Ignorance is bliss (Kashmir version)

The political status of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan

A friend sent me this report, titled Perception Survey of Media Impact on the Kashmiri Youth, conducted by the Institute for Research in India and International Studies in January 2011. Two questions and their reply by the Kashmiri youth are particularly noteworthy.

Q. Do you know whether Azad Kashmir is a part of Pakistan or, is it an independent state?

Q. What do you think is the political status of Gilgit and Baltistan?

On such foundations of blissful ignorance is the edifice of so-called Azadi constructed among the youth in Kashmir.

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It is about our internal security

On the blast in an Israeli Embassy car

A blast in an Israeli Embassy car in Delhi left four injured, including a woman employee of the Embassy. Indian External Affairs minister, Mr SM Krishna issued a statement which became a butt of jokes on social media. What else do you expect from a statement which includes such well-worn cliches:

India very strongly condemns such incidents and it is going to be fully investigated and the culprits will be brought to justice at the earliest.[MEA]

Israeli Prime Minister was quick to blame the attack on Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Iranian Ambassador to India has denied the charge. Delhi Police, basing its preliminary finding on an eye-witness account, suggests that a sticky bomb was used by motorcyclists on the car. With a cocktail of Middle-east politics, terror and shrill television coverage, conspiracy theorists are having a field day.

If we cut through the haze of speculation, there are only two established facts so far. One, there was an explosion in a car carrying an Israeli embassy employee in New Delhi. Two, Israeli Prime Minister has blamed it on Hezbollah and Iran. Anything else beyond this has not been fully established yet.

While India’s foreign ministry handles the diplomatic challenge, it is incumbent upon the Home Ministry to look at this very closely and draw the right lessons. The incident happened in a high-security area, barely 500 metres away from the Prime Minister’s residence. The motorcyclists, if that eye-witness account is true, were able to get away easily. No footage or picture of them has been released so far. It is doubtful if the National Counter-Terrorism Centre which is being inaugurated on March 01st would have helped had it been in place today.

Moreover, such an attack would not have been possible without some assets on ground. It could not have been attempted by people flown in from another country for a day and flown out the next day, after the attack. Reconnaissance over many weeks would have been needed to establish the pattern of the employee who went to pick her child from school. The route and the timing would have thus been established beyond doubt. Rehearsals and dry-runs would also have been carried out by the terrorists.

This points to a need for logistic and related support from some local elements, who could have either been hired or provided by some other terror groups. Unearthing that support base should be the foremost priority of our security agencies. But if such an attack was carried out without any local support, it should be even more worrying for our security agencies. Because it would mean that foreign agents can come in with explosives, operate in a high-security VIP area in Delhi with impunity and escape unscathed. That scenario is far more scarier than some local criminals being used to execute the terror strike.

Forget Iran, Hezbollah, Israel and diplomacy, the fact that Delhi was selected by someone to mount a strike on an Israeli diplomat should bother us the most. It is a shameful reflection of our internal security vulnerabilities and reputation. Fixing these weaknesses, which is a continuous process of a cat-and-mouse game, should be our top-most priority today. The rest can wait for the moment.

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Drones are the right choice

The least bad option for targeting jehadis in Pakistan

Drone strikes by the US inside Pakistani territory are controversial, to say the least. The opinions on these strikes are heavily polarised. Those opposing drone strikes make the following arguments. One, these drone strikes kill innocents. Two, these strikes violate the sovereignty of Pakistan. Three, they send a wrong message to Pakistanis and create more terrorists. All these arguments have merits till we examine them closely.

Pakistani society is at such a state that nothing that the US does or doesn’t do seems to send the right message to Pakistanis. Pakistani media (rated 151 out of 175 in world free press index) can be trusted to twist any story to direct the public anger towards the US. That these drone strikes create more terrorists is an attractive idea but remains unproven by any factual research or ground reportage. Even if there were no drone strikes, there are enough grudges against the US — from Iraq or Afghanistan — that can be exploited by the jehadis to lure more young men into jehad.

The sovereignty question is again a very attractive proposition in theory. But not in practice, if you look a little closer. Pakistan’s sovereignty was not violated by the US Navy Seals team at Abbottabad but by Osama bin Laden who stayed in that city for a decade. Similarly, US would not need to fire missiles from its drones if Pakistan had the will, willingness or the capacity to act against al Qaeda and other jehadis who have formed a base in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Till 2007, al Qaeda had actually grown stronger by basing itself in these areas before US drones started disrupting its leadership. If Pakistan would have been able to uphold the sovereignty of its land against al Qaeda and other terror groups, the question of US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty would never arise.

A major source of angst and anger is over the death of innocent civilians. Some innocents are surely dying in the missiles fired by these drones. But no one has made a cogent case so far that the US is deliberately targeting innocent civilians in tribal areas. They are, to use the unfortunate military term, “collateral damage”.

But all of this still misses the fundamental point of this debate. What is the alternative to these drone strikes? Bombing raids by fighter aircraft, strafing by helicopter gunships, use of missiles or pounding by artillery fire. These are the methods used by Pakistan in Balochistan and in tribal areas against the ‘bad’ jehadis. They have all the disadvantages of drone strikes, and worse. They are far more inaccurate, more visible and would be more violative of Pakistan’s sovereignty than any pilotless aircraft.

Of course, there is another option. To leave the tribal areas of Pakistan completely untouched so that al Qaeda and its affiliates can base themselves there and spread terror across the globe. While Pakistan may be comfortable with that, the rest of the world doesn’t share that view. Countries like India, who have particularly borne the brunt of terror over the years, may not be publicly welcoming the use of US drones but would be glad that the jehadis in Pakistan’s tribal areas are unsettled due to the fear of missiles raining from the sky.

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Debate, ideas, trees and forest

Teasing the hidden truth out of common-place observations

Yesterday, good friend and lapsed blogger @Primary_Red wrote a blogpost on the framework of a debate. He says that while most debates get caught in the arguments at human and institutional layers, the only layer which matters is the one of ideas. Here is the crux of his argument:

There was a lot of human suffering and institutional failure in Ashoka slaughtering Kalinga. Today, his Chakra is India’s national emblem. Not to diminish anyone’ suffering, but we don’t remember the names of those who died at his sword. We remember his embrace of Buddhism as a consequence. In the end, this big idea is all that mattered.

I believe that some ideas are better than others and, in time, they always prevail.

In my eyes, there are no better political ideas than secular democracy and free markets. All other ideas have had their moment in the sun, and they have always come up short. Always.

Regardless of how I feel at the human and institutional levels, ultimately the only question that really matters for me is this:

Will my argument advance secular democracy and free markets or set these winning ideas back?[SRI]

Read the complete post here.

Many of you will turn around and say what’s the big deal in what he is saying here. It is so blindingly obvious. Perhaps that is true. But Nicholas G Carr captures the bit about obvious explanation best.

The most memorable explanations strike us as alarmingly obvious. They take commonplace observations—things we’ve all experienced—and tease the hidden truth out of them. Most of us go through life bumping into trees. It takes a great explainer… to tell us we’re in a forest.[Edge]

That is precisely what @Primary_Red does. When you next make an argument or hear one, pause and think: Will my argument advance secular democracy and free markets or set these winning ideas back?

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Happy 63rd Republic Day

“We the people of India”

Indian Republic is in danger. It is is not in the danger of being killed by a military coup or a Tahrir Square type revolution. It is not even in the danger of going into coma for a few years as it happened under Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. Entering its 64th year, the Indian Republic has gone well past that stage.

The danger to Indian Republic comes from being bled to death by a thousand cuts. Every single day it is stabbed, jabbed and knifed — in seen and unseen ways. Some of these wounds are superficial. They heal quickly. Others need more care. Sometimes when they heal, they leave permanent scars. At times, some wounds don’t heal fully. They continue to fester, weakening the body and soul of the Republic.

In an ideal world, the Republic either would never be hurt or would have the capacity for self-healing. In a real world, it is a constant process of getting hurt and healing. That healing touch and care for the Republic, in the real world, is provided by democracy. Democracy means that it is “We the people of India” who will help the Republic recover once it is hurt. No messiahs are going to alight from a different planet to take care of our Republic.

That is the reason on 26th of January, 1950, it was “We the people of India” — not the Queen of England or Mahatma Gandhi or Dr. Ambedkar — who solemnly resolved “to constitute India into a Sovereign, Democratic Republic”. It is our Republic… of We the people of India. We need to look after it. Happy Republic Day everyone.

Related Posts:

I want my constitution

Differentiating between the Independence Day and the Republic Day

Let us stop this jamboree of a Republic Day Parade

Republic Day parade in the 1950s

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The real NATO supply line costs

Shouldn’t all the US aid to Pakistan also be counted towards supply line costs?

The story is a couple of days old but will certainly be quoted by many analysts, particularly in DC and in Islamabad. This AP story says that Pakistan’s closure of supply routes costs US six times more for the new route via Central Asia.

Pentagon figures provided to the AP show it is now costing about $104 million per month to send the supplies through a longer northern route. That is $87 million more per month than when the cargo moved through Pakistan.[AP]

More details on the story are at ABC News:

The cost estimate includes the added costs of the combined ground and air movements being used to offset the closed border crossings. …When Pakistan closed the border crossings, only 30 percent of NATO supplies flowed through them, most of it fuel.

…A Defense official says most of the added costs come from the diversion of supplies originally intended to go through Pakistan that now arrive by ship in other countries in the region for eventual air transport into Afghanistan. For example, there is the added cost in diverting some cargo from Pakistani ports to Indian ports where the supplies are either flown into Afghanistan or transported northward by train for delivery through one of the NDN routes.

Additional costs come from the transportation of more materials through the NDN, and the even pricier cost of flowing in supplies on direct flights from the U.S. or Europe into Afghanistan. The direct flights cost ten times what it would cost to transport materials through Pakistan. That is one of the reasons it is the least used option. Transporting materials through the NDN is estimated to be three times the cost of transporting supplies through Pakistan.[ABC]

First the minor quibbles. One, it isn’t clear from the 512 percent increase in monthly costs whether the cost being compared for two different months pertains to the same quantum of supplies. A possibility exists that more supplies may have been moved in to recoup the reserves which would have been consumed in the days immediately after the supply routes were closed by Pakistan. [Update - This was echoed by ISAF Spokesman Brig Gen. Carsten Jacobson: "The critical face in re-adjusting logistics is always in the first weeks. That is obviously past."]

Two, the facts are hidden deep down in the story. Transporting materials through the NDN is estimated to be three times the cost of transporting supplies through Pakistan. And, direct flights to Afghanistan cost ten times of what it would cost to transport materials through Pakistan.

Now to the major question. Money is fungible. US military and civilian aid to Pakistan (not to count CSF payments), before it came to a halt in 2011, was essentially a facilitation fees paid to Pakistan Army to allow supplies to be sent to Afghanistan via Pakistan. If you add the $20 billion paid to Pakistan by the US (excluding CSF payments) since 9/11, the cost of transporting goods via Pakistan would be greater than supplying troops in Afghanistan via alternate routes. Essentially, cutting off aid to Pakistan and using northern supply routes is still cheaper than supplying goods via Pakistan.

The media reports might be overlooking this calculation but the Pentagon certainly isn’t. Amidst reports that Pakistan army is looking at levying an additional $1000 NOC fee per container that is routed via Pakistan after the routes open, the US response seems logical if you see the bigger picture.

U.S. officials say they could manage indefinitely without that access if Pakistan either makes the closure permanent or offers to reopen it under unacceptable conditions.[AP]

Considering the benefits that accrue to Pakistan’s military-business complex by allowing US supplies to move through Pakistan, it is but a matter of time before Pakistan army finds a fig-leaf of an excuse to resume these supply lines. After all, for all the talk about not allowing US drones to operate in Pakistani airspace, US drones have already struck a couple of times in tribal areas in the last two weeks. For once, by not caving in to Pakistani blackmail, the US seems to be playing the carrot-and-stick game rather well with Pakistan. It is, however, a matter of conjecture if the US can play this game long enough, and smartly enough, in a Presidential election year.

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India’s Grand Strategy

The K Subrahmanyam lecture

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon delivered a lecture yesterday to honour K Subrahmanyam, India’s foremost strategic thinker, who passed away in February last year. Mr Menon rebutted the notion that India has never had, and doesn’t have a grand strategy.

The NSA said Subrahmanyam had made four key contributions to Indian strategic thinking: building a consensus that nuclear weapons were the cheapest and most effective way of guaranteeing national survival in an uncertain world; creating an understanding that defence could not be sidelined in the pursuit of development; developing a modern national security structure; and emphasising the need for India to seek autonomy in its strategic decision-making.

For Subrahmanyam, Mr. Menon said, India’s core constitutional values — secularism, democracy and the pursuit of the peoples’ welfare — constituted a road map that provided overall shape to decision-making.[Hindu]

The lecture is worth watching in full. Here it is in two parts, courtesy Ms. Smita Prakash of Asian News International.

If these 27 minutes leave you unsatisfied after whetting your appetite, spare an hour. Go to the IDSA website and listen to this talk by the master himself. In what was among one of his last talks at IDSA (here), recorded on 29 April 2010, Mr. Subrahmanyam gives a tour d’horizon of “India’s Grand Strategy” to probationer officers of the Indian Foreign Service undergoing their 10-day module at IDSA. (Link thanks Rohan Joshi)

My fellow blogger, Nitin Pai conducted an interview with K Subrahmanyam for Pragati. You should listen to the interview in his own voice. You can also download the published interview in PDF.

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A rule-generation process let loose

Three examples

#1 – Two Prime Ministers – Manmohan Singh and Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago – were among the guests who enjoyed the hearty meal during the just concluded Pravasi Bharatiya conference in Jaipur. Now it has emerged that the catering firm – Sky Feast – has no food licence, a mandatory requirement under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. Interestingly, the state health department had deputed two food inspectors to check the food supplied for the two PMs. It now appears that they cleared the food without bothering to check whether the firm had the clearance to supply it.[India Today]

#2 – The Co-ordinating Committee of Secretaries (CCoS), headed by cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, is a follow-up to the policy for acquisition of assets abroad by PSUs to ensure adequate raw-material, crucial for growth of the manufacturing sector and the economy as a whole, an official statement said. The CCoS will consider proposals which are beyond the powers of board of CPSEs and require a budgetary support.[First Post]

#3 – The Government has allowed MS-Office Software as per DGS&D rate contract, to Government and Government Aided Educational Institutions, including training comprising 24-48 working hours of learning period, on the above software to two teachers per school. MPs may recommend an amount up to Rs.22 lakh in all per annum from their MPLADS fund, to purchase books for schools, colleges and public libraries belonging to Central, States/UTs and Local Self Government as per break up given in recent circular. These institutes will not be entitled for recommendation of books in the subsequent year, but will be eligible in the 3rd year again. The recommendations made in this context will be examined/approved by a Committee chaired by District Education Officer.[PIB]

The conclusion is simple. We suffer from ridiculous rules that rule us. The above examples remind me of Gary North’s Law of Bureaucracy:

Some bureaucrat will enforce a written rule in such a way as to make the rule and the bureaucracy seem either ridiculous, tyrannical, or both.

Related Post: The burden of too many laws

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When the applause died down…

“We need law and order!”

“Law and order” … is a phrase that has appeal for most citizens, who, unless they themselves have a powerful grievance against authority, are afraid of disorder. In the 1960s, a student at Harvard Law School addressed parents and alumni with these words:

The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might. And the republic is in danger. Yes! danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without law and order our nation cannot survive.

There was prolonged applause. When the applause died down, the student quietly told his listeners: “These words were spoken in 1932 by Adolf Hitler.” [Declarations of Independence: Cross-examining American Ideology by Howard Zinn]

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Growth storm in a tweet cup

The tragedy of a public debate delinked from empirical reality

This blogger tweeted a column in Mint by Niranjan Rajadyashkha last evening. Here is the tweet.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/pragmatic_d/status/157480532169592832"]

While the column will hardly qualify as being charitable to the UPA government, the fact that the growth rate for FY03 (2002-03 to be more explicit) of 3.8% happened under the BJP-led NDA government, attracted the usual hordes on Twitter. Just to put the record straight, I asked Niranjan about the source of his data. It comes from the most authentic source — Reserve Bank of India’s Handbook of Statistics (last updated on September 15, 2011), Table 224.

Let me pre-empt the next question. But what about the 8.5% growth rate in 2003-04? Here is what the Economic Survey for 2003-04 said:

A growth rate higher than 8 percent has been achieved in the past in only three years: 1967-68 (8.1 percent),  1975-76 (9 percent) and 1988-89 (10.5 percent). However, the higher than expected growth in 2003-04, like in the other three years referred to above, was on the back of a year of poor growth (4.0 percent) due to an unfavourable monsoon and fall in agricultural production. [Para 1, Chapter 1]

This much for the facts – to set them straight.

As for the opinion, growth rate at any point of time is an outcome of  combination of factors: legacy policies (economic reforms undertaken by the Congress government from 1991 to 1993 or tax reforms of P Chidambaram’s Dream Budget of 1997), incumbent government’s policies (impetus to road construction under Mr Khanduri or bold disinvestment under Mr Shourie in the NDA government), geopolitical situation (reflected in the fluctuating price of crude oil), geoeconomic situation (global economic crisis of 2008), bad monsoons (leading to negative agricultural growth in 2002-03) and the prevailing political situation (which earned Yashwant Sinha the sobriquet of a Rollback Minister or Dr Manmohan Singh the tag of not really being a reformer).

Politically partisan people can pick the factors of their choice from the above list while ignoring others. That may help them in yelling their opinions but it won’t change the facts.

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