August 26, 2014

Digital India

08 Aug 2014

PM Modi has often time and again laid emphasis on using technology to overcome issues ranging from farming to governance. The Digital India Group on MyGov is a significant step towards that goal.

It's one of the fastest growing groups on the MyGov site with 37,590 members and is open to members who preferences are Digital Technologies which include Cloud Computing and Mobile Applications. The aim of the group is to
"Come out with innovative ideas and practical solutions to realise Hon'ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of a digital India."
All you have to do to get started is to register on the site, pick a group of your liking and choose a task listed on the group!

Comments on the group page include-
The Indian Farmer should benefit from the IT sector. Linking of Soil record, with Farm Output and selling price in comparison with world prices. If data on seeds sowed can be got, a pattern on output can be realized.

Now India needs up gradation of government staff to technical one. Every record must be in database to enhance performance, security, maintenance.
Every School must have a central server that will connected to central cloud of containing all sorts of E Training material ( both for teachers as well as students section wise ) All students above 6th should be give tablets like Aakash but more powerful( costing around 3000 ) with which they will connect to their school server freely. All e-Material should be created in regional language as well as English. Do not give subsidy to 100% tab but give to only those who can't afford.

Digitization of services using technology is valuable for creating transparency, responsibility and quick runaround. Educating people of its value and widespread usage thereafter will ensure private sector participation for e.g. passport process developed by TCS. Government should educate people and ensure easy access to internet on mobile devices. All regional and cooperative banks must be encouraged to provide ATM services.

RFID -Short for radio frequency identification, RFID is a technology similar in theory to bar code identification. Could be integrated with small electronic chip & used for individual phones for unique user Identification, Transactions made by him/her, Shopping, Tour & Travel, Hotel & Restaurant Bills, Energy, Gas, Water, Bus, Train, Air, Boating, etc. bills…One stop solution for all bills.
WIFI should be freely enabled through-out India for better communication, knowledge sharing, and digitalization of our nation.

E-Seva Centers in every Village as single window delivery of all government services to public.

When we add more and more number of services that can be availed electronically, automatically people will get attracted to it. After achieving a certain stage, some can be made ONLY available electronically. The Kerala model of "Akshaya Kendras" is highly successful in providing a large number of services at all locations. People can go there, submit applications, which will be processed electronically and service will be made available within a fixed number of days. No bribes, no worries.

Bring in the judicial system on digital platform and connect them with police department, CBI, forensic etc. so that unwanted and harassing process could be allayed.

Voting rights to students through e-voting. Students go to other places for studies and at the time of election they are not able to vote due to distance. Even lots of students couldn't vote in this election. A separate website should be launched for e-voting. If any student send request of online voting with proper documents that he/she is studying in other city, a password should be sent to him/her so he/she may vote through e-voting.

The Government has already taken the right step with the 'Indian Citizen ID Card'(ICIC) project. This central database should store all the information about every citizen, starting from DOB Cert, educational cert, Voter ID, Ration Card, DL, PAN, Passport, Gas, Electricity, Telephone consumer ID, bank account numbers, biometrics, insurance, vehicle's registration number etc. A single digital ICIC should be given to all citizens or just a number they should memorize. That card or number should be mandatory for all starting from school admission for their kids, hospital admission, traffic check points, purchasing rail/air tickets to insurance to color tv. Every government of private body has to verify their ICIC number through a simple mobile App, where they simply enter the ICICI number and the App displays the details of the citizen. The App can also do thumb impression verification (technology is capable to do that). This will not only make like easy for the citizens, but also reduce corruption. I request the PMO to invite for full PPT presentations on this, so that we get an opportunity to share the idea in details.

You too can become a part of the digital initiative by partaking in any of the six tasks members are currently working on.

So debate, ideate, get started!

You can join this Group, if you are signed in!! 

Fighting Back Against Western Sanction

August 23, 2014 (Ulson Gunnar - NEO) - While the impact of sanctions leveled against Russia is being debated, one fact is perfectly clear; the dangerous interdependence cultivated by the concept of “globalization” leaves nations vulnerable amid a global order dominated by hegemonic special interests that use such interdependence as a weapon.

Two rounds of sanctions have been leveled against Russia targeting Russian banking, arms manufacturing, and oil industries. Even as the sanctions are marketed to the world as Russia “paying a price” for its role in “destabilizing” Ukraine, Russia has been busy cultivating ties and expanding markets that are increasingly found outside the West’s spheres of influence and therefore, beyond the reach of these sanctions. Russia is also looking inward to diversify its markets and seek socioeconomic independence.

Instead of viewing the sanctions as an impassable obstacle requiring capitulation to Wall Street and London, Russia has viewed them as a challenge to sever reliance on unstable markets. More so, Russia’s quest for alternative markets is a means of applying its own form of pressure back upon the West. While the West attempts to portray the sanctions as “cutting off Russia,” the restrictions do at least as much to isolate the West itself.

Multipolar World Vs Western Hegemony

In a unipolar world, supranational geopolitical blocs like the EU (European Union), the African Union, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and regional free trade agreements serve to consolidate and open up the collective socioeconomic potential of the planet to those at the top of this international order. Currently, this constitutes the special interests on Wall Street, in the city of London, and among the special interests converging in Brussels. Interdependence is intentionally cultivated among the various members of individual blocs and between supranational blocs themselves. This ensures that leverage is constantly maintained over each individual national entity, making individual nations incapable of sidestepping collective initiatives of the blocs they are a part of.

In the European Union, this can be clearly seen as individual nations benefiting from ties with Moscow are attempting with limited success to rebel against broader EU sanctions against Russian industries.

The use of sanctions across several supranational blocs, including North America, the EU, and to a lesser extent, the West’s proxies in nations like East Asia’s Japan, had at one point critically threatened those nations targeted by them. Nations like Iran or Cuba who have suffered under Western sanctions for decades are clearly behind because of them. Behind, but not out.

As technology enables each individual nation to procure wealth on its own it once depended on trade with other nations for, the impact of sanctions is diminishing. The impact of sanctions is also undermined by a growing alternative international order outside of the West’s unipolar paradigm. BRICS, the nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, constitute the leading edge of the rise of the developing world. No longer satisfied with subservience to the Wall Street-London global order, nor eager to find themselves entangled beneath another global empire led by another global superpower, these nations are attempting to redefine international relations in more traditional, multilateral terms.

Becoming self-sufficient economically while redefining international ties in a less interdependent manner, appears to be the defining aspect of the emerging multipolar world BRICS is attempting to create. The creation of international trade outside the traditional framework of the IMF, the World Trade Organization, and other institutions created by the West, for the West, has gradually eroded the impact of sanctions, penalties, and monopolies empowered by Western domination over international finance and global trade.

More to Do

While Russia seems to be taking Western sanctions in stride, the fact that the United States and Europe are targeting Russia in the first place is a warning to all members of BRICS as well as to developing nations around the world. In the capitals of nations residing outside the Wall Street-London international order, the possibility that any one of them could be next should be at the center of economic planning and the future of their respective foreign policy.

Creating alternative markets outside this international order could be a short-term stop gap. In Russia’s case, growing ties with China in terms of energy exports ensures a lasting alternative market for Russian natural gas that is set only to grow in the future as the West attempts to cutoff and isolate both Moscow and Beijing.

Seeking to create economic opportunities and progress domestically could be a more long-term and lasting solution. Russia’s decision to ban the import of food products from nations targeting it with recent sanctions gives BRICS an opportunity to expand in the void left by European, American, and Australian agricultural industries. It also gives an opportunity for Russian producers to expand their operations domestically. In the immediate aftermath of Russia banning imports from the West, stocks in Russia’s agricultural industry soared. While such spikes are more due to speculation than an actual jump in value, the fact that these producers now have an incentive to expand may create long-term value to justify investor confidence today.

But rather than waiting for sanctions to begin disrupting the socioeconomic status quo of a nation residing outside Western hegemony, a disruption the sanctions are designed specifically to create, why shouldn’t BRICS and other developing nations begin the process of developing their domestic markets and alternative international trading regimes beforehand?

If Russia, the largest nation geographically, the ninth most populous, and with one of the most formidable conventional and nuclear military forces on Earth, can be targeted for sanctions aimed to cripple its economy, then any nation can be targeted. Russia, with its resources and leadership is able to cope and adapt to these sanctions and even perhaps come out stronger in spite of them. Other nations might not weather such adversity so gracefully. Across BRICS and other nations in the developing world, a concerted effort must be made to move away from the interdependence of globalization and back toward greater multilateral trade regimes and greater domestic economic self-sufficiency.

Ulson Gunnar is a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”

Singapore quietly expanding F-15 fleet

James Hardy, London and Lindsay Peacock, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
22 August 2014
The RSAF has being quietly augmenting the size of its F-15SG fleet. Source: US Air Force
Singapore appears to have quietly boosted the size of its F-15SG fleet from 24 aircraft to 40, according to Boeing financial statements, aircraft registration filings, and US congressional reports.

Singapore originally bought 12 F-15SGs - with an option for eight more - under a contract signed in December 2005. In October 2007 the city-state modified this option by buying 12 more to give it a total of 24.

These aircraft have all been confirmed as delivered and have US-type serial numbers running from 05-0001 to 05-0024. Several remain in the United States with the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) 428th Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB) in southwestern Idaho, while the remainder are active in Singapore with 149 Squadron.

Aircraft operating in Singapore use four-digit serial numbers in the 83xx sequence, starting at 8301, although these do not run consecutively.

In January 2014, several aircraft with new serial numbers - 05-0025, 05-0028, 05-0030, 05-0031, and 05-0032 - were seen at Mountain Home AFB. These had not been previously reported and suggest that Singapore has obtained another batch of eight aircraft.

Meanwhile, a 26 November 2012 letter from the US State Department to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner under the Arms Export Control Act refers to the "sale, modification, and follow-on support of eight F-15SG aircraft to the Government of Singapore".

Figures released by Boeing show that eight F-15s were delivered to an unspecified customer in 2012.

Boeing financial data also shows that a total of 93 F-15s were delivered from 2005 to 2012. South Korea has confirmed that it received 61 and Singapore that it received 24 for a total of 85, leaving eight unaccounted for in public records.

Finally, on 5-6 August 2014, Boeing took out civil aircraft registrations for what it described as F-15SG aircraft: N361SG, N363SG, N366SG, N368SG, N373SG, N376SG, N378SG and N837SG.

Neither Boeing nor the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) would confirm whether the city-state had acquired 16 more F-15s than previously disclosed, although they also did not deny it.

A Boeing spokesman told IHS Jane's that the company was "unable to discuss" the number of F-15s it had supplied to Singapore, while a MINDEF spokesman said: "The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) bases our procurement on the assessed long-term defence needs, and the RSAF has purchased sufficient F-15SGs to meet our defence requirements."

Singapore's reticence on its follow-on purchases of F-15s is unsurprising: it has long demurred on outlining the extent of its defence procurement and capabilities, instead preferring to quietly build up what is widely seen as the best equipped military in Southeast Asia.

One retired armed forces officer told IHS Jane's that this was a strategic decision to keep its neighbours guessing, and also because the country's leaders did not need to use military procurement as a populist crutch.

However, this refusal to confirm acquisitions can occasionally lead to surreal conversations with military and defence industry officials, such as at the 2012 Singapore Airshow, when Israeli officials would not confirm the sale of IAI Heron unmanned aerial vehicles to Singapore despite the presence of one on static display at the show.

Ukrainian military moves to endgame

Tim Ripley, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
22 August 2014

  • Ukrainian soldiers rest in their 2S19 MSTA-S self-propelled howitzers on 14 August before moving to the front line in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Source: AP/PA
  • Key Points

Government forces are continuing to gain the upper hand in eastern Ukraine
Both sides are using heavy weapons in the worst fighting witnessed in Europe since the Balkan conflict
Ukrainian troops have continued their offensive aimed at clearing pro-Russian rebels from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions despite strong resistance.

Both the Ukrainian and rebel forces are using tracked armour, heavy artillery, and rockets in the heaviest fighting seen in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

The operation by Ukrainian troops, underway for more than a month, has pushed deep into rebel-held regions, with fighting now reported in the suburbs of the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk for several days. Reports on 20 August indicated that in Lugansk, Ukrainian troops had recaptured a central city police station.

Ukrainian forces appear to be trying to cut rebel forces in the two cities off from each other, as well as severing land routes to the Russian border to block supplies and reinforcements from reaching them.

The rebel setbacks of the past weeks have prompted three prominent rebel leaders - including their military commander, Igor Girkin, known as Strelkov; the political leader in Donetsk, Alexander Borodai; and the rebel head in Lugansk, Valery Bolotov - to step down.

The Organization for Security in Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has reported daily artillery fire in both Donetsk and Lugansk for more than a week, as well as regular breakdowns in power, water, telephone, and other utilities because of the fighting.

Rebel fighters claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jet near Lugansk on 17 August, although a Kiev government spokesman reported that the pilot was rescued by friendly forces. A further air loss occurred on 20 August when a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft was shot down over Lugansk, with the pilot reported missing.

Controversy continues to surround an alleged incursion by an armoured column from Russia into eastern Ukraine on 15 August. UK government sources told IHS Jane's that the column comprised some 23 armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) that were subsequently engaged by Ukrainian artillery and anti-tank weapons, resulting in 12 AFVs being destroyed. Two Western journalists working just inside the Russian border confirmed seeing the column cross into Ukraine but did not see the reported engagement. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied the incursion, calling Ukrainian claims "fabrications".

Both the Ukrainian military and rebel forces have been observed using BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers, which have caused widespread military and civilian casualties as well as extensive damage to property and transport infrastructure.

On 7 August the UN reported that at least 2,119 people had been killed in Ukraine since the conflict started in April. Local authorities in Donetsk reported that about 951 people had been killed in the city during the previous five months of fighting. The Ukrainian government reported on 21 August that about 620 its military and security service personnel had been lost in the conflict, including around 70 in the week 12-19 August.

The continued determination of the Kiev government to prosecute its offensive into eastern Ukraine appears to be bearing fruit, although at a heavy cost in human life and damage to civilian property.

Ukrainian army and national guard units appear to be better trained and motivated than the units that first engaged the rebels in the early days of the crisis back in April.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has reported that about 25 battalions of national guard volunteers were fighting on the Donbas front and appear to be performing better than expected, considering they were only formed a few months ago. However, the OSCE reports a number of these units have been implicated in the abuse of civilians.

What has surprised many observers is the reluctance of Russian president Vladimir Putin to intervene directly to prop up the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. So far the Russian armed forces do not seem to have been sent to fight openly alongside the rebels, although NATO claims Moscow is regularly allowing resupply convoys to cross the border.

This might indicate the threat of Western economic sanctions is having some impact, but it is more likely Putin is concerned about public reaction to heavy casualties among conscript soldiers in regular army units. The experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Chechnya in the 1990s has made Kremlin occupants very reluctant to risk Russian lives in foreign adventures that could turn into protracted and bloody conflicts.

So far Putin has been content to let 'deniable' intelligence operatives and ultra-nationalist volunteers carry the burden of the fighting in Ukraine.

An all-out conventional war with Ukraine would also cost a lot of money and impose a heavy burden on the Russian economy. It appears that the Kremlin is hanging its erstwhile allies in Donetsk and Lugansk out to dry.

August 25, 2014

Border tension between Bangladesh and Myanmar
Gautam Sen

August 22, 2014
Bangladesh and Myanmar have had a not-too-stable a relationship on the border – both land and maritime. In 1980 an agreement on border cooperation was signed between the two countries. A verdict was subsequently obtained from the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas in March 2012 concerning delineation of their common maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal and accepted by both the governments. This backdrop enabled deployment of respective border forces (Border Guards Bangladesh and Border Police Force of Myanmar) without provocative maneuverings and also peaceful exploration of hydrocarbons in the Bay of Bengal. However, tension had again flared up along the 270-km long land boundary in May this year, leading to killings of border guarding personnel on both sides and also some persons alleged to be from the Rohingya Security Organisation (RSO) – reportedly an anti-Myanmar militant outfit to protect Rohingya interests.

Both the countries had thereafter interacted with each other to downplay the tension, but the overall situation does not seem to have returned to normalcy. In both Bangladesh and Myanmar, the ruling governments have numerous pressure groups and detractors to contend with. Therefore, an early resolution of the border problem seems difficult and irksome, particularly on ways to deal with the Rohingya refugees moving out of Myanmar in large numbers from Rakhine province. India has an interest towards containing the Rohingya issue, so that the refugee spillover do not disturb the political situation and economic conditions in the adjoining Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura and also adversely impinge on the security of other north-eastern states.
Notwithstanding the recent bilateral differences between Bangladesh and Myanmar a broad measure of accommodative relationship has been prevailing between the two countries. The Rohingya problem, notwithstanding issues of human rights, can be permanently resolved only when devolution of politico-economic powers to regions dominated by different ethnic groups and their inter-se rights are settled within the framework of Myanmar`s Constitution and enacted within its ambit. This, however, appears unlikely in the next couple of years, at least before the next parliamentary elections in Myanmar in December 2015, considering that the Aung San Suu Kyi`s National League for Democracy and other political parties drawing upon the support of the dominant Burman ethnic community would not like to concede much to the Rohingyas.

There are logical reasons for India to suitably intercede with both its neighours to facilitate an agreement on the border. There are geopolitical reasons for this. It is in India`s interest to avoid an emerging situation in which the Rohingyas in general or RSO takes to arms, develop tactical ground-level cooperation with other militant groups operating in India`s north-east and transgress into the north eastern states through Bangladesh territory. Hot pursuit of Rohingya militants – and in the process some incidental action against harmless Rohingyas fleeing from persecution of other Myanmarese ethnic groups and also state elements – by the Myanmar army across the disputed portions of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, will only exacerbate the existing border tension.

A mediatory role by India may not be unwelcome by Bangladesh and Myanmar as both have friendly relations with India. On humanitarian grounds, New Delhi may try to subtly prevail upon the Myanmar to at least provide the Rohingyas rights to continue to reside in the places where they were originally settled, give them permits to work and earn their livelihood through their traditional economic activities, ie., without pressing for their political rights of citizenship. These concessions may be acceptable to the moderate ethnic Burmans if suitably advocated by the existing Myanmar state establishment. Spillover of persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh and also their forced eviction thereafter from Bangladesh is likely to lead to their eventual movement towards India to find shelter in the north-eastern states like Mizoram and Tripura, jeopardizing normal civic life and demographic balance.

Relations between the military hierarchies of Bangladesh and Myanmar have been generally cooperative. It is the political attributes such as, latent sympathy of some political elements in the south-eastern districts of Bangladesh for the Muslim Rohingyas and the advocacy by the former of a strong stand by Dhaka on so-called border provocations by Myanmar army, which have caused the border tension. Given the political turnaround between Myanmar and Bangladesh, the border problem can be resolved to mutual satisfaction. Apart from the fencing issue, there is no major divergence of perception between the two countries on either delineation or demarcation of their common border. It is basically cross-border Rohingya refugee movements viewed as legitimate by one country and not by the other, and occasional RSO-related activity, which had caused the recent fracas. Therefore, it is pertinent to put in place a mechanism to jointly monitor these developments.

If India can help facilitate normalization of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border related problem then its Look-East Policy also gets traction. Some beneficial outcome of India`s trade with Myanmar from the north-east region particularly Mizoram will be tangible. Active trade is expected to impact Maynmar’s upper and lower western regions, including Rakhine state, which is an economically backward and food scarce Rohingya homeland. However, tensions on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border will have adverse impact on the economic flows to Rakhine state located not far from the area of tension.

The author is Shri Gautam Sen:(IDAS :Retd.), presently serving as Adviser (Finance) of India`s State Govt. of Nagaland.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

Ukraine: where is it going?

K. P. Fabian

August 25, 2014
The news from Ukraine does not as yet indicate that there is going to be a peaceful, negotiated end to the current crisis with government troops using air power and ground forces against separatists who are fast losing territory. The human toll, with 2119 dead and 5043 wounded, keeps mounting. Over 380,000 have fled, with more than half to Russia.

The US does not seem to be keen on promoting a peaceful settlement. Germany though agreeing to economic sanctions against Russia, rather reluctantly and after much delay, finds itself in a predicament. The German economy shrank by 0.2 % in the quarter ending 30 June as opposed to 0.7% growth in the previous quarter. It is generally agreed that the sanctions imposed by EU on Russia and the retaliatory sanctions imposed by it are the main cause of the shrinking of the economy.  Can Germany afford to continue with or, if need be, expand the sanctions? Obviously, no. But, there is popular support for a tough line with Russia.

For the Russians, Ukraine’s capital Kiev is the cradle of their Orthodox Church and of the Russian nation. In 1783, Prince Potemkin established a base in Sevastopol in the Crimea for the Russian navy. A section of the Ukrainians actively collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War 2 and fought the Soviet Union. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev without consultations with his colleagues handed over Crimea to Ukraine to mark the 300th anniversary of Council of Periyaslav (1654) that marked Ukraine’s joining Russia in return for protection against Poland.  It was only in 1978 that Ukraine got control of Sevastopol. The Russian navy continued to use the base under a lease agreement renewed from to time amidst indications that Kiev had reservations against such leasing after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia wanted the US troops to remain in Europe as an insurance against any re-armament of a united Germany. But, Russia did not want the NATO to expand and to get closer to it. It has historical memory of enemy forces coming to Russia once under Napoleon and twice from Germany, the last being under Hitler. That is why the Soviet Union insisted on the neutralization of Finland before agreeing to withdraw its forces from that country following the end of World War 2.

When the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact collapsed there was a brief debate about the need for the continuation of NATO and the need to cash the ‘peace dividend’. Soon it was decided, partly under pressure from the military-industrial complex, that far from disbanding, NATO should be expanded. In 1999, Czech, Hungary, and Poland joined. In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined. Russia was watching anxiously, but powerless to act.

In 2008, US advocated the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine. Germany and France opposed, fearing Russian reaction. Later that year Russia sent in troops when separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia wanted to secede from Georgia. Georgia lost the two regions and the NATO was in no position to take on Russia militarily.

Since 1991, according to US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, US has spent $5 billion “to promote democracy in Ukraine“ or more accurately, to get Ukraine to join NATO and EU. In other words, despite the Russian military response in Georgia in 2008 US persisted with its plans for Ukraine.

In November 2013, President Yanukovych from the eastern part of Ukraine, where Russian speakers are in majority, refused to sign a partnership deal with EU owing to opposition from Russia which extended a loan of $15 billion. The US decided that it was time to accelerate Ukraine’s march towards NATO membership. Street demonstrations in which Vitoria Nuland and Senator John McCain participated compelled Yanukovych to agree to early elections and to reform the constitution to reduce the powers of the president. A draft agreement arrived at in the presence of foreign ministers of the UK, Poland  and France and a representative of Russia on February 21, 2013 was sabotaged by US by engineering   more  violent street demonstrations leading to the flight of Yanukovych who surfaced days later in Russia. The next day, Russia moved more troops to Sevastopol and the separatist movement in the Crimea resurfaced and following a referendum the Crimea became ‘independent’ and later requested Russia to agree to its merger. The request was accepted with alacrity. The West protested loudly, but was powerless to stand in the way. Obviously, Russia feared that if Ukraine joined EU and NATO, there will be a NATO base in Sevastopol.

Soon separatist movements materialised in the east of Ukraine and after the customary referendum, independence was declared in Donetsk and Lohansk. Kiev started military operations, but without much success. There was a change after the shooting down of the Malaysian flight MH17. Kiev accused the separatists and the US and the West concurred without waiting for evidence. President Putin did not demonstrate the diplomatic smartness associated with him when the flight was shot down causing the loss of over 270 lives. He could have immediately sent in his condolences to Malaysia and other states whose nationals were killed and announced his support for an enquiry to bring the guilty to justice. An impression was created that he had lent missiles to the separatists who shot down the flight, probably mistaking it for a military aircraft in the vicinity. The black box is in the UK, but no evidence about how the aircraft was brought down has been published. There are experts in the US and Germany who have argued that it was probably an air-to-air missile in which case Ukraine is guilty. As of now we do not know.

After the shooting down of MH17, Russia came under sanctions and the military operations against the separatists gained momentum.

President Putin sent about 280 trucks with ‘humanitarian relief items’ and Ukraine complained of aggression. The West too protested. But, Russia ignored the protests and the trucks went in and got out without permission from Ukrainian customs as they do not control the check point. Was President Putin sending out a reminder of what happened in 2008 in the case of Georgia? Incidentally, he got his trucks out before Chancellor Merkel reached Kiev for a visit since 2008. Let us see whether she will succeed in persuading Ukraine to seek a negotiated way out of the crisis or encourage further confrontation?

It is possible, if there is political will, to find a negotiated settlement on the basis of a new constitution giving greater say to regions in foreign policy. In brief, the US should agree to a sort of Finlandization of Ukraine, without saying that in so many words. Otherwise, there is risk of a repeat of Georgia 2008. Further economic sanctions and political isolation of Russia will not make it change course. As it is President Obama has brought Russia and China closer, certainly not to the advantage of the US.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

Time for India to use its Soft Power in China

VIF India .org                                 22-08-14                      Prof R. Vaidyanathan
July 2014 is an important month for global economics and China. It is the first time in recent history that China has overtaken USA in GDP [adjusted for purchasing power parity or PPP] and has become number one country in the world according to Euromonitor1. Now the order is China/USA/India/Japan in terms of GDP at PPP. Of course in per capita terms, USA has ten times more gross income than China given the population size of the latter.

Still China's growth has been phenomenal and in the next two decades, it is poised to become numero uno even in nominal terms out running USA. This has implications for India from an Asian perspective and also we need to formulate our strategy about China. Traditionally in the last few decades, we have been looking at China using US or UK lens. This is due to the fact that we have not developed many China centers all over India. Hence we have few experts who understand their language and try to look at China with Indian glasses rather than Anglo-Saxon lens.

The major change that is taking place in China is not related to their growth rates and Three Gorges Dam and the shopping malls and Olympics stadia. That is a typical Western way of viewing China. The main change is in religious affiliation and assertion of Islamic followers and development of large scale underground Church. The middle classes have given up rice [perceived to be for the illiterate poor] and are embracing Christianity since it also helps in job mobility particularly in global companies where the heads could belong to the same Church. The Muslim population is less dispersed and more concentrated in specific locations like western part But there is also a growing interest in China about its past. The Ming dynasty tombs in Beijing which are made in marble were painted in red color during the great cultural revolution of the sixties and even today laborers are washing it to make it back in to white color without success. The guides are not reluctant to talk about it. The ten handed Buddha in the Summer Palace of Ching dynasty near Beijing has significant relationship with our idea of Lord Vishnu who destroys evil and even this is mentioned clearly. More importantly, China is opening what are called Confucius Institutes in more than fifty countries which is similar to British Council efforts but more focused on China's ancient wisdom. . The first thing we should learn is to stop looking at China with Western glasses.
The economic boom in China has given rise to issues related to their faith/religion and associated things. First and foremost, China is facing a severe separatist [called splitters by Chinese] in their western region namely Xinjiang by Uighurs. The region is populated by followers of Islam religion and seeing unrest for the past two decades. But recently it has reached violent proportions. For instance, early last week Chinese claimed that at least 100 have been killed in disturbances in that region2. Not only that, some portion of the Uighurs has carried the battle to Beijing itself. In other words, one form of regional separation combined with Islamic terrorism has become a major problem in China. There are also reports that the Islamists are taking shelter in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

On the other hand, China is also waging a battle with "unrecognized" Church in its territory. Once a hub of Christianity, worshippers in Wenzhou fear their faith is facing its biggest threat since the Cultural Revolution3. The recent visit of the Pope to South Korea as part of his engaging Asia has fuelled concerns in China since China has its own church and does not recognize Papal authority.

"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.4 But for China, both the Abrahamic religions are alien to its culture going back several thousand years. So they are trying to revive "Confucianism" by encouraging the study of it as we'll as opening several centers to propagate it. Buddhism is their ancient religion and Hindu influences are significant.

The keynote speech by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China- Hu Jintao to the 17th Party Congress in October 2007 – devoted a paragraph to religion. He stressed that religious people including priests, monks and lay –believers played a positive role in the social and economic development of China. Hence religion is not any more the opiate of the masses. The state controlled Xinhua stresses that there must be freedom of belief. It says that religion can play an important role in realizing a 'harmonious society" which is the new political role of the party5. That is the main issue we at India should be interested in. A 2007 study conducted by two professors of China Normal University based on more than 4500 people concluded that more than 300 million people namely 31 percent are religious and more than 60 % of those are in the 16-40 age group. The number of followers of Christianity has increased to 12 % from a low of less than 8% in the nineties.

This last fact is interesting since a huge underground Church has developed in China and
Zhao Xiao, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, thinks there are up to 130 million Christians in China.6. This figure is much more than the official figures of 21 million –16 million Protestants and five million Catholics. If the latter figure is true—which is corroborated by other like Pew Forum –then there are more Christians in China than the Communist Party membership which is pegged at 74 million in the last count.
Thus, a significant change that is taking place in China pertains to religion. The economic growth bereft of spiritual underpinnings in the context of death of Marxism is going to be a great challenge for China and India as an elder brother should facilitate orderly transformation based on our common shared ancient wisdom. Let us remember that China is also a multi-cultural and multi religious society but interested in our shared past. In the words of Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA [1938-1942] "India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without having to send a single soldier across her borders."Ship loads of Sanskrit and Pali original works taken away by Chiang-Kai-Shek from mainland to Taiwan bear testimony to it. These are exhibited in the Taipei museum even today.

Hence, India should be sending Sri Sri Ravishankar/Mata Amirtanandamayi / Swami Ramdev/ Pramukh Swami/Sankaracharyas/Vaishnavite Seers and other spiritual leaders, Bharatha Natyam experts, musicians, other artists in hundreds to China to " Conquer and Dominate" by our soft power. We need to print millions of copies of Ramayana and Mahabharata and our Puranas and Gita and Jataka stories in all modern Chinese languages and widely make them available. The CDs of Mahabharata and Ramayana etc. can also be given free. We should start some fifty Bharatiya Vidya Bhavans in China. Actually China needs this more than USA even though all our soft power is currently on show in the USA. We should create a fund of at least Rs.1000 crore for this effort. There is a statue of Kalidasa in the Shanghai theatre unveiled by the theater academy. I do not think of any metro in India including the so called "cultural capital" Kolkata, having a statue of Kalidasa. At Kolkata, the Theatre street became Shakespeare Sarani and not Kalidasa Marg!

We should strategically recognize the weak point of China and also the need of its masses in the absence of Communism. Many a Chinese even today believe that their next birth should be in India to reach salvation. Culture and religion are not taboos any more.

There are other issues. Officially China recognizes or permits only five religions namely Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism7. Hence we should take steps to include Hinduism as one of the permitted religions. The Indian Government should take appropriate steps in this regard. The point is that our soft power in culture is interwoven in a tapestry form with the religion. You cannot separate it howsoever one tries it. Carnatic Music without Bhakti is neither music nor art. But our Government of all hues has never raised this issue with the Chinese.

The strategy should be to envelop China with music, dance, art, Yoga. Ayurveda, spiritual texts like Ithihasas, Gita, Puranas etc and capture the hearts of the middle classes as we have done for centuries.

The second issue is related to our own mind-set. We tend to look at China either through the Western spectacles or through local Marxist spectacles—which have more thick glasses. We need to come out of it. Even when invitations come to Indian spiritual leaders, the Government of India remains unenthusiastic and indicates its dis-interest in the false assumptions regarding China's political orientation. The policy formulators are still living in the sixties and seventies while as China is undergoing a gigantic social crisis due to material prosperity and spiritual vacuum. Unfortunately, as a Chinese colleagueof mine at Shanghai University commented last year, "both our countries are ruled by rootless deracinated foreign educated wonders that do not have any idea of the civilizational roots or the cultural richness of our lands." Hopefully now it should have changed!!

China is enthusiastically waiting. To quote late B K S Iyengar, the doyen of yoga, "Mr. Iyengar told The Hindu during a visit to Beijing that he saw China as a future home for yoga. When he travelled to Guangzhou to give a lecture, he was stunned to find that organisers had rented out a stadium – more than 1,300 students had come to listen to him".8
But this is the opportunity to us since it is better to have a competitor and neighbour sharing the past cultural commonness. This will be very useful when the world is going to have two super powers from Asia unlike the conflict of last century between two super powers—USA and USSR- who did not have any shared cultural roots.
China is at the threshold of change. It is yearning for spiritual solace. Many groups and sects from Western countries [with or without permission] are trying to spread their influence and message—since this is an opportunity for them.
Are we ready to undertake such a mission?

5.     [Asia Times Online July -3 -2008].
6.     [The Economist 2nd October 2008]
7.     [Government White Paper on Religions, 1997]

August 24, 2014

PM Modi is building a more connected India

PUBLISHED: 21:09 GMT, 11 August 2014 | UPDATED: 21:09 GMT, 11 August 2014
If Modi has not revealed his hand yet on domestic issues and his silence on rising controversies is puzzling and disappointing many, his personal imprint on our foreign policy is already visible. 

His sporadic pronouncements on foreign policy during his campaign did not offer any clear idea of how he intended to handle that responsibility. As Chief Minister, his exposure to external relations was limited to visits to a few countries to primarily discuss investment matters.

Yet, it is in the foreign policy area where his direct experience has been the least that his impact so far has been the most.  Modi obviously felt he could control the risks associated with immediately engaging Nawaz Sharif without India's
minimum expectations for dialogue resumption being met.
Modi obviously felt he could control the risks associated with immediately engaging Nawaz Sharif without India's minimum expectations for dialogue resumption being met.


In internal matters, the lack of innovative breaks so far is being ascribed to bureaucratic constraints. This seems less true of foreign policy where the prime minister is taking initiatives and developing an agenda marked by his own thinking and personality. 

This is manifest most in our neighbourhood, where the out-of-the-box decision to invite all SAARC countries (and Mauritius) to the swearing-in ceremony was clearly a political initiative of which Modi took indirect ownership subsequently by personally acclaiming its success.

The thought may have been that BJP's dramatic election victory had set the stage for India to play a more dynamic role even beyond its borders, and that immediate neighbours could be invited to join in celebrating the party's triumph. 
More importantly, the message would be that they had nothing to fear from Modi's victory in the context of his "Hindu nationalist" credentials, his tough personality, 2002 and his uneasy equation with the muslim community.
Modi obviously felt he could control the risks associated with immediately engaging Nawaz Sharif without India's minimum expectations for dialogue resumption being met. 
Congress hits out at Modi for spreading 'false information' over food scheme
'They are trying to destroy the social fabric!' PM slams Congress's 'vote bank politics'

Pakistan has not acted against the jihadi groups, it has deliberately stung India by not curbing Hafiz Saeed, and has not shown any tangible progress on trying those responsible for the Mumbai carnage. 

Even on the MFN issue Nawaz Sharif has so far prevaricated. Modi is obviously free of any illusions about Pakistan, whose enduring hostility he has experienced also in Gujarat by way of terror attacks.

He probably thinks that with his strong political mandate he is in a position to impress on Pakistan that its future would be more secure in a connected South Asia that fosters prosperity benefiting all. 

Pakistan's responsiveness to such thinking remains highly doubtful. Nawaz Sharif could well calculate that the primacy Modi gives to the development agenda provided a leverage to extract some concessions from him in return for moving forward. 
Accordingly, he must continue to press his self-serving demands, maintain the terrorist threat, seek Indian "generosity" to strengthen his hands vis a vis his own military, and use others to take him at face value, which Kerry and Hagel have done during their visits. 


The Pakistani political class – including the moderates – has convinced itself that India has been stubbornly unresponsive to the many friendly overtures by Pakistani leaders towards India and has remained unyielding on culling the "low hanging fruit" of Siachen and Sir Creek, not to mention our robbing Pakistan of its water. 
Nawaz Sharif would expect to be "rewarded" for coming to Delhi for the swearing-in by defying the Pakistani military and religious groups, failing which Pakistani grievances against India will increase by one more. 
The forthcoming Foreign Secretary-level dialogue, followed by the expected Modi-Sharif meet on the margins of the UNGA in September, will reveal if these realities have changed. 
To underline the new government's priority attention to neighbours, Bhutan was chosen for the first prime ministerial visit. This gesture was politically sagacious, both to woo the Bhutanese people now enjoying more democratic rights, and to handle the China factor. 


Nepal's exaggerated, self-defeating nationalist prickliness and the obsession to trump us as much as possible with the Chinese card has been a decades-old challenge. 

That no Indian prime minister visited Nepal for 17 years is both a commentary on our political neglect of the country and Nepal's doggedness in exploiting the irritants in our ties to create an atmosphere in which, for instance, water resources cooperation that could have brought immense benefits to the Nepalese economy and created bonds of interdependence has been thwarted.

Modi's visit to Nepal has been remarkable for his mastery over vocabulary and sentiment that marked his extempore speech to its parliamentarians. He has touched the right chords and has invested in the future, to the extent sentiments and expressions of goodwill have diplomatic durability. 
The External Affairs Minister's (EAM) earlier visit to Bangladesh launched the government's overtures to our neighbours, with Sri Lanka yet to be engaged in Colombo, an exercise complicated by the highly parochial nature of Tamil Nadu politics. 
Connectivity seems to be the buzzword in government's regional policies, as is evident from EAM's remarks at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Myanmar. Modi's emphasis on SAARC also stresses increased connectivity to boost regional economic ties to all round advantage. 

Our imaginative proposal to launch a SAARC satellite fits into this paradigm. Unfortunately, with Pakistan still reluctant to normalise trade relations with India, connectivity between India and Afghanistan and beyond to Central Asia will not easily materialise and SAARC will therefore remain stunted. 

Indian interests would be better served by a more decisive eastward focus, with BIMSTEC receiving priority attention. If the accommodating posture towards our neighbours is one reality and there is satisfaction that this has received favourable international comment, the other is the determination to protect India's interest despite threats of isolation and adverse reaction by powerful countries, as happened at the recent WTO negotiations at Geneva.
This has lessons for those who are sizing up the Modi government. 
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary

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3 Political Lessons from the Mahabharat

The Diplomat

An ancient epic's lessons for India ring true today.

By Akhilesh Pillalamarri

August 23, 2014


This past weekend, the Indian television show the Mahabharat finished airing. The show, which began airing in 2013, was a version of the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and was widely successful, garnering millions of viewers daily. Its success followed that of another televised version of the epic that ran from 1988 to 1989.

The Sanskrit epic itself is the world's longest epic poem, at 100,000 couplets or 1.8 million words. It is ten times the combined length of the Iliad and Odyssey and three times the length of the Bible. Structurally, the Mahabharata is a compendium of ancient Indian mythology, history, political theory, and philosophy, and has sometimes been described as an ancient encyclopedia of Indian knowledge. The holy Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, which is considered a summary of the vast Hindu religious and philosophical literature, is also contained within the Mahabharata. Historians believe that the epic is based on certain core events that occurred in 10th to 8th century BCE India, which then grew over time to become the epic, while on the other hand traditionalist Hindus believe it to be a true reflection of historical events. In any case, the Mahabharata is considered the most representative work of the diversity of Indian and Hindu thought in existence.

However, despite its encyclopedic nature, there is an underlying plot and storyline throughout the entire epic that holds it together. Philosophical and political works are scattered throughout the epic as dialogues between characters, most of who are involved in political and military situations. At the risk of oversimplifying an incredibly complex epic, the Mahabharata is similar to an ancient Indian Game of Thrones, with numerous factions competing for political power in a variety of states. The main story of the work is a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura (located between modern Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh), the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. Two branches of cousins of the Kuru family struggle for the throne: the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Although the father of the Kauravas is the elder brother of the father of the Pandavas, he is initially disqualified from ruling in favor of his younger brother due to being blind. His eldest son, Duryodhana, claims to be the rightful heir to the Kuru throne on the basis of being the eldest son of the eldest son even though the eldest Pandava, Yudhisthira, is older and is considered the legitimate heir apparent. Eventually, the struggle between the Kauravas and Pandavas culminates in the great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. Throughout the epic, it is implied that the Pandavas are in the right because they follow dharma (righteousness).

It is fortunate that the show, the Mahabharat was so well received because it serves as a reminder to Indians and the rest of the world that the Indian tradition contains more than just the idealism and non-violence typified by figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. It contains advice that is similar to the wisdom and realpolitik of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli – practical strategies that serve the ultimate goal of political and military triumph. The two main figures in the Mahabharat, who expound on these strategies are Shakuni, the maternal uncle of the Kauravas, and Krishna, the maternal cousin of the Pandavas, who is considered the avatar of a Hindu god in Hinduism. Together, these two characters expound on a variety of political strategies that could be of practical political relevance today. This is especially important, since it gives Indians a realistic way of looking at the world that is rooted in their civilization.

Here are some important political takeaways from the show and epic:

There's no point in occupying the high moral ground if you lose in the process

Contemporary Indian politics is often saturated with an obsession over maintaining the high moral ground, no matter the cost. As the Diplomat reported previously, this mode of thinking led to a disastrous war with China in 1962. This idealism has always been present in Indian thinking, and has often been disastrous. In an anecdotal story, the Hindu king Prithivraj Chahaun defeated and captured the Muslim Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghor in the 1191 first Battle of Tarain. However, he released his prisoner as that was considered morally correct. In 1192, Mahmud returned, and defeated, captured, and executed Prithivraj, an event that lead to Muslim rule over the entire Ganges river valley, the heartland of India. In the Mahabharata, Krishna on the other hand, recommends the use of deceitful and immoral strategies in the service of moral causes.  The ends justify the means when major issues are at stake.

War is sometimes justified

The Hindu tradition has acquired a reputation for being exclusively non-violent, due to the influence of Gandhi. Gandhi argued, to an extreme, that it would be better to uphold the principle of non-violence over resorting to violence for any cause, even in self-defense. On the other hand, the Mahabarata accepts the idea of a just war. According to Shakuni, war is an option that should only be resorted to after political solutions fail, but once resorted to, it ought to be fought to its conclusion. The epic's Krishna also tells Arjuna, a Pandava, that once a war breaks out, it is not only justifiable but mandatory to fight if it is for a good cause. It is also mandatory to resort to war to bring about a desired conclusion rather than to walk away from violence out of the principle of non-violence. Modern India's treatment of war and its military often seems half-hearted and restrained because of its deep discomfort with power on moral grounds. However, it would do well to remember that only by accepting the use of power can it truly achieve its goals.

Rules and customs ought to be interpreted flexibly

Throughout the Mahabharat, both Krishna and Shakuni argue that rules and customs should serve certain social functions and that when they cease to do so, they should be discarded or loosely followed. Duty can thus be amended when it pursues a course of action that is inflexible. In the Mahabharata, the Panadavas felt honor bound to play a game of dice to the end, even though it resulted in the gambling away of their kingdom and their queen. In many parts of India today, a bloated sense of following a narrow rule-based honor leads to caste-based discrimination or violence against women. If following such a strict sense of morality leads to actions that are immoral, then it is better to evaluate one's notion of duty and honor.

The Mahabharata, though an ancient epic, still has a lot to teach modern India. This is why it still continues to be relevant and widely popular today, spawning successful shows, retellings, and plays. Its timeless lessons continue to guide Indian thinking, always pulling it away from extremes – the extreme of idealism and the extreme of immorality. Rather, it argues that is sometimes better to resort to what seems to be unjust in order to achieve a greater justice.