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Defence Minister Johnston and Australia’s role in Pakistan September 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , 1 comment so far

Sandy Gordon

As we wind down in Afghanistan after a twelve-year war, new Defence Minister David Johnston reportedly says we need to keep our counter-insurgency skills honed, including for possible use in Pakistan (SMH, 21 September 2013).

Mr Johnston and his advisers need to think such statements through. Does he mean a limited role in advising Pakistan on counter-insurgency or does he envision a more robust involvement in maintaining stability? Either way, there is no useful role for Australia, either singly or in concert with its friends and allies.

Pakistan is both a supporter of the insurgency in Afghanistan and involved in counter-insurgency against groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) within Pakistan.

In the former role, the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, support Afghan anti-government groups like the Haqqani network and harbour the Taliban leadership in Quetta. US intelligence believes the Haqqani network, with support from the ISI, was involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, in which 58 died. The network also allegedly killed the Karzai government’s chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

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Pakistan’s new government: a harbinger of hope? May 15, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, Pakistan , 2comments

Sandy Gordon

Pakistan has just experienced the first democratic change of government in its history. It did so despite a violent campaign by religious extremists to derail the election. This violence targeted secular-oriented parties such as the ousted Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). However, the victory by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party (PML-N) is still a genuine one. The 60% voter turnout is excellent for Pakistan and indicates that Pakistanis defied the religious extremists.

Voters were clearly fed up with the PPP’s corruption and poor economic management. The country has suffered from serious electricity cuts and an anaemic economy. It is burdened by a rapid population growth rate, fuelled by poor levels of general and especially female literacy. Environmental problems in the heavily irrigation-dependent economy are growing.

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India-China border tension and nuclear posturing May 9, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , Comment

Sandy Gordon

The standoff between China and India in Ladakh has been resolved, at least for now. After China set up five tents for 40 personnel 19 km inside what India regards as the line of control, India set up similar tents facing them.  Both lots of tents are now to be removed, but it is still unclear whether India is to remove any of the structures at Fukche and Chumar, as demanded by the Chinese.

The Chinese withdrawal only occurred after India had hardened its position on the impending visit of Indian foreign Minister Salman Kurshid to Beijing on 9 May and the reciprocal visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi on 20 May. The Indian government was forced to harden its position by the strong public reaction to what was perceived to be its week-kneed response to the Chinese ‘incursions’.

A disturbing feature of the incident was the way it had been politicised on both sides, thus risking the protagonists being ‘locked in’ to their respective positions.

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Sri Lanka: still difficult to ‘bell the cat’ February 23, 2013

Posted by auriolweigold in : Gordon, Sandy, Sri Lanka , 3comments

Sandy Gordon

Commissioned by East Asia Forum and previously published in Future Directions International

Sri Lanka is a small country of about the population of Australia. Its location astride the major energy sea lanes of communication (SLOCS) of the Indian Ocean and just south of behemoth India, however, puts it in a strategic box seat for the forthcoming struggle for influence over the liquid energy requirements of the East Asian economic giants, including China.

Until about a decade ago, the island was a Western-leaning democracy, but one with a generational civil war involving human rights violations on both side. The denouement of the war in May 2009 saw the death of the head of the Tamil Tigers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran. Few who were not Tamil Tiger loyalists would have mourned the passing of the homicidal head of the feared organisation.  Fewer still would have regretted the ending of a civil war that had lasted since 1983 and caused an estimated 80,000 deaths.

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India-Pakistan visa deal: a glass half empty? September 14, 2012

Posted by aungsi in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , 1 comment so far

Sandy Gordon

On September the 8th, India and Pakistan agreed to liberalise their visa arrangements. The deal came during three day talks between Pakistani foreign minister Khar and Indian counterpart Krishna at Islamabad. Under the deal eight categories of visa will be liberalised, including the provision of visa on entry at the land border for the elderly and young, and most importantly, the provision of multiple entry and multiple city visas for business people with turnovers of over Rs 3 million annually.

The latter is particularly significant in view of recent trade developments. These include Islamabad’s decision to grant most favoured nation (MFN) status to India – which had been granted by India to Pakistan in 1996.  Pakistan has promised by December this year to grant MFN to India by eliminating the system allowing only stipulated items to be traded in favour of a small ‘negative’ list covering defence-related and other sensitive items. India has also liberalised its regime by agreeing to remove yarn and textiles from its ‘sensitive’ list and allowing Pakistani businesses to set up in India.

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Assam: friction in a crucial corridor July 30, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gordon, Sandy, India , 9comments

Sandy Gordon

A week ago some 48 people were killed in Assam in clashes between the Bodo ethnic group (a Tibetan-Burmese people who are now predominantly Christian and Hindu) and Muslim Bengali immigrants, mainly from Bangladesh and its previous incarnations. Approximately 400,000 have also been displaced from their villages. These are by no means the first such ethnic clashes in Assam, the most recent being between Bengalis and Bodos four years ago, which left 70 dead. The worst attacks occurred in 1983, when an estimated 2000 Bengali Muslims were killed.

Since well before the British left in 1947, Bengali Muslims have been crossing into Assam. Pushed by desperation, they often occupied the shifting char lands – dangerous but fertile flood plains of the rivers that criss-cross the region. Since independence in 1947, East Pakistanis, and later Bangladeshis, have continued to cross the poorly policed, poorly defined border. There are now an estimated 10-20 million Bangladeshis in India. But of course not all Bengali Muslims are in Assam illegally and many have been there for generations. As pointed out by the New York Times, it is well nigh impossible to distinguish between those legitimately in Assam and those who have come illegally.

Besides the devastating displacement and loss of life, ethnic unrest in Assam is important for a number of reasons.

India's North East - this version includes Sikkim

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Pakistan: Gilani ‘cops it sweet’ – for now June 20, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, Pakistan , Comment

Sandy Gordon

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has apparently decided to accept the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and to try to avoid calling new elections. The job now is to choose a new Prime Minister and keep the minor coalition partners on side. As it is, elections are not scheduled till early next year. The Electoral Commission (EC), which has 90 days to make its own ruling under the Constitution, has come in early and endorsed the dismissal, which is backdated from the time of Mr Gilani’s conviction (26 April). Rule of law apparently pertains, at least for now.

It seems the PPP had little option but to comply once the EC came out in support of the Court. Unless backed by the powerful military (which it is not), the PPP would have had a difficult time in defying the Court. To take to the streets would have, effectively, meant taking to the streets against itself. (It could not have done so against the military, which is not nominally in control; nor against the Court, which would have meant defying the Constitution, further weakening the slender hold of civilian government). If it had called a fresh election it may well have lost, given Pakistan’s chronic power shortage, which is occurring during a time of recession and summer heat. So it will appoint a new Prime Minister and try to hang on till next year’s general elections. (more…)

SAM recommends … ‘Indian mining out of control’ June 15, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India, South Asia Masala Recommends , Comment

Sandy Gordon

Items on corruption surrounding mining in India have featured prominently on this site. In that context, we are now drawing attention to an important new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on corruption in mining and its human consequences.

The HRW report chronicles instances of the Indian mining industry being ‘out of control’ – that is, virtually unsupervised by the state and federal authorities responsible for it. The human and environmental consequenses have been dramatic.

The HRW report also suggests some remedies: upgrade resources in the relevant environmental and forestry departments, which are woefully inadequate; remove responsibility from mining companies for funding and commissioning environmental impact statements (EISs), many of which have been fraudulent; and review past EIS reports, with prosecutions and cessation of mining where they are found to be fraudulent. For the full report, click here and follow the links.

India: which way will the ‘swing state’ swing? June 8, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan, Uncategorized , 1 comment so far

Sandy Gordon

According to a leading article in The Times of India, India now finds itself in the enviable position of being courted by both the US and China, thus confirming its status as a ‘swing state’ of Asia.

Two recent meetings highlight India’s emerging role in Asian security.  On 6 June, American Secretary for Defense, Leon Panetta, told a think tank in New Delhi that India is a “linchpin” in America’s re-engagement with Asia.  He also promised India access to significant military technologies.

Following that meeting, Mr Panetta bypassed Islamabad and warned from Kabul that the US is “losing patience” with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in the wings of the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Beijing, Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang – widely expected to be China’s next premier – told Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna that Sino-Indian ties would be the most important bilateral relationship in the twenty-first century. According to The Wall Street Journal, in return Mr Krishna made a strong pitch for full membership of the resource-rich SCO.

US Defense Secretary Panetta and Indian Defence Minister Anthony from 'The Hindu'

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SAM recommends: ‘Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint’ May 11, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India, South Asia Masala Recommends , Comment

Sandy Gordon

P. Sainath is a well known journalist whose forte is exposing rural misery. In this detailed and well researched article he deals with a push by Monsanto to have legislation passed to support the introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds, including through good news stories in Sainath’s former paper, The Times of India. Sainath shows the original Times of India story was subsequently ‘cannibalised’ in the form of advertisements.  The stories point to the apparent success of GM cotton in two villages in Maharashtra in preventing farmer suicides and debt, two acute and related problems which many commentators, including P. Sainath, have attributed to globalisation.

In this article, Sainath is able to show that suicides and debt are, indeed, acute problems in the two villages and that the profits claimed for GM cotton are simply absurd.

But the article is much more important than that.

India is caught up in a long-running debate about the supposed benefits and woes of globalisation. Recently the battle ground concerned foreign direct investment in retailing, with a move by Congress, which is a minority in the Lok Sabha, to allow 51 per cent FDI in retailing being overturned in the Parliament – a move widely seen as a signal that India’s economic reform process has stalled.

As to agriculture, India continues to have relatively high sets of agricultural tariffs and a range of other government controls.  Popular concern about farmer suicides and the role of globalisation have played a significant part in maintaining that position. Many economists, however, argue that more, not less, reform of agriculture would be the best medicine against farmer poverty, debt and suicide.

Read P. Sainath’s article here.