Issues of India's Female Labor Force

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Indian media and intelligentsia were ecstatic about the appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman as the new Defense Minister on September 3, 2017, the first time a woman has held this position full-time (with the exception of 1975 and 1980 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also held the defense portfolio). While, the appointment of women in upper ranks of government is a promising sign, it is not representative of the Indian female labor force participation more broadly as, there is disparity in terms of their participation in labor market, parliament and, civil services. India has had a female Prime Minister and a female President but that has not changed the country’s alarming gender inequality. According to the Global Gender Report from 2015 by the World Economic Forum, India was ranked at 139 out of 145 countries in terms of economic participation of women.

Decline in India’s Female Labor Force Participation (FLFP) rate

Since 2005, India’s labor force participation rate for women of working age has declined dropping to a low of 26.9% in 2016 from a recorded high of 36.8% in 2005.  A recent World Bank paper, Precarious Drop: Reassessing Patterns of Female Labor Force Participation in India, postulates that rise in family income and female literacy are causes for this steep decline in female labor force. As women get more educated and their husband’s income increase, it leads to income stabilization and casual workers, mainly women drop out of workforce. India’s rural female literacy increased from 46% in 2001 to 61.5% in 2015-2016, whereas the urban female literacy increased from 72.86% in 2001 to 81.4% in 2015-2016.

The U-hypothesis predicts that female labor force participation (FLFP) rate is highest among illiterate population but as the literacy increases to secondary education, the FLFP rate drops and then starts rising again with college education and higher. India is not an exception to this and other countries such as China and Sri Lanka also experienced a drop in FLFP rate but what makes the Indian case unique is the sharp decline within such a short period. The sharpest decline in participation is among female high school graduates as there is social stigma attached to working in non-skilled and low paying jobs. What is also a matter of concern is the decline in FLFP rate among Indian women regardless of their educational attainment.

Issues that Need to be Addressed to Increase Rural FLFP Rate

The FLFP rate has declined for both rural and urban women in India. However, the FLFP rate decline for rural women has been steeper. Since 1990, women in rural India have gained enough education to move from illiteracy to low and middle levels of education but experts argue that this has not reached sufficiently high levels to ensure they earn enough income. To ensure higher FLFP participation in rural areas, the government needs to create non-farm rural jobs for women with lower secondary and higher secondary education.

Government policies also need to address social norms regarding female employment and invest in jobs that are attractive for women especially in non-farm rural sector. In most rural areas, the primary motivation to work for illiterate women is the need to provide a basic income for their family. As their husband’s income increases and they attain more education, farm jobs are no longer lucrative or socially acceptable and thus the creation of non-farm rural jobs would facilitate female participation.

Family members such as husband and in-laws also play an important role in female employment decisions. Take for example, Jyoti Kadian, a rural woman, who has a diploma in mechanical engineering and works at a factory in Haryana. Although, her fiancée is supportive of her working, he has made it clear that only a government job would be deemed respectable enough for her. Jyoti states that people in her village view private jobs as low-paying, unstable and lacking in prestige. Jyoti’s example highlights the importance of social norms, the role of family members in female employment decision-making and thus the imperative to create attractive non-farm rural jobs.

An added factor is the rising number of sexual assaults and attacks on women and thus the need for provision of security for women to encourage their participation outside the house. In rural areas where caste and family alliances prevail, the stigma of sexual assault is so pervasive that the first response to a rape is often silence, or victim shaming.

Addressing the Urban FLFP Rate

Turning to urban India, lack of attractive jobs, issue of provision of security and prevalence of patriarchal norms regarding female employment are the key factors that have ensured a low FLFP.  Compounding this is India’s employment problem where approximately 12 million Indians enter the job market each year. There are thus not enough jobs to absorb the growing female working-age population. Women who are more educated and in a secure economic environment prefer not to work in low-skilled jobs due to the social stigma attached to such jobs. In addition, white-collared jobs are not enough to absorb the growing female (or male) working-age population.

Since 2009, the stigma attached to women working in the manufacturing sector has declined but, enough jobs have not yet been created in this sector. Government policies that help create more lucrative jobs and a female friendly workplace in this sector would be beneficial.

Most importantly, the lack of security for women also prevents them from working outside the house. Women and their family members often weigh factors such as security and  travel distance from home to work before accepting employment. Given the rising cases of sexual assault and rape in India, especially in the urban centers, women are more cautious in their approach to work outside the house. Moreover, the prevalence of sexual harassment at workplaces also discourages them from pursuing opportunities outside their home. In recent years there have been many high-profile cases tied to sexual harassment at workplace.

Societal norms discouraging female employment, often enforced by husband or in-laws also prevent women from working. Media campaigns that educate family and help change societal norms would help

Indian women in Parliament and Civil Services

Indian women are underrepresented both in the parliament and in the prestigious civil services. As per the 2017 UN World Ranking of the number of women parliamentarians, India ranked 148 out of 193 countries and there are only 11.8% of women MPs in the Lower House of India’s parliament. The percentage of seats held by women in parliament for South Asia as a whole and OCED countries are 19.4% and 28.19% respectively.

The women’s reservation bill that was first pushed in 1996 has yet to be implemented. Despite promises of reserving one-third of Lower House seats for women, most major political parties are reticent to pass the women’s reservation bill.

At the local council levels, in 1992, the government passed the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts that reserved one-third of seats in gram panchayats (village council) and Nagarpalikas (urban local government) in order to increase the local political representation of women. Studies have shown that this has resulted in not only an increase in public services but also an increase in public services which are deemed important for women such as drinking water facilities.

The Union Public Service Commission, a federal constitutional body that conducts the civil service examinations, stated in its 2015-2016 Report that in 2014 of the 446,623 candidates, only 24.5% were females, and of these only 23% passed the examination and were selected as civil servants. In contrast, of 418,343 British civil servants, 54% are women. India’s number of female civil servants are abysmally low when compared to the overall female population of 48.5%. According to experts, the reasons for these are social customs discouraging female employment and lack of quality education.


Falling FLFP rate is a matter of concern and is something that the government of India should make a priority. India loses a significant portion of its GDP due to lower FLFP rate. If India increases its women’s labor force participation by 10% by 2025, India would increase its GDP by around 16%.

Government policies thus need to be centered around creating jobs which are attractive for women, addressing social norms against female employment and ensuring proper law and order so that women can work outside. In addition, low percentage of female MPs and civil servants should propel government both to pass bills such as the Women’s Reservation Bill and also create opportunities to ensure an increase in female civil servants.



A New Era of India-Afghan Relations

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India’s strategic partnership and friendship with Afghanistan is an "article of faith" and "not just another relationship, but a spiritual and civilizational connect," said India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj. She also announced that India and Afghanistan have agreed to launch a New Development Partnership through which the two countries will jointly implement 116 "high impact" development projects across Afghanistan.

According to the terms of the partnership, India will aid Afghanistan in infrastructural projects such as constructing dams, roads, and power transmission lines among other things. These projects will not only be in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul but also in 31 provinces across the country.

India’s support to Afghanistan sovereignty is not a new phenomenon. As Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani elucidated in an interview recently, “India has been very active for the past 17 years and even before that, so it is important that is now being recognised.” 

In fact India had signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan at the end of 2011 that called for expansive bilateral military cooperation. That was followed by, The Strategic Partnership Council meeting for the first time in 2012. It is now, after five years, that the council finally reconvened and took vital decisions. As per recent reports, the council now aims to meet every year. 

Since May 2014, several high-level visits have taken place between the Indian and Afghan governments, including those of India’s Vice President, Prime Minister, External Affairs Minister, National Security Advisor (NSA), and Minister of Law and Justice; and Afghanistan’s former President, incumbent President, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NSA, Deputy Foreign Minister, and Army Chief.

Experts have stated that India should play a decisive role in strengthening Afghanistan’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. In view of this, India is negotiating with the United States (US) the potential acquisition of non-lethal guardian surveillance drones. 

Another key area that India could possibly support Afghanistan with is air space surveillance. India is one of the leading players in air space and satellite technology, and it possesses some of the most advanced space sensors, such as the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which could provide all-weather coverage. At the 2nd Strategic Partnership Council Meeting, India widened its co-operation with Afghanistan in the field of space technology by extending assistance in remote sensing. India also welcomed Afghanistan’s participation in the South Asia Satellite project, a gift from New Delhi to its neighbours, as the two sides exchanged an Orbit Frequency Coordination Agreement.

The intensifying of the strategic partnership comes against the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s aim to improve India's socio-economic footprint in Afghanistan. “Another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India - the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States.  We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan; we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region,” declared the US president, while expounding America’s South Asia strategy. It is for the first time that the US has coupled India in its broader South Asia strategy, in view of Afghanistan.

Until the recent speech by US President Trump, there was an uneasy feeling amongst India’s decision-making and strategic circles that US was not keen on India’s active role in Afghanistan. This was made evident in Shakti Sinha’s, the Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, proclamation that “While India knew it had to step up its role, it was hesitant. Because there was a feeling from the US that Pakistan will get upset. But now since that is out of the way and the US is making it clear, it is in India’s interests clearly to see a strong and prosperous Afghanistan,”

 A similar ethos has been reiterated by the US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells, in response to a question from Indian-American Congressman, Ami Bera, on India's role in Afghanistan. She stated that “just as Pakistan has very real and legitimate security interests in Afghanistan, so does India. And we would like to see and appreciate constructive economic investments in Afghanistan's stability and institutional stability."

It would be remiss to deny Pakistan’s role concerning the security in the region. In the recent past, two significant events in the international arena have clearly pointed to Pakistan facing the blowback of supporting terror. The first was the statement from US President Donald Trump who termed Pakistan as a safe haven for terrorists in his South Asia strategy.  The Second was the BRICS Summit declaration which condemned Pakistan based terror organisations. The summit statement asserted, “We express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb-ut-Tahrir.” The statement mentioned above was a marked departure from earlier BRICS statements. Take for example, the declaration issued after last year’s summit in Goa that referred to terrorism several times but only named one group, the Islamic State.

Indian policymakers have realised that in addition to assisting in Afghanistan’s stability, they must help Afghanistan forge alternate access to the world and in specific, to Central Asia. That explains the investment of $500 million in the construction of the Chabahar Port, which envisions a transport-and-trade corridor stretching from Iran to India via Afghanistan and Central Asia,  excluding Pakistan. The deal, concluded in 2016, could give India access to Iranian crude oil and natural gas, in addition to energy supplies in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and other Central Asian states.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi aptly summarised India’s intent behind the construction of the Chabahar Port while addressing the Afghanistan Parliament. He said, "When Afghanistan becomes a haven of peace and a hub for the flow of ideas, commerce, energy and investments in the region, we will all prosper together. That is why we are working to improve your connectivity by land and sea.”

With this it will be safe to say that India’s renewed approach for co-operation with Afghanistan could well mark an ‘inflection point’, as C. Rajamohan, Director, Carnegie India, wrote. In which he further elaborated that, although Delhi’s approach towards Kabul has been marked by excessive caution, now it seems ready to make it ‘bold’.

(Writer is Deputy Director at India Foundation, views expressed are personal)

India's Slow Growth: A Cause for Concern

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India’s economic growth slowed to 5.7 percent this quarter, alarming many economists and investors. The sharp decline in GDP growth, from 6.1 percent last quarter, follows a series of ambitious yet disruptive policies from the Modi administration, including the rollout of the standardized Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetization. However, pinning the recent slowdown on the transitory effect of the central government’s reform packages would be a mistake. Far from being blips caused by the haphazard rollout of well-intentioned policies, India’s economic slowdown is symptomatic of broader macroeconomic problems. Trends in investment, manufacturing, and consumption form a troubling picture of slowing growth, which threatens to harm India’s bid to modernize industry and lift standards of living.

Demonetization is a natural scapegoat for India’s slow growth. The program was highly criticized by Indian Nobel Laureate and Economist Amartya Sen who said “I find no reasoning behind this decision. It will have adverse effects.” By eliminating 86 percent of the usable cash in India, economists believe that demonetization hurts consumption and spending. This in turn hurts manufacturing and industry by lowering the demand for goods and depressing growth.

But demonetization alone is unlikely to be the cause of India’s economic woes. Demonetization occurred in the middle of last year, but declining rates of growth were seen well in advance of its implementation. India’s growth was dropping a full three quarters before demonetization took place, which would suggest that other factors were responsible. It also seems unlikely that demonetization would be the only factor in declining growth three quarters after its implementation last year. Abheek Barua, chief economist at HDFC Bank Ltd said, “I don’t see it as a transitory slowdown even though growth may pick up from its current level in coming quarters.” Despite demonetization fading into the past, the trends in competitiveness and industry which underpin India’s slow growth are likely to continue.

Another factor that is contributing to slower growth is the rollout of India’s new Goods and Services Tax. The GST is said to have contributed to the economic slump by causing sellers to empty their inventories prior to the rollout of the tax, depressing sales which occurred post-tax. Economists expected the rollout of the GST to have a downward pressure on growth, but few expected the effects to be this significant, with polls of economists predicting growth to stabilize at 6.6 percent.

While demonetization and the GST are two easy places to pin the blame for slower growth, it would be wrong to stop there. Instead, structural problems with the economy as well as the natural decline in growth associated with development play an important part in India’s economic prospects. Coping with declining growth therefore requires addressing more fundamental aspects of the economy, and not simply pointing the finger and expecting things to improve in the future.

Declining competitiveness for Indian exports has been a major long-term factor in India’s slow growth. In 2015-2016 Indian exports dropped by 262 billion dollars, or 15.6 percent. Additionally, manufacturing expansion slowed 9 percent from last year’s high, and the finance and service sectors also saw sluggish growth. Conversely, under the period of rapid growth between 2003 and 2011 Indian exports grew by 20 percent.

Struggling export, manufacturing, and finance sectors are symptomatic of broader problems in the Indian economy. Swaminathan Aiyar, a frequent consultant to the world bank, attributes much of the lackluster growth to “low productivity, the cost of doing business, export logistics and red tape, and the cost of credit.” In the same vein, capacity utilization, which measures the extent that production capacity is being used, has fallen almost ten points since 2012. Low capacity utilization leads to low investment by signaling a lack of confidence and momentum in India’s economy. 

Allowing demonetization and the GST to mask the need for more comprehensive economic reforms would be a mistake. Education, skill development, labor regulations, and the business permit environment all require substantial development by the government. In the long run, these factors are the most important parts of driving economic growth, and far outweigh the impact of any one or two isolated policies. For example, India’s ranking in the global Doing Business report was 134th out of 190 nations, highlighting the struggle that manufacturers face when attempting to grow.

Instead of simply blaming GST and demonetization, serious economic reforms are needed to accelerate growth. Prioritizing education, reducing the share of industry controlled by state owned enterprises, and lifting caps on foreign direct investment are all important steps that the Modi government should take to begin to make Indian industry more competitive. Even with the impact of the GST and demonetization beginning to fade, without structural reforms to make Indian enterprise more competitive, the Modi administration cannot expect to see growth return to previous highs.  

The concerning situation of Nepali labor migrants in the Gulf countries

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Nepal has a large migrant population. Their situation in the different countries they are working in, especially in the Gulf countries, is increasingly concerning. The Nepali government needs to ensure its citizens have a secure framework for them to work abroad safely, for it is in the interest of Nepal’s development.

Figures about Nepal’s migrant population reflect different realities. The emigration rate in 2011 was 10.77 per thousands, but the same year, 7.3 percent of the population was considered as absent. The Department of Foreign Employment provides diverging numbers. In 2014, 3,489,365 Nepali were granted an official permit to work abroad. This figure amounts to 13 percent of the population.

Nepal has a long tradition of migration, from the Gurkhas in the 19th century to the Nepalis leaving the country for security reasons during the civil war. Nowadays, the migration dynamic is driven by economic factors. Nepali migrants are mostly young men who move abroad to find jobs.

The Gulf countries have become the favorite destination of migration for Nepalis since the late 2000s. 19 percent of Nepali migrants go to Qatar, 18.9 percent to Saudi Arabia, and 9.8 percent to the United Arab Emirates.  

However, Nepali migrants can face very harsh working and living conditions abroad. Most of them migrate through the Kafala system, a sponsorship system biding the migrant to its employer, and effectively restricting labor mobility, since migrants need the approval of their employers to quit their job or to return home. This system, violating workers rights, has been officially abolished in Qatar.

The cases of abuse and exploitation are distressing. Recently, 12 Nepali migrants returned home after not being paid by their employers in Saudi Arabia for four months. This example is only one among many others. Cases of human trafficking are also reported, and Qatar has been accused of forced labor on World Cup construction sites. Amnesty International organized a project to make migrants aware of their rights, in order to prevent those kinds of abuse.

If NGOs are stepping in, it is because the government has let the issue turn sour. A parliament committee has released an alarming report, blaming the government for burying its head in the sand over the situation of its citizens in the Gulf countries. Another parliamentary report even claims the implication of the government in human trafficking. Nepali women are said to be trafficked with the collusion of Nepali officials at airports. They are granted tourist visas to go to Gulf countries. They are then employed as maid there, their passports are confiscated and they often are exploited or sexually harassed.

The gulf diplomatic crisis has worsened the situation of the 400,000 Nepali migrants working in Qatar. They have to cope with the increase of food prices induced by the embargo, while their wages are quite low. Some migrants in the hotel industry have been fired because of the lack of tourists. For the majority of Nepali migrants working on the World Cup construction site, the situation is quite precarious too, since the blockade prevents the shipping of raw material there and construction have stopped. They may face wage decrease or even dismissal.

The migrant situation was already fragile in the Gulf countries before the blockade. It is intrinsically linked fluctuations of oil and gas price, since these countries rely heavily on these exportations as sources of income. A decrease in prices leads to less budget and thus less infrastructure projects in which many foreign migrants are employed in. Migrants form a cheap labor force that is easily lay off and works as an adjustment variable. In 2016 for example, a Saudi company had to let go of 77,000 migrant workers after a fall in oil prices.

This endangered situation is not only concerning for the migrant as an individual, but also for Nepal as a state. Indeed, it can affect the country on a wider level, because of its impact on remittances.

Nepal relies a lot on remittances. They account for 29.7 percent of Nepal’s GDP. 56 percent of households in Nepal receive remittances and they amount to 31 percent of their income. 26 percent of these remittances come from Gulf countries. A downturn in this source of revenue could therefore be a real issue for Nepal.

Some argue that the influx of remittances during the last decade caused inflation. A rise in Nepalis’ purchasing power transferred to an increase of prices. Remittances helped importing more products from abroad, thus reducing incentives to produce at home and therefore weakening the country’s productive base. It then restrained the demand for domestic jobs and induced more migration.

This vicious circle has a negative effect, but remittances remain vital for Nepal. They sustain Nepalis way of life. 79 percent of their amount is used for daily consumption, thus these remittances help many households to feed themselves. And even if remittances are few spent on capital formation, it is still a larger source of investment than domestic savings.

Nepal has already known a relative slowdown in remittances last year, due to a reducing flow of Nepalis going abroad. This decrease can be accounted for domestic reasons, as Nepalis stayed to help rebuild their community after the 2015 earthquake, or for international explanations, since employment in the Gulf countries has diminished.

There are many sides to this migration phenomenon. Migration is needed for remittances, but also because the labor market in Nepal cannot absorb all the workforce, and Nepali migrants come back home more skilled and can help develop their country.

The government has made some efforts to ease labor migrants’ working conditions: more legal counseling is provided and the amount of compensations in case of injuries or deaths have increased. But more still must be done. The government needs to better accompany its migrant citizens and to secure a safer framework for these migrations and remittances to occur, so to ensure a more prosperous future for the whole country.

Modi-Doval’s Top-Down Counter-Insurgency Strategy

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Any attempt to portray contemporary South Asia’s conflict narrative would be incomplete without describing the fraught situation of Jammu and Kashmir. The constantly evolving insurgency scene post-1989 has demanded Indian strategists to come up innovative counter-insurgency plans. In this brief article, I juxtapose the post-2014 Modi administration strategy with counterinsurgency strategies of previous two administrations. Within the framework given by famous American military strategist Lt. Col. John Nagl and the post-9/11 military operations, I argue that the Modi administration, under the guidance of his chief security strategist Ajit Doval, has leaned more towards the American style attrition-based search and destroy tactic compared to previous dispensations.

In the Indian context, beyond the strategic formulations of the military intelligentsia, the overall political proclivities of New Delhi hold a sway in J&K affairs for two reasons. First, the Kashmir problem is a sensitive domestic issue where arms are raised by local population and infiltrators hiding behind them. Second, the conflict is linked to religion and can impact the electoral arithmetic of minority votes in nearly 75 seats of the Lok Sabha[1] (the Lower House of the Parliament). Moreover, the success of any government in handling Jammu and Kashmir is inextricably linked to the success of its foreign policy, which essentially entails dealing with Pakistan.

Before we move ahead, let us briefly get acquainted with the theoretical framework proposed by Lt. Col. John Nagl. There exists a vast body of literature that ventures into the comparative studies of the United States in Vietnam and the United Kingdom in Malaya, the two major counterinsurgency experiences in the aftermath of World War II. In the same category, the work of Nagl[2], a veteran scholar, academic and policy expert, gives a unique perspective to this comparison in terms of counterinsurgency.

To summarize his lengthy comparison, ‘the British army slowly evolved a combined civil-military-political strategy that defeated the insurgency with small unit military tactics based on intelligence derived from a supportive local population… [while] the U.S. Army continued to rely on a conventional approach to defeating the insurgents through an attrition-based search and destroy strategy’. Post-9/11, the higher culmination of this doctrine can be seen manifested in the hunting attempts of terrorist leaders like Osama Bin Laden (Al Qaeda) and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (ISIS). Thus, we see a clear dichotomy between two approaches – the restrained approach of eroding the roots of an active terrorist group against the approach of eliminating the top leadership.

India’s first ever experience in attenuating a secessionist movement by eliminating its leadership was in 1984 during the Operation Blue Star in Punjab where the extremist Bhindranwale was executed in the iconic Golden Temple complex. However, this strategy was yet to be put to trial in the perpetually volatile grounds of Kashmir. In the valley, India first experimented this tactic in 2003 during the Vajpayee years under the maiden NSA Brajesh Mishra to eliminate the commander and backbone of the infamous terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad called ‘Gazi Baba.' Baba was known as the ‘Osama of Kashmir’ and was responsible for the 2001 Parliament Attack. He was eliminated while being holed up in a hideout home in Srinagar.

This execution carried particular symbolism as the most solemn temple of democracy – the Parliament complex was being pounced on. However, this did not fare up well with the local population, and consequently, there was a mass unrest in the valley. Nevertheless, it became New Delhi’s unwritten doctrine to handle the insurgents top-down. To quote a Home Ministry report, ‘strong administrative action like the killing of 204 terrorists during Sept. 2003 and onwards including the death of some top terrorist operatives, made a dent in terrorist ranks and arrested the trend of increasing violence.’[3] Those were the last years of Vajpayee administration, and before they could excogitate a plan to placate the population, the NDA was voted out of power.

New Delhi witnessed a major change in administration in May 2004 with United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government assuming the reigns. A new counterinsurgency doctrine was anticipated with this altered political complexion. The Congress and its allies trumpeted themselves as ‘seculars’ having a soft-corner towards Indian minorities. To substantiate their political narrative, it was essential for the government to maintain tranquility in the valley. Any muscular policy previously in action that could enrage local denizens and erupt violence against security forces had to be countermanded.

The decade long tenure of Dr. Manmohan Singh saw a dramatic downfall in bilateral fatalities – insurgents and security personnel. According to another Home Ministry report[4], the number of casualties of civilians and security personnel dropped from 557 and 189 in 2005 to 53 and 15 in 2013, while the number of terrorists eliminated reduced from 917 to 67 in the same period. The Home Ministry over the entire decade of UPA administration attempted to portray a rosy picture in the valley based on the same statistics. This policy can be termed as a British-styled strategy that entails systemic erosion of the terror ideology which was deeply entrenched in the valley.    

The cosmetic peace of the Manmohan years was an utter failure in containing the blazing rhetoric of anti-India demagogues. Regular incidents of heinous attacks against security forces, public institutions, and Hindu pilgrims along with infamous Mumbai attack of 2008 testify the failure of the soft-glove strategy on the insurgency front; while the 2010 civil unrest was valley’s ultimate perfidy to New Delhi that frustrated the portrayers of peace.

In May-2014, India witnessed a Modi mojo that emaciated the ruling Congress to a historic low in the polls. From his early electoral proclamations, it was apparent that Modi would not brook any pro-Pakistan elements and pursue a muscular policy in the valley. His man in command Ajit Doval’s unabashed rhetoric was a further portent for violent confrontation. The first instantiation of this attrition-based search and destroy tactic was witnessed during the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. It led to unprecedented provocation among the local population. However, this did not deter the armed forces from their hunting spree.

The continued attempts in annihilating top brass of various terror outfits – Burhan’s successors Sabzar Bhat (May 2017) and Yasin Itoo (August 2017), Lashkar-e-Taiba Chief Abu Dujana (August 2107) – and a score of other insurgents in the middle rung shows the pursuance of an aggressive attrition policy. Some strategic security experts believe that practice of such top-down policy may increase the chances of emergence and proliferation of splinter groups. However, in the long run, whether this macho policy yields suppression of insurgents will be decided in future.   



[2] Nagl, J. (2002). Counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to eat soup with a knife. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

[3] P. 15

[4] P. 6

Hello, World!

Nepal’s India Fatigue and PM Deuba’s Visit

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Nepal’s new prime minister Sher Bdr. Deuba just wrapped up his five-day state visit to India along with his jumbo team of ministers, bureaucrats, and business persons. Although an established tradition of first goodwill visit to India that every new Nepalese PM now does, this visit was more significant because the timing coincided with an important turn in Nepal’s domestic politics especially regarding the Madhesis. While the two prime ministers met, Nepal was beset with inundation at home, and there was the standoff between Indian and Chinese military at Doklam in Bhutan-Tibet border.

The Modi government has definitely taken the right initiative in encouraging frequent high-level engagement that is enabling both countries to build trust and deepen the engagement in different areas of public and private sectors and increase people-to-people contact. Although the eight MOUs signed during the visit were perhaps not so significant, the state visit definitely has added value to the bilateral relationship. However, despite the fact that there was a clear urge in New Delhi to further strengthen India-Nepal relations mainly due to the freefall in India-China relations, India was still not willing or prepared to break new ground in the relationship to secure its long-term interests with its neighbor.

India opted to continue its traditional policy of enticing Nepal by pledging more aid or committing to expedite development projects so that Nepal would continue to act in India’s terms regarding its security concerns. India’s desire to show off regional primacy –real or imaginary- for its domestic consumption, and to some extent for its international image, and right now mainly vis-a-vis China, contextualizes PM Deuba’s recent statements on the Nepalese constitution. To make the matter worse for India, the popularity of Nepalese leaders with whom India has to deal is at the lowest these days for their extremely power-centric style of politics.  This is not necessarily India’s fault, but because of that even good gestures and genuine efforts from India to improve the relations can end up working against India’s image, leaving a plenty of space to grow anti-Indian constituencies in Nepal. The India fatigue was palpable in Nepal as PM Deuba, the fourth-time prime minister infamous for his insensitivity towards the people and his rude style, was about to fly to New Delhi.

Nepal and India should have a harmonious relationship by now as the bilateral relationship is 70 years old, but the recent bitter experiences have antagonized yet another generation in Nepal. But now it is even more complicated. China has largely cemented its influence in Nepal and it will not be wise to just underestimate it as an “irritant” or a “card” but in a way a permanent counterweight to India. In fact, the China factor made many tense in Delhi when PM Deuba responded to Minister Ram Bilas Yadav’s comment at the India Foundation by saying that Nepal has a good relationship with China and Nepal does not face any problem from China, and that India must not have any doubts about that. Similarly, there was reportedly a lot of pressure on Nepalese side as Indians were insisting on inserting more security related phrases in the joint statement, presumably in relation to the Doklam standoff, which in the end did not appear in the communique.

There is also a clear disconnect among Indian governmental bodies, and between the center and the state agenciesas there has been no immediate, effective and coordinated actions on Nepal matters when they were the most needed. Just weeks before Deuba’s visit to India, India’s BSF’s ad-hoc security checking at Sunauli was creating havoc, causing huge traffic jams for weeks that led to the disruption of all business and trade activities, import and export, and significantly reducing revenue collections. In fact, exactly at the time Deuba and Modi were talking in Delhi, all the merchandise vehicles in Jogbani had come to a complete halt due to the damages in roads and railways from recent flooding. And due to the lack of timely action from Patna authorities, Nepal was unable to use optional border points to let the traffic flow in due time.

Similarly, due to the recent inundation in the south, the debate about the consequences of Koshi River damn, the Koshi treaty’s injustice to Nepal,  and the Indian structures across the border re-surfaced in the public sphere. But the inundation issue was only a part of the casual conversations in Deuba’s Delhi visit and only yielded some token assurances from India. It is interesting while Delhi does not see Madhes politics through Kathmandu’s eyes, water-related disaster in Madhes does not seem to be India’s direct concerns.  Furthermore, in Nepal foreign policy and domestic politics has got so mixed up now, this is also a problem for India, and largely India itself is responsible for that.  And top of all that, now there are speculations about India getting more involved in taking sides in the Nepalese politics and making a coalition between the Nepali Congress, the Maoist and the Madhesis to counter the Oli’s UML. But again, that will be a short-term gain and long-term harm for India. Don’t isolate Oli, don’t forget that out of the total votes casted in Nepal the majority go to communist parties.

Given the entry of China into the region and the potential hazards emanating from that, both Nepal and India should not shy away from openly discussing the bilateral “taboo topics.” From reviewing the relevance of past treaties on river dams and canals in the new environmental context, the future of Nepalese soldiers in Indian Army’s  Gorkha Rifles, the Indo-Nepal treaty (some talks did happen),or Kalapani and Lipulekh, India should seek to fully engage with Nepal if it wants to neutralize grievances there.  It goes without saying that India should drop the policy option of leveraging Nepal’s import dependence on India to pressure Nepal, as it has been a sore spot in their relationship.

India should carefully estimate the relationship between Nepal and China and their people, and make policies considering the future scenarios rather than indulging in the past policies. The sovereign Nepal’s desire to have close relationship with China and have Chinese investment is nothing unreasonable, just as India has Chinese investments too, to recall Modi’s Gujrat and China relations.  And yes, leveraging India’s soft power, like its academic institutions, to get the new generation Nepalese close to India is useful, but not enough. Freebies and goodies will keep Nepal into its fold is increasingly seen as the continuity of India’s narrow thinking; Nepal has just denied to extend the Indian Embassy’s direct investment agreement which was in place since 2003. 

Finally, the time has come that India should, though painful, redefine its relationship with Nepal.

The Problem with 'Legitimate' Militancy

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Politics in Pakistan is often thought of as riddled with scandal and corruption. Even so, Pakistan’s political sphere took a dark turn earlier in August when Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, an organization the US accuses of being a front for the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, formed a new political party called the Milli Muslim League (MML). This development cast doubt on Pakistan’s willingness to act against Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the problematic distinction between militants that the state perceives as ‘useful’ and ones it does not. This unwillingness to take a hard stance against all militancy creates an unstable security climate that weakens Pakistan ability to combat radicalism and creates opportunities for transnational terrorists to flourish.

Jamaat-Ud-Dawa was declared a terrorist front group by the UN following the devastating 2008 attack on Mumbai. The organization is said to have provided cover and funding for Lashkar-e-Taiba which staged the 2008 three-day terror campaign that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. By masquerading as a charity organization, Jamaat-Ud-Dawa was accused by the UN of “financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities” in connection to the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The UN declaration required nations to freeze assets, suspend travel, and prevent weapons transfers to Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, in order to hamper their ability to engage in terrorist activity.

 Despite the UN’s actions, Jamaat-Ud-Dawa’s reemergence as a political actor is another sign that militancy is alive and well in Pakistani politics. The MML seeks to lift the house arrest of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and a sanctioned terrorist. At the same time, Lashkar-e-Taiba has continues to be an active terror group, and operates more-or-less openly within Pakistan while continuing their insurgency in Kashmir.

The emergence of the MML as an actor on the political scene showcases Pakistan’s problem with double standards for militants. The issue arises from Pakistan’s long held policy of deploying insurgents to fight against its neighbors. The military establishment has used militants as ‘irregular forces’ to compensate for conventional weaknesses (such as against India), or to give the government political cover from international retaliation (such as against Afghanistan). This willingness to use insurgents to achieve international political objectives creates an unwillingness to crack down on the insurgents’ domestic branches. Indeed, doing so would compromise Pakistan’s militant-centered strategy because the insurgent cells which cause instability within Pakistan provide the training, members, leadership for the militants in India and Afghanistan. In order continue the use of militants abroad, Pakistan’s military establishment has to at least tacitly support their domestic branches.

Pakistan’s unwillingness to crack down on all forms of militancy means that while some groups are targeted, many go unpunished. Bowing to increasing international pressure, Pakistan has nominally taken a stance against some insurgents. Yet, these efforts are few and far between, and only seriously target groups which do not serve the interests of the military establishment. In a recent paper, Paul Staniland of the University of Chicago concluded that Pakistan’s efforts at fighting militants were not serious when the militants were not openly and aggressively anti-state. On one hand, Islamabad is engaged in counterterrorism offensives against ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban in the north. However, these groups were tolerated by the Pakistani government for years, and represent only the most virulently anti-state groups in Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militants is well documented, and Islamabad has been frequently criticized for allowing the Afghan Taliban to operate in safe havens within its borders. Pakistan does little in the way of education, policing, or sanction against the majority of militant groups. Most of Pakistan’s efforts at militant prosecution are halfhearted at best.

The distinctions between ‘useful’ and ‘enemy’ militants are counterproductive. First, allowing militancy in any form (especially a political party) gives all militants political and economic cover to expand their operations. When Lashkar-e-Taiba can evade the government, it can provide cover for other dangerous militant groups, sell small arms for money to insurgents, and undermine the rule of law. Second, normalizing militia groups as part of the political mainstream radicalizes the political spectrum. Lashkar-e-Taiba is hardly ideologically moderate, and their involvement in the political process is likely to make polarize discourse. Being allowed to operate openly also gives groups the ability to recruit on a far larger scale, and normalizes the role of militias in day-to-day life. Many militant groups use this political normalization to recruit directly from Pakistani madrassas without fear of prosecution. Last, even groups that the government dubs as ‘friendly’ are unlikely to genuinely support the government. Militants certainly oppose democracy and social equality for women, religious minorities, and other groups. Beyond that, militants may also turn on the government if circumstances change: Sayeed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahedeen once claimed, “We are fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir and if it withdraws its support, the war would be fought inside Pakistan.”

If Pakistan wants to put an end to its militant problems, it needs to crack down against all armed groups. It has become clear that differentiating between militants which are friendly to the state and those that are hostile is near impossible, and only benefits groups that seek to evade the arm of the law. Until Pakistan realizes that the benefits it receives from supporting militancy will always come attached with persistent violence, terrorism, and the erosion of the rule of law, parties like the Milli Muslim League will be able to continue propping up Jamaat-ud-Dawa and other dangerous insurgents.

Threatened Himalayas: Humane Disaster Management in Nepal

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Securing insecurities

The massive flood of August 2017 where 130 lost their lives is a stark reminder to the government of Nepal that the country is at high risk when it comes to natural disasters. The occurrence of such natural disasters has been exacerbated due to climate change, and the question is not of what natural disaster will hit the country, but of when. While the government has drafted many policies with regard to natural disasters and disaster relief, the fundamental problem still lies with implementing such policies to yield the desired result.

Considering the period from 2005-2015, Nepal has been hit by three major floods— two in 2008 and one in 2014— a  major landslide in 2014, and a massive 7.8 Richter earthquake in 2015. The 2015 earthquake itself killed more than 8500 people. As recent as August 2017, the country was again beset by flood in its Terai region. Over a span one just one decade, the number of lives Nepal has lost and the number of people that have been internally displaced is indeed heartbreaking. Consequently, this huge displacement of people due to natural disasters has made Nepal stand in the third position in the Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID 2016).

Be it an anthropogenic disaster or a natural disaster, the loss of a human life is always a tragedy. Post disaster, people become vulnerable to diseases and conflicts, suffer as refugees or become displaced in their own countries. The gravity of such situation requires a humanitarian touch, which is requires the Nepalese government to employ a human security centric approach to disaster mitigation.

Natural Disasters and Human Security

The debate on security is traditionally dominated by the realist understanding of security-i.e. one pertaining to state and military. But the understanding of security has broadened over time. Nontraditional security threats like climate change, environmental degradation, health problems and so on which challenge the survival and well-being of people are increasingly being recognized as security threats too.  Consequently, the concept of human security emerged where the focus was not the state, but the people, the individuals.

As per the UN Human Development Report 1994, human security is a human centric approach that concentrates on securing and protecting individuals “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”. As a bottom-up, people-centered approach, human security stresses the needs, capacities and experiences of individuals making its application apt for situations which demand humanitarian assistance.

Natural disasters are a major threat to human security as they threaten human survival, damage economic and social foundations of people’s well-being, and traumatize survivors. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is essential to protect human security in disaster hotbeds like Nepal. The country has shifted from a relief-and-rescue approach to DRR, endorsing the Sendai framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, but a specific strategy pertaining to it has not yet been penciled out. This is a typical trend Nepal has been following-endorsing agreements but failing to do the necessary homework for its successful implementation.

While it is important first to formulate a strategy for DRR, integrating a human security approach to it would deem more farsighted. In disaster preparedness, human security would contribute in steering policy development by ensuring resilience measures and adopting local tradition or indigenous forms of knowledge for sustainable solutions. Disasters do not discriminate between men and women, but the aftermath of a disaster has the potential to create victimization of different level between the genders where the victims generally are women and children-or the more vulnerable section of the society. A human centric approach to disaster management could help apply a gender perspective to the natural disasters bringing about tailored solutions to problems of women and children.

Furthermore, a society’s culture shapes its worldviews, knowledge, norms, values, social relations, and beliefs. Anthropological analysis of culture that focuses on identity, community, and economic activities should not be discounted as livelihood diversification and flexibility, idea of resilience, narratives and history about past changes and current conditions-all hinges on culture. Hence, applying a one-size-fits-all attitude to post-disaster efforts might hinder the efficacy of such efforts. It could also make victims/survivors potentially more vulnerable to harm. A human security approach to DRR would provide space for these considerations, which otherwise would focus mainly on technical aspects like inventory management or say providing make shift shelters.

Mere allocation of funds or application of early warning systems alone cannot be solution to disaster management preparedness. While they provide solutions to some extent, a more holistic effort demands attention to social elements too which are often overlooked while drafting policies.

A human security centric approach might not be a silver bullet to the existing problems of disaster management, but if engaged as a means of identifying linkages between different insecurities, like food insecurity, public health and well-being, livelihoods etc - it could be an effective form of response. Finally, given Nepal’s vulnerability to climate change effects, incorporating climate change adaptation, resilient coping mechanisms and targeted adaptation strategies to the particular needs and vulnerabilities of people and their community in DRR from the government itself would ideally be the way forward.

The Inadequacy of India's Climate Policy

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            Earlier this summer, Prime Minister Modi made headlines by vowing to go “above and beyond” the Paris agreement in India’s efforts to combat climate change. Mr. Modi’s stance on climate security underscores the Indian commitment to invest in renewable power and sustainable development, which is on track to supply more than 40 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2022. Behind India’s growing global leadership in emissions policy lies the very real concern over the impacts of unmitigated climate change for South Asia. India needs to increase the scope of its climate investment to include more policies that protect its many poor and at-risk people from the effects of warming. By investing in climate adaptation, India has the potential to protecting its people from deadly changes to their environment while simultaneously building stronger ties with their neighbors and increasing economic competitiveness.

            India’s desire to lead the world in sustainability stems from concerns over South Asia’s environment. South Asia is expected to be among the worst hit regions by climate change. Amidst record high temperatures in 2015, over 2 thousand Indians died to heat waves, a number that is expected to grow with time. Over 50 thousand Indian famers are estimated to have committed suicide last year due to the impact of rising temperatures on crop yields. In Pakistan, climate change threatens to exacerbate flooding and potentially destabilize Karachi, the country’s economic backbone. In Bangladesh, rising sea levels are projected to force 18 million climate refugees from their homes. It is hard to overstate the devastating potential of environmental degradation, which threatens to depress agricultural productivity and submerge cities such as Mumbai with rising sea levels.

             Experts fear that climate change will generate resource scarcities that fuel conflict in South Asia. By 2050, the extreme shifts in temperature and weather may increase food prices by 50 percent. At the same time, drinkable water will become increasingly endangered, as important glaciers which feed South Asia’s water basin dry up. Water scarcity has historically been a sore issue between India and Pakistan, and has been used as a rallying cry for violence in the past. Founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba Hiviz Saeed was quoted as saying, "India irrigates its deserts and dumps extra water on Pakistan without any warning… If we don't stop India now, Pakistan will continue to face this danger." Militants such as Saeed feed off of the discontent created by resource scarcity. As more South Asians see their livelihoods endangered, scapegoats become attractive, and conflict becomes more possible. This is because for poorer, more desperate people, militancy becomes attractive as the opportunity cost of conflict declines. Building a sustainable security architecture will therefore also require addressing climate insecurity.

             To combat the deleterious effects of climate change, India has aggressively invested in renewable technology. In 2016, India displaced the US as the second most friendly place for to do business in renewables. This is especially significant because India is projected to have one of the world’s largest energy markets for the foreseeable future. In order to meet India’s ambitious renewable energy targets, Prime Minister Modi is investing in new nuclear reactors to offset fossil fuel dependency, and is expanding hydropower in an effort to expand electricity access to the northeast.

            Unfortunately, preventive measures are unlikely to be enough to combat India’s climate issues. Even if India hits its green energy targets, it is unlikely to single handedly stop warming. The effects of climate change are being felt in the present, and need to be dealt with separately from attempts to stop future increases in greenhouse gasses. The inevitability of significant parts of climate change suggests that the Indian government should make climate harm-reduction an important priority in addition to existing efforts at prevention. These policies should be geared towards mitigating the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and heat waves. Realistically, even with total international compliance with the Paris climate agreement, the world will still experience several degrees of warming. While India should certainly continue its preventive measures of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to also commit to protecting its many vulnerable people from the inevitable impacts of climate change.

            Investing in climate adaptation would help prepare India for climate change while tackling many of its longstanding problems. Incremental, technocratic reforms which focus on alleviating the harms of climate change for the most at-risk individuals have the potential to save thousands of lives. Adaptation reforms have the potential to both shield the most at-risk from climate instability, and work towards solving longstanding social or development problems. For instance, investing in better fertilizers, drip irrigation, and crop rotations in rural India would simultaneously help adapt farmers to the impacts of climate change while addressing longstanding problems with malnutrition and rural poverty. Similarly, extending loans to Bangladesh for levees and assisting in flood protection would help stem the ongoing refugee crisis while at the same time making India a regional leader. Focusing on modernizing household cookstoves will help Indians cope with high energy prices while also addressing the 1.5 million deaths per year which result from inhaling particulate matter.

            Climate change is a serious threat to South Asian growth and stability, and the problem is not going away. Unless decisive actions are taken, mounting resource shortages and extreme weather issues threaten to kill thousands and inflame conflict. Climate adaptation presents India with an opportunity to tackle longstanding development issues while also becoming a regional leader. India needs to build upon the momentum and goodwill it has established in regards to environmental reform to prepare itself for the effects of warming.

The Death of Dissent: Free Speech, Extremism, and State Suppression in Bangladesh

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This month, the Bangladesh government is supposed to finalize the “Digital Security Act,” a new law which will — among other things — revise and possibly replace Section 57 of the controversial Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. Meant to protect against defamation and seditious speech online, Section 57 has instead been predominantly used by the government to target the opposition. Under its vague formulation, journalists, bloggers, and activists have been arrested for incidents as trivial as criticising ministers on Facebook. At least 23 journalists have been sued since March of this year alone, and the law has been decried by civil liberty groups around the world as a “draconian assault on free expression.”  

But amidst the growing outcry for its repeal, the ruling party has only given token reassurances. At a cabinet meeting last month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina insisted the law was not meant to harass journalists, but rather to protect against those who “want to harm the country, write against it, or against any person intentionally out of personal vengeance.” Law Minister Anisul Haque has stated, on multiple occasions, that the new Digital Security Act will clarify the ambiguities of Section 57. But the Act, a draft for which was released last year, does not offer much hope for free speech defenders. So far, in its current form, all of the mechanisms for the suppression of speech have been retained (mostly translated from the old Section 57 into a new Section 19). Equally disturbing, perhaps, is the government’s persistently noncommittal attitude; which maintains the outward appearance of concern for human rights, while inwardly tightening its authoritarian grip.

The existing Information and Communication Technology Act, first enacted in 2006, translates roughly as: “If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in any other electronic form, any material which is false and obscene...or causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person, or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organization, then this activity will be regarded as an offense". In 2013, despite broad criticism from human rights experts, the Awami League (AL) government amended the law to make it even more stringent. The maximum punishment was increased from 10 up to 14 years in jail, and — more significantly — law enforcement was empowered to make arrests without a warrant and detain those people, without bail, for an indefinite period of time.

Since then, according to the Cyber Tribunal in Dhaka, over 700 cases have been filed: 260 in the first half of this year alone. The law has increasingly been used — and abused —  to target and detain (without bail), not only suspected criminals and militants, but also members of the political opposition. According to Odhikar, a human rights group in Dhaka, more than 320 people have been unlawfully detained (or disappeared) since the AL took power 8 years ago. Further, the US State Department 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices lists growing extra judicial killings, arbitrary detentions for the purpose of extortion, enforced disappearances, and torture among the abuses running rampant in Bangladesh.

In response to these condemnations, the ruling party has exhibited a familiar mix of apathy and denial. For example, after the release of a recent Human Rights Watch report, which highlighted the issue of forced disappearances and secret detentions, the Bangladeshi Home Minister dismissed the accusations immediately. “The organisation [HRW] has launched a smear campaign against us,” he said. “Whom will you say has disappeared?”

Moreover, the use of coercive tactics to suppress political opposition is nothing new in Bangladesh, and is certainly not the sole domain of the Awami League. Corruption, manipulation of the electoral process, and the intimidation of political opponents have marked Bangladeshi politics from their very first independent elections, in 1973. The triumphant “return to democracy” in 1991, after 15 years of military rule, has not changed the fundamental way power functions in the country. The most recent national election, which took place in January 2014, saw the Awami League retaining its power amidst massive boycotts and violence, and was widely discredited by outside parties.

But if suspect methods and suppression are almost as old as the nation of Bangladesh itself, what has changed since 1971 is, importantly, the rise of domestic terrorism and Islamic extremism within the country. This stream of radicalism, growing quietly for years if not decades, has taken on crisis proportions in the last few years. It has distinguished itself with a particularly sickening pattern of violence: a series of prominent “blogger killings” in which secular writers and activists have been hacked to death with knives and machetes. After the first spate of these attacks in 2013, extremist groups released a “hit list” of 83 journalists, writers, and bloggers that were labeled “anti-Islamic” and blasphemous. Since then, dozens of activists and freethinkers have been forced to flee the country, or fall silent in fear.

The possibility of such spontaneous violence would be enough, anywhere, to threaten the exercise of free speech. But the Awami League’s conspicuous absence of an unequivocal condemnation of militancy points to a larger problem. In February 2013, when prominent blogger Ahmed Haider was hacked to death by extremists with machetes, the authorities quickly arrested several men, and Sheikh Hasina personally visited the family to pay her respects. However in response to the outcry of the religious right, who threatened to take to the street against the “atheist bloggers,” Sheikh Hasina all but assured them that the government was on their side. “You [Islamic parties] don’t need to go for any movement,” she said at a party meeting that March. “As a Muslim, I have the responsibility to take action...We have already decided what action to be taken against those responsible for hurting people’s religious sentiments.”

Soon after, five writers - including four bloggers and a newspaper editor — were arrested for posting articles that were “critical of the government’s attempts to appease the Islamist demands, or said the government had failed to address the concerns of minority religions.” The police described these writers as “known atheists and naturalists,” who would be charged for “instigating negative elements against Islam to create anarchy.” The Bangladesh authorities later brought 55 cases against the editor and several writers of the country’s most popular daily, Protham Alo, for criminal defamation and “hurting religious sentiment,” and the Law Minister announced that the government would increase its control over social media, blogs, and online news websites.

Since the Holey Bakery attack of 2016, the most high-profile episode of militant violence in Bangladesh to date, the Awami League government has cracked down harder on terrorism. But in the name of this zero tolerance counterterrorism strategy, human rights abuses have only increased. The government’s long-standing history of appeasing Islamist groups, moreover, continues to cast a shadow on their commitments to free speech and secularism. Most recently, the AL has shown itself willing to compromise with the Islamist group Hefazat-e Islam (“Guardians of Bangladesh”), which emerged in 2010 to protest against secularism and women’s rights. The Hefazat famously roused crowds of over 500,000 in their 2013 Dhaka demonstration, demanding — among other things— the death penalty for blasphemers and atheist bloggers. The AL’s tacit appeasement of such a group points once again, to its “power at any cost” politics. And these politics — the politics of expediency, of illegitimate rule, of suppression and sham democratic institutions — are a threat not only to free speech defenders, but to all of civil society in Bangladesh.

The rising threat of extremist terror has placed Bangladesh at a vulnerable and critical moment in its history, one in which upholding human rights and democratic values seems particularly crucial. Yet at this exact juncture, the state has chosen to propagate a climate of fear and self-censorship, utilizing repressive laws such as Section 57 to thwart dissent. And in doing so it has confirmed, disappointingly, the problematic politics at play behind its display of democracy. 




The FRBM Report: Implications for the States in India

The first FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act for the Union Government was enacted in 2003 under Article 292 of the Constitution (read with Article 283). Article 293 stipulates restrictions on the borrowing powers of State Governments. The Union Government appointed the FRBM Review Committee  under the Chairmanship of  Mr.N.K.Singh, which submitted a four Volume Report in January 2017.

As the review Committee noted, inherent in any FRBM Rules, there is a need for two sets of trade-offs. First, flexibility in implementation should be traded of against the fiscal anchor under the FRBM Rules. Second, trade off concerns should balance flexibility with simplicity.

Often, flexibility in FRBM implementation adversely affects simplicity, transparency, ease of monitoring and clear communication to key domestic and global economic agents.

The Review Committee has argued that India needs to re-examine the current FRBM Rules and Fiscal Framework. The Committee suggests that a medium term debt ceiling, achieved in a progressive, gradual manner, be set as an anchor for fiscal policy.

The role of the anchor is to firmly set the goal of fiscal policy, with the government’s policies and behaviour designed to give confidence to domestic and global economic agents, so that they can base their decisions with high degree of confidence.

The Review Committee recommends combining the medium-term debt ceiling target with an operational target of fiscal policy.


 The main policy recommendations of the Review Committee are stated below:

1. Adopt a prudent medium-term ceiling for general government debt of 60% of GDP, to be achieved by FY23.

2. Within the overall ceiling specified above, adopt a ceiling of 40% for the centre, and the balance 20% for the states.

3. Adopt fiscal deficit as the key operational target consistent with achieving the medium-term debt ceiling.

4. A path of fiscal deficit with fixed operational targets rather than a range. 

5. A path of fiscal deficit to GDP ratio of 3.0% in FY18-FY20, 2.8% in FY21, 2.6% in FY22, and 2.5% in FY23. 

6. Reduce revenue deficit to GDP ratio steadily by roughly 0.25 percentage points each year, to reach 0.8% by FY23.

Graphically, the above recommendations are summarized in Figure below.


The views of the Review Committee are consistent with the findings of the IMF, which posit that that FRBM types of arrangements are more conducive to “…lower financing costs if they are accompanied by independent monitoring mechanisms”.


Implications for the States

The recommendations of the FRBM Review Committee will have a significant impact on the manner in which the individual States set the FRBM targets, and on how FRBM is implemented and monitored. The States guarantees of loans are likely to be monitored more closely. The role of an independent monitoring authority, such as India’s CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) is also likely to become more prominent.

The Review Committee proposes bringing States debt levels to 20 percent of GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) by 2022-23; fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of GSDP, and revenue deficit to 0.8 percent of GSDP.

These are ambitious targets, particularly as many States have incurred additional debt under the UDAY (Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana ) scheme that focuses on the power sector. It becomes even more imperative for the States to realize operational efficiencies envisaged under the UDAY scheme.

A report by RBI (Reserve Bank of India) on State Finances suggests that a significant number of States have little or no room for debt and fiscal expansion, if they are to meet the FRBM review Committee recommendations of debt ceiling of 20 percent, gross fiscal deficit of 2.5 percent of GSDP, and revenue deficit of 0.8 percent of GSDP..

The RBI Report estimates that for the 2011-2016 period, the combined gross fiscal deficit of the states was 2.5 percent of GDP (not GSDP); but for the 2016-17 period this deficit is projected to be 3 percent of GDP. The corresponding values for the revenue deficit were 0.0 percent, and -0.1 percent of GDP. It should be noted that combined GSDP of all states is lower than the GDP of India, resulting in higher denominator. The 2016-17 estimates are based on Budget Estimates which are usually over optimistic.

The RBI Report estimates the outstanding liabilities of state government during the 2012-2017 period averaged 22.6 percent of GDP.

Moreover, the current indications are that the borrowing costs of the States are increasing. Any State perceived by the market, in an environment of growing tendency to price government debt in a market determined rather than an administratively determined manner, would find their fiscal choices severely constrained. This in turn will adversely impact their ability to benefit from the Cooperative (and constructively competitive federalism) initiatives.

Thus, J.P Morgan in its Asia Pacific Emerging Markets research report dated 13thJune 2017, finds the science of worsening state finances. It reports that even without taking into account the impact on the state’s salary and pension bill of the 7th Pay Commission report and of firm loan waivers, in some states, the state deficits have widened by almost 1 percent of GDP over the last five years.

The J.P. Morgan research also finds that the borrowings by the states are rising at a much faster rate than that of the Union Government. Thus, in 2013-14, market borrowing by states was equivalent to 34 percent of the Union Government’s borrowing, but by 2016-17 the equivalent share of the States was 84 percent. There are indications that market borrowing of the state could exceed that of the Union Government in the near future.

Another indicator reported is that the spreads of the state bond over the benchmark government security has tripled from thirty bps (basis points) to 90 bps in just two years. The states thus, face higher cost of rollovers of their debt as well as when issuing new debt.

The higher borrowing costalso has implications for other borrowers such as the corporate sector, and therefore for private investment levels.

The above analysis thus strongly suggests that the States need to accord much higher priority to improving public financial management, and in particular, progressing from a financing focus to an outcome focus through process, systems,and human resource improvements. This is important because better ranking in public financial management isnow a crucial benchmark to measure competitiveness among states in India.

Originally Published at MyInd at

Building Bridges, Building Trust: Japan and India Invest in Infrastructure

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China’s rise has made its neighbors uneasy. In recent years, China has dramatically expanded its armed forces, grown at an alarmingly fast rate, and expanded infrastructure deals such as CPEC to give itself a foothold beyond East Asia. As Beijing expands, India worries that it is being encircled by a ‘string of pearls,’ and Japan frets that it will lose control of their nearby waters and airspace. On August 3rd, Japan and India fired back with their own effort to expand and integrate themselves with the region: The Japan-India Coordination Forum and Asia Africa Growth Corridor. Tokyo and New Delhi are attempting to expand infrastructure in India’s remote North East and increase the amount of trade from East Asia through Africa. The goal is to develop an area of largely untapped economic potential, create transport corridors for regional trade with nearby nations, and expand India’s trade infrastructure. Cooperation between the democracies of Asia is not only a promising sign for sustainable development, but may substantially contribute the effort of counterbalancing the bellicose expansionism of China.

In order to appreciate the gravity of India’s growing cooperation with Japan it is important to understand the context of China’s growing influence in the region. In 2014, China launched its ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative (OBOR). OBOR is designed to create a ‘second silk road’ by developing a vast array of maritime and land travel routes. One of the most notable projects is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which links China’s landlocked western provinces to the sea by developing transportation and port infrastructure in Pakistan. China has already committed over 60 billion dollars in various payments and loans to CPEC alone.

India and Japan worry that OBOR is a front for China to expand its military. For instance, in Pakistan, recent leaks have suggested that China is reportedly considering using the Gwadar port (which is ostensibly being developed to increase its trade capacity) as a naval base. Once China has its economic foot in the door of the host nation, resisting their requests for military bases may be difficult. Even if Pakistan wanted to, having received billions of dollars for infrastructure through CPEC, they are not in a position to turn down Chinese requests. Given the revelations that China is not averse to using OBOR ports for military purposes, Chinese investments in port infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and other South Asian nations are viewed with suspicion by India.

The partnership between India and Japan is underpinned by a desire to increase economic growth. In the shadow of China’s behemoth of an economy, the other powers in the region need to stay competitive. Over the course of its rise, China has allocated more and more money towards the military, currently spending well over 100 billion dollars on defense. The more China is able to widen the gap between itself and its peers, the more its military will be able outstrip theirs. India and Japan understandably worry that as China economically grows and establishes links with partners across the world that they will be left isolated, weak, and poor.

In order to entrench their roles in South Asia, India and Japan have expanded their efforts at developing regional infrastructure. Tokyo and New Delhi believe that they can provide an alternative to OBOR that strengthens their position in the region and gives their neighbors an alternative to China. Right now, South Asia has one of the lowest regional connectedness of any regions in the world, and changing that may give Japan and India a means to integrate themselves with their neighbors.

One of the vital projects of the Japan India partnership is the development of the Indian Northeast. Historically remote and underdeveloped, the Northeast is the link between India and Southeast Asia. The Japanese share the Indian desire for developing these remote areas, and released an embassy statement saying “Japan has also placed a special emphasis on cooperation in North East for its geographical importance connecting India to south-east Asia and historical ties.” Echoing the Japanese desire for a corridor between India and its neighbors to the south-east, India has invested in infrastructure projects linking roads, bridges, and trains to Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Japan is an important partner in India’s vision for infrastructure expansion. Japanese technology and finance promises to rapidly speed up the quality and quantity of development. This year saw the development of an ambitious high-speed rail line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, using Japanese bullet train technology. The project is partially financed by Japanese loans to India, and is expected to fill a desperate gap in India’s rail network. Over 11 thousand miles of rail track in India is in desperate need of modernization, and current transportation between the two cities is stretched to capacity. The project promises to ease rail congestion and improve quality of transit between the two cities.

The broadest, and perhaps most ambitious collaboration between India and Japan is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). The AAGC aims to build a series of maritime linkages between Africa and Asia by developing infrastructure, trade routes, and common standards. To support these initiatives, the Japan Bank of International Development has announced that it will depart from its usual practice of only funding Japanese ventures and begin financing projects headed by African and Indian firms as well. This departure from convention signals Japan’s willingness to commit to the development of trade infrastructure across South Asia. The AAGC plans on having a vision statement with a concrete list of which projects the two partners will invest in by next year. That being said, India and Japan must move quickly to keep pace with China’s rapid infrastructure investments.  

Cooperation between India and Japan is an important part of balancing a rising China. While Beijing’s economy has grown to become the second largest in the world, Tokyo and New Delhi are a formidable counterweight. Japan and India are the third and the seventh largest economies respectively, and their collaboration brings complementary advantages in technology, manpower, geography, and defense. Yet despite their advantages, both partners feel increasingly uncomfortable in a regional neighborhood that is being dominated by an aggressive China. In order for this collaboration to work, Japan and India must make good on their words and aggressively begin investing in regional connectivity. The two governments should reach out to more regional partners and break ground on more projects. China has already begun its infrastructure-expansion abroad, and only time will tell if Japan and India can match its’ pace.

India and Iran: Unravelling Ties

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On July 31st, Iran warned that it could decide not to grant the development project of the Farzad-B gas field to India, after a decade of negotiations. This statement is merely the latest stage of an ongoing feud between the two countries over the project. The quarrel, among other issues, calls into question the future of what used to be relatively good relations between Iran and India.

The Farzad-B gas field was discovered in Iran in 2008 by a consortium of Indian state-run companies, which have been negotiating with the Iranian government over the exploitation of the gas field since then. An agreement was reached in 2015: the Indian companies planned to extract 56 million cubic meters of gas per day and to export them to India.

Yet, while the deal looked like a win-win for both parties, negotiations turned into a year-long row. In what seems to be the latest retaliation, Tehran has threatened not to award the development project to India, and Gazprom, Russia’s state gas company, is to be considered in the bid. This Iranian statement comes as a response to India’s decision to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran by a quarter, since this cut was perceived as a means to pressure Iranians into granting the deal to the Indian consortium.

This vicious cycle reflects a certain lack of communication and understanding between the two parties. Beyond commercial concerns however, this feud might indicate a broader trust issue between Tehran and New Delhi.

Iran and India, once neighbors, are age old friends. Commercial and cultural links date back from ancient times. The shared heritage of these two nations can still be seen today through the influence of Farsi in the Urdu language, and the historically significant role of the Parsi community living in India. Even after India’s independence in 1947 and the Iranian revolution in 1979, their relations remained relatively unaltered. A new dynamic was set in the 2000s and Tehran and New Delhi initiated a strategic partnership, to promote better cooperation at the government-level.

However, the international sanctions imposed on Iran loosened its ties with India. Though traditionally a major trading partner, India complied with the sanctions and lowered its exchanges with Iran over the years, which explains the slowing down of the Farzad-B project negotiations. Bilateral trade attained its usual scope in 2015, when the sanctions were lifted after a nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the P5+1.

At present, Iran and India sustain ostensibly good diplomatic relations for all appearances. Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Tehran in 2016, Indian and Iranian officials met several times the same year, and Modi congratulated Iran’s President Rouhani for his re-election in 2017. Yet, behind official smiles and handshakes lie several issues, going beyond the Farzad-B feud, which can harm the future of the relations between these two countries.

The sanctions have impacted another decade-long Indian-Iranian project, the Chabahar port. Indian state-run companies are involved in the construction and management of the port, located on Iran’s coast. Along with railway networks in development, this major infrastructure project aims at connecting India to Iran and Central Asia, while avoiding unstable Afghan routes and the forbidden Pakistani ones. This project also intends to compete with the Chinese project at Gwadar port in Pakistan.

Chabahar’s development was relaunched in 2015, after the sanctions against Iran had been lifted. Yet, the honeymoon already seems over between Iran and Indian contractors. Since Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency, Indian investors are getting cold feet. With a vehement opponent to Iran in the White House, they dread the imposition of new sanctions that could make the project cumbersome. On top of that, the Iranian government has decided to open the bid for the port development to other contractors, with China in the crosshairs. Thus, an Indian-run Chabahar seems increasingly less likely.

Beyond these failing cooperation projects, Iran and India are growing apart on other fronts, ranging from oil trade to the Kashmir question.

India is Iran’s second most important importer of crude oil, and Iran is India’s third largest supplier of oil. But oil trade, which encompasses the major part of the bilateral trade between Indian and Iran, is shrinking. India is today diversifying its oil imports, increasing those from Iraq and Russia for instances, but also from Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch rival.

India and Iran are also linked through their mutual neighbor, Afghanistan. The three countries initially cooperated on the Chabahar port project and the Central Asia trade routes. But while India is helping to promote democracy and the rule of law in Afghanistan, Iran has been accused of sponsoring the Taliban. If this Iranian support becomes official, it could be a bone of contention between Tehran and New Delhi, since the latter consistently supported the Afghan government and would therefore be reluctant to back the rebel fighters. 

These political divergences go further. Ayatollah Khamenei recently expressed support for the Muslims of Kashmir, and talked of the disputed region in terms of an independent nation. These declarations, aimed at upsetting the Indian government, were made in the run-up to Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, Iran’s enemy. On July 4th 2017, Narendra Modi paid a groundbreaking visit to Israel, being the first PM to set foot there in 25 years. This historic event epitomized the enhancing relations between India and Israel, which Tehran looks unfavorably on.

India’s increasingly closer relations with the United States put additional strains on the relationship between Tehran and New Delhi. During a visit last June, Trump and Modi reiterated their willingness to sustain a strong relationship. But Trump takes a hard line on Iran and has voiced his discontent with the nuclear deal. He has not pulled the US out of the agreement yet, but the American Treasury issued sanctions against Iranian individuals and companies in July. Under the previous administration, India could maintain good relations with both parties, trade with Iran, and get closer to the US at the same time. However, if the new American administration takes a more severe stance, India might be compelled to choose a side. If so, it is likely to let go of Iran.

Thus, many issues hamper cooperation between New Delhi and Tehran. Once strategically closer, both countries are now looking for new allies. In view of these unravelling ties, the future does not look promising for Indian-Iranian relations.





Prime Minister Sharif's Resignation Spells Uncertainty for Pakistan

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On Friday July 28, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif from holding public office. The revelations came after months of hearings following the Panama Papers Scandal regarding his and his family’s corruption. While PM Sharif was not named in the leaked documents, his children Maryam, Hassan and Hussain were implicated in property purchases in London conducted via offshore holdings. These were not declared in PM Sharif’s wealth statement. The opposition led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party then filed petitions against Sharif and his family in the Supreme Court, which led to months of investigations, allegations and denials. Based on the findings by a special Joint Investigative Team (JIT) created by the Supreme Court in April 2017, a 5 judge bench unanimously ruled that PM Sharif was “not honest” under terms described in the Pakistani constitution. Following the ruling, PM Sharif filed to resign as Prime Minister, while stating his reservations regarding the verdict.  Further, the court called for criminal investigations by the National Accountability Bureau against all accused in the case.

While this development is being touted by the Pakistani opposition and civilians as a landmark decision and an encouraging step towards a corruption free Pakistan, it highlights the problems of judicial overreach and lack of constitutional sanctity for the position of prime minister.

As Pakistan’s 70 years of political history demonstrates, none of Pakistan’s 18 prime ministers have ever served a complete term. Tenures have been cut short by assassinations, military coups, judicial coups and arbitrary presidential dismissals. This event marks PM Sharif’s 3rd incomplete term as prime minister of the country, after his controversial resignation in 1993, and his dismissal in the bloodless coup of 1999. Moreover, Sharif is the second prime minister to have been disqualified by judicial order, the first being ex-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani who was disqualified in 2012.

The role of the Supreme Court in PM Sharif’s dismissal is a troubling case of judicial overreach. PM Sharif was not found guilty via a criminal trial, but through violation of constitutional provisions under Article 62(1)(f) that demands that members of Parliament be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and Ameen.” This provision, established under General Zia ul Haq’s tenure, highlights the fragile security of the position accorded to members of parliament and thus holders of public office, as it subjects them to unrealistically high standards of morality, while enabling their arbitrary dismissal by the judiciary. Given concerns regarding the motives of the judiciary and military in the previous dismissal of PM Gilani, this further raises questions about the motives of various organs of the Pakistani government in Sharif’s dismissal.

Given the interventionist nature of Pakistan’s judiciary, the motives behind the ruling are questionable. The JIT appointed by the SC contained currently serving members from the ISI and the military, which raises potential doubts about the independence of judicial action in this case, given PM Sharif’s anti-establishment rhetoric and tenuous relationship with the military. There is ample evidence of civil-military conflict during PM Sharif’s tenure, such as the role of the military in compelling PM Sharif to dismiss two of his top aides earlier this year. Moreover, speculations surrounding the supposedly apolitical army Chief Qamar Bajwa’s meeting with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party chief Imran Khan, indicate that the military continues to be actively involved in Pakistan’s political affairs. Pakistan’s history of military interventionism means that this may not augur well for the future of civilian democracy.

Future Prospects

The immediate priority is to occupy the vacant Prime Ministerial post. Speculations within the ruling party- the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) in the past week centered around PM Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.  Although Minister Asif and Speaker Sadiq would have both been strong candidates, the decision was tipped towards Shehbaz Sharif from the start. On Saturday, Nawaz Sharif announced that the post of interim PM would be held by former Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for 45 days, and that Shehbaz Sharif would run for a seat in the National Assembly to enable his take over as Prime Minister. This was unsurprising, given that Nawaz Sharif and his family hold immense clout within the PML-N.

This scandal may not spell the end of Nawaz Sharif’s political career, as experts point out that he might benefit from taking a back seat and later spinning this issue into one of political martyrdom. Sharif is also planning to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision. While the current verdict doesn’t enable him to lead from the front, he and his family will still have considerable influence on administrative decisions should his party win the next election.

Parties will have to choose a Prime Ministerial candidate for the upcoming elections in 2018. The 2018 contest however, will be a tough one for the PML-N, given the severe blow the Panamagate judgement has dealt to the party’s image. The party’s continued backing of the Sharif family and its denial of guilt, while obvious, has the potential to delegitimize their position among sections of Pakistan’s voters. The PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami will certainly capitalize on their role in filing the case against Sharif and this will most likely yield electoral benefits for them. However, given that the PML-N currently holds the majority of seats in the National Assembly and still enjoys a strong base of support in Punjab, it may be able to retain power.

The prospect of a military takeover, as ever, remains like an ominous cloud overhead. However, experts, such as Michael Kugelman at the Wilson Center for International Scholars at Washington D.C highlight that public opinion in Pakistan doesn’t currently favour military rule. He further elaborates that given the extensive influence the military already enjoys along with its concern to be positively perceived by civilians, it seems unlikely that a military takeover will take place in the near future. Indian journalist Barkha Dutt at NDTV and Ambassador Husain Haqqani at the Hudson Institute however, highlight the dark side of this influence. They point out that Sharif’s disqualification highlights that the military does not need to take over directly as it can impose its will via other existing institutions of government- in this case, the judiciary.

The verdict in the Panamagate Scandal in Pakistan thus seems to demonstrate the continuation, rather than the disruption, of the disturbing status quo of judicial intervention and military subversion. Corruption is still prevalent. Even the current face of the anti-corruption movement- Imran Khan- has publicly admitted to owning offshore assets for tax evasion purposes. The scandal re-emphasizes the continuing question about Pakistan’s failure to allow strong, democratically elected civilian governments to take root. For Pakistan to succeed as a nation on the world stage, its political parties and institutions of government need to work together to secure the future of democracy in the country.


Indians value cows over their women: An insight into India's sexual violence problem

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A recent project by Indian photographer Sujatro Ghosh- illustrating women in cow masks - has once again questioned the distressing status of violence against women in India. According to Ghosh, putting women in masks in the context of daily life addresses the disturbing fact that a slaughtered cow receives justice faster than a victim of sexual violence. Cow protection groups take only hours or days to find the person accused of killing the cow, whereas it can take years before a court punishes a woman’s assaulter.

The 2017 Human Rights Watch Country Report on India stated that the Supreme Court deemed it “unacceptable” that gender discrimination exists. Yet, despite an increase of sexual violence persecutions, Indian women do not receive the prompt investigation and safety services promised by the government. The stigma on reporting sexual violence deters women from punishing the guilty.

Additionally, statistics on crime against Indian women highlight how the problem is far from being controlled. In January 2017 alone, there were over 350 rape and molestation cases reported, and almost 50 percent of these cases remain unsolved. The Delhi police reported proactive measures taken to lower crime rates, but there was still a total of 2,155 cases of rape filed in 2016. There is an average rate of six rapes a day, highly indicative that the Indian government lacks attention on the subject.

It is no surprise that Ghosh’ photography brings about harsh criticism and threats from Hindu nationalists as his project is described to be an indirect comment on the BJP. For someone like Ghosh who strongly believes in transforming Indian society’s attitude on women, these threats are not enough to disrupt his project’s powerful message. As a nation that has coined itself a “rape capital”, India cannot afford to keep ignoring a persistent oppression against its female population. Especially when it is published by surveys that 40% of Indian women experience sexual violence before the age of 19. The only way to interpret why the problem still exists on such a large scale is to look at a history of gender discrimination.

Indian society’s oppressive nature towards women roots itself in the ideological beginnings of the country. From the time of India’s independence in 1947, only men were recognized in the fight against the British, wrote the constitution, participated in government roles, provided for their families, and continued to deform and subjugate women. Even as the nation welcomed its first female prime minister, there was no inch to back away from traditional gender roles. Today, in a land that is home to some of the world’s top female CEOs, political figures, and journalists, gang rapes, domestic abuse, and female infanticide still exist.

Men remain at the pinnacle of Indian society and have been taught to use their masculinity as a defense mechanism. According to a study on India by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in 2014, a large majority of Indian men agreed on the notion that exerting dominance on a woman and controlling her was a true sign of masculinity. Additionally, the study also reported that certain male gender norms - particularly being expected to provide for the household - greatly contributes to violence, as men often use women as outlets for household stress. Because so, the normalization of oppression against women within the Indian male population makes it increasingly difficult to change the situation.

The 2012 Delhi gang rape marked the grave reality of the modern sexual violence problem. Not only did the case receive such widespread attention because of the incoming wave of new, Indian voices targeting the government’s inability to punish the guilty, but the brutality experienced by the victim and the idea that she was a simple, middle-class girl who worked towards a promising career angered international populations, putting heavy pressure on the Indian government to reform rape laws immediately and effectively.

While domestic and international advocates were vital in addressing the 2012 case, the sad reality is that this type of backlash does not exist on a day to day basis. There can only be so much expectation for an entire population to change mentality when Indian feminism itself is flawed.

Why is it that feminists are angered by the rape of a woman in South Delhi, but do not share similar sentiments towards the gang rape of a Bihari woman? The answer lies in how the value of life changes based on urban and rural settings. Women who are victims of sexual violence in more underprivileged areas will never be able to experience marches and demonstrations in their names because their stories are merely facts on paper. Their hidden identities only add to the increasing number of cases in country reports, whereas the 2012 victim has her own Wikipedia page.

More so than flawed feminism, these protests and pleas for reforms in India’s judicial system can only prompt institutional changes. For an ideology ingrained so deeply into the culture, a significant decrease in violence has to come from within the population. This is not to say that the government should not encourage initiatives like expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but without transforming the discourse, India should never expect to witness an eviction of its sexual violence problem.

The standard of life has improved for many Indians, but their mentality remains stagnant. Instead, women are now being taught how to survive a patriarchy. Women describe survival techniques such as avoiding parks and alleys at night, changing travel routes, and working towards a career despite the psychological consequences that emerge after an attack. The tragedy of India’s sexual violence problem continues because efforts are focused on women instead of men. Rather, Indian society needs to teach its men to disassemble the social system of dominance and oppression.





Assessing the Impact of GST on Cost- of-Living of Households

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Originally published at the Narendra Modi Website

It has been about three weeks since India’s landmark GST (Goods and Service Tax) became operational on July 1, 2017. Its impact on the overall economy business, households, and the government organisations is expected to be multi -faceted, and will be felt by different sectors over differing time periods in a dynamic and non-linear pattern.

This column focuses on the factors which need to be considered in assessing the impact of the GST on the cost-of-living of households.

The impact of cost of  living is assessed by estimating the amount a household spends on a given bundle of goods and services purchased by a household before the GST and what it spends after the GST has been implemented.

As household bundle of goods and services differs with income level, preferences, age composition, and others, the impact of the GST may vary across households. Thus, a single definitive answer to the impact of GST on households is not helpful, though there are pressures to supply it.

In the absence of a detailed household expenditure data, it may be useful toas approach the issue through a qualitative analysis of various factors which may impact on the cost of living of households due to the implementation of the GST.

 It is important to distinguish between the cost-of- living on the one hand and inflation on the other. The latter refers to persistent rise in the price level (e.g. reflected by the Consumer Price Index) year after year; while the cost-of-living refers to short term (it could last for up to six to eight months) on the cost of a bundle of goods and services that a household purchases.

To separate the impact of the GST on the household expenditure on a given bundle of goods and services, an estimation of the difference between the effective tax rate (not headline nominal tax rate) on a good or a service previously existing, and the rate applicable under the GST needs to be estimated.

This effective rate needs to be estimated, not assumed. This exercise requires the extent to which businesses and consumers have adjusted to the levying of a domestic tax on goods and services. This in turn depends on the price elasticity of demand and supply for concerned goods and services. Econometric estimates of such elasticity for Indian households are very scarce. In general, higher the price elasticity of demand, less pricing power a seller has.

It is the differential not absolute tax rate which matters. The differential rate again needs to be estimated, and this is not an easy exercise. Therefore, comparing simple addition of nominal rates of various taxes subsumed under the GST (such as central excise, service tax, and entry tax) with the designated GST rate is an inadmissible procedure to assess the cost of living impact of the GST. 

The factors relevant in making the cost- of-living impact assessment may be summarized as follows.

First, with the GST, in general, the tax rate on goods is likely to be reduced as compared to previously, and the tax rate on services increased. However, within the goods and services category, this generalization may not hold for specific commodities in each category.

As households progress towards higher income brackets, the share of household budget spent on services increases and on goods declines. So the above overall trend would exhibit tendency towards lower burden for low and lower-middle income households, while the reverse is likely for upper middle income and high income households. This would significantly mitigate the negative impact of the GST on the bottom half of the population.

The GST council has made efforts to ensure that the GST rates on any given good or a service is as close as possible to the old nominal tax rate to minimize disruptions to households and to businesses.

Second, the differential way rates on goods and on services are affected by the GST, provides opportunities to households to readjust the commodity bundle purchased to minimize impact on cost-of-living. Provision of timely and accessible information on prices of key commodities to households on a systematic continuous basis is essential to facilitate such a readjustment.

The Union Government, and its tax agencies as well as that of some states have been making commendable efforts to monitor, and to facilitate GST implementation across the country. These efforts are also helpful in mitigating the impact of the GST on the cost-of-living.

However, a constructive  role by the electronic media,specially the regional language print media and social media, opinion-makers, and domain experts is essential to further and more sustainably enable the households to minimize the impact of GST on the cost of living. 

Third, global environment of subdued economic growth, lower commodity prices, such as for energy, and in general constrained pricing power of businesses also augurs well for the GST not having significant impact on the cost-of-living of the households. Favourable monsoon season for Kharif and Rabi seasons this year, as projected by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), would also help the households in managing the cost-of-living impact.  Given the above favourable environment, it is strongly urged that the government deemphasize the anti-profiteering provisions of the GST, and when utilized, approach them with a ‘soft touch’.

The above analysis once again underscores the urgent need to focus on a system of collecting and analysing household income and expenditure data, and making such data widely accessible. Lack of robust data bases and analytical capabilities, including econometric studies, are hampering empirical-evidence based assessment of GST on household cost-of-living. This gap needs to be addressed.

In conclusion, the timing of the GST has been favourable from global and from domestic perspective in minimizing the impact of the GST on the cost of living. The design of the GST, and government initiatives have also helped in this respect. The media and other stakeholders, and the households themselves need to also play a constructive role in adjusting to the GST. A more service oriented culture, backed by technology and professionalism by the GST tax authorities could help sustain the apparently smallinitial impact of GST on the cost of living over a much longer period.

MUKUL G. ASHER, an Indian national, is a Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. 

Reemerging Sectarianism in Afghanistan

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Afghan warlord turned vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum is no stranger to conflict. A veteran of decades of conflict and embroiled in ongoing scandal, Dostum has been a central figure in Afghanistan’s political scene for the last thirty years. Last week, the Vice President’s plane was diverted from landing in Afghanistan amidst a power struggle between him and President Ashraf Ghani. The government attempted to redirect Dostum’s plan to Kabul, but the Vice President responded by flying to Turkmenistan. Dostum’s departure from Afghanistan can be read as the latest chapter in the struggle between the central government and sectarian interests.

Abdul Rashid Dostum’s part in Afghanistan’s long history of civil war has set him up as one of the most important power brokers in the nation. Dostum fought during the 1980s under the Soviet occupation. When the Soviets withdrew, Dostum fought with different factions, switching alliances as his rivals gained and lost power. Later, Dostum would fight the Taliban from the North where he governed in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, commanding 50 thousand men. Dostum fled during the war and returned to join the US led coalition against the Taliban in 2001. Since then, he has played a variety of roles in the Afghan government, serving at times as deputy defense minister and chairman of his own political party, The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan.

True to his past, Dostum has remained a highly controversial figure at the center of Afghanistan’s political scene. In 2014 despite his history as a warlord, Dostum became the vice president of Afghanistan under the new Ghani regime. In 2016, Human Rights Watch accused The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan of abusing civilians and Dostum of ordering the sexual assault of a political rival. The latter has resulted in ongoing litigation against Dostum by the Afghan government. Dostum has been uncooperative with federal investigators and his bodyguards have repeatedly refused to show up to court. Further, Dostum has resisted multiple attempts by the judicial system to question him and his allies and has been uncooperative with the attorney general. Despite the case being brought against him, Dostum recently took a trip to Turkey for medical checkups due to rumored health problems.

Dostum’s political rivalry with his president, Ashraf Ghani, echoes the history of sectarian violence in Afghanistan. Sectarianism has played an important part in Dostum’s political career. The Vice President helped the ticket win Uzbek areas which were crucial to Ghani’s win. But despite running on a joint ticket, the current government has been at odds with Dostum for some time, with the VP claiming that Kabul marginalizes Uzbeks and does not do enough to fight the Taliban in the north. Last year, Dostum raised the specter of ‘gathering his people’ against the government, in a thinly veiled threat to the Ghani administration. After Dostum’s recent visit to Turkey for medical attention, the Ghani government has sought to keep him at arm’s length and out of the country, where his presence has been seen as inflammatory.

The balance of power in Kabul is maintained through an intricate balancing act between Afghanistan’s different ethnic and ideological cleavages. President Ghani is Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, and Abdulla Abdulla, the Chief Executive, is Tajik. Throughout the 1990s, Afghanistan’s civil war divided the nation along ethnic lines as militias - claiming to represent different ethnic groups - ravaged the nation. Indeed, maintaining an inclusive balance of power while keeping volatile personalities from colliding is a difficult game. This is especially true because efforts to expand government power usually fly in the face of sectarianism, where increasing taxes and accountability collides with the agendas of local elites.

The most recent developments with Dostum’s plane may be part of the government’s attempts to centralize power. Ghani’s administration ran on and has worked to develop a technocratic central bureaucracy while sidelining sectarianism and patronage. The Ghani administration’s attempts to keep Dostum in Turkey follow a similar logic. By holding sectarian warlords back and out of the public eye, Ghani can focus on building more robust civilian institutions without having to worry about having to cater to militiamen. Therefore, the most recent developments may be yet another attempt to shore up domestic political support around the central government and away from ethnic power brokers.

The Ghani administration has good reason to clamp down on sectarianism. Every year, millions of dollars are siphoned off of the central government for local patron-client relationships. Patronage networks result in cronies being appointed to government positions as political favors, and selective enforcement of the law in favor of clients. These relationships are not only inefficient, they also undermine the efficacy of governance and push the dispossessed into the arms of the Taliban. This is because without the ability to appeal to the formal political structure for assistance, locals on the outside of patronage networks are forced to rely on militants as guarantors of protection.

Headlines about the NATO force and the Taliban dominate the news, but one of the most important issues for Afghanistan’s future lies within the government itself. Indeed, the drama surrounding Dostum is only the most recent example of the tension between central and sectarian interests. In May, after years of exile, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul. Hekmatyar is an ideologue and warlord from the civil war era, who was known as “The Butcher of Kabul.” Many are worried that Hekmatyar’s return and legacy of sectarian violence will further polarize the country. The return of sectarian warlords is a significant internal problem for the Afghan government. While most media attention on Afghanistan’s security situation focuses on external groups, like the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the regime’s internal balance of power is just as important. Will the Afghan central government be able to overcome sectarian interests and establish a strong central bureaucracy?

Pakistan sticks to a sad tradition

This article originally appeared in The Hindu

The decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reaffirms the iron law of Pakistani politics: a politician can amass wealth and engage in corruption only as long as he does not challenge the ascendance of the country’s powerful national security establishment. Although Mr. Sharif has ostensibly been disqualified over the so-called Panama Papers, which exposed holders of offshore bank accounts, the verdict against him has little to do with the revelations in the Panama Papers.

Mr. Sharif and his family have definitely expanded their assets several fold since his entry into politics more than three decades ago as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, and the former chief of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But he was not put on trial for corruption and convicted. Instead, the Supreme Court acted politically, as it often does, and created a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that included military intelligence representatives. The JIT’s job was ostensibly to uncover the trail of the Sharifs’ wealth and the Supreme Court used the JIT’s findings to determine that Mr. Sharif could no longer fulfill the constitutionally mandated qualifications for his office.

When he ended Martial Law, General Zia had added several provisions to Pakistan’s Constitution, some of which related to moral qualifications for membership of parliament. Their purpose was to give the all-powerful national security establishment a constitutional instrument to control the political process even after the military’s withdrawal from direct political intervention. Those provisions have finally been invoked to rid Pakistan of a meddlesome Prime Minister.

Articles of expediency

During the 1990s, civilian Prime Ministers who failed to toe the line in key policy areas could be dismissed by the President, who was always a reliable establishment figure. After three dismissals, twice of the army’s bete noire Benazir Bhutto and once of Mr. Sharif, the civilians got rid of Article 58-2(b) of the Constitution that authorised the President to unilaterally dissolve Parliament and dismiss Prime Ministers. The absence of the establishment’s safety valve paved the way for General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup in 1999.

Aware that the 21st century is less conducive to direct military takeovers than preceding decades, Gen Musharraf reintroduced the notion of presidential dismissal before sharing power with civilians again. The civilians dispensed with it again in a consensus constitutional package in 2008. Since then, Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, inserted by Zia and ironically kept alive with the support of Mr. Sharif and Pakistan’s religious parties, have been cited as the means whereby the establishment can keep politicians on the straight and narrow.

In its judgment disqualifying Mr. Sharif, the Supreme Court has found him in violation of Article 62(1)(f) that demands that members of Parliament be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and Ameen”. The last of these, “Ameen”, meaning ‘the keeper of trust’ is one of the attributes of Prophet Muhammad, which by definition is a hard standard to meet for any Muslim who deems the Prophet ‘the most perfect’ human being. Ordinary mortals can easily be found in violation of that noble standard.

By claiming the right to disqualify any elected representative of his/her office for not meeting such exacting standards of probity, the Pakistani Supreme Court has arrogated to itself the authority similar to that of Iran’s Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for elective office. The Council routinely disqualifies politicians on grounds that they are not sufficiently dedicated to Islamic values.

Setting a precedent

The disqualification of Mr. Sharif sets the precedent for future judicial coups. That does not mean Mr. Sharif has not amassed wealth beyond explainable means or does not have property across the world that might have been acquired through questionable transactions. But corruption must be dealt with by legal means, not on the say of rival politicians or intelligence operatives operating without being subject to laws of evidence.

If legally admissible evidence of corruption had existed, there would have been a trial, not direct intervention by the Supreme Court, which should only be the court of final appeal in criminal matters. So what is really going on? Pakistan is simply keeping its sad tradition that disallows politicians to ever be voted out of office by the voters who elected them to that office in the first place.

In the last seventy years, all Pakistani Prime Ministers have either been assassinated, dismissed or forced to resign by heads of state with military backing, or deposed in coups d’etat. Mr. Sharif is the second Prime Minister, after Yousuf Raza Gilani, to be sent home by an activist Supreme Court amidst an orchestrated media furore. Ironically, Mr. Sharif was installed as Prime Minister in 1990 by the military in intrigue that was exposed decades later. That intrigue involved the army creating the multi-party alliance, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), through the ISI and funding Mr. Sharif and others with money taken from corrupt businessmen. At that time, the Pakistani establishment deemed Benazir Bhutto ‘a security risk’ over her avowed desire to change attitudes towards India and the rest of South Asia.

Mr. Sharif fell out of the army’s favour when he decided to assert himself in the conduct of foreign and national security policy after becoming Prime Minister. He was ousted once by the President and a second time by the army chief in a coup. Elected for a third time, he has now been sent packing through the Supreme Court. He is clearly a flawed man but the manner of his removal from office is even more flawed.

The India Connection

During the Panama Papers saga, Mr. Sharif was accused in social media of being an Indian agent and rumours swirled of his alleged investments in India and ‘secret partnerships’ with Indian businessmen. This reveals the real cause of anxiety with him, which could not be rumours of corruption because that did not bother the establishment when it initially supported him.

The role Mr. Sharif played in the late 1980s, as the establishment’s Cat’s Paw, has now been taken over by cricketer-turned politician, Imran Khan. There is no guarantee, however, that if Mr. Khan ever comes to power he would not meet a similar fate when he insists on making policy instead of being content with having office and implementing the establishment’s prescriptions. Just like the IJI-ISI intrigue was fully uncovered decades later, we will probably find out details of the intrigue leading to Mr. Sharif’s ouster several years later too.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sharif’s ouster is unlikely to stem the tide of widespread corruption in Pakistan. It might also not be the end of Mr. Sharif, who could possibly win another election in his Punjab base. But the episode proves again that Pakistan is far from being a democracy where the law takes its course, institutions work within their specified spheres and elected leaders are voted in or out by the people. 



Don’t Take the Bait: Why Alarmism Over CPEC is Unjustified

Pakistan has called its relationship with China “sweeter than honey and stronger than steel.” Recently, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has dominated the relationship between the two powers, totaling $62 billion of investment from Beijing. Aimed at increasing trade and building Pakistani infrastructure, CPEC is a series of development projects in Pakistan that includes the expansion of the Gwadar port, transportation corridors, and energy infrastructure. CPEC’s apparent convergence of Chinese and Pakistani interests has not fallen upon deaf ears; security experts in the U.S. and India have voiced concern over China’s interest in developing Pakistan.. But the impacts of CPEC are largely overstated, and the situation provides American policymakers a valuable opportunity to reevaluate their strategy in the region. Rather than succumb to alarmism and double down on American commitments to Pakistan to combat the threat of Chinese expansionism, US policymakers should approach CPEC with level heads and caution.


The dream of an economic corridor between China’s isolated Western provinces and Pakistan’s ports had been romanticized since the 1990s, but not agreed upon until 2015. The final agreement included upgrades to the Karakorum Highway that links Pakistan to China, major enhancements to Pakistan’s rail system, and large energy plants aimed at reducing Pakistan’s perpetual energy shortages.


Major players in the region, especially India, have met CPEC with a great deal of skepticism. Understandably, there is a worry that China’s is hiding its regional power aspirations behind the veil of economic development. CPEC cuts through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which prompted India to announce, “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” In Delhi, many see CPEC as the collaboration between two regional rivals in order to establish a balance of power that excludes India.


India and the United States have worried about China’s influence in Pakistan. In the past, Pakistan’s collaboration with China manifested itself in weapons shipments, diplomatic cover, and even technical assistance by Beijing for Islamabad’s nuclear weapon’s program. Siegfried Wolf of the University of Heidelberg wrote that, “these new Chinese investments could boost Pakistan's economy but at the same time it will also create dependency…Islamabad will be expected to align its political decision making with Beijing's approach towards South Asia and beyond.” There are worries that the port in Gwadar will eventually be used to station Chinese marines, triggering the Indian fear that China is attempting to encircle the subcontinent in a “string of pearls.”


While there are areas of concern for the US and India, and China’s collaboration with Pakistan is serious, CPEC itself is unlikely to be game-changing. The supposed benefits to Pakistan from CPEC are almost certainly overstated; construction is already well behind schedule, and it is questionable that the Karakorum Highway can ever bear the massive amount of transit required to make CPEC economically profitable. Furthermore, the money for CPEC is largely financed by loans, and it is unclear if Pakistan will be in a position to pay them off. Recently, The Economist wrote that, “Unlike loans from the IMF or World Bank, some two-thirds of those taken out so far, for $28bn-worth of early projects, are on commercial terms, with interest high at around 7% a year. When these loans come due, argues Farooq Tirmizi, an emerging-markets analyst, Pakistan will need a bigger bail-out than ever before.”


CPEC and United States Aid- The Case for Less Aid


Since 9/11, the United States has given Pakistan over $20 billion in military and economic aid. Because of the centrality of aid in U.S. policy towards Pakistan, how the United States responds to CPEC must be framed in the context of the aid program.  


During the war on terror, the United States has flooded Pakistan with military aid, assuming that problems in the region stem from a lack of capacity to fight militants. In reality, Pakistan has demonstrated an unwillingness to crack down on insurgents, playing a “double game” of accepting American funds while quietly backing militants that undermine US interests. Although Pakistan claims to no longer support militant groups of any kind, the government has not acted against many armed groups that operate freely within its borders. At various times Pakistan has tolerated, supported, and even financed the Haqqani Network, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahadeen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, among others.


Despite not cooperating with the U.S. military over counterinsurgency, the specter of a rising China has allowed Pakistan to continue securing American aid. In her book, Fighting to the End, Christine Fair writes that the “depiction of China as Pakistan’s all-weather friend has allowed Pakistan to wrest greater resources from the United States.” This rent seeking behavior has fostered the development of a bureaucracy within Pakistan geared towards constructing and deploying the narrative that China is Pakistan’s eternal ally which increases the likelihood of securing assistance from the US to combat Chinese influence. A lack of expertise and a desire to combat Chinese expansionism at every turn has left the U.S. government susceptible to Pakistani leverage over assistance.


Fears of Chinese cooperation with Pakistan are implicitly part of any discussion of CPEC. Pakistan’s rhetoric about Chinese friendship and cooperation being ‘stronger than steel’ presents CPEC as the beginning of a greater role for China in Pakistan. At the same, CPEC has been pedaled as the next step of Chinese expansionism in South Asia.


In reality, CPEC is unlikely to cause Pakistan to lose interest in U.S. aid. Pakistan is loaned, not given, money from CPEC, and potential economic gains will be felt in the far future, if at all. On the other hand, the United States never expects repayment for assistance, and includes weapons systems that the Pakistani military desperately needs. Pushing Washington away is especially prohibitive to Islamabad given recent positive developments in U.S.-India relations. Thus, the U.S. will remain an indispensable partner for Pakistan. Therefore, without real cause for alarm, giving more aid to Pakistan to make up for a perceived loss of influence due to CPEC would be a tactical mistake.


Even if American influence in Pakistan were threatened by CPEC, increasing military assistance to Pakistan in an attempt to counter Chinese regional expansion would likely be counterproductive. Patricia Sullivan of UNC conducted a review of US military assistance, concluding that, “increasing levels of U.S. military aid significantly reduce cooperative foreign policy behavior with the United States.” Simply put, the US carrot-based approach towards Pakistan does not work; deeply ingrained ties between the military and a culture of militancy makes cracking down on groups that Pakistan’s establishment has tolerated for decades unthinkable.  


Overreacting to CPEC by doubling down on aid to Pakistan would be a mistake. American money has never won Washington Islamabad’s loyalty, and CPEC is unlikely to fundamentally change the balance of power in the region. Instead, enforcing conditions on aid and investing in the development of friendlier regional partners would be more likely to preserve U.S. influence in the region. Recent steps taken by General Mattis to freeze aid over Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani Network are a good step, and may demonstrate the start of a more realistic approach towards Pakistan. Washington should be careful to not let the fear of encroaching Chinese influence lead America back into the futile effort of trying to buy the Pakistani military’s loyalty.

Nawaz Sharif's Corruption Scandal Highlights Pakistani Military's Continued Strength

This week, the Pakistani Supreme Court began hearings that will determine whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will keep his job amidst a sensational corruption scandal. Last year, the leaked Panama Papers revealed that PM Sharif’s children owned luxurious apartments in London through offshore companies. Seizing on the opportunity, political opponents like Imran Khan quickly claimed the funds used to buy the properties were gained illicitly, and that Sharif should resign and be charged with corruption. In response to these claims, the Pakistani Supreme Court commissioned a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to examine the allegations and make recommendations. Last week, the JIT released its findings, stating, “there exists a significant disparity between the wealth declared by the respondents and the means through which the respondents had generated income from known or declared sources,” and advocating that Sharif and his children be tried for their crimes.

Embroiled directly in the scandal is Sharif’s daughter Maryam, viewed by many as her father’s political successor. In order to clear herself of any wrongdoing, Maryam released records from 2006 that supposedly demonstrated she did not own the London properties. However, the Calibri font used in the document was not commercially available until 2007, leading many to conclude she illegally falsified the paperwork. Now dubbed “Fontgate,” this scandal has the opportunity to undermine civilian leadership in Pakistan and reassert the military’s status as the country’s ascendant political power.

While it is possible the Sharif family engaged in corruption, the maneuver is largely a byproduct of the Pakistani military trying to reassert its power over the country. Historically, the Pakistani military has undermined democratic and civilian leadership at every opportunity to perpetuate its own power. As a result, in Pakistan’s 70-year existence, there has never been a regular transfer of power between two prime ministers; all leaders have been dismissed, resigned, assassinated, or overthrown in a coup.

In his early days as a politician, Nawaz Sharif began as a “protégé” of military leader and former Pakistani President General Zia ul-Haq. However, over time his relationship with the military deteriorated significantly. During his second term as prime minister in 1999, PM Sharif planned a move to force army chief Pervez Musharraf into retirement. However, the plan backfired, and Musharraf loyalists in the Pakistani military marched from Rawalpindi to Islamabad to depose Sharif from office. After the coup, Sharif was first sentenced to life in prison, and then exiled to Saudi Arabia, where he remained until returning to Pakistan in 2007.

After returning to office in 2013, PM Sharif’s relationship with the military has remained tenuous. This year, his volatile affiliation with the military boiled over into the press, after members of his administration leaked word of a meeting where the civilian government lambasted military leaders for their hesitance to cut ties completely with Islamist groups. The military responded quickly and harshly, temporarily banning the article’s author from leaving the country and removing Pervez Rashid as information minister. Although Sharif fired two aides that supposedly facilitated the leaks, the military deemed his gesture insufficient, publicly defying his authority and challenging his leadership abilities.

In this context, the corruption scandal takes on a whole different light; instead of a well-intentioned attempt to eradicate corruption and stabilize Pakistan’s political system, it can be viewed as a power play by the military to discredit a long-time rival. The fact that the JIT contained members from Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) organizations – Brig. Kamram Khurzheed and Brig. (retd) Nauman Saeed – demonstrates the complicated entanglement between Pakistan’s military, judicial and political systems. Furthermore, it indicates there are few effective checks and balances that stop the military from extending its influence into politics.

Thus, the Fontgate scandal illustrates the immense power the Pakistani military still holds; if Sharif was still aligned with the military, corruption charges would never have been considered. While Pakistan’s new army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been described as “apolitical,” when threatened by the civilian leadership it manufactures a coup or magnifies a scandal to keep the government weak and turn popular opinion against democratically elected leaders. It is essential to institute a fair political system in Pakistan, and the Sharif family must be punished if it broke the law. However, allowing the military to act with impunity and slowly demolish the civilian government is not the best way to accomplish this feat.