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Archive | July, 2012

Dancing in the dark

From darkness, can there be light?

Three arterial power lines in northern India failed and plunged approximately 700 million people from 21 states and UTs into total darkness.  Rail and air services were disrupted, miners from Jharkhand and Bengal were trapped in coal mines, and the common man was slow-roasted under an unforgiving July sun.  And as this catastrophe unfolded, Union Minister for Power, Sushilkumar Shinde, moved out of office and took over as India’s new Home Minister.  It was business unusual.

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari attempted to assuage public anxiety by claiming that there was no power crisis in India.  He’s right, of course.  There wasn’t a power crisis in India, there just wasn’t any power.  Here, it would be unfair to blame the state of affairs only on Mr. Shinde.  He has, after all, only done what his predecessors have been doing since Independence.  Which is nothing.

But the massive power outage not only accentuates (if any accentuation was necessary) the dilapidated state of infrastructure in India, but also highlights its impact on India’s national security.  How would we, for example, be able to deal with military conflict on our western border, or an unfolding terror attack in New Delhi in such a situation?

To be sure, grid failures are not an uncommon phenomenon.  Massive power outages have after all, affected the U.S.’s East Coast and Southern California in the recent past.  What is unique here is not so much the crisis, but the UPA’s mishandling of the response.

Simply, the crisis is reflective of the UPA and the state of governance (or lack thereof) in India. Yes, Mr. Shinde’s transition to the Home Ministry had already been made public a few days ago. But surely a calamity of this proportion demands the resolute commitment of the incumbent minister to see the country out of the catastrophe.  In almost any other country in the world, political transition would have been deferred in order to resolve the crisis.  But not in ours, apparently.  Exit stage right, Mr. Shinde. Enter stage left, Mr. Moily.

It is quite remarkable that the UPA leadership felt no compelling need to ask the incumbent Minister of Power to stay on and resolve what is now being referred to as the “world’s worst power outage.” National interests are, after all, subordinate to party interests in this day and age.  It is even more remarkable that the UPA appears to be disinterested in even projecting an illusion of leadership to the people of India.

As is the UPA’s wont, they have said nothing about the crisis, their plans to resolve it, or the political transition in its midst.  The Prime Minister himself has had nothing to say about this, or any other crisis affecting the nation under his watch.

The French philosopher Tocqueville famously remarked that in democracy, we get the government we deserve.  It would be worth remembering this when general elections come a-calling in 2014.

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Threading the needle

What the U.S.’s “Apolo-jee” to Pakistan really means.

There is jubilation among Pakistan’s social media commentators on the apology (hereinafter referred to as “apolo-jee”) apparently tendered by the U.S. to Pakistan on account of the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November at the Salala checkpost near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  If these narratives are to be believed, then the U.S. has, after months of resistance, accepted culpability for the murder of the Pakistani soldiers and apologized to the Pakistani government for its transgression.

Moreover, little David, financially bankrupt and increasingly running out of room to maneuver, stood up nonetheless to Goliath; and would you believe it, Goliath backed down.  It’s a beautiful little tale, and one that will no doubt leave many teary-eyed.  But really, what did the U.S. say today that it hasn’t said on several occasions since November 26, 2011?

U.S. Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton’s office released this statement to the press:

This morning, I spoke by telephone with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

As I told the former Prime Minister of Pakistan days after the Salala incident, America respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and is committed to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. [U.S. Department of State]

Let’s examine this “apolo-jee,” shall we? First, a reiteration of a regret does not an apology amounting to acceptance of culpability make. Second, apparently, both Pakistan and the U.S. acknowledged the “mistakes” made that resulted in the loss of Pakistan’s military lives.  But whose mistakes? Vague. Third, “we are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistan military”? Losses? What losses, and suffered where? The Pakistani armed forces have a rich and storied history of suffering losses, as anyone in India can tell you.  Pakistan’s own politicians, military officials and commentators are quick to remind the world that it has lost 40,000 of its finest supporting “America’s War.”  Sec. Clinton’s statement is, therefore, hardly an apology for Salala.

Furthermore, Sec. Clinton’s statements say nothing that the U.S. has not already said about the incident. NATO’s secretary general expressed “regret” a mere two days after the Salala incident.  The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Pakistan regretted the incident too.  In fact, various Obama administration officials had “regretted” the incident about 20 times.  All these apologies were summarily rejected by Pakistan. So pray, why is regret #21 the charm?

The fact of the matter is, Pakistan had put itself in a position whether it could neither back down from a costly confrontation with the U.S., for domestic political reasons, nor continue to impede the U.S., given its economic condition. Both Pakistan and the U.S. had previously attempted to arrive at a settlement, but these negotiations proved inconclusive due to Pakistan’s demand for both an apology, and transit fee of $5,000 per truck that crossed its territory.

Now, if this was a “soft apology,” today’s statement certainly did not say “we’re sorry we killed your soldiers.”  And per the New York Times, Pakistan has agreed to keep the transit fee at its current rate of $250 per truck.  So Pakistan is 0-for-2 in its demands to the U.S., but has nonetheless opened up its on-land supply routes to NATO.  Still feel like David won?

Quite simply, Pakistan had ratcheted up the rhetoric to a point where it couldn’t climb down without losing face. The U.S. had two options — allow Pakistan to continue to squirm, or work out an arrangement with Pakistan to re-open on-land supply routes.  It chose the latter, allowing Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership to step back from the brink without suffering yet another humiliating surrender at the hands of the U.S. Pakistan, for its part, was more than revealed.

If any further clarity was needed, the conspicuous absence of any Difa-e-Pakistan Council crazies, whose leaders had previous organized mass protests and even written an “open letter” to Pakistan’s parliamentarians urging no compromise on reopening supply routes, provides us enough context to the apology that never was.

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