On reforming political parties

What will it take to reform our political parties?

India’s crisis of governance is a direct outcome of the undemocratic nature of our political parties. From the dysfunctional Parliament to absence of ideological positions to a lack of serious debate on policy details, these adverse symptoms are owed to a basic malaise — lack of inner-party democracy in India.

In India, we have tried to treat the symptoms where the treatment has worsened the malaise. You have an anti-defection law which has ended up further weakening the parliament. You now have the spectacle of Election Commission trying to ringfence legitimate electoral politics by its orders to cover up statues of elephants in public parks. Any solution to India’s many problems — and they will multiply by the day unless we act urgently — will involve reform of political parties. What will it take to reform the political parties?

There is no one better to answer this question than Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Here is an extract from his essay from 2001, Reform political parties first:

Comparative evidence suggests that even parties of long-standing authority reform themselves very rarely. It took decades to reform the British Labour party’s internal procedures. The Democratic Party in the U.S. stumbled into reforms only in the late ’60s. Since the democratization of parties is tied to power struggles within the parties, it is not surprising that there have been very few attempts at democratization. But this does not mean failure is inevitable. The rank and file of the party will have to insist that it is in the long-term interests of the party to properly institutionalize procedures. Or, alternatively, the internal configurations of power within parties need to be propitious.

For instance, one can imagine conditions of stalemate within a political party where two contending factions are almost equally arrayed in terms of their power, where both lose substantially if one of the factions leaves the party, and where the only mechanism for reconciling the factions is the institutionalization of fair procedures. Under what conditions the contingent set of circumstances that might give parties reasons to reform might arise is therefore hard to predict. It is not surprising that there have been few moves towards seriously institutionalizing reforms of political parties.

Does the remoteness of the prospect that political parties will undertake to reform themselves mean that intraparty democracy should be legislated into existence? Certainly, comparative evidence again suggests that state regulation is often necessary for party reform. In Germany parties have been required to meet certain conditions in nominating their candidates. Candidates have to be chosen by a direct secret vote of members of the party at both constituency and federal levels. If the party’s management committee objects to a list so chosen, a second vote is held and the results are final.

In the American case, first laws were enacted that required the use of secret ballots in intraparty elections. Laws laying down the qualifications for party membership followed these, in turn followed by statutes specifying the administrative structure of parties, till finally the direct primary was instituted. It is true that in the American system, in some states, minor parties are not required to comply in the same way as the major parties with the legal structures imposed upon them.

If there is legal mandating of intraparty elections in India, we will have to carefully examine the advantages and disadvantages of different nominating procedures. There is a whole range of procedures available that would repay careful study which cannot be undertaken within the confines of this paper. It may be the case that parties can be given wide latitude in setting up their own voting procedures, so long as they are recognizably democratic. My own view is that one must be cautious in involving the state in India for a couple of reasons.

First, I do not think that despite the desirability of intraparty democracy, only political parties that institutionalize intraparty democracy should be allowed to contest elections. Freedom of association, within limits, on terms that one chooses is an equally important value. There seems to be no normative argument why parties that do not function internally democratically should be banned from the political process. We are free not to vote for them, but we cannot silence their voices. I also suspect that it is more important that the large parties have such procedures because they structure access to power in more significant ways than smaller parties. Smaller parties could be given more discretion.

Second and most importantly, there are grave dangers in giving independent commissions more powers to disqualify political parties. Such commissions ought to insist on and oversee the fact that parties do not violate legal norms. But giving them carte blanche powers to decide when a particular party has held internal elections is both normatively and prudentially unsound. Normatively speaking, parties ought to be self-organizing and their structure ought not to be mandated by the state. Prudentially speaking, can we trust independent commissions to fair arbitrators of the process?

The recent record of the Election Commission has been exemplary, but that may be an artifact of contingent circumstances like the quality of election commissioners we have had. The degree to which a party has organized fair internal elections cannot be easily made clear and giving state bodies wide latitude in interpreting this requirement would be to invite disaster. Imagine the prospect of a major political party being disqualified on the eve of elections because of some technicality pertaining to the way in which it conducted its internal elections. Giving election commissioners powers to disenfranchise parties, no matter how worthy the cause, itself runs serious risks. These risks may not be ultimately decisive, but they should be taken seriously. These issues require more consideration than can be given here.

Reforming parties will be a slow and laborious process. I have not touched on many issues that are important to institutionalizing healthy political parties: the sources of political finance, the criteria for membership and so forth. Any attempts to institutionalize intraparty democracy will have to take them into consideration. Nor is the reform of parties a panacea for all ills. But one thing is clear. The reform of political parties will have to be the focus of our political energies.

The health of democracy requires that we attend to the health of our parties and the party system. Intraparty democracy will prevent fragmentation of parties, make politicians more accountable and enhance the quality of deliberation. The degree to which political parties are willing to countenance grand constitutional experiments without setting their own houses in order ought to be an object of suspicion.[Seminar]

By acting as if reforming the political parties is inconsequential, politicians, public and the media have deflected the attention away from the foremost issue we should be tackling as a polity. The fact that Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote this essay in 2001, but the issue never made it to public debate, is a disheartening pointer to the reality of our public space. There are no short-cuts to reforming political parties. It is a long haul. But at least we need to start. Now.

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Everything you wanted to know about the IAP

Integrated Action Plan to develop tribal and backward districts in Maoist-affected areas

While the Home Ministry’s press release on IAP — to  be implemented by district level officials with a block grant of Rs 25 crore and Rs 30 crore per district during 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively in 60 districts — is self-explanatory, the process of identifying the districts under the IAP deserves to be highlighted.

At the time of presentation of the budget for the year 2010-11, the Government had announced its decision to introduce a special scheme to address the development of 33 Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts.   It was inter-alia, stated that the Planning Commission would prepare an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for the affected areas and that adequate funds would be made available to support the action plan. The 33 districts (later expanded to 34) referred to in the Finance Minister’s announcement were a sub-set of the 83 LWE affected districts identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs for coverage under its Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme.  This sub-set consisted of those districts where more than 20% of the Police Stations experienced some incidents of naxal violence.  Subsequently, West Medinipur district of West Bengal was added to the list due to the situation prevailing there, taking the total to 35 districts.

While formulating the scheme, the Planning Commission considered that the scheme should not be limited only to the severely LWE affected districts.  It was proposed by them that the scheme should cover other tribal and backward districts also and the following criteria was adopted to identify districts for inclusion in the scheme:

(a)                Whether the district is included in the list of 83 SRE districts identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs;
(b)               Whether the tribal population exceeds 25%;
(c)                Whether the forest area exceeds 30%;
(d)               Whether the poverty ratio in the district exceeds 50%; and
(e)                Whether the district is covered under the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF).

Districts meeting four of the above-mentioned five criteria and forming a contiguous block were selected for coverage under the proposed scheme.  Thus, with this criteria, a total of 60 districts were selected for coverage under the scheme.

The 60 districts comprised 48 districts covered under the SRE scheme and 12 other districts not falling under the SRE scheme.  The 60 districts thus selected are : Adiliabad and Khammam (2 districts) in Andhra Pradesh; Arwal, Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui, Jehanabad, Nawada and Rohtas (7 districts), in Bihar; Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Jashpur, Kanker, Kawardha, Koriya, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon and Surguja (10 districts) of Chhattisgarh; Bokaro, Chatra, Garwha, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Kodarma, Latehar, Lohardaga, Paschim Singhbhum, Palamu, Purbi Singhbhum, Ramgarh, Saraikela and Simdega (14 districts) of Jharkhand; Anuppur, Balagahat, Dindori, Mandla, Seoni, Shahdol, Sidhi and Umaria (8 districts)  in Madhya Pradesh; Gadchiroli and Gondiya (2 districts); Balangir, Debagarh/Deogarh, Gajapati, Kalahandi, Kandhamal/Phulbani, Kendujhar/Keonjhar, Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, Nabrangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, Sambalpur, Sonapur and Sundargarh (15 districts) of  Orissa; Sonbhadra (1 district), Uttar Pradesh; Paschim Medinipur (1 district) in West Bengal.[PIB]

Read the complete press release here.

Just one question. Expanding the IAP from 33 to 60 districts was hard to explain; how is the government going to justify increasing the IAP to 78 districts now?

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The distorted truth

Malicious report of a so-called Kashmiri Human Rights group

“Despite the hype of peace, people of Jammu and Kashmir have witnessed unabated violence, human rights abuses, and denial of civil and political rights, absence of mechanisms of justice, heightened militarization and surveillance. The figures of violent incidents suggest that 2011 as usual has been the year of loss, victimization, mourning and pain for the people.”[Link]

This is from a report about Kashmir in the past year, 2011, by a so-called “Kashmir-based human rights organisation”, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). It further goes on to state:

“In 2011, a total of 233 people have lost their lives due to violent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir. Out of 233 persons, 56 were civilians, 100 were alleged militants, 71 armed forces personnel and six were unidentified persons and counter insurgent renegades,” the rights body says in the report. “Out of the total 56 civilians killed this year, 11 were students, amongst whom seven were minors. Also amongst the civilians killed six were women,” it adds.[Link]

By providing details of only those cases where security forces were involved, the report creates an impression that every single death in Kashmir in 2011 was at the hands of the security forces. For eg., it cites the killing of a Hindu man Ashok Kumar by BSF, and highlights Mohammad Yousuf’s alleged custodial killing. When it harps on Nazim Rashid’s killing in police custody, the report conveniently forgets to mention that he was accused of killing two other Kashmiri young men in collusion with the militants.

This is not the first time such propaganda has been unleashed by “human rights groups” in Kashmir. Such propaganda has been unleashed incessantly over the last two decades to provide canon-fodder to the separatists and their sympathizers in their anti-India tirade. Of course, many foreign journalists (including those based in India) fall easy prey to such propaganda.

Let’s now look at the facts. Out of the 233 killed persons, 100 were militants while the majority of the balance were either political workers or common civilians gunned down by militants. The report further says that “in 2011… no end to disappearances, custodial killings, rapes and arrests”. But the only rape case of 2011 alleged on the Army was the Kulgam rape case, which also turned out to be a fake allegation. Moreover, when it comes to arrest of minors, a Delhi based Human Rights group had openly accused Syed Ali Shah Geelani of misinterpreting their findings to further his own destructive agenda.

The report fails to mention the killing of Moulana Showkat Shah which was initially christened by Geelani as an “Indian army planned conspiracy”. Later the LeT had claimed responsibility for the murder of the respected Kashmiri religious leader. 2011 also saw two sisters in Sopore being dragged out and shot by militants because they were supposedly indulging in un-Islamic activities. Or the one in December where the separatists bludgeoned a shopkeeper to death when he refused to heed their call to shut his shop during a shutdown call.

A friend provided this blogger a list of incidents from April to July in 2011 which have been overlooked by the report. (If anyone has a list for the complete year of 2011, he or she may leave the list/ link in the comments section.)

  • April 9: Militants shot dead 42 year old Abdul Rehman at Badergund, Ganderbal.
  • April 10: Militants kills 20 year old youth Sajad Ahmad dar at Sopore.
  • April 16: 46 year-old Hasina Begum shot dead for participating in elections. (Many liberals often lament the so called absence of democracy in Kashmir. This is what happens to those who support democracy)
  • April 25: Militants kills 30 yr-old Mohammad Ashraf Dar at Rafiabad, Baramulah.
  • April 28: Bus driver who was attacked by stone pelters, succumbs; accused arrested. (Another manifestation of how separatists allow democracy to thrive in Kashmir. His only mistake was he ferried those employees who were on polling duties during Panchayat elections)
  • April 30: Militants kill 20 yr-old Shamsudin Mir at Sopore.
  • May 2: IED planted by militants kills a street vendor at Udhampur.
  • May 10: Election candidate shot at by militants at Sopore. ( Another one for “Democracy”)
  • May 17: Sarpanch shot dead by militants at Sopore.
  • May 20: Lashkar terrorists behead pro-Democratic worker Abdul Gani Rather in Kishtawar district.
  • May 28: A father and son duo, Ghulam Hassan Mir and Manzoor Ahmad, killed by militants at Bowan, Handwara.
  • June 6:  Militant shoots dead a man, Afzal Khan of Sopore, near Lal Chowk area of Srinagar.
  • June 7: Militants shot dead a cop, Manzoor Ahmad at Sopore.
  • June 15: Manzoor Ahmed Dar shot dead by militants at Shopian.
  • June 27: Militants shot dead Muhammad Yaqoob, 50, at Najwan.
  • July 25: Militants shot dead Mohsin Ahmed Wani, 35, son of Manzoor Ahmed of Jalalabad, Sopore.
  • July 28: Militants kill a man, Mohammad Ashraf Sheikh in Sopore, Kashmir

These, and there are many more unfortunate Kashmiris, for whom no petitions will be signed nor will any protests be staged. Their names will not be found on any list released by a Human Rights  group. No celebrated ‘Kashmiri’ writers sitting in foreign lands and writing about conflict in Kashmir will highlight this aspect. No candle-light protests will be organised to lament their death.

The reason is simple. The Kashmir conflict has created a whole industry, both inside and outside Kashmir, whose livelihood and importance is dependent on keeping the conflict and its memories alive. They are supported in their cause by many ISI-backed NGOs posing as Human Rights groups in Kashmir. Ghulam Nabi Fai was just one of the more direct and blatant ISI agents. But there are many others who do it surreptitiously and indirectly. Then there are some others who do it without even realising that they are being stringed along by anti-India forces.

While the governments of India and J&K have done a good job of containing the violence in Kashmir by bringing it down to the lowest levels in two decades, the challenge of countering Pakistani and separatist propaganda remains as strong as ever. The government must bring the truth out to counter this malicious narrative. It must win this battle to ensure lasting peace, security and livelihood for the average Kashmiri.

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Two Kerala myths

State-led success and low growth rate

Arvind Panagariya in the Times of India:

One, these expenditures have hovered around a bare 1% of GSDP. Two, and much more importantly, private expenditures on health dwarf public expenditures in Kerala: in 2004-05, the latest year for which we have data, whereas public expenditures amounted to just 0.9% of GSDP, private expenditures were a gigantic 8.2%. The corresponding India-wide figures were 0.9 and 3.6% of GDP, respectively.

The proportion of the population accessing public health services reinforces this story. In 2004, only one-third of rural and one-fifth of urban population chose the public health system for non-hospitalised treatment. Likewise, only about one-third of the population in both rural and urban areas chose public facilities for hospitalised treatment.

This same pattern is observed in education. NGO Pratham carries out extensive surveys of children in school up to 16 years of age in rural India. According to its latest report ASER 2010, excluding two or three tiny northeastern states, at 53% Kerala has the highest proportion of students between ages 7 and 16 in private schools in rural India. The corresponding figure for the nearest rival, Haryana, is barely 40%. No matter how we look at it, the conventional and dominant story of Kerala as a state-led success crumbles in the face of hard facts.[ToI]

From the conclusion in India’s Growth in the 2000s: Four Facts by Utsav Kumar and Arvind Subramanian [pdf]:

The analysis of growth in the 2000s throws up one more quirk, relating to Kerala. The conventional wisdom is that this state is Scandinavian in its social achievements but sclerotic in its growth performance because of investment-chilling labor laws and strong trade unions. This is reflected in a labor force that has voted with its feet by emigrating to the Middle East. The abiding caricature is of the lazy, argumentative Malayali, discussing Foucault and Gramsci over endless cups of chai while living parasitically off the remittances sent by relatives in exile. However, the data suggest that the conventional wisdom and the caricature are dead wrong. Kerala posted among the highest rates of growth in the 1990s (4 percent per capita), continued its stellar performance in the go-go 2000s (7.5 percent), and exhibited great resilience during the crisis, experiencing virtually no decline in growth.

India, evidently, is capacious enough to allow both Bania, reforming Gujarat and Marxist, and reform-resistant Kerala to flourish. Or, to put it more honestly, the Indian growth miracle, including the experience of the 2000s, continues to confound.[Paper]

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Can we ban this one for 2012?

The most abused public policy argument of 2011

Here is the argument which was thrown around often in 2011. Particularly brandished to rationalise well-intentioned but poorly-designed policy initiatives — whether it be Lok Pal and corruption, or Food Security Bill and hunger, or Development before security in Maoist-affected areas, or Indian government pursuing peace with Pakistan — the essence of this line of reasoning is captured by this quote from Yes Prime Minister. In the episode Power to the People, Jim Hacker explains what he calls Politician’s Logic:

“Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it.”

No more of Politician’s Logic in 2012. Please.

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Politics and democracy

The narrative matters

Even though he has been in active politics for over two decades now, Dr. Manmohan Singh was — at least before 2009 — usually described as an economist or a technocrat. That description has since been replaced by the bon mot: “Dr. Singh is an over-rated economist and an under-rated politician.” As his image suffered, he came to be seen as more of a politician than an economist.

Even this description doesn’t capture the truth. Dr. Singh is a politician. Period. Anyone who is in top-level politics, has been a union minister and leader of the opposition, and is the prime minister is nothing but a politician. What Dr. Singh is not is a mass politician like most others. He can’t perhaps even today win a Lok Sabha seat for himself, or help his party’s candidates by campaigning during elections.

If Dr. Singh is to be referred as an economist, then Arun Jaitley could also be called a lawyer. After all, he is a distinguished lawyer, and he hasn’t contested elections for the Lok Sabha. Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that Mr. Jaitley has spent all his professional life being a politician whereas Dr. Singh came into politics much later in life. But that is besides the point. Whatever might be your primary vocation, once you are in politics, you are a politician.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. This narrative betrays a lack of trust in our politics and politicians — an economist is better than a politician. In a democracy, there is no way of bypassing politics; politicians should and must matter. It is dangerous to assume that a non-politician can fix the system. Yesterday it was an economist, today it can be a civil society leader but if we continue to go down this path, tomorrow it can be a General like Pakistan.

We can’t use politician as a pejorative term, be cynical about politics as a process and place our hopes on non-politicians to lead and fix our democracy. The romance of democracy has to be underpinned by the rough and tumble of politics, which in Max Weber’s words is like  “the strong and slow boring of hard boards”. We should be careful that our distaste for corruption of politics doesn’t end up as contempt for politics.

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Is Saranda Development Authority a good idea?

The development model in maoist-affected area needs to be scalable and replicable

In a letter to the Jharkhand Chief Minister, Union Rural Development minister, Jairam Ramesh has suggested that the state government create a separate Saranda Development Authority. (Read this blogpost about the Saranda Action Plan, a development plan put in action by the government for this erstwhile Maoist-affected area.)

“Apart from the core area, some gram panchayats in the fringe area of Saranda should also be included in the plan. There can be a separate agency, Saranda Development Authority, which can implement the development plans in an integrated manner with a clear mandate,” Ramesh said in the letter.

The Saranda Development Authority can be headed by a nodal officer, assisted by a young IAS officer. All departments working in the area should report to this authority so there is a single focused approach for development of the region.

“The district level and the state level monitoring committees (including representatives from police and central paramilitary forces) can regularly meet and monitor and coordinate activities of this authority. A realistic time frame is also required for achieving the various developmental goals,” he said in the letter.[Telegraph]

On the face of it, Mr. Ramesh seems to be making all the right arguments. A dedicated Saranda Development Authority will achieve better results for Saranda’s 36,000 tribals. The reason for the proposal is obvious. Mr. Ramesh has “taken this Saranda project as a challenge and as a way of demonstrating how development and security can and should go hand-in-hand.”

But there are two issues which need to be kept in mind here.

One, Saranda is not merely a showpiece of government’s success. It is a model which has to be scaled up and replicated across all the Maoist-affected areas. Is it possible to create such dedicated development authorities for each group of 60 villages across the country?

Two, what about the existing structures of governance in that area? If they are unable to adapt and deliver on a plan which is being personally monitored by a union cabinet minister, the government officials need to be either sacked or systems and processes of governance suitably modified. This should be paid as much attention as the execution of the Saranda Development Plan.

It is extremely important that Saranda Development Plan succeeds. But it is also equally important that the execution of this plan fits in with the bigger picture of developing Maoist-affected areas. If it stands out as an isolated success-story among a sea of failures, we would have lost another great opportunity to finish the Maoist menace.

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No Pakistan-specific non-tariff barriers

Contrary to the prevalent myth, India doesn’t have any Pakistan-specific non-tariff barriers

It is a myth we have been perpetually fed, not only by Pakistani analysts but also by their Indian counterparts, both of whom wish to mirror-image India with Pakistan. We have been told that Pakistan’s decision to not grant the Most Favoured Nation status to India when India has already granted Pakistan the same status in 1996 has no meaning because India has applied Pakistan-specific non-tariff barriers for imports from Pakistan. As this has practically nullified the benefits of bestowing the MFN status on Pakistan, Pakistan’s decision to not grant the MFN status to India is justified.

Now the truth. Here is what Pakistan’s Commerce Secretary told Pakistani Senate Committee on Commerce:

He said the demand was made after exporters complained about Indian non-tariff barriers which could hinder trade. He however, said “there are no Pakistan-specific non-tariff barriers but India is strict in applying (quality control) standards”.[ET]

On such myths are the presumptions of India’s esteemed columnists, analysts and Track-2 types fed to this country. The truth is however, even now, unlikely to open their eyes. These Indians may have their reasons to be apologetic about Pakistan but why has the Indian government maintained a studied silence on the matter. None of its ministers or diplomats have put this information in the public domain.

This should not surprise us either because Indian governments have a history of being nice to Pakistan. In the words of Pakistan’s Commerce Secretary:

In 1996 India removed restrictive regime and gave Pakistan MFN status and since then it has remained subject of immense debate based on political considerations rather than purely on trade and economics.

India did not contest MFN status in WTO providing an opportunity to Pakistan to walk away despite violation of international trade laws. “Had India gone to the WTO, it would have embarrassed Pakistan”, said Mahmood.[ET]

From 1996 till date, India has had governments from across the complete political spectrum — Third Front, BJP-led NDA and now the Congress-led UPA. This period also coincides with the phase where India has suffered the most from terror controlled by Pakistani state agencies. It was during this period that Kashmir was wrecked by terror perpetuated by Pakistan, and the Kandahar hijacking, the Kargil conflict, and the 26-11 Mumbai terror strikes took place. At no point did India raise the subject of MFN status in the WTO and shame Pakistan in front of the world community. Moreover, it could have also raised questions about the viability of Pakistan’s continuation in the WTO, leading to its further economic isolation.

India, of course, never chose to exercise that option. This consensus across our political spectrum to be nice and apologetic to Pakistan — even under repeated grave Pakistani provocations which have consumed thousands of Indian lives — defies comprehension.

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Food Security Bill and the Bhagwad Gita

There is a connection between the two

The debate over the Food Security Bill is of little consequence now. The Bill has already been placed in the parliament and will soon become a law. The sole winning argument in its favour is ‘good intentions’. How can any proposal that intends to help the hungry and the undernourished be opposed by anyone? This trait was identified by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his 2003 book, The Burden of Democracy.

The Indian state almost never evaluated policy by consequences, almost always by its own intent; if the tribunal of its own intentions had been satisfied, nothing else mattered. If it thought rent control helped the poor get housing, or curbs on investment were producing more prosperity, this was so regardless of whether it, in fact, did; particular projects were a success simply because the state had made an allocation for them, not because they reached their intended targets and beneficiaries. The habit of state officials to respond to every query — say why child labour exists — is simply to say that a law exists to deal with the problem. This is not just a last-ditch defensive gesture, it is symptomatic of the way in which the state can become oblivious to the concrete efforts of its own action or inaction. The state has internalized the message of the Bhagwad Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter.[Pages 125-126]

The NAC’s Food Security Bill is in total consonance with the message of the Bhagwad Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter. How can anyone ever argue with that? The NAC wins. India loses.

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The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan-3

Only 29 percent of NATO supplies come via Pakistan

Previous posts: The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan and The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan-2

From the latest report on Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan (pdf) by the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs:

Since 2009, the United States has steadily increased traffic on the NDN, a major logistical accomplishment that has resulted in a series of commercial air and ground routes that supply NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Close to 75 percent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN. According to U.S. Transportation Command, an estimated 40 percent of all cargo transits the NDN, 31 percent is shipped by air, and the remaining 29 percent goes through Pakistan.

The NDN comprises three principal land routes: one stretching from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, through Baku, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and into Central Asia; one from the Latvian port of Riga through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; and a final route that originates in Latvia and travels through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and passes into Afghanistan via Tajikistan. An estimated 70 percent of cargo transiting the NDN enters at Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate.

The NDN has allowed the United States to diversify its supply routes into Afghanistan, instead of relying solely on Pakistan for transit. Whereas in 2009, about 90 percent of U.S. non-military supplies for Afghanistan transited through the Pakistani port city of Karachi, today, more non-lethal cargo is shipped to Afghanistan via the NDN than through Pakistan.

The NDN is not a perfect substitute for the current supply routes in Pakistan. The NDN only allows for one-way transit of goods to Afghanistan, though discussions are reportedly underway to expand the NDN to support two-way transit of cargo leaving Afghanistan via the northern routes. The NDN also only allows for the transit of non-lethal supplies, such as cement, lumber, blast barriers, septic tanks, and matting. Sensitive and high-technology equipment is transported by airlift. Moreover, the NDN is not cheap. It costs roughly an additional $10,000 per twenty-foot container to ship via the NDN instead of Pakistan. But airlifting supplies directly into Afghanistan remains the most expensive option, which costs an estimated $40,000 more per twenty-foot container, according to U.S. Transportation Command.

To bring it down from 90 percent of supplies in 2009 to 29 percent now, it has been quite an effort by the US military. As the US forces drawdown in Afghanistan, this dependency on Pakistan will decline further. The reduction of their leverage over the US is an imminent reality which Pakistani generals need to confront.

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