Friday, June 26, 2015

BBC’s Fantasy on India-MQM Nexus

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

For over a year and a half now, the signals emerging from London are extremely negative. On the surface, the British appear to be very keen to engage India, in particular the Modi government, and leave no opportunity to pay lip-service to the ostensibly close and friendly relations between India and the UK. They are also very eager to tap into the business opportunities that are opening up in India. But behind the scenes, on the security front, the British have been doing a lot that directly impinges on and has serious implications for India’s security. The scandalous report – not so much on account of its laughable content but more because of its shockingly shoddy journalism which even tabloids would be embarrassed to own up to – alleging that the Pakistani political party, MQM, was being funded by India is yet another indication of the sinister game that is being played by the British against India, and in favour of Pakistan.

Quite aside the fact that BBC’s reportage is no divine text cast in stone and therefore unchallengeable, the myth of BBC’s independence and the unimpeachable integrity of its journalism has been badly exposed over the last couple of decades. The Iraq war and the Musharraf referendum are just two instances when the BBC tweaked its reports to suit the interests of the British government. Had the Musharraf referendum taken place before 9/11, the BBC would have probably reported that it was a farce. But post 9/11, after Musharraf had become an ‘ally’ of the West in the War on Terror – we know more than a decade later what sort of an ally Pakistan was and what sort of a war it fought against terror – and therefore anything he did to cement his position – including an utterly rigged referendum – was kosher. So much for BBC’s claims of unbiased news and its independent journalism!

The malicious BBC report has basically two sentences that seek to drag India and implicate it in Pakistan's political slugfest between the MQM and the real rulers of that country – the military establishment. The first sentence quotes an “authoritative Pakistani source” who in turn claims that the British officials have told him that some unnamed MQM official admitted that the party received Indian funding. Is this the kind of drivel that passes for investigative reporting in the BBC? Will such a serious allegation be made inside Britain on such a flimsy ground? Unlikely. The second sentence is even more laughable. It again quotes a Pakistani official to allege that “India has trained hundreds of MQM militants over the past 10 years”. Since when has any canard spread about India become news for BBC? What is the credibility of anything that the Pakistanis say from India, which includes India supporting the Taliban and even the Al Qaeda and the latest being that the Indian NSA is in close contact with the IS leadership and since ridiculousness knows no bounds, Pakistani ‘analysts’ have even claimed that the heat wave and floods in Pakistan are part of an Indian plot against Pakistan. Perhaps, the next article in BBC will be tailored to give credence to this sort of nonsense.

Clearly, the spin-masters of BBC are slipping up. Their entire argument runs contrary to facts and raises questions which not just the BBC but also their Pakistani partners will find somewhat difficult to answer. For instance, the bit about India training the MQM cadres. This was a charge that the journalist who filed this latest ‘story’ also included in his report in Guardian two years back. Much to his disappointment, no one bothered much about this at that time. So, he tried to peddle the same nonsense again. But here’s the problem. Ten years back, the Pakistani military dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf, was at the peak of his power in Pakistan. He was also a close ally of the MQM. Now if the MQM was sending people for training to India at that time, was the Pakistan army part of this conspiracy? Given that the MQM was firmly ensconced with the military establishment at that time, would they have jeopardised their relationship with the army by sending people to India for training? Would the Pakistan army and its infamous intelligence agencies have kept quiet just for reasons of political expediency? If so, then surely the problem lies in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and not in New Delhi.

As regards money, the BBC and their Pakistani partners need to reconcile the narrative of the last 25 odd years with the charge they have levied now. For all this time, the MQM has been accused of being the largest, most powerful and most ruthless criminal mafia in Karachi. It is alleged to run extortion rackets, indulge in contract killed and run all sorts of mafia-type operations, from land grabbing to whatever else one can think off. Pakistani officials themselves claim that the criminal economy of Karachi is around $2.5 billion. If even 40% of this is controlled by MQM, that makes it $1 billion. Given that MQM has for long been accused of transferring money from Karachi to run its operations in London, surely $ 1 billion or even a quarter of that should be more than sufficient for this purpose, with the rest being used to fund the party’s operations in Karachi. Surely with this sort of money floating around, MQM didn’t need funding from India, unless of course all the stories about MQM’s criminal empire are completely false. Perhaps BBC needs to rework its sums, not to mention its ‘story’, more so because much of it is based on the presser of a mid-level Karachi cop who enjoys a most unsavoury reputation and is considered an epitome of corruption and a political hit-man.

The real purpose of the BBC story has been revealed, perhaps inadvertently, in its concluding paragraphs. The BBC journalist writes: “India has long accused Pakistani officials of involvement in attacks in India….The latest developments in the MQM case suggest that Pakistan will now counter such complaints with demands that India stop sponsoring violent forces in Karachi.” This is clearly an attempt to draw some sort of moral equivalence between India and Pakistan and give the Pakistan something to throw back at India even if this throwback is a litany of lies.

The real important question is what is making the BBC, and by extension the British government, indulge in this sort of an activity. The British have any ways been working overtime against Indian interests. They are the movers and shakers (staying all the time in the shadows) behind the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s capitulation before the Pakistanis. They are actively working to get the Taliban into some sort of driving seat in Afghanistan. They are the ones who have been actively supporting Pakistani game in Afghanistan and the Americans have been going along with them. It is also no coincidence that the Khalistani and Kashmiri groups have also become active once again in the UK. Even as the British tighten the noose on the Baloch asylum seekers to appease the Pakistanis, they have been allowing anti-India actions by the Khalistani and Kashmiri groups which are being propped up and funded by Pakistan. In classic British double-speak, cases are instituted against MQM for inciting violence in Pakistan, but there is no action against the Khalistani and Kashmiri groups which incite hatred and violence in India. There are even reasons to believe that the sensitive information that India has shared with the British has been passed on to Pakistan.

The British are no longer in a position to do anything positive in India, but they are still in a position to cause harm to India, which is precisely what they are doing. While India can and should contemptuously reject the drivel being dished out by the BBC, there is a need to sit up and re-evaluate the relationship with the British government. Instead of being swept by the nostalgia of the Raj, India should worry more about the negativity of the nostalgia of power that the British exude. India would do well to remember how in previous conflicts with Pakistan, which side the British tilted. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes on a visit to the UK, his government must reassess the state of relations with the British. And if this happens, India should send a Thank You card to BBC for shaking us from our complacency about Britain’s benign intentions.

Published Date: 26th June 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Impressions from a Visit to China: Part I

Brig Vinod Anand, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

While China had announced the year 2015 as ‘Visit India’ year after the visit of President Xi Jinping to India last September, this year after the visit of Prime Minister Modi to China officials in Beijing are in an overdrive to implement some of the agreements announced during the two summits. Strengthening economic and cultural relations while bypassing the strategic differences has been the dominant narrative of Chinese think tanks and government officials. Public diplomacy aimed at both internal and external audience in order to achieve policy objectives are the other leitmotifs of the current discourse. Thus as part of its public diplomacy exercise, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited a group of strategic experts and media personnel from India to showcase the extent of their economic development and how ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy of connectivity can be mutually beneficial while the strategic dissonance could be put on the backburner in the meanwhile.

The visit, spread over a period of more than one week was structured to include briefings from the government officials, a seminar on strategic, economic, cultural and media issues followed by visits to China’s industrial and business establishments that have been in the forefront of China’s fast paced economic growth and development. Visits to Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and Guangzhou, both part of Guangdong which is one of the wealthiest provinces of China were designed to acquaint the Indian delegation with the quality and nature of progress achieved in diverse areas of human endeavour. Promoting bilateral economic and cultural cooperation was the underlying theme during the entire period of the visit.

MoFA Briefing: Of LAC and Beyond

Mr. Huang Xilian, Deputy Director General for Asian affairs (among other things, he deals with India) of China’s Foreign Ministry briefed the delegation about Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China and his resultant popularity especially amongst the Chinese youth particularly after opening of his microblog account on Weibo, China’s popular social media network. The grand reception accorded to Prime Minister Modi at Xian by President Xi Jinping was a unique and special gesture to him. Mr Modi’s Speech at Tsinghua University was well received by the students. He dwelt on the positive aspects of emerging Sino-Indian relationship that places more emphasis on economic, cultural and people to people relations. Huang said that both leaders have a vision to work together towards an Asian Century. The differences should be handled in a constructive way, however, that is a story which we have been hearing for a long time.

When questioned about China’s stand on Mr Modi’s suggestion on clarification of LAC and resolving of border issue, the Chinese official attempted to sideline the issue by saying that he is not expert on the border problem. However, he pointed out that both leaders had agreed to seek an early resolution; but this should not affect the other relationship as also both sides had agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity along the border.

Pressed again by the visiting delegation on the need for clarification of LAC being an essential element of Confidence Building Measures, Huang revealed that ‘we tried to clarify (LAC) sometime back but the issue became complex’. He was referring to the process of clarification of LAC that was discontinued after 2005. On the other hand, establishing a ‘Code of Conduct’ is the new formulation which is being advanced by Chinese interlocutors for some time now. And that is what Huang reiterated though how this new proposal would be of any help when any number of such agreements (like Border Defence Cooperation Agreement--BDCA) of 2013, Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary question of 2005, Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC in the India-China Border Areas of 1996 and Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC in the India-China Border Areas of 1993) have not advanced the cause of either clarification of LAC or settlement of the dispute was left unexplained.

Dwelling further on the issue Huang Xilian observed that whatever we do in the border area, it should be constructive; meaning that it should be a building block to the process of negotiations and not a stumbling block. “If we find that the clarification of the LAC is a building block, then of course we should go ahead. But if we find that it could become a stumbling block, it could complicate further the situation, then, we have to be careful.”

During the briefing Beijing based representatives of Indian media were also present. One of the prominent Indian newspapers went to town next day with a headline that China had rejected PM Modi’s proposal for clarification of LAC made during his address at Tsinghua University on May 15. This did cause a flutter in the South Block for a while but after checking with Indian ambassador at Beijing and other Indian correspondents it was concluded that newspaper report was somewhat of a hyperbole. Huang’s statement was much more nuanced in that though it did not reject resuming the process of LAC clarification yet one could sense that China was reluctant to start the process despite PM Modi’s suggestion that ‘We can do this without prejudice to our position on the boundary question’.
Symposium on China-India Relations

As part of the ongoing visit a conference was organized under the aegis of China Public Diplomacy Association (a think tank under the MoFA) to discuss Sino-Indian relations in the aftermath of PM Modi’s visit to China. Main themes of the seminar were regional peace and stability, economic growth, interactions between media of both sides and new ideas for boosting bilateral cooperation on international affairs. On strategic and economic issues both sides reiterated their usual positions; Zhou Gang a former ambassador of China to India and a frequent participant of such interactions emphasized on both sides taking a long term perspective while another Chinese speaker underscored the need for easing India’s visa norms for Chinese visitors who were bracketed with citizens of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan etc. Indian side brought out the need for resolution of boundary question pending which clarification of LAC would act as a great CBM. Question of China’s selective approach to terrorism and its proclivity to look at it through Pakistani prism was underlined. Especially, China’s reluctance to endorse India’s request to list Hizbul Mujahideen chief and head of the ‘United Jihad Council’, Syed Salahuddin to be placed in the list of the United Nations Security Council sanctions committee on Al-Qaida and associated entities was mentioned by the Indian delegation. However, the response of Chinese side was that Pakistan is a complicated country; it has lost more in fight against terrorism and the usual disclaimer that they had not followed this particular case while maintaining that they did not believe in double standards on terrorism.

It needs to be noted that the joint statement between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang of May 15 states their commitment to fighting terror and “urged all countries and entities to work sincerely to disrupt terrorist networks and their financing, and stop cross-border movement of terrorists”.

However, of particular note were key points that emerged out of interaction between the media reps of both sides. Interestingly, Executive Editor of Global Times also made a presentation besides a professor from School of Journalism and Communication from Tsinghua University. Prof. Zhou Qing’an that Chinese media devoted more time and space to issues with Japan; India was covered much less compared to Japan. There was general consensus that media from both sides tended to exaggerate the divergences rather than the convergences. There was need to do balanced, constructive and positive stories. Though Chinese media seems to be monolithic and controlled by government yet different papers for example the Global Times (this point was brought out by Prof. Zhou) do not represent government views and possibly that is why it was most profitable paper. Even in India while media will give out government views largely on international affairs it was more inclined to stress on the negative aspects and differences.

Another point of import was that both media view each other from a western prism due to domination of the narrative by the West. There was a need to develop mutual understanding through own languages as also through more people to people exchanges. There were a limited number of journalists from both sides in each other’s countries and their presence was largely capitals-centric. There was a requirement of going out to provinces, towns and rural areas to get the real flavour of a country. Further, there was need to train media professionals who have a domain knowledge or special understanding of the political, economic, social issues and of many other aspects that help strengthening of the overall bilateral relationship.

China’s Development and Reforms

Next stop of the delegation was a visit to China’s National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC), China Railway and China Radio International. NDRC is China’s top body that formulates policies for economic and social development, maintain the balance of economic development, and guides restructuring of China's economic system. In March NDRC had issued a White Paper titled “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st- Century Maritime Silk Road”. In fact, it is somewhat equivalent of our NITI Ayog; the next meeting of the Strategic Economic Dialogue, co-chaired by Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog of India and Chairman of NDRC of China has been planned in India during the second half of 2015.

Briefing and interaction at NDRC largely revolved around explanation of the above paper and the concept of ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR). Mr. Zhao Chenxin outlined the background of OBOR and highlighted its salient features that among other things included improved connectivity and infrastructure, greater trade and economic activity, enhanced cooperation in industrial investment, development of resources of energy, financial cooperation, people to people exchanges, environmental cooperation and cooperation in maritime affairs. He was of the view that there were complementarities in Chinese and Indian economies and potential existed for further progress on economic cooperation.

When questioned on China’s expectations from India on Maritime Silk Road proposal he pointed out that mutual benefit was the principle. India is an important country at the junctions of Silk Road, there was vast potential for cooperation. He suggested aligning India’s Look East Policy and OBOR for mutual benefit. Expressing unfamiliarity with India’s Mausam project based on the ancient spice route he did agree that complementarities exist between the two projects. As to how many countries had joined the OBOR he observed it was difficult to give an accurate number but 60 to 70 countries have expressed interest. Gradually, the number of nations willing to join has been on the upward trajectory; if it brings benefits to them then the number might grow to even 90 but if there are no benefits the number may go down to 30. On being asked to outline mechanisms or process for joining OBOR and whether it will be on bilateral or multilateral basis he observed that OBOR needs to explore both approaches i.e. both one that is a duet and the other that is a group song. Already there were six economic corridors planned that reflected both bilateral and multilateral approaches. Chinese government is planning to hold a high level summit next year on OBOR to take the concept forward. Objective was to unleash growth potential and it will certainly help recovery of the world economy. He was at pains to suggest that OBOR was an important strategic decision in terms of economy and not in terms of geopolitics.

Showcasing the High Speed Railway

The progress achieved by China in high speed rail technology was explained to the visiting delegation by Mr. Zhao Guotang, Vice Chief Engineer of China Railway. He went into different stages of development of the High Speed Rail (HSR) network and how it has been expanded over the years while ensuring safety and high standards of maintenance and repair. Technologies from Japan, Germany and France were absorbed and indigenous technologies developed to further improve the running of HSR. Traffic volume from Beijing to Shanghai in last three years was 275 million; last year alone it was over 100 million people.

The new technologies have helped reducing the construction time to a very short period; comprehensive costs have also gone down. Monitoring of the entire network can be done from control in the HQ. HSR has over one million staff for 16000 kms of network which is planned to be expanded to 20,00 kms by end of the 13th Five Year Plan programme i.e. by 2020. In fact, by end of 2015 China would complete 18000 km of HSR network and in another year it is likely to cross 19,000 km of length.

On the question of Sino-Indian cooperation in HSR and whether India should go in for upgradation of rail lines for improving speed or straight away go for bullet train he observed that basic conditions in China and India are similar. China’s railways went through six rounds of upgradations and also faced this question. For Indian railways we need to learn from mutual experiences. As is well known India has been looking for Chinese investment in rail infrastructure and the possibility of high speed corridor from Delhi to Chennai. A feasibility study on increasing speed on the existing Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore line is in progress. Delhi-Nagpur HSR link proposal is also being studied; the station redevelopment planning for Bhubaneswar & Baiyappanahalli, heavy haul transportation training and setting up of a railway university are other areas of cooperation. Options exist to go in for say, shorter high-speed rail links from Chennai to Bangalore and from Delhi to Agra and the possibilities of expansion to the entire length of Delhi-Chennai route. During PM Modi’s visits the two sides had expressed satisfaction with the steps taken and the progress achieved so far in this key infrastructure sector.
In Zhao Guotang’s opinion China’s technology also belonged to the world and technology standards have been formulated in consultation with advanced countries. Presently, the maximum speed of the train is 321 kmph though it is possible for it to be run at 400 kmph.

And finally, China Railway was ready to help India in rail infrastructure on the principle of win-win cooperation. During the preliminary stage of the proposed rail projects in India, Chinese technical staff will carry out a study, during construction stage China would also establish facility for training and educating Indian staff. Those who pass the test can be inducted for filling the required slots for running of the project. Management staff needs to be experienced because of the demands of the nature of the project.

China Radio International (CRI)
The visit to CRI was largely designed to acquaint the delegation with what it is doing to promote Sino-Indian relations besides its other activities aimed at the international audience. An integrated media group it has six modes of broadcast to include radio, internet, TV, mobile, social media and print media. Among South Asian languages it broadcasts in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Urdu and Sinhalese; overall it has programmes in 65 languages for the foreign audience. CRI covers whole of India. Its Hindi service receives about 200,000 letters per year; it also broadcasts Tamil and different types of Indian and international music. As part of promoting Sino-Indian relations that are based on civilizational and cultural issues it interviews experts, broadcasts the positive aspects of bilateral relationship and does not stress on the differences. While social media might be becoming more important radio and allied media still had relevance and can be used set positive agenda. In CRI’s view social media cannot be as objective as traditional media which of course is largely true having seen the nature of social media scene in India.

The proposal for bilateral media cooperation, possibly based on the MOU already signed between CCTV and Doordarshan through exchange of TV programmes, training of production and technical staff are some the ideas that came up and need to be pursued further.

In conclusion it can be said that there is no reason as to why India should not pursue a stronger economic relationship with China after going through a due diligence exercise. If nations like US and Japan can maintain robust economic relationship with China despite competitive politics then India could also learn from their experience. While geopolitics would continue to be present in any kind of bilateral relationship it will be a test of diplomatic and leadership skills to make geo-economics as the dominant factor of the Sino-Indian ties.

(Part II of the report will cover visit to technical and industrial establishments of Shenzhen and Guangzhou as also briefing by government officials)

Published Date: 22nd June 2015
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Smart Cities to Enrich Urban Life

Radhakrishna Rao, 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

In a landmark decision, the Indian Government has given a green signal to the ambitious project of turning 100 urban centres spread across the country into smart cities ,the need for which has been vigorously espoused by the tech savy Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .The “Smart Cities Mission” that will attract an investment of Rs.480,000-million has as its objective, “recasting the urban landscape of the country by making cities more liveable and inclusive, besides driving economic growth”. As envisaged now, a special purpose vehicle(SPV) will be put in place for giving a practical shape to the “smart city” action plan and as per the decision of the Indian Government, each city identified for development into a smart city will receive a financial assistance to the tune of Rs.1000-million a year over the next five years. In fact, the proposal for the creation of 100 smart cities was first mooted in India’s national budget presented in July 2014. According to sources in the Urban Development Ministry ,it is up to the states to decide on the design and configuration of smart cities based on the ”localised needs”-As it is, individual states will come out with a list of the potential urban centres for development into smart cities. It is also expected that the individual states will fall back on Public Private Partnership Model to help the urban bodies to mobilize the funds required for building smart cities.

Not surprisingly then Indian realty companies have whole-heartedly welcomed the proposal to develop smart cities with the observation that it would provide the right fillip to urban regeneration. At about the same time, many urban design experts have highlighted the need for incorporating safety features into the DNA of Smart Cities. They are all of view that the security aspect of a smart city needs to be prioritised and accorded utmost importance. But then there is no standard definition to describe what really constitutes a smart city. Fortunately, there is an unanimity of the view that a smart city should be intelligent enough to help its citizens lead a comfortable and hassle free life. As pointed out by Sunita Narain, Director of the New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a smart city can be seen as a settlement where technology is used to bring about efficiency in resources use and improvement in the level of services. There is no denying the point that a smart city should be free from transport bottlenecks, overcrowding, shortage of power and water and infrastructural deficiencies. More importantly, smart cities should devise an eco friendly and innovative system to handle and dispose off garbage and urban waste which can also be a source of energy generation. In the ultimate analysis, a smart city should help enrich the quality of life of its inhabitants.

In a smart city environment, citizens would need to cultivate the habit of actively participating in the life of the community. For they are stakeholders in the successful implementation of the schemes to enhance the smartness of the cities they inhabit. Of course only smart inhabitants could facilitate smart governance while helping attract investments to sustain the innovative growth of the cities.As things stand now, smart cities appear to be the best and timely solution for the challenging problems of chaotic urbanisation. Far from being a choice, smart cities are the crying need of the hour. Indeed, smart city is an idea whose time has come.

Meanwhile, in a development of significance, a research study by the Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a strategy and policy consulting firm ,has revealed that the use of smart maps for developing 100 smart cities in India could help the country save US$8-billion in addition to reduction in carbon emissions to the extent of one million tonne a year. The report from the firm captioned “Smart Maps for Smart Cities” points out that India was expected to witness high migration to cities over the next three decades with over 400-million new inhabitants moving into urban centres. ”The expansion of India’s urban population will also have to be met with an expansion of infrastructure that is 20 times the capacity that has been added to India’s cities over the last decade,” said the report. According to Pritha Venkatachalam, principal at Dalberg Global Development Advisors “Surveys show that emergency vehicles in India spend about 25 per cent of their response time or one fourth of their time to reach their patient or beneficiary. And that time is spent in looking at the exact location from where the call originated. A use of smart maps can reduce that time to 2-3 minutes which is our conservative estimate and save 13,000-lives”.

Each smart city should zero in on the technological tools that could enhance its smartness and enrich the lives of its inhabitants with a data driven administration enabling the city manage its resources efficiently and effectively. Of course, pilot projects should precede the action plan for implementing smart city strategies. By all means, a smart city should integrate its critical infrastructure and optimally utilise its resources with a focus on ensuring “an improved quality of life “for its citizens. According to Kishor Patil, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer(CEO)of KPIT Cummins Info Systems the plan to build smart cities will facilitate development of digital technology to provide efficient solutions for urban transportation, traffic management and even electricity and water supply. Smart cities will also boast of a smart economy that would help allocate resources in a judicious and balanced manner for civic amenities and infrastructure development.

However the biggest question that nags the planners spearheading the development of smart cities is how to generate massive volume of energy required to keep these cities “ticking and active” .As pointed out by Sagar Dhara an expert on energetics and risk issues, urban development Minister Venkiah Naidu should share his energy costing and supply analysis for the proposed 100 new smart cities. A eco friendly and cost efficient energy generation and distribution system alone could keep a smart city “green and clean”. Another striking feature of the smart city will be its e-governance mechanism.

All said and done, the smart city project being spearheaded by India should take cognizance of the ground reality that in the none too distant a future, a large number of Indians will be living in the urban areas of the country. Currently, about one third of the Indians live in cities. Meanwhile, Naidu has driven home the point that through smart city project Prime Minister Modi wants to take big city living to a new level where 24/7 utility services becomes an essential part of the public service delivery.

The conspicuous aspect of the plan for 100 smart cities is that they will be designed and built as satellite towns of larger cities and an answer to the ills afflicting Indian metros. According to Debolina Kundu, Associate Professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs, “All these years, we were looking only at big cities, and there was a bias towards them. It is very encouraging for urban India to get a facelift through the development of smart cities”. By all means, Smart Cities, should stress strongly on leveraging technology to boost basic amenities and service delivery and enhance the quality of life through the optimal exploitation of available resources. But then the smart cities could by no means a magic wand to mitigate the urban ills over night. As stated by the Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu, smart cities project is a long term plan and expecting results overnight will be immature . He has indicated a larger, dominant role for the states in the Smart City project with the Centre playing a supporting role. At the end of the day, investor friendly smart cities could contribute in a big way to the economic resurgence in the country.

A number of countries have offered their expertise and assistance to India’s endeavour of realizing 100 smart cities. The latest t offer help to develop smart cities is Spain. In this context, Foreign Affairs Minister of Spain Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo had sometime back held discussion with Venkaiah Naidu and presented a draft plan and memorandum of understanding(MOU) to develop smart cities in the country with the Capital region of Delhi serving as the hub. In particular Spain has offered to make available its expertise in developing transportation networks ,water resources management, waste disposal and renewable energy generation.

Digitally robust and intelligent smart cities can make life comfortable and enjoyable for its inhabitants by easier access to services and utilities. Affordable health care, comfortable housing, efficient public transport network and a robust infrastructure support system could make a Smart City living an eminently enjoyable experience for its citizens.

Published Date: 22nd June 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Friday, June 19, 2015

From Public Protest to Power Politics: The the crisis in Maldives

Anushree Ghisad,
Research Intern, VIF

The ongoing political crisis in Maldives has not only raised serious doubts about the country’s democratic credentials but also resulted in international spotlight shifting its focus on Maldives’ human rights record and its capacity to deal with political dissent in a democratic manner, although the path to democratic changeover in the country itself was full of turbulence when Mohamed Nasheed was elected as the first President in a multi-party democratic election. The recent turmoil has been triggered after former President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested by the present regime of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 22, earlier this year.

His subsequent trial resulting in 13 years jail term on charges of terrorism has seen a series of agitations, protests and night marches in the capital Male. The latest round was on the May Day which led to violent confrontations and arrest of principal political opponents. The government of President Abdulla Yameen has been receiving flak for its rising intolerance to dissent. Even though the government has lately shown willingness to enter into political dialogue with the opposition parties to find a viable solution to the ongoing crisis, it seems to have some reservations on the scope, content and composition of the proposed dialogue process. This article tries to unravel and find a link between the events, political calculations, apprehensions and international reactions which have shaped the present day Maldivian state of politics.

Tracing the Roots of Unrest

The genesis of the recent events dates back to December 2011 when Maldivian National Defence Forces, under orders of the then President Abdullah Mohamed. Nasheed, arrested Chief Justice of the Criminal Court on charges of corruption. Nasheed was irked by the fact that the judge had set free an opposition politician who was arrested by police loyal to Nasheed. Thereafter Nasheed was forced to resign in February 2012, handing over charge to Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik. Following his resignation, Nasheed assumed a new role of a political activist demanding immediate elections and continued with political confrontation. The developments forced realignment of political forces and eventually the final round of delayed presidential elections that saw present president Abdulla Yameen emerging victorious in November 2013. But this did not lead to peace on the political front.
The government revived the 2012 case of arrest of a judge of the criminal court to foist charges under anti-terror law against Nasheed in February 2015, his arrest and conviction with 13 years imprisonment, all in quick succession. Nasheed, of course, denied the charges and it still remains a matter of speculation if he had actually ordered the arrest or not.

This verdict has come as a serious blow to Nasheed’s political ambitions and aspirations, through a ‘judicial coup’. His political party, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has mounted an agitational programme against President Abdulla Yameen to force him to release Nasheed. Together with Jumhooree Party, the MDP kick started ‘save the constitution’ movement. Soon Adhaaath Party, the proponent of democratic Islam, also joined this movement, citing blatant disregard to rule of law and abuse of democracy by the Abdulla Yameen regime.

Why Nasheed’s Arrest Now?

The question which arises is why was Nasheed arrested immediately after the court had dropped the 2012 case against him? Why was the case restarted under a serious anti-terror law? He might have abused or misused the power or gone beyond his constitutional jurisdiction or even crossed the limits of propriety but possibly, under no definition of jurisprudence the executive order of arrest of the judge in 2012 could be defined as ‘an act of terrorism’!

The rather hasty arrest of Nasheed by the government and quick conviction for 13 years of imprisonment could have been driven by two considerations, primarily political in nature. The first factor could be an attempt at consolidation of his own power by President Abdulla Yameen, driven by his palpable intolerance to any opposition. A series of high profile ousters of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim and dismissal of Chief Justice, Ahmed Faiz Hussain along with another Supreme Court judge has raised fears about the country slipping once again into an authoritarian mode of governance, undoing the gains of hard earned democracy in Maldives.

Nasheed, projecting himself as a champion of democracy and human rights, was very vocal in expressing these fears and his activism on this score has attracted international attention. Perhaps realizing this, Abdulla Yameen slapped the case against his key opponent. The second factor was the removal of Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP) from the ruling coalition at the end of May 2014. It may be recalled that Gasim switching support from Nasheed to Abdulla Yameen was crucial for the latter’s election as the new President. Once he went back to the opposition fold, the possibility of Gasim and Nasheed joining hands to form a stronger coalition against the government must have unnerved Abdulla Yameen. The only plausible way of preventing such an eventuality was to effectively deal with either one or both of them. Abdulla Yameen resorted to the latter option by first sending Nasheed to jail for 13 long years and then taking on Gasim Ibrahim by cracking down on his business/economic interests.

Gasim Ibrahim Factor

So who is Gasim Ibrahim, what is his political nuisance value and in what way can he be a threat to Abdulla Yameen?Briefly, he is the owner of ‘Villa Group’ and arguably the wealthiest businessman of Maldives. He joined politics and became Member of Parliament in 1989. He unsuccessfully contested presidential election as his party’s candidate in 2013. His political clout can be assessed from the fact that he polled 24 per cent votes in the first round as against Abdulla Yameen’s 25 per cent and Nasheed’s 45.5%. These elections were cancelled by Supreme Court but the first round of re-run elections in November 2013 produced similar results, which further confirmed his substantial electoral base. It is believed that at former President Moumoon Abdul Gayoom’s persuasion, Gasim switched sides and supported Abdulla Yameen. Finally Abdulla Yameen managed to win the election with a thin majority at 51 per cent vote over Nasheed’s nearly 49 per cent vote share.

The Gasim- Abdulla Yameen alliance, however, did not last long. Grasim’s JP was driven out of the ruling coalition and has gone back to MDP after Nasheed’s arrest. The alliance is working hard to expose the trend of rising authoritarianism in Maldives under Abdulla Yameen’s presidency. Worried at this development the government machinery has started targeting Gasim’s business empire by asking ‘Villa Group’ to return the islands leased out to his company to develop tourist resorts and also slapped a demand of US $ 90.4 million. Gasim, fearing arrest and victimization, has fled the country. The Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against him on the charge of financing anti-government mass protest on May Day.

Impact on Economy

Amidst the prolonged period of political unrest, the Maldivian economy has understandably taken a hit. Even though inflation is down from 12.3per cent in 2008 to 2.1 per cent last year; unemployment rate remains high at 26 per cent in 2013; foreign remittances have crashed drastically from US $ 62.65 million in 2008 to $29.97 million in 2011, picking up to 33.0 million in 2013; FDI that stood at nearly US $ 180 million in 2008 and climbed up to a record high of nearly 440 million in 2011, has declined to around 340 million in 2013. According to World Bank figures the GDP growth has been the hardest hit, declining from 12.2 per cent in 2008 to 1.3 per cent in 2012 and 3.7 per centin 2013. Tourist inflow that forms the backbone of the economy is however reportedly stable. Analysts believe that Chinese nationals have been major contributors to the economic activities in the recent years.

International Reaction

The continuing political turmoil has drawn adverse reactions of the international community particularly on the issue of "alarming deterioration" in the human rights situation in the country. Amnesty International has urged the international community, including India, to engage more with the island nation to protect the human rights of its citizens. The European Union is trying to push for a travel advisory on Maldives. The US too has taken a strong stand on the current political situation in Maldives as evident from American Senators’ letter to Defence Secretary and Secretary of State stating, “The political space in Maldives is quickly closing as democratically-oriented opposition political parties, civil society groups and journalists have come under increased pressure. Opposition political activists, including former President Nasheed, have been subjected to criminal proceedings with no due process." During his visit to Sri Lanka last month, Secretary of State John Kerry had also raised these issues and said there were "troubling signs that democracy is under threat in Maldives.” He further hinted that this “injustice must be addressed soon."

As far as India is concerned, it has so far preferred to play a low key role of quiet diplomacy to help find an amicable political resolution to the crisis. It had, in way, intervened in resolving the stand off between Nasheed and the then government of Mohamed Waheed Hassan in 2012 when the former had taken refuge in the mission premises for nearly two weeks fearing threat to his life. It had also sent the Foreign Secretary to Male for discussions with the regime. However, this time around, in a more significant way, Prime Minister Modi sent a strong diplomatic signal to President Abdulla Yameen by cancelling at the last minute, his visit (March 2015) to Maldives which was a part of his four nation tour that also included Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka too, under President Sirisena has been closely monitoring the situation. Soon after President Sirisena assumed office, a joint delegation of JP and MDP visited Colombo in February 2015. JP leader Qasim Ibrahim accompanied by former Maldivian Police Commissioner Ali Riaz met Sirisena and also interacted with the diplomatic community in Colombo to brief them on the current crisis in Maldives. However, according to media reports, the MDP delegates were not present during the meeting with Sirisena.

Obviously concerned at its declining international image, the Maldivian leadership is trying hard to garner as much international support as it can. Their efforts have so far yielded very limited success, not surprisingly from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China. Understandably, Nasheed and his supporters are disappointed that India has not played a more active role in resolving the crisis in Maldives, but it is assessed by New Delhi that this policy may be a better option in the overall interest of the country.

The Future Looks Gloomy

It is becoming increasingly clear that President Abdulla Yameen will continue with his relentless campaign to neutralize the opposition forces from within and without. As a matter of fact, Abdulla Yameen’s hold on the power structure is pretty intact and any organized movement in favour of Nasheed will attract a more obstinate reaction. Nasheed’s arrest, prosecution and long term of imprisonment and squeezing Gasim’s business empire has hit them and their parties hard. It may be mentioned that Gasim’s ‘Villa Group’ employs more than 5000 people who have started agitating by resorting to mass protests. MDP, JP and AP are garnering public opinion by fueling these protests and rallies. What one is witnessing in Maldives is a very volatile state of acrimonious politics and government’s reaction is bound to be more and more severe in the days ahead. As Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, former Foreign Secretary said in a recent TV interaction in New Delhi, “these are the classic steps which are road to the political turmoil within the country”. International community and organizations which sympathize with the opposition led by Mohamed Nasheed on grounds of democracy, human rights and environmental cause, cannot afford to remain mute spectators for long. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, the real challenge for the common Maldivians is to preserve their peaceful and pluralistic way of life and preserve their hard won democratic polity. Needless to add, India has high stakes in restoring peace and stability, strengthening the newly established democratic system and in the economic development of Maldives. It therefore has a special responsibility towards that country that seems to be on a path full of uncertainty.

Published Date: 19th June 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Military Action in Myanmar: Managing the Message

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

The Special Forces operation in Myanmar against insurgent camps is being widely perceived as a possible new template to deny safe havens to terrorists. The message appears to be that if terrorists launch attacks inside India from bases outside India, then these are legitimate targets for Indian security forces. Although this was not the first military operation carried out along the India-Myanmar border against insurgents, all previous operations were conducted in conjunction, cooperation and coordination with the Myanmar Army. What was qualitatively different this time was that India informed Myanmar around the same time that the operation was being carried out. It was almost as though Myanmar was confronted with a fait accompli. In a sense, this is a template that the Americans have used when they made clear that if they had actionable intelligence about a high value target inside Pakistan, they would take him out without bothering about diplomatic niceties.

Of course, Pakistan is no Myanmar. While Pakistan has for long actively supported and promoted terrorism across its borders and was always hand in glove with Islamist terror groups functioning from territory under Pakistan's control, Myanmar has never been involved in such malevolence. Quite to the contrary, Myanmar has always tried to lend whatever cooperation was possible to India in combating terrorism and insurgency, so much so that both countries have conducted joint operations against terror groups. If, therefore, the Myanmar authorities were taken in the loop at the last minute, it could be either for reasons of operational secrecy and urgency, or to avoid confronting Myanmar with a dilemma – they have their own ceasefire with the Khaplang group which could be jeopardized if they were to openly cooperate with India against this group. Whatever the reason, the end result has been that India was able to send out a clear message that it will henceforth reserve the right to unilaterally exercise the option of attacking the attackers beyond India’s boundaries. Perhaps, if the operation hadn’t been blown up to the extent it has, Myanmar would have brushed it under the carpet and wouldn’t have felt the need to issue somewhat contradictory statements about its position on the Indian SF operation. That Myanmar was constrained to issue statements holds a lesson for the Indian government and political establishment on the perception and information management of such operations.

Cross-border operations, whether unilateral or bilateral, and whether acknowledged or unacknowledged, involve national sensitivities and have diplomatic repercussions that cannot be ignored. What is critical is managing the information flow – who will say what and to whom – and keeping a tight leash on information about the operation. The tendency among Indian officials and politicians to come on TV and make loose statements needs to be strictly checked. Nobody in a position of responsibility who is not authorised to comment on such issues should be allowed to make unauthorised and un-informed selective leaks which then not only create confusion about what exactly happened but also send out mixed signals. There should be a script to which authorised people should stick and any spin around the story should be around this script.

To be fair to the government, the problem this time wasn’t so much that people authorised to speak spoke out of turn. In fact, they stuck to the script. The Army’s statement was succinct and adequately ambiguous on the details of the operation, which left enough wriggle room for deniability and yet delivered the message. Even the statement by the Minister of State for Information was more or less around the script and it was delivered in a sober and yet steely manner. The furore over Mr Rajyavardhan Rathore’s statement, especially the oblique reference to Pakistan, was somewhat misplaced. No minister or official or army man, if asked if a Myanmar type operation can be carried out against the ‘motherland of terrorism’ – Pakistan – will ever say that it can’t be done. To say this will amount to encouraging the Pakistanis to continue with their export of Jihadist terror into India with impunity. But to the credit of the minister, without singling out Pakistan, he said that the government will respond to any cross-border attack regardless of where it came from.

The subsequent media frenzy and the verbal duels – within India and between India and Pakistan – were partly the result of the minister being quoted out of context and partly the function of the nature of the beast which is 24x7 media – both the on-air and the online variety – which tends to give a story like the SF operation a life of its own. This new news trajectory is something unavoidable in this day and age but it still needs to be managed. While the question on whether the new template includes operations in Pakistan was legitimate, even natural, and the answer given unexceptionable, the Pakistani reaction was expectedly hysterical and suffused with typical Punjabi boastfulness.

If Pakistan wasn’t suffering from mens rea over its involvement in cross-border terrorism, it could have easily ignored the minister’s remarks, as did all the other neighbours of India, including China. While India and China have their share of problems, neither side is using ‘non-state actors’, so favoured by Pakistan, to solve these problems. What is more, it's silly for the usual suspects who revel in being detractors of India to ask whether India can behave like the US-like manner against China. The simple answer is can the US do in China what it does in Pakistan? In any case, if China doesn’t sponsor terrorism in India or hosts training camps of terrorists in its territory, why should India want to carry out such operations in China? Or for that matter in Nepal, or Bangladesh or any other neighbour. Pakistan's problem, as is manifest from their hysterical reaction to the possibility of India undertaking surgical strikes against terror infrastructure in that country, is that they have come to believe that they have some sort of divine right to export terrorism with complete impunity. To an extent, the failure of countries like India, USA, Iran and Afghanistan to hit back has emboldened Pakistan to think it can get away with murder. But that may just not happen anymore, if the new Indian security template that is now being forged is anything to go by. Of course, what instrument will be used against which adversary will depend on the situation, the circumstances, the intelligence and the effectiveness of the instrument when weighed against the objective.

As things stand, the government has exhibited its resolve and its intent on retaliating against terror groups. The Myanmar operation wasn’t about decimating the terror networks in one fell swoop. Nor is it important whether two or twenty terrorists were killed. What was important is the message which has been delivered loud and clear. Of course, this message brings with it its own problems, not the least of which is the public expectation of an almost immediate retaliation and the political, diplomatic and strategic risks these will bring to bear on the government. It is important to understand that India will now to keep mounting such operations because one operation isn’t enough to break the back of all insurgents. If anything, they will revisit their tactics to protect themselves against similar operations in the future. What is more, not all operations will be as successful as the Myanmar operation. There will be operations which will be disasters. But mature nations neither go in raptures over a successful operation, nor slip into depression and defeatism if any operation goes bad. There has to be national stoicism and resolve to fight terrorism and if the government has indeed forged a new template to fight cross-border terror, then it must prepare the country to celebrate successes and handle failures. Equally important, while the government of the day will get credit for every successful operation, it will also have to accept responsibility for whenever an operation fails and there are casualties. It is therefore important to not indulge in political chest thumping and politicise successes because then the political cost of any failure will be just as high. Most of all, politicising actions in interest of national security will break the political consensus around them, and this is best avoided.

Finally, every cross-border operation is different. There are some which are acknowledged and accepted because they are delivering a message. There are others which are unacknowledged even though everyone knows they have been carried out. And finally there are operations which are flatly denied. For the media and the political establishment to indulge in grand-standing on each and every operation is something that will compromise both national security and national interest. Breaking news is always tempting but is sometimes extremely damaging. And it's precisely for this reason that government needs to get a handle over how it controls flow of information, plugs the leaks and spins the story.

Published Date: 17th June 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Two crucial victories for ISIS

Alvite Singh Ningthoujam, 
Research Associate, VIF

The recent unfolding of events in West Asia, where the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) militants captured two strategically and historically important places, has once again showed its intent to consolidate, control and expand its territories. The fall of the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province in Iraq on 17 May, and the historic city of Palmyra in Syria on 20 May happened amidst the efforts to destroy this Sunni militant group. The victory was contrary to the claim by American officials that the ISIS was on the defensive side in Iraq. By capturing these cities, with very well-planned tactics, the ISIS demonstrated its capability to operate on multiple fronts and carry out effective offensive operations.

Ramadi: A Bitter Lesson

The breakneck speed at which the cities were captured raised several questions about the fighting capability of the security forces of Iraq and the effectiveness of the United States (U.S.)-led coalition air strikes. The lack of strategy, as mentioned by President Barack Obama in August 2014 vis-à-vis the fight against IS in Syria, has become more visible as there seems to be no stoppage to the terror outfit’s forward advance. ISIS’ success in capturing Ramadi is particularly a big setback in America’s effort inside Iraq.

American forces had fought a bitter battle with the Islamist militants during 2005 and 2006 to wrest this city from their control. Further, “Anbar Province holds painful historical import for the United States as the place where nearly 1,300 Marines and soldiers died after the American-led invasion of 2003.”1 Therefore, this episode has become quite galling for the Americans.

The takeover of Ramadi did not come without major resistance. It happened after a continuous battle between ISIS militants and the Iraqi Security Force (ISF). The campaign to take control of cities began in Ramadi and nearby places such as Fallujah during the late December 2013. While the ISF retained an upper hand until recently over Ramadi, Fallujah had fallen into the hands of the extremists earlier. Since then, Ramadi was a prime target for the ISIS. On the other hand, the Iraqi army, police and Sunni militia forces continued fighting against heavily-armed extremists with very little reinforcement. In the words of an American security expert,
In the eleven months since Mosul fell, only a tiny number of new local forces have been raised in Ramadi—a weak brigade of 2,000 Federal Police and a new 1,000-strong unit of tribal paramilitaries. The army forces dotted around the city are amongst the most heavily damaged and exhausted units in Iraq. 2
Clearly the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, had for several years, had consistently neglected both Ramadi and Anbar. Michael Knight of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy eloquently puts it:
The province was always a stronghold for powerful Sunni tribes, and Baghdad struggled to control it even under Saddam Hussein. Over the past decade, Iraq’s Shiite-led government has stacked the western defenses of Baghdad and Karbala specifically to guard against the perceived threat of attack from Anbar. At the same time, the almost complete absence of Shiite citizens in the province has given the federal government little direct stake in securing it or protecting its citizens. As a result, Baghdad has tinkered with Anbar politics like a neighbouring state, sometimes providing economic and military aid but more manipulating security appointments and meddling in local power struggles. 3
The manner in which Ramadi fell was similar to that of Mosul’s capture by the outfit last June except that there were no coalition bombings in the case of the latter. This time around, the forces of the government had to flee from their posts, abandon their weapons and the vehicles after the militants began with intensified attacks which included suicide bombings by explosives-laden cars and artillery shelling. In the words of one, “Ramadi finally cracked when struck with a hammer blow—namely, twenty-eight suicide car bombs in three days, including at least six massive fifteen-ton armed truck bombs on single attack.”4 It should be noted that these attacks happened after warnings for last few months indicating that the ISIS militants could take this city into their grips. The triumph over the state forces despite the military back-up of the Western powers highlights the extent to which the strength of this organisation has been undermined. As explained by an observer, “This defeat also sets up a dramatic conflict for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi: He could forfeit Anbar Province to ISIS or allow Shiite militias to win the day. But that comes with a big price: sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shias.”5 Eventually, it is a bitter lesson for everyone who wants to liberate the country from the hands of the tyrants.

Palmyra: A Significant Takeover

Even before the takeover of Ramadi sunk in, the ISIS, in a quick succession, captured the historic city of Palmyra in Syria. This victory came after the forces loyal to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lost out to the ISIS militants in a seven-day siege. The immediate concern out of this unfolding is the fear over the possible destruction of magnificent historical ruins. Palmyra, which was once a Silk Route hub and presently one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, is known for its housing of several well-preserved ruins of antiquity, including the famous Temple of Bell, whose construction dates back to the first century.

Since the beginning of this year, ISIS has started to bulldoze its way through many invaluable cultural heritage sites of Syria and Iraq. They vehemently oppose the preservation of historical ruins as they feel that these glorify idolatry. For instance, the ransacking of the central museum in Mosul and destroying the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq received a widespread international condemnation. Besides destroying archaeological sites, the outfit even burned 1,500 historic manuscripts. These attacks are anti-humanity in nature “which threatens to upend millennia of coexistence in the Middle East.”6 Destruction of these antiquities should not be seen as sporadic events but they are part of that systematic campaign taken up by the outfit to uproot the legacy of “humanity’s cultural legacy.”7 But at the same time, many of the artifacts are reportedly sold by ISIS on the black market, in European cities, to fund the organisation. This is one of the many ways their entire financial system is managed. For this purpose, churches in Iraq were often targeted, and a report in December last year estimated that “ISIS was able to collect 23 million pounds from the sale of artefacts from the Syrian city of Nabaq, which is full with Christian Collectibles.”8 The UNESCO, in late September 2014, warned about the “great danger” Iraq’s cultural heritage would face should the ISIS manage to capture them. This is not the first time lootings took place but Iraqi heritage had already suffered blows following the toppling of the Hussein regime in 2003. Now, the recurrence of these incidents and the failure to protect thousands of years old artefacts or monuments reflect the lackadaisical attitude of both Iraq and the international powers that are striving to bring stability in the region.

The loss of Palmyra to the ISIS is equally a strategic defeat as this location opens routes of further advance to other cities such as Homs and Damascus. That the outfit captured al-Hail and Arak gas fields, surrounding the ancient ruins which supply electricity to various parts in western Syria is an alarming situation. In addition to this, the key supply lines to the regime’s forces in the province of Deir Ezzor in the east has been severed, and with this, the outfit has managed to opened its doors to a possible offensive on the aforementioned two cities, which are the strongholds of the Assad regime. Another exploit inside Syria is the demolition of the infamous Tadmur prison after taking over the ancient city. This prison has become a symbol of brutality of the regime under the former president Hafez al-Assad and his son. It made headlines when hundreds of inmates were massacred inside this prison in June 1980 in retaliation to a failed attempt by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate the senior Assad. The razing of this building sends out a strong message by ISIS of assuming the role of a champion against the Assad regime.


Currently, the countermeasures to contain the Islamic State are rather muddled up. The actors from the region as well from the West- the U.S. in particular- are still struggling to find the best possible means to put an end to brutality of the ISIS and its territorial expansion. Amidst this, what has become clear is the ineffectiveness of coalition air strikes. The containment policy of the Obama administration has raised debates within different political factions in the U.S. The latest being the heated exchanges triggered off by the statement of Defence Secretary Ash Cater that “Iraqis showed no will to fight”. It has been seen that merely arming the security forces in Iraq is not going to solve the problems. Simultaneously, Washington is unlikely to put its troops on the ground and repeat the mistakes of the past. It is increasingly appeared that strategies are adopted on temporary basis, while larger questions related to political and military approaches are still left unanswered. Similar is the scenario inside Syria, where policies and strategies are equally blurred. The general perception that the IS will be defeated once the Assad regime goes should be given a little more thought. This is because despite the weakening of Assad’s position, there is no end in sight about the ultimate demise of his regime.

Furthermore, the Iranian angle in the fight against ISIS inside Iraq is gradually emerging. This is an issue which can fuel further sectarianism inside this already-devastated country. Despite the ongoing rapprochement with Tehran, the U.S. would not like to see an active Iranian involvement in Iraq at this hour. Despite strong U.S. reservation, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, at the order of al-Abadi, are exhibiting commendable spirit in the ongoing campaign.9 That said the sustainability of this arrangement is still questionable. Any enhanced role of Iran or its support is likely to be resisted by many of the adversaries.

Lastly, it should be acknowledged that the role of the international coalition will remain limited when the affected country does not move ahead with a resolute fight as decisive, foreign-aided counter-terrorism measures have seldom given decisive results. This is mainly applicable to the Iraqi case. Unless the local population, cutting across political and sectarian lines, gets involved in the anti-ISIS campaign, efforts to bring this terror outfit to its knees would continue to remain a far-fetched possibility.
  1. Tim Arango, “Key Iraqi City Falls to ISIS as Last of Security Forces Flee”, The New York Times, 17 May 2015,
  2. Michael Knights, “Retaking Ramadi: U.S. Assistance and Shiite-Sunni Cooperation”, Policywatch, No. 2425, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 19 May 2015,
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Riyadh Mohammed, “The Taking of Ramadi: Behind ISIS’s Bloody Assault”, The Fiscal Times, 21 May 2015,
  6. “Isis fighters destroy ancient artefacts at Mosul museum”, The Guardian, 26 February 2015,
  7. Thiago Velozo and Lucas Vento, “ISIS is Destroying Priceless Artefacts. Here’s How to Stop Them”, The Diplomat, 17 March 2015,
  8. Michael Gryboski, “ISIS Selling Church Artifacts on Black Market to Fund Terrorism”, Christian Post, 19 December 2015,
  9. Loveday Morris, “Pro-Iran militias take upper hand after the U.S.-backed forces crumble in Anbar”, The Washington Post, 30 May 2015,

Published Date: 17th June 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sri Lankan Parliamentary Elections- Issues & Options

Anushree Ghisad, 
Research Intern, VIF

After delivering on many of his pre-election promises relating to issues of governance in the ‘hundred day action plan’, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is currently grappling with the issue of holding mid-term elections after dissolving the current Parliament. It may be mentioned that Maithripala Sirisena had in his election manifesto, pledged to amend the electoral system to make it more fair and equitable through a combination of first-past-the-post system and proportional representation. Holding mid-term parliamentary polls was understandably not in his election manifesto. His other key commitments of improving governance, it may recalled, were curtailing the powers of the President and passing the Right to Information Act (RTI). The former has already been done through the 19th Amendment to the constitution adopted on April 29, 2015. The RTI Act is ready but its adoption has apparently been overtaken by the debate on holding mid-term parliamentary elections.

Obviously, adoption of electoral reforms would be the key to the timing of the dissolution and elections. Obviously again, mid-term elections would have huge political significance and implications for the Sirisena government to set its agenda for the future. This article aims to at analyze the possibilities, challenges and implications of the proposed Parliamentary elections.

Dissolution of Parliament- When will it happen?

Although no firm date has yet been indicated for Parliament’s dissolution, it was widely speculated that it could happen even as early as anytime this month and the country could have a new Parliament by September this year. Earlier the ruling coalition was contemplating to call fresh Parliamentary polls on April 23, but that did not happen. According to an article published in the TIME magazine, it was claimed that the Parliament could be dissolved in the month of May 2015, which again did not materialize. President Sirisena had, however, maintained that the country will be set on the course of general elections after passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution pertaining curtailment of Presidential powers and the Right to Information Act dealing with transparency and accountability in governance. On May 20, President Sirisena had told editors of local news media in Colombo that Lanka will have a new Parliament by September this year.

Tenure & Composition of 14th Parliament

The present Sri Lankan Parliament was sworn in on 22nd April 2010 for a 6-year tenure. As per the Constitution the new Parliament will have to be constituted and convened before 22nd April 2016. This Parliament consists of 225 members, 196 of whom are elected from the 22 electoral districts while the remaining 29 are come from national list of parties.

During the 14th Parliamentary elections of 2010, United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA with SLFP as it’s main constituent) garnered a massive 60.33% of votes, which earned them 144 seats in total; 127 from electoral districts and 17 from the national list. United National Front (UNF with UNP as its main constituent) could muster only 29.34% votes, which fetched it 51 seats from electoral districts, 9 from the national list, making a total of 60 seats in the Parliament. Other political alliances had relatively much lower vote share with Tamil National Alliance (TNA-2.9%) and Democratic National Alliance (DNA-5.49%), securing 14 and 7 seats respectively. In line with the political developments these numbers started changing. By August 2014, UPFA’s total tally rose to 162 from the original 144 and then gradually dipped down to its present holding of 136. Simultaneously UNF seats gradually went up from their original holding of 60 to the present strength of 88. It may be noted here that in the Presidential election of January this year Sirisena had only a 3.7% lead (51.28 against 47.58 %) in national vote share over the incumbent president Rajapaksa thus establishing the fact the SLFP still had a sizably voter support despite the focused campaign targeting him for mis-governance, corruption and nepotism.

Electoral Reforms:

In this scenario, it’s natural to ask as to who wants electoral reforms and mid-term elections and why? Let’s first deal with the question of electoral reform. Obviously Sirisena wants it since it was an important component of his election manifesto. Again, the minorities and the smaller parties would like to have it since a strengthened PR system would give them better representation and voice in matters of governance. Even for the major parties, this could be advantageous in areas and constituencies where they are equally strong but lose out under the first-past the post system.

Taking all aspects into consideration, the government was working on a proposal to enhance the total number of parliamentary seats to 255 from the existing 225 with a larger quota under the national PR list. The debate became contentious and a compromise formulation was imperative to push through the 20th Amendment to the constitution before setting in motion the process for dissolution of the current Parliament followed by fresh elections. Without such a compromise the legislation would have fallen through in the parliament where the UPFA commands significant majority. Besides, the proverbial sword of Damocles still hangs over the future of 20th Amendment as the opposition was being persuaded not to bring in the intended ‘No Confidence Motion’, which if passed, would have led to Cabinet’s dissolution. In fact Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had indicated last month that no new legislations will be tabled in the Parliament fearing sabotage of bills.

However, in a significant development, the Cabinet on June 9, 2015 approved the proposal for the 20th Amendment after a compromise was worked out between the main political parties including UNP, SLFP and SLMC. Under this, it has now been agreed that the total strength of the Parliament would be maintained at 225 members with 125 MPs elected under first-past-the post system from the electoral districts, 75 MPs representing the districts will be elected under PR system and 256 MPs will be elected from the national list quota. The decision to maintain the total number of seats to 225, it was argued, would ensure against any ‘extra burden‘ on the people. It was further argued that 75 seats from the districts under PR system and 25 from the national list would ensure ‘fair minority’ and regional representation. This development, it is assessed, should clear the way for the smooth passage of the 20th Amendment to the constitution on electoral reforms and set the stage for holding of fresh elections after the related processes of delimitation of constituencies and of course, withdrawal of the no confidence motion by the opposition.

Who Needs Fresh Elections?

Dissolution of Parliament now being a near certainty, in due course the notification and announcement of the actual dates should follow. Some political analysts, however, still maintain that the contradictory and conflicting interests within the ruling coalition could still pose hindrance in the announcement of election dates. Even the process of delimitations of the constituencies could become an issue of contention. Nonetheless, September is still being considered as the most likely period for holding elections.

Despite the well known adage that ‘nothing is predictable in the game of politics’ it would appear to be one of the rare instances in a highly fractured polity of virtually every political stakeholder endorsing the mid-term polls. Ranil Wikramesinghe who heads a minority government would be looking to encash upon the anti-Rajapaksa trend to improve his party’s tally and try to gain absolute majority UNP for the party. A longer wait till next year could dilute the anti-Rajapaksa sentiments in the electorate. An early election will also deny Rajapaksa time to recover from the recent setback and regroup his forces. There were reports of rift between Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Fonseka later denied this but confirmed that he and his wife Anoma will be contesting the next Parliament elections under the banner of his Democratic Party independently. What would his possible emergence in political panorama spell for the UNP can only be assessed once the election process gets going?

For President Sirisena, the stakes are the highest. Apart from getting a clear mandate for future governance, it may provide an ideal opportunity to establish control over the party machinery that would be critical for his political future.

President Sirisena, as the new leader of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has failed to make major inroad into Rajapaksa’s firm grip over the party machinery with very limited number of MPs switching their loyalty to the new leader. He should be conscious of the fact that the ruling ‘rainbow coalition’ comprising political parties with non-compatible ideologies propelled together to free Sri Lanka from clutches of corruption, nepotism and crony capitalism, without consenting to the basic elements of their agreed common minimum programme, does not provide him the ideal platform to deliver to the people what he has envisioned for them and the country.

For similar reasons, even Rajapaksa and his core supporters in the SLFP would be hoping for a verdict that would reiterate his strong hold over the party and possibly, set the stage for his political resurrection as the next prime minister after the elections. In this context, it must be conceded that the ‘Rajapaksaism’ representing ‘blazing nationalism’ still finds positive resonance in a significant section of the Sri Lankans population. This is reflected in sporadic allegations that the present government was not doing enough for promoting Buddhist cause. Will this translate into actual votes in the elections remains to be seen?


As of now the assessment is that the proposed elections could run either way. However, to ensure effective governance, the most viable and pragmatic option has to be to go for early dissolution of the Parliament and hold fresh elections. The international stakeholders notably India, China, the US and others wishing for peace and stability, development and progress and the well being of the people of Sri Lanka would be closely watching and monitoring the developments. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe summed it up when he said that the government hoped that the general elections would send the right message to the international community that Sri Lanka has a ‘highly developed democracy that would provide political stability to attract foreign investors to start business ventures in the country. But is the intent as pious as it sounds or has it been shaped by some vested political calculations? Only time will tell whether all these are moves towards true democratization or games of political opportunism?

Published Date: 16th June 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)