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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 , comments closed

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.

Book Review: Alice Albinia’s ‘Empires of the Indus’ April 3, 2012

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Sandy Gordon

Alice Albinia, Empires of the Indus: the story of a river (New York, London: Norton and Company, 2008)

Enter this book and you are within a magic circle of history, geography and personal account.  You are a traveler in time and space, borne along by Albinia’s quirky, fascinating story.  On one level it is a travel book, with all the rich panoply of characters, oddities, near-miss adventures, courage and determination of the best of this genre – think Chatwin, Thubron and Theroux.  Like the best of travel writers, Albinia’s journey is an account of innocent amateurism  – at least as it applies to her travel rather than her scholarship.  On another, it chases the great empires of the Indus, from the Indus Valley Civilization, through to the Gandharans and on to Alexander the Great, the Lodhis, Sikhs, Mughals and British.  It also provides some brilliant insights into contemporary Pakistan, particularly the people of the underclass such as low caste Hindus and the Sheedi community, which originated from the African slave trade, only terminated with the coming of the British in the nineteenth century.  Finally, it is a sad history of the river itself, a river that no longer even flows in the dry season into its own creation: the largest deltaic fan in the world.  It also tells us that the tension over the Indus waters is as severe, if not more so, between the riparians within Pakistan, especially between Sindh and Punjab, as it is across international borders .

 Alice Albinia


Indian Ocean: don’t militarise the ‘great connector’ March 29, 2012

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Sandy Gordon

The Indian Ocean is Australia’s back yard – or at least if you live in the West.  It also plays a major role in transporting energy from the oil and gas-rich Persian Gulf to Australia’s principal trading partners, China and Japan.  With each passing year, these and other East Asian powers become more dependent on the free passage of oil over the Indian Ocean.

This makes China nervous.  India and China have an ambivalent relationship. On the one hand they have common interests based on growing trade and similar positions in the WTO and on climate change. But on the other, they have abiding suspicions over the longstanding border dispute and what India sees as Chinese meddling in its own back yard – South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

USN Los Angeles class nuclear powered submarine


SAM recommends …’India: The Next Superpower?’ March 21, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India, South Asia Masala Recommends , comments closed

Two recent works are of great interest to those of us who have traced India’s rise to power over the years.  The pieces question whether India will ever become a superpower, and even if it should aspire to that role.  One is a single authored article by the eminent Indian historian, Ramachandra Guha, titled ‘Democratic to a fault’, and the other a more in-depth analysis by a team put together by the London School of Economics and including Guha, on the subject: ‘India: the next superpower?’.

The pieces argue that India should concentrate on its manifest internal problems of governance and related issues before it can hope to rise as a world power.  These problems have recently been highlighted by the massive 2G scam and other cases of mega-corruption.  Such pathology and corruption is, in turn, closely connected to the social dislocation engendered by poor performance in areas such as nutrition, health and education at the grass-roots.  Failure to share the benefits of development, not so much through lack of policy but more because of issues of governance, has  in its turn been a significant factor in the Maoist insurgency – to take one of a number of available examples – now troubling nearly a third of India’s districts.  And development itself is leading to substantial  environmental problems, which will need to be addressed before India can advance on a sustainable basis.

SAM leaves the reader to judge for herself.  And we would also welcome any opinion or commentary.  For references, see below:

Guha, Ramachandran, 2012, ‘Democratic to a Fault?’, Prospect Magazine, 25 January 2012, as at  http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2012/01/democratic-to-a-fault-ramachandra-guha-indias-future/.

LSE Team: ‘India: The Next Superpower’, as at http://www2.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/publications/reports/SR010.aspx and follow the links.

Pakistan and the Afghan End-Game: need for a rethink? February 11, 2012

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Sandy Gordon

Washington has now moderated Secretary for Defense Leon Panetta’s statement that the US as a fighting force would be in the barracks by mid-2013.  US forces may now come out to fight as and when necessary till departure at the end of 2014.  But that doesn’t change much.  The fact is the Afghan endgame has been in play at least since the death of bin Laden.

On the surface Pakistan appears to be a highly dysfunctional country caught up in the current ‘AfPak’ uncertainty and poorly positioned to benefit from the endgame.  Perilously poised between a dysfunctional civilian government and an Army reluctant to seize power but willing to shape events from the wings, beset by terrorist and insurgency violence, with a failing and near bankrupt economy and shocking social sector indicators, on numerous occasions commentators have predicted Pakistan’s demise.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar


South Asia in 2011: a year of strained relations January 17, 2012

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Sandy Gordon

First published as  part of a special feature: 2011 in review and the year ahead, in East Asia Forum, 3 January 2012.

South Asia is a vast region encompassing eight nations (if we include Afghanistan) and over one-fifth of humanity. It is difficult to do it justice in this short summary of the year’s events.

Foremost among the region’s significant developments is the killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid on 2 May. This is important not just for its effect on al-Qaeda, but because it made possible Washington’s claim that the US could now leave Afghanistan with its ‘mission accomplished’. By the end of 2014 there will be only a rump of about 20,000 NATO troops remaining.

At the same time, the raid also triggered a marked deterioration in the US-Pakistan relationship, already troubled by the Raymond Davis affair. The net result is that although the impetus on the US to leave Afghanistan has increased, the prospect of an orderly departure and satisfactory final outcome has declined.


Speculation swirls around Pakistan’s President Zardari December 8, 2011

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Sandy Gordon

President Zardari reportedly suffered a minor heart attack on December 6 and is now in Dubai.  The normally well informed STRATFOR reported that Zardari had been ‘incoherent’ in an earlier telephone conversation with President Obama.  According to the BBC, Zardari’s staff say the problem is minor and there is no question of his resigning.

There have, however, been a series of worrying developments in the Af-Pak region recently and it is quite possible either that it has all become too much for Zardari or that he has been given the nod to leave by the military.


NATO attack on Pakistani border post: what it means November 28, 2011

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Sandy Gordon

The raw facts are known. A long-standing Pakistani military base just within  the northern border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was attacked by helicopters and possibly fixed-wing NATO aircraft on 26 November and at least 25 Pakistani officers and men killed. Since then, Pakistan has reacted by “indefinitely” closing border traffic for NATO goods from Pakistan into Afghanistan and giving the US 15 days to vacate its UAV base at Shamsi.

What is less well known is what prompted the NATO night attack. NATO is investigating. But it is possible that firing came from the base in support of a Taliban training facility, which was being concurrently attacked by US special forces. Or it may simply have been the result of a mix-up – all too easy in night fighting in the complex tribal area.


Behind Gillard’s India uranium sale decision November 19, 2011

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Sandy Gordon

This article first appeared in The Australian on 18 November. The Australian is no longer available on the internet except on subscription.

Julia Gillard would have been more politically comfortable had she left the issue of uranium sales to India rusting in the ‘parking lot’. The pressing questions is therefore: why now?

There are obviously a number of factors involved, but it is clearly no accident that her announcement was made on the eve of the visit of President Obama, who came to announce a new US engagement in Asia and an enhanced role for Australia.

The new US strategic thrust is mainly about the rise of China and relative decline of the US.  With bin Laden dead and after years of US ‘boots on the ground’ in the Middle East and South West Asia, Washington has concluded that its wars are now providing security for others such as China to ‘free ride’, while America pays a price it can ill afford in blood and treasure.  All this saps America’s capacity to play in the real game, which has now shifted to Asia.

Gillard and Obama at APEC – next stop for India?


India and Asia’s ‘concert of powers’ October 6, 2011

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Sandy Gordon

The CIA has assessed that India is a ‘swing state’ in Asia. By that it means that how India, as a rising power, chooses to lock into existing security structures will have important implications for the Asian security order.

India’s emergence is especially important in the context of the rise of China and apparent relative decline of the US. This confronts Australia with stark choices between its economic imperative not to alienate China and its long-standing strategic reliance on the United States.

Leading Australian analysts such as Hugh White (Power Shift) and Coral Bell (Living with Giants) have advocated that China and India be inducted into a ‘concert of powers’ consisting of those two plus the other big powers – the US, Japan and Russia. They thus hope to mitigate the perturbations that might otherwise be associated with China’s rise.


Half of the ‘quadrilateral’ – Bush meets Abe, Camp David, 2007.