, defence minister A K Antony and chiefs of army, navy and air force laid wreaths at ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti’, the war memorial at the India Gate where an eternal flame burns in memory of those who laid down their lives defending the frontiers of the nation.

A massive ground-to-air security apparatus was put in place in the national capital to ensure an incident-free Republic Day celebrations. Snipers of National Security Guard were deployed at all high-rises along the parade route.

Around 25,000 security personnel were deployed across the city while the commandos of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Delhi Police kept vigil at important locations.

The unfurling of the tricolour by the President and playing of the national anthem were followed by a customary 21-gun salute. Among others who witnessed the parade at Rajpath was Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The parade began shortly after Mukherjee and Abe arrived at the saluting base at Rajpath escorted by the President’s bodyguards riding bedecked horses.

Before commencement of the parade, Sub Inspector K Prasad Babu of Andhra Pradesh’s counter-Maoist force was posthumously conferred the highest peacetime gallantry award Ashok Chakra. Babu was honoured for an anti-Naxal operation during which he led an assault unit of Greyhounds (anti-Naxal force of Andhra Pradesh) near Andhra-Chhattisgarh border.

The main attractions of the parade were scintillating show of air power, fascinating tableaux depicting the diverse culture and dance by colourfully dressed schoolchildren.

A highlight of this year’s parade was the display of India’s first indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft Tejas. Tejas is a fourth generation, supersonic, multi-role combat aircraft designed and developed by DRDO.

Main battle tank Arjun MK-II, the first indigenously designed and developed tank, also referred to as ‘Desert Ferrari’ for its excellent mobility, was also on display.

The recently inducted transport aircraft C-130J Super Hercules, which is optimised for undertaking special operations, and the gigantic C-17 Globemaster, a heavy lift, long-range aircraft, were major attractions of this year’s flypast.

DRDO displayed the ‘Astra’ and ‘Helina’ missiles, models of an underwater vehicle, mini UAV-NETRA, tracked surveillance vehicle Muntra S and unmanned aerial vehicle-’Nishant’.

The weaponry put on display by the Indian Army included T-90 tank ‘Bheeshma’, multi-launcher rocket system Smerch, Brahmos weapon system and transportable satellite terminals.

A flypast by the Advanced Light Helicopter ‘Dhruv’ of the Army Aviation Corps drew loud cheers from the spectators.

The marching contingents of the army included horse- mounted columns of the 61st Cavalry, the Parachute Regiment, Punjab Regiment, Madras Regiment, Rajputana Rifles, Mahar Regiment, Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment, 9 Gorkha Rifles and 103 Infantry Battalion.

The Indian Air Force tableau presented the story of its transformation over the past eight decades, highlighting its fighting prowess.

Coming full circle: Shinzo Abe in India


A “normal” Japan that takes on greater security responsibilities in Asia, coupled with its new-found confidence under Mr. Abe, bodes well for India and the region.

When former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi travelled to New Delhi in 2005, he was the first Japanese leader to visit India in more than half a decade. His visit took place at a time when Tokyo appeared somewhat wary towards India’s overtures for building closer defence ties. Fast forward a decade, and the relationship has appeared to have come full circle. It is now Tokyo that appears eager to broaden the security relationship with India, even pushing to sell its home-grown amphibious aircraft.

Mr. Koizumi’s visit has since come to be seen as a turning point. The past decade has seen an unprecedented level of engagement between both countries, underlined by regular annual summit meetings between their Prime Ministers, a rare occurrence in India’s diplomacy with most countries. This intensive engagement has persisted despite the many changes of government in Tokyo over the past nine years — as many as four different Prime Ministers have visited India during this time.

While this has reflected the consensus across the political spectrum in Japan for pursuing closer ties with India, no leader has perhaps been as vocal an advocate for the relationship as current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Mr. Abe’s ties with India stretch back over two generations. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who visited India as Prime Minister in 1957, had deeply personal reasons to be grateful to India, particularly for its support to Japan during its traumatic and isolated post-war years.

During the Second World War, Kishi served as a senior official in the puppet Manchukuo government established in northeastern China following the Japanese occupation. In charge of its industrial development, he presided over a regime that oversaw widespread and notorious exploitation and abuse of the local labour force. Charged with war crimes — he is still regarded in China as a Class-A War Criminal — Kishi was subsequently cleared of the charges and went on to become Prime Minister. India extended a warm welcome to Kishi in 1957 at a time when the country was still largely isolated by its neighbours. Kishi made clear his gratitude by making India the first recipient of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Mr. Abe will certainly be mindful of this history when he arrives in New Delhi this weekend on a visit which will also see him preside over the Republic Day parade as chief guest. When he visited India as Prime Minister in 2007, Mr. Abe met with the son of Indian jurist Justice Radhabinod Pal, the only member of the post-war International Military Tribunal for the Far East, who cast a dissenting vote against punishing Japanese officials for war crimes. Among the 50 suspects charged with war crimes was Mr. Abe’s grandfather, Kishi. Pal presented a lengthy dissenting opinion questioning the highly politicised tribunal’s legitimacy and motivations, although he acknowledged the atrocities committed by Japanese forces.

Mr. Abe has made clear that his government is looking to reinvigorate the relationship with India, which has been framed by his aides as a central pillar to his government’s foreign policy objectives for the region. His first term as Prime Minister, in 2007, ended in just one year after a series of missteps left him a widely unpopular leader.

Mr. Abe was given a second chance in December 2012, when his Liberal Democratic Party won a resounding victory amid public dissatisfaction with a series of governments that failed to revive a stagnating economy. Mr. Abe, in his second innings, wisely made the economy his first priority, shelving, at least for much of his first year in office, his more controversial political agenda. Mr. Abe turned to Koichi Hamada, a professor at Yale University, in crafting a bold and ambitious revival plan, announcing “three arrows” to save the economy.

Dubbed “Abenomics”, the three arrows involved massive monetary easing, an expansionary fiscal policy and a plan for long-term growth. The first two arrows had largely succeeded in hitting their target, Mr. Hamada wrote in a recent essay, evinced by a soaring stock market which has recorded a 40 per cent gain over the past year. The Japanese currency has also fallen 20 per cent against the dollar, boosting Japanese businesses by making their exports competitive again.

There is an unmistakeable return in confidence for beleaguered Japanese industry and enterprise, a resurgence that is good news for India. Japanese investments have continued to play a crucial role in building India’s infrastructure, including the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Japanese assistance towards a Chennai-Bangalore high-speed rail project is expected to figure during Mr. Abe’s visit. Trade between both countries reached $ 18.6 billion last year. According to the Japanese government’s figures, investment into India grew from 15 billion Yen ($ 145 million) in 2004 to 543 billion ($ 5.25 billion) in 2008. In 2011, the figure stood at 181 billion ($ 1.75 billion). Cumulative development assistance committed to India, according to government figures, has reached 3800 billion Yen ($ 36.7 billion).

On the foreign policy front, however, Mr. Abe’s record has been mixed so far. Mr. Abe has for long stated his ambition of making Japan “a normal country” and turning the page on elements of the post-war imposed pacifist Constitution that limits the development of the military. His project has taken on all the more urgency in the wake of renewed tensions with China over the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu East China Sea islands and the rapidly growing strength of the Chinese military.

A “normal” Japan that takes on greater security responsibilities in Asia, coupled with its new-found resurgence and confidence under Mr. Abe, no doubt bodes well for India and the region. Only this month, both sides agreed to enhance defence consultations, particularly on the issue of maritime security, when Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera visited New Delhi.

Mr. Abe’s government has, on the other hand, risked undermining its regional promise as tensions with China and South Korea have worsened on the sensitive question of wartime history. Mr. Abe became the first Japanese leader in seven years to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial for the civilians who lost their lives in the war that also enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals.

The visit understandably angered China and South Korea, who view the shrine as glorifying the brutalities of Japanese militarism. The Yasukuni visit even brought criticism for Mr. Abe at home.

Mr. Abe will be the fourth Asian leader to be received as the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in the last five years, following leaders from South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. The trend — albeit partly a result of scheduling — highlights India’s increased attention towards deepening its engagement with the region. It does, however, remain to be seen how India navigates the increasingly complex tensions that have cast a cloud on East Asia, and left unclear what impact a resurgent Japan under Shinzo Abe will ultimately leave on the region.

Uncle Sam does not really care about you

  This is very well written and realistic. No Indian Government in its right senses would put all its eggs in the American basket. Given America's sudden and new found affection for Iran, one shudders to think of what would have happened if we blindly followed the American lead on Iran earlier. With the Americans packing up to leave Afghanistan Iran becomes a crucial partner for India for even access to Afghanistan. We seek "strategic autonomy" and not old school "nonalignment".

        The American fuss on fighter aircraft was unjustified. We need fighter aircraft that can operate over hot desert terrain and in high altitude over the Himalayas. The F 16s and F 18s could not match either Rafale or the Eurofighter to meet these requirements. But all this does not mean that we should not get realistic on a host of issues including raising FDI Caps in defence industry and learning from Japan, South Korea and even Singapore on how to build high-tech industry and infrastructure.

      Lastly Obama, unlike Bush, never really had any intrinsic interest in India. All he looked for was a purely transactional relationship. Many partners of the US ranging from Japan to Saudi Arabia and even Israel also feel similarly about Obama.

G Parthasarathy

Uncle Sam does not really care about you

Friday, 24 January 2014 | Gautam Mukherjee |


Much as Americana is the prevalent influence here, the US’s strategic vision with regard to this country reflects an altogether colder reality: Indians are not included in the American scheme of things in a deeper sense

The rise of Narendra Modi and the prospect of a BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre in a few months is being viewed with trepidation, not only by extremist and inimical elements in Pakistan, but with little warmth by the US as well. A more assertive India, when it is already much too independent for America’s liking, is not seen to be particularly welcome.

President Barack Obama, approaching the end of his second and final term in office, in 2016, has lost interest in the strategic relationship that his predecessor George W Bush initiated. The disappointment began when India decided not to buy its mega order of 126 fighter jets from the US, and settled on the advanced but largely untried in combat Rafale jets from France. Mr Obama thought his PR blitzkrieg during his visit to India had all but sewn up the order, one of the biggest single purchases of military hardware in the world in recent times.

After being miffed by the Indian action, he has more or less distanced his Administration from India, and downgraded his expectations from the relationship. In addition, present Secretary of State John Kerry is perceived to be more or less pro-Pakistan when compared to his predecessor Hillary Clinton.
India has effectively been strategically downgraded for the moment, and China’s constant provocations on our borders are also a reflection of the distance that is developing in the India-US bilateral relationship.

Meanwhile, much as Americana is the prevalent influence, and the economic and cultural yardstick here, the American strategic vision with regard to  India reflects an altogether colder reality. Americana reigns in large parts of the world, in an economically bonded and beholden EU, in much of the English-speaking world, and specifically among the young. America represents the good life; in freedom, dignity and plenitude; always tending towards isolationism yet drawn into assuming its responsibilities as the world’s sole super power, oracle, and general arbiter. Despite this, it seems, of late, alas, America is no longer interested in being inclusive.

Hollywood movies, Apple smart phones, American popular music and so on may be on the mind and at the finger-tips of most affluent people around the globe. And its ambassadors, McDonalds, KFC, the neighbourhood air-conditioned mall, Starbucks, designer jeans, the wonder weaponry, the massive economic might even in its decline, are indeed hugely aspirational in the emerging economies.

But, alongside this easy palatability, our embrace of Americana, our desire to emulate, is not felt or believed to be reciprocal. We, in India, must realise that we are neither viewed with such eager warmth, nor included in the American scheme of things in any deeper sense. And the lack of movement on all fronts in the bilateral relationship underlines this.

Our outgoing Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, did try very hard. He wanted to change the India-US relationship from one of decades of ‘benign neglect’ on the part of the US, to a ‘strategic partnership’ full of vibrancy and movement. But, this was not to be. India is, for the moment, not to guard the Indian Ocean around its neighbourhood for the US. It is not going to be developed into any kind of counter-balance to China. Our exasperating non-alignment does not suit America’s John Wayne type sensibilities.

We are, therefore, assessed to be decent enough but not seen as a reliable ally. We do not have enough to offer the US if we routinely fail/refuse to lay out a red carpet against every item of bilateral advantage. Even Mr Singh could not dare go that far, much to the chagrin of the Americans.

The Americans probably expected huge reparations in exchange for their leaning our way in the civil nuclear deal. The nuclear pariah status did end thanks to US backing, but nothing substantial by way of implementation has followed in the wake of that breakthrough. Nor have we become an obvious American satellite as was anticipated, even demanded, by the US.

India keeps asking for bilateral reciprocity, as if we do not understand that we must know our place. And reciprocity cannot be demanded by the weaker from the stronger. And if the size of the Indian market is considered to be our ultimate leverage and lure; the Americans think they can access it anyway without conceding very much in return. And so we find ourselves searching our own faces in the mirror and wondering why we find ourselves in political limbo.

That inclusive and inspiring, and vastly generous American dream of the founding fathers of nearly 250 years ago, ended long so. It was set aside along with Ellis Island as a point of entry. When it was open, ships carrying impoverished Irishmen, Italians, English, Welsh and Scots, East Europeans, Jews, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Lebanese, all coming from the ‘old world to the new’, across the Atlantic and other seas, to New York. And under the blazing gaze of the Statue of Liberty. Today Ellis Island basks in its silent emptiness, no more than a tourist attraction, and that kind of open-handedness and welcome ended well over a century ago.

That American dream changed with technology upgradation, and time. When ships gave way to planes, time itself quickened, and America grew rich. And the socio-economic barriers started going up. America’s rulers have been steadily less forthcoming as the 20th century advanced, and tightened immigration even more in the 21st. Most of the Indian diaspora in the US trace their migration to the 1960s and 1970s when professionals from the sub-continent were in demand. Today’s IT men, if they are not US citizens or Green Card holders, are only tolerated on short-term visas, but are preferably engaged to work offshore, or in India itself.

The American Black may well marvel at an African-American in the White House, but there is little that is necessarily pro-black about Mr Obama in the conduct of his governance or policies. Perhaps this is because Mr Obama is both White and Black at the same time.

The point is however, no matter how it was all intended, huge inequalities do thrive in America. The top couple of percent of the population own 98 per cent of the wealth and resources. The lot of the wage-earning or unemployed underprivileged in the US has not been getting appreciably better since the Second World War!
And since the recent Wall Street crash of 2008, more suddenly impoverished people are much worse off. And despite some signs of revival now, the US economy will stay under pressure for at least the rest of this decade.