Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h07/mnt/56080/domains/filtercoffee.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Archive | September, 2010

Leave Kashmir behind!

Mr. Obama must focus on moving Indo-US relations forward; bringing up Kashmir is not the way to go about it.

Barack Obama’s first official visit to India approaches.  Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was in D.C. recently, working with N.S.A. Jim Jones to give shape to Mr. Obama’s India agenda.  The president will, in the course of the next few weeks, receive advice from writers, think-tankers, analysts, and just about everyone else on what his priority list of issues to tackle in India should be.

One item relating to India-Pakistan peace is certainly going to resurface — Kashmir.  More specifically, the “solve Kashmir, and bring about peace between India and Pakistan” mantra will be chanted by many in D.C. in the weeks to come. In an article in The Daily Beast, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings, supported U.S. encouragement of talks between India and Pakistan on settling Kashmir, in the context of the war in Afghanistan.

The Filter Coffee has previously debunked the notion that solving “Kashmir” will bring about peace between India and Pakistan.  I will therefore restrict myself to discussing three points that Mr. Obama should consider in the context of the India visit.

First,  Mr. Obama’s immediate priority must remain the ongoing war in Afghanistan-Pakistan.  Taking focus off Afghanistan-Pakistan and reorienting himself and his administration into resolving a conflict that has been ongoing for 63 years (and will no doubt go on for many more) will not be a wise course of action for an embattled president heading into mid-term elections in 2012.  Stay the course on Afghanistan.

Second, bet on India.  Indo-U.S. relations have taken a backseat since Mr. Obama took office. This is partly due to uncontrollable circumstances and priorities.  But the president has a real opportunity during his India visit to both arrest the slide, and reaffirm that the nature of the Indo-US relationship is indeed strategic, and one between two natural partners.  In this context, India and the U.S. should move forward on strengthening their defense relationship, which U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen only recently described as “strong and important.”  The nature of the relationship need not necessarily be restricted to the acquisition of military equipment and transfer of technology.

As two large and diverse democracies, India and the U.S. have a vital interest in securing key sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and beyond and ensuring a strategic balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.  While India and the U.S. already cooperate in patrolling the Malacca straits, changing geopolitical equations will make greater cooperation between India (and indeed, other Asian democracies) and the U.S. in the greater region more critical.

On Afghanistan, as much as the U.S. may have to indulge Pakistan in the interim, its interests lie in denying sanctuary to extremist groups, from where they may attack the U.S. or its interests.  Whether the U.S. likes it or not, this means ensuring that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is counterbalanced with powers that are averse to the spread of Wahhabi extremism in Asia.  India has an important role to play in this regard and further Indian involvement in Afghanistan must be encouraged.

Next, India and the U.S. should use this opportunity to expand economic ties and address irritants that have affected Indo-US relations (the nuclear liability bill, and outsourcing are chief among them).  Ongoing education reforms in India translate into opportunities for U.S. universities to establish satellite campuses in India.  India and the U.S. should also use this opportunity to move forward on progress made on climate change, both during Secretary Clinton’s visit, and at Copenhagen.

But perhaps most importantly, Mr. Obama will do well not to rake up Kashmir on his visit to India.  Pressuring India at a time when it faces a raging conflict in the Valley is asking it to act at a very sensitive time and from a position of weakness.  If the economically weak India of the past refused to yield to international pressure on Kashmir, the possibility of this happening is even more remote in today’s resurgent India.

Were Mr. Obama to bring up Kashmir in India, two things are nearly certain to happen.  One, India will not budge from its position on the issue, and two, Mr. Obama will risk further hurting Indo-US relations.   Some early signs indicate that the Obama administration is still not in full appreciation of the premium that India attaches to Jammu and Kashmir; dangling carrots will not work and indeed, aren’t called for.  One can only hope that better sense will prevail before the president’s visit.  Where Kashmir is concerned, there is no need for the U.S. to think outside the box.  Stay within the box.  In fact, stay clear of it.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

“If India can’t even build a bridge…”

If the world can’t even feed its children, can it send people to the moon?

Sadanand Dhume’s article entitled “Debacle in New Delhi” was published in Foreign Policy recently.  In the context of the fracas of the Commonwealth Games about to held in the Capital, Mr. Dhume’s article asks, “[h]ow can India be a superpower if it can’t build a bridge?” (an apparent reference to the collapse of a bridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium).

A couple of days ago, Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione questioned the safety of India’s nuclear plants, again, against the backdrop of “India’s” apparent inability to build safe bridges (though, to be fair to Mr. Cirincione, he later apologized for making the comment, having been roundly pilloried by one and all).

The Games are a complete and utter mess.  This is true.  Anyone and their brother will hurl at you figures showing how much India has spent over and beyond its original budget.  Stray animals roam the streets.  Trees are being cut like they went out of fashion two years ago. Roofs collapse,  so do beds.  And Mani Shankar Aiyar is running out of people to attack.

But is this India’s fault?  Did the same entity that built the bridge that collapsed also make India a power?  Many writers on the subject are painting with very broad strokes.

India is a power today not because of its government, but because of its private enterprise.   In fact, one of the unfortunate repercussions of the meteoric rise of India’s private sector is the singular incapability of the government to keep pace with the fillip provided to India’s global profile by its private enterprise.  India, many say, grows not because of its government, but despite it.  True, were it not for economic reforms instituted by the Congress, beginning in 1991, India’s private enterprise would not have succeeded like it has. But the government of the day chose to liberalize the economy only when faced with the possibility of bankruptcy.

These are issues that India — and the rest of the world — have always been well aware of.  India’s government is severely challenged to govern an India of 2010.   The inefficiencies in government are well known — a bloated cabinet,  archaic civil services, decrepit police services, lack of adequate parliamentary oversight, the list is endless — add in corruption and large levels of public apathy, and you have a recipe for disaster. To a large extent, when “public” governance was unable to affect its citizens, “private” governance stepped in.  Had a consortium of India’s companies been entrusted with managing, building and delivering the Commonwealth Games project, perhaps the situation might have been different.  This is all water under the bridge now.

Dileep Premachandran’s article in The Guardian argues that the Commonwealth Games fiasco shows all that is wrong with sport in India.  Actually, it shows all that is wrong with government in India.  The question that needs to be asked is, what will happen after the games conclude (by some miracle, without incident).  Heads will roll, no doubt, but not of those that matter.  Temporary public outrage will subside, and return to its default position of apathy — we’ve seen this script before.

Even if public anger didn’t subside, by some miracle, and is reflected in subsequent elections, is there a national party in India that can replace the UPA?  And even if such a party existed and was voted into power, would it have the courage and political will to institute the kinds of sweeping reforms necessary to bring governance in India into the 21st century?  And if it didn’t, would India’s citizens even care?  There are no easy answers.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Crouching Dragon

Making sense of China’s huffing and puffing.

The Global Times, CCP’s mouthpiece, has unleashed a barrage of editorials on the altercation between Japan and China over the arrest of a Chinese captain, whose trawler collided with Japanese coastguard ships earlier this month near the disputed Senkaku islands.  The People’s Republic suspended high-level exchanges with Japan, after a Japanese court extended the detention of the Chinese captain.

Today, in yet another in a series of fiery editorials, The Global Times opines:

Now is the time to seriously examine Japan. It should be apparent by now that China will be forced to endure long-term conflicts with Japan, and emphasizing only friendly relations is not prudent. In addition, China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted reactions.The pain has to be piercing. Japanese politicians need to understand the consequences – votes will be lost, and Japanese companies have to be aware of the loss of business involved. Japanese citizens will feel the burden due to the downturn in the economy. China’s domestic law, business regulations and consumers can all be maneuvered.

Provoking China comes with a heavy price tag. Finding Japan’s soft spot will help end its hostile policies against China during its rise. [The Global Times]

The Japanese will do well not to back down.  This is not China’s first altercation this past year with its neighbors.  It faced-off against South Korea and the U.S. in May over North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean warship. And its posture has grown increasingly confrontational towards Vietnam.  So much for “Peaceful Rise.”

But beyond all the huffing and puffing, and inebriated ranting is a CCP that is concerned about how it has played its cards, post-2009.  When U.S. president Barack Obama traveled to Beijing in May and seemingly “recognized” China’s position as the preeminent power in Asia, China (and much of the world) saw this as the actions of a fading superpower beating an honorable retreat.

However, even as Mr. Obama sought to engage with China on global issues, it became increasingly apparent that the Chinese didn’t share the same enthusiasm for such an arrangement, and instead were eager to challenge global efforts and the “U.S.-led order,” where it made sense.

In doing so, China overestimated its own relative power and potential in a post-economic-crisis world.  It expected the U.S. to yield to Chinese supremacy in the East- and South China Seas.  But rows between the U.S. and China, most noticeably in May, coupled with good counsel from some folks in the Obama Administration and ASEAN allies has resulted in a change in Washington’s stance to one that is more willing to contest Chinese power in its own back yard.

That the U.S. stood with Seoul on the sinking of the South Korean warship should come as no surprise.  But more encouragingly, discussions between the U.S. and Vietnam on civilian nuclear cooperation are a potential game-changer, and could bring the one country in the region perhaps most susceptible to Chinese bullying under U.S.’s “umbrella.”

The result of all of this is a country that harbors global aspirations, but is unable to project power, unchallenged,  in its own neighborhood.   The series of maneuvers that the U.S. orchestrated between July and September are the diplomatic equivalent of Hannibal at Trasimene.  And while it may not be  quite like Gaius Flaminius, China has realized that it has grossly miscalculated its reach, influence and relative power in the global order.

This should be painfully apparent to those aboard Beijing’s bandwagon. And a matter of encouragement to Asia’s democracies.

   

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Burning the Quran is a bad idea

Turn up the heat on Terry Jones.

News media in the U.S. is inundated with reports about Terry Jones, the pastor from Gainesville, Fla., whose church, the Dove World Outreach Center,  intends to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.  Visible support for Dr. Jones is limited (unsurprisingly) to the likes of Ann Coulter, who once said, “we should invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Thankfully, saner voices have come out in condemnation of what Dr. Jones and his church propose to do.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the pastor’s plans “distasteful,” while commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus advised against burning the Quran.  Even former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, who spent much of August 2010, campaigning against the construction of the Park 51 mosque near Ground Zero, asked the pastor to “stand down.” Social networking sites such as Facebook have been awash with supporters and opponents alike. Understandably, this is an emotive issue.

But the question here is not about freedom of expression.  Were it so, this would have been an open and shut case.    Dr. Jones’s objectives and the manner in which he seeks to execute them confirm that he is less keen on testing the boundaries of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms than he is on  inciting a particular community.

I do not disagree that Dr. Jones and his group have the “right” to burn the Quran.  I am also less interested at this point in the narratives of tolerance and morality. However, American citizens and the U.S. government ought to be concerned about how such acts will be perceived in the Islamic world.  Acts such as these, could potentially incite violence against U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, including its embassies and companies, in other parts of the world.  These could be perpetrated in countries where the U.S. is not directly engaged in war, and by people who would not normally be perceived by the U.S. as combatants.  There is no reason any of them should suffer on behalf of Dr. Jones or his political motivations.

This also has the potential to inflame passions against minority communities in the U.S. itself, similar to those incidents that occurred in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, where there was a spike in racially motivated attacks in the U.S.

The State Department has sent cables to U.S. diplomatic posts internationally instructing ambassadors to emphasize that the event, if it does go through, does not reflect the views of the U.S. government.  State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley hoped that these actions would be seen as those of “a small fringe group.”  News media commentators in the Islamic world, however, have no time for such nuances, largely because they would be against their own interests.  This event, if it goes through, will be painted as having been blessed by the White House — many in the Islamic world will not want to see a difference between Terry Jones and Barack Obama. In fact, as if on queue, Nawa-i-waqt already unleashed a preemptive editorial (اردو) on the issue.

In an offline conversation, my INI colleague JK pointed to me this quote from Heinrich Heine — “when they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”  Very apt, I thought, and advise that Dr. Jones and his church will hopefully heed.

 

Read full story · Comments { 5 }