30 October, 2010

Obama's Visit: The Hidden Dimension

by Uddipan Mukherjee


President Obama’s November 6-9 visit to India has engendered expectations in both the camps; although for different reasons. India is expecting a friendlier America, which would help it consolidate in the world podium. And the US naturally seeks a wider opening of Indian markets in order to uplift its sagging economy through a boost in exports.

Strategically speaking, both the nation-states seem to be wary of China, though diplomatically they are diffident to proclaim the fact. Furthermore, Pakistan appears to be another focal point of their deliberations.

Before the G-20 Summit to be held in Seoul in November 10-12, this high profile visit merits a deeper analysis. And in order to do that, a digression is somewhat unavoidable.

In the theoretical plane; Kenneth Waltz’s strand of Neo-realism ardently seeks for an all-powerful ‘higher power’ over and above the sovereign nation-states to usher in peace in international relations.

On the contrary, the “offensive neo-realists” tend to underscore the fact that conflict between nation-states is inevitable and leaders of the countries must always be wary of expansionary powers.

Nonetheless, dialectics of this genre may go on unhindered. What one needs, however, are empirical case studies to give precedence to one theory over the other.

Post-1991, the world necessarily received the ‘higher power’ which Waltz was vehemently searching for in order to establish a long term peace. One lacuna, however, intrinsically existed in Waltz’s thesis.

Actually, Waltz contemplated a world with only one ‘superpower’ grandfathering many low and middle powers. In it, he assumed that the low and middle ones were roughly equivalent to each other and hence a sustainable peace could be generated.

The present scenario, in fact, negates that picture. We have a ‘strongly rising power’ China, a ‘resurgent’ Russia, a ‘corporate power’ like the European Union, certain ‘emerging powers’ like India and Brazil, and a large number of middle and low-level powers who may not always directly clash with each other; but are likely to be drawn into the fold of power-politics.

India being an ‘emerging power’ is surely entangled in diplomatic, economic and security bargain with China and the low-level but ‘nuclear’ power Pakistan. The US, on the other hand, is also inextricably entwined with these two countries, albeit for quite different reasons: the ‘war on terror’ and the ‘currency war’.

Amidst such an environment, how are India and the US expected to interact?

Will Obama’s early November visit be a memorable Diwali (festival of lights) for the Indians and a rejuvenating experience for the Democrats in America who are unsure of their electoral victory in the ensuing mid-term?

No doubt, there are a few unresolved issues between the two democracies. The impediment posed by the ‘onus on the supplier’ in the Civil Nuclear Bill as ratified by the Indian parliament offsets to an extent that of the restrictions on the ‘dual-use technology’ as well as strict visa regime clamped by the Americans on India’s software exports.

Due to the pangs of recession and consequent unemployment, the US raised the prices for certain visa fees for foreign companies. That is estimated to cost India's IT industry around $200 million a year. Furthermore, a proposed new tax code in USA would end tax breaks for firms that create jobs and profits overseas.

America is now charting the path of fiscal stimulus and needs to expand its trade. Probably, that is the reason why President Obama plans to disembark in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. He is, hopefully not deliberately, leaving out Hyderabad and Bangalore; India’s IT-hubs, from his itinerary. Nevertheless, the misunderstandings, if any, needs to be obliterated between the two parties and India’s potential as an economic powerhouse has to be fully utilised by the Americans and vice-versa.

India has already taken a step in the direction of assuaging the post-Bush era ‘cold’ relations between the two nation-states when on October 27 it signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. That surely addresses some concerns of the US companies dealing with nuclear fuel and technology.

Nonetheless, the ‘core’ issue of cooperation is somewhat veiled within technical jargon and atomic paraphernalia.

It is clear that India shall love a ‘permanent seat’ in the Security Council and as a confirmed step toward that direction, wants to be a legitimate part of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group. And the endorsement of the US is seriously needed in both.

However, America is engrossed in an egotistic ‘war on terror’ which it wants to pack up in the ‘Iraq way’; sooner the better. And it badly has to perpetuate the ‘live-in relationship’ with Pakistan for that matter, at least till an Iraq-type ambience could be created in Afghanistan.

India, on the other hand, needs a friendly regime in Afghanistan after the endgame, whenever it happens. But it seems unlikely with the run of events as of now that the Taliban would be completely ousted from the political fray after an US withdrawal. That is the worrisome factor for India because Pakistan will gain a strategic foothold in the region much to India’s chagrin.

The Obama administration appears to build a quid pro quo relationship with India. And India shall remain to be seen as a ‘regional player’ if it does not provide a ‘realistic’ help to the US in its ‘war on terror’. In fact, by not doing that, India will nurture US-Pak ‘trust escalation’ rather than escalating the US-Pak ‘trust deficit’; which is an essentiality for India’s purpose.

Obama and his cabinet do not appear to grant any special privilege to India which the Bush regime did. Hence, Indian diplomacy needs to extract it.

The recent $ 2 bn military aid to Pakistan in addition to the already existing Kerry-Lugar non-military assistance clearly exhibits two things. First, and the obvious one, America still believe that the Pakistani military can deliver in the ‘war on terror’. Second, the Obama administration is ready to dilute its relationship with India so as to erect a façade of victory in Kandahar and Helmand. Military aid to Pakistan just prior to India visit definitely is a strong rhetoric for the Indians: “deliver or endure”.

Moreover, such a stance is a sine qua non for prodding the Pakistanis to rein in the Haqqanis or the Quetta Shura.

But how can India deliver or rather do India need to deliver?

Even without directly assuming a combat role in Afghanistan beside the NATO forces, India can venture out from the domains of its ‘soft diplomacy of $ 1.3 bn by training the Afghan National Security Forces. In fact, this dimension, if put forward to Obama in his visit can generate just that ‘extra’ pumping factor required to provide the much needed fillip in the Indo-US bilateral relations.

This has long term ramifications too. For instance, in the likely future scenario of an US withdrawal of combat forces, Indian troops have a realistic chance of being present in the area along with residual NATO forces, with the tag of ‘observer forces’. And that seriously dents any post-US pernicious Pakistani agenda in Kabul.

However, the moot point is whether Obama shall entertain such a proposal keeping in view the vehement objections likely to be raised by Pakistan. Hence, the Afghanistan issue shall be a challenge for New Delhi’s diplomats.

For India, there are problem zones too. For instance, to tackle the US regarding the ‘subsidy regime’ and ‘carbon emission’; it needs to forge alliance with China. At the same time, the latter poses a constant security threat to its borders. So the dilemma would be whether to foster the prevalent ‘strategic partnership’ with America by incorporating the China factor or to mellow down the belligerent stance toward Beijing.

Indian policy-makers need to make the choice.

American firepower is hopefully to stay in the world arena for another half a century at least. The Pakistani civil-military complex is improbably to be dismantled in that period, given the present mindset of a considerable section of its civilian populace. And China will ‘grow’, both militarily and economically, in the years to come. The irredentist claims of China and Pakistan shall bring both of them together and create ominous security atmosphere for India.

The sole superpower exists in the world. Still, Kenneth Waltz’s hypothesis of a ‘world peace’ does not seem to be tightly grounded in reality. India’s best bet as it seems at this juncture is to ride the wave of “Pax Americana”, till it acquires economic and defence autarky to a relatively healthier extent.

29 October, 2010

The Beginning of History?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

The following article is slated to be published in print at the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Seoul in November 10-12, 2010



Abstract: The world is facing a multitude of problems. Chief among them are the financial crisis and Islamist fundamentalism. In this backdrop, a few pertinent questions are: Will liberal-democracy remain the only form of political economy for the future? Are communism and militant nationalism totally dead? In the November Summit, it becomes imperative for the G20 leaders to follow a holistic approach in solving the pressing problems of the day whereby they can begin history.

On 30 September 2010, the Washington based Brookings Institute released a paper on ‘governance studies’ by William A. Galston and Maya MacGuineas. The authors express concern that the US federal budget is on an ‘unsustainable’ trajectory. Public Debt is about 60 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to them, by 2011, the ratio is projected to go up further by 1000 basis points.

And alarmingly, it can skyrocket to 109 per cent in the 2020s. It is time the US Federal Reserve and the policymakers fasten their seat belts as a Public Debt to GDP ratio beyond 100 per cent reminds us of the Second World War. Simply put, the money owed by the federal government of USA is in dangerous proportions to the net output of the country.

One of the obvious reasons for the aforementioned scenario has been the recession that the US faced since its housing bubble burst. Global interconnectedness in a post-1991 world led to a rapid proliferation of the same.

To add, a more recent Euro Crisis is also directly linked to a ballooning Public Debt. It ultimately paved the way for a bankrupt Greece. Countries like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which pegged their currencies with the Euro, also suffered significant damages. Now, interestingly, the US-recession is ascribed to a ‘lack of prudent intervention’ by the Federal Reserve which led to a fragile banking system. On the other hand, serious fiscal mismanagement is considered to be a major reason that exacerbated the crisis in Greece and other ‘sick’ countries of Europe.

In any case, it is affirmed by most analysts that rising Public Debts, compounded by a huge liquidity are the major financial problems faced by the nation-states of today.

Are these features a discernible signature of decay of the philosophy of free market and its political acolyte; the Western liberal democracy? If such a thesis is acceded to, then what happens to Francis Fukuyama’s by now historical assertion of 1989: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

On the flip side, are these financial disruptions mere periodicities of crests and troughs and we are just witnessing a temporary nadir of such a curve? At least, neo-classical economists would vouch for the latter.

Naturally, questions which perturb us at this critical juncture are: In the future, will Western liberal democracy survive as a form of political economy? Will the ‘newly poor’ of the North be able to keep their hold over the ‘newly rich’ of the once upon a time ‘colonized’ South? Will the ‘other’ strands of ideology like that of Communism or Militant Nationalism be completely won over by the equations of supply and demand?

Nevertheless, at least in the foreseeable future, it appears unlikely that there shall be a re-emergence of Communist Chauvinism or National Socialism in International Relations. However, that does not necessarily mean that those ideologies are ‘dead’ as Fukuyama may force us to believe. There are internal contradictions within the liberal-capitalist system and these may magnify in the form of reactionary regimes or ultra-leftist movements.

Interestingly, even the Third World would experience such instabilities; both in the political and social domain. In essence, globalization seems to have implanted a First World inside every Third World while the former continues to possess an egotistic worldview.

Strategically speaking, the world shall chart a path of counterinsurgency for some time to come. There will be an inevitable struggle of narratives between a First World (dominated by the US) and a Third World (of Columbia, Sri Lanka et al). However, that is not likely to suppress any alternative measures adopted by emerging powers like China in Xinjiang, India in its ‘red corridor’ or a re-emerging Russia in the Caucasus.

That an economic turmoil has strategic repercussions cannot simply be discredited as facetious. However, the world is definitely not exhibiting yet another apocalyptic ‘power block’ arrangement so as to engender a war. Rather, we are more into accepting the premise of non-state actor led insurgencies. And the pathology may be remedied by the troika of Diplomacy, Strategy and Tactics.

In 1979, Kenneth Waltz talked about neo-realism in world politics. He believed that the very existence of a ‘superpower’ over and above the emerging powers, shall curtail the latter’s ambitions of waging a war against each other. If that is the case, then in a unipolar world of today, wars are far-fetched. At the same time, admittedly, the world is yet not completely free of the inherent possibilities of a conventional war.

However, by all means, International Relations shall find itself in a cobweb of environmental, socio-economic, political and religious problems. Nation-states are likely to keep on facing volatile security issues, both of domestic as well as of trans-national nature. The economic backbone of organizations like Al Qaeda and Taliban needs to be broken. Otherwise, the challenges from their side can turn out to be grave.

In this light, it becomes imperative to posit a counter-argument to Fukuyama that International Relations, as it stands today, is just not preoccupied with only economics. Politics and strategy have not taken back seats. Sino-India bilateral relation is a glaring example in this regard as a voluminous trade is unable to assuage the political climate.

Thus, when the G20 leaders meet at Seoul this November; they would have to contemplate on a spectrum of issues ranging from fiscal stimulus to currency exchange rates to carbon trading to international security.

They have the chance to begin history; by a holistic synthesis of the North with the South. They have to engineer adroitness through novel instruments. A peer-reviewed format to manage future malfunctions in the banking system is one such.

The undercurrent of contradictions in the liberal-capitalist system has to be properly evaluated and preventive measures ratified. A blind adherence to the ideology of end of history may be ahistorical.

26 October, 2010

In Pakistan, who is the sovereign?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

an edited version has been published in The Centre for Land Warfare Studies


Thomas Hobbes, the English political theorist, about whom even Karl Marx remarked that “Hobbes was the father of us all”; in his magnum opus Leviathan (1651) defined sovereignty as a monopoly of coercive power. Though he advocated that sovereignty be vested in the hands of a single ruler, he even preferred an oligarchic group or a democratic assembly as the form of government.

Andrew Heywood, in his Political Theory (Palgrave, 2004), asserts that “sovereignty means absolute and unlimited power”.

The term sovereignty is derived from the Latin word superanus, meaning supreme. O. P. Gauba (Macmillan, 2005) says that the sovereign—be it a monarch, chief executive or an assembly is able to declare law, issue commands and take political decisions which are binding on all individuals and associations within its jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, without getting involved in the definitional aspects of the term, it can be safely stated that the concept of sovereignty is in jeopardy in the nation-state of Pakistan. Why is one led to such an inference?

The answer does not lie in one incident or the other, but in the chain of events since the ‘loss of Tora Bora’. The gradual process of loss of sovereignty for Pakistan commenced once the US-led NATO forces lost sight of Osama, who was believed to cross-over to the Pakistani side of the border and allegedly still resides somewhere inside Pakistan, may be in North Waziristan or in Quetta or even in Karachi.

From the harsh rhetoric of ‘being bombed to stone age’ to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s present fiats, Pakistan has had to go through a string of dictates by its dominant partner in this ‘war on terror’ which, interestingly it has joined reluctantly.

However, a very recent incident ignites the dormant debate regarding authority in Pakistan. Hillary was at Brussels on 14 October to attend a NATO meeting. There she said: “It's absolutely unacceptable for those with means in Pakistan not to be doing their fair share to help their own people while taxpayers in Europe, the United States and other contributing countries are all chipping in.” Moreover, she added that “the government must require that the economically affluent and elite support the government and people of Pakistan.”

She was, in essence, proposing(?) solutions to the Pakistani establishment to mop up funds which it badly needs in the wake of the devastating floods. Her rhetoric probably also hints toward the US dissatisfaction regarding the lackadaisical approach of the Pakistan Army to wage a counterinsurgency effort in North Waziristan. Moreover, the recent closure of NATO supply line by Pakistan in retaliation to the air strikes by the former may have deteriorated the US-Pakistan bonhomie.

Whatever be the case, quite interestingly, the very next day and at the very same venue, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asserted, albeit with a façade of authority; “Regardless [emphasis added] of what Hillary Clinton says, we are going to do what is right for Pakistan and I think the tax system has to be more equitable.”

Are Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration framing the laws for Pakistan? Is the Zardari-Gilani duo a mere stooge of theirs? What is the role of Pervez Kayani and the ISI? We can very well forget the people of Pakistan in this regard as hardly Rosseau’s concept of sovereignty lying with the people can be affirmed in these circumstances.

Nevertheless, this is not an isolated incident. The frequent incursions of the US-NATO forces inside the de facto Pakistani territory in search of the Taliban-Al Qaeda insurgents and the killing of even Pakistani forces in the process raises serious doubts on the level of legitimacy of the present civil dispensation in the ‘land of the Quaid’. Furthermore, presence of private American militia like “Blackwater” dilutes the very concept of sovereignty in the six decade old nation-state.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the military-ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) nexus has always been a powerful coterie in Pakistan. It has in fact held the reins of government, either overtly or covertly. The apropos question at this juncture is: Has the military-ISI combo been subjugated by the Americans? Or is it simply lying dormant for the time being and pushing the civilian administration toward the American guillotine?

A year back, the Pakistan Army had launched a major ground offensive in South Waziristan, to flush out militancy. It also got entangled in Swat and presently is consolidating its position in those regions. But the US-NATO forces are pressurising them to conduct a major operation in North Waziristan where the kingpins are supposedly hiding.

As Pakistan is not exhibiting much resolve to go ahead with offensive operations in the area, citing commitments in South Waziristan and Swat, the Americans have taken up the cudgels. Thus they nonchalantly are going ahead with their ‘hot pursuits’ across the Durand Line.

Actually, the indictment of the ISI in the ‘war on terror’ according to the revelations by WikiLeaks in particular and several American think tanks in general set the tone for difficult times for the civil-military combo. However, the ISI went on playing the ‘double game’ unabated. The reasons were obvious.

Any punitive measure against the jihadis implied more fidayeen attacks on its major cities and hence destabilization. Pakistan was on the uncharted trajectory of a ‘failed state’. Thus, it was a sheer existential compulsion which forced the military-led ISI to chart the path of double-crossing the Americans.

However, at present, Pakistan is definitely at the cross-roads. On one hand, it has an uncomfortable ally: the US. On the other, it will be difficult for it to alienate the Haqqani or the Taliban and consequently the Al Qaeda. Furthermore, the paranoia of the Indian threat remains as a pathological case.

In such a scenario, it becomes imperative for the civil-military complex to set the house in order. Nonetheless, to do that, one serious issue needs to be resolved. Who wields the real authority in Pakistan?

18 October, 2010

Beware of Drones !!

The Germans are always talented. Have a look at the following report by Der Spiegel


Pakistan in North Waziristan??

Hillary Clinton's decrees seem to be working. She is the reigning monarch, supposedly.

ISLAMABAD – As evidence of the Pakistani resolve to fight terrorism, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said October 16 more than 34,000 army troops are deployed in N. Waziristan.

A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said that the army had conducted “calibrated operations” against terrorists and extremists to establish the writ of the state and disrupt al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The Foreign Ministry statement said constant pressure has been applied on the terrorists, which is giving the state better control of the area.

Courtesy : Cenrtral Asia Online

14 October, 2010

as in Kashmr Times

Dear All,

Well, Omar Abdullah seems to have invoked the wrath of UPA-II. However, I agree with Omar on few issues. The present stream of stone-pelting is not just an outburst against unemployment; but is decades long suppressed emotion. India needs to factor in a number of parameters with regard to Kashmir. The gradual merger of J&K and dilution of Art 370 are some of the major causes of the present fiasco.

In this light, let me share my detailed thoughts on Kashmir. This has been published in "Kashmir Times" in two instalments on 04-05 October [with some alterations] (it was originally published in Newsline this August). In fact, the older version also got published in Mainstream on 09 October 2010.



I am presenting here the new prologue to the piece in Kashmir Times

On September 25, the Union Home Minister made an announcement about a ‘8-point solution’ to deal with the Kashmir crisis. Apart from the usual ‘packages’ on offer after any refractory uprising; the ‘solution’ reportedly factored in the aspect of talking to a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the region.

In order to give effect to the deal, the Union government is presently busy arranging for interlocutors. The scheduled talks are to take place “very early”. Nevertheless, the Home Ministry has refused to declare any deadline for the same.

In fact, these events are a fallout of the ‘much-hyped’ visit of the All-Party Delegation to the province on September 21 and 22.

On the other hand, hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani vowed to disrupt normalcy (if any) in the valley by declaring a general ‘strike’. It was, as expectedly, retaliated by a curfew.

And as usual, on October 01, five persons were injured during clashes with security forces at two places in the Kashmir Valley. Curfew was extended to Pulwama and Shopian district headquarters.

Probably, the story has traversed a full circle. It requires no photographic memory to recollect that the recent cycle of unrest commenced from ‘Shopian’ itself. However, there is no guarantee that it would subside after a circular displacement. Even the 8-point package, the “very-soon to be held” talks and incorporation of the disgruntled youth into the mainstream job market may not assuage matters.

Predicting, leave apart ‘attempting’ the solutions to the sub-continent’s most high-profile and intractable security calculus: the Kashmir imbroglio; is a dangerous game.

Rest in Kashmir Times