U.S. Afghan strategy will be governed by events in Balochistan


The Pentagon is spinning its wheels in Afghanistan, continuing a questionable counterinsurgency and nation-building strategy because, quite literally, it knows that it won't work, but cannot think of anything else to do. 

It will not succeed because the U.S. and NATO will never regain the military dominance the alliance had in the years immediately after the 2001 toppling of the Taliban government, without which negotiations can only occur from a position of weakness.

The U.S. and NATO do not control the operational tempo or the supply of our troops in land-locked Afghanistan. Pakistan and Iran fuel the insurgency, while the former maintains a strangle-hold on supply convoys. Both Russia and China want us out of the region, preferably precipitated by a humiliating defeat.

Raising troop levels and changing tactics on the ground will not improve the unfavorable strategic conditions.

In fact, U.S. policy in Afghanistan is about to be overtaken by events in Pakistan's southwest province of Balochistan, rendering it obsolete.

And Balochistan is going to get very messy indeed.

In the late 1970s, Pakistan President President Zia-ul-Haq initiated an "Islamization" program, which involved the proliferation of Islamic schools "madrasas" and the promotion of Islamic law "Sharia," designed to create national unity by suppressing ethnic separatism and religious diversity. That policy set in motion a gradual transformation of Balochstan from a traditionally secular and tolerant region into one virtually overflowing with Islamic fundamentalists.

Thanks to that policy and Pakistan's use of Islamic terrorist groups as instruments of its foreign policy, the Taliban now have a solid foothold, not only in the Pashtun Belt of Balochistan bordering Afghanistan, but they are recruiting deep into central Balochistan. There are, for example, two madrasas in Nag, Washuk district (map coordinates 27.408153, 65.136318 and 27.414241, 65.126743), run by active members of the Taliban, who send young jihadis to fight U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. Statistics provided by the Pakistani government estimate that there are more than 5,000 Afghans studying in madrasas in Balochistan, not to mention thousands of Pakistanis undeterred by their government from taking up jihad in Afghanistan. The Taliban will never run out of bodies.

It is important to note that the Taliban do not recognize the present Afghanistan-Pakistan border, defined by the Durand Line, and seek to incorporate Pashtun lands now in Pakistan into a greater Taliban-governed Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Islamization policy created a fertile environment for the growth of Wahhabism in Balochistan, largely fueled by Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab states. Many of those terrorists are transnational, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and virulently anti-Shia groups, such as Jundallah and its offshoot the Salafist Jaish al-Adl, which conduct cross-border attacks on Iran. To counter presumed Saudi attempts to bracket Iran, Iranian intelligence has reportedly both infiltrated and recruited members of separatist groups in western Balochistan opposed to the Pakistani government, a significant development to say the least.

On a collision course with the proliferation of transnational terrorist groups in Balochistan is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of China's larger Belt and Road Initiative, aiming to connect Asia through land-based and maritime economic zones. CPEC is an infrastructure project, the backbone of which is a transportation network connecting China to the Pakistani seaports of Gwadar and Karachi located on the Arabian Sea.

But CPEC is more than a commercial initiative. It is one element of China's strategy to overtake the U.S. as the world's foremost superpower. Huge tracks of land in Gwadar for up to 500,000 Chinese professionals have been allocated for port and naval facility development as well as expansion of the international airport to handle heavy cargo flights. The Chinese have visited and bought land in Sonmiani, which houses Pakistan's spaceport and space research center as well as a planned liquid natural gas terminal.

Chinese military control of Balochistan's Makran coast would allow Beijing to dominate vital sea lanes leading to the Persian Gulf and link to the Chinese base in Djibouti at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, both strategic choke points.

It is clear that China and Pakistan see a continued U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan as an obstacle to CPEC and their strategies for the region.

Concerned about the growing Islamic terrorist threat, there have been a number of meetings on the Pakistan-Iran border near Gwadar in the last few months among Chinese, Iranian and Pakistani officials to discuss security issues.

So, as the Pentagon tweaks its counterinsurgency and nation-building strategy in Afghanistan, just to the south, events in Balochistan are about to make that strategy irrelevant - an explosive mixture of Chinese hegemony, Pakistani and Iranian regional ambitions, transnational Islamic terrorism and a potentially new, Syria-like, Sunni-Shia battleground.

The Pentagon had better check its six o'clock and learn to manage instability.

This article was originally posted by the Balochwarna News on November 10, 2017. It was posted here with the author's permission. 

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of "Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution ". He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.

An Integrated Approach to the Himalayas: Report of the Working Group on the Himalayan Region


On October 31, Hudson Institute’s South and Central Asia Program welcomed Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island for keynote remarks at the launch of a new report, An Integrated Approach to the Himalayas. The report, the product of a working group of seven eminent U.S.-based experts on Asia, lays out a plan for the U.S. to pursue an integrated approach with friendly states and peoples in the Himalayas to address strategic and population security issues, regional connectivity, water usage and climate change, and cultural preservation, including the protection of women and minorities.

A discussion followed Sen. Whitehouse’s remarks, featuring the co-chairs of the working group: Jeff Smith of The Heritage Foundation, Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center, Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute and Eric Brown of Hudson Institute. The conversation was moderated by Amb. Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute.

In his keynote speech, Senator Whitehouse talked about the environmental, economic and geopolitical consequences of glacial retreat on the Tibetan plateau, the most intense in the Himalayas. Poor responses to climate shifts will create shortages of resources such as land and water. This in turn will lead to negative secondary impact such as sickness, hunger, joblessness and conflict. As a result, it will cause reputational harm to America, capitalism and democracy for having failed to address the carbon emission problem in a timely manner. The yearly snow and glacier melts feeds rivers throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. More melting due to climate change will intensify heavy rains during monsoon seasons and will lead to devastating floods. The 2010 floods in Pakistan killed 1700 people, caused food shortages for 4 million people and resulted in $4000 billion loss in property damages. If the glaciers in the western Himalayas continue to disappear, the runoff that supplies Pakistan’s rivers could drop by 40 to 50%. India is planning to build dams in the Chenab river in volatile Kashmir through which the river flows downstream to Pakistan. Pakistan fears that India is using the Chenab flow to put pressure on Islamabad, especially in times of heighten conflict. Senator Whitehouse believes that carbon pollution is driving global climate change. Therefore, he introduced carbon fees through the introduction of American opportunity Carbon Free Act.

Jeff Smith of The Heritage Foundation stated that India’s relationships with many of its neighbors have improved, particularly with Bangladesh as both the countries have resolved their maritime and territorial disputes. According to . Smith, India’s relationships with its two neighbors, China and Pakistan have deteriorated. Chinese incursions in Ladakh, its control of the Gwadar port in Pakistan, military base in Djibouti, and the recent Doklam standoff have created avenues for friction and competition between China and India.  Smith further stated that he is “highly critical of Pakistan’s role in supporting insurgencies, terrorist groups operating within Pakistan targeting India, Afghanistan and United States.” He does not see Pakistan taking a fundamentally different approach towards terrorists within its borders. However, he does see the US government taking a different approach as witnessed from the recent statements by Secretary of State, Tillerson and Secretary of Defense, Mattis. Their statements show greater willingness from the U.S. to use a transactional approach to convey to Pakistan that if there are not results, there will be costs to pay.

Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center started with a broad overview of the report and how it highlighted shared challenges among South Asia and the need for the U.S. to play a greater role in the region. By using water to understand how non-security issues can impact security, Kugelman explained several facets of water stress and its implications. South Asia is a region where there are multiple instances of nations’ sharing water, but not getting along. Kugelman commented that “upper riparian’s may be more inclined to take certain actions that would be able to bottle up water and prevent it from flowing downstream.” When water stress intensifies, “lower riparian’s may be more inclined to retaliate with harsher measures, including violence, to hit back.” In addition to possibly triggering state conflict, water stress can lead to an increased threat of militant insurgencies. Kugelman stressed that “water can become a weapon in regional geopolitics,” highlighting how last year India threatened to unilaterally leave the Indus Waters Treaty when relations deteriorated. As climate-induced issues such as migrating populations, increased urban tension, and the loss of land to drought or flood all rise in intensity and existence, Kugelman asserted that the U.S. should play a more involved role in the Himalaya region to help prevent major security threats.

Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute focused on trade and connectivity in the Himalayan region, saying that weaker states with contested sovereignty have used regional actors to achieve economic and physical integration. The region suffers from various border disputes, and to work around them, most initiatives to create connectivity have geopolitical significance. Pande reasons that “as a result, there is an inherent challenge in trying to disentangle the benign aspect of trade and infrastructure development with that of strategic concern and the broader contest for influence.” She uses China’s One Belt, One Road initiative as an example, since there is growing concern that China’s influence will negatively impact the opportunities of the people in the region. She argues that the U.S. has played a hands-off approach, but needs to be more hands-on as there is an opportunity to promote American interests, as well as impact standards of finance and trade, environmental issues, anti-corruption, and shift the regional balance of power in favor of U.S. friends and allies.

Hudson fellow Eric Brown discussed the geopolitical significance and security implications that lead to this report.  Brown mentioned the importance of the Himalayas as “geopolitics and population security are deeply connected,” the Himalayas used to repel intrusions from those who wanted to own its strategic position, but “history has changed, the people of the Himalayas are very much caught up in the contest for power that has been ongoing between different states”. China is pressing unfounded territorial claims against maritime nations in East and South China Sea, and territorial claims across the Himalayas. Various Indo-Pacific states have come together with India as they are concerned about their security and sovereignty.  Brown further added that  Secretary Tillerson recently made a remarkable speech looking at U.S.-India relations in a 100-year frame, and is looking at India as its strategic partner for this century. If the goal is for free and open Indo-pacific, then we cannot ignore the concerns of  states whose livelihoods depend on the rivers and geography of the Himalayas. India is hesitant about being involved in maritime Indo-Pacific, as it has territorial security concerns across its Himalayan borders. Since 2008, there has been an increase in Chinese incursion policy. Citing Brahma Chellaney, Brown states that there is an incursion by the Chinese forces into Indian territory every 24 hours.

Ambassador Haqqani stated that an assertive China dominated the report and discussion. He further asked if the people and states of the Himalayas such as Bhutan and Nepal would be able to retain their culture and identity, or is it their fate to get squeezed by the giants around them. This region is dominated by India-China competition and questions concerning the role of  the US in preventing cultural repression. Regarding China, Brown stated that there has been cultural repression of people in Xinjiang and Tibet. Previously, New Delhi didn’t want to develop infrastructure along the Himalayan border as it would have encouraged competition and animosity from Pakistan and China. However, New Delhi’s old strategy failed as China started building infrastructure along its Himalayan border, forcing India to change its strategy.  Pande added that the region has ecological challenges and is not well developed. As China-Pakistan Economic Corridor expands, Chinese laborers and engineers enter and there has been change in ethnic demographic of the region.  Smith stated that initially India was the only country to publicly express criticism against the China’s One Belt One Road Initiative. Recently, Secretary Mattis expressed reservations about China’s One Belt One Road Initiative and subsequently, Australia and Japan have expressed their concerns. US, India, Japan and Australia have been working through bilateral and trilateral discussions to promote alternative infrastructure vision. Michael Kugelman stated that if US looks at CPEC from economic lens, then CPEC hopes to build infrastructure and power plants in Pakistan. But if US looks at CPEC from strategic lens, then it is concerning as China is cementing its presence in this region where US has less presence.

In the Q&A round, a question was asked that how other South Asian countries would view an alternative vision to the China’s One Belt One Road initiative from the India-U.S perspective. Smith stated that initially South Asian countries used China to balance off India and increase their leverage against New Delhi. However, there are consequences to Chinese investment in the region. Sri Lanka borrowed billions of dollars of Chinese loans for commercial projects such as the Hambantota airport which is not reaping economic benefits. The money went to Chinese companies, laborers and banks who built and sponsored the investment. When Sri Lanka had problem repaying the loans and asked for China’s help, China suggested that Sri Lanka either borrow more money or give equity stake to China. China also had some secret provisions in the agreement such as sovereign control of the airspace over parts of the airport. This was unacceptable to Sri Lanka. China has also been illegally funding its favorite Sri Lankan political candidates which has also been under investigation. There is broader belief that One Belt One Road initiative is used to promote China’s strategic interests rather than economic/commercial interests.

Additional Authors: Corey Bolyard, Laura Ruiz-Gaona

This event took place on October 31, 2017 at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. You can watch the event here.


Prepare Yourself for Jihad 3.0

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Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York City, committed by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, is a reminder that radical political Islam won’t end with the recent defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa.

Just as the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan soon after 9/11 did not mark the end of al Qaeda, extremist forces in the Muslim world will continue to resuscitate themselves in other forms, in other theaters. If al Qaeda was Jihad 1.0 in our era, and ISIS was Jihad 2.0, we should now prepare for Jihad 3.0. Islamism will continue to be a U.S. national-security concern for years to come.

The New York attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, did not match the standard profile of a jihadi terrorist. He was likely self-radicalized, did not overtly belong to a major terrorist group, and would not have been denied entry under President Trump’s “travel ban” due to his country of origin.

In trying to re-create an Islamic state, radical Islamists draw inspiration from 14 centuries of history. It is important to understand the various Muslim “revivalist” movements, involving various degrees of violence and challenges to the global order of the time. Contemporary radicals often reach into the past to find models for organization and mobilization

It is not a coincidence that al Qaeda (literally “the base”) tried to establish itself first in Sudan before finding a home in Afghanistan. Both Sudan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region had experienced jihad against European powers resulting in short-lived Islamic states in relatively recent times.

ISIS’ choice of Syria and Iraq to declare a caliphate was also a function of the Islamist reverence for historic precedents. Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), and Baghdad was the base of the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258).

In Sudan, Muhammad Ahmad declared himself Mahdi (“the reviver”) and established an unrecognized state from 1885-99 before being defeated by the British. The Mahdists terrorized locals, persecuted religious minorities (notably Coptic Christians), revived the slave trade, and challenged Egypt and its protector, Britain. The death of the movement’s founder in 1885 did not mark the end of jihad.

Eventually, the British defeated the Mahdists militarily with an Anglo-Egyptian force. They also used traditional religious and tribal structures and institutions to challenge Mahdist ideology. Today the Mahdists exist as a Sufi order rather than an extremist group.

Similarly, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area became the base for the jihad movement of Syed Ahmed Barelvi in 1826. Just as Osama bin Laden moved from Saudi Arabia, giving up a comfortable life, Syed Ahmed came from northeastern Indian nobility. He mobilized funds throughout the subcontinent, moved it through the hawala system, and bought arms to use against the British-aligned Sikh empire along the border of modern-day Afghanistan.

Although he was killed in 1831, ending his short-lived Islamic state, Syed Ahmed’s followers continued their random stabbing campaign against the British for another 70 years. Driving cars or trucks into crowds is today’s equivalent of that terrorist campaign.

Eventually, the British deployed military and intelligence means to defeat the jihadists. They also discredited the terrorists’ beliefs by supporting Muslim leaders who opposed radical ideas.

In the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire had less success in dealing with the Wahhabis, who fought the empire for control over the Arabian Peninsula through much of the 19th century. After creating the modern state of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the Wahhabis modified their approach to international relations, though not their theology. Al Qaeda and ISIS manifest the more radical beliefs of the Wahhabis and, though opposed by the modern state of Saudi Arabia, can be construed as a continuation of their Wahhabi teaching.

The U.S. is not capable of whole-scale changes to Islamic theology, nor is it in America’s purview. And portraying the contemporary struggle as a battle with Islam risks making the world’s Muslim population—1.8 billion people—Islamic State’s recruiting pool.

Islam means different things to different people and has been practiced in many ways among various sects across the world and throughout time. The doctrine of jihad is open to interpretation, much like the Christian notion of “just war.” Muslims who consider Islam a religion, not a political ideology, and who pursue piety, not conquest, remain important partners for the U.S.

The U.S. must re-evaluate its alliances in the Muslim world based on whether or not partners encourage extremism. Saudi Arabia’s recent avowal to teach moderation in religion, emulating the United Arab Emirates’ campaign against radical Islamism, deserves American support, as does Morocco’s decision to work with the Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate its people about the Holocaust and teach tolerance.

On the other hand, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s decision to include jihadi teachings in its school curriculum indicate their support of radicalism.

Above all, the U.S. must focus on defeating radical Islamist ideology, not just its periodic manifestation in terrorist attacks.


This article was originally posted by the Wall Street Journal on November 3, 2017. It was posted here with the author's permission. 


Gaps in Indian Midday Meal Scheme's Goals and Vision

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On October 27, 2017, India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) expressed concern over malnutrition and recommended an increase in protein consumption of children enrolled in  the Midday Meal Scheme. The scheme was introduced in all the states of India after 2001, following the Supreme Court’s judgement in order to improve the school enrollment and nutrition of children. The program covers primary government schools (1st to 5th grade) and upper primary government schools (6th to 8th grade). According to various reports and scholarly studies, Midday Meal, the largest school nutrition program in the world with 120 million students, has not only increased enrollment but has also improved nutrition of low-income students (Jayaraman and Simroth 2015; Afridi 2010, 2011; Singh, Park, and Dercon 2014).

Despite the program’s success, only 75% of enrolled students are covered in this program. The Midday Meal Scheme is missing a public vision. A detailed plan on how the goals will be achieved, with target years, will aid the government in its ability to fulfill the scheme’s goals of eliminating malnutrition, reducing nutrition related deficiencies, increasing attendance and closing gaps in infrastructure. Midday Meal Scheme’s success would help India meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. Previously, India had not met the UN Millennium Development Goals in terms of health and education with the target year of 2015.


One of the primary objectives of the Midday Meal Scheme is to improve nutrition of school children so that they can concentrate on their studies. According to official government data, 21.9% of the population still lives below the poverty level, and so the concept of a free meal through this scheme acts as a powerful incentive for poor people to send their children to school. Studies have shown that Midday Meal Scheme has improved the nutrition of children, especially those who live in poverty stricken and drought affected areas (Afridi 2010; Singh, Park, and Dercon 2014). Afridi conducted her study in the poverty stricken Chindwara district of Madhya Pradesh and found that, per school day, for as low a cost as 3 cents per child the scheme reduced the daily protein deficiency of a primary school student by 100%, the calorie deficiency by almost 30%, and the daily iron deficiency by nearly 10% (Afridi 2010), In addition, Singh, Park and Dercon found that the MDM program acted as a safety net for children, providing large and significant health gains for children whose families suffered from drought (Singh, Park, and Dercon 2014).

In spite of these gains, nutrition related deficiencies such as malnutrition, stunting, underweight and anemia remain significant among a sizable proportion of children. Midday Meal Scheme’s Fifth Joint Review Mission was the most comprehensive report as 18 states and union territories were covered. The report showed that in the category of moderately malnourished children, the highest number for boys was 31.65% in Tamil Nadu whereas the lowest number for boys was 6.08% in Arunachal Pradesh. These findings are significant as boys who were moderately malnourished were in the range of 6.08%-31.65% in different states. Severely malnourished boys ranged from 30.73% in Uttar Pradesh to 0% in several other states. In addition, moderately malnourished girls ranged from as high as 31.53% in Gujarat to as low as 4.11% in Manipur. Severely malnourished girls ranged from 21.02% in Uttar Pradesh to 0% in several other states. A different Joint Review Mission Report of 2015 was based on visits to the states of Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka and Kerala and concluded that “in most states, the nutritional status of a majority of the students of both sexes was very poor, with high incidence of stunting and underweight for the age of the children, and anemia and micronutrient deficiency.”

In 2000, India pledged eight Millennium Development Goals, out of which was to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. For India, that target was 26%, but malnourishment declined to only 40%. In 2015, India pledged to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Indian government’s premier think-tank NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) states that Midday Meal Scheme would be one of the government’s interventions in achieving this goal. However, there is no publicly available document which mentions how such a goal would be achieved. In the 2017 National Voluntary Review report submitted to the UN, the Indian government states that although children with stunted growth and that are underweight at under age five have declined to 38.4% and 35.7%, the absolute levels still remain high. Though the government mentions that Midday Meal Scheme is one of the interventions used to end hunger and promote nutrition, it fails to mention proportions of stunting, underweight and anemic primary school children, which are addressed in various Midday Meal central and state reports. These problems are not just restricted to children less than 5 years old but also within primary school children.

These reports by the government show that nutrition related deficiencies still remain major challenges to be overcome. The disconnect between the various Midday Meal reports and the government’s efforts to reverse stunting, anemia and malnutrition prevents Midday Meal Scheme from reaching its goals. There needs to be detailed plan with deadlines and a vision so that the goals of ending hunger, malnutrition and nutrition related deficiencies could be achieved by 2030.


One of the major objectives of the Midday Meal Scheme is to increase the enrollment, attendance and retention of primary school children. Studies by scholars such as Afridi (2011) and Jayaram and Simroth (2015) conclude that Midday Meal Scheme leads to an increase in daily school participation in lower grades (Afridi 2011; Jayaraman and Simroth 2015). Despite significant gains in primary school enrollment and completion, enrollment and completion figures drop at the upper primary school level (class 6th -8th). The 2014-2015 report titled, School Education in India, published by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration and Ministry of Human Resource Development, stated that at the primary level, the net enrolment ratio and retention rate are 87.41 and 83.7. However, the net enrolment ratio at the upper primary level is 72.48. So, there is still room for improvement at primary and upper primary levels. The gross enrolment ratio numbers are much higher, with primary level at 100.08 and upper primary level at 91.24. As the class increases, the net enrolment ratio also drops.

UN Millennium goals website states that India made “moderate progress” on the universalization of primary education in 2015. As far as the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 are concerned, the government has pledged that all girls and boys would complete primary and secondary education by 2030. The government states that Midday Meal Scheme is one of its schemes which would help it achieve the 2030 goal. Again, there is no document available which explains how this goal would be achieved. The education objective of the Midday Meal Scheme needs a detailed plan and target years so that 2030 goals could be achieved.


Meal preparation is an important part of the Midday Meal Scheme but there are still delays in the construction of kitchen-cum-stores and the availability of LPG gas. With such serious infrastructural gaps, the objective of the scheme in terms of nutrition and education could not be realized. The document from the 10th Meeting of National Steering-cum-Monitoring Committee (2016) states that out of 1 million sanctioned kitchen-cum-stores, construction in 12% of them has not even started. Construction of kitchen and stores are very important in ensuring safety and hygiene of food. Bihar’s Gandamal school in which 23 children died due to meal poisoning, neither had a kitchen (food was cooked in a verandah) nor a proper storage facility to cook food (Khera 2013). In addition, only 38% of schools have LPG gas available to cook food. The Joint Review Mission reports have continuously raised concerns about the use of firewood still prevalent in schools. Firewood is not only unsafe, but also unclean for the school premises.


So far, Midday Meal Scheme has helped improve enrollment, attendance and nutrition of primary school children. The achievements have been exemplary, but still the lack of universal primary enrollment/attendance, malnutrition and nutrition related illnesses remain major concerns. The scheme needs a public vision so that its objectives of universal primary education and improved nutrition can be fully realized. Simultaneously, the scheme still has major infrastructural gaps which need to be addressed.

By clearly stating target years and detailing a plan on how the goals will be achieved, a public vision of the program would promote accountability and transparency. Studies have shown that when citizens have access to government information, it has resulted in accountability and transparency, such as with the Right to Information Act. Publicly stated goals with various target years would not only prompt the government to achieve the ultimate 2030 goals but would also encourage citizens to ask questions regarding the program’s progress. Journalists, activists and citizens can ask questions from the government if the target year deadlines are not met on time. Publicly stated goals and target years with detailed descriptions of how these goals will be achieved are necessary in making the government accountable. Otherwise, 2030 goals will remain as unfulfilled as the 2015 UN goals.




Afridi, Farzana. 2010. “Child Welfare Programs and Child Nutrition: Evidence from a Mandated School Meal Program in India.” Journal of Development Economics 92 (2):152–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdeveco.2009.02.002.

Afridi, Farzana. 2011. “The Impact of School Meals on School Participation: Evidence from Rural India.” The Journal of Development Studies 47 (11):1636–56. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2010.514330.

Jayaraman, Rajshri, and Dora Simroth. 2015. “The Impact of School Lunches on Primary School Enrollment: Evidence from India’s Midday Meal Scheme: Impact of School Lunches on Primary School Enrollment.” The Scandinavian Journal of Economics 117 (4):1176–1203. https://doi.org/10.1111/sjoe.12116.

Khera, Reetika. 2013. “Mid-Day Meals: Looking Ahead.” Economic & Political Weekly (Mumbai, India), August 10, 2013. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/158C9F0788FDDD58?p=AWNB.

Singh, Abhijeet, Albert Park, and Stefan Dercon. 2014. “School Meals as a Safety Net: An Evaluation of the Midday Meal Scheme in India.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 62 (2):275–306. https://doi.org/10.1086/674097.


Neighbors in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent



On October 25, Hudson Institute hosted a discussion on former Senator Larry Pressler’s book “Neighbors in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent.” Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States Husain Haqqani, who moderated the conversation, introduced Larry Pressler, also known as the author of the Pressler Amendment that “limited foreign countries from using U.S. aid to develop nuclear weapons”. The amendment resulted in the discontinuation of U.S. aid to Pakistan in the 1990s. The discussion included the history of the amendment, and the Senator’s opinion on the spread of weapons of mass destruction, as well as his concern on specific countries such as Pakistan and India.


To the question “How concerned are you about the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Senator Pressler stated “Pakistan is more dangerous than North Korea.” The Senator explained that Pakistan does not have an organized and centralized control of nuclear weapons, so the weapons could be easily exported to other countries. Senator Pressler explained that the seriousness of the problem was exacerbated by the role American law and consulting firms played as intermediaries in accessing the policies of the U.S. government. He referred to this system as “the octopus,” because of its tentacles that convert the U.S. in a military industrial state. For the Senator, foreign policy should not depend on law and consulting firms, but on rational policies far removed from personal interests. He explains that if the amendment had been followed, the Asian sub-continent would be a nuclear-free zone.

Ambassador Haqqani stated that some people find it discriminatory how harsh the senator’s discourse is towards Pakistan compared to India. Mr. Pressler ensured that his criticism was directed towards nuclear weapons in multiple countries, including India, but he emphasized Pakistan because of its lack of transparency regarding the nuclear weapons programs. India on the other hand, showed discomfort with the amendment but was more reliable. Furthermore, the speaker explained that in the U.S., about fifteen people are in control for the launch of nuclear weapons, whereas in India the Parliamentary system makes it clear who is in charge. However, in Pakistan, the power is concentrated among army and that makes it very difficult to know who controls the nuclear weapons.

Regarding the spread of nuclear weapons, Ambassador Haqqani asked a question about the possibility of going back to a global order where a limited number of countries would have nuclear weapons, and if it would be possible for some countries to give up their nuclear weapons. The senator explained that it is not possible, but his book contains certain policy recommendations such as determining sanctions and developing international pressure in order to generate transparency.  One suggestion was to declare Pakistan a terrorist state and to treat India as a priority. In the current context, the senator explains that Trump’s government has been on the correct road to nuclear non-proliferation as it has been prioritizing India-U.S. relations and free trade.

Ambassador Haqqani continued the discussion by asking about the conflict in Senator Pressler’s discourse of engaging and isolating countries. His first discourse presented in the Pressler Amendment was pro engagement, giving conditional aid to the countries who did not go nuclear, while now the idea of isolating countries seems more plausible. The speaker explained that the first amendment aimed to negotiate, but when former president George H.W. Bush found that Pakistan had nuclear weapons and was not being transparent, he understood that the U.S. needed to stop sending aid to to Pakistan, but the amendment would have been a good way to stop the proliferation. Ambassador Haqqani contradicted this point by asking why the sanctions imposed did not stop Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons, to which Mr. Pressler responded that Pakistan thought that the amendment was a temporary measure, not a part of the administration policy, but with complete information about the consequences Pakistan would have stopped constructing weapons. Regarding the current context, conditions to terrorism are not being accomplished, “secretary Tillerson is taking to both the Koreans and the Pakistanis to all of this”.

“North Korea is a major treat that people recognize”, asserted Ambassador Haqqani, as there is no transparency about the decision making of the country, so “why isn’t there more of a focus on North Korea’s nuclear program that we already see?” Senator Pressler explained that China and Russia have been involved, but also international firms export arms without caring about whom they are selling them to. Washington, for example, has agencies that can be lobbied to get licenses to export weapon materials, so “United States is a massive proliferator if we go back to the very beginning.”

To the question of what legislations the senator would pose if he was in the senate again, he answered that going back to the old school republican public policy would be his solution, using trade and non-proliferation to be sure there is a transparent structure.

“Getting Brazil to give up nuclear weapons led Argentina to stop its programs, so would this work in South Asia too?”, asked the moderator Haqqani. The senator answered that the problem came in the 70’s and 80’s, when the U.S. was sending a message in South Asia about how important it was to stop nuclear weapons proliferation. The speaker affirmed that policy formulation need to come from several institutions with a common ground and US-India nuclear agreement still needs further development.

At the end of the conversation, Ambassador Haqqani asked Mr. Pressler what had been his motivation in writing the book. The speaker replied that he wrote this book as he is concerned that the nuclear issue might become a threat to the human race and he hopes that his book can initiate this conversation in party platforms and campaigns. The senator finally explained that he is not anti-Pakistan, but his main point is lack of transparency in Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Questions and Answers

Finally, the discussion ended with questions and commentaries for the audience. Commentaries included the challenges of creating India-U.S. nuclear power plants, the ineffectiveness of sanctions in Pakistan, the critiques of the amendment that might have exacerbated the nuclear expansion in Pakistan, and the problem of isolating countries, as they will start selling weapons to terrorists. Some of the questions included the importance of North Korea’s threat, to which Mr. Pressler answered that it is important to listen and understand the ego behind the nuclear programs. Another question was how is it possible that Pakistan has not had incidents with nuclear weapons while the U.S has, to which the senator explained that the problem of nuclear proliferation is that mistakes affect everyone, not just the country that owned the weapon.

Nepal’s FDI Trajectory and Desire for Economic Growth

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As post-conflict Nepal is approaching its final phases of political transition with peace on the horizon, the narratives of economics and development are gaining steam. Encouraged by the exemplary economic growth of its larger neighbors, China and India, Nepal’s political and economic establishments are actively calling on global investors, promising to create a friendly business climate.  Nepal primarily wants mega international investors to invest in infrastructure, which it believes will lay the foundation for the country’s long overdue development and modernization. Nepalese increasingly argue that the country needs investment, not aid. By some estimates, Nepal is second to Afghanistan by poverty ranking in Asia, with a USD 21 billion annual GDP.

Nepal had its parliamentary system restored in the 1990s, and the new democratic government initiated policy reforms which resulted in some growth in the foreign direct invest (FDI) when compared to the nominal inflows of FDI in the 1980s.  Nepal adopted liberal trade policies – the Washington Consensus – which reduced heavy tariffs and liberalized the exchange regime. For the low cost manpower, manufacturing was one attractive sector, along with Nepal’s untapped sectors of hydropower and tourism. Since then India has been the major FDI source for Nepal for two decades, and has only recently been surpassed by China. In the Fiscal Year 2010-11, the 10 leading investor countries were: India, China, USA, South Korea, Mauritius, Canada, UK, Singapore, Japan and Norway (Source: Department of Industries, Industry Statistics)

The Nepali Congress, the biggest democratic party of the time, embraced policies to roll out the red carpet to the liberal institutions and international investors. The Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act was introduced in 1992.  However, such measures failed to attract international investments for several reasons, and Nepal remained the lowest recipient of FDI compared to other South Asian countries.

Nepal continued to be unfavorable for investments due to several factors. Apart from Nepal’s untapped hydro-power potential and tourism, there were very few niche sectors. The reforms adopted were insufficient to facilitate trade and investment. Nepal’s scale of economy could not attract large international investment without the market access to the neighbors India or China. The newly restored multiparty system became extremely partisan and large investments were highly politicized to the extent that investors pulled out, for instance, the World Bank withdrew from the Arun III hydropower project. Most importantly, in the mid-1990s the Maoists rebels waged an armed conflict which led to an unprecedented worsening of security situation. Similarly, other barriers remained in place: red tape, problems regarding labor laws and taxations, ineffective management, corrupt behavior, lack of infrastructure, and a lack of skilled manpower. There has been a push back from protectionist camp. Some leaders have also used trade and investment agreements to get political mileage by portraying them as a breach of sovereignty.

The FDI began to increase in  2008 as Nepal took a major step forward in its peace transition with the promulgation of the interim constitution and the subsequent constituent assembly election. At this point, Indian investment spiked from USD 28 million to USD 70 million; in fact, India’s investment expanded significantly in Nepal after the two countries signed a trade agreement in 1996. Successive Nepalese governments took different initiatives to attract FDI in 2011-14, which included the formation of a Nepal Investment Board with the view to provide an effective one-stop shop for investors to promote investments, commitments to establishing Special Economic Zones, “a Trade and Industrial Policy, Trade Integration Strategy, Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) with India, and Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the US.” However, given the volatile political transition, the country did not see much increase in FDI inflows.

Mainly due to the growing investment from India and China, FDI rose substantially reaching USD 104.6 in 2009-10 and USD 116.3 in 2010-11, but then slowed down due to domestic political uncertainty, despite the fact that the global FDI flows recovered in 2012. After the 2015 earthquake, the figure dropped and then picked up again in 2016 when Nepal received USD 106 million in FDI, doubling the FDI inflows of 2015 and had USD 653 million FDI stock. In the Fiscal Year 2014-15, the government approved many project proposals from various countries: 125 from China, 55 from South Korea, 40 from US, 23 from India, 18 from Japan, 11 from the UK, and several more from other countries (Source: Department of Industry)

Despite all these efforts and gradual upward FDI inflows, in the last 5 years, there has not been any increase in large investments, although sector-wise there was some investment growth. Nepal is missing out on an opportunity, since globally the LDCs (Least Developed Countries) are the bigger recipients of FDI than developed countries. In fact, companies are pulling out from Nepal due to the country’s unfavorable political climate. For instance, Norwegian company Statkraft withdrew from 650 MW Tamakoshi hydropower project citing regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles.  

In the 2017 Nepal Investment Summit, several countries pledged huge amounts for sectors such as agriculture, roads and railways, tourism, energy. China promised massive USD 8 billion investment in Nepal. Altogether Nepal received over USD 13 billion investment offer in response to Nepal’s “great desire” (in the words of Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitely) for economic growth. However, despite these pledges, questions remain about such investment materializing.  Nepal ranks 107th in the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business list. The traditional hurdles remain, and the country continues to suffer from very weak law and order situation, increasing corruption and political brinkmanship which will most likely discourage potential investors. However, leaders across the political spectrum, liberals and “communists” alike, are “on the same page” (in the words of the Communist Party of Nepal - United Marxist Leninist leader K P Oli) regarding the important role of foreign investments and private sectors in economic growth.

But regardless of politicians’ words, Nepal has big internal and external challenges before it puts commitments into action. In 2015, about 20% of the FDI inflows came from “tax havens.” Some non-transparent approval process for investments coming in from British Virgin Islands is already dragging bureaucrats and politicians into controversy. For its part, the Nepalese business community is asking the government to enable FDI outflows from Nepal which they deem necessary to increase FDI inflows. Similarly, Nepalese leadership is far from ensuring Nepal’s integration into the South Asian economy to make the country an attractive FDI destination. Likewise, protectionism still resonates in Nepal. Therefore, whether Nepal will be able to convince international partners to invest remains to be seen Nepal’s case shows that  liberalized policies only are insufficient to attract FDIs without domestic social, political and economic stability, inter alia.

Pakistan’s Army Just Handed Religious Extremists A Huge PR Victory

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At a press conference on Thursday, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor handed religious extremists a huge PR victory. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the Army spokesman said, “Neither the armed forces have compromised on Namoos-e-Risalat (SAW), nor would they compromise on it in future.” Gen. Ghafoor was answering a question about Pakistan’s election law, which requires candidates to sign a document declaring their belief in the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad. The Army’s action is likely to encourage violent extremists.

The declaration of Khatm-e-Nabuwwate is a sectarian litmus test that excludes from office Ahmadi Muslims who follow the teachings of 19th century religious leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Ahmadi Muslims suffer extensive persecution by both the state and violent extremist groups in Pakistan.

Gen. Ghafoor’s statement goes even further, though. He not only spoke out in support of the controversial election law, but declared that the Army would not compromise on Namoos-e-Risalat, or “respect for the Prophet.” Namoos-e-Risalat has been used by violent religious extremists to justify the nations notorious blasphemy lawsassassination of political figures, and the subjugation of women. The Army has now delivered a clear message to these extremists that they have the military’s support.

At issue is not whether or not Gen. Ghafoor or any other officers believe in the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood, but the practical implications of what is a PR blunder of epic proportions. Recognizing the serious danger in speaking openly about religious topics, the Army spokesman only had to respond to the question about the election law by noting that such matters are the responsibility of the National Assembly, not the Army. In fact, it is arguable that by making such statements, the Army overstepped its constitutional role. Instead, the Army chose to take a side in public discussion not only about about legislative matters, but about the role of religion in society.

For an institution so obsessed with the role of “narratives” in shaping Pakistan’s society, it is hard to imagine that the Army was unaware of what it was doing by making this declaration. Sadly, for all their talk about the need to fight extremist ideology as well as militants, Pakistan’s Army just handed those extremists a major PR victory.

South Asia's Human Capital Crisis

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South Asia, a region with 1.7 billion people and a combined GDP of almost US $ 3 trillion, faces a demographic nightmare if it continues to fail to invest in its human capital. The majority of the population in this region is under the age of 21 years, which could be asset with proper education and training. But the region is squandering its potential and faces a human capital crisis.

The World Bank’s ‘World Development Report 2018: ‘Learning to Realize Education’s Promise’, report ranks India second after Malawi in a list of 12 countries “wherein a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text.” India is also at the top of a list of seven countries “in which a grade two student could not perform two-digit subtraction.”

On September 13, 2017 The World Economic Forum released the Global Human Capital Report for 2017 that contained the Global Human Capital Index. This index ranks 130 countries “on how well they develop their human capital. According to the index the two regions with the highest human capital development gap were South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Sri Lanka (rank 70) was the top performer of the region with others Nepal (98), India (103), Bangladesh (111) and Pakistan (125) far behind.

As the World Bank report notes education “spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion.” Unfortunately South Asian countries have lagged behind in spending on basic human development indicators primarily education. The global average for government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is 4.7 percent. The South Asia average is 2.9 percent reflecting the lack of sustained government investment in investing in education, from investment in educational institutions to personnel training to vocational and skill based training.

Global literacy rate (percentage of people ages 15 and above who are literate) in 2016 stood at 86.3 percent. In South Asia, it stands at 66.7 percent, with Sri Lanka being the top performer at 91%, and others far behind with Bangladesh at 73%, India at 69% and Pakistan at only 57%.

Low human capital has an impact on economic growth and development. If we look at the figures for the two largest countries in South Asia they face a huge employment crisis. Every year 12 million Indians enter the labor market, however, as of 2015, only 5.5 million jobs were created annually in India. Around 2 million Pakistanis enter the job market annually and unemployment stands at almost 15 percent.

Economies that seek to grow invest in research and development (R & D) and how much a government spends on research and development (R & D) is another important measure of its investment in human assets. The global expenditure on R & D as a percentage of GDP stands at 2.23 percent with the United States investing 2.7 percent, China 2.1 percent, Japan 3.2 percent and South Asia less than 1 percent.

While South Asia is lacking, it is striking how abysmally low India’s numbers are. It is astounding that a country like India that seeks to grow in double digits and educate all its people spends less than 0.63 percent of its GDP on R & D.

The Hays Global Skills Index analyzes the global skills market and seeks to “throw a spotlight on the supply of skilled labor and the demand for those skills among employers.” The index examines 33 major economies with India the only South Asian economy.

According to the 2017 report lack of investment in India’s human capital has impacted India’s rankings on the global skills index. While India has moved up from 4.8 in 2015 to 5.0 in 2016 yet further upward movement is hindered because of lack of Indian graduates with degrees entering the labor market; India’s decades old labor market regulations which hinder ease of business and the increasing gap between high and low skilled wages. Both the Hays Index and the World Bank have also noted India’s “low labor market participation.”

In addition to not having enough skilled workers there is also the issue of developing skill sets. As of 2015 less than 5% of India’s 487 million workers had received any formal skills training. This is in sharp contrast to industrialized countries where the figure is closer to 60%.

Skills deficit is not an issue limited to India but is prevalent all across South Asia. In 2015 The Economist released a report titled ‘Skills needed: Addressing South Asia’s deficit of technical and soft skills: Analyzing the gap in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.’ The report estimated that graduate unemployment stood at 33% in India, 28% in Pakistan, 20% in Nepal and only 7% in Sri Lanka.

The Economist also found that unemployment rate rose “with level of education” primarily because “youth with lower educational background come from lower income households and cannot afford to remain unemployed for long.” This, however, ensured that labor productivity remained low.

The skill deficit is not limited simply to technical skills but also soft skills. If we turn to India, numerous reports in the last decade have spoken of the need for better quality education, elementary English language skills and more on-the job training.

According to a 2017 study by Aspiring Minds, an Indian employability assessment company, which surveyed 36,000 engineering students in over 500 colleges across India, 95 percent of Indian engineers “are not fit to take up software development jobs.” In addition to lacking technical skills more than sixty-seven per cent of Indian engineering graduates are not fluent in the English language and more than three-fourths of these students “lack spoken English skills required for any job in the knowledge economy.

In the last two years the Indian government has sought to meet these challenges by launching programs targeting skill development. The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana was launched in July 2015. However, in the first year the placement rate only stood at 18 percent and in the second year at 12 percent. According to a report by the Confederation of Indian Industry, a leading Indian business association, the Indian economy created only 3.8 million jobs between 2014 and 2017 only enough to absorb one-fourth of the 12 million new laborers that enter the job market annually.

South Asia overall lags behind in female labor force participation. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) the global female labor force participation ratestands at 49.5 percent but it stands at only 29 percent for South Asia. What is also striking is that as South Asian economies have grown there has been a decline in female participation in the labor force. In 1990 it stood at 62 percent in Bangladesh, 35 percent in India, and 46 percent in Sri Lanka. Today it stands at 43 percent in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India and 30 percent in Sri Lanka. Nepal is an outlier as the rate has hovered around 79-80 percent and Pakistan is the exception with rate rising from 13 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2016.

A 2013 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report ‘Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity,’ and a 2016 report by Mckinsey Global Institute argue that better education and higher female labor force participation boost economic growth.

A demographic dividend can turn into a demographic nightmare if there are large number of educated and uneducated unemployed youth. It can lead to a rise in crime, social unrest, and upheaval.

South Asia as a whole needs to invest heavily in its human resources by allocating more resources on improving standards of education, literacy and language learning, skills development, vocational training and research and development.

Revisiting the Founding Fathers

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The news today is brimming with rampant violence against minorities around the world. Particularly in India and Pakistan where events like a dairy farmer accused of being a cow smuggler and beaten to death by cow vigilante, the massacre of Christian minorities in Pakistan on Easter Sunday, taking the lives of over seventy innocent people, a Muslim bodybuilder beaten to death in India and a Hindu girl slapped for sipping tea with a Muslim person have become increasingly common occurrences.

The religious vigilantism is not only subsuming the moral and intellectual principles the founding fathers of India and Pakistan emphasised but also hurting the global statue of growing economies like India. In light of these events, the importance of  discovering and understanding the ideas that the founding fathers of both nations so strongly adhered too is critical. So that through the act of reasoning about history, we all can begin to detest communal violence in the way the founding fathers of India and Pakistan had done.

The Founding Fathers

Undoubtedly, there were many figures central to the making of modern India and Pakistan. I would be remiss to accredit everything to only two individuals. Nevertheless, two men specifically infused the hearts of millions with their spirit for freedom like no others. Therefore,  they are regarded as the father of their respective nations, India and Pakistan. Formally, they were born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but fondly people call them Bapu (father) and Quaid-e-Azam (the great leader). Jinnah and Gandhi are tremendously important, foundational figures for our nations, but their overriding importance for us is not their obvious historical significance in their countries’ national stories; rather, it lies in their understanding in their struggles, not always successful, to help people realize the moral high ground and the importance of respecting minority rights.

Today, the successor nation states of India and Pakistan have begun to ask a quite curious question: Why does Jinnah matter? and Why does Gandhi matter? For many Indians and Pakistanis they have become obsolete. The representations of Jinnah and Gandhi most readily found are the ones on the five thousand rupee and two thousand rupee notes in Pakistan and India. They are immortalized figures but unfortunately, that leads them to be blamed for every crisis, past and present. The distorted perceptions about Jinnah and Gandhi are used to encourage communal tensions. As mob lynching and vigilante justice become increasingly prevalent in India and Pakistan, it is time the citizens of these nations ask themselves,--- Why the founding fathers matter?

Both Jinnah and Gandhi were staunch believers in protecting the rights of minorities. Take for example, Gandhi’s decision to fast until death during the massacre of Muslims in Delhi and Sikhs in the Punjab region during the riots in 1948. One of his main motivations was to stop the inhumane treatment and savage killings taking place in the subcontinent. Also, he demanded that the mosque in Mehrauli, the shrine of Qutubuddin, that had been seized should be returned to the Muslim community. Gandhi famously proclaimed, Swaraj (freedom) was like a bed with four pillars and the first one signified Hindu-Muslim harmony. It was critical for Gandhi to build-bridges with the Indian minority Muslim population."I believed even at [a] tender age that...it did not matter if I made no special effort to cultivate friendship with Hindus, but I must make friends with at least a few muslims" he said in 1942.

Similarly, Jinnah confronted a mob of Muslims who were attacking Hindus during partition and declared himself “protector general of the Hindus”. In his famous speech to the constituent assembly on the eve of Independence, Jinnah emphasised, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”Undoubtedly, it is a reassuring feeling to recall such principled men, since such bravery among leaders has become a rare occurrence. Today, politicians benefit heavily from negating the importance of the founding fathers.

Despite the effort of intolerant groups that espouse a struggle between the minority and the majority, an examination of the founding father’ vision allows us to understand that even insurmountable differences can be bridged through understanding, finding common ground and, rediscovering the humanity within us all.  In order to forge ahead harmoniously in the seventh decade of our independence, we must re-discover compassion for minorities that our founding fathers exemplified. We must learn in our respective countries also to treat minorities with respect.  

(A different version of this blog is posted on Huffpost and Al Bilad English Daily)

India at 70: Reminiscences on the Rise of an Economic Power

Copyright: Hudson Institute

Copyright: Hudson Institute

After an introduction by Dr. Aparna Pande, Director of Hudson Institute's Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, the discussion was handed over to Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, to welcome the notable speaker of the day, Y.V Reddy. “He served as the 71st governor of Reserve Bank of India and had a very long career in the Indian Administrative Services,” said Alyssa Ayres. She articulated the agenda which constituted a discussion, followed by a questions and answers session about Y.V Reddy’s “remarkable book that provides insights into India’s economic institutions,” titled Advice and Dissent: My Life in Public Service. Mr Reddy said,  “my book is my version of what I could see and what I could feel,” and “by in large it is a first hand account of the things I was involved in.”

Mr Reddy, who described his career as “part of India that moved from 1947,” went on to inform the audience that “the general impression is that the reforms of 1991 introduced the economic growth; it is partly true but it was a long journey.” To exemplify this,the discussion ranged discussion ranged from the making of modern India in 1947 to its rise as a major player in the subcontinent. He pointed to other reasons for India’s economic growth as the idea that “after the 1970s we did not have war, we seldom calculate the cost of war”  in allowing for a country to grow. He also highlighted that highest growth since 1999s to present times has been during the coalition government's. He asserted that “a coalition produces stronger results in the context of India.”

Alyssa Ayres asked for a comment regarding the imposition of economic sanctions after the first 1998 nuclear tests in India, to which Mr. Reddy replied, in the context of sanctions “we had to discuss whether we should give an assurance to the markets...that we will take care, so we had difference in opinion, my view was the we don’t know the magnitude of the problem,” and “we quickly calculated the possible impact on capital economy, that is capital flow...we calculated the cap, that cap had to be faired up and therefore, we released the special bond.” He continued,“ here it was done without amnesty, it was done in the face of actions.”

On a more personal note he shared that he “ feel[s] in telugu and thinks in english”. While switching gears, the moderator asked for the “tricks of the trade” that seemed to be seamlessly incorporated in his book. She requested a comment on blurring hierarchies through the use of different language mentioned in the book. Mr. Reddy answered the question with an anecdote about his career.  “Early in my career, first let me explain, first five years in service, I had eight transfers. The first thing I learned as a junior officer was in a conference, a big, big boss said something inappropriate”. I said,  ‘Sir, my humblest impression is Sir, that you should not do that Sir.’” He continues, “the problem in the hierarchy is the ego and the second difference arises because of the hypothesis.” He concluded the story by saying “I always avoided unpleasantness.”

The moderator posed a question about credit rating agencies being treated unfairly, to which he responded “if they rate too hardly, they won’t be in business,” and “in reality there is not really competition in the global financial markets, there are a  few credit ratings, and other institutions.” He continued, “the truth is somewhere between what the advanced and developing countries thought.” When asked how to extend financial inclusion to more Indians, he said, “it only became a global agenda after G20 meeting, only after the global financial crisis.” “My idea was money and finance should not only be for financiers,” and  “we have given a licence to a bank to accept non-collator then they should help the people.”

Regarding the biggest risks today in the world, he reminded the audience “how many changes since the financial crisis? Is there a new normal? I’m afraid not,”  and “the old crisis is not sorted out.” He also asserted that “finance is global, regulation is national. How to handle that?” He urged for a “rebalancing process,”  since “the real activity is shifting to the East, finance is in the west, working population is  in the east.” He said, “there will be a transformation of technology and geography in the next decades,” and this will be “ the biggest challenges for the rural economy.”

This was followed by the audience asking questions about China and India regarding the challenges both countries face in terms of development. The questions ranged from the structure of the Indian economy to the effective range of interest rates.

To watch the discussion, click here

Pakistan at 70: Can Pakistan Become an Asian Tiger?

Copyright: Hudson Institute

Copyright: Hudson Institute

“India and Pakistan now have been independent for 70 years and their trajectory matters for the rest of the world” said Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, to open the discussion about the present and future trajectory of Pakistan. After contextualizing the fragility and instability of the economy, Ambassador Haqqani presented a very positive perspective regarding the future of the economy: Dr. Nadeem ul Haque’s book Looking Back: How Pakistan became an Asian Tiger by 2050. Haqqani alsointroduced Marvin Weinbaum, Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the Middle East Institute, who also presented his view and opened discussion on the book.

In words of Ambassador Haqqani, Dr. Nadeem ul Haque’s unique view opens the debate by “creating a fictional story of Pakistan success”, targeted to a young public and anyone interested in a “revolution of thoughts” that would lead to a change in Pakistanis mentality, and at a later stage, would make Pakistan an Asian Tiger by 2050.

Dr. Nadeem ul Haque describes his book as a transportation in time. He affirms this is a valuable exercise, usually done by experts to predict the tendency that the economy will follow, but this time in the form of a fictional book. “We get to 2050, Pakistan has become an Asian Tiger, all good things are happening”, there are modern cities and many other good-looking indicators that show economic growth. A UN commission evaluates what has happened and finds that, by 2020, Pakistan still had a lot of issues, so what changed? He transports us to 2020, a year with high population growth rate and where social indicators show that Pakistan’s economy is very fragile. Social indicators describe the country as a “fragile state”, which make necessary a $15 billion study to understand what is happening. The results: even with the negative statistics, the young population has positive effects as it leads to entrepreneurship, migration and a growing middle class. Nevertheless, there is high growth volatility and productivity decline.

Dr. Ul Haqueexplains further that before the reform, the government is not making good policies. However, two agents of change appear: leadership by the openness of academics and funding from Washington. Both agents are analyzed with a methodology to “look at the system as a whole”, the idea is not to push the economy in certain direction but to follow its direction. Networks, in which debate is incentivized, emerge by 2023 to 2025, and the government starts to be questioned. The conclusion is that the government is thought of as benevolent instead of predatory. When there is a crisis there are no reforms, so Pakistan gets a bailout and then continues badrent seeking policies. This situation eventually leads to a crisis again. Austerity transformed Pakistan into a fragile state. After understanding the problematic, the book shows a reform period from 2028 to 2030, it includes changes in the colonial legacy and breaking rent-seeking behavior. It emphasises that understanding social mobility and land distribution is key. From 2029 to 2031, the cities develop and vibrant markets appear. The society becomes inclusive and Pakistan transforms into a more secular state thanks to the arrival of new alternatives. Dr. Ul Haque ended his speech emphasizing the importance of learning globally but acting locally.

The second panelist, Marvin Weinbaum points out the importance of understanding the context in which Pakistan now exists. Heargues that the book provides a guide that encourages development, but it does not include all the potential that is needed to arrive to that reality. Some key elements that were not discussed in the book are how the obsession with India ends, how the region in which Pakistan is located contributes to the evolution of the country and how transformations include social changes, all of which are crucial for a real change.

To conclude, Ambassador Haqqani raised the question of how the changes proposed by the book could adapt to real life in a context where elites are not willing to lose control, and where there is military power and “emotional distance” from the people when discussing the future of the country. The audience contributed to the discussion by asking questions about the importance of this conversation for the public in Washington DC, the barrier of proposing changes based on unreliable datacollected in Pakistan, and the importance of quality of governance.

Dr. Ul Haque concluded the discussion by answering these questions. He stated that ideas are the motor of change. He affirms that history has shown us how every change has been preceded by thinkers who understand the possibilities and the context, and that is the only way to produce a change. He sustains that to end corruption the system of governance needs to change. The evolution that he proposes is not linear but offers several directions and solutions that do not need to happen in a certain order. Regarding data, having quality data per se is not the only important thing, but to have data that contributes to the academic discussion. “We cannot intervene everyone, we need to understand what is intervention, how do we make policy”

To watch the discussion, click here.

Injustices in Balochistan Need the World’s Attention

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On September 22, 2017, Husain Haqqani, former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, addressed the Human Rights Commission Session at Geneva with the following words on Balochistan.

I come to this event as a Pakistani friend of Balochistan, in the belief that human rights are universal and their violation should not be ignored out of misplaced patriotism.

Europeans, Americans and Israelis who criticise the violation of human rights by their own governments show moral courage.

The world would be a better place if Indians spoke out when human rights are violated in Kashmir, Myanmar’s leaders speak up when their army deprives the Rohingya of their life and dignity, and Pakistanis recognise that injustices against the BalochSindhisMohajirs and religious minorities must end.

I am a Pakistani and I want to see a civilian, democratic, politically stable and economically strong Pakistan that guarantees rights to all its component ethnicities and nationalities; a Pakistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbours.

It is tragic that those who advocate talks with globally recognised terrorists such as the Taliban, and speak out for the Muslims of Kashmir and Myanmar, have an intransigent position when it comes to engagement with the leaders and people of Balochistan.

They choose to stay silent over the well documented atrocities against the Baloch people in Pakistan. I do not wish to be one of them.

I do not support foreign intervention nor am I an advocate of secession.

But I understand the sentiments of the Baloch, some of whom are now completely disillusioned with Pakistan and are asking for freedom.

Instead of using force against the Baloch, it would be best to recognise the sentiments and aspirations of the Baloch people.

Last year, Pakistan’s federal minister for ports and shipping, Mir Hasil Bizenjo, acknowledged that “if a referendum were held in Balochistan today, the militants would win.” He added that there will be no referendum, implying that the status quo would prevail through force.

The transformation of erstwhile East Pakistan into Bangladesh should be a lesson in the limits of military power in building a nation or keeping a country together.

The Baloch and the East Pakistani Bengalis were among first to disagree with the West Pakistani security establishment. Starting from the 1970s, the Baloch have been fighting for more autonomy within Pakistan. Their struggle has been brutally suppressed by the Pakistani state.

Even now, Balochistan is geographically the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, but it is the least developed.

According to the latest census, Pakistan’s population stands at 207,774,520 with Balochistan’s population at 12,344,408.

Pakistan is urbanising quickly with 40% urbanisation, but 75% of Balochistan’s population remains rural.

Pakistan’s overall literacy rate is 58% (69% for males, 45% for females), but Balochistan is 41% (24% female, 56% male). Literacy figures for ethnic Baloch are even worse.

According to a report on Pakistan’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), compiled in 2016 with support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford, nearly 39% of Pakistanis live in multi-dimensional poverty, with the highest rates of poverty in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan.

The report found that over two-thirds of people in FATA (73%) and Balochistan (71%) live in multidimensional poverty.

The report also found that the decrease in multi-dimensional poverty was slowest in Balochistan, while poverty levels had increased in several districts in Balochistan and Sindh during the past decade. 

Urban unemployment stands at 12.5% in Balochistan, compared to a country-wide average of 5.9% in 2015.

Balochistan provides 40% of Pakistan’s energy needs and 36% of its gas production, along with minerals.

Yet, 46.6% of households in Balochistan have no electricity. Only 25% of villages have rural electrification.

On top of this, the Baloch are deprived of their political rights and are targeted with state violence and oppression. The latest US Department of State Human Rights Reports for 2015 and 2016 spoke of “politically motivated killings of Baloch nationalists in Balochistan.”

The State Department report quoted the testimony before the Senate of Pakistan Standing Committee on Human Rights by Balochistan’s Frontier Corps Deputy Inspector General for Investigations and Crime, who declared that 1,040 persons had been killed in Balochistan in 2015-16. Although he claimed there was “no evidence of security agency involvement in the killings”, most evidence pointed out otherwise.

The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) recorded that journalists, teachers, students and human rights defenders also were targeted by state and non-state actors in Balochistan. As of November 20, at least 244 civilians were killed in Balochistan in 2016, compared with 247 during 2015.

State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights in Pakistan for 2015 and 2016 stated, “There were kidnappings and forced disappearances of persons from various backgrounds in nearly all areas of the country. Some police and security forces reportedly held prisoners incommunicado and refused to disclose their location.”

Human rights organisations reported many Baloch nationalists as among the missing.

The International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons listed 156 individuals in its online database of missing persons who had been abducted during the year 2015 alone.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) listed 107 individuals as victims of “enforced disappearances” in Balochistan in the first nine months of 2015.

The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) issued a report in August 2015, detailing the discovery of mutilated corpses in Noshki and Kalat districts of Balochistan and what VBMP termed the inadequate measures taken to preserve and identify the bodies, according to the State Department Report. It cited NGO statistics that the total number of persons who had disappeared could be greater than 19,000.

The report also noted that the Balochistan home ministry had officially acknowledged the detention of 8,326 “suspects” in the province between December 2014 and September 15, 2015.

According to the State Department report, “During the year, the VBMP claimed to have records of 157 mutilated bodies found in Balochistan and of 463 missing persons. Official home ministry of Balochistan figures indicated that authorities had recovered only 164 bodies in Balochistan during the year.”

According to a 2014 report by the Balochistan government’s home and tribal affairs department, over 800 bodies were found in the province over a period of three and a half years – 466 victims were identified as ethnic Baloch, 123 as Pashtuns and 107 from other ethnicities. Meanwhile, 107 bodies remained unidentified.

Of the 466 Baloch killed in the province, most were political workers while the remaining were killed in incidents of targeted killings and tribal disputes.

Human Rights Watch pointed out in 2015 that “security forces continued to unlawfully kill and forcibly disappear suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists.” Its report included the following observations:

“In January, 13 highly decomposed bodies of ethnic Baloch individuals were found in Khuzdar district.”

“The military muzzled dissenting and critical voices in nongovernmental organisations and media.”

“The military continued to exercise sway over the province of Balochistan, using torture and arbitrary detention as instruments of coercion.”

“The security forces engaged in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to counter political unrest in the province of Balochistan. Torture of suspects by the police remained rampant. Large numbers of journalists were killed or injured in attacks, most of which remain unresolved.”

“In April 2015, Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist, was shot dead shortly after hosting an event on Balochistan’s “disappeared people” in Karachi.”

“In June, Baloch journalist Zafarullah Jatak was gunned down in his home in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta.”

Amnesty International’s report on Pakistan for 2016-2017 was no different. It pointed out “significant levels of armed conflict and political violence….in particular in Balochistan.”

The report noted, “State and non-state actors continue to harass, threaten, detain and kill human rights defenders, especially in Balochistan, FATA and Karachi.”

The US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015 and 2016 pointed out, “Pakistani authorities did not allow international organisations access to detention centers most affected by violence in KP, FATA, and Balochistan.”

While perpetrating enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, the government of Pakistan also tried hard to suppress any information about its actions coming out. In the Freedom in the World Report for 2016, Freedom House said that the Pakistan government blocked more than 400,000 websites that year.

The provincial government in Balochistan blocked access to a Baloch human rights blog run by journalists. The government blocked several Baloch websites, including the English-language website The Baloch Hal and the website of Daily Tawar, a Balochistan-based newspaper.

In a report in 2014, the International Crisis Group had pointed out that Pakistan’s policy in Balochistan has been one of brutally suppressing the Baluch insurgency, instead of trying to understand and accommodate demands for political and economic autonomy.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the last few years have seen a rise in civilian casualties in Balochistan because of operations by the security forces.

Balochistan comprises 43% of Pakistan’s land area and 6% of Pakistan’s population. But the representation of the Baluch in Pakistan’s institutions is not proportional to their number.

According to a report by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, as of 2005, there was not a single Baloch at the head of the top 200 businesses in Pakistan, not one Baloch Ambassador and only 502 Baloch were recruited in the army that year.

According to reports by Pakistani experts and by the International Crisis Group, as of 2006, there were only 15,000 Baloch in the 550,000-strong army (excluding paramilitary forces) or approximately 1.3%.

These injustices need the world’s attention.

Balochistan is the cauldron of the worst human rights violations in Pakistan, which does not have a good track record of upholding human rights in general. Its oppression of religious minorities – including Christians and Ahmadis – is widely recognised.

In recent years, Hazara Shias in Balochistan and Shias in Parachinar in the FATA have also come under attack and subjected to ethnic cleansing to facilitate militant operations in their traditional areas by Afghan Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network.

We should not let Balochistan become a battleground for rival external powers. The people of Balochistan deserve better than being oppressed by Rawalpindi and Islamabad or being used as pawns in international great games.

Instead of attacking and destroying the Baloch, Sindhis, Pashtun, or Muhajirs, the Pakistani military establishment should focus on eliminating safe havens for international terrorists like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

I join all of you in recognising the sacrifice of the Baloch people. May the sacrifice of thousands of Baloch men and women – bear fruit and Balochistan get justice.

Husain Haqqani is Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and Director, South & Central Asia, Hudson Institute.

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.   


[1] http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-lok-sabha-elections-nda-won-75-of-muslim-seats-1989855

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

[3] http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/pdf/ar0304-Eng.pdf P. 15

[4] http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/AR(E)1314.pdf 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.