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In Pragati: The den in Yemen

In this month’s Pragati, I discuss the rising threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the context of the failed attempts to blow up cargo planes bound for the U.S. via London and the Middle East:

Al Qaeda, of course, has had a historical presence in the tribal provinces of Yemen. Osama bin Laden, though born in Riyadh, belongs to a branch of the Kidnah tribe of the Hadhramaut region in eastern Yemen, from where Mr bin Laden’s father emigrated. Yemen stands out from the other countries in the Peninsula as the least developed economically, with a high unemployment rate (35 per cent, 2009) and a per capita income roughly one-tenth that of Saudi Arabia’s. Its post-colonial history is marred in conflict — inter-tribal confrontations, a coup d’etat, support to a rebellion in neighboring Oman, and two civil wars.

In many ways, Yemen mirrors Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, with its rugged, mountainous terrain, general security vacuum, and low levels of economic development. Rather unsurprisingly therefore, Yemen provided conditions ideal for al-Qaeda to promulgate its regional campaign for jihad. It served as al-Qaeda’s base for the first attack on Western targets in 1992; a bombing of a hotel used by US troops in Aden, which resulted in two civilian deaths. Its next attack in 2000, off the coast of Aden, killed 17 US sailors aboard the USS Cole. [Pragati]

Read the article in its entirety in this month’s Pragati (html) ( pdf)

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In Pragati: The Cameron Opening

Mr Cameron’s austerity measures may provide a mutually beneficial opportunity to both India and UK.

In this month’s Pragati, I argue that a real opportunity for India and the U.K. to forge the bonds of an important strategic relationship exists.  In order to do this, India and the U.K. first need to get past curry and cricket and focus on issues of strategic importance to each other, and the world.  Three such issues stand out: security, energy and climate change.

The first pertains to what C Raja Mohan calls “keeping the global commons open and secure for all.” The security and safety of vital commodities in transit is critical to any economy; more so to one growing at such a rapid pace as India’s. The growth of India and China, and the Southeast Asian economies will increase competition for resources and further underscore the vitality of Indian Ocean trade routes to their economic growth. Today, India is already engaged with like-minded countries such the United States in securing these high traffic energy and trade routes, from the Horn of Africa to the Straits of Malacca. An India-UK collaboration on maritime security in the Indian Ocean and beyond can significantly transform the nature of this bilateral relationship.

A related aspect involves opportunities for qualitative defence transactions between the two countries. During Mr Cameron’s visit to Bangalore, the much awaited $800 million contract for 57 advanced jet trainers was signed between BAE Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati. (PDF ; or  HTML)

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In Pragati: The return of the Ottoman

In the July 2010 issue of Pragati, I review Turkey’s transformation from a status-quoist, West-leaning, secular-nationalist state to one that seeks to become a regional power and indeed, a “Muslim superpower.” Its confrontations with Israel, most recently over the Gaza flotilla raid, involvement in negotiating a way forward in Afghanistan, and its attempts, along with Brazil, at brokering a deal with Iran over the nuclear impasse all point to a Turkey eager to break the shackles of the Kemalist ideology that has guided it since its birth in 1923.

But Turkey’s geo-strategic reorientation has consequences far beyond its region.  Indeed, its involvement now in Afghanistan, historic cultural and military ties to Pakistan and its location at the crossroads of Central Asia’s energy trade make it very important to India.  How must India view Turkey’s rise and what opportunities and challenges exist in India’s bilateral relations with Turkey?

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative, endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys in Ankara.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati ( PDF; 1.3 MB)

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant
to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s
rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and
energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically
has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with
Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to
the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s
assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and
provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A
member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative,
endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of
force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India
from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence
of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys
in Ankara.
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In Pragati: Where is the national disaster management authority?

In the May 2010 edition of Pragati, I call to attention India’s disaster management system and outline the steps necessary to ensure efficiency in all aspects of disaster management — prevention, mitigation, capacity-building, preparedness, assessment and rehabilitation.

While a command-and-control structure is crucial to administer and manage disaster management programs, the efficacy of the program itself cannot be assured without tackling the rot in India’s “last mile” institutions — the police and emergency services.  Establishing an overall governance structure and issuing policy guidelines are no doubt critical, but the test of any policy ultimately lies in its execution, and this is where India faces its biggest challenge.

While the [National Disaster Management Authority — NDMA]  may have made headway in developing an over-arching framework and best practices for disaster management, the success or failure of the system depends heavily on “last-mile” institutions, which are often under-resourced, incapable and insufficient for the task. To this end,institutional capacity building must become a critical area of focus for the NDMA. The country’s fire and emergency services remain woefully inadequate and incapable of dealing with large-scale accidents. The state of local law enforcement services, which are first responders to most incidents, suffers from years of neglect in the absence of police reforms. Last mile institutions are in an unsatisfactory state in urban centres.

India’s civil defence force infrastructure is decrepit, with constraints in budget, training and resources. India’s civil defence organisations are illequipped to respond to NBC incidents; indeed, even the four National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) battalions specially designated to respond to NBC incidents face a paucity of equipment and expertise.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF; 2.4 MB).

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