Thursday, January 27, 2011

South Asia also needs to overheat economically even if it brings inflation….

A leading British newspaper, in a recent analysis, has concluded that China is growing at a pace much faster than estimated. The paper screams that China is overheating. This will lead it to attain the status of number one economy of the world in the next ten to fifteen years, but this has some associated disadvantages like price hike and inflation. It is already a military power and has all those pre-requisites which make it a potential super power. China will alter the course of history and disturb the world order by becoming a potent challenge to the uni-polar order of the world. And China is treading the path to its destination very cautiously. It has border disputes with India, who has open support of the USA to contain expanding sphere of influence of China in the Indian ocean. Effectively, it is facing military threat from this neighbor. But China, in spite of its military superiority has put all its disputes on the back burner and is actively pursuing growth of its trade with India. This is key to China’s economic growth and very essential for it to reach its destination.
On the other hand, Pakistan despite its fragile economy has been forced by India to enter an arms race in order to further bleed economically. War on Terror is another front where Pakistan has to make economic sacrifices without any reward. In this situation, it is essential that Pakistan has peaceful borders both on its East and West and pursue the resolution of its disputes. India which was not ready to talk seems to have shifted its stance and has expressed its resolve to put some of its differences with Pakistan on the back burner for a while to focus on development challenges and change the adversarial mindset so that all issues pending between them could be discussed. According to media reports, India’s External affairs minister SM Krishna on Wednesday said terrorism of the 26/11-variety had inflicted substantial damage to India-Pakistan relations and set the clock back for the dialogue process initiated in 2004.
"India and Pakistan have to put some of their differences on the back burner and concentrate on addressing the development challenges facing the two nations. For that, trust is needed and we have to put in place mechanisms to build trust," he said in his hour-long meeting with a group of 13 visiting senior Pakistani journalists from newspapers, news channels and magazines.
"Let me make it abundantly clear...India desires peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan. This will enable both the countries to effectively address development challenges we face. For that, the basic need is that our mindset, which is often adversarial, has to be changed," he said.
"We need to look at things in a positive manner. Our relationship has so many potentials, only if we come out of that mindset. Let me assure you, India has come out of it," he added.
Krishna, however, noted that India was not shying away from discussing any issues between the neighbors and that can happen only if the trust deficit, which was the biggest impediment, was reduced.
On the other hand, Pakistan and Afghanistan are likely to propose to the US to halt combat operations in the war-torn country and allow the reconciliation process to take the lead in the latest push for peace with the Taliban.
But the idea is likely to pitch the two countries against Washington, which seeks to go hard against the insurgents before the coalition forces begin pulling out from Afghanistan. As Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul arrives in Islamabad today (Thursday), the two countries have decided to put up a joint front at next month’s trilateral meeting with the US. If the three countries of South Asia have decided to positively address their issues and create an atmosphere of trust, all of them will be direct beneficiaries of this move. Like China, South Asia also has to overheat but this time in economic sense, and overheat it must come what may even if it is inflation. Ultimately, this will bring good news for the people of the region.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why all dictators think and act alike in the twilight days of their power?

Series of events unfolding in the twilight days of all the dictators, both civilian and military, are intriguingly identical. They all handle the uprisings in strikingly similar fashion. Pakistanis, who can clearly recall the protests against massive rigging of 1977 elections, will testify to the fact that dictators do not realize the gravity of situation and intensity of public sentiments till they are booted out. It was unfortunate for Pakistanis that their very genuine protest demonstrations were hijacked by the clergy because the protest leaders were behind the bars. The rest is history, the dark ages which still continue. The handling of uprising against the shah of Iran was no different. The dictator of Tunis handled the uprising in the similar fashion though he met his fate much quicker that his other cousins. Foreign Policy Magazine, in its latest edition has made an interesting comparison of the shah and President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. According to a latest article, Ben Ali seemed intent on compressing the shah's yearlong series vacillations into a tidy one-week time frame.

The pattern was familiar. First, a show of denial: The shah started 1978 by denouncing street protests as conspiracies directed from abroad, while Ben Ali started this week by declaring mass demonstrations to be "terrorist acts." Next a halfhearted show of force to restore law and order: In the autumn of 1978, the shah declared martial law and organized a military government; Ben Ali, for his part, imposed a nationwide curfew this week and presumably instructed security forces to use deadly force against continued protests. Then a hasty series of concessions that are inevitably interpreted as too little, too late: Late in the game, each leader tried to shuffle his cabinet into a more liberal arrangement. That's followed by a transparently cynical, and frankly depressing, declaration of sympathy for the protests: The shah went on television in November to announce, "I have heard the voice of your revolution"; Ben Ali went on television on Thursday to tell his restive populace, "I have understood you." Finally, there's the retreat into exile -- the shah fled to Egypt in January 1979, while Ben Ali is now reported to be in Malta, France, or Saudi Arabia.

But does this carry any lesson for dictators in Middle East, “where presidents and kings have rusted on their thrones?” According to the New York Times, that seemed premature, particularly because the contours of the government emerging in Tunisia were still unclear — and because Tunisia is on the periphery of the Arab world, with a relatively affluent and educated population. Yet the street protests erupted when Arabs seemed more frustrated than ever, whether over rising prices and joblessness or resentment of their leaders’ support for American policies or ambivalence about Israeli campaigns in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. Tunisia’s protests were portrayed as a popular uprising, crossing lines of religion and ideology, offering a new model of dissent in a region where Islamic activists have long been seen as monopolizing opposition. Even if they serve only as inspiration, the protests offer a rare example of success to activists stymied at almost every turn in bringing about change in their own countries.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The blunt weapon may refuse to be used bluntly this time….

In the wake of strained relations between intelligence outfits of both USA and Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari is visiting Washington next week where US administration officials seek to put pressure on Islamabad to pursue militants. Reuters has reported that President Zardari will deliver a eulogy at a memorial service on January 14 for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the veteran U.S. diplomat who was President Barack Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke died last month. Due to security situation in Pakistan, President Zardari was unable to join funeral prayers of his slain governor Salman Taseer who was assassinated on January 4, 2011. The visit comes several weeks after Obama and other top officials publicly chided Pakistan for not acting quickly enough to eradicate Islamist militants within its borders who attack U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

According to the report, experts warn against pushing Pakistan too hard as it grapples with its own political turmoil and internal threats. Pakistani worries that the United States could leave behind an unstable Afghanistan allied with arch-foe India add another strain to a relationship that has been jolted by significant ups and downs over the past decade. Pakistan is on edge this week after the assassination of a senior ruling party member and the breakdown of a leading political coalition that pushed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's government to the brink of collapse. But concerns in Washington are focused around Pakistan's willingness to go after the Afghan Taliban and other militants who launch attacks from along its rugged western border.

Pakistanis like to say Americans do not fully appreciate the difficulty their soldiers would face if they waded into a messy battle with militants in North Waziristan or the delicacy of support for the country's fragile civilian government. For many Pakistanis, it is difficult to forget the turmoil that followed when the United States turned away from the region after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"The United States has a pretty solid track record of using Pakistan as a blunt instrument and (then) skipping town," Reuters quote one former White House official as saying. "Why would the Pakistanis think this wouldn't happen this time?"

U.S. military and social assistance to Pakistan has soared as Washington's attention has turned from Iraq to Afghanistan over the past few years. For fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration has requested more than $3 billion for programs that would equip Pakistani soldiers and fund education and health programs, as well as other sectors. That is a huge jump from 2008, when U.S. aid was just $741 million. 

In return, Pakistan has taken steps to comply with U.S. wishes, shifting troops from its eastern border with India, its chief security preoccupation, to its border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has permitted the United States to dramatically increase the tempo of pilotless drone strikes on militant hide-outs, risking a backlash from Pakistanis who see such attacks as a violation of their sovereignty. But attempts to cooperate are not always easy. A U.S. offer to provide unarmed surveillance drones to Islamabad has become a new source of friction, with Pakistan privately voicing concern about what it says are exorbitant prices and a slow delivery timeline.

But the past year has also seen a number of notable points of friction, including a cross-border incursion by U.S.-led NATO forces that prompted Pakistan to temporarily close a key crossing and U.S. suspicions that Pakistani intelligence leaked the identity of the top U.S. spy in Pakistan. U.S. intelligence sources say bilateral intelligence ties are extremely strained as Washington grapples with reports that elements of Pakistani intelligence are tacitly backing the militants.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chinese premier’s visit disappoints India….

President Obama visited India in November last year with a great pomp and show and left after bagging multi-billion dollars worth of agreements aimed to boost US economy. In spite of the media attention that this visit received, India was a loser at the end as it could not get President Obama to condemn Pakistan even mildly. This visit greatly disappointed Indian analysts who then started pinning hopes on the visit of China’s Premier Wen Jiabao. The Chinese PM visited Pakistan for three days after concluding his India visit of equal duration in December 2010. The fact that this visit was planned for both the countries in one go and that Islamabad was his last port of call made it very clear that in spite of its economic interests with, China considers Pakistan as its closest friend. This visit was critical for India for the expected growth of its trade with China.
However, in spite of a major shift in China’s posture towards India, the defense analysts of India are visibly disappointed and frustrated at the outcome of Chinese PM’s Pakistan visit. They complain that while there are discernable changes in China’s foreign policy, friendship with Pakistan has remained a constant. According to their analysis, a high point of the visit was the honor extended to the Chinese Premier to address Pakistan’s Parliament, an honor that India had offered to President Barack Obama during the latter’s visit to India in November. In his address entitled ‘Shaping the future together through thick and thin,’ Premier Wen used the phrase “brothers forever” to describe the relationship between the two countries. He went on to note that “China-Pakistan friendship is full of vigor and vitality, like a lush tree, with deep roots and thick foliage.” And he added that “China-Pakistan relationship is strong and solid, like a rock standing firm despite the pressure of time.” Besides reinforcing the strategic commitment to Pakistan, a number of important announcements were made during this address. Premier Wen also recalled Pakistan’s consistent and full support to China in the past at some crucial junctures on various issues, including Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.

In an article in the journal of India’s Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, India’s role and contributions at a very critical time when China was seeking admission to the United Nations have been enumerated. China has been reminded that when the Korean War broke out in 1950, India voted in favor of the United Nations action against the North, but when China entered the Korean war India resisted the condemnation of China as an aggressor by the General Assembly of the United Nations in order not to enlarge the area of hostility. In its efforts to bring about a settlement, India served as a channel of communication of Chinese intentions and requirements to the outside world, and consistently pressed for the recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the rightful representative in the United Nations. Further, in September 1951, India declined to attend the Conference at San Francisco for the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan because, among other reasons, China was not a party to it. Beijing should not forget these Indian efforts.

It has been lamented in the analysis that if the achievements of Premier Wen’s visit to India were more pronounced in terms of economic content, his visit to Pakistan was more characterized by political and strategic significance. Although China has been helping Pakistan in all fields, particularly in its defense modernization and development including the nuclear program, its recent help in mitigating the flurry of floods in Pakistan was unprecedented in its volume and magnitude, and suggests the depth of the strategic relationship between the two countries. China had offered about $ 250 million worth of aid to Pakistan. As part of the aid, China sent a team of experts to Pakistan in November last year to help Pakistan expedite its reconstruction work. An article in China Daily claimed that the aid to Pakistan has created many records in the history of China’s aid and relief work in other countries. The Chinese claim of humanitarian assistance to Pakistan has, however, been taken with a pinch of salt by the western media. 

One more important announcement came when Premier Wen declared that China had decided to provide 500 government scholarships to Pakistan in the next three years, and that 100 Pakistani high-school students will be invited to participate in the Chinese Bridge Summer-Camp in China. Wen also said that China may explore the possibility of a currency-swap agreement with Pakistan. During his visit the two sides also signed 35 new pacts, expected to bring $30 billion of investment into Pakistan over the next five years.

The analysis concludes that China’s adversarial relationship with India has been one of the important factors in its all-weather friendship with Pakistan. Such an intimate relationship between the two had developed at a time when China’s global profile had not developed to the extent that is discernable now. Over the years, Sino-Indian relationship has also matured to a greater degree of engagement. China is now projecting itself as a responsible global power, beyond the sub-continent and the region. One can fathom China’s primordial commitment to Pakistan and China’s imperative need for Pakistan’s support to rein in Muslim separatists operating in China-Pakistan border in the Uygur region. India wants China to calibrate its relationship with Pakistan in the context of these changes and in such a manner so as not to arouse any misgivings in New Delhi. 

Although India has expressed its misplaced concerns about China’s engagement in infrastructural projects in Pakistan’s Northern Areas which India claims to be a part of Kashmir held by it through brutal force, and about Beijing’s support for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, the Sino-Indian relationship, according to the analysis has acquired an independent dynamism and is not hamstrung by the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan. 

The major thrust of Indo-China relations is bi-lateral trade while both the countries have put their serious disputes on the back-burner. This, however, does not imply that their mutual relations have improved and that their trade relations should affect Pakistan-China relations. China’s stand on Kashmir is not muted and is clearly expressed through grant of visas to the residents of Indian-held Kashmir. This is no secret that USA has outsourced the job of containment of China in Indian Ocean to India as a business case and China and the world fully understand that China and India are, in effect, two adversaries. This is also no secret that China is an emerging power to challenge the USA and alter the uni-polar world order and India is only acting as an agent of status quo (read: USA) to block China’s march towards assuming its rightful place of a world power.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Iran’s dirty bomb was a dream of West’s most trusted ally….

Iran has remained a focus of West’s bitter criticism since its 1979 revolution for all the right or wrong, but understandable, reasons. This revolution brought down the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran who was the most trusted ally of the West. Iran has done nothing to correct its image; in fact it has been trying hard to strengthen West’s perception of post-revolution Iran being rogue state. It has allowed itself to be isolated from the rest of the world. This government has been anti-Israel and has been talking openly to destroy Israel and inflict damages to the US interests. Its nuclear ambitions are perceived to be directed against Israel and the USA and the West is hell-bent stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons’ developing program at all costs. There is a looming danger of surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

It is a common perception that the “dirty bomb” initiative which is being pursued by the present government of Iran, would have been supported by the West in shah’s time. Evidence, however suggests that it was the Shah, darling of the West, who had embarked upon acquiring nuclear bomb and the West had tried its best to block his initiative. Foreign Policy has reported that Washington was involved in a long-standing and frequently behind-the-scenes diplomatic tussle with the shah over the purpose of his nuclear program. Recently declassified documents from the Carter and Ford presidential libraries; the departments of defense, energy, and state; and the National Security Council (NSC) show that every element of today's impasse between the U.S. government and the Islamic Republic was also present in the negotiations with the shah.

These range from Iran's insistence on its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) right to a "full fuel cycle," its complaint that the United States was singling it out for guarantees no other country was required to give, and finally the U.S. offer to make Iran part of an international consortium to enrich uranium outside Iran, the so-called "Russian solution." The shah repeatedly insisted that at least he did not want a nuclear bomb -- yet he was adamant that Iran not be treated as a second-class citizen. These negotiations, details of which have not been published before now, don't just expose the regime's lies about the alleged U.S. double standard, they also offer a useful guide for Western negotiators in navigating the waters of Iranian nationalism, both real and feigned.

According to the report, Iran's nuclear program began in 1959 with a small reactor given by the United States to Tehran University as part of the "Atoms for Peace" program announced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1953. But that only whetted the Iranian monarch's appetite: With his increased oil revenues, and with his new vision of Iran as the hegemonic force in the region, a nuclear program became for Shah Pahlavi the symbol of progress and power. He summoned Akbar Etemad, a trained nuclear physicist, to the royal court in 1973, told him of his desire to launch a nuclear program, and asked Etemad to develop a master plan.

Two weeks later, the shah met with Etemad again. He quickly read the 13-page draft document Etemad had prepared, then turned to the prime minister and ordered him to fund what turned out be one of the most expensive projects undertaken by his regime. There was no prior discussion in the Majlis, where the constitutional power of the purse lay, or in any other governmental body or council. Like every major policy decision in those days, it was a one-man act. Thus was launched Iran's nuclear program.The shah's plans called for a "full-fledged nuclear power industry" with the capacity to produce 23,000 megawatts of electricity. By 1977, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) had more than 1,500 employees (who were, on the shah's orders, allowed to become the highest-paid government employees). Pahlavi had arranged for the training of Iranian nuclear experts around the world (including a $20 million endowment at MIT), engaged in an intensive search for uranium mines in Iran and all over the planet, and launched several nuclear research centers across the country. AEOI was in those days one of the most heavily funded programs in the country. In 1976, its budget was $1.3 billion, making it, after the country's oil company, the single biggest public economic institution in the country.

The detailed report “The Shah’s Atomic Dreams” is available at Foreign Policy.