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)

The 1971 Bangladesh Genocide Archive


Rezwan of the 3rd World View, a good friend and one of the pioneers of blogging in Bangladesh, is the moving force behind the Bangladesh Genocide Archive project. Last week, on the occasion of the 37th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Victory Day, he dedicates the project “to the hundreds and thousands of people who have died in the war and those brave souls who has fought for the country with firearms, support and stood in solidarity with the Bangladeshis.”

Pakistan’s redemption

Between boot and Book

Today’s dose of good writing comes from India Today’s S Prasannarajan (linkthanks PD):

India may be its most immediate victim, but the inherent bestiality of Pakistan should not be a worry for India alone. Our victimhood is accentuated by our accumulated mistakes of pussyfooting on—or even romancing— the General and our diplomatic triangulations. Today, the lofty rhetoric of reform-the-society is the most audible suggestion for Pakistan’s redemption. It makes no sense when the society itself is trapped between the jackboot of the General and the tyranny of the Book. [India Today]

Weekday Squib: From centrifugist to columnist

It’s about spinning anyway

Okay, your extra strong dose of irony supplements comes from Pakistan’s The News daily. Their new columnist, a certain Abdul Qadeer Khan, delivers Urdu couplets, self-justification, Musharraf-vilification, Bhutto-sycophancy and a couple of nuggets about Pakistan’s nuclear and missile deals with China and North Korea. But the what touches the heart is advice about “Yes-men who dare not say anything against their views may be good for their egos, but not for the country. Sycophants go out of their way to praise their beneficiary…This often results in destruction of national institutions and unimaginable damage to the country concerned”.

And for the record he “never asked for any favours from the government and never received any.”

Update:It looks like The News carried a sanitised translation of Khan’s original Urdu column in Jang. The erudite Sepoy, over at Chapati Mystery, has an authentic—and even more colourful—translation.

Coups can’t get rid of corrupt politicians

A generally ineffective way to cleanse the political system

Bangladesh is to have general elections on December 18th, almost two years after the army seized power amid a political crisis. According to The Economist:

The front-runners in the race to succeed a period of muddled rule by soldiers, spooks and technocrats are the heads of two feuding dynasties whose careers the army tried and failed to end: the former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)…

Even so, the view of the army, Bangladesh’s foreign aid donors and its voters is now that the “two begums” constitute the only offer on the table. The army tried to send them into exile, hoping new political parties would emerge; then it jailed them and their coteries on charges of corruption. In the end, they were freed on bail. It proved impossible both to hold them to account and to hold elections. [The Economist]

As The Acorn asked after the coup—just where did they think the new leaders would come from?


Putting the ISI in its place

For a few tense hours between late night on Saturday and the wee hours of Sunday morning, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was “under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division”. That’s about as long as the civilians that presumably run the government can even pretend to keep it under their control.

It was endearing to see Major-General Athar Abbas, the army’s spinmeister, tell us why Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s order was misunderstood: “The MI-5 is responsible for internal security, while the MI-6 deals with external security matters in the United Kingdom. It is illogical to place the MI-6 under the MI-5. Similarly, the ISI cannot be placed under the Interior Ministry’s control.” [Yes, yes, we know. General Athar was misunderstood too. He meant the UK Home Office, not MI-5. A clarification is on the way]

But seriously, what was Mr Asif Ali Zardari thinking? That Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973 would suddenly start applying…that too to the ISI?

Framing the Pakistani army’s problem

Saving those who have crossed over

Khaled Ahmed puts it very well:

Today an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to the terrorists. Trying to reclaim lost terrain is like invading your own people, but the additional handicap imposed on the army is that it is being sent in without political support. Meanwhile, the anarchists have discovered that when they kill non-Muslims in the West they inspire fear and loathing, but when they kill Muslims in Pakistan it leads to conversion. The army has the impossible task of saving a country of converts to the cause of the enemy. [DT]

Dear Madeleine Albright

Regarding the precedents of international intervention that were set in the 1990s

You write that despite the precedents set in the 1990s, “the concept of humanitarian intervention has lost momentum”, mainly due to the US invasion of Iraq.

Likewise, the title of your op-ed, “The end of intervention” suggests that the 90s were a sort of golden age for humanitarian intervention.

We might even have taken you seriously if you had so much as mentioned one word—Rwanda—in all of the 782 words that make up your essay. Since you don’t, as that sage advised, your “advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

Just how callous can governments be?

And why the option of airdropping relief supplies to Burma’s disaster victims should not be dismissed

The numbers the Burmese junta killed while suppressing pro-democracy protests last year fade in comparison to the numbers they’ve killed in the last two weeks.

India’s state-run Meteorological Department said it had alerted Burma two days before the cyclone struck. The department’s spokesman, B P Yadav told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday: “Forty-eight hours in advance we informed the Burma weather department about the likely area of landfall as well as time and intensity of the cyclone.” [The Irrawaddy]

“I’ve never seen an emergency situation such as this before,” said Greg Beck, Asia regional director of the International Rescue Committee. “A week after the disaster, the entire humanitarian community is still sitting in another country, outside the affected area, looking for means to access the disaster zone.” [WP]

Burma has deported the few aid workers in the country after declaring it is “not ready” for foreign search and rescue teams following a devastating cyclone. [Herald Sun]

Update:Dozens of aid experts are reported to be waiting for visas in neighbouring Thailand – but the Burmese embassy there has now closed for a public holiday until next Tuesday. [‘BBC’]

The larger point is that there are few instruments to hold the junta’s leaders criminally liable for these deaths. Sins of omission are seldom punished.

Frustrated by the junta’s refusal to open its doors to international humanitarian relief, the US state department proposed airdropping relief supplies without their permission. It was shot down by the US defence secretary on the grounds that it would violate Burma’s sovereignty. Similarly, the French foreign minister proposed an international humanitarian intervention under the “responsibility to protect”. The usual UN logjam stopped that. (China, Vietnam, South Africa and Russia argued against the UN Security Council getting involved. “China’s envoy compared the crisis to a deadly heat wave in France in 2003, questioning why the Security Council should step in now when it did not do so in the French case”)

At times like this it is useful to recall Operation Poomalai (Eagle Mission 4).

More Chinese guns for Mugabe

And military advisors too

The six containers full of small arms that China shipped to Zimbabwe are somewhere off the coast of Africa. Durban in South Africa, the original transit port, didn’t work out. Someone tipped off Noseweek, an appropriately named South African magazine, about the contents of the cargo on the Chinese ship An Yue Zhang, and hell began breaking lose. The transport workers union prevented their unloading. A local bishop got a court order restricting its movement. And a German bank, which is owed money by the Zimbabwean government, acquired a court order to seize the cargo.

Realising that things were getting rather sticky in Durban, the ship quietly slipped away (or “disappeared”), reportedly to Maputo, Mozambique. But Mozambique has refused to allow it into its waters, pointing out that it was bound for Luanda, Angola anyway. The United States officially entered the fray today and “American diplomats have been instructed to press authorities in at least four nations—South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola—not to allow it to dock”. The Bush administration intends to send a special envoy to the region this week. There are reports that a new consignment of arms will now be delivered by air instead.

China’s foreign ministry has been silent. That’s probably because it didn’t know much about the deal, or more likely, is unable to do anything about it. Poly Technologies Corporation (its Chinese phonetic, “Baoli”, means “to keep the profit”) is not only run by the People’s Liberation Army—its long-time chairman is Major-General He Ping, Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law. The company sells arms to those who can pay for them, mainly “to keep the profit”. Pakistan’s Ghauri missiles are produced using technology sold by Poly. Why, Poly even tried to smuggle AK-47s to the United States in 1996. Zimbabwe is small beer.

Poly Technologies’ export consignment was hardly unusual—and almost certainly not illegal—but the timing couldn’t be worse. Robert Mugabe is using state machinery to suppress political opposition. China is facing an international public relations debacle with the Olympic torch and Tibet. It’s backing of the Sudanese regime had already attracted international opprobrium. To be caught selling six containers of small arms to yet another thuggish African dictator at this time…well, the folks in Beijing are living in interesting times.

But while the arms shipment itself is beginning to catch the world’s attention, a more disturbing revelation relates to the presence of “Chinese soldiers in their full military regalia and armed with pistols checking at the hotel (in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city)”. What were uniformed Chinese military personnel doing in Zimbabwe? Surely, the Chinese foreign ministry can’t repeat the old mantra about “non-interference in the internal affairs” of Zimbabwe?

It’s all so cold war. It’s also something that Africa can’t afford. As Hope, a Zimbabwean blogger at Sokanwele writes:

The unfortunate side-effect of the deep resentment is some xenophobia towards the new Chinese people, and our local Chinese population, who have lived in our country for years, suffer too. But at the end of the day I think – I hope – that those new traders are just like all human beings in the world, craving freedom and maybe seeing Zimbabwe, ironically, as a way to escape the lack of freedom in their own country. I think maybe we have something in common with them in that respect.

But if the Chinese government is actually sending in soldiers, and actively lending some level of military support – advice or otherwise – to Mugabe’s efforts to subvert democracy and cow the population, then their involvement must be exposed. [Sokanwele]

Everyone knows how hard it is to stop mass killings once they start. The prudent course of action for the international community is to suspend arms deliveries to Zimbabwe until the political crisis is sorted out. It is up to China whether it wants to be part of the solution.

Update: According to SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, China was Zimbabwe’s biggest arms supplier. Among the big ticket items it supplied 12 K-8 fighter planes at US$240 million between 2005 and 2006 (excludes small arms).

J Peter Pham has more details at World Defense Review

At a time when the thuggish regime of Robert Mugabe is universally shunned by the civilized world, not least for its crackdown on the political opposition, the PRC has literally handed Zimbabwe the tools of repression: PLA’s definition of “mil-to-mil” relations includes providing a radio-jamming device for a military base outside Harare that prevents independent stations from trying to contradict state-controlled media. As one statement from the Paris-based nongovernmental organization Reporters san frontières noted, “Thanks to support from China, which exports its repressive expertise, Robert Mugabe’s government has yet again just proved itself to be one of the most active predators of press freedom.” For Beijing’s military-industrial complex, however, it may just be a matter of “customer courtesy” for a very reliable client. In late 2004, Zimbabwe paid an estimated $200 million for twelve FC-1 fighter jets and 100 military vehicles. In 2005, it spent $245 million on a dozen K-8 light attack aircraft (the K-8 is the export version of the Hongdu JL-8 jointly developed by the PRC and Pakistan). Last year, for $120 million – an amount that could have fed the entire country for three months – Zimbabwe’s octogenarian president purchased six training aircraft for his air force from the China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation. [WDR, Jun 07]