Tag Archives | democracy

Regarding Egypt’s political transformation

Managing risks is better than trying to predict the future

So what should the Indian government do about the ongoing political transformation in Egypt?

First, ensure that Indian citizens and their interests are protected during and after the crisis. New Delhi has done well on this account, with the Indian embassy in Cairo putting out a statement on the safety of the Indian community there, establishing hotlines and organising special flights to evacuate citizens from Egypt.

Second, it is both premature and arrogant to presume that certain outcomes of the political transformation are desirable merely on account that they are either democratic or that they will prevent destabilising the entire region. It is too early to tell how the transformation will proceed, less to determine whether tomorrow’s political dispensation will be pro- or anti-India. A democratic Egypt—whether or not in the hands of moderate or extremist Islamists—can still pursue anti-India policies, just as an authoritarian regime can. We might prefer a secular, democratic Egyptian republic, but that’s really projecting our own values and biases on them.

New Delhi would do well to avoid taking sides in this conflict—leaving it to the likes of the United States and Europe to pay up for dishes they ordered. At the same time, the Indian government must signal that it will do business with whoever remains or comes to power.

Third, India must prepare to deal with the consequences of the Egyptian transformation, both in Egypt and in the wider Middle East. Much of this is contingency planning: how would India be affected if the reigning despots are replaced by politically elected governments, which might be Islamist? Would we see a shift in the Middle Eastern balance of power, weakening Saudi Arabia and strengthening Turkey? Should anti-American regimes come to power, will they attempt to rely on China to sustain their confrontation with the United States? What will the United States demand of India? These are just some of the questions that need deeper thinking and something that the Ministry of External Affairs’ policy planning department should be working on.

Update: Chimaya Gharekhan in The Hindu & C Raja Mohan in the Indian Express on the subject. (linkthanks Pragmatic_D)

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Post-deluge Pakistan

An assessment

At the risk of being entirely wrong, here is an assessment of the political implications of floods in Pakistan.

1. Fears of Pakistan ending up as a “failed state with nuclear weapons” are overblown. The disaster is unprecedented and the response understandably inadequate but it does not set off an explosive dynamic along political faultlines.

2. Political changes are unlikely. The disaster has further cemented the army’s popularity, allowing it to claim credit for the government’s successes (for it is a part of the government) but avoid the blame for the failures (which accrue to the civilian political leadership). Given the immense challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction that lies ahead, General Ashfaq Kayani would have to be a conceited fool–which so far at least, he has shown no signs of being–to want to countenance a change in the political set-up. A weak, powerless and unpopular President Asif Zardari is just what he needs. Nawaz Sharif’s hopes to become the prime minister are unlikely to fructify before the next election because he is popular, has political weight and could challenge General Kayani’s hold on power.

3. Pakistan will not only receive debt waivers but also see a relaxation of conditions relating to financial assistance. While this will come as a relief for the government and the elite, it will weaken the endogenous factors that will aid recovery by delaying the implementation of important macro-economic reforms. It will also ensure the perpetuation of the current political setup because debt waivers and unconditional assistance will come much easier if there’s a facade of a democratic government. Furthermore, given that a significant part of the international assistance will be routed through international agencies and NGOs, it will not strengthen the Pakistani government’s civilian capacity.

4. Jihadi militant organisations will become more powerful but will not be allowed to increase their political profiles. This disaster, like the 2005 earthquake, is being used by organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba to bolster their credentials as a providers of social services. However, to the extent that the Pakistani government will be dependent on international assistance–and it will become more so in the immediate future—the military establishment will not allow such organisations to make a direct play for power. Let’s not forget that the LeT is a surrogate of the Pakistani military establishment, which, if it wants to, can directly seize power in a coup.

5. The military establishment will use the disaster as an alibi for downgrading its war against the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan in North Waziristan and elsewhere. Engaging in disaster relief will draw on military resources from the battle against the taliban, but there are deeper reasons for the army’s unwillingness to sustain battle against them. How quickly and to what extent it will resume the fight depends almost entirely on how much the United States can coerce the army.

6. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan will not be interrupted. The US will find it difficult in the coming months to press the Pakistan army to cooperate in counter-insurgency operations because of the alibi. The direction of the war in Afghanistan will therefore depend on the Obama administration’s political will and determination.

7. Pakistan’s domestic stability is set to worsen. In the short-term, resettlement of internally displaced persons will complicate the ethnic and sectarian tensions in cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Quetta. While this is likely to result in greater violence, it is unlikely to lead to collapse of the state. Instability will place an economic cost on Pakistan, damaging endogenous factors that can aid recovery.

8. The insurgency in Balochistan is likely to be contained. To the extent that the army is willing to use brute force and targeted killings to keep the lid on the conflict, and to the extent that the Baloch lack outright political support internationally, the prospects of secession are dim.

9. While radioactivity-leakage risks are low there is some risk to the security of nuclear plants, equipment and material. Such facilities are likely to have been built to withstand such contingencies. However, in the confusion that accompanies such events, there is a higher chance that physical security of nuclear installations can be breached. So far, there are no media reports flood waters affecting nuclear installations.

10.Disaster relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation will be decently funded. Despite the slow start in fundraising, despite concerns over aid distribution, the international community is unlikely to ignore humanitarian needs during the relief phase. However, it is unclear if the Pakistani government has the inclination and capacity to use the funds and goodwill to sustain its efforts beyond the short-term relief phase into the medium-term rehabilitation & reconstruction phase.

11. The US will make only small gains in popularity despite playing a leading role in relief and reconstruction. China and Saudi Arabia are likely to make disproportionately large gains. (In the short-term though, the situation is likely to be the opposite, because the narrative will be factual.)

Tailpiece: Pakistani officials and commentators would do well to avoid using the “unless the world gives money Pakistan will become a nuclear-armed failed state” bogey as it has been used so many times by so many people that it reeks of a shakedown. The humanitarian tragedy is serious enough a reason for well-meaning people and governments around the world to help.

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Pax Indica: Playing the energy game with China

Why India must promote democracy abroad & private enterprise at home

An interesting conversation with Rajeev Mantri & Yogesh Mokashi last week led to the writing of this piece: how might India compete against China in the global quest for energy (and other) resources:

Moreover, the “game” is not one-off. It is a continuous ongoing game that will be played for generations. Nor is it entirely “zero-sum”. It is possible to envision a world where both China and India have access to the energy resources they need. Such a world is possible even when, perhaps only when, the two countries are competing (in a free market) for those resources. Such a world, however, will cer-tainly not come into being merely by wishing for it. It has to evolve, under the tender loving care of nuclear weapons.

The Indian government is trying to improve its score. It has set overseas acquisition targets for state-owned corporations and permitted them to spend $1.1 billion ‘without government approval’. This might yet produce some results—especially if it is backed by political support. It is unlikely, though, that bidding wars with companies that have parents with the world’s deepest pockets are winnable. That’s not all. As India found out in Kazakhstan in August 2005, the kid whose dad drives a Merc can get the goalposts shifted after the game begins.

Clearly, India’s strategy must be different. It must be one that plays to India’s strong points. It must also be one that undermines China’s advantages. The greatest asymmetries that are in India’s favour are democracy and private enterprise.

Consider. It would be much harder for China to move goalposts by coddling the dictator if there were no dictator to coddle. It would be much easier for Indian companies to compete against Chinese ones if the former didn’t have the Government of India as the single largest shareholder. In other words, in the long term, it is in India’s interests for resource-rich countries to be democracies. It is also in India’s interests to facilitate its private sector to expand globally. [Yahoo! India]

Read the whole thing at Yahoo!

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The BJP must elect its next leader

Only intra-party democracy will help the party bounce back

They are writing the BJP’s political obituary. And unless the BJP shows the vision, wisdom and determination that it has been lacking for the last several years, that obituary will be called for. Yet Indian politics will be adrift without a strong national counter-force to the Congress Party. A ‘New BJP’ and a ‘New NDA’, therefore, is necessary not only for its partisans, but for everyone else too.

Yesterday, a Friend of the BJP was wondering aloud which leader was capable of assuming the reins of the party leadership at this lowest of points and rebuild it into a viable national platform. While this is a fair concern, it presumes the business-as-usual method of selecting the leader—backroom parleys and discussions with the RSS leadership—will somehow suffice. Well, this might suffice for the BJP’s partisans, many of who were responsible for its ending up in the sorry state in the first place, but it is unlikely to guarantee a genuine national centre-right party with mass appeal.

For that the BJP’s card-carrying members must allowed to elect their own national leader in an intra-party election. The election will not only throw up a political leader with the necessary legitimacy to carry out the much needed rejuvenation, it might even attract mere friends of the BJP to become card-carrying members. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to elect the party’s entire national executive though a nationwide election.

For the BJP, intra-party democracy is not only a nice-to-have, it is one of the best ways of ensuring its own survival. It’s time India demanded this of an important national political institution.

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Rejecting Rebiya Kadeer’s visa application

…was a prudent and astute move by New Delhi

Rebiya Kadeer is indeed a remarkable woman. In recent weeks—not least due to China’s propaganda campaign to demonise her—she has emerged internationally as the best known symbol of Uighur separatism in China’s Xinjiang province. She has unequivocally advocated a non-violent political struggle, claimed that she is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s principles and is almost surely sustained by US government funding.

The Calcutta Telegraph reports that India has denied her a visa (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony via twitter). That is both prudent and astute. Whatever the merits of the Uighur cause, it is not in India’s interests to further escalate the level of direct antagonism with Beijing. Doing so would almost certainly draw attention away from the real faultline: between China and Turkic-Islamic world.

The ethnic riots in Xinjiang have caused a major rift in China’s relations with Turkey, after Receb Tayyib Erdogan, the popular Turkish prime minister, accused Beijing of conducting genocide and suggesting that it be taken up at the UN Security Council. China-Turkey bilateral relations are at a low. The Central Asian republics are also likely to be re-examining their own positions with respect to relations with China.

In contrast, the ‘Muslim world’ of popular imagination—the one that President Barack Obama spoke to in Cairo—has been conspicuously silent. Apart from a threat by a North African ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaeda, even the tapeworm and his traveling videographic studio has been silent about Chinese atrocities on Xinjiang’s Muslims. It is understandable that the regimes of such representatives of the ‘Muslim world’ as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran are beholden to Beijing but even the civil society in these countries has given China the pass. But if the Uighur unrest continues, it is likely that Islamabad, Riyadh and Tehran will be put in an uncomfortable but well-deserved position. [Update: Rohit Pradhan notes that “Death to China” chants were heard at Rafsanjani’s rally in Tehran]

India should let the issue play out among the direct and self-appointed stakeholders. Intervening in a way that China sees as unfriendly will only draw the heat away and give the megaphone-wielding, concern-expressing capitals of the ‘Muslim world’ an undeserved reprieve.

The issue of an Indian visa for Ms Kadeer is only of symbolic importance. If she wants to meet the Dalai Lama, she could catch up with him on his travels abroad.

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Voter registration is online

First register to vote. Then make sure you vote

Register to Vote

General elections have been announced. If you are not on the voters list, or are not sure that you are, just go over to Jaago Re and register online as soon as possible. Spread the word. Bug your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. Nag them until they sign up.

And on polling day, make sure you vote.

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Mr Chawla must go

He should not have been appointed to the Election Commission in the first place

Let’s be clear: if the institution of the Election Commission is becoming politicised, and if the controversy over Navin Chawla’s continuance in that office leads to a constitutional crisis, the entire blame lies unambiguously at the door of the Congress Party.

Just how hard would it have been to find a decent, uncontroversial, experienced serving or former bureaucrat to occupy the office that acts as the most respected guardian of India’s electoral politics?

Why choose a person who the Shah Commission declared “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”?

So let’s not lose a sense of perspective amid all the sanctimonious sophistry about whether it was “proper” for Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy to have recommended Mr Chawla’s sacking. Appointing Mr Chawla to the Election Commission was an unpardonable act of cynicism by a party that has so totally run the country to the ground.

The only honourable course is the for UPA government to accept Mr Gopalaswamy’s recommendation and proceed to remove Mr Chawla. Or, perhaps, persuade him to ‘resign in order not to drag the office into controversy’.

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Vote, you fools!

There are no shortcuts to good governance. Certainly not negative ones

A group of well-meaning citizens and organisations came together in Mumbai on 11th January and “discussed strategies for networking, shortlisting common activities and adding value to each others’  core competencies”. Among those present were members from Youth For Equality, Yuva, Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Praja. Also present were incipient political parties like Loksatta, Jago Party and the Professionals Party of India. [Update: See ADR’s clarification at the bottom of the post]

These groups “consensually decided” that  “a pan-India platform of groups, individuals and political parties should be formed  with an  initial focus on Mumbai in the lead up to the April-May Lok Sabha elections.”So far so good. Greater middle class engagement in civic life is a good thing. Until you see that these groups—which includes political parties and a well-regarded election monitoring NGO—“consensually” decided to

4. Have a single point “NO VOTE” campaign for the April-May 09 (Lok Sabha) elections. The plan is to tap into  public disgust with political incompetence by asking people to vote for candidates who add an alias “No Vote”to their name, thus giving voters an option to use a NO VOTE option even though there is no such provision in the Constitution. [via email]

What an astounding waste that will be! Some of the most promising, public-minded young people come together and decide not to vote! Just why couldn’t these ingenious people decide to put up one good candidate and campaign for him? Wouldn’t this send an even more powerful signal to those incompetent politicians?

Isn’t it tragic that when the decent citizens decide to engage in civic activities that they long neglected, they come back to trivialise, undermine and ultimately subvert Indian democracy? The Mumbai meeting did mention some other proposals to improve governance—but the adoption of as wretched an idea as a “no vote” campaign fatally undermines its credibility. The good people behind this ill-considered move would do well to jettison the “no vote” plan when they meet later this week.

On the importance of voting: A common bank of votes & notes, on DCubed; Vote, you fools! here on this blog; Rohit Pradhan’s article in Pragati; V Anantha Nageswaran in Mint

Update: ADR’s Professor Trilochan Shastry writes in an email:

We never said this. There is some mistake.

We are only saying there should be a button on the EVM saying “None of the above”. This is also a demand of the election commission.

If you have been sending out emails on this, please send out corrections as well.

The paragraph you have highlighted below is not from ADR.

Since the minutes of the January 11th meeting are of public interest, I have decided to make them available here, sans phone numbers and email addresses to protect privacy. The minutes indicate that the “no vote” plan was agreed upon consensually in the presence of an ADR representative. Professor Shastry’s clarification is therefore welcome.

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Comical Gilani

The farce is with him

Yousuf Raza Gilani, who became Pakistan’s prime minister before he knew what was going on, and remains prime minister without knowing what is going on (and, is likely to still not know what is going down even after not remaining the prime minister) has upstaged the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson—historically, and arguably, ex officio the funniest man in Pakistan. Yes, yes, we know, this allegation too is baseless.

Mr Gilani, a decent person that he might be, still cannot triumph over human psychology. He’s got to prove—well, it’s not clear to exactly who—that he is, after all, constitutionally the chief executive. Never mind that between his civilian boss, his military ‘subordinate’ and his American ally there are few areas where there is room to prove anything. But he did sack his principal secretary, and then his national security advisor, who were both appointed by Mr Gilani’s civilian boss, Mr Zardari. For all we know, he might have even re-arranged the furniture in his office.

All these, of course, might gladden partisan hearts, who might rejoice in the arrival of another “Junejo”. But the neatest trick to spread the gladdening and rejoicing really wide is to blow hot on India and on Israel. Or, for the best effect, both. Mr Gilani did that yesterday, and how.

No, he didn’t compare India’s actions with Israel’s, an old, if evergreen analogy. Mr Gilani said something that should make you sit up and take notice (before falling off your chair). The world has double standards, caring more for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, than for the Palestinian people of Gaza. (No, he didn’t mention Congo or Darfur at all; places that might be on a different, fictional planet as far as the anti-Israel protestors are concerned).

As international opinion turns against Pakistan’s brazen denial of facts concerning the Mumbai attacks, the military establishment is trying to distance itself from the civilians. General Durrani’s post-dismissal comments, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s comments to Der Spiegel signal that it is the civilian leadership that is behaving unreasonably. With Mr Gilani as prime minister, the reasonable-sounding generals are almost believable.

On the topic of double standards though, the good Mr Gilani surely needs to contemplate why Pakistani people get out on the streets to protest against Israel, but express only silent sympathy, or just silence, for the victims of Mumbai?

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Ballot proof

Guns and votes are not mutually compatible—an acceptance of one is an implicit rejection of the other.

In today’s Mint, Sushant K Singh and Rohit Pradhan have one of the best analyses of the Jammu & Kashmir state election verdict.

The traditional approach of viewing the state as a monolithic entity must be replaced by one which recognizes the heterogeneity across regions and demographics. It is also not necessarily a bad thing: Gorakhpur and Noida don’t vote on similar lines; why should Doda and Srinagar? It is more important to recognize that the rise of parties such as the PDP and the BJP lends democratic voice to hitherto under-represented groups and sentiments.
Many commentators continue to stress the importance of engaging the Hurriyat as a genuine representative of the valley. Not only has the Hurriyat repeatedly refused to participate in the elections, the voters of J&K have forcefully rejected its unequivocal call for boycotting the elections. Certainly, in a democracy, all politics need not be electoral and the Hurriyat has the right to engage in agitational, but peaceful politics. However, the self-serving dogma perpetuated largely by the Hurriyat leadership that it is the sole representative of the valley must be rejected. Entering into a dialogue with unelected apparatchiks of the Hurriyat insults and undermines those who have placed their faith in Indian democracy.
In fact, the emergence of the PDP presents New Delhi with a wonderful opportunity to take forward the political process in the state. With its plank of “soft separatism”—open borders, demilitarization of Kashmir and its emphasis on human rights, the PDP has emerged as a genuine mainstream alternative to the Hurriyat, occupying the same political space, but still proclaiming its faith in Indian democracy. [Mint]

“It is important not to underestimate the challenges India faces in Kashmir” they conclude, but “it is equally important…not to overestimate them.”

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