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India’s image problem: organisation and transparency February 27, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must wonder what he has done to deserve the current concatenation of circumstances putting his government and country in such a poor light for overseas observers mesmerised by the “new India” but unused to its complexities. Having over the past few months been further and energetically courted by Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama and a string of other world leaders (but not Australia, at a time when it counts), within just a few weeks organisational glitches, old and new, have combined to undermine confidence in India’s ability “to do things”, at least in the way that the outsiders might expect.

The Commonwealth Games fiasco will just not go away.  While CWG boss Suresh Kalmadi has now been largely isolated politically, he has still not been charged with any formal offences, unlike his two main operatives. They have already appeared in court accused of graft in the letting of a timekeeping contract to a Swiss company.  As the revelations from this become public, the picture will likely become ugly, because there are inevitable political and civil administration links with a wide range of companies that gained contracts under profitable conditions.  Many such links have already been revealed by journalists -they remain to be proven in court, of course, but the image of the “great” Games is taking a drubbing.

There were, for example, a myriad of Kalmadi/CWG jokes.  One of the best was an anagram of Suresh Kalmadi: “Sir, u made lakhs”!

The concern all along was that the murky side of official contracting undertaken with public money might become too revealed via the CWG investigations, but the government was under such pressure on the matter from NGOs, opposition figures like Arun Jaitley and international agencies that it could not ignore the calls for investigation.  There will be nervous moments for a good many officials and others as the court cases line up and tell their stories.


The battle of Deobund: a straw in the wind? February 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon


The battle for control of the large Dar-ul-Uloom seminary at the Uttar Pradesh town of Deobund is likely to represent more than the backwash from a longstanding family feud.  The seminary, founded in 1866/67 and with 4000 students today, represents a conservative brand of Islam espousing Sharia Law and opposed to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence introduced by the Moghuls, who realised they couldn’t rule Hindu-majority India according to strict Sharia principles.

Under the Moghuls, thousands of seminaries had flourished.  Many of them produced well-rounded individuals capable of assisting in the administration of the giant empire, which was part of their purpose.  The mathematical and astronomical achievements of Moghul period scholars are well recorded in history and are evident to anyone who visits Jantar Mantar in Delhi, built by Jai Singh 11 of Jaipur during the Moghul era.

Jantar Mantar in Delhi, representing the acme of Moghul-era mathematical and astronomical learning


Looking west again – to the Indian Ocean and India February 16, 2011

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

Auriol Weigold

An article in The Australian, published on 31 March 2010, notes Australia’s inconsistent interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in its headline ‘We must look west to the Indian Ocean …’.  It goes on to remind that Australia should be a ‘pre-eminent country’ in the IOR and notes that a ‘new maritime great game’ is visible as ‘strategic competition between India and China’ grows. These ideas, verging on directives, are drawn from Bateman’s and Bergin’s Australian Strategic Policy Institute Paper, Our Western Front: Australia and the Indian Ocean, launched by Australia’s former Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, on the same day in 2010.  The Australian concluded its article by reporting that Australia’s policies vis-a-vis the Indian Ocean have been ‘relatively opaque and spasmodic’, and should be embedded in the mainstream of foreign policy.

Despite its inconsistent and often neglectful approach to engagement in the Indian Ocean as a whole, Australia has had an historical interest in the Indian Ocean, which is vital to its import and export markets and sea-lines communications. It relies on Indian Ocean sea-routes and access points for its globalised trade, and the ever-increasing importance of security and stability demand deeper engagement: geographically Australia is well-placed to play a prominent role in the Indian Ocean region.

Crew of HMAS Melbourne board a pirated Chinese tanker in the Indian Ocean,  Photo ABC


Pakistan’s moment of choice February 14, 2011

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

Guest author: Peter Drysdale

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 7 February 2011.

The precariousness of Pakistan’s future political and economic stability was highlighted no more starkly to outside observers than by the assassination of Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer, by his own bodyguard, offended by Taseer’s public support for review and amendment of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws. It wasn’t the assassination itself so much, vile and treacherous though that would have seemed to many, but the outpouring of support for the assassin and the hundreds of legal volunteers that offered defence of him that shocked the rest of the world so deeply.

Sometimes we feel such dismay and anger at the expressions and acts of intolerance and hatred that confront us daily, so graphically in these sharp-focused digital days, in societies all around the world that we may be forgiven for despairing that such acts will render the prospects of peaceful or prosperous life impossible for the vast majority of humankind. Pakistan is a nation that currently induces such despair.


Pakistan, India and the World Cup February 9, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Pakistan, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Just days out from the start of this year’s cricket World Cup in the subcontinent, Pakistan’s reputation has taken another beating. Last Saturday the International Cricket Council’s independent tribunal confirmed its belief that Pakistani players were again involved in match-fixing engineered by illegal gambling connections. The case arose from revelations late last year that during the Lords test match in which Pakistan was involved, there was evidence that in return for payment, Pakistani bowlers delivered deliberate “no balls” as part of a spot betting scam. The then captain Salman Butt has now been banned for 10 years with 5 suspended, Mohammad Asif 7 with 2 suspended and Mohammad Aamir 5 years. This last is a particular blow because Aamir had emerged as one of the world’s great young talents.

Adding complication, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service a day earlier announced it believed it had enough evidence to warrant the laying of criminal charges over the matter, and the players have been detailed off to appear voluntarily in Westminster court in a few weeks, or be extradited.

There will be some twists yet, though. The players have immediately announced that they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Switzerland with Aamir, interestingly, reportedly saying he had not expected such a severe penalty – that suggests, of course, he expected a penalty which, in turn, suggests substance to the claims and charges. That both fits but contradicts other reports from Pakistan that Michael Beloff, QC, the head of the ICC panel, thought the evidence underdone and was unhappy with the numbers of years that had to be handed out under the “minimum penalty” provisions. Beloff, son of Lord Max Beloff the historian and political scientist, and himself former President of Trinity Oxford, is also a key member of the Court for Arbitration for Sport, so complexities and networks abound.

All this has reverberations for cricket in several respects, but two in particular are important.


Afghanistan: conundrum central February 8, 2011

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

Christopher Snedden

Afghanistan provokes many conundrums, but few answers. The most important current question is whether external forces can defeat the Islamically-motivated Afghan Taliban trying to regain control of their fragmented, underdeveloped and war-weary country? Policy makers and military strategists from 48 foreign nations believe so. Accordingly, they have ‘surged’ their International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to 132,000 personnel. And, since President Obama came to power, ISAF—particularly its United States’ component of 90,000 personnel—has been better focused and may be gaining ground.

However, a significant conundrum is to determine the actual ‘state of play’ in Afghanistan. The Taliban, about which we know little, almost certainly overstates its strength and position. Equally, official Western sources may paint a picture rosier than reality. On 3 December, at Bagram Air Base, President Obama stated that ‘Because of the progress we’re making, we look forward to a new phase next year [2011], the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility’. This suggested that operations were going well. By contrast, on 26 December, the Wall Street Journal reported that United Nations’ maps showed ‘a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan’ during 2010. Much of southern Afghanistan was still at ‘very high risk’, while the risk in previously ‘low risk’ areas in northern, central and western Afghanistan had increased ‘considerably’. Similarly, in January, a ‘NATO official’ estimated there were ‘up to 25,000’ insurgent fighters, ‘the same as a year ago, before the arrival of an additional 40,000 US and allied troops’. ISAF may not be doing as well as we are led to believe.

President Obama’s remark above about ‘the transition to Afghan responsibility’ also confirmed that ISAF is keen to extract itself from Afghanistan. Accordingly, ISAF is trying to develop the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police so they can take responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. This task is difficult. Low education levels, high attrition rates and Taliban intimidation make these forces’ capabilities questionable. Equally, ISAF needs to succeed in other nation-building activities—which, in a dilemma, it cannot do until it has secured and stabilised the country. These activities include: developing Afghanistan’s economy; enhancing its political and governmental structures; overcoming people’s deep fear of a Taliban takeover after ISAF’s inevitable withdrawal; reducing corruption; and, delivering meaningful aid and infrastructure throughout the country.


The importance of 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly election February 3, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

The population of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is equal to that of Brazil, the fifth most populous country. It sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha and 31 members to the Rajya Sabha. Unsurprisingly, it has a decisive influence on national politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as a national party because of its spectacular performance in UP during the 1990s, when it successfully hawked Hindu nationalism. Ironically, by the late 1990s UP also demonstrated the limits of Hindu nationalism, when caste-based provincial parties began to cannibalize BJP’s support base. In fact, by the late 1990s, other national parties had also been marginalized in UP. In recent times, UP has served as a passive constraint on the freedom of national parties, forcing them to follow coalition dharma in the face of impossibility of attaining majority on their own.

However, the forthcoming assembly election is likely to mark the return of UP to national politics as an active player. There are two reasons for this. First, it will significantly influence the choice of prime ministerial candidates of non-Congress coalitions. If Kumari Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) loses then Nitish Kumar will gain in influence because he is one of the very few mass leaders, acceptable to both the Left Front and BJP. Recall the ease with which Nitish resisted Hindutva in 2010 Bihar election. BJP hadn’t forgotten Navin Patnaik’s effortless leftward swing in 2009 Orissa election after it played the communal card. However, a comfortable majority for Mayawati will erode Nitish’s bargaining power by providing the Left Front-led Third Front with another prime ministerial candidate. Once his outside option is vitiated Nitish will lose his bargaining power within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), giving BJP a freehand to choose NDA’s candidate.

Second, the forthcoming election will have an enormous impact on whether political parties across India will rely on good governance to win elections. Nitish’s successive electoral victories in Bihar, one of the strongholds of politics of authenticity, have raised hopes that good governance can help win elections. However, this hope might be premature because his success was driven among other things by factors not obtained elsewhere, which is why the forthcoming election in UP is important. (more…)