Archive for June, 2009

Talking points – India and Pakistan

June 29, 2009 2 comments

Following the recently concluded Yekaterinburg Summit where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed a piece of the Indian mind to the Pakistani President Zardari, there have been calls from the international community urging the two nations to resume talks aimed at sorting the many issues that plague either!

More recently, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Talat Masood, a senior defense analyst and a very respectable moderate voice in Pakistan, stated the need for resumption of bilateral talks aimed at settling long disputed issues such as Siachen, Sir Creek, trade and other aspects while keeping aside Kashmir for ‘a later date,’ to be discussed by ‘a more mature generation’, during ‘a more conducive time.’

In his own words, he was echoing the thoughts of President Zardari who in his interactions with Prime Minister Singh at Yekaterinburg said that both India and Pakistan should not hold each other or their actions hostage in the backdrop of the UN security council resolutions on Kashmir!

Indeed, talks are the way forward towards resolution of all long standing deadlocks that continue to exist as thorns in relations between both nations and India should seize the opportunity to reiterate the need for Pakistan to curb assistance to all anti-India operations that originate on its soil, even if that means reigning in the ISI and its many rouge elements that run deep into a system aimed at constantly perpetrating terrorist activities across the border in Indian territory.

Pakistan which has been extensively bogged down by the ongoing conflict with the Taliban desperately needs to engage in some face saving act involving combating terror and reflecting stability else it risks being thoroughly branded as a failed state! Therefore the onus is on Pakistan to prove that it is a committed ally in the war on terror and does not engage itself in proliferation of terror, which has long blemished its image in the international arena. Recognizing this pressure that it is currently going through, India must engage itself in a composite dialogue with Pakistan aimed at eliciting some concrete and tangible steps from the latter which the world at large can witness and take into cognizance.

If India initiates such a process of dialogue, the burden falls on Pakistan to render unfailing cooperation to tackle the issue of terrorism and aide India in combating the same. India can begin by bringing to the table evidence recovered during the events of 26/11 which US intelligence agencies have also verified and concluded to be legitimate (not that India needs an American endorsement). A demand for killing support to ultra-radical an-India elements can be strongly made as a pre-requisite to negotiate on other issues thus making Pakistan face heat and thereby yield to pressure given its current geo-political scenario.

India on the other hand can state that by initiating such a process of dialogue, it has reaffirmed the need for deeper interactions on many fronts aimed at eliciting cooperation and a much needed trust from the embattled nation, purely as a measure of goodwill. Some tough talking from the Indian side is definitely needed to help sort out issues pertaining to terrorism. Indian commitment to the process will be viewed as a mature action at a time when Pakistan is struggling for its survival given the majorly chaotic and fast-changing socio-political situation in the region which needs urgent attention.

All this needs to be done with an open mind and a result oriented focus which should include a measure of careful optimism, and once the case has been strongly made, Kashmir, like Gen Masood believes, can well be discussed at a later time, under a strong guarantee that it will not be made an issue to hijack any agenda such as witnessed in the past!


Nuclear politics and North Korea

June 23, 2009 2 comments

North Korea’s impending ICBM launch towards Hawaii scheduled to happen early in July is keeping more than the United States on toes! This communist nation, emboldened by the success of two successful weapons tests, has been making bold overtures and issuing warnings of a nuclear strike in the region. It claims that the United States has based several nuclear strike capable missiles in neighbouring South Korea in an attempt to threaten its existence, a claim that is yet to be verified!

Increasing isolated by the international community and losing grip over its already teetering financial state, North Korea must realize the importance to deviate from its current nuclear posture and concentrate more on the economic and social situation that currently prevails in the country, something that needs to be addressed very urgently.

Having pulled out of  the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, North Korea put to operational track, its two reactor plants located at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center aimed at producing weapons grade plutonium. However due to outdated Russian technology and several other constraints, production was significantly low and could not aid in building what North Korea wanted as a full fledged, long range nuclear weapon.

And then came into light the Abdul Qadeer Khan proliferation network, which according to US intelligence admittedly gave huge amounts of technological knowledge and support to the red brigade, a claim that was reinforced following an admission by the the Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharaf, which stated that Khan had indeed provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea.

Now, at the backdrop of two successive nuclear tests, US President Barack Obama has described the North Korean action as a threat to international peace, which is mature communication unlike the terming of it as a part of the axis of evil by his predecessor George Bush! Following his condemnation of the tests which he called were a blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, he said “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants action by the international community. We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the six-party talks as well as other members of the UN Security Council in the days ahead.”

Despite international pressure to abandon the nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang continues to embark upon the project citing that it is under threat from South Korea and its allies, which includes the United States. A statement that followed the May 29th tests, which reads “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way as requested by its scientists and technicians. The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control and the results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology”, indicates Pyongyang’s belief that it needs to add a nuclear force to its stable of weapons in order to neutralize a threat that it sees originating from the United States.

Currently, as the deadline for the launch of a new missile is around the corner, President Obama’s call for peace, saying “there is another path available to North Korea, a path that leads to peace and economic opportunity for North Korea” is an offer to Pyongyang to return to the talking table, which it must do, for nuclear engagement is certainly not a viable humanitarian option!

American Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s statement that “we are in a good position should it become necessary to protect American territory” comes as a measure of American confidence in defending the United States in the event of a missile launch toward Hawaii. However, the problem lies in not just defending but also effectively containing the crisis which could outline to the world as to how the US administration counters a national security threat and also pulls it off with diplomatic effort rather than by force!

There are several challenges that will be faced by this young administration in this process, the most significant of all being, the need to deter North Korea from carrying out the threat that it so emphatically claims to do! In the event that the launch takes place, the United States needs to work in close coordination with the United Nations to determine the kind of consequences that Pyongyang would need to face for such an action. This action should not be aimed at the civilian population who continiue to struggle in poverty. The United States also needs to reshape its policy, based on talks and exertion of diplomatic pressure, rather than apply the same old and spent formula that past governments have been applying on Pyongyang! Most importantly, America needs to reiterate its commitment to the process of achieving a nuclear free zone in the region and help promote a healthier relationship between the neighbours by creating a conducive arena for bilateral talks aimed at stamping out many deadlocks that have risen in the past and stayed on!

About two hours and fifty seven minutes ago, Pyongyang issued warning statements asking ships to avoid parts of its eastern waters beginning 25th June, for a period of 16 days, citing that it is in the process of conducting a military drill. Now this worries me a lot! Warnings of such nature in the past have indicated heavy military activity as was seen recently during two subsequent events,  the test launch of a short range missile and the nuclear test that followed!

I’m wondering if the 4rth of July celebrations across the United States are going to witness what might come to be known as a North Korean display of fireworks?

The menace of the Taliban

Bill Casey and Gen Zia Ul Huq would have had a lot of questions to answer had they been alive, particularly uncomfortable ones at that! Casey, in all probably, might have wanted to forget that he ever made the “We will know that we have succeeded when everything the public believes is false” statement. Success in falsehood have since come to haunt Pakistan and the NWFP ever since, with the creation and proliferation of the ominous Taliban which have dented the United States with the 9/11 incident and continue to bog them down along with their Pakistani counterparts elsewhere in Afghanistan, not to forget the significant damage they continue to wreck upon the ever turbulent Islamic republic of Pakistan!

The war on terror is far from over and the Taliban is anything but defeated with the United States shaping one strategy or another, inclusive of conditional aid to Pakistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta can afford to think aloud about Bin-Laden’s whereabouts but that is not getting him any closer to nabbing the world’s most wanted notorious element of terror soon! Repeated drone-aided pounding of the Af-Pak region in the hopes of distancing and dismantling the Taliban is obviously not proving to yield any desired results, and, on the contrary is making the place more deadly and volatile than ever before.

What is lacking on the part of the United States is a well coordinated HUMINT effort along with their Pakistani supports to understand the ground level situation and counter the same. Presently, a great deal of resources and efforts are being directed towards TECHINT efforts which are yet to bring results to the table. Worse still, the repeated uncoordinated attacks initiated by the United States Army in the region are causing more of the locals to join hands with the Taliban in what they see as an infidel violation of their scared land. If anything, this is making the US Army sweat more in the deadlock of not being able to reign in the fighters who have better knowledge of the terrain, much to the chagrin of their Corps Commanders and bosses ensconced in Washington. Observers in Washington couldn’t be more naive than providing repeated financial assistance to the government of Pakistan as part of what they call a systematic effort to fight the war on terror.

What is urgently needed is that the United States coordinate with the Pakistani Army in engaging in joint operations to first sanitize the regions and free it from the warring brigades of Taliban and help establish outposts that are jointly manned and protected. This ensures that the scourge does not spill over to other parts of Pakistan. Secondly, the ultra porous border that Pakistan shares with its neighbor Afghanistan needs urgent monitoring and securing. Though this may seem a marathon task, which it certainly is, it can be attained with the help of UAVs that can be deployed to track the movement of people across the border. Detachments need to be posted at strategic points to monitor people crossing over and their supply routes need to be checked from time to time, thereby preventing mass trafficking of weapons and other war material. However, before any concrete action is taken on this front, the United States needs to ensure that the ISI is not actually aiding separatist factions by supplying them weapons and resources which find safe cover in many madarassas and local safe houses belonging to chieftains in the area.

The Pakistani President’s recent statement that the nation is committed to fight the Taliban has been one of the many that has been repeated from time to time given the instances of terrorism that continue to plague the region. An informed observer would assign very insignificant importance to such echoes that are meant only for the comfort of the prying ears in Washington and the International Community. The truth is that Pakistan now stands at the brink of collapse given the rapidly escalating situation, if it not were to take any concrete measures to arrest the proliferation of the Taliban. And then, there is always the looming danger of nuclear weapons in Pakistan falling into the hands of terror elements, such an act capable of bringing unspeakable disaster to surrounding nations, India in particular!

Now that the Taliban is regrouping in nations such as Yemen and Somalia, where governments have been weak for sometime now, the threat of multi-locational terror operations being staged over a huge geography suddenly seems very real! Fighting an adept enemy who has no permanent base of operations along with the advantage of being highly mobile and possessive of a fluid structure could prove very costly to the United States and Pakistan.

I’m wondering if, in hindsight, some people ponder over the mistake they have made in creating a Frankenstein  which has now grown significantly, both, in numbers and in ideology!

Is this another classic illustration of the cause and effect theory?

Chinese threat of incursion – India's reponse

June 10, 2009 4 comments

The Indian government’s decision to establish a squadron of Sukhoi aircraft in the North-East comes as a decision quite late but certainly well thought of. According to the Union Home Ministry, a staggering 270 incidents of Chinese incursions into Indian territory were reported as occurred in the year 2008 and 60 such incidents have been reported this year. The Chinese have long been a party to violate the international border that divides their nation from ours and continue to do so at ease and significant advantage owing to their location and aided by belief in a flawed theory that large parts of Arunachal Pradesh are part of the red union as opposed to facts. The state of Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1030 km (650 mile) long border with the Chinese, making India very vulnerable to repeated incursions and violations which are routine operations conducted by the Chinese army.

China has long contested the McMahon Line, and claims 90,000 sq km (34,750 square miles) which is nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh, while already having encroached upon 8000 sq km (14,670 square miles) of Kashmir, better known as Aksai Chin. The McMahon Line, which was termed so following a 1914 conference initiated by the occupying British with the Tibetan and Chinese governments of the day, is an imaginary border, presently known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). They have, since the bitterly fought 1962 war, repeatedly violated Indian territory and continue to do so as part of their agenda to undermine the Indian sovereign.

History indicates that one needs to exercise a very cautious trust of the Chinese. One would recall that in 1956, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai repeatedly assured that China had no claims on Indian territory, although official Chinese maps showed 120,000 square kilometers of territory claimed by India as Chinese. Clearly, Indian Prime Minister Nehru had to pay a price in ignoring then Burmese premier Ba Swe when he warned the latter to be overly cautious when dealing with Zhou. Declassified CIA documents (POLO) indicate that Zhou purposefully led Nehru to believe that China had at the time, no border disputes with India. The 1962 war also demonstrated to the world that China even in its deepest economical problems, possesses the military might to stage bloody aggressiveness.

With an army thrice the size of that of Pakistan, whose capabilities, intent, poise and standing are almost always never known, the threat of an invasion looms large particularly in desperate situations when China may see India as a competitor to itself in the emerging global scenario. India being an ardent champion of democracy and by way of being proximate to the United States and other powers could also irk China into enacting a theatrical repeat of 1962. It is interesting to note that the 1962 war came at a time when the Indian establishment was patting itself on the back basking in the assumed success of the Panchsheel agreement which was aimed at fostering stronger bilateral relations between the two nations.

China, therefore is an obvious threat and will continue to remain so and needs to be checked from time to time. The establishment and upgradation of air-force bases across the North-Eastern Indian region, in close proximity to Chinese territory, will serve as one of the many such checks that the government can put in place to arrest any form of Chinese misadventure. That apart, the government also needs to seriously consider reviving and revamping the China desk of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) which currently obtains information related to China primarily through secondary sources that are often late or incorrect or during many times both!

The Chinese on the other hand have a very strong intelligence network operational all across India’s North-East, often engaging themselves in aiding trafficking of drugs and arms while also lending logistical and financial support to many outlawed organizations in the region. They are also known to deploy very aggressive patrols who often taunt their Indian counterparts on many occasions.

The Indian government must avoid downplaying the incursion incidents and should focus on establishing a very imposing military presence in the NE region in order to meet and neutralize any national security challenges that may pose themselves in the future.

China producing fake drugs under the label "Made in India"

The Chinese have long been a menace that has been left unattended! This time around, I’m not talking about their complicity with terrorist organizations operating in North-Eastern India, or their repeated attempts to violate the International border, which has been on the rise for some time now.

I’m talking about their new weapon in the Anti-India arsenal which involves manufacturing and marketing fake pharmaceutical drugs under the “Made in India” label. This is truly appalling and comes as a rude shock to the Indian nation in general and Indian pharmaceutical companies in particular who strive very hard to manufacture medication drugs after painstakingly slow and expensive research processes that eat into a major share of their profit margins.

Although Indian agencies have long known that this the Chinese were involved in such practice, valuable evidence to prove this was not easily forthcoming, until early last week, when the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) of Nigeria issued a press release stating that a large consignment of fake anti-malarial generic pharmaceuticals labeled ‘Made in India’ were, in fact, found to have been produced in China. It is extremely unlikely that Nigeria alone is a recipient of such fake pharmaceutical material or that this incident is isolated. This incident throws light upon a well planned scheme of operations orchestrated by China to undermine India in every possible angle, economic front included.

It is very interesting to note that this is not China’s first brush with counterfeit pharmaceutical material. Early this year, Guardian reported on growing health fears on account of fake Chinese drugs extensively being available in Britain. According to the report, an estimated 8 million pieces of such fake drugs found their way into the National Health Service (NHS). British border officials seized more than half a million counterfeit pills destined for the NHS and high-street chemists last year, an amount equal to the quantity of counterfeit drugs found in the whole of Europe in 2005.  Fake life-saving medicines for ailments such as heart disease and cancer, worth more than £3 million were intercepted by customs officials and the Home Office border agency in the first 10 months of 2008. Of these, three consignments alone were each larger than 100,000 pills.

The size of the problem facing the NHS is now so alarming that Interpol’s secretary-general, Ronald Noble, opened an anti-counterfeiting conference in Africa recently by admitting to being “shocked” at discovering that fake drugs were more deadly than terrorism. Forty years of terrorism, he said, had killed 65,000 people, compared with 200,000 in one year alone in China from counterfeit medicines.

It is apparent that China does not worry about its own reputation being tarnished beyond repair in such acts, as was seen in 2007 when it came to light that the former head of China’s Food and Drug Administration was found guilty of taking bribes to license fake drugs. The fact is that the counterfeit drug market in China is very strong and well organized apart from being safeguarded and aided by the state machinery itself, whose devious agenda was clearly seen in Nigeria last week following the haul of fake drugs.

India needs to reflect seriously on what lessons can be drawn from such cases and should urgently step up efforts in food and drug supervision and monitoring, aimed at uncovering more Chinese-sponsored malaise. Chinese officials will continue to live in denial and contest every claim made by the international media, while shamelessly aiding to such unscrupulous practices with the singular objective of maligning India’s reputation and standing in the international community.

Fake foreign-made generics carrying ‘Made in India’ label can do tremendous harm to our interests. It not only dents our image and takes our legitimate market share, it also erodes the distinction between generic and fake medicines that we have been campaigning for at WHO and WTO, as stated in a letter by India’s High Commissioner in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, Mahesh Sachdev, written to then commerce secretary GSK Pillai.

New Delhi’s protests to China on this issue will most certainly fall on deaf ears and will be dismissed as a cunningly crafted ploy to blemish the latter’s reputation. Therefore, India needs to build a very strong case against China while coordinating with intellgence sources of Ghana, South Africa, Ivory Coast and West Africa, they being large markets of Indian pharmaceutical products. Information so gathered needs to be presented to international bodies of commerce, crime and pharmacology to invite stringent sanctions on China so as to deter this hideously red nation from engaging in such sordid anti-India schemes.

Can India be slum-free in 5 years?

Yesterday, the Indian President Pratibha Patil announced her government’s ambitious plans of eradicating slums in India by launching special housing schemes for the urban poor and slum-dwellers. This program is aimed to provide housing to over millions of slum dwellers across the country who do not have even the most basic amenities to lead a decent lifestyle.

While the Presidential vision, aided by the current government, may be benevolent and concrete, it is certainly a little far fetched owing to the short time line of 5 years which certainly is not enough to achieve this monolith task!

For starters, with well over a billion people, India is the second most populous nation in the world! As if that was not a shocker enough, UN-HABITAT states that India is home to 63% of all slum dwellers in South Asia. This amounts to a staggering 170 million people, 17% of the world’s slum dwellers. It is believed that approximately 260 million people in India (a group almost equal to the entire population of the United States) still earn $1 or less a day. And according to the United Nations, 70 million people earn less than $2 a day. As India continues to grow in economic stature, there’s much debate over the country’s ability to tackle poverty and urban homelessness.

There are 314,700 children living on the streets of Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Kanpur, Bangalore and Hyderabad, and another 100,000 living in New Delhi. These figures exclude the count of homeless adults in any of the mentioned cities.

The problem of homelessness is associated with a number of factors such as lack of affordable housing, changes in the industrial economy leading to unemployment, inadequate income supports, de-institutionalization of patients with mental health problems and the erosion of family and social support, physical or mental illness, disability, substance abuse, domestic violence and job losses being among the many factors that contribute to miseries in the lives of slum dwellers in India. Concrete measures to address every single one of them need to be undertaken to ensure that rehabilitation of the poor is a result oriented effort and not a futile exercise. It therefore calls for the need for the government to view the problem in a holistic and inclusive manner, one that shall keep in focus the real issue and the factors associated with it.

While several programs, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and more recently the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, are in place to help the government achieve its mission, the government needs to ensure their effectiveness at the grassroots levels, by channelizing funds and resources in the right direction and making sure that they are not mired in the entangled mess of the infamous bureaucracy. More so, dedicated authorities need to oversee rehabilitation and construction programs with stringent monitoring processes in place to ensure effective utilization of funds. The government may also rope in credible partners from the private sector, while also requesting corporates to contribute to this cause as part of their social responsibility programs.

A careful and systematically planned approach is what is needed to make this ambitious vision a reality, while fully understanding that this is possible only with utmost dedication and commitment. The government should also focus immensely on the urban poor who account for a substantial part of India’s population.

However, it still makes me wonder! 5 years?

Pak lets JUD chief Saeed walk away!

While the Obama administration in the United States may call the release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed disturbing, it was very expected of Pakistan, which, in this case, is known for what it does second best – reneging on its promises without any concrete reasons whatsoever, the first being careful and systematic orchestration of state sponsored acts of terror.

Pakistan has for a long time now, with the aid of its intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, aided radical elements such as the Taliban and a dozen or more others that have been founded on the Kashmir / Anti-India agenda. The elected government, following its predecessor’s alignment with the United States on the War on Terror, maintains that Taliban style radical elements are a severe threat to itself more than any other sovereign. However, the inside story is hideously contradictory!

Several branches from within the Pakistan Army and the ISI continue to regularly collaborate with fundamental elements not only in the perpetration of violence but also in the drug trade which has flourished across the North western Frontier Province (NFWP), thanks to Afghanistan’s vast poppy expanses! It is interesting to note that despite the War on Terror, the United States is yet to announce a concrete program on the War on Drugs in the Af-Pak region, one that is a stark departure from its current policies in the Latin American region.

Knowing very well that the recently concluded Indian elections have ushered in a different climate in the country, and that the heat surrounding the 26/11 incident has died down across the political corridors in New Delhi, Pakistan has now chosen to honor what seems to be a premeditated promise to release elements detained as part of the Mumbai attacks episode. This proves beyond doubt that Pakistan had no intention to collaborate with Indian in bringing the criminals to justice. Merely coming under pressure from India and the United States, it did a sham act of detaining the JUD leader until such time that the nuances of the Mumbai incident would be forgotten. And when the opportune moment presented itself, the government of Pakistan let Saeed go, stating that the case against him was too weak to mandate his arrest. This despite India repeatedly providing unquestionable evidence to Pakistan which clearly indicates that key LeT personnel such as Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a close aide of Saeed, were in direct contact with the Mumbai attackers! Saeed’s statement denying Ajmal Amir Kasab’s links with the JUD is blatantly untrue and is most likely the echo of what the Pakistan interior ministry has told him to throw at the press during the time of his release!

One can therefore conclude beyond doubt that Pakistan not only desires to abstain from cooperating with India in investigating the Mumbai attacks, but has also clearly been the perpetrator of the attacks itself! What else could explain the negligent attitude towards the evidence submitted and now the release of the man who was acknowledged to be the mastermind behind the attacks?

The American Government can do little but issue statements of exclamation at this act, especially considering the prevailing warm bonhomie between the US State Department and the machinery in Pakistan which thrives because of an anti-India agenda. Besides, the United States, by virtue of accepting Pakistan as a ‘committed’ partner in the war on Terror, can do little to persuade the latter to aid India in the Mumbai investigation and many many others!

As a show of support, the US Administration continues to shower Pakistan with huge financial aides meant to augment the Anti-Terror campaign, while being fully aware that a large chunk of these goodies are systematically diverted to a long list of recipients proximate to the ISI.

The perpetually hawkish State Department and its anti-India stance is very well known, as has been witnessed for a few decades now! Richard Holbrooke can do a lot of nay saying in the media concerning this episode, but that does not change the situation in the ground which involves the complicity of the ISI and several other radical factions in their devious agenda of perpetrating terror in the NWFP region, making it, easily, one of the most dangerous places on Earth!