A version of the following was published on Nov 30th by DNA at: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_china-s-proxies-pak-and-n-korea-are-bamboozling-us_1474172

America is bamboozled by China’s proxies, North Korea and Pakistan


Rajeev Srinivasan contends that instead of throwing in its lot with a declining America, it should aspire to be one of the G3 great powers


There is a fin-de-siecle feeling in the air, of a change of guard. America’s self-confidence is at a low, and its strategists and policymakers are conceding the world stage to China. Caught in two nasty and difficult-to-win wars, it suffers from imperial overstretch, and there are parallels between the rapid decline of Britain in the 20th century and a likely diminution of American power in the 21st.


Several incidents in the recent past suggest that American power may diminish even more precipitously than British power. Consider America versus the insurgent, China.


In three major wars since 1950, Chinese proxies have faced Americans. In Korea, Chinese allies fought the Americans to a standstill; the North Vietnamese (then friends of China) defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, Chinese ally Pakistan is humiliating the Americans after getting $25 billion in largesse from them. In other words, score: China 3, America 0.


It is clear that China uses Pakistan and North Korea as force-multipliers. It is a safe first-cut assumption to believe that everything these two rogue nations do is intended to advance Chinese interests, as they are virtually on Chinese military and diplomatic life-support.


Take the recent North Korean artillery barrage against a South Korean island. This is not an isolated incident, nor is China an innocent bystander by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“America and China’s First Test”, Financial Times, Nov 23) claims. Cold Warriors are still fighting the last war in Europe against the Soviets: they labor under the misconception that China is benign.


On the contrary, chances are that North Korean belligerence is an indirect Chinese response to US President Obama’s recent Asia swing, wherein he appeared to be building a coalition – India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea – to thwart China’s soaring ambitions.


China has been a consistent proliferator of missiles to North Korea, and nuclear weapons to Pakistan; the two swap technologies as well, with plausible deniability for China. Via the AQ Khan nuclear Wal-mart, these weapons were hawked to rogue regimes everywhere.


A while ago, saber-rattling North Korea launched long-range ballistic missiles to threaten Japan. So it is not surprising that a couple of weeks ago, North Korea amazed visiting American scientists by demonstrating its advanced weapons-grade uranium enrichment program. The Pakistan model, whereby China supplies screwdriver-ready nuke components, may well be at work here too.


Then there was the North Korean torpedo sinking a South Korean ship a few months ago; the sudden shelling of the South Korean island is part of marking out a zone of Chinese influence in the Yellow Sea. This fits into their recent aggressive behavior, bullying neighbors and declaring in effect that the South China Sea is a Chinese lake.


The most recent Pakistani incident is even more intriguing. It has been obvious for some time that the CIA is entirely clueless in the region, and is being led by the nose by the ISI – which surely receives advice and materiel from China. In 2001, the siege of Kunduz demonstrated how the ISI bamboozled the CIA into letting them airlift a thousand alleged Taliban officers (in reality Pakistani Army/ISI brass) besieged by the Northern Alliance.


A few months ago, seven CIA officers including their station chief in Afghanistan were blown up when a Jordanian double agent, presented as a senior al Qaeda insider, detonated explosives hidden in a suicide vest.


Now it turns out that an alleged top-level Taliban leader, who the Americans and Afghans were negotiating with, was a total impostor: he was in it for the big bucks from the gullible Americans. This demonstrates painful realities: the Americans lack decent intelligence on the ground, and being desperate to withdraw, they will clutch at straws. The clever ISI will, accordingly, manufacture various straws on demand and extract more billions from the CIA.


This latest Pakistani exploit reminds me of Graham Greene’s wickedly funny “Our Man in Havana” where an underpaid spy (and sometime vacuum cleaner salesman) sends fanciful details of an advanced Cuban/Soviet doomsday machine back to his bosses who are awed; only these were photos of the insides of a vacuum cleaner!


If this is the level of the competence of the almighty CIA, then I fear for America. And I fear even more for India, which seems to have a drop-dead, unerring instinct for allying with countries that are in terminal decline: first it was the Soviets, now it is the Americans.


Unfortunately, the idea that it need not ‘align’ with anybody does not even occur to India’s mandarins, as a result of an institutionalized inferiority complex. India, with its Hanuman Syndrome of not recognize its own strength, does not, alas, aspire to the creation of a G3: India, China, America, in that order.


Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant


825 words, Nov 26th

A version of the following appeared on rediff.com on July 21st at http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/jul/21/slide-show-1-rajeev-srinivasan-on-moving-beyond-the-indo-pak-peace-talks.htm

Moving beyond the Indo-Pak ‘peace talks’, as the Afghan end game nears

Rajeev Srinivasan on how apportioning blame for the failure of the talks misses the big picture on the ground – the Great Game is afoot

I am always amused at the great expectations that some Indians harbor about India-Pakistan palavers, contrary to sense and prior experience. I suspect nothing will ever come of any Indo-Pak talks, because the dominant Pakistani ethos, indeed the very raison d’etre of that State’s existence, is based on being not-India and anti-India.

In particular, Pakistan is a State owned by an Army, and the Army would have no reason to exist if peace were, by some miracle, to break out with India. Survival instinct alone, therefore, suggests that the Pakistani Army could not possibly afford peace. After all, the continuous state of covert war sustains a very comfortable living for the generals – a story in the New York Times on July 19th talked about how parts of Islamabad look like a tidy, affluent Los Angeles suburb.

However, I am overwhelmed by déjà vu, because I could repeat verbatim what I wrote in June 2001, in a column titled “Because it’s their nature, their custom: Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed”, [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jun/18rajeev.htm] about the much-ballyhooed 2001 talks with General Musharraf. I offered several analogies, including one with two sets of Polynesian islanders with widely differing visions of what ‘peace’ might be – absolutely appropriate in the India-Pakistan context.

I concluded with the following, and in hindsight I was wrong in assuming that India could drive Pakistan to bankruptcy with an arms race, much as the Americans had done to the Soviets:

“It is clear that Pakistan — or, to be precise, their ruling military establishment — wants, or needs, war. We can oblige: India can continue to bear the cost of war better than a much smaller, economically stagnant Pakistan which is liable to collapse under its own internal contradictions and runaway religious terrorism.”

Of course, this was before 9/11, and I did not anticipate then that the Pakistanis would get the Americans (and the Chinese) to underwrite their war against India, and that the Indian government would be so unwilling to or incapable of deterring Pakistan by imposing costs on misadventures. Instead, Pakistan is convinced that India does not have the guts to stand up to them.

Pakistanis are justified in believing this: for all practical purposes, the Mumbai attack in 2008, 11/26,  has been forgotten, and this so-called ‘peace process’ is proceeding from the Indian side as though the humiliation of that frontal attack on India’s financial nerve-center never happened. The small matter of 180 Indians being massacred, and India’s inept response to the crisis, both broadcast live around the globe, are forgotten.

Indeed, the name of the game today in India is finger-pointing: mandarins are running around trying to find a scapegoat to blame for the ‘failure’ of the talks. They have found a good candidate in Home Secretary G K Pillai, who is now the fall guy for having dared to mention some unmentionables.

A news item suggests that the Prime Minister is unhappy with Pillai for having aired David Coleman Headley’s confessions about the involvement of the ISI and the LeT in the Mumbai invasion. It seems the Prime Minister would have preferred it if this minor detail were swept under the carpet! What were the talks about, if they were to ignore the Pakistani establishment’s culpability in cross-border terrorism?

Where do the ‘concessions’ end? Wasn’t it enough that the Government of India quietly handed over 25 Pakistani terrorists – with no reciprocity – as  a ‘goodwill gesture’ to apparently smooth the way for the talks? And why didn’t the ever-vigilant English Language Media utter a word about this rather strange, and servile, way of engaging a foe?

There is also a basic flaw about the coverage of the talks – the issue is not whether the talks were successful. The issue is whether there is any progress made in the larger issue of protecting India’s national interests. Once again, we are losing the forest for the trees – the talks are tactical, the pursuit of national interests is strategic.

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and subterfuge.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the Indians on the run”. So why, they ask reasonably, should they negotiate, when they are winning?

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns. Pashtuns account for only about 40% of the Afghan population, along with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was excluded from previous talks about that nation, and now seems to be grudgingly included.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the line. Pashtun parts of Afghanistan, and the erstwhile North-West Frontier Province and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan would be its component parts.

This, of course, would be a disaster for Pakistan, as it would induce restive and oppressed Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well, leaving just a rump Pakistani Punjab, which would be too small to cause much damage to anybody but itself.

In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem. (There are clearly potential problems for India, too – perhaps there will be pressure to create a separate Kashmiri State; similarly Iran may end up losing its Baluch province of Sistan/Baluchistan to an independent Baloch State).

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable position of confronting the ISI’s ‘strategic depth’, which it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to checkmate it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

There is only one small silver lining in this cloud, and it is based purely on geography and demography. That silver lining is that the ISI may have been too clever for its own good, and that its ‘victory’ in Afghanistan may well be Pyrrhic, if it results in the unraveling of the country. There are those in India who say that a ‘stable, prosperous’ Pakistan is in India’s best interests. Hardly. On the contrary, a weak, balkanized Pakistan is.

Pakistan has made a career out of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It was obvious as long ago as the siege of Kunduz in 2001 and the ensuing ‘Airlift of Evil’ that the so-called Taliban officers are serving or retired Pakistani Army and ISI brigadiers and colonels wearing baggy pants and beards and turbans. The ISI has had a great run with the fiction that the Taliban is distinct from itself.

With luck, this may be coming to an end. Former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill endorsed a formulation of a de-facto partition of Afghanistan, with the northern portion (including Kabul) to be under an American-NATO umbrella, and the southern, Pashtun, portion, to be left to the tender mercies of the Taliban/ISI. This is surely a trial balloon from the US Administration.

In effect, this would mean the old Northern Alliance would be re-constituted, with the US/NATO supporting it and keeping the Taliban at bay, as it was before 9/11, the only difference being that ten years have passed and $300 billion has been spent, a fair bit of which has spirited away by the ISI and friends. And Massoud has been assassinated.

If this is the final end game in Afghanistan, India had better be prepared to play an active role. Otherwise, in the new Great Game being played on the fringes of Indian territory, it will end up just a spectator. India should be looking to parlay its long tradition of relations with Afghanistan to establish strong commercial linkages, especially now that it turns out the country is chock-full of minerals.

The Indo-Pakistan ‘peace process’ is merely a ritualistic sideshow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The real strategic imperative is a plan for India in a post-Pakistan scenario, especially to prevent China and America from dividing up the Af-Pak region into their spheres of influence. With some luck, Pakistan may yet implode without any help from India. India should look beyond its obsession with Pakistanis strutting about, and pursue its national interests.

2000 words, 20th July 2010

A version of the following appeared in Daily News & Analysis on Jul 13th, 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_india-s-strategic-blunders_1408958, and a PDF version of the page is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/13072010/12main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Strategic blunders hurt India

Rajeev Srinivasan on how Pakistan has outsmarted India through clever foreign policy

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, the violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and dissimulations.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the UPA on the run”. They perceive a ‘backbone deficit’ and lack of will.

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns.

Pashtuns account for about 40% of the Afghan population, with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras among others. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was not even invited to talks about that nation.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and if given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the Durand Line. This, of course, would be disaster for Pakistan, as it might induce restive Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well. In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem.

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable situation that the ISI has achieved the ‘strategic depth’ it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to smother it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

825 words, 10 Jul 2010

A version of this appeared in Daily News & Analysis on June 29th. Here is the URL: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_losing-in-afghanistan_1402597

and the pdf of the page can be found here: http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/29062010/28main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Losing the new Great Game in Afghanistan

America has gotten itself into an unholy mess thanks to Pakistani duplicity

The news from Afghanistan is not good for the US, nor for India. US President Obama dismissed the commander of his troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, ostensibly because of rude comments he made in a magazine article, but in reality because a scapegoat was needed for the increasingly inept war efforts there. The same fate befell his predecessor too.

The facts on the ground indicate that Obama’s announced plan – surge, bribe, declare victory, and run like hell – is not working. The current thinking is no longer about winning, but about spinning a face-saving retreat. Says the Washington Post, “[the] administration is looking for a decent, negotiated exit. The Pakistani intelligence service would act as a surrogate (and guarantor) for the Taliban… The deal might leave the Taliban in control of large parts of Afghanistan…  ”

In other words, Obama is explicitly outsourcing the war to Pakistan’s ISI. This would be a questionable choice anyway. But given that the Taliban are basically ISI in baggy pants and beards, an instance of diplomatic theater (after all, it is astonishing that these alleged theology students suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes), the policy is suicidal. A recent report from the London School of Economics and Harvard University emphasized the links between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban.

This report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, indicts the ISI, which, it says, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” insurgents. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it claims Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”.

A New York Times report suggests further that “Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.”

The Haqqani network and the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are among the ISI’s assets. Ironically, Hekmatyar, now a sworn enemy of the US, received over half of the billions that the CIA lavished on the war against the Soviets, thanks to his friends in the ISI.

It is remarkable that the ISI has hoodwinked the Americans to such an extent. ISI protégés are killing Americans, while the ISI and the Pakistani Army pretend to be fighting on the side of the Americans. In other words, the Americans are fighting people whom they are indirectly funding! It is as though, in Vietnam, they were funding not only the South Vietnam Army, but also the Viet Cong guerillas.

When the history of the Afghan war is written, historians may pinpoint the exact moment the Americans lost it. That was the siege of Kunduz in 2001. The rampaging Northern Alliance had much of the top brass of the Taliban corralled at the fort in Kunduz. Unbelievably, the CIA authorized an airlift by the Pakistanis (now called “Airlift of Evil”). At least a thousand of the Taliban were spirited away – and the open secret is that they were mostly midlevel Pakistani Army and ISI officers in turbans. That singular event sealed the fate of the entire campaign.

It is high time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s scheming Army and ISI.

The ISI has also put about an interesting theory, that Afghanistan is per se not conquerable. That is not quite true: Greeks, Persians, Mongols, et al, did conquer. Yes, the British were routed. That was because, despite propaganda, the British were poor warriors: they were able to win victories in India only because of a disastrous Indian habit of betrayal. There are Mir Jafars aplenty in India; but Afghans do not betray their own to foreigners.

When properly handled, Afghanistan can be conquered and held, as Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire demonstrated not too long ago. The reason most conquerors left Afghanistan is that it is stark, inhospitable territory with no apparent value: the returns were not worth the cost of holding it. Of course, that may change now that they say the country holds trillions of dollars worth of strategic minerals: that may encourage Americans to hold on.

But a comprehensive American defeat in Afghanistan would be strategically bad for India too. It would encourage triumphalist fundamentalists, who could now reasonably claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. Worse, it would mean that China, through its proxies, has defeated the Americans yet again: this would be number three in a row, after Korea and Vietnam. Imagine their hubris!

825 words, Jun 26, 2010

A version of this appeared on rediff.com on Jun 21st at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/21/rajeev-srinivasan-on-americas-afghan-plans.htm

A U-turn on Afghanistan?

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether the US is making a mid-course correction on Afghanistan

These are not good times for US president Obama. Hailed as a savior if not a messiah just eighteen months ago, he is now reeling from several crises. The BP oil spell has left him looking incompetent and uncaring. The $1 trillion stimulus package may have avoided a Great Depression, but unemployment hovers near 10%. His big achievement, healthcare reform, has left a sour taste with almost all sections of society.

But most of all, the Afghanistan quagmire is getting worse. Just this week, seven US soldiers were killed in a single day; the public is getting tired of body bags and elusive promises of success. Maybe there’s a re-think. A series of unexpected events took place recently that, if put together, may signal a mid-course correction by the US:

  1. A report from the London School of Economics and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University that emphasized the very high level of co-operation between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban
  2. A major story in the New York Times about the discovery of large mineral deposits in Afghanistan
  3. Severe ethnic riots, resulting in a breakdown of normal activity, in the republic of Kyrgyzstan, where an important US air force supply base in Manas is used to support the war effort
  4. The resignations of Afghanistan’s interior minister and security chief, among other things, taking responsibility for an attack on a loya jirga, but also suggesting a hardening of ethnic differences
  5. Reports that the Afghan President Karzai has lost faith in the ability of the NATO forces to actually win the war
  6. Reports that the much-anticipated counter-insurgency surge in Marjah, which was hailed at the time as momentous, has bogged down and that the rebels are gaining strength

All these have to be seen in the context of Obama’s policy of increasing the number of soldiers on the ground first, and then beginning to wind down the US war effort and withdrawing troops in 2011, just in time to declare victory and use the halo effect to effortlessly win the 2012 presidential elections.

That dream is, to put it mildly, in some jeopardy now. The Obama plan was to surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell. They have done the surge part, and are in the process of bribing (usually the ISI and its pals), but it’s not going well. The bribees are not acting as expected – Afghans seem to be taking the bribes and merrily continuing what they were doing anyway.

The US’s intent to declare victory and leave requires someone to be the ‘keeper’, as it were, of Afghanistan. The ISI has volunteered itself for this role. This is why it is intriguing that the LSE/Kennedy School report has come out at this time. The Kennedy School is close to the US government, and so it is a fair conjecture that the US administration wants to put the screws on someone.

At first glance, if you read the litany of things in this report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, it sounds like a damning indictment of the ISI which is quite transparently the prime motivator, financier, and provider of cover to the Taliban and related groups.

The ISI, says the report, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” them. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it is not just the ISI, it claims that Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”, the bracket in the original. Interesting that an American is calling Pakistan an enemy state, not the trademarked “major ally in the war on terror”.

Unfortunately, the author, Matt Waldman, has the standard simplistic solution to all this: the way to end the ISI’s cooperation with the Taliban “is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, especially its latent and enduring conflict with India”. Of course, if only India were to give Kashmir to Pakistan, the ISI would stop arming the Taliban, and Americans can go home. Simple! QED.

The answer, therefore, is for India to give more: which might explain the Indian PM’s offer to ‘walk the extra mile’ and the latest euphemism, ‘creative solutions’ to the Kashmir problem. India must give up territory so that Americans can exit Afghanistan, in return for… exactly what? Eternal love and fellowship? Just like India sacrificed Tibet and got eternal love and friendship?

Well, be that as it may, it is also possible that finally the US is recognizing the obvious: the ISI has been running with the hares and hunting with the hounds from day one. Maybe the judicious leak is a way of putting the ISI on notice that it had better ratchet things down to some extent. Maybe the Obamistas are actually planning to stay for a while.

Such an eventuality would explain why the NY Times, also known to the close to the US government, made such breathless noises about newly-discovered minerals in Afghanistan (“1 trillion worth!” “Might fundamentally change the war!”). Perhaps Obama has decided that it is not such a good idea to exit in 2011, possibly handing the terrorists a morale-boosting victory.

This story about minerals is not new – months ago, I heard about this from the intrepid foreign policy analyst who goes by the name Pundita. She suggested this meant Americans would stay on: there was no way they would leave all this loot to the Chinese, who have already snapped up a giant copper mine. Perhaps the NYT minerals story is a red herring to divert attention away from the real issue of American failure in Afghanistan.

That failure is evident in the subdued talk about Marjah now; instead of the cocky self-assurance then, there is grim talk now of the difficulty in clearing the area and keeping in clear. No wonder it appears Karzai has lost faith in American staying power – and even in their military tactics; and he is also probably tired of being painted as the villain and blamed for the failure of American plans.

In this context, the resignations of the interior minister Hanif Atmar and the security chief Amrullah Saleh sent ominous signals. In particular, Saleh, an ex-aide of the assassinated military genius and commander of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, appears to have been one of the most competent ministers. And as an ethnic Tajik, his departure may signal increasing ethnic fractures in the Afghan government.

It is easy to underestimate the impact of ethnic divisions in Central Asia. There are differences of opinion between the Pashtuns (Karzai is one and so are the Taliban) and the smaller Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities. Sometimes these break into open warfare – the Taliban, for instance, massacred Hazaras, and that was partly because the latter were Shia, so the Shia-Sunni religious divide can also be potent.

A case in point about ethnic divisions is the sudden outburst of rioting and killing in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the Kyrgyz are apparently killing Uzbeks (which may be normal in Central Asia where majorities severely oppress minorities). This has an impact on the US – if Manas air support base becomes less available for operations, it increases the US’s dependence on Karachi and the ISI that much more.

Thus, nothing seems to be going according to plan, and a gloomy headline in the NY Times suggesting that “Setbacks cloud US plans to get out of Afghanistan”. No kidding. The Americans may have to accept they are in it for the long term: Afghanistan may not be another Vietnam, but a tar baby. They simply cannot cut and run. They have to clean up this unholy mess of their own making.

It is time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but the chimera Pakistan, an imaginary homeland. The very existence of Pakistan – a state with no raison d’etre, is the root cause. The random Durand Line, that slices the Pashtun nation into Afghan and Pakistani areas, was never taken seriously by Pashtuns, and the British-brokered treaty that created it expired in 1993. Until a united Pashtun nation is created including the appropriate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, this problem is going to fester: tribal loyalties run supreme in those mountains.

The Americans may be thinking of contracting the running of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth to the ISI, much as the latter have been exploiting the mineral wealth of Baluchistan while severely oppressing, and occasionally massacring, native Baluch. It is not clear that this tactic will work with the Afghans.

Instead of giving the ISI the ‘strategic depth’ they crave by allowing them run rampant in Afghanistan, the answer would be to create a Pashtun nation, a Baluch nation (part of it is in Iran), a Sindhi nation, leaving the rump of Pakistani Punjab too small to do too much damage to anybody but themselves.

If this has finally dawned on the Americans, the $300 billion that they have already poured down the endless money-pit of this war can be chalked up to experience. Otherwise, they would, in Talleyrand’s memorable indictment of the French monarchy, have “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is that they will press India to give in to the ISI, or, equally disastrously, ask for Indian troops to join them in Afghanistan.

1550 words, June 15, 2010

An edited version of this appeared on rediff on May 6th at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/06/rajeev-srinivasan-on-the-banality-of-evil.htm

Why good people do bad things: the ordinariness of evil

Rajeev Srinivasan on why normal people do appalling things in the wrong circumstances

In the aftermath of the Ajmal Kasab trial and the failed bomb attack in New York, the impartial observer would find it hard to conclude that Pakistanis were mild, inoffensive people. But in fact there are a number of people – apart from the professional Wagah candle-holders – who cannot believe that this kind of horror could come from the kind of Pakistanis they know – PLUs (people like us), urbane, sophisticated, great hosts and dinner companions.

There is, of course, the fallacy of rapid generalization: every Pakistani is not like the people you know, who are likely to be the world-traveling sort. There are many dirt-poor, uneducated people who have been brainwashed with strange notions of what Indians are like and what India is like. Given high population growth and a fairly stagnant economy, the number of these “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” people is much larger than those at the top of the pyramid, the 22 ruling feudal families who own the place.

But apart from the logical fallacy, there is also a more subtle issue, that of how easily evil can take over  even perfectly normal, well-adjusted people. It turns out you don’t have to be a sociopath to do the most horrifying things: your random neighbors, such as the kindly old man down the street, the kid who drops off the newspaper, the old lady who is full of religious zeal – any and all of them can turn into monsters under the appropriate circumstances.

This was demonstrated in Cambodia, when under the Khmer Rouge, perfectly ordinary people became mass killers. I have been to Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation center in the middle of Phnom Penh, where thousands of people were tortured, and confessions extracted from them. They were photographed and meticulous dossiers prepared about each of them. They were then taken to the Killing Fields on the outskirts of town and dispatched with a blow to the back of the head with a spade.

But what is most amazing about Tuol Sleng is that it was formerly a school in the middle of a residential neighborhood! It still looks like an inoffensive school from outside, although inside it is the Genocide Museum, with the interrogation cells left as they were, harrowing paintings of inhuman torture, and row after row of black and white photographs of those who were about to die, including some Indians and other foreigners. It is a metaphor for the banality and very ordinariness of evil. The Khmer Rouge were the greatest mass-murderers in the recent past, killing some 15% of their compatriots.

Ordinary Cambodians – farmers, artisans, bicycle-repairers, fishermen – were instruments of civilizational suicide. Similarly, perfectly normal Hutus went on the warpath in Rwanda against  embattled Tutsis, attempting genocide. Ordinary Germans did the bidding of the Nazis; ordinary Europeans participated in an orgy of violence on innocent people during the horrifying Inquisition, dispatching thousands, especially women, in the most appalling ways.

And so with the Pakistanis. The young men of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist outfits were not monsters to begin with: they were turned into what they are quite deliberately – they have been manufactured by a consciously-created system where they have no choice but to become monsters.

I was reminded of all this when I was listening to an archived podcast from 2007 of an interview with Philip Zimbardo, a retired professor from Stanford, whose celebrated “Stanford Prison Experiment” of 1971 was a startling practical demonstration of how evil is engendered. In 2006, Zimbardo wrote a new book, The Lucifer Effect, because he was struck by similarities between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and the Stanford experiment.

The experiment was simple: Zimbardo set up a simulated prison in the basement of one of Stanford’s buildings, and recruited 24 normal male college students for a two-week study of the behavior of prison guards and prisoners. The students were randomly assigned to either role and given uniforms or prison smocks to wear, but no specific instructions on behavior except that there must be no physical contact. Zimbardo himself acted as both ‘jail superindendent’ and research leader.

The results were startling: within 36 hours, the ‘guards’ started misbehaving, exerting their power over the ‘prisoners’. One of the prisoners had a nervous breakdown. Within three days, the guards were exhibiting brutal, sadistic behavior, and the prisoners were increasingly humiliated and oppressed. Several other prisoners also had nervous breakdowns. On the night of day five, sexual torture began: the prisoners were made to expose themselves, and to simulate sodomy with each other.

On the sixth day, a shaken Zimbardo abandoned the experiment, which had been slated to run for two weeks. He was shocked to realize that certain dangerous boundaries were being crossed, and that some of the participants might end up with permanent psychological damage.

The fact that perfectly normal, intelligent college students – they had been screened for any abnormality – could so easily be turned into sadistic monsters is astonishing. Apparently the situation had gotten the better of them:

Perhaps the normal human condition is indeed the Hobbesian “nasty, brutish and short”. Maybe “Lord of the Flies”, the book about a group of boys abandoned on an island evolving into a dictatorial society, is all too true. Perhaps the Law of the Jungle is indeed the right metaphor, much as we like to think of ourselves as civilized beyond fang and claw and might-is-right.

In a related study, the Milgram Experiment at Yale analyzed the willingness of volunteers to administer electric shocks to unseen victims based on orders from authority figures. It turned out that – with no gender differences – people were quite willing to torture people whom they had never met. (The shocks were simulated, and so were the recorded screams of the recipients, but the subjects didn’t know that.)

Zimbardo believes that it is not the individual’s own inherent tendencies, but the social situation around them that drives bad behavior. That can help us understand the pathology of the Pakistani situation. These young men have been told for such a long time that Indians and Hindus are evil and monstrous that they have internalized it. It is the environment that addles them. Therefore, expending a lot of effort on the arrest and prosecution of individual terrorists is not going to have a major impact, because they are expendable – there are many waiting in line, ready to step into their shoes. In that sense, it is immaterial what happens to Ajmal Kasab – he is simply cannon fodder, dispensable.

It is the system that is psychotic, and it is so by intent. That is why Pakistan refuses steadfastedly to move against those who have created the system: for instance, Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaat-ul Dawa (the current nom-de-guerre of the Lashkar-e-Toiba). The Pakistanis have refused again and again to prosecute Saeed, just as they refuse to extradite Dawood Ibrahim. These are strategic assets for the ISI. People like Hamil Gul, ex-ISI eminence-grise, have articulated the grim calculus of this perspective.

The system in Pakistan was put in place by General Zia-ul-Haq, who fundamentalized education, the Army, and the rest of society (it may be remembered that Zia in effect banned the use of the ‘Hindu’ sari, and encouraged the ‘Pakistani’ salwar-kameez). The textbooks were re-written to eulogize Central Asian invaders. History begins with the Arab invasion of Sind in 712 CE. The word ‘Hindu’ is always preceded by ‘cunning baniya’. The idea that a single Mohammedan soldier is worth ten Hindus in valor was put about, notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary.

American psychologist Sam Keen suggested in Faces of the Enemy that a major part of warfare lies in dehumanizing the enemy. Every nation has created extraordinary propaganda against its enemies: by internalizing this, young soldiers are able to kill other young men without compunction, because they believe the enemy are sub-human monsters intent on raping ‘our’ women, destroying ‘our’ nation, and so on. The  book includes hundreds of posters, cartoons and other material from 20th century propaganda, which Keen calls the “archetype of the hostile imagination”.

Surely, there is Indian propaganda against Pakistan; however, it is on a secular plane, and does not target Pakistanis based on religion. In fact, average Mohammedans are better off in India as compared to anywhere else in the world, including, and especially Pakistan, where only the feudal upper classes (castes) live well. In  North India (as seen in Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”, there is a certain admiration – justified or not – for some alleged nawabi high culture, possibly because using Farsi/Arabic is considered cultured by some.

And the leftists in the media are ever-ready to cry themselves hoarse in the service of poor Mohammedans. Not to mention a government with a Prime Minister who says without irony, “Muslims must have first claim on the nation’s resources”, which is, in passing, strange from someone sworn to uphold the religion-blind Constitution.

But that is not what Pakistanis believe. In encounters with middle-class Pakistanis in America and on the Internet, I have heard how glad they are that there is a homeland for subcontinental Mohammedans who would otherwise have been oppressed by Hindus. They are silent, however, when I point out that there are, in fact, two homelands, and how the one homeland couldn’t keep half of its inhabitants happy and started a genocidal war with them.

This incomprehension about India was seen in the transcripts of the conversations by the 11/26 terrorists with their handlers in Pakistan: the terrorists were obviously confused that India was not a whole lot like what they had been brainwashed into believing.

Thus, it is the environment, of radicalization and mind-games, that is creating a cadre of evil-doers. Any amount of ‘talks’ and ‘goodwill gestures’ and ‘walking the extra mile’ is unlikely to change the situation unless the hate-mongering institutions with a monomanical jihadi agenda are dismantled. So long as India cannot get Pakistan to do this, there will be an endless supply of cannon fodder.

There is another issue – terrorism has now become a job, and quite a lucrative one at that. Zimbardo is of the opinion that a lot of the brutality in the Stanford Experiment and at Abu Ghraib happened because of simple boredom, especially at night, when the guards had nothing better to do and wanted some entertainment – perhaps the ultimate in the banality of evil.

In the case of the Pakistanis, and, alas, in the case of a number of home-grown terrorists in India, terrorism has now become an easy and attractive job, with perks like foreign trips (eg. to Pakistan via Dubai to throw people off the scent), cash (including counterfeit Indian rupees shipped in container-loads), women (who will dare say “no” to an AK-47?) and so on. For an ill-educated youth with poor prospects, this must be like manna from heaven. This has been demonstrated in Kerala where a number of young men were trained and shipped off to J&K as mercenaries/jihadis to kill Indian soldiers.

Thus, the cognitive dissonance between the “they are just like us” ordinary citizens of Pakistan and the ruthless killers is a matter of their environment. Unless it is cleaned up, and the godfathers of the system such as Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim forced to stand down, India – and (note to President Obama) the West — will continue to face evil and bleed. It is not the individuals, but the system of propaganda and inducement of hatred that is to blame. And that suits the Pakistani establishment just fine: it sustains their failing State.

a version of this was printed in the DNA newspaper on 23rd march:


Spy vs. spy: Is Headley a protected ‘asset’?

Rajeev Srinivasan

The fact that the United States’ Department of Justice has agreed to a plea-bargain by David Coleman Headley (born Daood Sayed Gilani) is worrying. Headley, the Pakistani-American accused of being a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and the person who did much of the planning and surveillance for the 11/26 terrorist attack on Mumbai, pleaded guilty to 12 counts, including conspiracy to murder Indians and Americans in India, and to support terrorism in India. Apparently, Headley has pleaded guilty so that he might escape the death penalty as a co-operating witness.

In and of itself, this is not surprising, because the Americans have dropped hints from day one about their reluctance to let Indian investigators interrogate Headley. Around the time of Headley’s arrest around October last year, Indian sleuths flew to the US, but returned empty handed. Suspicions were raised at the time that Headley was in fact a ‘strategic asset’ for American intelligence, because he had gotten off surprisingly lightly in a drug-related incident, a serious offense in the US.

However, it is worrisome because it implies that the Americans have many skeletons in the closet regarding Pakistan-related terrorism incidents. The plea-bargain insulates Headley from being examined in court, suggesting that the Americans did not want him to ‘sing like a canary’, revealing various things they would rather keep well-hidden. There will be no trial in the US, no depositions and no public disclosures, and he will not be extradited to India to stand trial for 11/26.

This is yet another instance of the ambivalent nature of the American attitude to Pakistan and its terror apparatus. Even though it is obvious that most terrorism has links to Pakistan, and that its spy agency ISI nurtures terrorist entities such as the LeT, the Americans pretend to not see this. Symmetrically, the Pakistanis pretend to reduce their terror sponsorship, periodically rounding up some unimportant or washed-up terrorist and delivering him to the Americans; this charade keeps everybody happy.

A particularly egregious example of American collusion with the ISI was seen in 2001 at the siege of Kunduz in Afghanistan. At the time, the Northern Alliance, in full cry, were besieging a thousand Taliban in an old fort in Kunduz. Astonishingly, the US allowed the Pakistani air force to air-lift most of these alleged Taliban, who, it turned out, were mid-level officers of the ISI and the Pakistan Army who had traded in their uniforms for the Taliban’s baggy pants and beards.

There is speculation that Headley is a double agent for America’s spy agency, the CIA. The world of double agents is complicated, as the CIA itself learned to its chagrin just a few weeks ago when most of its agents in Pakistan were massacred by a Jordanian double agent. This could be why, even though Headley was indirectly responsible for the deaths of several American citizens in Mumbai, they are not throwing the book at him.

Contrast Headley’s treatment with the fuss over Adam Gadahn, a white American convert, a senior spokesperson and propaganda advisor for Al-Qaeda. Even though Gadahn has not killed any US citizens, he is the first American charged with treason in over fifty years. Clearly they are bothered by Gadahn’s actions, but not so much by Headley’s. There is also no indictment of the LeT despite the fact that Headley is accused of attending several training camps run by them, in jihad indoctrination, combat, counter-surveillance, and weapons usage.

The tenderness shown to Headley suggests there is more to his story than meets the eye. Could it be that Headley, and his fellow-accused, Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana, breezed in and out of India and did their reconnaissance because the CIA was greasing the wheels? Maybe they even helped Headley erase his past, his Pakistani name Gilani, and his record as a drug-dealer so that he could travel as a white American to India. It is true that white Americans arouse less suspicion, as has been seen in the cases of blonde converts Jamie Paulin-Ramirez and Colleen R LaRose, aka ‘Jihad Jane’.

The Headley saga may well be a practical demonstration of the attitudes of the Obama Administration towards India. Obama has distinctly downgraded India in his priority list. When Obama made a trip to Asia, India was not on the itinerary. If and when Obama finally makes it to India, we can be assured that there will be a hyphenating visit to Pakistan included.

The DoJ’s willingness to protect Headley after he pleaded guilty to abetting terrorism and mass-murder in India, and admitted that he had attended terrorism training camps operated by the LeT, leads to a simple conclusion: the US government does not care about the killing of Indians. This, after all the honeyed words about the beginnings of a beautiful relationship, leads us to a sad truth: India cannot depend on anybody other than itself. And there are plenty of Headleys and sleeper cells out there.

a version of this was published by DNA on march 1st at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_bargaining-with-the-devil_1353963

“Bargaining with the Devil: When to negotiate, when to fight”

Rajeev Srinivasan on negotiating with evil

As India sits down for talks with Pakistan and with Communist insurgents, an observer may wonder why its track record is so poor in negotiations. As Churchill said, “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”, but there is a make-believe quality to it in India, as the mandarins appear to just go through the motions. There is no recognition that there is a logic and a structure to parleys, there is a difference between positions and interests; and that ends and means must be separated.

Consider some instances – the negotiations with China over treaty rights in Tibet, wherein India meekly surrendered all leverage; the border talks for the last 28 years that have only led to further Chinese claims on Indian territory; the interminable and futile discussions with Pakistan, with no letup in cross-border terrorism. In Copenhagen, China hoodwinked India into a stand that helps China, a major polluter, not India, a minor villain. The ‘nuclear deal’ with the US also gave away too much in return for very little.

There are rare success stories too, especially when there is a clear goal. Arundhati Ghose famously fended off nuclear blackmail regarding CTBT at the UN.

A recent book by Harvard’s Robert Mnookin, “Bargaining with the devil: When to negotiate, when to fight”, highlights two paradigmatic situations – the decision made by Winston Churchill to not negotiate with Adolf Hitler; and the decision made by the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, to indeed engage with F W de Klerk’s apartheid regime. Both decisions, according to the book, were right, and avoided worse outcomes.

Mnookin focuses on situations in which two parties that may consider each other evil sit down at the bargaining table. There should be a combination of intuitive as well as analytical approaches, he suggests. This is where India fails: negotiators depend entirely on intuition, when a cold-blooded decision-tree analysis would help. Some Indian negotiators are seduced into accepting the other side’s perspectives, for instance through judicious use of Urdu couplets and sob-stories about poor villagers.

There are several major problems. First, a serious, core issue: the lack of a clarity about objectives. Nobody knows what the goals are, what is absolutely non-negotiable, what the ‘don’t-cares’ are that can be thrown in as concessions to clinch a deal. Therefore they do not know when to hold and when to fold. When talking to Communist terrorists, the objective is to prevent their violent overthrow of the State; their civil rights are not the main concern. (We also have to be hard-nosed: the human rights of the insurgent and the terrorist are no greater than the human rights of the average citizen).

Second, the negotiators do not distinguish between positions (some of which may be posturing for domestic consumption), and fundamental interests. China always takes extreme positions, probing for weaknesses. However, if there is credible push-back, China will retreat. To be deterred, they have to believe that India is prepared to fight if the talks fail. They don’t; nor do Pakistanis or Communist guerillas. Without that implicit danda, all the carrots, sama, and dana, don’t work.

Third, because they do not internalize core interests, India’s negotiators are sidetracked into peripheral and trivial matters. An example was the panic-stricken insistence about Indo-Pak rail links, which were jeopardized by a terror attack on the Samjhauta Express. There were pious pronouncements: “The rail links must not be affected”. The show must go on? Why? What is so sacred about it? The rail links are only a means to the end. By focusing on the rail links – a means – they were coerced into losing sight of the termination of terrorism – the ends.

Negotiation and game theory are taught in business schools (“Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury is a favorite) and schools of government the world over, but apparently not to India’s mandarins. One of the cardinal principles taught is that you must be fully prepared with three alternatives: a) the desired goal, b) the compromise you can live with even though it is less than ideal, and c) the walk-away position. These alternatives are decided on ahead of time, and negotiators will not deviate from them. They will be prepared to walk away if the only thing they can get is worse than the compromise situation. Indians attempt to wing it and figure out their alternatives on the fly, and get confused and rattled. And lose out.

Game theory is relevant: a negotiation may be modeled as a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma game. The best known tactic is tit-for-tat, so that if the adversary cooperates, you cooperate the next time; but if they betray you, you betray them the next time. Alas, what Indians do is to cooperate all the time, which means there is no penalty to Pakistan for betrayal; their payoff is better if they betray, so they will do it every time. Exhibit A, the 91,000 prisoners India released after the Bangladesh War. Exhibit B, Sharm-al-Sheikh where the unfair equivalence of Baluchistan with Kashmir was accepted.

Similarly, Communist insurgents have learned that they can offer ‘talks’ and ‘ceasefires’, use the respite to re-arm themselves, and then turned around and betray. There is no consequence to them for bad-faith behavior.

In other words, India’s negotiation skills are extremely poor. It is best to not expect any miracles from these palavers; if there are no major faux pas and blunders, the nation can consider itself lucky.

900 words, 23rd Feb 2010

a version of this was published by rediff at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/dec/08/column-rajeev-srinivasan-on-obamas-af-pak-plan.htm

Obama’s Af-Pak speech: America will declare victory and leave soon

Rajeev Srinivasan concludes the winners are China and Pakistan; India loses again

There is no doubt the US President Barack Obama had a difficult task to perform in making his long-awaited Afghanistan speech on Tuesday. There has been a clamor of different voices urging him to take every position from digging in for the long term all the way to an immediate withdrawal, and the only option Obama really had was to take a median position that would certainly disappoint large sections of his voters.

In a sense, the speech turned out to be a bit of a damp squib: it must be extremely unsatisfying to officer cadets at West Point to be told that their nation was effectively in a war it could not win. And that the only thing to do was to find a face-saving exit. Besides, it really didn’t say anything new other than the laying out of a time-frame for the exit. It was common knowledge all along that the Obama Af-Pak plan was simple: “surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell”.

The bribery plan has taken more concrete steps now. Hillary Clinton announced that there were ‘non-violent Taliban’ (isn’t that a contradiction in terms?), and therefore one has to presume the Americans are busy figuring out which are the ‘good Taliban’ (hint: those not attacking the Pakistani Army). These are the ones to bribe before the part about declaring victory loudly and heading for the exit.

One has to sympathize with Obama, who is in a bit of a spot. Two unwinnable wars are draining his treasury. The financial meltdown and related fallout has hit his economy hard. His hard-core supporters are wondering when he will deliver on his campaign rhetoric of change and hope, because so far there has been little change and not much hope. The fence-sitters are beginning to desert him, as the results of mid-term elections and opinion polls suggest. For someone who is in permanent campaign mode, this is altogether disturbing. The timing of the pullout from Afghanistan, naturally, is intended to give Obama sound-bites for the elections in 2012.

Afghanistan is, alas, looking more and more like Vietnam; even the blame game, where suddenly the Americans seem to have discovered that their hand-picked man, Hamid Karzai, is the fount of all corruption, is like Vietnam. The generals in Afghanistan are not filing enthusiastic and breathless forecasts like Westmoreland did in Vietnam, however: they are, perhaps because of  more widespread information, less optimistic and probably more realistic about what can be achieved.

The root cause of the problem in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq, is simple: the Americans are laboring mightily to ignore the elephant in the living room, Pakistan’s agenda. It is as clear as daylight to the casual observer that Pakistan has no interest whatsoever in bringing stability to Afghanistan, in preventing the Taliban from coming back to power there, or in capturing Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda operatives: and these are the alleged reasons why the Americans are in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has clearly articulated its pursuit of strategic depth which, for instance, involves having a Plan B even if its major cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, close to the Indian border, are obliterated in a possible Indian nuclear second strike (after Pakistan has wiped out Delhi and Mumbai in a first strike). They want to regroup from Afghanistan and continue their jihad against India from there.

The Taliban, of course, are Pakistani Army and ISI soldiers dressed in baggy pants and beards for the occasion. The fact that alleged seminary students (who the Taliban are supposed to be) suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes is indirect evidence that they were trained soldiers. Therefore, Taliban rule in Kabul means Pakistan has achieved it strategic depth. Clearly, they have no desire to fight or eliminate the Taliban, despite the fact that some factions (such as the one from the Mehsud tribe) have begun to inconvenience Pakistan through a campaign of suicide bombings. Dead Pakistani civilians are considered acceptable collateral damage by the ISI, but their attacks on the military apparatus is a big no-no. They are clearly ‘bad Taliban’, and will not get any share of the spoils.

The fact that the Americans condone Pakistani support for the Taliban was made most evident during the siege of Kunduz some years ago: see my old column: “What happened in Kunduz?” at http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/nov/30rajeev.htm It was evident to observers then that the massive airlift of besieged Taliban – allegedly hundreds of senior officers were rescued from the advancing Northern Alliance with the full knowledge of the CIA – was an effort to hide the evidence about ISI involvement with the Taliban. They allowed the alleged Taliban to escape to Islamabad and resume their day jobs as brigadiers and colonels in the Pakistani Army and the ISI. If the Northern Alliance, then in full cry, had been able to capture or liquidate these officers, it would have broken the backbone of the Taliban war effort.

A recent report from the US Senate accused the then-leaders of the war effort, Donald Rumsfeld and General Petraeus, of a signal failure in late 2001: apparently the Senate has found that it would have been entirely possible to capture Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains then, if only a large force of American troops had been deployed in search operations, instead of the few hundreds.

All this brings into sharp focus the nexus between the CIA and the ISI. (The more recent story of Daood Gilani alias David Chapman Headley, who may have done the reconnaissance in Mumbai for 11/26, also suggestions unholy connections between the two). There are some seriously opaque things going on between the Americans and the Pakistanis, and the billions paid by the Bush and Obama administration have vanished without a trace. (With their friend Robin Raphel now in charge of disbursing funds, the ISI must be breaking out the champagne – such incredible good luck!)

So long as the Americans are willing to subscribe to the fiction that Pakistanis are serious about fighting terrorism, there is no way that Pakistan can lose. As a result, the planned departure of the Americans in 2011 should be welcome news for Indians. Presumably, once they leave, as they did after the Soviet debacle in the 1980s, Americans will lose interest in Pakistan and cease to write them blank checks (which usually end up killing Indians).

However, as General McChrystal suggested recently, chances are that the US is going to lean on India to ‘make concessions on Kashmir’, to stop its humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and to close its consulates there. Pakistan has alleged that Indians are interfering in Baluchistan – which I hope they are, but it is unlikely: a former Prime Minister, in a burst of misplaced enthusiasm, gutted the RAW counter-intelligence operations there. The first sign of this pressure is already evident in the UPA government’s announcement of large troop withdrawals from J&K, leaving it to the local police, whose sympathies are not necessarily with the Indian nation.

The reality of American sentiment was demonstrated by Richard Holbrooke who held a cringing press conference to assure Pakistanis that there was no tilt towards India. Clearly in Afghan War 2.0, America is going to be ever more dependent on the tender mercies of the ISI. Obama concluded his speech with the mantra – regarding Pakistan – of “mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust.” The cynic in me thinks Obama better lock up the family silver, as he is deluding himself regarding Pakistan’s fundamentalist kleptocrats.

Besides, the exit timeline – even though it does not mean all troops leave then, and there has been a lot of ‘clarifications’ that even the date is not cast in stone – implies that the Americans have no stomach to fight on any longer in Afghanistan beyond 2011. This, in effect, means they have been defeated. The essence of military strategy is to demoralize the enemy by all means possible, and from that perspective Taliban psy-ops have won. This will be a significant morale-booster to the jihadis: they can legitimately claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. This will embolden their triumphalist attacks on US targets, and on India.

The Americans have a difficult choice, caught as they are with no really attractive options. Add to this Obama’s personal preferences, wherein his tendency is to be an internationalist, and to jaw-jaw where Bush may have gone for war-war. It is not clear that these are bad things per se, but it remains to be seen whether they are the right things for this war, or for the colder war against China. There is an element of ‘paralysis by analysis’, and some have begun to call Obama the ‘Great Ditherer’.

There is a worst case scenario: the possibility that, given the deadline of 18 months that Obama has outlined for the beginning of the exit, there will be a headlong and ignominious retreat from Kabul. I remember the photographs from Saigon in 1975 with the last helicopters taking off from the American embassy with people desperately hanging on. Vietnam scarred America’s soul, but Communism did not win, and the Domino Theory turned out to be wrong: communists are susceptible to the charms of the market.

The Afghan game is altogether different: it may crush America’s soul. If the jihadis gain sustenance from the American defeat there, there will be no respite: they will keep on attacking, as they are not easily distracted from their goal of global dominance, which they believe is within their grasp. Indeed they may be right, because there is a short window of opportunity when vast petro-dollars are at their disposal. The near-default of sovereign debt in Dubai shows that the petro-dollars may well be ephemeral, and that they had better strike when the iron is hot.

America is clearly suffering from imperial overreach. Not that America is a ruined country, but compared to the can-do and supremely confident nation it was a few years ago – the sole hyperpower proclaiming the end of history – it is suffering from serious self-doubt, and it is beginning to see the shadows of decline everywhere, even in its crowning glory, the civil engineering marvels that span the nation.

American’s involvement in Afghanistan, if it had been a whole-hearted war against the forces of terrorism, would have been positive for India. But given that it merely enriched the Pakistanis while retaining intact the entire infrastructure – both the ISI and the radicalized Army – the Afghan war has not really helped India. Indeed, the Northern Alliance – assuming that its tactical genius Ahmed Shah Massoud had not been assassinated – may well have driven the Taliban out or at least fought them to a standstill. In hindsight, the American intercession in Afghanistan has been a net negative for India.

As things stand, it now appears that it is better from India’s perspective for the Americans to leave. As usual, India is left to fight its own battles. Unfortunately, the two parties that will benefit the most from the American debacle in Afghanistan are India’s sworn enemies: China and Pakistan. China, because the loss is likely to turn America inward, and in any case they have now been convinced by Chinese bluster that there has to be a G-2. Pakistan, of course, is richer by some $25 billion some of which is in numbered accounts somewhere, and the rest in nuclear and other weapons pointed at India.

For China, the Vietnam analogy is apt again. There, a Chinese proxy defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, another Chinese proxy, Pakistan, may defeat America. In Korea, China fought America to a standstill. Score: China – 2.5, America – 0.5. No doubt this, along with Obama’s kowtowing in Beijing, will embolden further Chinese adventurism. India is already seeing the beginning of this, as Chinese are building 27 airstrips in occupied Tibet, and just ordered Indians to stop building a road in J&K, explaining that it was their territory.

Obama should learn from India’s experience: a vacillating, dithering and appeasing nation gets no respect from those who have a a clear long-term intent.

1720 words, Dec 2, 2009, updated Dec 4, 2009, 2050 words

A version of this was published by the Daily Pioneer on Dec 1. Here is the URL:


Mr Singh went to Washington, and all I got was this lousy biriyani

Rajeev Srinivasan

It is not clear why some are disappointed by the non-event of the Manmohan Singh visit to Washington. On the contrary, a sigh of relief is in order, as there was no major faux pas, which is customary when the PM and his Sancho Panzas sally forth abroad. No, the soporific, meaningless joint statement was better than the abject surrender of some major national interest, as in Havana 2006 and Sharm-al-Sheikh 2009.

It is mystifying exactly what was expected, anyway, from the First State Visit to Obama’s Camelot (Obamelot?). The First State Visit is just a diplomatic air-kiss. The best metaphor for it was the fact that the dinner was gate-crashed by a couple named Michelle and Tareq Salehi, a blonde in a bright-red, diaphanous sari-like concoction, and a tuxedo-clad (one assumes) Arab. That these people waltzed right past the massive security, and even got photo-ops with the Obamas and the Veep, would be appalling, if it weren’t comical. So it has come to this – the Federal Bureau of Investigation reincarnated as the Keystone Cops. Or maybe it just shows the level of attention and due diligence the Obamistas paid to the Manmohan First State Visit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mr. Singh goes to Washington

November 24, 2009

a version of this appeared on rediff at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/nov/24/rajeev-srinivasan-on-prime-minister-singhs-visit.htm

Mr. Singh goes to Washington

Rajeev Srinivasan on why he fears the ‘state visit’ may be disastrous

In the old black-and-white Frank Capra film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” an idealistic small-town man played by James Stewart is elected to the US Congress, where he is appalled by corrupt politics; but in the end his innocence wins over the blasé denizens of the capital. In a sense, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to the US in the near future is being portrayed in the same way, but the Indian is neither as idealistic nor as naïve as the Jimmy Stuart character, nor is there likely to be a happy ending.

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Published by rediff at  http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/mar/10/guest-not-cricket-just-the-isi-gaining-strategic-depth.htm

Not cricket, just the ISI gaining strategic depth

Rajeev Srinivasan

Sri Lankan cricketers were shot at, and injured, by a group of young men in Lahore. Meanwhile, the Pakistani state signed a treaty with a fundamentalist group in the Swat region to impose sharia on the area. The real ruling power in Pakistan, the spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), is putting on a bit of a show in the first instance, and erasing the Durand Line (which anyway expired in 1993 according to the 100-year-old Afghan-British treaty) in the second instance.

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rediff published this with some fairly significant edits at http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/dec/08mumterror-are-we-heading-to-being-a-failed-state.htm — to some extent the piece was rendered toothless — and so here is the original copy I sent them.

Towards a failed State – Ghori, Jaichand and friends redux

Rajeev Srinivasan on the attack on Mumbai

The invasion of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists – and undoubtedly local collaborators – is but a replay of times past: the periodic and predictable arrival of barbarians over the Khyber Pass, laying waste to the countryside, and wreaking untold damage on a long-suffering populace. The only crime that the average Indian committed was to focus on the creation of wealth; of course, the barbarians came because of the wealth. Today, once again, India is generating capital, and the intention is to thwart its economic rise.

Then, as now, the rulers failed the populace. There is an implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled: you pay the taxes, obey the rules, and we ensure that your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are unhindered. India’s ruling class failed signally to honor this contract – they never did figure out that the simple expedient of defending the Khyber and Bolan passes would be enough to save the plains, because Nature had been kind enough to build the impregnable Himalayas all around India.

I have never got a satisfactory answer to the question as to why we didn’t build the Great Wall of India. The Chinese built a 1,500-mile wall; Indians could surely have built a 15-mile wall and kept the marauders out. But there was clearly a failure in leadership and in strategic thinking. Time after time, the barbarians would pour in through the passes, march to Panipat or Tarain, and there, in a desperate last-ditch battle, the Indians would lose, again and again. The result: disaster.

Furthermore, there were traitors in-house, too. They would collude with the invaders to the detriment of their fellow-Indians. Jaichand, during the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 CE, turned the tide of the battle by allying with Mahmud of Ghori against Prithviraj Chauhan, with the result that Northern India suffered 700 years of Mohammedan tyranny – it was a clear tipping point. Or take the battle of Talikota that ended the magnificient Vijayanagar empire: it was their own troops that betrayed them.

Fast forward to today. India is under withering attack on all fronts. To the east, there is the demographic invasion by Bangladeshis, including unhindered infiltration by terrorist elements. The entire Northeast is in danger of secession, given both the narrow and hard-to-defend Chicken’s Neck that connects the area to the Gangetic plain, as well as the Christian fundamentalism and terrorism that is on the verge of turning into a move to secede on religious and ethnic grounds, a la East Timor.

The northern frontier is restive, with Nepal, a former ally and buffer state transformed into hostile territory, with its porous borders turned into a way of infiltrating Mohammedan terrorists and Communist terrorists into India, with the declared intent of capturing the “Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor”, in other words, most of the eastern half of the country.

China is making increasingly belligerent noises about Tawang and all of Arunachal Pradesh. They are gambling that, despite the summit that just took place in Dharmasala, the steam has gone out of the Tibetan resistance movement. They have been emboldened by the fact that Tibetans were not able to disrupt the Olympics, and the more immediate betrayal by the British (International Herald Tribune, “Did Britain Just Sell Tibet?” http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/25/opinion/edbarnet.php) , who declared, contrary to all the historical evidence, that Tibet was always a part of China. Besides, the Chinese fully intend to move forward with the diversion of the Brahmaputra, which is in effect a declaration of war against the lower riparian State, India.

It is likely that the Chinese will march into Tawang – there is a lot of chatter in Chinese circles (see, an analysis by D S Rajan at the Chennai Center for China Studies http://www.c3sindia.org/strategicissues/419) about a “limited India-China war”, a replay of 1962. The Chinese have, in addition to pure geopolitics, another reason to do this, as was pointed out by strategy expert Brahma Chellaney – as in the years preceding 1962, the world is now once again hyphenating India and China. By handing India a sharp conventional military defeat, China would like that hyphenation to be removed decisively, as it surely would be. India will once again be seen as the loser it has been during the entire 1947-2000 period.

In the Northwest, Kashmir burns. The population clearly views India as a colony – they want Indian money, but they are not willing to make the slightest concessions to Hindu sentiments. It is very convenient for them to have the cake and eat it too – there is the little-known fact that J&K has practically nobody under the poverty line (2% and falling), as compared to the average of some 20% in the country as a whole. Kashmiris have prospered mightily despite – or is it because of? – the brutal ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Pundits now languishing in refugee camps.

In the traditionally quiet Peninsula, there is evidence of tremendous terrorist activity. In Kerala, it has been reported widely in the Malayalam media that 300 youths have been hired, trained and dispatched to Kashmir with explicit instructions – kill Indian soldiers and support Pakistani intrusions. Terrorism is just another job. Sleeper cells exist in every town, sometimes in the guise of “Kashmiri emporia”. The Konkan and Malabar coasts are dotted with safe harbors, where weapons, counterfeit currency and contraband are cached. The preferred mechanism – bomb blasts to inflict maximum damage. Logistics, safe houses, surveillance, forged documents, etc. are provided by a wide network.

In the tribal lands of central India, the Northeast and in Orissa, Christian terrorists are joining hands with Communist terrorists. In fact they often are one and the same, as confessed by an alleged Communist leader on TV. Their preferred weapon – liquidation of inconvenient people, as they did in the case of Swami Lakshmananda, the 84-year-old monk that they attacked with AK-47s.

The fact is that all these threats are overwhelming the security apparatus in the country, such as it is. It is quite likely that the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing and the Anti-Terrorism Squad had some inkling of something big being planned, including the movement of small arms on the Ratnagiri coastline, and the logistics-related activities of known suspects. It is unclear why they didn’t take preventive action.

There is a terrifying possibility – that they in fact had no idea this was going on. There is an aphorism that you cannot stop all terrorist activity, but in India the situation is such that no terrorist activity is stopped – they strike at will, and the populace is left to pick up the pieces of broken lives. This is no way to run a country.

The frightening possibility is that the Jaichands have in fact taken over the State. In which case, we can anticipate the total dismemberment of India – possibly preceded by an interregnum where it is failed State – in the near future.

There is one other possibility – that the Army will have to take over. It is a remote possibility, for two reasons – the Indian Army has been determinedly apolitical; and the State has continually striven to weaken it. Someone once made the ridiculous statement that India really didn’t need an army, only a police force, and it appears the entire political class and bureaucracy have internalized this slogan.

See also http://in.rediff.com/news/2002/nov/19rajeev.htm

From 1962 – as always, on November 18th I silently saluted the martyrs of the Battle of Rezang-La, where C Company, 13th Kumaon died heroically to the last man – when the ill-equipped troops froze to death on the Himalayan heights, to the refusal to increase military salaries when the bureaucrats awarded themselves 300% increases recently, the State has told the military that it doesn’t value them. All the Services are starved of funds. The recent open attack on Lt. Col. Purohit is another signal that the State despises the military . As Ashok Malik pointed out in the Pioneer (“A Hindu Dreyfus Affair?” http://www.dailypioneer.com/135567/A-Hindu-Dreyfus-Affair.html ), this is a near-repeat of the celebrated Dreyfus case in France, and alas, we have no Emile Zola to cry “J’accuse!” .

See also http://indiaabroad.com/news/1998/jul/23rajeev.htm

One possible outcome is that the Indian military forces will gradually wither away and die, thus making the statement about India not needing an army a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is another possibility – that of a military coup d’etat. Normally, the prospect of a military takeover – given that they all end up badly – from a democracy is not something one would welcome. But then India is not a democracy – it is a kakistocracy, rule by the very worst possible people – which has the trappings of a democracy but not the substance, so I wonder if military rule could possibly be any worse.

But the chances are getting increasingly good that the Indian State will collapse, just like Pakistan already has. A recent risk assessment by the World Economic Forum and CII (“India@Risk 2008”) considers the economic, energy, food/agriculture and national security that face India. The report is more concerned about the first three items, assuming that India is secure enough as a nation.

I hope they are right, but this invasion of Mumbai – so daring and audacious – makes me wonder. I have considered a nightmare scenario of Chinese battleships arriving in triumph at the Gateway of India, to be welcomed with marigold garlands by the Jaichands, but I have to admit I never thought a motley crew of Pakistani terrorists would invade. The very future of the Indian State, suddenly, is in question. And it is mostly from self-inflicted, avoidable wounds. The failure of leadership is causing India to cease to exist.

Published by rediff.com on 8th Sept 2008 at http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/sep/08rajeev.htm

We have energy security in our time. Praise the Lord!

Rajeev Srinivasan on the misinformation campaign about the nuclear deal

There have been hosannas and hallelujahs aplenty about the fact that the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group has decided to provide a waiver of sorts to India. The fine print is yet to be deciphered, but already the usual suspects are taking credit for having brought about “energy security in our time”.

I am reminded of Neville Chamberlain, a British prime minister (his other claim to fame was his ever-present umbrella) returning to the UK from a conclave in Munich, where he had participated in appeasing Germany by giving away the Sudetenland. Chamberlain said:

“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time…
Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

He said this on September 30th, 1938. Alas for him, on September 1st, 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and two days later, Britain declared war on Germany. Famous last words, indeed.

But I am being unfair to poor Chamberlain. He honestly believed that he had achieved something for his country. Not so with the bigwigs of the UPA. It has been abundantly clear for a very long time that the so-called nuclear deal stinks to high heaven, and that interests wholly unrelated to India’s energy needs are driving it. The UPA knows what they are getting into, and they have been lying continuously to the Indian people.

It would be unseemly for me to name names (not to mention unwise, given the propensity of the UPA to cry ‘libel’ at the drop of a hat – fortunately, a New Jersey court just threw out a wholly frivolous case filed by overseas acolytes of the UPA, who I do hope will get slapped with large punitive damages), but circumstantial evidence suggests that Jaswant Singh was not far off the mark when he talked about American ‘moles’ high up in the Indian government.

The confidential letter from the US State Department to the House Foreign Relations Committee, as publicized by Rep. Howard Berman, is refreshingly candid about the real facts behind the deal: to use pithy Americanisms, the Indians are being taken to the cleaners. Being sold a bill of goods. Led to the slaughter. Being totally sold snake-oil, with the active connivance of their leaders.

Perhaps the apt historical analogy is not Chamberlain, but the East India Company. Or better yet, the capitulation to China over Tibet. India gave away its substantial treaty rights in Tibet to China in return for… vague promises of brotherhood. Here India is giving away its hard-won nuclear deterrent, the one thing that prevents the Chinese from running rampant in Asia, in return for… honeyed words from the Americans about strategic partnership!

I exaggerate, of course. There must be more. Nehru, being naive, believed in the bhai-bhai thing with China. But today’s leaders are hard-boiled, and are doing this for other, very good reasons. What these reasons are, we shall never know, notwithstanding the Right To Information Act. The Indian government is extremely good at obfuscation.

What is being celebrated as a Great Victory (over what I am not sure) at the NSG is a little puzzling. I hate to be the little boy who asked about the Emperor’s new clothes, but what exactly is India getting? After all the huffing and puffing, India has now been granted the privilege of spending enormous amounts of money – absolute billions – to buy nuclear fission reactors and uranium? This is a good thing? Let us remember that the NSG was set up in 1974 as a secret cabal to punish India for its first nuclear test.

There is an old proverb in Malayalam about spending good money to buy a dog that then proceeds to bite you. India is now going to spend at least $50 billion to buy all these dangerous fission reactors from the US and France and Japan, only to be left with the possibility of Australians and Americans holding the Damocles’ Sword of disruptions in uranium supplies over us? This is better than being held hostage by OPEC over fossil fuels?

And if all goes well, India will be left holding the bag for mountains of extremely dangerous and long-lived (10,000 years, say) radioactive waste, which we will not be allowed to reprocess lest we extract something useful out of it. Of course all the reactors and the radioactive waste must be making our friendly neighborhood terrorists rub their hands with glee in anticipation. Did I mention something about giving someone a stick to beat you with?

I think it should be obvious by now that India has been coerced into de facto accession to the NPT, the CTBT, the FMCT, and all the other alphabet-soup treaties that were set up to keep India muzzled. America’s non-proliferation ayatollahs, barring a last-minute reprieve like the US Congress voting down the 123 Agreement (I am tempted to chant “Berman saranam, Markey saranam”, etc.) have accomplished ‘cap, rollback, and eliminate’.

The letter leaked by Berman, as well as the fact that Article 2 of the 123 Agreement explicitly states that “national laws” (read: the Hyde Amendment, with the clever little Barack Obama Amendment – yes, Virginia, Obama did get his fingers into this pie too) govern the 123 Agreement, clarify that India is at the mercy of any US administration that sees fit to unilaterally abrogate the thing. Remember Tarapur? There was a similar little artifice of domestic legislation that was used by the US to weasel out of a binding international treaty. The 123 Agreement is really not worth the paper it’s written on.

Let us note that of the other hold-outs to the NPT, nobody is putting any pressure on Israel to sign anything, and they are getting all the fuel they need from sugar-daddy America; and Pakistan gets everything, including their bombs and their missiles, from their main squeeze China, while minor sugar-daddy America beams indulgently.

The sad part is that none of this does a thing for the only issue that matters, India’s energy security. While the rest of the world has, rightly, looked upon the nuclear deal as a non-proliferation issue, the propaganda experts and spin-meisters in India have sold it to the gullible public as a way of gaining energy independence. Alas, this is not true at all.

Here are a few facts about energy. I am indebted to, among others, the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (STEP) in Bangalore for this information.

Present world energy use: 15 terawatt-years per year

Potential availability of energy from different sources (in terawatt-years) [Source: Harvard]

  • Oil and Gas: 3000
  • Coal: 5000
  • Uranium (conventional reactors): 2000
  • Uranium (breeder reactors): 2,000,000
  • Solar: 30,000 (per year)

Do note that last two numbers. One, solar energy accessible per year far exceeds the sum total energy available from fossil fuels and uranium-fission reactors in toto, ie. by completely exhausting all known oil and gas and uranium. Two, breeder reactors can leverage thorium (turned into uranium-233) endlessly by creating more fuel than is exhausted, but the technology will take time.

Now, take a look at the amount of energy India generates, and how it is used up [Source: CSTEP and Lawrence Livermore Labs]

Total consumption: 5,721 billion kwh, of which:

  • Lost energy: 3,257 billion kwh
  • Useful energy: 2,364 billion kwh

Generation is from:

  • Hydro: 84
  • Wind: 5
  • Solar: 0
  • Nuclear: 58
  • Bio-fuels: 1682
  • Coal: 1852
  • Natural Gas: 225
  • Petroleum: 1645

Usage is by:

  • Unaccounted electricity: 99
  • Agriculture: 301
  • Residential: 1511
  • Commercial: 132
  • Industrial: 1548
  • Light Vehicles: 132
  • Heavy Vehicles: 330
  • Aircraft: 65
  • Railways: 43

I believe the data is for 2005. What is startling is the enormous amount of wasted energy: more than the amount of useful energy. Besides, unaccounted for electricity is almost the same as the amount of energy used up by all air and railroad traffic in India! Thus, the very first thing that can pay huge dividends would be to get better accounting for energy use and to reduce wastage (as for example due to traffic congestion in cities).

Consider the capital costs of various types of energy: [Source: CSTEP]

  • Natural Gas: $600/kW with 4-10cents/kWh in fuel costs
    • Plus cost of pipelines and LNG terminals
  • Wind: $1200/kW
    • Plus cost of transmission lines from windy regions
  • Hydro: n/a
  • Biomass: n/a
  • Coal: $1135/kW and 4c/kWh in fuel costs
    • With CO2 cleanup: $2601/kW and 22c/kWh in fuel costs
    • Plus cost of railroads and other infrastructure
  • Solar Thermal: $4000/kW
  • Solar Photovoltaic: $6000/kW
  • Nuclear Fission: $3000/kW and 8c/kWh in fuel costs
    • Plus cost of radioactive waste disposal
    • [Source: World Nuclear Association, “The Economics of Nuclear Power”]

It can be seen that the cost of nuclear power is very high, even if the costs of waste management are discounted: and this number is from the cheer-leaders of nuclear energy. In addition, there has to be a substantial risk premium for the fact that the raw material is in short supply and is under the control of a cartel. A “uranium shock” can be far more painful than the recent oil-shock, because it will simply mean the shuttering of a lot of the expensive plants acquired at extortionate prices.

All things considered, including the environmental impact and the carbon footprint, solar is the most sensible route for India. The capital costs for solar will come down significantly as new thin-film technology reduces the manufacturing cost, and conversion efficiency rises – 40% has been accomplished in the lab. Besides, if you look at the fully loaded cost, that is taking into account the gigantic public outlay already incurred for fossil fuels (as an example, there is a pipeline running 20 km out to sea at Cochin Refineries so that large tankers can deliver oil without coming close to shore), solar is currently not very overpriced.

And of course, you cannot beat the price of fuel: free, no need to get any certificates from the NSG, available in plenty for at least 300 days of the year. If large solar farms are set up in a few places (they may be 10km x 10km in size, and surely this can be put up in arid areas like the Thar Desert), then solar energy is likely to be attractive. Besides, there will be economies of scale in manufacturing once demand is seeded by subsidies and tax breaks. Large-scale solar plants are becoming a reality: two giant solar farms, totally 880 MW, have just been approved by Pacific Gas and Electric in California: this is a huge step considering the largest solar plant in the US now is just 14 MW.

In addition, there are technological breakthroughs just around the corner in solar energy, as venture money is flowing into alternative energy. If only India were to invest in solar research and subsidies the billions that the UPA wants to spend on imported white elephant fission technology, India will truly gain energy independence.

The entire nuclear deal is a red-herring and a diversion. It is a colossal blunder; and when this is coming at such an enormous cost – loss of the independent nuclear deterrent and intrusive inspection of the nuclear setup, which happy proliferator China is not subject to – this is perhaps the worst act any government has taken since independence. The UPA is subjecting India to colonialism. The beneficiaries are China, Pakistan, and the US.

This deal may well mark the tipping point that causes India to collapse: without a nuclear deterrent, India is a sitting duck for Chinese blackmail including the proposed diversion of the Brahmaputra, for Pakistani-fomented insurrections, and Bangladeshi demographic invasion. India must be the very first large State in history that has consciously and voluntarily decided to dismantle itself.

Comments welcome at my blog at https://rajeev2007.wordpress.com

2000 words, September 6, 2008

Who lost India?

July 21, 2008

Who lost India?

By Rajeev Srinivasan

podcast at http://rajeev.posterous.com/podcast-of-who-lost-india-arti

One of these days, the New York Times will run a story titled “Who lost India?” Pundits will pontificate about what caused India to be irretrievably ‘lost’ – that is, it no longer functions as a viable and friendly ally of the West, particularly of America. Though they would deny it, the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement currently being shoved down India’s throat would have been the tipping point that did India in.

Given the parlous security situation in the neighborhood, as well as the various separatist movements gaining strength from external sources, this may well be the first step in the unraveling of India. That would be a disaster not only for India and Indians, but also for America, because India is just about the only friend it has in that giant arc from East Africa to Southeast Asia, full of failed and failing states. Adding India to that list is not going to help anyone.

What is not known to most Americans is the extraordinary goodwill that ordinary Indians have towards America. At a time when the US is regularly pilloried as anywhere between monstrous and appalling by large numbers of people, India is the country where the average person on the street has the most positive perception of America. A Pew Trust survey on global attitudes in 2006 showed this: Indians were the most pro-American, far more so than Chinese, Saudi Arabians, and Pakistanis, to pick a few American allies.

Perhaps that’s not such a big deal to Americans accustomed to basking in the sunshine of admiration and envy from all quarters, based on both hard and soft power. But consider this: India, with all its problems, is no banana republic. According to the widely followed reports from Goldman Sachs, India may well overtake the US as the world’s second largest economy by 2050.

Besides, odd as it might sound when you hear it for the first time, India is a lot like America. That is my gut feel after having spent half my life in India and the other half in America. There are many similarities, but the most striking one is the openness and friendliness of the people. Whatever you may think of their respective governments, it is a fact that the people of America and of India are warm, friendly and hospitable. This carries over into many things: plurality, tolerance for different ideas, innovativeness.

In fact, I’d be so bold as to claim that India’s core competencies are quite like America’s: fertile land, soft power, innovation. What India has lacked is the financial resources of a vast virgin continent and what’s been termed ‘strategic intent’ by management guru C K Prahalad – the ability to imagine itself as Numero Uno, and to act accordingly.

There are historic reasons to believe that superpowerdom for India is not a wet-dream. India was, throughout most of recorded history, the richest country in the world, astonishing as this may seem. According to economic historian Angus Maddison, India was the world’s largest economy from 0 CE to 1500 CE; China was its competitor towards the end of that period. Then the land was ravaged by colonialism, which destroyed many of the wealth-generating systems that had emerged over millennia, notably the innovative small businesses in textiles and light engineering goods.

Indian prowess in intellectual property is not given due credit: some of the greatest inventions in history came from there, including the Indian numeral system, the cornerstone of all mathematics; the context-free grammar of Panini from 500 BCE, which underlies all computing; the infinite series of Madhava from 1300 CE, which provides the underpinnings of the differential calculus and thus of the Industrial Revolution.

But these are in the past, one might say. What has India done lately? That is fair criticism. I am forced to ask you to take it on faith that, just as India appeared out of the blue in high-technology, it has the intellectual capability to be a partner in the knowledge economy of tomorrow. Sociologist Joel Kotkin remarked that “engineering is the oil of the 21st century”; and that is what Indians are strong at.

There are the ingredients, then, of a successful rapprochement between India and the US. Why hasn’t this worked for so long? There are many who share the blame; some of it can be attributed to the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the Nehru dynasty which lectured the US and propped up the comical non-aligned movement. America’s explicit support of Pakistan has also been an irritant; so has the derision made most explicit in the Nixon Tapes.

Those days are past, though, and there are the glimmerings of a beautiful relationship. But the so-called Nuclear Deal has the potential to be a huge thorn in the flesh. The deal is a bad one. It is such a bad deal for India, and it is being railroaded through with such deceit and opaqueness by the Manmohan Singh administration, that it will almost certainly be revoked unilaterally by a future Indian government. Given the contours of the IAEA agreement, this will invite serious punitive sanctions on India.

The problem is that India is being sold a bill of goods. The deal is being sold to Indians as a guarantee of energy security and a harbinger of close co-operation with America. But it is obvious that this is neither; it is about non-proliferation, and about the bringing to heel of the one big nation that has challenged the apparently divinely mandated monopoly the P-5 have arrogated to themselves.

There has been a full-court press on India to accept the deal as the best and last deal India will ever get. This in itself is laughable, not to mention the assurances from many American worthies that this deal is “good for India” – as though they cared about India’s interests. It is clear that the champions of “cap, rollback and eliminate” who have lingered in Foggy Bottom through the Clinton and Bush administrations has now figured out, via a pliant Indian government, how to get the deed signed and delivered.

India is being conned into signing the NPT as a non-weapons-state, with no guarantee that anybody will supply uranium for the obsolete fission reactors India will buy at, undoubtedly, vastly inflated prices. India would be far better off investing its billions in emerging energy technologies, most notably solar, which is on the verge of a breakthrough. And India is nothing if not rich in sunshine. To give up its nuclear deterrent in the pursuit of a vague fission-based energy security is totally quixotic.

There really is no energy security in the proposed treaty. The version of the agreement that has been made public:

  • Does not give India any unique status, but is identical to the agreement with non-nuclear weapons states; thus India is treated on par with rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea
  • Does not guarantee fuel supply, but guarantees perpetual IAEA inspections
  • Does conform to US domestic legislation like the Hyde Act
  • Does not allow India, unlike the P-5, to unilaterally withdraw its facilities from intrusive inspections
  • Does not specify what “corrective steps”, if any, India may take in case of supply disruptions; to wit, there are no corrective steps

The net result of all this is that India will lose its strategic independence in terms of seeking a credible deterrent. Losing its small nuclear arsenal is not an option for India, which is threatened by two bellicose nuclear-armed neighbors: China and Pakistan. China has proliferated nukes and missiles to Pakistan. And Pakistan’s A Q Khan and his nuclear Wal-Mart, proliferating to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, are well-known.

Being unable to deter China in its adventurism, India will not also be able to adequately deter its proxies Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. The result of this is could even be an extinction of the India nation, as Bangladesh pursues lebensraum and detaches India’s Northeast as its fiefdom, China pursues the diversion of the Brahmaputra, Pakistan pursues the death by a thousand cuts, and Nepal’s newly emboldened communists pursue their Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor.

This is no way to treat a partner and an ally. In the long run, the US faces China, an implacable and ruthless foe. To subjugate the one nation in Asia that can match and counteract China, just to satisfy a bunch of non-proliferation fundamentalist Cold Warriors, and for the benefit of GE and Westinghouse, is plain folly. I don’t think America wants to lose India.

Rajeev Srinivasan considers San Francisco and Kerala his two homes.

1400 words, July 13, 2008

Published on rediff as http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/jul/22rajeev.htm

Oh tangled web: a conspiracy behind the Nuclear Agreement?

Rajeev Srinivasan remains skeptical of the much-ballyhooed Indo-US deal

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
– Sir Walter Scott

It is worth asking once again whether the Indo-US nuclear deal is beneficial to India. Not being a subject-matter expert on the minutiae of the IAEA agreement, I read the published views of a many commentators. It appears that the verbiage is so ambiguous that it has not changed anyone’s minds: those who opposed the deal before have not been convinced that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread; those who liked it before continue to like it.

It appears to me, based on the above, that the agreement:

  • Does not give India any unique status, but is identical to the agreement with non-nuclear weapons states, and quite different from one with the P-5
  • Does not guarantee fuel supply, but guarantees perpetual IAEA inspections
  • Does conform to US domestic legislation like the Hyde Act
  • Does not allow India, unlike the P-5, to unilaterally withdraw its facilities from intrusive inspections
  • Does not specify what “corrective steps”, if any, India may take in case of supply disruptions; to wit, there are no corrective steps

None of these is desirable. These justify my concerns about this exercise as expressed in several previous columns: The deal that refuses to die, http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/apr/23rajeev.htm , That hoax called non-proliferation, http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/oct/12rajeev.htm , Bushwhacked: Why the nuclear deal is (still) a bad idea, http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/apr/06rajeev.htm , That Obscure Object of Desire: Nuclear Energy


It is useful to remember what the deal is supposed to be all about from the Indian point of view: it is about one tangible outcome – the acquisition of energy security; and about one intangible outcome – the cooperation and support of the US in making India a major strategic power. However, it is not clear that either of these outcomes is a given. There are no guarantees being given by anybody that they will ensure the supply of uranium to India in perpetuity in exchange for India opening up its civilian facilities to intrusive inspections by the IAEA. And the US is certainly not giving India the status of one of its close allies, like those in NATO.

Therefore, it appears that the agreement is all about satisfying the American point of view – which is almost entirely about non-proliferation, and about bringing India under the ambit of a number of treaties. It is strictly about India signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, which leads to what American non-proliferation fundamentalists have been pushing all along: “cap, rollback, and eliminate”.

In addition, India is also signing the CTBT through the back door, possibly the FMCT, and putting many of its facilities under intrusive inspections by the IAEA (the same IAEA, we note in passing, that conveniently reported that Iraq had nuclear weapons.)

The problem with all this is that, far from assuring India’s energy security and helping it become a top-notch military power, this agreement merely guarantees that India will be a sitting duck for Chinese and Pakistani nuclear blackmail. This may have disastrous consequences.

Being unable to deter China in its adventurism, India will not also be able to adequately deter its proxies Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. The result of this is could even be a extinction of the India nation, as Bangladesh pursues its lebensraum, China pursues the diversion of the Brahmaputra, Pakistan pursues the death by a thousand cuts, and Nepal’s newly emboldened communists pursue their Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor.

It is unclear why the Americans are going along with this agenda, except that they may still be suffering from Cold-war-itis. The Americans are obviously considering this a coup for themselves, and I speculate they have several objectives, none of which is good for India:

  1. mercantilist: to support companies like GE and Westinghouse (http://www.rediff.com/money/2008/jul/21bweek.htm) which will benefit from the sales of reactors
  2. strategic: to keep India militarily weak as a precursor to prying loose the Northeast in an operation similar to how East Timor was detached from Indonesia
  3. tactical: to ensure that India continues to be as dependent on uranium suppliers as it has been on oil suppliers, which means outsiders have their hand on India’s jugular, and the spigot can be turned on or off to keep India docile and obedient
  4. just plain opportunistic: to strike while the iron is hot, while their good friend controls the Indian government

The fact that the Americans are up to no good is evident from the heavy-duty pressure tactics they have been up to, including the snake-oil-salesman techniques bordering on a “protection racket” a la the late lamented Al Capone – something you would see in a film-noir with its betrayals and double-crossings: I am reminded specifically of the brilliant Chinatown, where an unsuspecting Owens Valley is relieved of all its water. India is similarly being relieved of its right to protect itself.

And what is China’s angle in all this? An India defanged as a forever inferior non-nuclear State is good news for China, as it can pursue unfettered imperialism in Asia. In that case why have China’s proxies, India’s Communists, been so loud in their opposition to the deal? Maybe China has only been pretending to oppose the deal as a rhetorical ploy?

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I am beginning to wonder if this isn’t a great example of collusion between the US and China. If so, the two have played the Good Cop-Bad Cop routine to perfection. At the end of the day, India would have been hoodwinked into permanently giving up any hope of escaping from banana-republic-dom. This is a Himalayan blunder for India, but just perfect for the US and China.

The Chinese made all the proper noises about how they hated the deal, and their acolytes the Communists were strident in their opposition to it. To their credit, they did not mince words: they said it would hurt China. This convinced many in India who subscribe to the axiom that anything the Communists like is bad for India; conversely, something they dislike must be good for India. Only, in this case the truism didn’t hold good, but Indians, Pavlovian-fashion, rushed in, to mix metaphors wildly.

Besides, the mega-propaganda campaign unleashed by the UPA recently has been a great success. There is no news about inflation; nor about terrorists continuing to lob grenades at Amarnath pilgrims http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gZI3q6edKoFk9v5vUpHNPoc3-KSw ; or anything else at all, other than the unseemly circus in Parliament. Tremendous diversionary tactics, indeed!

The net result is that the Americans (and possibly the Chinese) have pulled off a coup. It’s Tibet redux: India gave away its substantial treaty rights in Tibet to China in return for absolutely nothing, prodded by an imperious prime minister. A member of his dynasty has now engineered the giving away of India’s strategic independence in return for nothing. India is being sold a bill of goods. Yet again.

For once, Marx was right: history is repeating itself, once as tragedy, next as farce.

1180 words, 21st July 2008

Any comments on http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/nov/05rajeev.htm can be posted here.

Democracy, subcontinent-ishtyle


Rajeev Srinivasan on what passes for democracy in these parts


I hear that General Musharraf has won the post of Pakistan’s President in a landslide victory. I haven’t followed the Musharraf extravaganza closely, I must admit, because I am not obsessed with Pakistan. Despite its being a serious nuisance, I don’t think Pakistan matters. It is a failing State with no self-image, or reason for existence, other than being ‘not-India’. They exhibit this periodically by destroying yet another bit of Indian civilization, most recently by blowing up a three-meter-high 7th century CE Buddha in Swat http://www.thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=10395


So it is immaterial if Musharraf remains in power or not, given the history of Pakistan’s civilian rulers (e.g. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who famously promised to even “eat grass” to get his country nuclear weapons). I am not enthused about Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto. I am reminded of Salman Rushdie’s cutting portrayal of Benazir Bhutto (he called her character “Virgin Ironpants”) in what may be his most insightful book, the under-appreciated “Shame”, about the absurdity of Pakistan.


Sharif was dour and the ISI kept him in the dark about what was really going on. Benazir, on the other hand, has always been colorful. Charming and shrill by turns, she ran circles around the pallid and stuffy old men in Delhi last time around, and they would be no match for her if she comes back to power again.


It is even possible that Musharraf is better from an Indian perspective than these mercurial civilian characters. Musharraf is a dependable, single-minded, and known, villain. Besides, Musharraf he has done a great deal for his country under trying circumstances. He has run with the hare (the Taliban) and hunted with the hound (the Americans) in a breath-taking display of sleight-of-hand. He has managed to turn a serious situation (Richard Armitage threatening to bomb Pakistan “into the Stone Age” after 9/11) into a cornucopia of American and Saudi largesse.


This is much more than can be said of India’s ruling politicians. None of them has done anything for India so far as I can see. Anything positive that happens in India is despite the so-called leaders: wherever they have ceased to interfere, Indians have done well. There is a clear ‘Leadership Penalty’ which is a continuing variant of what I once called the ‘Nehruvian Penalty’ http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/jan/14rajeev.htm . For the latest example of pork-barrel politics, see the BBC’s September 26 report “India job scheme ‘disappointing’” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7005985.stm on how the much-ballyhooed rural employment scheme is a huge waste of money.


India suffers mightily from lousy leadership. A strutting Musharraf, short-sighted and tactical commando though he might be, is doing far more in his national interest than the politicians in India are in theirs. So maybe Musharraf deserved to win his election. After all, who are his biggest opponents? Lawyers! Surely Shakespeare had a point when he suggested, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. (Note to the humor-impaired: I am not suggesting any violence, merely quoting the bard.)


Or maybe Musharraf used some good old strong-arm tactics. Perhaps he pulled out more of that make-believe stuff that he has copyrighted (see my column “Musharraf’s Theater of the Absurd” http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/jul/10rajeev.htm ). Anyway, I guess we may be in for some more years of Musharraf. India’s journalists must be pleased, especially the guy who promised Musharraf a few years ago that he and his fellow journalists would deliver a government in India that would be to Musharraf’s liking.


Over in Dhaka, the military rulers are still rather popular, as they have put an end to the Two-Begum Circus. Both of them were extremely corrupt, and in the case of Begum Zia, a fundamentalist bigot. Being rid of two such characters is, not surprisingly, a relief to the person on the street.


In Nepal, the Communists are carrying on with their usual little charades: pretending to be interested in elections, just so they can buy time to build up their armed power to eventually take over, line up their opponents and shoot them, just as all Communists have done whenever they came to power anywhere.


Now let’s move to that other stronghold of democracy in the Indian subcontinent, Bangalore. If Musharraf is a Three-Ring Barnum and Bailey Circus, namma own Deve Gowde is a most innovative Cirque du Soleil. The man is brilliant at coming up with new and unusual excuses for not vacating the chair. I particularly admire his chutzpah and epidermal fortitude. Most rhinoceroses would be put to shame.


The fact, to not put too fine a point on it, is that the JD(S) simply reneged on its agreement with its coalition partner, which they had done previously too. There must have been a number of calculations behind this behavior – and I can only conjecture about them. One is that Deve Gowda expected to get into an alliance with the Congress and continue to rule Karnataka. Another is that he expects to do well in a mid-term poll.


The third is that Deve Gowda is merely thumbing his nose at the BJP, telling them in so many words that they are paper tigers who can be betrayed at will. This should be cause for concern for the BJP, for such a perception, if it is widespread, spells ruin for it in various elections to come, including a possible national general election.


The final, and most damaging, possibility is that Deve Gowda expects that there will be no negative consequences to his actions because the public is an ass. Such a person who cavalierly abandons any commitment expects to brazenly go to the hustings and make promises galore. This implies complete contempt for the intelligence, not to speak of the memory, of the masses. This level of derision is a very poor advertisement for the peculiar animal known as ‘democracy’ that prevails in India.


The UPA has been especially responsible for the perversion of democratic ideals in India. I am beginning to forget the list of elections they have messed with: Jharkhand, Goa, Bihar… There is a sense that the Congress’s definition of “democracy” is close to a dictatorship, just as its ally the Communists have defined “democracy” as “one man, one vote, one time”. Add to the volatile mix regional parties which often have a single-point agenda: of hijacking the national interest for their own, narrow, regional interests.


India, and its neighbors, are giving democracy a bad name. Or maybe not. In none of these nations has democracy been anything more than a charade and a hoax. The correct name for what goes on is “kleptocracy” – rule by thieves. Or perhaps it is even “kakistocracy” – rule by the very worst possible people.

Posted at rediff today. I wrote it before the Lal Masjid was attacked by troops.


Actually, the copy editor messed up the structure and introduced a few errors. Here’s the original as I sent it to rediff:

Musharraf’s Theater of the Absurd: In which he sings for supper and lives to fight another day


Rajeev Srinivasan on the make-believe that is Pakistani politics


After years of observing the deft General Musharraf, I must admit a sneaking feeling of admiration for the way he has navigated the minefields of, to mix metaphors wildly, dancing with three elephants: Saudi Arabia, the United States, and China. He is simply peerless in his ability to put on diplomatic theater, and he has an unerring instinct for how to induce the willing suspension of disbelief that is the centerpiece of all theater.


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An excellent short article by KPS Gill, thanks to a pointer from Ghostwriter. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/kpsgill/2003/chapter1.htm

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