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

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

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

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

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.


Understanding China’s South Asia policy November 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

China’s aggressive posturing in recent boundary disputes with Japan, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines caused widespread concern in the Asia-Pacific. But sensing growing opposition, China renewed cooperation with neighbours to calm tensions. Still policy-makers across the region are panicking at the prospect of China’s premature rise as the regional hegemon. The combination of aggressive and peaceful moves that characterize China’s foreign policy, therefore, bears closer scrutiny.

At least, four competing, but not mutually exclusive, explanations can be offered to explain China’s foreign policy in South Asia, which relate to different understandings of intentions and compulsions of the Chinese leaders and, by implication, different ways of engaging with a rising China. A fuller understanding of different explanations and their inter-relationship is, therefore, indispensable. (more…)

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

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

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?


The Indian prime minister’s empty chair October 31, 2011

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

Auriol Weigold

Indian and Australian media have trawled backwards and perhaps forwards, over the message to Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s decision announced in August, that he would not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, taking place this last weekend in October.

Australian print media, notably the Financial Review on 28 October and The Weekend Australian, 29-30 October, have linked Manmohan Singh’s remarkable absence to Australia’s reversal of its agreement to sell uranium to India after Labor won the 2007 election.

Some Indian media were quick to correct that impression, pointing out that their Prime Minister has a heavy schedule of multilateral meetings in November (as has Julia Gillard) but also to indicate that Vice President Hamid Ansari who is in Perth in place of Manmohan Singh is expected to raise the issue of Australian uranium sales again.


Strategic cooperation bolsters Indo-Afghan ties October 21, 2011

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

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This post first appeared on Future Directions International on 19 October 2011.

India’s expanding footprint in Afghanistan received a major upgrade after a meeting in New Delhi on 4 October between Indian PM, Manmohan Singh, and Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, which led to the signing of an historic strategic partnership agreement. Though details are yet to be released, the accord is aimed at enhancing bilateral co-operation, particularly in defence and security, which India hopes will lead the way to the establishment of an annual strategic dialogue.

Since the US-led intervention in 2001, India’s relations with Afghanistan have developed as illustrated by the opening of four consulates in Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. India’s presence in Afghanistan today includes: growth in bilateral trade, which in early 2008 was worth US$358 million; the provision of US$1.2 billion to fund infrastructure development projects, such as the Zaranj-Delaram highway, Salma Dam power project in Herat Province, and Afghanistan’s new parliament; the presence of over 4,000 Indian engineers, labourers and security personnel (reportedly including 500 Indian police and security officials), working on various development projects; involvement in training Afghan police, civil servants and diplomatic staff; and further assistance in the spheres of education, health, energy, telecommunications and transport.

Singh and Karzai making a meal of it, May 2011


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

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

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.


New hope for Gorkhaland? October 4, 2011

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

Amy Dowler

On 2 September 2011 West Bengal’s Legislative Assembly passed a bill forming the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in the hilly Darjeeling region in the north of that state. This followed the 18 July agreement to create the new administrative entity between the Governments of India and West Bengal and the area’s ruling Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) party.

The formation of the GTA is a particularly interesting instance of India’s ongoing attempts to address the demands of its many minorities; representing as it does a ‘third way’, an alternative to the previous two strategies of carving out a new state and forming autonomous councils under the constitution’s Sixth Schedule. Something very similar to the latter has already been attempted in the Gorkhaland region, and the former constitutes the GJM’s core demand, a demand it maintains despite its participation in the current process.

For the last two decades Gorkha politics (Gorkha here refers to Nepali speakers or people of Nepali descent resident in India) has been in large part defined by a bitter split between those advocating for the relative merits of statehood and Sixth Schedule status. It remains to be seen how the GTA will differ from a Sixth Schedule council, and whether its creation will mollify those who desire full statehood.

Darjeeling. Credit: Alec Leonello. Supplied by author.


Sports, politics, prestige and power: the struggle over the new bill September 30, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

While Suresh Kalamadi and colleagues sit it out in Tihar jail, awaiting results of their post-Commonwealth Games charges, Sports Minister Ajay Maken is struggling to gain acceptance for his Bill that would reform India’s sports management and administration, one measure against many to counter both the suggestions of corruption and international criticism. This is no simple matter. An earlier attempt, before the full catastrophe of the Games emerged, was roundly defeated as several Government Ministers including Kalmadi and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (better known as the Chair of the International Cricket Council and former President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)).

One of the central issues this time round is that Maken – a Delhi man with a trades union background – wants all sports bodies in India to be subject to the Right To Information (RTI legislation). This is being fought bitterly by many if not most of the sports bodies, and principally by the now extremely cashed up BCCI. Automatically, that leads many to think that the opposition emerges from the need not to have all or certain information emerge to full public scrutiny. The push for the RTI angle comes obviously in the Games’ aftermath amidst the revelations of alleged kickbacks, preferential tendering, bogus tenders and invoices, tampered bids and all the rest, but why the ferocious attempts to prevent the measure.

A good deal of this comes from the complex and intertwined social, financial, business and political roles played by leading sports administrators, as the cricket case reveals.


The South Asian Qurans September 21, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

The Quran has been translated from Arabic into about 100 languages, roughly 1 per cent of the known living languages of the world, whereas Islam is the religion of more than 20 per cent people in the world (and Arabic is the mother tongue of less than one-fifth of the Muslims). In contrast, partial or complete translations of the Bible are available in more than a third of the known languages. Furthermore, most of the translations of the Quran are relatively recent whereas the Bible was the first printed text in a number of languages. In fact, a great majority of the extant translations of the Quran into South Asian languages appeared after the formal disestablishment of Islam in 1858 CE, roughly a thousand years after the arrival of Islam in South Asia. The few translations that pre-date 1858 CE appeared before the establishment of Islamic power in South Asia or only after the British emerged as the de facto rulers in North and East India in the late 18th century. A similar trend can be seen in other parts of the world. In the Ottoman Europe, the Quran was translated into the Balkan languages in the 19th and 20th centuries, that is, at the very end of the centuries-long Turkish rule.

One wonders why the Mughals, Akbar and Dara, who promoted large-scale translations from Sanskrit to Persian, and the Pathan rulers of Bengal and the Bahamani rulers of Deccan, who promoted local languages, overlooked the need for South Asian language Qurans. (A Deccani translation seems to have been carried out in the 16th century, which is now unavailable.) Explanations that invoke the intrinsic untranslatability of the Quran or the theological undesirability of translation will satisfy only those committed to theo-linguistic exclusivism. In fact, there are numerous Quranic verses, which can be cited in support of the need for translation (e.g., Abraham 14.4, Marium 19.97, Ha Mim 41.44, The Smoke 44.58, and Yusuf 12.2).