Just do the maths

Of closing NATO supply lines through Pakistan

As per Washington Post, it costs the US $100 billion annually to keep 100,000 American troops on Afghan soil.

As per Dawn, using the Central Asian route for NATO supplies is costing the US an additional $38 million a month.

As per the Express Tribune, Pakistan has budgeted $1.1 billion in the next year’s budget as reimbursements from the United States on account of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The figure for the current fiscal year is $1.34 billion. And outstanding CSF dues at present amount to $2.5 billion.

Now do the maths. At $38 million a month, the losses sustained by not using supply routes in Pakistan over a year are $456 million. This is not even half a percent of the total amount being spent by the Pentagon in Afghanistan. Moreover, it is barely one-fifth of the CSF amount Pakistan wants from the US in the current and the next fiscal year. Do you still think the US is deeply hurt by the financial losses it is incurring by stoppage of NATO supply routes via Pakistan? In fact, Pakistan has done the US a favour by closing the supply lines. It is actually saving the US some money.

Perhaps this also explains John Kerry’s statement yesterday where he asked Pakistan to act against jehadi groups being provided sanctuary in that country. And he is the same John Kerry people expected would come and deliver a formal public apology to Pakistan.

[Hat Tip: @majorlyprofound for the idea]

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Vertical bypass

A better ride between Bangalore and Mysore

Driving on the Bangalore-Mysore highway frequently, this blogger couldn’t help but notice why modernising the highway has not reduced travel times by as much as it could have. The dream of a 90 minute drive largely remains elusive, not least because getting out of Bangalore city limits has become a painful experience.

Like in most parts of the country, the highway bisects the towns and villages en route, becoming the “main road” in places like Maddur and Mandya, with commercial establishments, schools, offices and busy traffic intersections. This means that the highway traffic has to inevitably slow down to the speed of the local town traffic until it exits the town limits, before picking up speed again. And because drivers might not slow down in time, traffic police have created enormous road humps and placed double barricades outside the town/village limits, ensuring that you must slow down to nearly zero speed before every town and village along the way. It is not uncommon to see people, bicycles, carts and other vehicles attempt to cross the highway, raising the risk of accidents.

Obviously, this causes highway traffic to slowdown and accidents to increase—when people try to avoid the humps, or when they crash into the barricades especially at night.

How might things be improved? The first way, adopted by many countries around the world, involves making the highway bypass towns and villages by skirting around them or following a different route altogether. The problem is: given how complex and time-consuming land acquisition has become, especially in Karnataka, this is unlikely to work. The travails of the NICE road, part of the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor, indicate how fraught re-routing is.

The second way might be to bypass the towns and villages vertically. In other words, build flyovers across the stretch of the highway that passes through town and village limits. This does not require new land to be acquired. In fact, this might be a faster and cost-effective way to modernise India’s highway infrastructure.

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The swinging pendulum of federalism

Austin’s historical context for evolution of federalism in independent India

In the wake of the controversy over the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the issue of federalism has atracted a lot of attention. Most of the chief ministers, who have opposed the NCTC, have opposed it on the grounds that the Centre is trying to encroach upon the powers of the states. This goes against the principle of federalism, a principle although not enshrined explicitly in the Indian constitution, but upheld by the Supreme Court. In the Bommai judgement, the Supreme Court stated that  ‘federalism envisaged in the Constitution is a basic structure’.

The problem of federalism in India is directly related to the rule of the Congress party since independence. Congress party, once Gandhi became its tallest leader in the 1920s, was about running a national movement of common effort to overthrow the British rule. Gandhi did advocate a decentralised government based on village panchayats, but his own charisma and rarely challenged leadership in the party produced a highly centralised campaign. Leaders like Nehru, Patel and Azad were national leaders but even those leaders who drew their power from regional bases — GB Pant, BC Roy, Morarji Desai or C Rajagopalachari — had a national outlook. When Congress ruled eight provinces from 1937 to 1939 after winning the limited elections held under the 1935 Government of India Act, it actually evolved unitary mechanisms such as the Central Parliamentary Board to direct the functioning of the provincial ministries.

Post-independence, Congress party continued to rule most of the states, besides being in power at Delhi. Because its own command structure in the party functioned between the state governments and the union government, the constitutional provisions and mechanisms of centre-state relations were not used. As everything seemed to function smoothly, no one paid much attention to this disuse. The processes and systems of dealings between the states and the Centre, outside Congress party’s internal mechanism, never evolved. This means that while other democratic processes and systems in the Indian Republic have matured over the last 62 years, the centre-state relations have really evolved only during the last 30 years. With the decline in the quality of leadership across the political spectrum, even this evolution has often been hampered by fractious and parochial interests.

Notwithstanding the lag in evolution of centre-state relations in independent India, the problem has been further worsened by a Congress party that is fast losing its dominance in the states. As the Congress party’s dominance in the states has faded, its governments in the Centre have excessively used the centralising features of the constitution to compensate for its waning powers. The constant friction, not only with the states ruled by the opposition but by the Congress party’s own allies, is a direct outcome of that over-compensation.

This, however, doesn’t mean that the states are right in their views. It is always easy to dispute the efficacy of federalism because distribution of resources and power is inherently contentious. If federalism is about decentralisation and devolution of powers to lower levels, most of these states have failed that test. Almost all these state governments are ruled by leaders — from Jayalalitha to Naveen Patnaik to Mamata Banerjee to Narendra Modi — who act like regional satraps and concentrate all power in their own hands. It is easy to point out their hypocrisy but the low credibility of the Congress party has allowed these chief ministers to use federalism as a bumper sticker to bolster their political case.

In the system of bargained federalism that we have in India, there is unlikely to be a perfect state of federalism between the Centre and the states. It will continue to swing like a pendulum between the two extremes: of centralisation better serving national unity, and of federalism better serving the individual citizen. The arc of swing of the pendulum has reduced over a period of time, and while the pendulum will never attain a stationary position, we can hope that the arc of swing gets progressively smaller with each passing year. That is how constitutional republics evolve over time. And India should be no different.

For those who doubt the theory of the reducing arc of swing, the arc has already reduced dramatically over the last 60 years. Here is what the Bharatiya Jana Sangh’s election manifesto for the 1957 Lok Sabha elections had promised at Page 7: The party would declare ‘Bharat to be a unitary state’ because the federal structure had created rivalries between the central and state governments that are an obstacle to national solidarity. On 17 August 1964, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya presented ‘Principles and Polices’ at the Jana Sangh General Council Meeting in Gwalior, where his party offered a plan to abolish the states and legislatures and to replace them with large administrative districts having no legislative functions, which would be reserved for Parliament. No mainstream party can afford to have a similar position today.

When a former Chief Justice of India, Mehr Chand Mahajan wrote an article in 1956 suggesting “doing away with the federal constitution and making it a unitary system of government with abolition of state legislatures  and state ministries, the states to be merely administrative units  to be governed by Governors with the help of advisory bodies”, C Rajagopalachari wrote back to him approvingly. The then President Rajendra Prasad however responded in a letter to Justice Mahajan that it was necessary to safeguard the Constitution as it exists.

Rajendra Prasad’s advice was as valid in 1956 as it is today. Let us safeguard the Constitution as it exists. The political jousting over federalism is a routine process of evolution of a constitutional republic. The pendulum of this debate may be swinging, but the arc of swing is reducing. We should be happy that is the way it is.

[All references: Granville Austin's Working a Democratic Constitution]

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Grand Mufti’s not-so-grand call

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Understanding Mamata’s logic

Maoist insurgency is a national security issue but terror is exclusively a state subject

Despite the Union Home Ministry coming out with a six-point standard operating procedure (SOP) for the operations division of proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) — under which the NCTC’s power to arrest, search and seize will be shared with heads of the anti-terrorism squads (ATS) of the states, who would be the designated authorities of the NCTC at the state level — West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continues to oppose the NCTC. She in fact does not want NCTC in any form as it goes against the federal structure of the Indian republic.

Clearly, Ms Banerjee is firm on the principle that law and order is exclusively a state subject. Law and order, for her, also includes terror,  and thus the Centre should have no direct role to play in countering terror. Logically, if terror is a law and order issue, so should be the threat posed by the Maoists. Thus the same principle of terror being an exclusive state responsibility must also apply to the Maoist problem.

Not so when it comes to Ms Banerjee. Here is what she has told the Union Home Ministry when it asked the West Bengal government to reimburse the cost of central forces deployed in the state:

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has now taken on the Centre over the Home Ministry’s letter asking Bengal to pay Rs 423 crore for retaining Central forces… Mamata, sources said, has written back to the Centre arguing that Maoist insurgency can’t be seen as just a law and order problem since it involves issues of national security. Therefore, she reasoned, if Central forces are deployed to counter this problem, the expenses have to be entirely borne by the Centre.[Indian Express]

Maoist insurgency can’t be seen as just a law and order problem since it involves issues of national security. But terror is a law and order problem which doesn’t need any action by the Centre. Only Ms Banerjee can explain her contradictory assertions. Or perhaps she doesn’t need to. After all, India is passing through weird times where “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” and it’s all covered in “fog and filthy air”.

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Presidents — ceremonial but not unimportant

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Plus ca change

The changing colours of ISI

In the latest issue of the Outlook magazine, there is a small piece (without the name of the author) about a dinner in Islamabad hosted by the ISI for a group of visiting Indian journalists.

With such a grim reputation, when your dinner host turns out to be a senior official of the ISI, as happened recently to the Indian media delegation that visited Pakistan, a faux pas or two was naturally par for the course. “Is it a think-tank?” asked one member of the Indian team innocently, after our host introduced himself as an ISI honcho. But once it was clear who was buying us dinner at the posh Islamabad restaurant, there was no stopping the barrage of questions.

“See, I have neither horns nor fangs,” the official smiled as way of assuring his Indian guests. But why was he there? Well, he informed the Indian media that he wanted to put across ISI’s point of view on the ongoing peace initiative. “We’ve realised that we cannot live in an environment of hostility with each other,” reasoned the official. For the rest of the dinner, he patiently answered questions on topics ranging from terrorism directed against India to the evolving situation in his country. Predictably, he didn’t take responsibility for much of the terrorist acts in India that originated from Pakistan, including 26/11. But he tried to convey that on the government’s attempt to have peace and normalise relations with India, the ISI was on the same page.[Outlook]

This should not surprise anyone, least of all this blogger, who had warned of this danger when these journalists were being taken on a guided tour of Pakistan (see this blogpost).

But what if this fear is unfounded? Or as Bharat Bhushan argues in his column in the same magazine, why is India refusing to respond to the change in Pakistan’s attitude. That is a very persuasive line to use, but how real is the change that we are witnessing. Can India afford to move merely on the words of someone like Mahmood Durrani, a regular participant in India-Pakistan Track-2 jamborees, who was sacked as the National Security Advisor by the current setup in Pakistan after Mumbai terror strikes in 2008?

Whether it be the relationship with US or the state of its economy or its perilous internal security situation or a lack of help from China, all observers, including those in India, can see that Pakistan is currently squeezed from all sides. This, counterintuitively, makes it even more difficult for India to trust Pakistan’s words: this peace-talk could be a posture to seek temporary relief till Pakistan army reverts to its perennial anti-India stance. The onus is thus upon Pakistan to prove its sincerity by taking suitable actions — closing terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strike to justice, to begin with — so that India can reciprocate. Trust can’t be generated by words alone. It has to come from actions, and actions that can be verified (read Vikram Sood in the Mid-day to understand the point).

Many people will remember a similar crescendo of public opinion in India before the Shimla summit between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the 1971 war. A large number of Indian commentators were then asking India, as victors of the war, to be large-hearted and trust Bhutto’s words. That large-heartedness towards a civilian ruler in Pakistan when its army was weak, many contended, would beget permanent peace between India and Pakistan. We all know how it actually played out. Mr Bhutto went on to ensure that Pakistan gets an Islamic nuclear bomb even if Pakistanis ate grass. India got terror strikes in Kashmir, Punjab and at myriad places across the country: it is under the shadow of the nuclear bomb that jehadis have hurt India and Indians. If we are so oblivious today to our own history from just four decades ago, we will pay a similar price that we have paid in the recent decades.

Getting back to the ISI, what do these nice gestures towards the Indian journalists by the ISI convey? The answer comes from this story in the Washington Post about ISI and the Osama bin Laden raid:

On Friday evening, over iced tea at a hotel cafe, two ISI officials offered a narrative that they say puts Pakistan in a better light. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

One noted that the ISI’s new head, Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, is taking a “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of the much-maligned intelligence service.[WaPo]

This is it. The dinner table talk and the post-dinner gift of books at Islamabad are nothing but a part of the new ISI chief’s “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of ISI.

Enjoy the meal, relish the conversation and read the book but do not get carried away. Remember. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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The abduction of Hindu teenage girls in Pakistan

What India and Indians can do, and why they should do that

The story of teenage Hindu girls being kidnapped in Pakistan, converting to Islam, getting married to Muslims and turning up in courts after a few weeks and accepting the new religion have been making the rounds for many years now. But the recent spate of kidnappings and forced marriages raised a shindig and went up to the Pakistan Supreme Court. It has now started attracting the attention of the international media. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Hindus say the forcible conversions follow the same script: The victim, abducted by a young man related to or working for a feudal boss, is taken to a mosque where clerics, along with the prospective groom’s family, threaten to harm her and her relatives if she resists.

Almost always, the girl complies, and not long afterward, she is brought to a local court, where a judge, usually a Muslim, rubber-stamps the conversion and marriage, according to Hindu community members who have attended such hearings. Often the young Muslim man is accompanied by backers armed with rifles. Few members of the girl’s family are allowed to appear, and the victim, seeing no way out, signs papers affirming her conversion and marriage.[LAT]

There are estimated to be around 2.5 million Hindus in Pakistan. Of them, 94% live in the Sindh province, mostly in the northern districts bordering India. Pakistani human rights activists report as many as 25 cases of kidnappings, forced conversion and weddings of teenage Hindu girls every month. For those who question the veracity of these reports, here’s a simple question: Why do only young Hindu girls of marriageable age get kidnapped and convert to Islam in Pakistan, and not young men or older women?

More disturbingly, India and Indians have largely been apathetic to persecution of Pakistani Hindus.

But all the minorities in Pakistan are targeted, whether it be Christians or Shias. How is the persecution of Hindus different and why should it concern Indians?

Before I answer this question, let us get a few things out of the way. India is a secular republic and endorses no state religion. That is the way it has been since 1950 and that is the way it should remain. Thus the argument being made here is not about making India a Hindu Rashtra or a grand Hindu Republic where followers of other religions do not have equal rights. Most importantly, the mistake of conflating Pakistan with Indian Muslims, because it involves Hindus in Pakistan, must be avoided at all costs. This is an argument about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and not about the citizens, irrespective of the religion they follow, of the Republic of India.

With these caveats behind us, here is how the problem of Hindus is slightly different from those of Christians or Shias. When Christians are targeted in Pakistan, the western countries and many Christian organisations, starting from the Vatican, bring pressure upon the Pakistani government to mend its ways. In the case of Shias, leave alone the Republic of Iran, there are various Shia parties and organisations which are willing to stand up for their cause. But who speaks for the Hindus in Pakistan? Even Nepal is no longer a Hindu Republic, and no one would have listened to Nepal even if it was one. Pakistan doesn’t even have a statutory National Human Rights Commission, it no longer has a Federal minister for minorities since Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal murder and the Supreme Court has not given Hindus any confidence with its actions in the recent case.

Can a secular republic like India afford to speak for Hindus in Pakistan? Strictly speaking, the answer is a No. But India has spoken for Sikhs in Europe and for Tamils in Sri Lanka who were not Indian citizens. And there are ways in it which it can do the same in Pakistan too. Before we look at those ways, leave the government apart, why has the Indian media, Indian NGOs, Indian human rights groups, Indian activists and even Indian social and religious organisations been silent about the atrocities on Hindus in Pakistan. If they can raise issues about Myanmar and Syria, they can surely focus the spotlight upon neighbouring Pakistan too.

There is another reason why non-political, non-governmental groups and media in India must take up this issue on priority. Because if they don’t, the issue will eventually be taken up by a political party and the inflammatory mix of politics, religion and nationalism — imagine India, Pakistan, Hindu and Muslims being used in the same breath by a fiery politician — can have potentially dangerous social consequences. That is something India can ill-afford at this juncture.

What can the government of India do? Seema Sirohi suggests that India can raise it officially as a minor talking point during the next bilateral talks with Pakistan. But my good friend Primary_Red perhaps has a more diplomatic and politically correct suggestion:  India should make progress in bilateral talks with Pakistan contingent on improved human rights environment across Pakistan. Moreover, India can also offer asylum — on a case by case basis — to Pakistanis in grave danger on the basis of their faith.

Yes, Pakistan’s Hindu community made a choice many decades ago — to stay in Pakistan. It endures extortion, disenfranchisement and other forms of discrimination in that country. But that doesn’t mean that they are condemned to live a life of persecution and misery as religious extremism rises in Pakistan. There are ways in which India and Indians can help them. As fellow humans in a neighbouring country, we should not shy away from lending that helping hand.

Update: Thanks to my discussion with Constantino Xavier, it’d be better to clarify a few things here. This is not about making an exclusive case for Hindus in Pakistan, and leaving other groups such as the Ahmedis, Shias, Christians, Balochs or Hazaras to face persecution there. This is more about understanding that because of the history of partition, the case for Hindus in Pakistan will always be a delicate one for India to make. Notwithstanding the difficult nature of the case, it still needs to be made, both by India and Indians.

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Spot the difference (US-Pakistan version)

US budget requests for Pakistan for FY 2012 and FY 2013

First the US budget request for aid to Pakistan and objectives for FY 2012:

The United States seeks to advance U.S. national security by deepening its long-term bilateral strategic partnership with Pakistan. This effort will support the U.S. goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in the region, as well as deny safe haven for the Taliban by helping to build a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous country. The United States will partner with Pakistan to strengthen the capacity of the democratic government to meet the needs of its citizens better by rehabilitating critical infrastructure, stabilizing key areas contested by violent extremists, and fostering private-sector-led economic growth. [The Congressional Budget Justification Foreign Operations Annex: Regional Perspectives, FY2012, p. 660]

And the US budget request for aid to Pakistan and objectives for FY 2013:

The United States seeks to foster economic and political stability in Pakistan through sustained assistance, which directly supports the core U.S. national security objective to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaida, as well as to deny safe haven to it and its affiliates in the region. Despite recent challenges in the relationship, the United States and Pakistan must continue to identify shared interests and cooperate on joint actions that will help achieve these objectives. [The Congressional Budget Justification Foreign Operations Annex: Regional Perspectives, FY2013, p. 687]

As far as the US is concerned, all the talk about deepening a bilateral strategic partnership with Pakistan is dead and buried. It isn’t there even on paper now. The dreams of building a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous Pakistan have also been replaced by more modest goals of identifying shared interests and cooperating on joint actions against Al Qaida and its affiliates. Such a difference a year makes in Washington DC!

But for whatever reason, this reminds me of that Goethe quote: “When ideas fail, words come in very handy.”

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Kayani’s pharisaic words don’t matter

Let General Kayani prove with his actions that he has had a change of heart

“Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people.”

“Both countries should sit together to resolve all the issues including Siachen.”

“We in the army understand very well that there should be a very good balance between defence and development. You cannot be spending on defence alone and forgetting about development.”

“Ultimately the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders but it is when people that live in the country feel happy, their needs are being met. Only in that case will a country be truly safe.”

What can be wrong with these statements coming from the Pakistan army chief, General Kayani? Nothing. They must be welcomed but the context in which they have been made must not be ignored.

General Kayani made these statements to a media contingent which contained many foreign reporters. The optics of making the statement targeted at an international audience and sending a positive message about himself should be taken into account. He must be wanting to present a nicer image of Pakistan army in the buildup to the important NATO conference on Afghanistan, scheduled to be held in Chicago early next month. After all the badgering Pakistan army and ISI has received in the international media in the past year, it could do with some positive coverage now.

Though fundamentally, General Kayani seems to be making a virtue out of necessity. Pakistan army is finding it hard to stay at the posts near the Siachen glacier, where India holds all the dominating positions on the glacier. Pakistani army would like to withdraw from there but can only do so if India agrees to a deal. India has little reason to vacate dominating military positions on the glacier.

In any case, it is hard to take Kayani at face-value after what his officials told a group of visiting Indian journalists yesterday.

“It is sad that India is not agreeing to go back to the pre-1984 position and then mark the line. Indian army position on Siachen is unjust as our interpretation of the Simla Agreement is that the border beyond NJ 9842 is not marked. It’s a matter of interpretation. The two sides had agreed in 1989 to go back to the pre-84 position”, security officials told a group of visiting Indian journalists in a special briefing.[The News]

Let us sit together and talk as much as we want but the positions of both sides are well-entrenched now: Pakistan says pre-1984 positions and India says validation of the AGPL. With the experience of Pakistan army’s incursions across the LoC in Kargil in 1999, India will find it hard to trust Pakistan, even if it were to validate the AGPL. That is the harsh reality.

Peaceful relations between India and Pakistan are not being held hostage to Siachen. After all, it was General Kayani who famously said that Pakistan army ‘remains an “India-centric” institution and that reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved.’ He is also the one who nixed the civilian government’s offer to send the ISI chief, Lt General Pasha to India after the 26-11 terror strikes.

What if General Kayani has had a change of heart now? Possible. Perhaps he understands Pakistan’s precarious economic condition and its international isolation, and is thus willing to make some concessions to India. But then the onus is upon General Kayani to prove that he has had a change of heart. How about bringing the perpetrators of 26-11 terror strike, Hafiz Saeed and company to book, for a start? Or closing the many terror camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir ready to push jehadis into Kashmir?

Before proceeding with this any further, it is best to remember what General Kayani himself said two years ago: “We plan on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions.” If that be so, Pakistan’s capabilities to hurt India remain undiminished, and any change in its intentions unproven. Let General Kayani prove it otherwise with his actions. Then only will these words matter.

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