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Travails of a journey to Jaffna September 30, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Perera, Jehan, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jehan Perera

It was nearly two years after my last visit to Jaffna. On that occasion, in December 2007, the war was over in the east, and the Sri Lankan military was battling it out in the north. Late in the night we could still hear the thunder of artillery firing in the distance. There were hardly any visitors to Jaffna. The tension in the air was palpable and the people melted from the streets by 5 pm. On this occasion when I visited Jaffna the war had been over more than four months. The streets had people on them well past 9 pm and the tension was much less with the sound of thunder being only caused by lightning.

However, some important things remained unchanged. The road connecting Jaffna to the rest of the country, the A9 Highway, remained closed to people who wished to travel to Jaffna from outside, unless a special permit was obtained from the Ministry of Defence. There is still only a limited bus transportation service. But that is only open to passengers from Jaffna. If they purchase a two-way ticket from Jaffna, they can also return by bus from Colombo. Strangely enough is not possible to purchase a bus ticket from Colombo to go to Jaffna.

It seems that no one, except for those who drew up this scheme of travel, will know the rationale for the restriction on the flow of passenger traffic by road to Jaffna. The freedom of movement throughout the country is a basic right of the citizen. But the residents of Jaffna, and those in the welfare camps for the internally displaced, remain as a large and conspicuous exception. They feel and they are marginalized and excluded, cut off from the mainstream of economic, social and political life of Sri Lanka.


Targeting by social background vs. economic status in anti-poverty programs in rural India September 28, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jha, Raghbendra , comments closed

Raghbendra Jha

Many agencies including national governments and the World Bank have cited public works programs as a crucial tool for poverty alleviation, particularly in the rural sector. When properly designed and implemented, rural public works (RPW) have the dual advantage of providing employment to the unemployed (hence reducing poverty) and building much needed rural infrastructure. Besides, as RPW are designed to peak in seasonally slack periods, they help stabilise incomes. By stabilising and stimulating rural incomes and, therefore demand, RPW have the potential of stimulating the rural economy and, therefore, act as a counterfoil to contracting demand during recessions. RPW have been used in many countries, including India.

However, public policy towards poverty alleviation, of which RPW are one special case, is often subject to the phenomenon of ‘capture’ whereby the benefits of programs, ostensibly meant to target the poor, are garnered by non-poor. An important question in this context is the following. If the non-poor manage to garner the bulk of the benefits from an anti-poverty program, do they get satiated over time, i.e., do the poor become better aware of the potential advantages of RPW and seek to overcome the barriers to participation?

In the ASARC Working Paper (No. 2009/16) “Timing of Capture of Anti-poverty Programs: Rural Public Works and Food for Work Programs in Rural India” Raghbendra Jha, Sambit Bhattacharyya and Raghav Gaiha compute average odds of participation (AOP) given by the ratio of the quintile-specific average participation rate to the overall average for various quintiles of per capita expenditure for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Landowners and the rural population as a whole. They also compute marginal odds of participation (MOP) defined as the increment to participation in that program for various quintiles of per capita household expenditure. The computations are for RPW in 1993-94 and Food for Work (FFW) programs in 2004-05 using large scale National Sample Survey Household Survey for the 50th and 61st rounds respectively. Differences between AOP and MOP reflect differences in the incidence of infra-marginal spending. If the MOP is greater than the AOP for the poorest quintile within a particular social group, then the population in the poorest quintile will benefit more than the others from an increase in overall spending, indicating lower capture from the extra spending.


Afghanistan: will ISAF just walk away one day? September 24, 2009

Posted by barbaranelson in : Afghanistan, Snedden, Christopher , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

Recently, while re-watching Richard Attenborough’s film about Mahatma Gandhi, I was struck by the scene in which Gandhi presciently told the bewildered British that, in the finish, they would simply walk away from India. I immediately thought of Afghanistan. Unless things change dramatically there for the better – and soon, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) may also ‘walk away’. Unlike the British in 1947, however, ISAF’s departure will be couched in justificatory terms to suggest a victory, not a defeat.

As things currently stand, it appears that ISAF will fail in Afghanistan. There are (at least) five reasons for this. First (and not in any order), ISAF’s overall military resolve to engage and defeat the Taliban is weak. United States’ forces appear to be fully committed to, and engaged in, Afghanistan. Other nations (including Australia), to varying degrees, appear primarily to have military forces in ISAF to ‘pay their dues’ to the US. ISAF may have the overall military capability to win in Afghanistan, but it is hampered by the weak and/or wavering intent of its various component militaries. This is a poor basis on which to fight a resurgent Taliban. With forces such as the Dutch and Canadians keen to withdraw from Afghanistan, ISAF’s military resolve is unlikely to improve in the short term.


India’s approach to Pakistan: whose side are we on? September 23, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Guest author, Rajiv Kumar, Director, ICRIER

This article first appeared in East Asia Forum and the Times of India

Security hawks, the media’s foreign policy experts and the political class had a field day after July’s Indo-Pakistani joint statement. Particularly for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose astute leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee once took the boldest of steps to liberate India from its Pakistan obsession, nationalism seems confined to overtly displaying our superiority over a smaller neighbour, one fighting with its back to the wall against destabilising forces. Good foreign policy, however, has to be more nuanced so that our long-term national interests are served.

To better appreciate complex diplomatic endeavours, we must start by taking note of some facts. First, India accounts for about 80 per cent of South Asian GDP. Being so dominant, it has to bear an asymmetric responsibility for achieving stability, peace and prosperity in South Asia. This must be the bedrock of our neighbourhood policy. Second, we cannot choose our neighbours and should work with whoever we can to help Pakistan defeat the jihadis. Otherwise, there will be negative outcomes for our own experiment at building a pluralistic, multi-ethnic and democratic society. Third, the strategic balance between the two countries must surely rule out any ideas of a decisive military victory. That road leads only to mutually assured destruction. We may well have to bite the bullet one day, but it is best avoided.


Indo-US nuclear agreement in slow motion: is reprocessing an issue? September 21, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

“Indo-US nuclear deal plays out in slow motion” was a Times of India headline in mid-June this year and still appears to be the case.

There was an expectation that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India in late July would see an announcement bringing close to fruition the Indo-US nuclear agreement and, meeting in part that expectation, a US-India Defence Pact was signed in New Delhi on 20 July.

This still left resolution on an issue of some contention for both sides – agreement on procedures for the reprocessing of spent fuel of American origin on Indian soil – still apparently not yet resolved. The first consultation took place in late July and the next stages are, perhaps optimistically, expected to be over in two months, so that the implementation of the 123 Agreement can start somewhere near the given timeframe.

July 2005 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush signed the initial statement on promised cooperation in civilian nuclear energy between their countries is now a long time ago, and has seen Bush lose office but Singh endorsed for a second electoral term.


India: pumping new life into the Doha Round September 17, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author, Rajiv Kumar, Director, ICRIER

This article first appeared in East Asia Forum and the Financial Chronicle

Despite exhortations from successive G-20 summits, the Doha Development Round (DDR) has been in a state of suspended animation since July 2008. It is fortunate that protectionist measures taken by several governments since November 2008, have not resulted in a rash of competitive protectionism. But we are at the top of a very slippery path. It will not take much for governments to succumb to domestic protectionist pressures if unemployment continues to rise or the recovery falters. Therefore, it is quite important that the multilateral trading regime be strengthened and the credibility of the WTO which serves as its global watchman is enhanced. There can be no better means of achieving this than to ensure a successful conclusion of the DDR.

Indian PM Singh with the delegation of WTO representatives, in New Delhi on September 04, 2009 (Photo: www.pmindia.nic.in)

In this context, it is sad to realize that a successful outcome of the DDR is seen as an increasingly remote possibility. There is talk of ‘multilaterlizing regionalism’ which in all honesty is some what of an oxymoron. And some observers, on grounds of realism have suggested that we accept a failed DDR as a fait accompli and start to look for second best options. India and other emerging economies should not accept such a pessimistic prognosis. Instead they need to ensure that the DDR, is successfully concluded even if with a lower ambition level.


Sri Lanka: government faces the spectre of war crimes accusations September 16, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Perera, Jehan, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jehan Perera

The issue of war crimes has been in the air since the final showdown between the government and LTTE commenced in 2006. There was early evidence that this was going to be a fight to the finish in which the civilian population would be implicated. The LTTE goaded the newly elected government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to war by repeatedly ambushing dozens of soldiers in the north of the country and claiming that it was not they, but the angry people of the north who were doing it. This was a most provocative action that dimmed the distinction between combatant and civilian. The seeds of the disaster to befall the civilian population were laid here.

The final phase of the war was the most brutal in Sri Lanka’s modern history. Unable to withstand the superior firepower of the Sri Lankan armed forces, the LTTE fell back deeper into its strongholds. But in their withdrawal they did an entirely unexpected thing with possibly no parallel anywhere else in the world. They took the entire civilian population with them on their retreat, and claimed that the people accompanying them did so of their own free will. This included civilians from other parts of the country who happened to be visiting their relatives in the LTTE-controlled areas at that time. A civilian population that exceeded 300,000 became hostage to the LTTE. (more…)

India: two mysteries and a funeral September 14, 2009

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

As India mourns the death of the highly successful and popular Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, two recent events have set conspiracy theorists’ tongues wagging.  In one case, a North Korean vessel, MV San, was interdicted by India in Indian waters 65 nautical miles off Port Blair.  Its manifest claimed its cargo of sugar to be en route for Iraq.  But to get to Iraq, the vessel would have taken a different route after leaving the Straits of Malacca.  For some reason it sailed into the Andaman Sea.

The vessel was seized by the Indian navy and searched under the recent UN Resolution on North Korean nuclear activities.  Nothing of an incriminating nature was initially found.  So the vessel was taken to the Indian mainland for off-loading in order to conduct a thorough search.

Accepting that no nuclear materials are likely to be found, there are several other possible explanations.


Central Port Blair.  Photo: Henryk Kotowski, Wikipedia Commons (more…)

Struggling for women’s rights in Afghanistan September 10, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Guest authors , comments closed

Susan Harris-Rimmer

Amongst the debates raised by the upcoming elections in Afghanistan and Australia’s role in the conflict there, let us remind our leaders to focus on the crucial political and security goal of protecting and improving the rights of Afghan women. In April 2009, Afghanistan’s government adopted a ‘personal status’ law that required a Shiite woman to obtain a male relative’s permission to leave her house, to seek employment or education, and to have sex with her husband every four days unless she was ill. The law also granted custody of children to fathers or grandfathers only. Its purpose was apparently to shore up Shia support for Hamid Karzai’s re-election campaign for the presidency.

The law prompted large demonstrations in Kabul, and significant international opposition, especially from the Canadian Government, on the basis that it violated women’s human rights. Women who demonstrated against the personal status law in Kabul were met with a violent response, including stoning. Under pressure, President Karzai then agreed to review the legislation. However, The Guardian reported this week (17 August) that the law had quietly been gazetted on 27 July, and has therefore entered into force, just prior to the Presidential election.


Is the Indian media reading China right? September 9, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Venkatesan Vembu

In recent weeks, there’s been a perceptible escalation in tension between India and China, focused principally on a border dispute that has dragged on for decades. Media reports in both India and China have struck a shrill note (see here for a summary), which has effectively drowned out efforts by officials in both countries to lower the pitch.

The recent posting of an ‘essay’ on a Chinese-language website (original post inaccessible, but it has been replicated here), which outlined a strategy for China to ‘balkanise’ India, and the Indian media’s hysterical reaction to it only served to reinforce the enormous ‘trust deficit’ that exists between the two countries – and revealed that passions on both sides remain highly inflamed.

However provocative the ‘essay’ may have been, the over-the-top Indian media and popular response to it, without the faintest attempt at verifying the authenticity of the original post or the extent to which its message reflected official Chinese mindsets reveals a disquieting vacuum in Indian understanding of China.