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Archive for August, 2009

Karzai or Abdullah? Who will emerge front-runner in the Afghan elections?

Amidst sporadic violence, reports of armed coercion, bribery, election fraud, voter cards being sold, irregularities and a low voter turnout, Afghanistan has gone to the polls for the second time, to elect a President, in an exercise that was closely watched by the United Nations, the United States, neighbouring countries and independent agencies. Officials of NATO stated that approximately 15.6 million voters had registered to vote. The number, which amounts to half of the nations population, is staggering considering the turbulent phases in time that the country has witnessed despite the Taliban having been ousted many years ago.

Under the regime of Hamid Karzai, a great deal had progressed in a difficult and tense environment constantly watched over and viewed as a breeding ground for international terrorism, however, the strangulating influence of the Taliban was witnessed many a times, in the form of many skirmishes between the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rebels, the former of which is now largely reduced to combat personnel of the United States alone, other member nations having gradually pulled out of the arrangement, sensing a long drawn combat operation which faced flak for being frustrating, costly and severely life threatening to military personnel.

Although the government machinery has largely been overhauled, the Afghan mindset largely remains unaltered and battling warlords still call the shots in what is more of a deeply divided nation which is clearly demarcated by ethnicity, caste and muscle power, all of which seems extensively prevalent over a social structure which is precariously balanced and hinges even now upon its disturbed past. The Afghan state is embroiled in many distinct identities, no one of which can claim superiority or dominance alone or for that matter a certain extended period of time. Cooperation and coordination are words unheard of where negotiations and truce face obsolescence even before implementation.

This time, the theater saw heavy weights in the form of Hamid Karzai, the incumbent President and Abdullah Abdullah, his foreign minister in the fray for the top job amidst many political twists and turns that may have affected one another in their attempt to woo a population that has long been tormented by unrest and turmoil, for the duration of all or most of their tumultuous lives. Karzai on his part seems to have been no lesser of an immoral by virtue of his proximity to what the United States calls dreaded warlords responsible for a chaotic Afghanistan. It is alleged that both of Karzai’s vice-presidential candidates and a number of his key allies in the election were responsible for many instances of human rights violations and war crimes. The independent body, Human Rights Watch has called for Vice President Karim Khalili and key ally, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, to face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes. Khalili is alleged to have been responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.

Prominent and conspicuous among the events, was the return from-exile of  General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who once held the post of Chief of Army Staff to President Karzai. Arriving from Turkey, where he was exiled for allegedly manhandling a political rival, he created headlines by pledging support for Karzai and campaigning for him, a move widely seen as an effort to send a tough message to erring warlords and thereby win their support. Gen Dostum was also a key ally of the United States in the 2001 invasion, following the attacks on the world trade center.

Political analysts insist that all this hobnobbing with local militia and warlords was indeed a strategy employed by the Karzai camp to secure large blocs of votes in return for key positions and influence in his new government or other significant promises. One may also recall his invitation to the dreaded Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to become his Vice President, when his attacks on government troops became systematically orchestrated and unstoppable.

Abdullah, on the other hand with a clean and suave image has certainly managed to dent Karzai’s fortunes to an extent, prompting officials to believe that the race may be more closely tied than expected, exacting a possibility of a run-off in October if neither party manages to garner the required 50% mark. While Abdullah may represent a different paradigm for a nation troubled by war, poverty, unrest and ethnic divisions, Karzai certainly has an upper hand in the battle given his close connections that can translate to more votes and the ability to nudge perpetually warring splinter groups to pledge support in unison although they may do so with reluctance. Given Abdullah’s surprise over the scale of alleged fraud in counting of the votes, one can sense a disconnect in his ability to control and monitor situations in the ground, something which Karzai surely has more knowledge and control of.

Apparently the United States is not very happy with the developments in Afghanistan, whose military and security responsibility lies with it. Richard Holbrooke, America’s special envoy to Afghanistan has, in a meeting with President Karzai, expressed fears and concerns over reports of election fraud, something that Karzai has not taken too well coming from the United States.

Latest indications suggest that Karzai is pegged at 45% of votes, amounting to 422,000 while Abdullah has garnered 35% votes at 330,000 in number. Reports now indicate that the finally tally may be delayed a while.

While the world waits and watches, it will be interesting to follow the United States and the international community in their policies towards the Afghan nation. More importantly, it will be exciting to deduce and subsequently watch India’s stand considering the possibilities. Karzai and his administration enjoy a warm relationship with India, and so also is the case with Dr. Abdullah.

So what is it that will change in the Afghan heartland? September will tell, presumably!

Pakistan's call to ban nuclear weapons – An Analysis

August 13, 2009 6 comments

One would need to take a very cautiously optimistic approach while welcoming Pakistan’s call to ban nuclear weapons! Cautiously optimistic approach because, it remains to be discerned whether its nuclear arsenal is well within the control of the elected government! Besides, the statement that it “subscribes to the goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and has always played an active and constructive role in the conference” should be seen as one among the many last ditch face saving attempts by a desperate nation embroiled in a state of terror which was created, financed and proliferated by its own agencies, who now are, in part, working to control the menace.

Probably intended to convey to the world of a reviewed intention in the arena of nuclear politics, Pakistan has, with this statement too, been ineffective to assure the international community in convincing them of its intentions which largely remain unclear and uncharacteristic to the extent that they are unbelievable! British envoy to the Conference on Disarmament, John Duncan said, “Pakistan’s stand was disappointing as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain as well as Iran, North Korea and Israel, back the consensus.” Sweden, which is another member nation, currently in position of holding the European Union’s revolving presidency has termed Pakistan’s stand as a procedural maneuver, aimed at stalling any significant agreement on reducing weaponry, which in essence is a treaty to halt production of fissile material. One wonders if Pakistan is merely responding to a veiled comment by the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi asking the forum to expedite talks on a treaty to halt production of fissile material used to make nuclear weapons, which has been seen as partly aimed at it?

Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions began largely as a measure to counter a perceived Indian threat and it continues to remain a non signatory of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is easy to see why Pakistan is playing ball in a forum, whose significance, rather insignificance so far has been non-achievement of consensus to chart a treaty to reduce production of fissile material. Pakistan is neither a nuclear power nor is it a signatory of the NPT, as mentioned before. However, given the current situation and flux that is has come to witness, it is important for it to take a stand on terrorism and associated concerns, nuclear weapons in particular. By calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, Pakistan has schemed a two fold objective, the first being a sound byte to the International Community on how its policies are focused on committing to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons and secondly a pressure on the Conference of Disarmament to further play footsie on the fissile treaty, opinions on which could now be divided, even though realistically speaking, the envisioning of a world free of nuclear weapons is largely Utopian, and cannot attain practical application! By echoing such a stand, Pakistan is doing nothing to change its current posture or policy, which unlike India’s does not hinge on a no-first strike! To make matters worse, the nuclear arsenal is controlled and commanded by the Pakistan army and not by the civilian government, which is unlike India, where such a system is overseen by the Nuclear Command Authority which comprises the Prime Minister and other key functionaries of the government, apart from echelons of the Armed Forces.

It is interesting to note Pakistan’s demands, at the Conference of Disarmament, which include general nuclear disarmament, guarantees from nuclear powers that they would not attack non-nuclear states, banning nuclear weapons from outer space, and the fissile cut-off pact. Given the stance that Pakistan has almost suddenly taken, one wonders, pondering over several questions that have arisen as a result. Is Pakistan firstly capable of weapons grade nuclear delivery? If so, is the nuclear arsenal in safe hands? Is there any threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the coming future?

As for the Geneva based Conference on Disarmament, which is a UN body, I would not attribute much to its actions until a concrete agreement has been hammered out, speaking of which I’d like to remind the readers of a series of timeless haggling over the past 12 years that have largely stalled its activities and agenda! Now, as I write this post, word is that ‘the way forward has been finally achieved,’ a path to begin negotiations that have been frozen for a long time now!

So much for hard bargained progress!

Fake Indian currency printed in Pakistan

August 5, 2009 6 comments

The Times of India carried a front page headline a few days ago that pointed to an ominously disturbing fact that the worth of fake currency circulating in the country is an estimated Rs.1,69,000 crore! Of this, the authorities have been able to seize a paltry Rs. 63 cores while the remaining amount still remains at large! As if that was not enough, people across the nation are at loss when they find ATMs spewing out counterfeit currency, a claim that is not very seriously taken by banking authorities, often leading to end consumer loss.

While the government, banks and people are fully aware of the problem and its massive scale, they find themselves ill-equipped to counter the problem, primarily as a result of inefficient detection mechanisms. To make their problems worse, the counterfeit currency being circulated currently is known to match up to 95% with its legitimate counterpart, making tracing and detection even more difficult.

The origins of fake Indian currency and can be majorly traced to Quetta and Chakala in Pakistan, where the ISI engages in extensive printing activities and then proliferates the product to a half dozen East Asian and Arab countries, from where it is redirected to India and neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is believed that the ISI, in complicity with the Pakistan government and elements of the D company, has for a very long time now engaged in the production of high-quality Indian counterfeit currency largely aimed at destabilizing the Indian economy and also using the produce to fund terrorist operations within the Indian subcontinent.

Indian counterfeit currency is printed on security paper in Pakistan or friendly nations leading to its dissemination in India via routes that are believed to be untraceable. However, Indian agencies, already aware of this arrangement have been keeping an eye on these designated routes for sometime now with a small measure of success.

The quality of such counterfeit currency is said to be so high that their tracing and detection is very difficult. Besides, fake currency is transported into India using bona fide travellers as couriers, most of whom travel for this very purpose! Hyderabad and parts of Kerala have become places that are a hot bed for arrival of fake Indian currency from Arab nations, often via labourers who, in search of a better livelihood travel to these nations and in the process end up becoming transport mediums.

Intelligence agencies in India are baffled at the numerous trafficking routes employed by couriers bringing counterfeit currency to India, and the southern part of the nation too is no exception to this malaise. In fact, the prevalence of fake currency is estimatedly higher in this region given its proximity and access to regions in the United Arab Emirates. It seems that the most popular denomination to be replicated is that of the 500 rupees, which is so done to proliferate a larger volume of currency in the system. Experts suggest that the precision involved in replicating currency is so meticulous that their detection is virtually impossible, thus making the process of tracing them extremely difficult.

With the problem growing multifold, India is expected to take up the issue with the Interpol and also ask certain European nations to keep a watch on Pakistan based imports pertaining to security paper and ink. Sleuths in the intelligence machinery are convinced that the ISI has recently asked the Pakistan government to import additional currency-standard printing paper and ink from companies located in the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland to further its Indian currency printing exploits.

A highly placed official said that “after using the country’s normal requirement for printing its own currency, Pakistan diverts the rest to its ISI with the intention of destabilizing the Indian economy by pumping in as many Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) as possible into India and also to fund terrorist organizations. It has been involved in printing and circulation of the fake currency notes with the help of the organized crime network of Dawood Ibrahim and others.”

Although detection is difficult, the Indian government needs to step up its vigil and seek active human intelligence on this myriad chain originating from Pakistan and systematically dismantle the operation over a period of time. Perhaps the newly created National Investigation Agency (NIA) could be entrusted to oversee this in coordination with other intelligence agencies. Assets within Pakistan, if any could be tapped to obtain detailed plans involving couriers and their routes. Monitoring of traffic from Nepal, Bangladesh, the UAE, Sri Lanka and other South East Asian nations need to be stepped up in an effort to curb this problem.

Having said that, the time and resources that need to be allocated in breaking this operation will be a huge challenge that the Indian government will face while embarking upon methods to solve this issue!