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Sri Lanka’s stability critical to New Delhi’s Indian Ocean ambitions June 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared in Future Directions International.


A controversial advisory panel report, published by the United Nations in late March 2011, called for a full investigation into the perceived breaches in the Laws of Armed Conflict during the endgame of Sri Lanka’s civil war. As a result, India continues to face the challenge of balancing its relations with Sri Lanka, while appeasing the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to over 72 million Indian Tamils.


Caste in modern India June 29, 2011

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

Sandy Gordon

The idea that nation states possess a ‘strategic culture’ that directs their actions on the world stage was once popular.  George Tanham of Rand Corporation claimed that India’s international outlook was shaped by the hierarchical attitude deriving from caste and from the then brahmin domination of key institutions.  (Indian Strategic Thought: An Interpretative Essay, Rand, 1992).

Even today, it is common to associate India’s ‘culture of corruption’ with the sense of entitlement produced by familial and caste loyalties – loyalties that are said to trump objective service to the state of the Weberian kind. The watchdogs of the state intended to deal with such abuses are allegedly also beholden to the hierarchical structure of society and hence reluctant to bring high status offenders to book.  (See for example, B. R. Lall, a former Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, in his book: Who Owns CBI?)

For many years now lower caste workers have migrated from rural areas to factories and workshops in India’s cities like Mumbai


‘People of righteousness’ march on for Sri Lanka June 26, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

A longer version first appeared here in Transcurrents

The war crimes accusations levelled against the Sri Lankan government at the moment are driven by a complex coalition of forces. In the vanguard are people of righteousness. Such a man is Gordon Weiss. His demeanour as he addresses television audiences is that of a crusader. The iconic picture of himself adopted in his very own website, benignly overseeing a mass of African children, reminds one of a missionary.

The advocates of human rights today are reminiscent of the nineteenth century missionaries in Asia who set out to save the poor benighted ‘natives’ and rid them of idol worship. The moral crusaders of today pursue a different agenda. They are secular fundamentalists marching forth to cleanse the world of “evil” in the form of carbon pollution, smoke inhalation, et cetera. However, like the missionaries of yesteryear, they adhere to an either/or evaluation of the worlds before them.

For Sri Lanka these people of righteousness present a clear picture: Eelam War IV was a brutal war involving atrocities from both sides in the conflict, government and LTTE. It was also ‘a war without witnesses’, a phrase parroted ad nauseam and repeated recently by Weiss in a high-profile ABC interview. This text is self-serving: it renders the spokespersons into the only honest witnesses.

Their witness includes statistics on ‘civilian’ deaths. This is not surprising. We are dwelling in an era captivated by the magical wand of statistics and the impression of precision generated by the imprint of number. So Gordon Weiss told us earlier that his computation of civilian deaths ranged from 15,000 to 40,000. Invariably this sound bite gets twisted in world reportage and is presented categorically in several outlets as ‘40,000’.


China’s investment spurs Bangladesh development June 22, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article was first posted in Future Directions International on 15 June 2011


On 9 June 2011, Bangladesh signed a loan agreement worth US$211 million ($198 million) with the Export-Import Bank of China to upgrade the country’s telecommunications network. Such initiatives by China to develop critical infrastructure are illustrative of the central role it has played in strengthening Bangladesh’s economy and connectivity to the region.


Bangladesh established formal relations with China in 1975 and thereafter bilateral relations were steadily enhanced by frequent diplomatic visits to both countries. Subsequently, in 1986, the Bangladesh-China People’s Friendship Association was formed, which helped set the pattern in two-way trade and investment, especially throughout the 1990s, fostering China’s emergence as a vitally important partner and ally.

Indeed, from the time relations were first established until October 2000, China provided cumulative assistance worth US$217 million ($205.6 million) to Bangladesh. In the same year, bilateral trade reached an unprecedented high at US$715 million ($677.6 million).

Later, in 2002, on a visit to Bangladesh, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signed nine bilateral agreements to enhance co-operation in a variety of fields. Among the crucial agreements signed was a defence co-operation accord, which strengthened China’s position as a key supplier of weapons, equipment and ammunition to the Bangladeshi military. ‘Bangladesh wanted time-befitting armed forces for the country. China will co-operate with Bangladesh for this purpose,’ stated Morshed Khan, the former Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. He added: ‘[The] intention is there to co-operate in defence sector; now the two sides will co-operate with each other. This umbrella agreement is not directed against any country and would not affect Bangladesh’s relations with India.’


India: the end of education June 16, 2011

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

Sanjay Srivastava

This post first appeared here in ‘Open’ on 4 June 2011.

Welcome to Kota, the site of a terrifying social experiment. It’s a coaching culture that gets students into IIT, but leaves them uneducated

Now that the results are out, the media is awash with IIT-JEE success stories. There are stories of extraordinary teenagers who have ‘topped’ the entrance examination, small town youth who, against all odds, have gained a place at the top of our hierarchy of educational desires, and delirious parents whose every sacrifice now stands justified. Amid all the exuberant reporting, there is one town that figures prominently as the El Dorado of competitive success. Instead of a name, Kota is now a promise. What are the different ways in which this promise plays out? Let’s begin with a slightly longer view of Kota’s place in the national imagination.

Along with numerous small operators, Kota has a handful of large institutions that enjoy national fame (photo: Ashish Sharma).


China-India rivalry in Maldives set to intensify June 12, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, Maldives , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared here in Future Directions International


The 28-31 May visit to Maldives by the most senior Chinese official ever to visit the Islamic archipelago-nation went largely unreported in the Western media. The significance of the visit by Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, underscored the increasing importance of Maldives to China’s regional strategic calculations.


China and Maldives first established diplomatic relations in 1972. Since then, relations have gradually developed. More recently, Indian policy analysts referred to China’s soft power rise throughout South Asia as a “creeping expansionism”. They went so far as to accuse China of harbouring ambitions to set up a submarine base facility in Maldives.

For instance, in 2005, Indian commentator, A.B. Mahapatra, asserted that:

“China has engineered a manner of a coup by coaxing Maldives’ Abdul Gayoom government to let it establish a base in Marao. Marao is one of the largest of the 1192 coral islands grouped into atolls that comprise Maldives and lies 40 km south of Male, the capital. Scientists warn that global warming is pushing up ocean and sea levels. They fear that most of Maldives will be submerged by year 2040. Marao may be one of the few large islands that may survive. ‘And even if it goes under water’, said a naval official, ‘it will be ideal for submarines.’ In February 2001, a small delegation from Pakistan visited Maldives to boost cultural ties. ‘The Pakistanis put pressure on Male to facilitate Chinese plans for a naval base’, said an official. ‘China used Pakistan to play the Islamic card with Maldives.’ But the Marao base is not expected to be operational until 2010.”


Two Indian Reporters’ Post-War Pictures at the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, May 14-19, 2009 June 10, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

Editor’s note: To view the pictures referred to in this article please go to the link here.

The Sri Lankan government kept a tight lid on the foreign media personnel allowed into the war zone. This is hardly surprising. If one was a company commander at the battlefront seeking to best the LTTE forces in front of one’s troops it would be pretty silly to have personnel with mobile phones reporting back in circumstances which could be intercepted and relayed within minutes to the enemy networks.

Because Western media were mostly kept out, a cliché appeared on the airwaves in 2009: Eelam War IV, it was stressed, was “a war without witnesses.” In late May 2011, Gordon Weiss repeated the same phrase in the course of a two-minute interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (a rare privilege for anyone).

This terminology was, and is, not intended to be taken too literally. After all, the same sources cite the testimonies of Tamil witnesses speaking about the bloodletting in the course of the last five months of the war; and a few international and local UN workers have provided some of the evidence utilised by the UN Panel Report and by Weiss in his ‘The Cage’. What is being suggested and highlighted in this popular sound-bite is the fact that the GOSL kept out foreign journalists so that its atrocities (alleged) would not see the light of day. (more…)

China refutes Gwadar naval base conjecture June 7, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared in The Sunday Leader.

The Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar has affirmed that Pakistan is appreciative of China’s willingness to operate Gwadar port.

It is also keen to see that “a naval base is constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan.” Predictably, the remarks attracted international attention. They reinforced existing views among foreign commentators, who believe that China has intentions to build a series of naval bases in the Indian Ocean, which have been referred to as the “string of pearls.” Nonetheless, it should be equally emphasised that any analysis of Gwadar should be seen as a microcosm of China’s wider relations and interests with Pakistan and the region, which often tend to be understated.


Whither goest thou, Saleem Shahzad’s Pakistan June 3, 2011

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

Vikas Kumar

In January, when Ahmed Rashid commented on “Pakistan’s very unhappy new year” little did we know that Osama bin Laden would be found “hiding in plain sight” in a safe house in a garrison town close to Islamabad. Osama’s death, the subsequent “revenge” attacks, and the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana in the United States have put Pakistan under the spotlight like never before. But public debate has focussed entirely on the international implications of terrorist camps in Pakistan and what the international community can do to save a failing nuclear power from itself. There is hardly any discussion on whether Pakistan can save itself. And if we ignore apologists for extremists, who believe that the world rather than Pakistan has to change, then even domestic debate within Pakistan has only highlighted the impossibility of change or at least change from within. Honestly speaking, one cannot be blamed for being pessimistic about Pakistan, particularly after the gruesome murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative journalist who was probing the relationship between the state and extremists.

The prospect of Deobandi-Wahhabi extremists taking over the Pakistani state is now giving sleepless nights to policy-makers across the world. But is it indeed time to conclude that domestic resistance to international terrorism and Islamic extremism breeding within Pakistan is impossible and the feared takeover is inevitable? Not yet, because the demographic mosaic of Pakistan rules out the possibility of countrywide dominance of extremists. Let us begin with religion. The Shias account for about a fifth of Pakistan’s population and a bewildering variety of small, heterodox Islamic communities dots the south-western, western, and northern borders of Pakistan. But even among Sunnis, the Deobandis and related Wahhabi extremists have a smaller following than their arch rivals, the Barelvis, and other traditionalist Sunni communities that are at home with Sufism.


Syed Saleem Shahzad speaks from the grave June 1, 2011

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

Sandy Gordon

Syed Saleem Shazad was a Pakistani journalist whose body was recently found in a canal 150 kilometres from his home in Islamabad.  He had been tortured prior to being killed.  He wrote for an Italian news agency, Adnkronos International and, more prominently, Asian Times Online, the on-line, Hong Kong-based successor to The Asian Times.  He was killed either by the Pakistani intelligence or the militants – that much is certain. Either way, his killing gives considerable credibility to recent work from his pen.  It is therefore important to examine that work to see exactly what it was that got his killers offside, since another certainty arising from his death is that at least part of what he had to say has struck a very raw nerve somewhere.

Syed Saleem Shahzad