Friday, January 21, 2011

Tunisian revolution and its fallout

Hours after a group of stone-throwing youth braved frantic police beatings and confronted grey fumes of teargas outside the Interior Ministry building in Tunis, the unthinkable happened. As darkness thickened on January 14 and agonising uncertainty gripped the Tunisian capital, word was out that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, well entrenched dictator for 23 years, had fled. For hours, Mr. Ben Ali's plane flew in the Mediterranean night sky, desperately seeking a place to land. France, the former colonial master, saw no benefit in obliging an ageing overused ex-dictator that it had once so assiduously feted. It refused landing permission. Finally, the harried former first family of Tunisia, known for its ostentatious ways, was rescued by the Saudis, who opened one of their numerous palaces in Jeddah to accommodate their uninvited and loveless guests.

But back in Tunisia, despite curfew and an Emergency, there was unbelievable relief and much joy on the streets. Mr. Ben Ali's seemingly unassailable tyranny, reinforced by thousands of personally loyal troops, had suddenly collapsed. Many felt that a political revolution of great significance had been accomplished. Overnight, large sections of the media pronounced that not only an era of authoritarianism in Tunisia had ended but also a new powerful contagion of democracy was fast spreading to annihilate dictators, big and small, across West Asia. That still might be the case but not necessarily so — at least not immediately.

Built on solid organisational foundations and helped by the old and new media alike, the Tunisian rebellion has indeed aroused the masses across the region. As Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the Palestinian daily, Al Quds Al Arabi, put it: “The Arab nation is patient, but its patience is similar to that of a camel. When it is furious, a camel does not stop until it wreaks revenge on its persecutors. It seems that such a camel has now broken free from its ties.”

But before the anticipation that the long-fossilised dominos in the Arab world will, at some stage, begin to fall is realised, Tunisia needs to consolidate its own fledgling political revolution. The Tunisians are already facing their first major challenge. Within hours of Mr. Ben Ali's fall, the former Speaker Fuad Mebazza, elevated to the presidency, announced the formation of a stopgap national unity government, which was also meant to accommodate important Opposition figures. However, on the night of January 17, the new government, when it was unveiled, was found stuffed with the hated members of the old guard. The key Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance were once again bestowed on Mr. Ben Ali's cronies.

The regime opponents have therefore their first task cut out — ensuring that the remnants of the old guard no longer occupy high places of influence and are firmly marginalised. Some success in isolating them has already been achieved. Four Opposition figures, co-opted by members of the old guard to occupy Cabinet berths, resigned in the space of 24 hours. However new and serious challenges, which any nascent revolution is bound to encounter, remain. Having accomplished the exit of a hated dictator, how does the Tunisian revolution gather steam and fill the vacuum left by the fast fading old guard? Unlike the Iranian revolution, which had Ayatollah Khomeini as its leader as well as a blaring emblem, how does the Tunisian revolution advance in the absence of a charismatic and popular leader?

The huge challenge notwithstanding, the chances are that the Tunisian people may yet succeed. Unlike many other countries experiencing political turmoil, Tunisia consists of mostly educated people and is institutionally well organised. This is a factor that goes hugely in the favour of Tunisians. Thus the anti-regime campaign that was triggered by the December 17 self-immolation of a university graduate, who was driven to sell vegetables and then denied permission to do so, had labour unions, professional syndicates, including well-entrenched unions of students, teachers, lawyers and journalists as its pillars.

These organisations, partly helped by new communication tools of Facebook and Twitter, could take advantage of the socio-economic deprivations that the Tunisians have experienced for years. As a result, a critical social mass of protesters grew, eventually bringing down the regime.

Despite Tunisia's zooming growth rates, the growing army of the jobless fed significantly into the successful uprising. Many analysts are of the view that the official 14 per cent unemployment rate hardly reflects the true picture of desperation the youth have been experiencing. According to some estimates, nearly half the youth in the 15-24 age bracket are unemployed in some parts of the interior, the core of the Tunisian revolt. Wages are low in the job-creating euro-centric tourism and textile manufacturing hubs established in “free trade zones.” The hardships of ordinary people have become all the more acute for, under the diktat of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, government subsides have been either lowered or removed in the food and gasoline sectors.

With mass misery rising, heavy corruption centred round the President, the President's wife, Leila Trabelsi and her family emerged as an emotive symbol to ignite the rebellion. According to a WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Tunis, the Ben Ali and Trabelsi families had cornered nearly 50 per cent of the country's wealth. It was, therefore, not surprising that when the crowds went on the rampage on January 15, they targeted business properties associated with the two nepotistic ruling clans. In the Tunis neighbourhood of Cite Habib, a villa belonging to Leila Trabelsi's nephew was set afire. Dealership showrooms, owned by Mr. Ben Ali's son-in-law Mohamed Sakher El Materi, of Kia, Fiat and Porsche vehicles were also burnt down. The next day, Imed Trabelsi — Ms. Trabelsi's nephew who had been stabbed — died in a Tunis military hospital, accounting for the first fatality in the ruling family in the aftermath of the month-long uprising.

As the Tunisian revolt gathers its second wind, the role of the military could become crucial. It is widely believed that Mr. Ben Ali's nearly 1,80,000-strong security police are at loggerheads with the regular army. In fact, unlike the police whom the protesters targeted, evident from the torching of a number of police stations, the military continues to remain a popular force. The army's neutrality and thus its clean popular image came into focus when it declined to fire at the protesters, causing Mr. Ben Ali to sack his Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Rashid Ammar.

Deep imprint

The uprising in Tunisia is leaving behind a deep imprint on the impoverished youth in the neighbouring countries. But can it spread fast and strongly enough to challenge the deeply entrenched regimes that have been built on the foundations of patronage, pillage and ruthless force, perpetrated by the grossest human rights violations?

The psychological impact of the Tunisian example in the region is palpable. In Algeria, four persons set themselves ablaze to protest their dire economic and political situation. Egypt, demographically the largest nation in the region and cultural heartbeat of the Arab world, has also witnessed a case of self-immolation.

Panic is also setting in among the regimes, though it would be erroneous to assume that its feckless dictators are considering throwing in the towel anytime soon. Nevertheless, a nervous Egyptian establishment has decided to rein in the prices of essentials like rice and sugar, and end the breadlines by not withholding wheat flour to bakeries for previous violations. The Egyptian daily, Al-Mesryoon, has reported that on the security front, instructions have been passed to prevent Opposition forces and movements from holding demonstrations or protests.

The Libyan dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, also appeared shaken by the dramatic developments on his doorstep. Soon after Mr. Ben Ali fled, he strongly disapproved of the Tunisian revolt. In a televised address, he chided the Tunisian people for being impatient. “You have suffered a great loss,” he said. “There is none better than Zine to govern Tunisia.”

A stunned Arab League — which has largely degenerated into a cabal of dictators and plutocrats — scampered to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to collectively absorb the shock inflicted upon it by the commoners of Tunisia.

Despite the revulsion that it has generated, it would take much more than high-octane emotion to dislodge the odious dictatorships. Nevertheless, Egypt seems to echo loudest the radical voices of fundamental change that are resonating from the Tunisian street. Unlike many of the smaller countries, Egypt's battle-hardened core of the poor and the dispossessed are also its best organised.

Besides, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a highly potent force, which might come into its own as part of the larger Egyptian opposition, especially as the iron-fisted regime of President Hosni Mubarak is soon likely to witness a major transition.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Northern Alliance- Taliban's fiercest opponent

The United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIF), or Northern Alliance, is a military-political umbrella organization formed shortly after the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996.

The anti-Taliban alliance comprised of ousted ethnic Tajik president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud and their Jamiat-i-Islami forces, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum and the ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli party. Many of the alliance followers were part of the Mujahideen guerillas fighting the Soviets in 1979-1989.

Massoud was one of Northern Alliance's most powerful and visible leader, and had personally trained most of its troops. Massoud was killed in September 2001 by Al Qaeda militants reportedly posing as Saudi journalists.

Post 9/11 attacks, it garnered support from the US in the latter's War against Terror. After weeks of persistent bombing of Taliban hideouts by US missiles, the Alliance was finally able to recapture Kabul in November 2001.

The current troop strength of the Alliance is estimated to be anywhere between 10,000 to 12,000 and is believed to be receiving technical aid from Russia, Iran and most recently, the United States. The Alliance is recognized by the United Nations and the governments of other nations.

Mullah Mohammed Omar

Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar, Founder leader of Taliban

Mullah Mohammed Omar, or Mullah Omar is the founder leader of Taliban of Afghanistan and was the de facto head of state from 1996-2001. He held the official title of the Head of the Supreme Council and that of Commander of the Faithful from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. He is wanted by the US authorities for providing shelter to Osama bin Laden and his outfit, Al Qaeda.

Mullah Omar rose to power during the 1980s, when he led anti-Soviet Mujahideeen fighters to topple the Soviet regime in Afghanistan, losing his right eye in the ensuing battle.

He founded the Taliban movement in 1994, comprising of students from Islamic religious schools and Afghan refugees in Pakistan with the aim of restoring order to the lawless, post-Soviet Afghanistan.

He captured Kabul two years later without a fight, which many Afghans welcomed, believing it would mark an end to the civil war. Under Mullah Omar's rule, the Taliban enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law, including banning women from going to educational institutions and work, persecuting homosexuals, and amputating the hands of thieves.

Following the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Centre in US, Washington led a campaign to oust the Taliban regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden, chief of Al Qaeda, and has since announced a $10m bounty on Mullah Omar's head.

The US-led invasion drove the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan and consequently, forced Mullah Omar to go into hiding. Omar, who is in his late 40s, remains a reclusive figure, and is believed to be hiding in the mountainous areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Afghanistan in brief

Afghans vote in landmark presidential and provincial council elections on Thursday, but rampant insecurity and Taliban threats could affect the credibility of the polls.

These are some key facts about the country:

GEOGRAPHY: In the heart of central Asia, Afghanistan is bordered by the Islamic republics of Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and by China. It is an arid, landlocked country of 652,225 square kilometres (251,825 square miles), about 85 percent of which is mountainous.

POPULATION: Between 26 and 32 million inhabitants.


HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS: Afghanistan is the fifth poorest country in the world, with 42 percent of the population living on less than 14 dollars a month.

More than one out of four children dies before the age of five, the third highest rate in the world after Sierra Leone and Angola, according to the UN.

About 1,600 of every 100,000 mothers die in childbirth or because of related complications, second only to Sierra Leone (UN).

Afghans have a life expectancy of 43 (UN).

Only 23 per cent of the adult population can read or write.

LANGUAGES: Pashtu and Dari -- both Persian dialects. At least 30 other languages and dialects are spoken.

RELIGION: Overwhelmingly Muslim with about 80 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shiite.

RECENT HISTORY: In 1973, King Mohammed Zahir Shah was ousted in a bloodless coup after 40 years of rule.

In April 1978, a pro-Soviet coup brought communists to power. The following year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and spent the next decade fighting mujahedeen guerrillas backed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

In February 1989, the Soviets withdrew and civil war ensued.

On September 27, 1996 a group known as the Taliban (students of religion), which formed partly in Pakistan with the tacit approval of Washington, took power in Kabul and enforced Sharia law.

The Taliban executed former communist president Mohammad Najibullah and allowed Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network to operate from the country.

On September 9, 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, commander of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance force, was assassinated by two men posing as journalists and presumed to be members of Al-Qaeda.

On October 7, 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the United States, a US-led coalition launched a war to topple the Taliban for failing to surrender bin Laden. After six weeks, the Northern Alliance took Kabul and most of the country.

Under peace accords agreed in Bonn in December 2001, an interim administration was established under the leadership of Hamid Karzai.

On October 9, 2004 an estimated eight million Afghans voted for the first time to elect a president. Karzai was the winner.
There are currently around 95,000 Afghan soldiers fighting Taliban militants alongside more than 100,000 international soldiers, nearly two-thirds of them in the US military, in the volatile south.

ECONOMY: The destitute country is being rebuilt with international assistance.

Afghanistan produces about 93 percent of the world's opium, according to the UN, bringing in four billion dollars a year (2.82 billion euros), part of which goes to finance the Taliban.

Afghanistan has four percent of the world's reserves of coal, along with iron, copper and precious stones. Deposits of lead, zinc, tin, tungsten and caesium have yet to be tapped.

Understanding the Taliban menace

The recent Afghan elections were held under the shadow terror assaults from one of the world's most dreaded outfits, Taliban. They were hell bent to stop their nation's tentative attempt to uphold democracy. The outfit's grip has extended far beyond its land of birth. Though major western powers have deployed their best minds and resources, they have not been able to contain let alone overpower the top echelons of Taliban.

Who are these people who have the only super power in the world a bloody nose and have pushed their own nation in the vortex of violence? Why do they take refuge in religion to kill innocent men and women?

Who are Taliban?

'Taliban' is plural of Talib, a Pashto word meaning "student". It is a group of students that believes in a fundamentalist narrative of their religious teaching. They wrested control of Afghanistan's government in 1996 and were driven out of power in 2001 by the US led coalition army. Despite its ouster, it continues to wield considerable clout in Afghanistan's rural regions especially the Pakhtun dominated south and east provinces including Kandahar.

Known for ultra-orthodox views and rigid interpretations of Islamic law, the Taliban bars women from going to schools or from doing jobs. Public executions of homosexuals and petty offenders too are not very uncommon.

The Taliban was initially a group of mujahideens who fought against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. The battleground proved a steppingstone for those who later rose in the ranks of Taliban. One such leader was Mullah Omar, the Commander-in Chief, of the anti-Soviet army.

After successfully defeating the Soviet army, Omar formed the Taliban, comprising of a group of Islamic students, to bring order to the lawless, post-war Afghan society. Initially, they gained wide support of the Afghans who had grown weary of the constant fighting between the warlords.

With the help of government defections, the Taliban emerged as a force in Afghan politics in 1994 in the midst of a civil war between forces in northern and southern Afghanistan. They captured the southern city of Kandahar without force and over the next two years, steadily expanded their influence over the rest of the country. In 1996, they captured Kabul, the Afghan capital, and took control of the national government.

Currently, the Taliban strength is estimated at around 45,000. In addition to this, the Taliban has been reportedly recruiting a lot of children and elderly men in order to fight its opponents, particularly the Northern Alliance.

SC/STs missing in pvt sector jobs: India Inc’s first caste census

The first-ever caste census of India Inc’s human resources has revealed that the proportion of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe employees in the private sector in some of the most industrialised states of the country hardly reflects their strength in the general population of those states.

The only exception is Tamil Nadu, which ranks number one in industrialisation and employment (by number of factories and persons, according to the Annual Survey of Industries 2008-09). SCs/STs account for almost 18 per cent of the industrial workforce and 20 per cent of the state’s population.

In sharp contrast are some of the other most industrialised states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal, which show a sharp mismatch between SCs/STs as a percentage of the total workforce in the private sector and as a percentage of the states’ total population.Living under the constant threat that the government may reserve jobs in the private sector as part of its inclusive growth agenda, the Confederation of Indian Industry, the country’s largest industry chamber, undertook a caste census of its members spread across 22 states and Union territories.

Covering 8,250 members of the CII, together employing 35 lakh people, it gives a flavour of the manpower mix in India Inc.

SCs/STs, for instance, make up 19.1 per cent of Maharashtra’s population but their share in the private sector human resources is only 5 per cent. In Gujarat and Karnataka, SCs/STs are just about 9 per cent of the staff strength, but account for 22 per cent and 23 per cent respectively of the state population. The survey, in a nutshell, reveals that companies in the least industrialised eastern region, where jobs are far and few, have the highest percentage of SC/ST employees. So, in Bihar — which ranks a distant 17 as per the Annual Survey of Industries 2008-09 — they together constitute a fourth of the total workforce, whereas they form just 16.6 per cent of the state’s total population. Chhattisgarh is a shade better, with more number of factories, but here too, half of the total workforce comprises SCs/STs, compared to them making up 43.4 per cent of the population.

The private sector in the western region comes as a surprise. Maharashtra, the hub of India Inc, is second only to Tamil Nadu in terms of industrialisation and employment. CII members in the state employ 20.72 lakh people in the state, almost 57 per cent of the total employee base considered in the survey by the chamber. But SC/ST proportion in the workforce is one-fourth of their percentage in the total population. In Madhya Pradesh that ranks 11 in industrialisation and workforce, SCs/STs account for 11 per cent of the private sector’s total staff strength, less than a third of their strength in the state’s population.States in south are an exception. The private sector in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala has on its rolls a remarkably high percentage of SCs/STs. Tamil Nadu — where the politically driven Dravidian movement significantly empowered the backward castes — is distinct because it also ranks number one in terms of the number of employees and factories. SCs/STs here account for 18 per cent of the workforce in CII’s member companies, and 20 per cent of the state’s population.In Kerala, for entirely different reasons such as 100 per cent literacy, the percentage of SCs/STs in the private sector is higher than their share in the population.

In the north, Delhi and Haryana buck the general trend, where the gap between SCs/STs at work and their representation in the population is significantly higher. The CII survey of the private sector’s manpower mix in Chandigarh, Punjab and Rajasthan shows that SC/ST proportion there is 25-50 per cent lower than their strength in the total population.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sino-American rivalry: Failure & opportunity for Indian military diplomacy

As Sino-American rivalry acquires a new momentum to the east of India, New Delhi will come under pressure to modernise its armed forces and ramp up military diplomacy across Asia. But it is not clear if India's defence leadership can shed its current doctrine of masterly inactivity.

The naval muscle-flexing by Washington and Beijing in the last few weeks - in North-east and South-east Asia — reflects a rapid evolution of the strategic environment in our Asian neighbourhood.

The US and Chinese naval muscle-flexing in the waters of the Korean Peninsula and the visit of the US aircraft carrier George Washington to Vietnam last week point to a historic shift in Asia's international relations.

As old partners — China and the United States — try to stare down each other, new alliances are being forged between former adversaries — Vietnam and America. That this rearrangement has little do with ideology should draw some of our defence decision-makers out of the time warp they seem to be caught in. After all, China and Vietnam are among the few communist states left in the world.The current shift could be as consequential as that in the early 1970s. After more than two decades of war and conflict with Chinese communists and refusing to recognise the People's Republic as the legitimate representative of China, Washington reached out to Beijing in 1971. As Washington played the China card against the Soviet Union, the rest of Asia ended its hostility to Beijing and welcomed its integration into the international system.

The Sino-American partnership against Moscow survived the collapse of the Soviet Union at the turn of the 1990s. As the economic interdependence between the two deepened in the last decade, some American analysts made the case for an informal Sino-American political condominium called “G-2”. Beijing's new assertiveness on a range of issues, however, shattered these hopes.

China's muscular military and foreign policies have put it at odds with its neighbours. The smaller nations of Asia are coping with the rise of China through internal and external balancing.

Internal balancing is about building one's own military capabilities. According to the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms purchases by the South-east Asian nations have doubled in the period of 2005-09 in comparision to the previous five year period.

External balancing involves combining one's own capabilities with those of a great power. Most of China's neighbours are turning to the United States for protection against a rising China. Japan and South Korea, who seemed to down play their traditional alliance with the United States in recent years, have in the last few months decided to re-embrace the United States. Many of them also want to expand their defence cooperation with India.

As America reaffirms its primacy in Asia, a rising China is unlikely to back down. Beijing, instead, will seek to step up its own military capabilities further vitiating the regional security environment.

Asia's new military dynamic means India can no longer afford its current laidback approach to military modernisation. Nor can New Delhi ignore the growing demands from its friends and partners to contribute to Asian security amidst the rise of China and the perceived decline of the United States.

Most of Asia sees India's emergence as a valuable factor in constructing a stable Asian order. New Delhi's problem has not been a shortage of money but the lack of strategic imagination. The absence of a purposeful defence leadership has emerged as the biggest constraint on India's ability to raise its strategic profile in Asia.

In Kashmir, time to move forward

It is a good sign that the government is thinking of force reduction in Jammu and Kashmir. Speaking at a university seminar in New Delhi on Friday, Union home secretary G.K. Pillai indicated that the presence of the security forces in the state could be pruned by as much as 25 per cent in the course of the year. It will be erroneous to pit this against the observation of the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. V.K. Singh, on the same day that the Army’s strength in the state was not being reduced. For some years the Army has functioned primarily on the Line of Control, although it is also engaged in counter-terrorism operations away from urban centres and has occasionally been used for a show of strength when the situation threatened to get out of hand in the cities, such as during the prolonged agitation last year when stone-pelters had a field day on account of mishandling of the situation by the state police and paramilitary units. (In the latter role, the Army is deployed elsewhere in the country as well.) Clearly then, the government’s thinking is to cut paramilitary deployment in Kashmir in the main. They are the ones who are in the cities along with the state police. They were inserted in the first place as the local police lacked the numbers, training and equipment to deal with the special situation that foreign-fuelled militancy in Kashmir presents. In many instances it was also seen to lack the leadership. Evidently, some of these deficits have been overcome to an extent, permitting the draw-down of the CRPF that Mr Pillai hinted at. Indeed, during the onslaught of the stone-pelters masterminded by some jihadist elements last year, the state police gave a reasonable account of itself. Its performance might have been even better had the state’s political leadership shown greater astuteness.
In spite of what we saw last year, Kashmir’s populace seeks peace and normality, although from time to time it is bullied into acquiescence by jihadist elements, particularly when the authorities are sloppy or sometimes exceed their limits. Reducing force numbers so that cities don’t always wake up to bunkers of armed men in their midst is always a good idea, and is most often practicable. It is now up to the security forces and intelligence agencies to ensure that the Islamists don’t get the upper hand politically. Force reduction is inevitably a goodwill gesture toward our own people, no matter which part of the country we are talking about. It helps lift the siege mentality. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has reportedly welcomed the government’s thinking. This will bring him closer to the mainstream in the Valley. Recent statements by former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhatt and by Sajjad Lone, who showed the maturity to chance his arm in the last Lok Sabha elections, that the jihadists have killed more people in Kashmir than the security forces is also in accord with the broad thinking in the Valley. But their public articulation of this sentiment is a forward step and is to be appreciated. Given these developments, reducing the deployment of the paramilitary forces is likely to bolster India’s confidence in any serious talks with Pakistan, whenever these are opened. The announcement of a unilateral six-month multiple-entry visa regime for PoK residents to visit Jammu and Kashmir also appears well-timed to go with the overall thrust of the government’s thinking. The Centre has made a positive appreciation of the work done by the three-person team of interlocutors since October. It may now be time to move up a notch and find ways to resume public contact with political elements in the Valley outside of the parties that contest elections.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

'BrahMos paves way for future Indo-Russian defence JVs'

The success of Indo-Russian JV BrahMos for the development and production of lethal cruise missiles has set a "Golden Standard" for future joint defence projects with greater Indian participation, according to a respected defence publication. "BrahMos has been an unqualified success. The numerous
benefits it has already yielded include: commercial profit for both partners; a tangible improvement in the fighting ability of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force; development of new technologies, which has been especially important to the Indians; a chance for Russia's NPO Mashinostroyeniya corporation to put its potential for innovation to good use," Moscow Defense Brief (MDB) quarterly writes in its latest issues.

"The BrahMos Aerospace Ltd joint venture has become a vehicle for future implementation of other Russian-Indian projects, on an even large scale and with greater Indian participation," the journal notes in an article contributed by top defence expert Dr Ruslan Pukhov the journal notes.

It underscored that the valuable experience of BrahMos, a fifty-fifty JV between Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia's NPO Mashinostroyeniya, in overcoming various legal, organisational and financial hurdles, will be invaluable during the implementation of other bilateral programmes, including the future joint projects of Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA) and fifth generation FGFA fighter.

The company is known to be already working on new hypersonic missile. But the unique experience accumulated as part of the BrahMos programme since 1998 has paved the way for even more ambitious goals, including new strategic ballistic and cruise missiles.

"For India, BrahMos has become one of the first standardised weapons systems which can be deployed by all three armed services - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force," MDB underscores.

It noted that the Indian Navy was the initial customer for the new missile, which can be carried by a variety of naval platforms.

These include the majority of the existing and future surface ships. The first ships to be equipped with BrahMos were Project 61ME (Kashin-Mod class) destroyers.

Two of them, the Ranvir and the Ranvijay, will also be fitted with 8-missile vertical launch systems.

Other ships that will carry BrahMos include three Project 15A (Kolkata class) destroyers now being built in India, the future Project 15B destroyers, future Project 17A frigates and three Project 11356M (Talwar class Batch 2) frigates now being built for India at the Yantar Shipyards in Kaliningrad.

The future Talwar class Batch 3 frigates will also be equipped with the new missile, regardless of where they will be built. In addition to surface ships, the Indian Navy plans to deploy BrahMos on submarines and possibly on land-based patrol aircraft.

The suitable airborne carriers include the Russian Il-38SD ASW aircraft and, in a few years' time, the Boeing P-8I Poseidon ASW aircraft which India has already ordered in the United States.

The Indian Army has bought hundreds BrahMos missiles in the mobile land-based configuration.

They will be used not only against ships but also as a high-precision weapon against land targets such as command posts and key infrastructure facilities (the Block II LACM version).

The Indian Army has ordered 134 mobile anti-ships land-based BrahMos Block I missiles in 2006-2009 and another 240 land-attack BrahMos Block II in 2010, for a total of about 3bn dollars.

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force is awaiting the completion of the development of an air-launched version of BrahMos, to be deployed primarily with the Su-30MKI fighters.

The Su-30MKI-BrahMos weapons system will be a truly lethal combination. First deliveries are expected in 2012.

At some point the Indian Air Force will also receive the BrahMos Block II version, which is designed to engage land targets.

MDB does not rule out that the 126 medium multirole fighters (MMRCA) for which India has announced a contract will also be fitted with BrahMos missiles.

"Not only the MiG-35 fielded by Russia in the MMRCA tender, but its Western rivals -the F/A-18, Rafale and Typhoon fighters can all serve as carriers of BrahMos Block II missiles," Moscow Defense Brief writes.

The missile's ability to be launched from a wide range of platforms and engage a variety of targets has generated very large sales.

At present the demand of the Indian armed forces is estimated at 1,000 such missiles at the very least.

In fact, the need to fulfil the Indian orders is holding back exports to other countries.

The most conservative estimate for the size of the market for BrahMos throughout the life of the project is 2,000 missiles, worth over USD 10 billion.

"For Russia, the success of BrahMos has improved the chances of winning Indian contracts for aviation and naval platforms.

It is usually the exports of platforms that normally drive the sales of weapons to be fitted onto those platforms.

But in the case of BrahMos, it is the other way around: the missile is driving the sales of aircraft and submarines that can carry it," Dr Pukhov writes in Moscow Defense Brief quarterly.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Educational Reform

The announcement by the HRD Ministry on the possibility of educational institutions incorporating as Corporates under Sec. 25 of the Companies Act , fine as far as it goes sidesteps the issue of financial autonomy and reform for the sector.

To begin with there is nothing which stops any body from setting up a Section 25 company for research and or education. In fact there are instances of profit making research companies. Presumably HRD Ministry announcements will influence the accredition bodies and other regulators.

To what extent they will lower their guards is an open question. In the unlikely event of this announcement succeeding in a big way the existing education bodies will actually be placed under greater handicaps, not having the freedom of operating under the Companies Act.

The reason why educational institutes incorporated under the Societies Registration Act or the as Trusts under the Charities Commissioner, are not allowed to approach financial institutions like banks and term lending institutions for loans is not very clear.
It would make sense for example to stop them from using land given to them by the State as collateral or such other restrictions may be imposed. Also they may be restricted or borrowing from the public sector financial institutions and banks to ensure that the due diligence is carried out. But otherwise there are no obvious reasons for restricting borrowing for viable projects initiated by them.

It is interesting that MHRD has a one size fits all approach for example for deemed universities.It sis true that some institutions of this kind were not good, but many were. In fact in economics the Indira Gandhi Instititute of Development Research or in social work the Tata Institute of Social Sciences are both deemed universities, have a global standing and yet were subjected to the same inspection specially carried out by the UGC at the behest of the Ministry as all other deemed universities.
When a thousand institutions are inspected the quality of inspectors and reports tends to vary. A more selective approach was possible since the Ministry would have their annual reports and audited accounts but was not preferred. This led to adverse court rulings and much confusion amongst students and others.

The least that can be done is to let well managed institutions have greater financial autonomy including for borrowing for viable innovative schemes. It maybe noted that institutions engaged in foreign investment in education in India are not subject to such restrictions in their countries. Also they work in countries with a strong long term lending institutional structure in the private sector. Private sector companies investing in education will also have that freedom.

They will account for less than five percent of the student population. The dead hand of control will stifle the others and make them relatively worse off.

It’s jobs, not GDP, that concern America

If there’s one piece of economic wisdom I hope people will grasp this year, it’s this: Even though we may finally have stopped digging, we’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole.

Why do I need to point this out? Because I’ve noticed many people overreacting to recent good economic news. What particularly concerns me is the risk of self-denying optimism — that is, I worry that policymakers will look at a few favourable economic indicators, decide that they no longer need to promote recovery, and take steps that send us sliding right back to the bottom.

So, about that good news: various economic indicators, ranging from relatively good holiday sales to new claims for unemployment insurance (which have finally fallen below 4,00,000 a week), suggest that the great post-bubble retrenchment may finally be ending.

We’re not talking Morning in America here. Construction shows no sign of returning to bubble-era levels, nor are there any indications that debt-burdened families are going back to their old habits of spending all they earned. But all we needed for a modest economic rebound was for construction to stop falling and saving to stop rising — and that seems to be happening. Forecasters have been marking up their predictions; growth as high as four per cent this year now looks possible.

Hooray! But then again, not so much. Jobs, not Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers, are what matter to American families. And when you start from an unemployment rate of almost 10 per cent, the arithmetic of job creation — the amount of growth you need to get back to a tolerable jobs picture — is daunting.

First of all, we have to grow around 2.5 per cent a year just to keep up with rising productivity and population, and hence keep unemployment from rising. That’s why the past year-and-a-half was technically a recovery but felt like a recession: GDP was growing, but not fast enough to bring unemployment down.

Growth at a rate above 2.5 per cent will bring unemployment down over time. But the gains aren’t one for one: for a variety of reasons, it has historically taken about two extra points of growth over the course of a year to shave one point off the unemployment rate.

Now do the maths. Suppose that the US economy were to grow at four per cent a year, starting now and continuing for the next several years. Most people would regard this as excellent performance, even as an economic boom; it’s certainly higher than almost all the forecasts I’ve seen.

Yet the maths says that even with that kind of growth the unemployment rate would be close to nine per cent at the end of this year, and still above eight per cent at the end of 2012. We wouldn’t get to anything resembling full employment until late in Sarah Palin’s first presidential term.

Seriously, what we’re looking at over the next few years, even with pretty good growth, are unemployment rates that not long ago would have been considered catastrophic — because they are. Behind those dry statistics lies a vast landscape of suffering and broken dreams. And the arithmetic says that the suffering will continue as far as the eye can see.

So what can be done to accelerate this all-too-slow process of healing? A rational political system would long since have created a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration — we’d be putting the unemployed to work doing what needs to be done, repairing and improving our fraying infrastructure. In the political system we have, however, Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte, delivering the Republican weekly address on New Year’s day, declared that “Job one is to stop wasteful Washington spending”.

Realistically, the best we can hope for from fiscal policy is that Washington doesn’t actively undermine the recovery. Beware, in particular, the Ides of March: by then, the federal government will probably have hit its debt limit and the Grand Old Party (GOP) will try to force US President Barack Obama into economically harmful spending cuts.

I’m also worried about monetary policy. Two months ago, the Federal Reserve announced a new plan to promote job growth by buying long-term bonds; at the time, many observers believed that the initial $600 billion purchase was only the beginning of the story. But now it looks like the end, partly because Republicans are trying to bully the Fed into pulling back, but also because a run of slightly better economic news provides an excuse to do nothing.

There’s even a significant chance that the Fed will raise interest rates later this year — or at least that’s what the futures market seems to think. Doing so in the face of high unemployment and minimal inflation would be crazy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

So back to my original point: whatever the recent economic news, we’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole. We can only hope that enough policymakers understand that point.

Mali tackles ills — Al-Qaeda and drug trafficking

The tourism minister of Mali, N'Diaye Bah, visibly bristled when asked about the possibility that Al-Qaeda's North African offshoot might kidnap foreigners in fabled Timbuktu or anywhere across Mali's northern desert.

France spread such rumours, he insisted. “They want to create this security issue that does not exist,” he said, wagging his finger. “When you come to Mali, there is no aggression against tourists. How can you say there is insecurity in this country?”

Yet the United States and French Embassies, among other foreign missions, explicitly warn against travelling to Timbuktu and indeed the entire desert that sweeps across roughly two-thirds of this landlocked West African nation. A French Embassy map colours the entire north red, a no-go area.

This uneasy, public standoff has existed for some time, reflective of Mali's insistence that it is not a font of violence like some of its neighbours, notably Algeria. But in a sign that Mali both acknowledges the issue and seeks to address it, the country is rolling out a new development plan, hoping to tackle the problem at its roots.

The problems

The dearth of jobs and prospects in the north helps drive the region's twin ills — narcotics trafficking and Islamic radicalism. By setting up military barracks, infirmaries, schools, shopping areas and animal markets in 11 northern towns, the Malian government hopes to establish a more visible government presence, foster economic activity and form a bulwark against lawlessness.

“The ultimate goal of the project is to eradicate” Al-Qaeda's affiliates in Mali, said Adam Tchiam, a leading Malian columnist.

Mali does not deny that an estimated 200 to 300 fighters from Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (Maghreb being the Arabic term for west) have found a perch in their desert, although most are believed to be Mauritanians and Algerians. But Mali often depicts the terrorists as a problem generated elsewhere.

“We are hostages to a situation that does not concern us,” news reports quoted President Amadou Toumani Touré as saying.

Behind the scenes, however, the President has been more forthcoming. In a meeting with the American Ambassador, Gillian A. Milovanovic, and senior American military officers last year, he said the extremists “have had difficulty getting their message across to a generally reluctant population,” according to an embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organisations. Still, Mr. Touré acknowledged, “they have had some success in enlisting disaffected youth to their ranks.”

Trail of violence

In recent years, the Qaeda affiliate has left a trail of violence across Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Mali, taking aim at tourists, expatriate workers, local residents and security forces. Hostages taken in the porous border regions have been executed or ransomed. Five French and two African workers kidnapped in Niger last September are believed to be held in northern Mali.

The Algerians and some Western diplomats accuse the Malians of being too soft on terrorism, an opinion reflected in the cables obtained by WikiLeaks. But Mali's defenders argue that the regional problem is far larger than any one poor country can address.

To that end, Mauritania recently moved uninvited troops permanently across the border in Mali to eradicate a Qaeda encampment, diplomats said, and Mali did not object.

For his part, President Touré has been trying to forge a regional consensus on the issue, but the leaked cables and diplomats suggest that Algeria has been reluctant to take part. Algerian officials regularly criticise the presence of French and American training forces, saying they constitute another threat.

Mali's own plan faces two main problems, one domestic and one foreign. Tuareg rebels fought the government in the desert for decades, with the 1992 peace treaty specifying that the government forces completely withdraw from the north. Deploying them there risks reigniting a conflict that still simmers.

Even so, some northerners endorse almost any government action in the harsh environment, where battling sand alone constitutes a daily struggle.

“There are villages that have never seen an administrator, never seen a nurse, never seen a teacher,” said Amboudi Side Ahmed, a businessman in the capital, Bamako, who was raised in the north. “You could stay in a village up there for 10 years and never see a government official.”

Then there is the question of whether these northern hubs are even feasible, given the reluctance of foreign aid workers to venture north and finance projects there. “The President says the poor protect Al-Qaeda because they do not have any means,” said Mr. Tchiam, the columnist. “Where are the means?”

While foreign governments recognise that the north needs development, the lack of security hampers it. American Embassy personnel, for example, can travel north only with express permission of the ambassador, which she said she rarely granted.

‘Development is criticial'

“Development is critical in dealing with the north,” Ambassador Milovanovic said, but “so long as security is unstable, it is hard to get those projects going.”

“We cannot just throw money up there.”

After her own visits, she has tried to meet local requests by offering training for midwives or supplying four-wheel-drive ambulances. As part of its broader efforts to counter extremism in northern Mali, the United States also underwrote a series of radio soap operas whose plot twists emphasised the dangers of extremism.

Beyond that, Washington provides basic military training, sometimes even more basic than envisioned. An exercise on what to do when the driver of a vehicle is shot dead revealed a startling truth — most Malian soldiers did not know how to drive. Lessons were instituted. But Malian officials want more.

Terror operations

“How many people in the north listen to the radio? That is never going to be strong enough to change their views on A.Q.M.I. or religious fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Baby, a presidential adviser working on fixing the northern problem, using the initials of the French name for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “We need to deal with development, with the lack of resources.”

Qaeda fighters have sometimes ingratiated themselves by paying inflated prices for food, fuel and other goods. Diplomats believe that the extremists have also informed local smugglers that they will pay a premium for kidnapped Westerners.

Aside from collecting ransoms for hostages, Al-Qaeda is believed to be financing its operations by exacting tolls from drug smugglers and traffickers in arms, humans and illicit goods. Since at least the 10th century, Timbuktu has been a crossroads for trade routes across the Sahara, and the modern age is no different.

A series of drug-laden planes make the loop from South America to the Sahel, but numbers are elusive, said Alexandre Schmidt of the United Nations drug office. In one notorious 2009 episode, a Boeing 727 believed to have ferried cocaine from Latin America was set on fire after it got stuck in the sand.

Both the drug smugglers and Al-Qaeda offer young men a quick route to money and symbols of prestige like a pickup truck. The government plan has no easy, short-term ways to compete, officials concede.

“They can recruit young people and undermine both the economy and the religion,” Mr. Baby said of the militants. “We have to build up some kind of resistance.”

What we need is a 365-day government

Indians love holidays. Secularism may be under threat, but not in respect of religious holidays. I have never heard people complain about holidays for the festivals of their co-religionists. In addition, an occasional bonanza comes in the shape of holidays to mourn the deaths of VIPs, local religious festivals, forced closures during hartals, etc. In Kerala, liquor sales shoot up on the eve of holidays. Since the government is the monopoly vendor of liquor, it is the biggest beneficiary of holidays as its coffers get filled up.

We love official policies — tomes of verbose and jargonistic government literature. But we have no holiday policy. Many commissions and committees have suggested reforms to prevent long shutdowns of the government machinery. But certain things never seem to change. It appears nobody has the guts to take on unionised bureaucracy. Status quo is the preferred option. For the politician, giving offence to anybody would mean less number of votes during elections.

So government offices are shut down continuously for four days for Onam in Kerala, for Pongal in Tamil Nadu, for Puja in West Bengal. Is it not time to rethink on this wasteful closure of the governmental system that denies basic services to the citizens, especially to the poor? Why should courts have holidays when crores of cases are pending disposal?

I am not advocating that people should be denied holidays to celebrate festivals. I don't want to enter into a statistical debate about the number of holidays. But when we envisage a greater role for the government in social and economic development of the nation, the services of the government should be available in an uninterrupted manner.

The government is already doing it in respect of essential services such as hospitals, electricity, water, railways, road, shipping and air transport. Are not the administrative wings of the government also essential in the sense that they deliver vital services?

Is it so complicated that a suitable mechanism cannot be evolved to provide at least skeleton services on holidays? What is lacking is the willingness to change and adapt to the growing expectations of the people for speedier services.

There will be practical difficulties in the beginning as is the case with any kind of reform. But these problems can be surmounted over a period of time. I am sure many employees will be willing to work on holidays provided they are compensated either monetarily or by other incentives. I know many government employees are committed to helping the public in letter and in spirit.

A governmental system that works on all days will help to improve the work culture of the employees and transform governance into a people friendly exercise. People's trust in their government will be enhanced and the politicians will be the ultimate beneficiaries during elections. But, our leaders should lead the way by setting an example of hard work. Frequent disruptions of Parliament and legislatures send a wrong signal to the people.

Sudan on the brink

Sudan, Africa's largest country, the world's tenth largest and one of its poorest, faces partition in a referendum scheduled for January 9. The country is already effectively divided. Seventy per cent of the 43-million population are Sunnis and largely occupy the north; in the south, most are animists and about five per cent belong to various Christian sects. The two regions have maintained an uneasy truce since a 2005 agreement ended a savage 22-year civil war in which an estimated two million were killed and four million displaced. The six-year conflict in Darfur still causes echoes: President Omar al-Bashir is the only serving head of state indicted for genocide. Furthermore, fearing post-referendum violence, about 75,000 of the 1.5 million southerners who fled the civil war have returned south by road and in barge-convoys along the White Nile. Increasingly confrontational statements have come from the national capital Khartoum and the southern regional capital Juba. The U.N.-backed Satellite Sentinel Project, which is intended to reduce the risk of genocide by providing independent surveillance and rapid reportage, says both sides are massing troops on the north-south border.

There are other reasons why the referendum could be a tragedy in the making. The al-Bashir government insists on a 60 per cent turnout, an excessive requirement in an enormous country with a wretched transport infrastructure and an inefficient administration. Even the electoral register is a bone of contention; in the oil-rich border province of Abyei, Khartoum wants the nomadic Misseriya tribe registered, though they spend only the dry season there. Juba wants the resident population registered. Abyei is also to have a separate and simultaneous referendum on whether to retain its special administrative status in the north or join southern Sudan. Secondly, neighbouring states have an interest in the outcome of the national referendum. Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda will want deals with Juba over Nile water. Other foreign powers have their own stake, particularly in southern oil reserves and farmland. WikiLeaks cables confirm U.S. acceptance of Kenyan participation in supplying Ukrainian tanks to southern forces. Almost farcically, that matter came to light when Somali pirates hijacked a ship carrying the tanks to Kenya; the cables also show that the U.S. tried to deny all knowledge of the shipment. As so often, Sudan's tragedies are exacerbated by the colonial legacy — Sudan itself is a 19th-century British creation — and continuing great-power interference. After all that they have suffered, the people of Sudan deserve better from their own leaders and the rest of the world.