Thursday, August 23, 2012

Right Choice of Friends

Kanwal Sibal
Member Advisory Board, VIF

A new debate has started on the nature of a redefined Indian foreign policy that takes into account the country’s transformed relations with the United States of America. The latter is openly seeking a close political, economic and security relationship with India. The rhetoric is at times high-flown, calling US ties with India indispensable for the 21st century and describing India as a lynchpin of America’s ‘re-balancing’ towards the Asia-Pacific region.

Some experts would prefer a ‘non-alignment 2.0’ policy for India to deal with the reconfiguration of geo-politics caused by the relative decline of the US and the West and the rise of China. While this nomenclature may arouse misgivings in some quarters because of its ideological overtones and, more so, its political irrelevance in a world no longer divided into rival alliances, in reality the authors of this concept propose issue-based collaboration with diverse partners depending on the confluence of interests. This seems pragmatic and non-ideological.

Many advocate a foreign policy of ‘strategic autonomy’ for India. This implies that India retain its independence in foreign policy making, and not be obliged to follow any powerful actor or a set of actors in any course of action that does not conform to its long term national interest. Rather than be caught in strategic rivalries between countries that are hurtful to its interests, it should have the freedom to engage with opposing sides if that is useful.

This debate would suggest that India’s foreign policy remains in a fluid state and is seeking to discover its moorings, with the implication that India has not yet come to terms with the radically altered global situation of today. It carries the nuance that India is under pressure to tilt towards one side (the US), which India should not succumb to.

In reality, there should be no need to define Indian foreign policy in core conceptual terms. Defining it thus does not give it a coherence, a sense of purpose and clarity that might be otherwise missing. The big powers do not seem to need to define their foreign policies for conceptual clarity. They just conduct their foreign affairs, based on certain broad principles and practical considerations. An analysis of their positions on a range of international issues would bring out the prominent features of the policies they pursue, but encapsulating them in one or two words would hardly be enlightening.

How would one, in any case, define US or Chinese foreign policies? No single-word definition is possible. US foreign policy, for instance, is full of contradictions. It is supposedly anchored in the promotion of democracy worldwide but it supports some of the most anti-democratic regimes in the world. Military intervention to support human rights in one country is contradicted by military protection to other countries that suppress the fundamental human rights of their population. Religious extremism is fought on the one hand and promoted on the other. Overdependence on China is coupled with hedging strategies against its rise that is seen as adversarial.

China claims that its rise is not a threat, that it wants a peaceful periphery, yet it is developing powerful military capabilities, asserting extensive land and maritime claims in the South China Sea, thriving on Japanese investments but has a visceral hatred of Japan, it is benefiting hugely from its partnership with the US even as in East Asia it is US power that it principally confronts. In other words, it, too, manages contradictions.

In this background, only confusion is caused by seeking to define in political shorthand India’s foreign policy as non-alignment 2.0 or strategic autonomy. India’s foreign policy can simply be loosely described as protecting its national interests as effectively as possible in a globalized world that demands cooperative solutions and a competitive world that demands management of conflicting interests without confrontation. This would eliminate the implicit intrusion of the US factor in explaining the core of our foreign policy objectives. In a situation where India can, by skilful handling, gain much from its improved relations with the US, it would be undesirable to frame its foreign policy objectives in terms of the strategic distance it wants to maintain from the US.

In actual fact, this debate about strategic autonomy is behind the times. India’s post Cold War policies testify to its desire to maintain ‘strategic autonomy’ in a situation of strategic shifts in global power equations. India, for example, has established strategic partnerships with several countries that include, besides the US, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Japan and so on. It has a strategic dialogue even with China, its principal geo-political adversary. By establishing such partnerships with countries with key differences and conflicting interests amongst themselves, India is, in fact, expanding its strategic room for manoeuvre.

India is member of the Russia-India-China or RIC dialogue, with member countries opposing regime change policies and interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries, and supporting multipolarity. It is member of BRICS, which, by including Brazil and South Africa, extends strategic understandings on some basic norms of international conduct to key countries in South America and Africa. India supports the US led Community of Democracies, capitalizing on its democratic credentials, even if the sense of the grouping is directed against countries like China and even Russia. India has agreed to a trilateral US-India-Japan dialogue, including naval exercises, with its anti-Chinese thrust quite clear although officially denied. The intensive US-India naval exercises in the Indian Ocean have a China related strategic purpose, even as India is open to maritime cooperation with China in the Indian Ocean area. India cooperates with China in the climate change and World Trade Organization negotiations because it serves a common purpose of countering the US/European attempts to avoid equity in agreements.

India respects Russia’s special interests in Central Asia but is open to US strategic moves to promote strategic energy links between Central Asia and South Asia. It is willing to strengthen its role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization even if the US sees it as an arrangement to limit US influence in Central Asia. India supports an extended US presence in Afghanistan even though Iran is opposed to it. India is avoiding getting caught in the Shia (Iran)-Sunni (Saudi Arabia) conflict building up in the Gulf. It successfully resisted Western pressures to reduce its engagement with Myanmar.

India’s independent posture explains why it has obtained support for its Security Council permanent membership from both the West and Russia. Russia’s position as India’s biggest partner for defence supplies has not prevented India from now expanding its defence ties with the US. The US seems reconciled that India will not be an ally and will want to retain its independence in foreign policy decisions. It will nevertheless seek to tie India closer to itself in a way that India’s pragmatic choices will pull India in that direction. If India continues to have a clear-sighted view of its longer term interests, it will be able to balance its relationship with all the major players in a constructive way. But without a domestic defence manufacturing base, high rates of economic growth and improvement in decision-making, our independent foreign policy will always have weak foundations.

The ISI’s Psychological Operations

Dr. Prem Mahadevan,
Senior Research Associate, VIF

The government has stated that recent distress migrations of northeastern Indians were triggered by electronic messages originating from Pakistan. Investigators have found that the first hints of pogrom-style killings appeared on Pakistani internet forums, and rapidly spread to India as part of a coordinated psyops offensive. The modus operandi was vaguely familiar: doctored images and vitriolic texts flooded telecommunications networks, gaining credibility before law enforcement agencies could react. The apparent purpose was to stir up public anger in an already polarized setting and prepare the political mood for an outbreak of communal violence. During 1989, Pakistan had adopted similar methods when it broadcast television footage of anti-communist revolts in Eastern Europe and urged Kashmiri Muslims to likewise rise up against New Delhi.

What intelligence agencies now need to assess is whether their Pakistani counterparts were merely out to embarrass India, or if the scare campaign had a deeper purpose. It is possible that the Inter Services Intelligence, if it was involved, has no strategic end-game regarding present tensions between Bangladeshi immigrants and Bodo tribesmen. The agency’s covert operations cells might just be taking opportunistic advantage of the situation in Assam. Provided Indian authorities maintain public order, the matter might rest there. However, past experience of ISI psyops suggests that the agency rarely desists from coordinating its propaganda offensives with paramilitary action. Its favourite tactic is to combine persistent low-visibility subversion with sporadic high-visibility attacks, conducted on a deniable basis using local assets or expendable mercenaries.

A Suggestive Pattern

On at least three occasions, the ISI is thought to have used psychological and paramilitary operations in a synergistic role. The first was in late 1983, when masked turban-wearing gunmen hijacked buses in Punjab and selectively killed Hindu passengers. Since the attacks occurred amidst worsening Hindu-Sikh relations, most commentators assumed that they were carried out by Sikh separatist militants. However, eyewitness accounts cast doubt on this theory: the killers’ language and demeanour had indicated a military background. Furthermore, local intelligence was unable to identify them, suggesting that they were not based in Punjab itself. As such attacks continued into early 1984, arguments were advanced that the masked gunmen could have been Pakistani Punjabi mercenaries, working as agent provocateurs in a ‘false-flag’ campaign.
Irrespective of whether the hijackers were Indian or Pakistani, what is unquestionable was that their actions were intended to deepen Hindu-Sikh tensions. Furthermore, it is now generally acknowledged that Islamabad did intervene covertly in Indian Punjab. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, radio broadcasts expressed support for Sikh separatism. Pakistani scholars wrote about a possible second partition of India along Hindu-Sikh lines. ISI officials posted in Western capitals funded Sikh separatist publications and organized publicity events. These propaganda initiatives were matched operationally by linking terrorist attack cells to ISI networks. One occasion in 1992 saw two ISI operatives being killed in the company of a Sikh terrorist leader. Although Islamabad initially tried to deny their Pakistani nationality, it relented after protests from their families.

The second case of (suspected) ISI subversion being used to camouflage (largely proven) paramilitary action occurred in Mumbai in 1993. A spate of rioting plunged Hindu-Muslim relations in the city into a downward spiral. With innocent Muslims having suffered disproportionately, some of their co-religionists within the criminal underworld plotted retaliation. Led by Dawood Ibrahim, they organized eleven synchronized blasts across the city in March 1993, targeting Hindu-majority areas. The explosive material used was military-grade, suggesting a state supplier. A detonator recovered by Indian investigators from one of the blast sites was traced to Pakistan army ordnance stores.

What is interesting is that the pre-blast riots had occurred in two distinct waves. The first, in December 1992, was spontaneous; a symptom of country-wide religious polarization following the Babri Masjid demolition. The second wave, in January 1993, appeared to have been planned: it began with knife fights in the Mumbai docks, which expanded into pitched battles across the city. Investigators noted that the docks were a stronghold of Dawood Ibrahim, whose smuggling operations were based there. Although a causal relationship was difficult to prove, circumstantial evidence indicated that Ibrahim’s men had deliberately triggered the second round of rioting. If true, this hypothesis would suggest that the January 1993 riots were a classic intelligence provocation operation.

Ibrahim himself is believed by this time, to have come under ISI influence. Defectors from his group later revealed that the Pakistani government had impounded his shipping fleet, thus gaining leverage over him. The men who actually planted the bombs were trained in explosive-handling in Pakistan, but their passports contained no stamps by Pakistani immigration authorities. Surmising on this, one reputed American commentator has noted that such free movement could only have been facilitated by powerful elements within Pakistani state institutions. 1 The ISI is the logical suspect.

The third case is Mumbai 2008. It is now known that the ISI was aware of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s plan to attack Mumbai. Testimony from Zabiuddin Ansari, one of the planners, even states that the agency provided the weapons and ammunition used in the attack and that two ISI officers personally supervised its implementation from a control room in

Karachi. The Indian prime minister and national security advisor have long asserted that the Mumbai 26/11 attacks bore signs of state support. Even if the Pakistani government as a whole was not involved, highly influential elements within it appear to have been.

This brings the context of the attacks into sharp focus. During the fall of 2008, alarm had been growing in India about a possible terrorist threat from Hindu extremists. These concerns were exploited by members of the political class, to deflect attention from the government’s failure in preventing jihadist attacks. The Mumbai gunmen played to this discourse, forging identity cards under Hindu names and wearing saffron wristbands. The attack planners had calculated that once the gunmen were killed by Indian police, these ‘clues’ would mislead the subsequent investigation and media commentary.

In this regard, it is important to note that the initial reaction from Islamabad was to reject any possibility of Pakistani involvement. The killings in Mumbai were projected as an outcome of domestic instability within India. Seen from hindsight, such discourse (later discredited by theconfession of AjmalKasab, one of the gunmen) seems to fit the thesis that the ISI masks its paramilitary activities with calibrated propaganda offensives.

The Logic of Pakistani Psyops

Reacting to claims made over the Assam crisis, Pakistani officials have accused Indian authorities of evading responsibility. They insist that India address its own domestic problems rather than attribute culpability to Pakistan. Such demands would be credible, if they were not preceded by episodes such as Kargil ’99 and Mumbai ‘08. On both occasions, Pakistani diplomats had initially ridiculed charges of cross-border involvement and accused India of spoiling bilateral relations. However, once the immediate crisis had subsided and international attention had drifted elsewhere, Islamabad found it expedient to quietly admit to such involvement. It did so in order to claim ownership over a spoiling action that had disrupted bilateral relations and driven up the price of further engagement.

Therein lies the real ‘core’ issue that bedevils India-Pakistan relations. It makes sense for the Pakistani security establishment to occasionally bring bilateral rapprochement to a shuddering halt. There are three reasons for this obstructionist stance:
  1. Spoiler actions derail grassroots-level peace initiatives and stop them from assuming an independent forward momentum, which Islamabad might later not be able to regulate. Civil activism for friendly bilateral ties is thereby held in check.
  2. These actions also drive a political wedge between India and its main security partners. They compel countries such as the US and UK to abandon New Delhi and instead assume a neutral refereeing posture on Indo-Pak tensions – one which invariably glosses over past jihadist transgressions against India.
  3. Lastly, spoiler actions cement the Pakistan army’s domestic image as protector of the people against a vengeful Indian government and public. Certain actions such as Mumbai ‘08 are also meant to serve narrower objectives, such as deflecting domestic Islamist militancy onto a foreign (and thus ‘legitimate’) target.
In each of the cases outlined above, Pakistani officials loudly proclaimed that terrorist attacks in India resulted from domestic tensions. This consistency in emphasizing India’s internal fissures is revealing: it implies that at the governmental level, Pakistan views India as an artificial state, riddled by identity-based conflicts. Such views, if they actually do dominate official Pakistani thinking, would represent a colonial inheritance from the British Raj. During the 1940s, Raj officials had derided secular Indian nationalism as a doomed experiment. They predicted that, post-independence, India would fragment under the centrifugal influence of its own diversity. Building a common polity from a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious population was thought to lie beyond the capabilities of the country’s native leaders. So far, this prediction has been proven wrong, but continuing societal rifts provide hope to some ISI officers that it might yet come true.

Thus, while Pakistani writers claim that Indian elites have never accepted the logic of Partition, the same can be said of Pakistani elites. If India refuses to endorse the principle of religious exclusion that underwrote Pakistan’s formation, Pakistan has also refused to recognize the legitimacy of the secular nationalism that keeps India together. The ISI, if it orchestrated the hate campaign that prompted thousands of northeastern Indians to flee to their home states, was merely acting in conformity with Pakistani ideological dogma.
What Indian security forces now have to prepare for is the more serious possibility that this might not be the end of it. As might have occurred previously in Punjab, there is a chance that ISI operatives shall create a communal flashpoint through agent provocateurs. Reports suggest that the Pakistani agency is keen to erase international memories of the Mumbai ’08 attack. It hopes to achieve this by facilitating a major act of domestic terrorism in India, using only local assets. Islamabad could then argue, with all apparent reasonableness, that even if the Mumbai attack had featured Pakistani involvement, India still needs to put its own affairs in order. Towards this, ISI officials have already met with leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Dubai, to discuss possible collaboration. The Maoists have allegedly asked for military-grade explosive, and the ISI is believed to have asked in turn that the Maoists use these explosives to attack economic targets, such as oil refineries, so as to attain maximum strategic impact.

Even if the ISI were to support the Maoists however, the main focus of its psyops would still be on identity-based conflicts rather than ideology-based ones. The agency has plenty of experience in exploiting ethnic and linguistic fault lines to its own advantage. One example would be the East Pakistan civil war (1971), when the ISI organized Bihari Muslims into vigilante groups to fight Bengali separatists. Another would be its covert support for Mohajir militancy in Karachi during the 1980s – a tactic intended to contain Sindhi and Pashtun nationalism. However, the agency has little insight into ultra-leftist discourse, having never confronted a communist insurgency. Its ability to relate to the peasant and tribal revolution in central India is likely to be quite limited. Moreover, class struggle is not an issue that ISI strategists would want to publicize, as it might backfire on Pakistan, given the country’s own quasi-feudal social structure. For these reasons, it would make sense if the agency focused on Hindu-Muslim/Bodo-Bengali tensions.

Further ‘Rogue’ Operations Likely

Following the Mumbai ’08 attack, the then ISI chief told US officials that rogue officers from the agency might have been involved. This same argument had previously served Pakistan well in 1993, when ISI involvement with Dawood Ibrahim had attracted American queries. Basically, the ‘rogue operative’ thesis capitalizes on the tendency of Western listeners to equate such operatives with ‘enemies of the state’. Western analysts assume that if individuals within the ISI support terrorist attacks, Pakistani authorities would seek to identify and pursue them. Instead, India’s experience has so far belied this paradigm – although some ISI paramilitary activities might have been carried out without express sanction from above, these have not resulted in punitive measures against the officials involved. Rather, the immediate consequence tends to be a reshuffling of agency postings, to throw off Indian and Western counterintelligence efforts against the ‘rogues’.

There is a strong possibility that ‘rogues’ within the ISI will plan and assist a major act of terrorism in India, using local proxies as the triggermen. Such a scenario may not occur in the short term (i.e. the next three months), since the renewed India-Pakistan dialogue has not yet made much progress. A major improvement in atmospherics however, such as a summit between civilian politicians of the two countries, would likely set attack preparations afoot. By a spoiler action, the Pakistan army and ISI would want to emphasize their veto rights over any political process that bypasses them. Given the ongoing instability in India, caused by poor governance and communal polarization, they are likely to have many opportunities for combining psychological and paramilitary operations. The Bodo-Bangladeshi conflict shall probably be just one among these.

Dr. Prem Mahadevan is working with Centre for Security Studies, Zurich

  1. Jessica Stern, ‘Pakistan's Jihad Culture’, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000, accessed online at, on 20 August 2012. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

China’s Emerging War Concepts

Gurmeet Kanwal
Visiting Fellow, VIF

The doctrine of high-tech local wars under conditions of informationisation is still evolving. In the absence of active operational experience, the PLA may take another decade or so to fully implement all the ingredients of the new doctrine. According to Chinese scholars writing in the Science of Military Strategy, the switch to fighting high-tech local wars is a “historic leap in the development of current wars”; it is the “reflection of the historic logic of war development at (the) present time”; it is “an important linkage in the chain of war development”; and, it is the reflection of change from industrial-era production mode to information-era production mode in the military field.” Chinese scholars emhasise the high-tech feature of modern wars. In their view, “the aim, range, tools of war and time and space of engagements are all limited.”

Compared with China’s historically reactive stance of luring the enemy in deep and destroying him through strategic defence, the present doctrine is essentially pro-active and seeks to take the battle into enemy territory. It also strives to achieve surprise in a pro-active manner that is demonstrated by new “quick-strike” tactics. The aim is to catch the enemy unprepared in order to inflict substantial damage on strategic targets and disrupt logistics to gain psychological ascendancy. While the land frontier is expected to continue to generate some local tensions, the Central Military Commission (CMC) has identified space and the oceans as the new areas where future conflict might take place.

The People’s Liberation Army has launched a rapid modernisation drive to prepare for 21st century warfare and to enable China to project military power well away from its land borders and territorial waters. The new type of war that is now being envisaged by the PLA represents a revolutionary change from the traditional Chinese concept of People’s War against an invading enemy seeking to occupy and destroy the PRC. People’s War was expected to be an all-out or total war fought primarily by ground forces supported by a motivated population that was fully mobilised for a long-drawn struggle. The concept that was evolved by Mao was characterised by protracted, large-scale land warfare where the aim was to exploit China’s strategic depth by luring the enemy deep inside, extending his lines of communications and logistics and eventually destroying him through prolonged attrition.

Underpinning the new professionalism of the PLA is the basic doctrine of “active defence” (jiji fangyu) that seeks to conduct “people’s war under modern conditions” (better understood as “local wars under hi-tech conditions” – gaojishu tiaojian xia de jubu zhanzheng). The ‘active defence’ doctrine calls for integrated, deep strikes – a concentration of superior firepower that is to be utilised to destroy the opponent’s retaliatory capabilities through pre-emptive strikes employing long-range artillery, short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and precision guided munitions. David Shambaugh, a well known China scholar has written: “Rather than conducting a ‘people’s war’ (a strategy to ‘lure the enemy in deep’ into one’s own territory), the PLA doctrine of ‘active defence’ calls for forward positioning, frontier defence, engagement of the enemy at or over the border and potential engagement in conflict beyond China’s immediate periphery… this doctrine is essentially pro-active and seeks to take the battle into enemy territory.” Beijing has defined the following five likely limited war scenarios: military conflict with neighbouring countries in a limited region; military conflict on territorial waters; undeclared air attack by enemy countries; territorial defence in a limited military operation; and, punitive offensive with a minor incursion into a neighbouring country.

The new doctrine and the strategy and tactics associated with it have been influenced by the lessons of Gulf War I in 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, both of which have been extensively studied by Chinese scholars. The doctrine requires the creation of a capability to project force across China’s borders through rapid deployment, conventional SRBMs and cruise missiles, information warfare, electronic warfare, precision-guided munitions, night fighting capabilities and other advanced military technologies. The building of these capabilities, in turn, drives procurement and defence production policies, the command and control structures and training. According to a US DoD report to Congress, victory is to be achieved through ”strategic strikes” by gaining the initiative by striking first, achieving victory with one strike and concentrating China’s strength to attack the core of enemy defence.

Major General Shen Xuezai, former head of the Military Systems Department of the Academy of Military Sciences (AMS), has written: “Only by controlling the entire battlespace and striking at key points so as to paralyse the enemy’s entire operational system and immobilize its forces, will it be possible to win a war.” Commenting on the PLA’s evolving doctrine, Major Mark A. Stokes has stated: “This strategic attack doctrine, one aspect of the PLA’s ‘limited war under high-tech conditions’ (jubu zhanzheng zai gaojishu tiaojian xia)… continues to adhere to the traditional strategy of ‘pitting the inferior against the superior’ (yilie shengyou), which recognises technological inferiority for an indefinite period of time.” Much the same point was made in the Pentagon’s 2007 annual report on the Military Power of China: “Once hostilities have begun, according to the PLA text, Science of Campaigns (Zhanyixue) (2000), ‘the essence of (active defence) is to take the initiative and annihilate the enemy… While strategically the guideline is active defence, (in military campaigns) the emphasis is placed on taking the initiative in active offence. Only in this way can the strategic objective of active defence be realised” (emphasis added).

China also follows ‘anti-access’ strategies to deny access to the adversary to his planned launch pads in an endeavour to prevent build-up of forces for a war against China. Planning for anti-access strategies flows from the apprehension that if superior, well-equipped forces (read the US and its allies) are allowed to arrive in the war zone with the force levels and in the time frame planned by them, they are bound to prevail. According to a RAND paper of 2007, the Chinese calculate that “by mounting a credible threat to do so, they will be able to deter the United States from intervening in the first place, or at least limit the scale and scope of that intervention.” The PLA’s aim is clearly to deter a conflict or at least delay the opponent’s preparation till the PLA is better prepared to react. The PLA seeks to achieve this aim through attacks against air bases and ports and other elements of the logistics chain and against information systems so as to disrupt command and control during build-up. While anti-access strategies are unlikely to succeed in preventing conflict completely, these could impose considerable delay and caution during build-up.

The PLA’s new doctrine is also more assertive than previously thought and is not bound by any restrictions to confine and limit future conflict to within China’s national boundaries. China claims that it has only peaceful intentions and does not believe in launching aggression and that it fights wars only to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. According to China’s White Papers on national defence, active defence is a defensive military strategy. However, it is clear from Chinese writings that the major characteristics of active defence are distinctly offensive in nature. The PLA publication The Study of Campaigns (Zhanyixue) (2000) highlights this offensive approach: “While strategically the guideline is active defence, in military campaigns, though, the emphasis is placed on taking the initiative in ‘active offense’. Only in this way the strategic objectives of “active defence” can be realised.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

India’s Health Infrastructure and Policies Need a Revamp

Dr. M.N. Buch
Visiting Fellow, VIF

The Constitution of India, whose framers deserve great credit for the manner in which they have prescribed the duties of the State and laid down Directive Principles of how the State shall conduct itself, states in Article 47, “Duty of the State to raise the level of the nutrition and the standard of living and improve public health care. The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties…” Just as Article 38 directs the States to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people, Article 47 makes ‘public health’ the primary duty of the State. In this behalf it has to be noted that the pre-independent government of India, which was administered by the British and the provincial governments had provided an elaborate network of rural dispensaries and health centres, district hospitals and medical colleges and their attached hospitals to provide health care to all Indians. One of the primary duties of the civil surgeon of every district was to ensure prevention and control of epidemics and the provision of universal immunisation against diseases such as small pox. The government health care system was supplemented by dispensaries, health care centres and hospitals run by local bodies, including the district boards and municipalities. Large city corporations such as those of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras even ran major referral hospitals and medical colleges. There were some private health care centres, but by and large it was a system very much in the public domain and the State did not shirk its duty to look after the health of the citizens. Princely India also more or less followed suit.

Let me reinforce my above statement by reference to the district gazetteers of two districts, now in Pakistan and one Princely State, Gondal in Gujarat. The district gazetteer of Montgomery District is of the period 1883-84. At that time Montgomery had a district hospital under the Civil Surgeon and dispensaries (primary health centres in today’s parlance) at Kamalia, Dipalpur, Gurgera and Pak Pattan. In 1930 in Attock District there was a district hospital at Campbellpur, the district headquarters and civil hospitals at Fatehganj and the Jand, apart from mobile dispensaries which toured the district. There was also a jail hospital and a railway hospital at Campbellpur. The District Board ran civil hospitals at Tallagang, Tamman, Ahdawal, Hassan Abdal and Domel, all tehsil headquarters, apart from seventeen rural dispensaries. To this six more were added in 1930, making a total of one district hospital, six tehsil level hospitals and twenty-three rural dispensaries. Besides this, the municipalities ran a women’s hospital and a general hospital at Hazro and a dispensary at Pindigheb, a Sub Divisional town in the district. Moving to Gondal State, we find that as early as 1906 the State hospital at Gondal, the capital of the State was upgraded to a high standard of medical and surgical care and it also became a training centre for nurses and midwives. Besides this a district level hospital was constructed at Dhoraji and smaller hospitals at Upleta, Bhayavadar, Sarsai and Jetalsar. In addition four charitable hospitals opened in the private sector. There was universal vaccination against small pox and very effective control over bubonic plague, influenza and other epidemic diseases which devastated large parts of Kathiawar and the Bombay Presidency. It is obvious that the British and the Princely States took their duty to provide health care coverage very seriously.

When independence came government took a conscious decision to vastly expand the public health care system and to give it multiple dimensions in terms of prevention of disease, control over epidemics, and provision of primary health care down to the last village and expansion of medical education in the public domain, together with world class medical facilities. In this context the medical colleges inherited from the British were strengthened and enlarged and State Governments set up new medical colleges. For example, even in a State as backward as Madhya Pradesh high quality medical colleges were set up at Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior, Jabalpur and Rewa, each with a thousand bedded hospital. The Central Government set up the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi and such top quality institutions as the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Research and Education, Chandigarh and the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry. The Government of India made available generous grants to medical colleges and medical educational institutions, thus substantially strengthening the health care system in India. Even today, with a large number of high quality health care institutions in the private sector, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi has consistently been considered the best medical institution in the whole of India. So much so that Government of India has decided to set up five more All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, of which one is located in Bhopal and has just begun functioning. There are also super specialty hospitals, such as the Bhopal Memorial Hospital for the Bhopal gas victims, VIMHANS, that is, Vivekananda Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Science for neurological and psychological disorders, the specialist institute in Dehradun for the visually handicapped, Tata Cancer Hospital, Bombay and many others.

In a country as large as India in every field of endeavour there is always room for more and, therefore, in the private sector also specialist health care institutions sprang up. Escorts and Apollo for cardiac care, the Shankar Netralaya for eye disorders and Jaslok Hospital and Breach Candy Hospital in Bombay are early examples of private sector initiative in high quality health care. We already had a long tradition of private sector clinics and poly clinics on a small scale, to which in recent years has been added a whole range of diagnostic centres. All the hospitals, etc., in the private sector are institutes for making profit and the old tradition of business houses running charitable hospitals seems to have died down. The entry of the private sector into health care was initially welcomed by government, but without diluting government’s own predominant role across the board of providing health care to people at large. Notwithstanding the large number of private medical institutions which have come up in recent years, government hospitals are still considered to have a certain uniform standard of medical practices and, therefore, they have been the most popular medical institutions in the country. Even today CGHS institutions have the largest clientele because they are government run and the government servants still find that CGHS dispensaries and hospitals provide them the best health care. This is true of ESIC hospitals and dispensaries also in the field of industrial workers.

The Directorate of Health Services of every State is responsible for running hospitals in the public domain. Gradually the professional heads of the Directorate have been replaced by IAS officers designated as Commissioner for Health. The powers of the Directorate and Civil Surgeon/Chief Medical Health and Officers of the districts have been curtailed and centralised, with the result that there is a distinct drop in the professional competence and efficiency of government medical institutions. It is almost as if government does not want its own institutions to function effectively. Over the years recruitment to the medical service in the States has been deliberately kept restricted, with the result that there is no entry of fresh blood into a district level medical institution. This has created a shortage of doctors even at district level, where the district hospitals are the referral centres for our primary health centres. On paper for a cluster of villages with a total population of thirty thousand (twenty thousand in tribal areas) there is a full-fledged primary health centre and for every three thousand population (two thousand in tribal areas) there is a subsidiary health centre. Most primary health centres and subsidiary health centres have either no staff or are undermanned. In the district level hospitals there are no young doctors who can be trained for taking on higher responsibility and this is affecting their efficiency. There is equipment shortage, inadequate supply of drugs, inadequate maintenance of infrastructure and very little expansion of capacity and generally speaking there is an environment in which patients lose confidence in the ability of these hospitals to provide proper treatment. Diagnostic facilities are obsolete and very often out of repair. Many doctors in the government hospitals prescribe tests and refer the patient to private diagnostic centres which charge high fees, part of which would be shared with the referring doctor. This, in turn, pushes patients away from government hospitals and into the hands of private medical centres whose fees an average person can hardly afford. Ultimately the government hospitals are left only with hopeless cases which private hospitals will not touch and indigent patients come to government hospitals as a last resort because they cannot really afford even moderately expensive health care and treatment. One senses in this a deliberate conspiracy of government to reduce public sector health care to a level where the system dies an unnatural death, to the great benefit and advantage of the private sector. The rich in any case would go to private hospitals, which earn enormous profits. The poor either go to an unsatisfactory public health facility or suffer disease stoically and die without medical care. If this is not a negation of what Article 47 enjoins, then what is it?

I have always felt that except in the first two or three Plans our Planning Commission has been distancing itself from the reality of India in favour of an utopian world of its own imagination. Regardless of jugglery of figures the fact remains that India has huge numbers of poor people who barely subsist. Ever since Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, surrounded by his Doon School cronies and their ilk, government entered into a new era of what Rajni Kothari called “The Baba Log Government”. I, as Vice Chairman of the National Commission on Urbanisation, had occasion to closely interact with Rajiv Gandhi when my batch-mate Gopi Arora was his Secretary and Mani Shankar Aiyer was his Joint Secretary. Gopi was level headed and had a more realistic view of India. Gopi was a minority of one in that crowd and the impression created was that India is a country of the middle class, who formed a huge group of a hundred million consumers. I remember that in one meeting I told Rajiv that if out of a population of eight hundred millions a hundred millions were consumers, it still meant that seven hundred million people had nothing with which to consume. That meant that seven out of eight persons in India existed only on the margin, whereas the government seemed to think that only the sole exception amongst the eight was a worthwhile Indian. A government whose thinking is along these lines can never understand the problems of the poor and regardless of whatever such a government says, it can never be pro poor. I am sure these people secretly must have thought that if one could only be rid of the seven hundred million non consumers India would be one of wealthiest countries in the world.

The Planning Commission is in the process of finalising its chapter on health for the Twelfth Five Year Plan document. If what the Planning Commission proposes is accepted India would be amongst the ten bottommost countries in terms of percentage of GDP spent on health care. The new Plan document talks in terms of - “Preventive interventions which the government would be both funding and universally providing clinical services at different levels, defined in an Essential Health Package, which the government would finance but not necessarily directly provide”. In other words, government would downgrade its own direct provision of health services and would increasingly fund and encourage the corporate sector. The document further states, “Each citizen family would be entitled to an Essential Health Package in the network of their choice. Besides public facility networks, organised private and NGO providers would also be empanelled to give a choice to the families”.
The above statement presumes that there will be an equitable distribution of health services throughout the country by the private sector. Because the private sector functions only on the basis of profit, the system is bound to degenerate into one similar to the civil aviation sector, that is, the lucrative profit making routes would largely be diverted to the private sector and loss making routes would be serviced by Air India, which would be beggared as a consequence, then held up as an example of the inefficiency of the public sector and ultimately be forced to close. The Planning Commission also presumes that every Indians understands the niceties of an Essential Health Package which, it is presumed, would be operated through a system of health insurance. Whether the Planning Commission likes it or not more than seventy-two percent of the people of India live in villages with poor connectivity and another ten percent of small town population lives in semi rural conditions with equally poor connectivity. Does the Planning Commission seriously expect these people to understand what an Essential Health Package is, identify the service providers in the corporate sector and then exercise a preference regarding the health package? So many people are on the verge of starvation that their only thought is on how to procure the next meal. They do not have the ability, the time or the knowledge to be able to choose between health packages. They can go to a primary health centre and obtain medicines, but they cannot fill up insurance forms and then try and get reimbursement of expenses incurred by them in obtaining medical care. Why villagers alone, talk to any middle class, educated citizen and hear his woes in trying to get payment from insurance companies.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Members of the Commission and its officers are all beautifully serviced by CGHS. They have no idea of how the medical insurance system works in India. Till recently I was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Gwalior, one of the four highly specialised institutions set up by government to promote information technology in India. We decided to provide medical insurance to all our faculty and staff. We ran into such hurdles that we eventually abandoned the scheme and instead opted for full reimbursement by the Institute of any medical costs incurred by the faculty and staff. If this could happen to a high level institute of technology can the Planning Commission even envisage the problems which a villager would have in accessing what the Commission calls an Essential Health Package? Let me give another example. Many States have opted for insurance coverage against crop failure. Obviously the scheme is not working because in many areas, especially Maharashtra, failed farmers commit suicide. In sharp contrast is the scheme of many States to assess crop damage during a natural calamity or major seasonal vagaries which damage crops. The system is that the Collector asks the Tehsil authorities to assess crop conditions and by random ‘annawari’ each Patwari assesses damage to a particular crop in his Patwari Halka. For example, in the winter of 2011-12 there was some ground frost in parts of Madhya Pradesh and some crops, especially gram, suffered damage. My wife has a farm twenty-three kilometers away from Bhopal. She had not applied for compensation but nevertheless the Patwari included the farm in his assessment and must have given a report on his observations. One fine day, my wife received a cheque for rupees eighteen thousand from the Tehsildar by way of compensation for the damaged crop. Every other farmers in the village also received similar compensation, despite the fact that claims had not been filed. I cannot think of any insurance system which the geniuses of the Planning Commission may devise which will provide the kind of quick relief to farmers that Raja Todar Mal’s revenue administration system provides even today in India, corruption and leakages notwithstanding. Even today, there are many areas in which time tested systems in the public sector are more efficient than the private sector and governance in general and health care in particular are a part of them.

The only countries where there is satisfactory universal health care are those in which the equivalent of the national health scheme operates. Much of Europe and the United Kingdom have universal health care provided by the State. The system undergoes fine-tuning from time to time, but the underlying principle always is that it is the duty of the State to take care of the health of all its citizens. The United States, by far the most affluent country in the world, has a poor health care system despite having some of the best hospitals in the world. That is why President Obama had to virtually stake everything in order to widen the scope of medical insurance so that health coverage could be provided to the very poor. This system still does not measure up to the national health service of Britain but it is an improvement on the past. Capitalist United States has begun to take notice of the poor, Socialist India has a Planning Commission which wants to destroy the last vestige of public health coverage because of the peculiar notion of its Deputy Chairman that private is better than public, the rich include the poor and, in any case, the poor can always eat cake. India can survive militancy, terrorism, separatism, Naxalism, Jehad, even violent attacks by extremist Pakistani groups. I am, however, beginning to have serious doubts whether India can survive its own Planning Commission.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Debate on MEA’s Ills is Skewed

Kanwal Sibal
Member Advisory Board, VIF 

The perceived inadequacies of the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) to handle the ever diverse foreign policy challenges facing India are being publicly aired. Critics are wrong in suggesting that the Indian Foreign Service(IFS) has been ignoring its own deficiencies and resisting an overhaul in recruitment and training procedures, cadre expansion, skill-building in foreign languages, posting and promotion policies etc.

In actual fact, the Ministry has been conscious since long of its functional shortfalls. The N.R. Pillai Committee (1966), the Samar Sen Committee (1983) and the S.K.Lambah report (2002) have recommended structural, administrative and cadre reforms, but the complexity of the problems have resisted easy solutions.


Those stirring up a public debate today on the IFS’s deficiencies have taken the cue from an American report which criticizes the service for being small, hobbled by its selection process and inadequate mid-career training, and shunning the use of outside experience. The report advises investment in US-India exchange programmes that build capacity for foreign policy research and proposes steps that both New Delhi and Washington should take to promote India’s rise as a great power.

Its recommendations are largely a rehash of what is already well known; the offer of US collaboration in equipping our diplomats with professional capacities needed to support India’s growing international stature is new. Some articulate Indians impatient with India’s desire to preserve its strategic autonomy endorse such ideas, without thought that training our diplomats in US institutions at formative stages would be undesirable.

Indian diplomats should develop a world view sharply focused on our own national interests, with the mental strength and conviction to defend it. This does not exclude mature diplomats solidly grounded in Indian geo-political perspectives benefitting from exposure to specific foreign programmes.

The ongoing public debate on the MEA’s shortcomings lacks perspective. If the total cadre strength of the IFS remains abnormally small, it is because the system has been against its expansion, relying on perennial financial arguments, the enduring ban on creation of new posts, as well as the unstated reluctance to increase a cadre already seen as a privileged one by other civil services.

A more nuanced view should be taken of the equation between India’s growing diplomatic burden and the IFS’s size. Large portions of India’s diplomatic activity abroad is not within MEA’s remit. The Rules of Business will not allow the Ministry to negotiate FTAs, lead WTO negotiations, deal with the IMF and World Bank, backstop G-20 negotiations, take charge of Climate Change negotiations, sign defence agreements or those in space and atomic energy, decide the country’s energy policies and negotiate energy deals etc.

The MEA can play a supportive role, but even this role is greatly circumscribed by limiting drastically deputations of IFS officers to other Ministries with large international dealings. Those in other Ministries involved in external dealings are part of the larger body of Indian “diplomats” dealing with “foreign policy”. So it is not 700 plus IFS members on whose shoulders all the burden of foreign affairs falls.

The Ministry is no doubt seriously understaffed at New Delhi and abroad in our missions. The ratio between officers at HQs and in missions abroad is highy skewed in Ministry’s disfavour. MEA’s territorial divisions lack sufficient manpower to give requisite attention to all the countries under their charge. Linguistic proficiency suffers because the smallness of the cadre leads to transfer of officers from one station to another irrespective of their language background as available posts have to be often filled by whosoever becomes due for a shift after 3 years of an assignment abroad.


Apart from specialization requiring a much larger cadre, officers generally prefer more broad based experience. Specialization in UN work would be attractive as it ensures the New York-Geneva circuit for postings, but that in Africa etc would work against rotation between more comfortable and hardship postings in the interest of equity.

Mid-level lateral entry from think-tanks, universities, media and corporate sector is being proposed for widening MEA’s talent pool. Such entries are on a contractual basis for limited periods would pose no problem, but if absorption in the IFS cadre is intended, existing problems will worsen.

Stricter norms for promotion is an in-service demand also, but while the IAS has numerous parking slots outside the Ministries and at state level for underperformers, what does the MEA do with weeded-out de-motivated officers?

The idea of a separate IFS examination is not new; it has been resisted because of legitimate fears that the service would lose parity with the IAS. It would be desirable to make it compulsory for those wanting to enter the IFS to choose specific subjects for the UPSC examination which bear on diplomacy, including writing the examination in English. The interview marks can be increased as was the case in the past. The MEA would welcome such decisions, but they would have their anti-elitist detractors.


The IFS has performed well despite handicaps. Critics should point out specific instances where it has failed because of deficiencies in understanding and action. In toto, the Ministry is better run than others, its officers are more committed, largely insulated from political interference and corrupt practices and have a robust sense of India’s national interests.

The IFS is less vulnerable than sections of our political and bureaucratic class to external blandishments and cannot be as easily manipulated. Which is why it is criticized in some western circles for its negative diplomacy, for being wedded to an outdated world view which resists efforts to incorporate India into the West’s sphere of political and intellectual influence. Some who are attacking the MEA today want this resistance to end.

Sri Lanka: Where is the Reconciliation?

Dr. N. Manoharan
Senior Fellow, VIF

Sri Lanka has recently submitted the Universal Periodic Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the status of implementation of recommendations made by Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The Report cites drafting of a National Action Plan1 to implement the LRRC recommendations and setting up of a Task Force to oversee the implementation as per the Action Plan. The Action plan has rearranged the 285 LLRC recommendations under five themes: International Humanitarian Law issues, Human Rights, Land Return and Resettlement, Restitution/ Compensatory Relief and Reconciliation. The key question is how serious is the Government of Sri Lanka on reconciliation and especially in finding a long-term political settlement to the ethnic issue?

On reconciliation, to pre-empt United Nations’ move to appoint an experts panel on “war crimes” during the last stages of war, Sri Lankan President appointed a eight-member Commission on ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation’ (LLRC) in May 2010. LLRC is a good step, but its mandate is very limited and ethnic reconciliation in the real sense has not been looked into seriously. As per the notification, the Commission was mandated to inquire and report on the facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement (CFA) operationalised on February 21 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to 19 May 2009 when the war ended; whether any person, group or institutions directly or indirectly bear responsibility; lessons to learn from those events and their attendant concerns in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence; and methodology whereby restitution to any person affected by those events or their dependents or their heirs, can be effected.2 The assumption that the CFA was a failure is not true. Although, it is claimed that the LLRC is on the model of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, there is no mechanism for reconciliation in the real sense. When the LLRC submitted its report in December 2011, things became clear. Although it was not 100 percent objective, it was not disappointing either.3 It tried to do a balancing act containing both positive and negative aspects. On positives it talked about the need for demilitarisation, investigation of disappearances, apart from acknowledging existence of ethnic grievances; surprisingly, it supported devolution of powers to minorities, although it did not spell them out. At the same time, it did not fix accountability for human rights abuses during Eelam War IV. On the collateral damage, the report reasoned that as a result of LTTE action and military reaction. Most importantly, the LLRC did not give any action plan on the way forward either on reconciliation or devolution. Yet, the major concern is that the need for fuller implementation of whatever the LLRC report has recommended. This was the main emphasis of the resolution passed in March 2012 at the UNHRC meeting in Geneva.4

Efforts in finding a long-term political settlement to the ethnic issue is nowhere in sight. Devolution of powers to the minorities seems to be the last priority. The Rajapaksa government has been talking of finding a “home grown solution” to the ethnic issue. In this regard, President Rajapaksa did appoint an ‘All Party Representative Committee’ (APRC) in 2006 to “fashion creative options that satisfy minimum expectations as well as provide a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question”. However, instead of exploring “creative options”, the APRC, in its interim report submitted in January 2008, advised the President to implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which outlined devolution to the provinces in the aftermath of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987. Even after 20 years, ideas for seeking a solution were back to square one. At last, the APRC reportedly submitted its final report to the President in June 2010. The President, however, chose not to make it public as of now.5 It is more or less a dead piece of document, though the process is being continued through a Parliament Select Committee appointed to forge a consensus on the issue.

Tamil minorities called the PSC appointment as a “time-buying tactic”, but President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an interview, observed that “We are keen on a sustainable political settlement. But it must have wide acceptance, especially in the context of the post-conflict situation.”6 When this pronouncement is taken seriously, writing on the wall is clear. At the maximum, what is on cards is some arrangement revolving around the existing 13th amendment. Through 13th Amendment, the island was divided into various provinces and granted some powers under Provincial List. However, the Provincial Councils lacked sufficient powers – especially land, police and finance – to run their affairs in an efficient manner. In addition, the Centre wields immense powers of overruling any of Provincial decisions. Instead of strengthening the Provinces, the present government is planning to dilute the present arrangement further. Unless there is genuine power sharing, the Provincial Council arrangement will be mere eyewash.

The Rajapaksa government also has to go beyond the constitutional tinkering in reaching out to minorities by showing magnanimity. Trust deficit that exists between various communities of the island must be bridged on a priority basis. Talks with TNA were a good move, but that did not take things any further. Any kind of sincere confidence building measure will go a long way in assuaging the Tamil diaspora that is presently keeping the hopes of Tamil Eelam alive. It is important for the Sri Lankan government to constructively engage the diaspora to make them positively contribute to the development of the country.
In the same vein, the Sri Lankan government must count-in the Opposition’s contribution in the nation-building. Without bi-partisan consensus, any political settlement to the ethnic question would be unsustainable. Political history of Sri Lanka since independence is witness to this. Colombo should also reconcile diplomatically with the West that is upset with former’s stand on human rights issues. Western and UN concerns are genuine and there is no “Church conspiracy” in this. It is vital to have them as ‘partners in development’ rather than overly depending on countries like China.

  1. The full text of the Action Plan is available at, accessed on 12 August 2012.
  2. For the text of the Warrant issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa dated 15 May 2010, see
  3. Full report of the LLRC is available at, accessed on 12 August 2012.
  4. UN Human Rights Council, ‘Resolution Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka,’ 19th Session, 22 March 2012, Full text of the Resolution is available at, accessed on 13 August 2012.
  5. Leaked version of the final report is available at, accessed on 13 August 2012.
  6. Interview with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa by R. Bhagwan Singh, Asian Age, 28 December 2011.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Has the Political Class Failed Us?

A. Surya Prakash
Senior Fellow, VIF

The end of `Operation Jantar Mantar’ by Team Anna without any tangible gains vis-à-vis the fight against corruption and the indications from within government that the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 may not come up for debate until the Winter Session of Parliament – should come as a major disappointment for all citizens who believe in the pursuit of peaceful and democratic solutions for major problems confronting the country.

With Anna Hazare virtually throwing his hands up and signalling the failure of the tried and tested Satyagraha route, every section of the political class, and this includes the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Third Front and the still nebulous Fourth Front, must be laughing all the way to their respective vote banks. This is a moment of triumph for politicians as a whole because they have successfully beaten back, at least for the moment, the biggest threat that was posed to their corrupt ways. The UPA of course is leading from the front and has been able to stop the anti-corruption movement dead in its tracks.

One year ago, as the Anna Hazare Movement picked up, the UPA government introduced the Lok Pal Bill in the Lok Sabha and repeatedly claimed that it was committed to the passage of this law. Other members of the political class made similar noises and swore that they too were keen on having an independent ombudsman to probe cases of corruption. However, within parliament there was an unwritten agreement among all parties that they should not go beyond rendering lip service to the anti-corruption movement. All parties also believed that by dragging the issue, they could tire out the crusaders. This plan appears to have worked. Twelve months hence, the anti-corruption crusade has become a victim of middle class ennui and the much-talked about bill has virtually gone into cold storage.

Caught in a maze of corruption, the UPA government was not keen on having an independent Lokpal. But it was not alone. It got some overt and covert backing from virtually the entire political class. The government introduced the Lokpal Bill on August 4, 2011 in the Lok Sabha and immediately referred it to a Standing Committee head by Mr.Abhishek Manu Singhvi. This gave the government a much-needed breather and also an excuse. It asked Team Anna and others to advance their arguments before the committee. The Singhvi Committee recommended that the Lokpal must have constitutional status and parliament must take a call on whether to bring the Prime Minister within the purview of the Lokpal. It said group A and group B employees must be brought within the purview of the Lokpal, but the Chief Vigilance Commissioner should have jurisdiction over group C and D staff. The committee wanted MPs to be kept out of the Lokpal’s purview in so far as their vote, speech and conduct in parliament was concerned. The judiciary was also to be outside the Lokpal’s jurisdiction. It suggested a single law for establishment of the Lokpal and the Lokayukras in the states. Once the committee’s report was tabled, the government withdrew the bill it had introduced in August and came up with a new bill – The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011.

After much debate, which drew nation-wide attention, this bill was passed by the Lok Sabha and the government raised the expectations of the people by pretending that it would see the legislation through in the Rajya Sabha as well. However, the government’s real intention – to stall the passage of this legislation – became clear when the bill came up for discussion in the Upper House on the last day of the Winter Session in December, 2011. The Congress Party’s floor managers cleverly ensured that MPs belonging to many small and regional parties raised objections and obstructed the debate. Thereafter, as the debate dragged on, the party took advantage of the commotion in the House and mischievously ensured the adjournment of the House sine die, even though MPs wanted the debate to be concluded. With the abrupt adjournment of the House, the curtain came down on the Winter Session of Parliament, thereby giving the government yet another breather.

However, when the Budget Session of Parliament opened in February this year, the UPA resumed its subterfuge. It promised to complete the legislative process in the Upper House but sprang a surprise on parliamentarians and the nation as a whole last May, when it announced the bill was being referred to yet another committee – a select committee of the Rajya Sabha. Sadly, the BJP became a party to the government’s dilatory tactics. This committee has been given time till the end of the Monsoon Session in September to submit its report. So, even as Anna Hazare and Co have ended yet another indefinite fast in order to live to fight another day, there are indications that the bill will not come up for discussion until the Winter Session of Parliament this year. Going by the prevailing mood in the political class, do not be surprised if this bill too suffers the fate of all previous Lokpal Bills and lapse when the present Lok Sabha is dissolved in May, 2014 or earlier.

In the year gone by, the UPA government has slipped further down on the credibility meter and strangely, it is taking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with it. As the main opposition party, the BJP ought to have been the moral policeman and the standard-bearer for clean governance, but it is even more irrelevant today than it was a year ago. The Congress and the BJP are now seen as two sides of the same coin. The people feel that they are merely engaged in a mock fight and they are tired of listening to the same old rhetoric. Film maker Shekhar Kapur correctly summed it up when he said the debate is not about the failure of the UPA but about the failure of the political system itself.

“India does not need change of government but change in political system. 65 years of current system has created huge divide between the people and governance”, he said in one of his recent tweets.

Afghanistan and America’s New Silk Road Strategy

Vinod Anand
Senior Fellow, VIF

The security situation in Afghanistan continues to follow a declining curve. Not only the NATO supply routes through Pakistan have been attacked by the Taliban the logistics coming through Uzbekistan via the Northern Distribution Network have also come under Taliban attack. Relations between the US and Pakistan have not improved much; Pakistan’s stance on Haqqani group continues to sour US-Pakistan relationship with. The US Congress has voted for the Haqqani group to be designated as a terror group. It is well accepted that Pakistan continues to provide shelter to Quetta Shura and other assorted militant groups despite its avowals to the contrary. America has been advocating a regional solution to the Afghan puzzle and its ‘new Silk Road Strategy’ unveiled last year is claimed to be a part of the same. Though the strategy largely stresses on regional economic integration with Afghanistan yet it is not devoid of geo-strategic connotations. Finding a regional solution to the Afghan imbroglio has been one of the main planks of Obama’s Af-Pak strategy since 2009. However, so far, the US has largely been looking for a US led solution.

The question therefore arises is whether America’s new Silk Road strategy is really new or whether it is old wine in the new bottle? What are the objectives and significance of this strategy?

America’s Silk Road Strategy can be said to have gone through three iterations. The initial phase commenced with the demise of Soviet Union at the end of 1991. The US and the West were first off the block in making efforts to wean the nascent Central Asian nations away from the Russian influence. At that time Russia had also become weak and expected the West to help it out economically.

The Americans passed a Freedom Support Act of 1992 and a Silk Road Strategy Act of 1999. The main goals were to promote democracy and human rights, foster pro-West orientations in Central Asian nations, support economic growth, and development of transport and communications. Kazakhstan was seen as an ‘energy behemoth’ where American companies invested a great deal in its hydrocarbon sector. According to the thought process of the US administration the US efforts were seen as ‘strengthening independence of the Central Asian states and forestalling Russian, Chinese and Iranian efforts to subvert them’. The overall objective was to integrate theses countries into the European system.

When the US and its allies intervened in Afghanistan post September 2001 terrorist attacks to route out the Taliban the Russians, Chinese and the Central Asian states welcomed the Western powers’ intervention in Afghanistan because it suited their short term strategic interests of dealing with security threats arising from Afghanistan. The Central Asian nations states even offered bases to the US and western troops.

However, the next phase of America’s Silk Road Strategy can be said to have begun in 2005-2006 when the US started promoting a ‘Greater Central Asia Concept/ Strategy’. The term ‘greater Central Asia’ included many areas and countries surrounding the Central Asian nations. Ostensibly, the aim was to promote greater economic integration especially focused on connecting Central Asia and South Asia. The main goal of this phase of strategy was to weaken the Russian control over hydro carbon sector on Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan by building pipelines that bypassed Russian territory. Therefore, not only Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project was a manifestation of this concept, even the Nabucco gas pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline projects (getting oil from Kazakhstan) also were part of this strategy. The argument offered was that the Central Asian nations need diversification of outlets for their natural resources and other products.

To give substance to the greater Central Asian concept the State Department in 2006 included Central Asia in a revamped Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. When Obama appeared on the scene he wanted to reset relations with Russia because of the complex geo-strategic situation prevailing in Afghanistan and Central Asian region which was again a sub-set of the overall global environment wherein the American power was considered to be on the decline. Though Russians and the Central Asian countries did help out the US and its allies by allowing transit of logistics through the Northern Distribution Network (the existing infrastructure and road/rail network of which could become a basis for another silk route) yet the ‘reset’ could not be realized.

The new Silk Road Strategy announced by Hillary Clinton last year (July 2011) is therefore not new; the basic premises of the American strategy in Central Asia have not undergone any change; if at all there is some change, it is in the priority of ends which it wants to achieve in the current milieu of Afghanistan. Top most priority for the US currently is how to get out of Afghanistan gracefully. Connecting Central with South Asia through a network of multimodal transport corridors and networks that include road and rail networks, pipelines, electricity grids and power transmission lines with Afghanistan as a hub are being seen as a panacea to cure at least the economic ills being faced by the region, especially that of Afghanistan leading to peace and stability there. Such a strategy is expected to provide enough revenues to the Afghan government to run its affairs without being dependent on foreign aid in the long run. But the multi-million dollar question remains, security first or the development first? Some American analysts propound the thesis that economic development and growth is possible even in unstable and insecure environment. However, without security all the talk of pipelines and investments in the mineral ores sector of Afghanistan by economic heavy weights like China, India and others would remain a chimera.

Hillary Clinton while explaining this U.S. policy towards Afghanistan had stated that in coming years it would focus on encouraging “stronger economic ties through South and Central Asia so that goods, capital, and people can flow more easily across borders.” She again articulated this new Silk Road concept at a meeting of regional ministers and others in September 2011, stating that “as we look to the future of this region, let us take this precedent (of a past Silk Road) as inspiration for a long-term vision for Afghanistan and its neighbors”. She envisioned a ‘web of economic and transit connections that will bind together a region too long torn apart by conflict and division’.

This kind of regional cooperation and economic integration was further mooted in Istanbul and Bonn Conferences of 2011 on Afghanistan. For instance, the Istanbul Conference had recognized Afghanistan’s role as the land bridge in the ‘Heart of Asia’, connecting South Asia, Central Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East, and reaffirmed their support in the strongest possible terms to the secure, stable and peaceful future of Afghanistan. It also endorsed Afghanistan’s willingness and determination to use its regional and historical position to do its part to promote security and peaceful economic cooperation in the region. The Conference had also stressed the central role of the United Nations in the international affairs which was perhaps an oblique reference to the proclivity of the US to adopt unilateralist approach to international affairs or bypass the UN.

India, together with Russia and Iran has been working on another version of Silk Road. They are founder partners of the International North South Transport Corridor the main goal which was to link not only Central Asia and Russia but also Europe. However, due to many bottlenecks and poor infrastructure in Iran and many other geopolitical problems associated with Iran the full potential of this Corridor has not been realized. India also built a road from Iran border town Zaranj to Delaram in Afghanistan linking up with the Garland highway of Afghanistan. This is one of the most important road-links in land-locked Afghanistan. Zaranj is also linked by Iranian road network to Chabahar port. However, unstable conditions and the influence of the Taliban in the Southern areas of Afghanistan have prevented this route to be exploited fully. Therefore, attempts by India to establish its own versions of silk route have not been very successful.
Further, the Indian companies have decided to invest about US Dollars 10 billion in the iron and steel sector of Afghanistan to exploit the mineral resources of iron ore deposits of Hajigak in Afghanistan. The questions are being asked as to how the products will be evacuated. One project that may take off is construction of 900 KM railway line from Chabahar port to Bamiyan and Hagijak in Afghanistan which would be used for transportation of the products. But then any project by India in Iran upsets the Americans. The abandoning of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline could have been due to the US pressure besides un-remunerative price quoted by the Iranians for the gas and heavy transit fee asked for by Pakistan (in addition to the security risks).

Broadly, India has been willing to work with any power or a group of countries which could help India gain access to Central Asia including Afghanistan.

The new Silk Road strategy also justifies the leadership role of the US on the premise that the US is the biggest investor in the region. Such an articulation would definitely be contested by China and Russia because of the geopolitical aspects of such a strategy. Though the American intelligentsia talks about the imperatives of involving Russia and China in the realization of this strategy, on the ground very little has been done so far except for utilizing the NDN that goes across Russia and the Central Asian states before connecting to Afghanistan. The SCO as a regional organization has not been given much recognition and credibility by the US and NATO. India would also be chary of any negative connotations associated with this concept that may impact its relations with countries like Russia or other powers in the region. Further, China in its own version of Silk Road strategy has announced its plans for construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Afghanistan and Tajikistan thus avoiding the turbulent Pashtun held areas. In addition China is also doubling up the capacity of the existing Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline to 61 billion cubic meters per year. Not only this China is also going to invest in the oil exploration in Afghanistan that is expected to generate US dollars 7 billion of revenues for Afghanistan. All this is likely to have a negative impact on the construction of TAPI.

On the other hand, if the US as part of its new Silk Road vision is able to influence Pakistan to grant overland transit rights to India then it would be a win-win situation for all involved with Pakistan being one of the biggest gainers as it will earn huge revenues. However, the current state of US-Pak relations leaves much to be desired. Though, Pakistan is part of the TAPI project for building the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India it has so far refrained from seeing the wisdom of acceding to India’s proposal for granting access to Afghanistan in the reverse direction. Therefore, there are many impediments in the realization of the new Silk Road Strategy.

It also needs to be seen than India and the US have signed Strategic Partnership Agreements with Afghanistan, with the intention to intensify their consultation, coordination and cooperation to promote a stable, democratic, united, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan. In the India-US Strategic Dialogue that took place in June in Washington, according to one analyst, India had refrained from openly endorsing the New Silk Road architecture proposed by the US, with the two sides discussing only the “vision” of enhanced regional connectivity. The two have “reiterated that success in Afghanistan and regional and global security require elimination of safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

In the final analysis, the new Silk Road Strategy can be seen as a socio-economic approach combined with geo-political aspects to extricate the US and its coalition allies from an unwinnable situation in Afghanistan. Though regional cooperation has been mentioned as the panacea for the ills of this region the US continues to emphasize on its leadership role without purposefully working towards a regional approach to the Afghan imbroglio. There are many contradictions in the US approach to the region as its new concept excludes countries like Iran, Russia and regional grouping like SCO from its formulations. The above is also compounded by the fact that major players in Central Asia have their own versions of the silk road/routes. And India should be willing to cooperate with any grouping or nation that can help it getting connected to Central Asia and beyond.