Friday, August 19, 2011

Drones In Pakistan : Out Of The Blue

ONE day in March an American drone circled above Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area, zeroed in on a gathering of village men, some of whom were armed, and unleashed three missiles in quick succession. It turned out to be a meeting to settle a dispute over a chromite mine. Most of the 40 or so killed were civilians, according to accounts, though a dozen Taliban also died in the attack, including a local commander, Sherabat Khan. The Taliban nowadays often adjudicate quarrels in the tribal areas, a wild buffer zone that runs along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The attack illustrated two problems with the drone war in the tribal regions: the risk of civilian casualties, and Pakistan’s ambiguous attitude towards America’s use of drones. Pakistan’s army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, called the strike a “complete violation of human rights”. For Pakistan, the difficulty went beyond civilian casualties. Khan was a lieutenant of a notable warlord, Gul Bahadur. But Pakistan considers Mr Bahadur to be a “good Taliban”, ie, one who has agreed to fight only in Afghanistan, not on Pakistani soil. After the strike, he threatened to tear up the deal.

Relations between the governments in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and Washington, DC, are deeply troubled by the issue of drones. Though it publicly denounces the drone strikes, Pakistan certainly does not want all of them stopped. Indeed, the co-operation of Pakistani intelligence is crucial to employing the drones. But the army wants the number of strikes reduced, concentrating on targets both countries can agree on. America has told Pakistan bluntly it must either flush the Taliban and other jihadists out of their safe havens in North Waziristan, or it will continue with what amounts to an assassination campaign there. Pakistan says it cannot launch a ground offensive in North Waziristan because its armed forces are already stretched.

The drone attacks, a supposedly “secret” programme started by the CIA in 2004, have been ramped up over the past three years, with a record 118 strikes last year and 50 so far in 2011. The drones started under President Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler. There were just nine strikes from 2004 to the end of 2007. According to Pakistani officials, it was supposed to be a highly selective programme for eliminating terrorist leaders in the tribal areas, under an understanding that gave the Americans the use of at least one remote Pakistani air base for the drones. The drones also take off from Afghanistan, but are operated thousands of miles away by a “pilot” at a desk in America, watching a video feed from the aircraft. A successful hit is known in the CIA as a “bugsplat”. It is all horribly like a video game.

The New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank, found that up to 2,551 people have been killed in the strikes since 2004. Based on press reports, it estimates that 80% of them were militants, rising to a pretty astonishing 95% in 2010. In recent months, there has been a move away from blowing up compounds to targeting vehicles, where militants can more easily be hit without killing civilians. Even for compounds, smaller missiles are used to try to limit the damage to the separate male living quarters. Perceptions on the ground, however, are often different. The foundation’s own poll in the tribal areas last year found only 16% believe the drones accurately target militants. But many locals privately support the strikes against extremists who have overrun their homeland.

Accepting the figure for the success rate in killing militants nevertheless means that fully 500 or so Pakistani civilians have been killed since 2004. Unlike, say, in the war in Afghanistan, there is no investigation of civilian casualties, and no compensation paid. Transparency and accountability are absent, and some question the legal basis of the attacks. The programme is a charade because the CIA never admits to it and Pakistan pretends that it does not co-operate. A legal action launched this month, initially in Pakistan, with the backing of Reprieve, a campaigning group, seeks the arrest of a former CIA lawyer, John Rizzo, who boasted in a magazine interview this year that he used to approve a monthly list of some 30 individuals to be targeted by the drones.

Whatever the outcome of that case, a debate will grind on about whether the strikes are harming al-Qaeda and related groups, or spurring on Afghanistan’s powerful insurgency. According to the New America Foundation, out of the 2,600-odd deaths, 35 were recognised militant chiefs, or just 1.3% of the total. Among the successes was the fearsome leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, who was the country’s number one public enemy. Still, the vast majority of targets have been low-level fighters. All the while, the number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, many launched from Pakistan, has soared over the past year or more.


Corruption In India : Hazed again

Protests erupt over corruption. But Sonia Gandhi’s health may matter more.

INDIA’S bungling rulers have been rattled by an anti-corruption campaigner yet again. Rather than let Anna Hazare, an ageing Gandhian, fast before a crowd in Delhi, plainclothes police grabbed the pensioner for seven days of “preventive” custody on August 16th. The idea was to stop him breaking arbitrary rules on his protest. Instead, it triggered a storm.

Within hours 1,300 of his followers were also in jail, several thousand young protesters were gathering in the sunshine around India Gate, in central Delhi, chanting “long live the revolution” and cable television was in full national-crisis overdrive in dozens of languages. Too late it dawned on the government that clumsy efforts to muzzle critics were not only undemocratic, but were also failing. On August 18th, the government climbed down, offering Mr Hazare a deal under which he left jail to begin a 15-day hunger strike.

That will not be the end of the matter. Ministers have long tried to smear Mr Hazare as corrupt, or as a demagogue set on subverting democracy by imposing a flawed anti-corruption ombudsman, or lokpal, to whom both prime minister and senior judges would be held accountable. On August 17th the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, called Mr Hazare’s hunger strike “totally misconceived”.

But he has become a focus of discontent about a government widely seen as fatally compromised by corruption. Opposition leaders, anti-corruption campaigners and all manner of activists have queued up to lambast the government for its treatment of Mr Hazare. Quick to spot a chance for self-promotion, Varun Gandhi, an MP for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and nephew of Congress’s leader, Sonia Gandhi, says he will bring Mr Hazare’s lokpal bill to parliament on August 19th.

Congress may hope for only limited political fallout. The anti-corruption campaigners seem to be mostly city types, students and romantics frustrated by the bitter compromises of Indian democracy. Elections, by contrast, are won mainly among ill-educated, rural voters, most influenced by inflation, jobs, welfare and the charisma of the ruling Gandhi clan.

More troubling for Congress, therefore, is the uncertain fate of Mrs Gandhi. She is in New York this month reportedly getting treatment for cancer. Party spokesmen refuse to describe her illness, apart from saying that she left intensive care after an operation. Doubts persist over when she might return. Her 41-year-old son, Rahul Gandhi, may soon have to be promoted, perhaps sooner than he wished. Though few in public are paying close attention, given the other fuss, her prognosis may well have a bigger long-term impact on Indian politics than Mr Hazare’s ill treatment.

Protests In India : Jail The Messenger

ANNA HAZARE, a 74-year-old activist fond of calling hunger strikes to demand a tougher fight against pervasive corruption in India, was due to start a big protest in Delhi on August 16th. But at dawn, as he and many thousand supporters prepared to gather at a city park, plain-clothes policemen arrested him and, struggling to get through a dense crowd, took him away. Apparently it was necessary to lock up the pensioner for “preventative custody”: he has been dumped in Tihar jail, Delhi’s main prison, for the next seven days.
Mr Hazare was expecting that. He had recorded a television message, now being broadcast, to be used in the case of his detention. In it he grandly announced the start of a “second” independence campaign for India, to fight against a government refusing to do anything useful to stop corruption. He also called a “jail bharo”, another Gandhian tactic (along with fasts and peaceful protests) used against the British when they ran India, in which protesters seek arrest in order to “fill” the country’s prisons. By the afternoon of August 16th 1,300 had already been arrested, amid protests held all over the country.

The official response looks clumsy indeed. The home minister, P Chidambaram, claims that it was a police decision to take away the anti-graft leader. In fact it was a political choice: the opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rightly points out that the government imposed unusually harsh conditions on Mr Hazare (he was told that only 5,000 could gather and for only three days in total), then had him arrested even before these were broken.

By jailing its opponent, the government has managed to unite a wide range of actors that were otherwise reluctant to swing behind Mr Hazare’s demand that an anti-corruption ombudsman, a “lokpal”, should be given extraordinary powers. Mr Hazare says that everyone, up to the prime minister, should be subject to such a body’s scrutiny. The government, though agreeing to some sort of ombudsman, says every decision of elected leaders cannot be left hostage to an overly powerful, unelected body.

The trouble for Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, and his fellow leaders is that the rights and wrongs of the lokpal are not now the matter of debate. Instead the issue is the clunking, undemocratic way that the Congress government tried to muzzle a critic. India's main business group, FICCI, was quick on August 16th to warn that freedom of speech and assembly “is an article of faith in our democracy”. Opposition parties, from the BJP to the Communists united to condemn the action. Those who fret about the country’s image abroad, especially among foreign investors who are less enthusiastic about the Indian economy these days, also voiced concern.

This follows an earlier crackdown, in June, on a self-promoting guru, Baba Ramdev, who had also gathered supporters in Delhi to protest against the government and corruption. The police and the government bungled that one, too, as television broadcast images of his sleeping supporters being attacked and beaten by police in the night. By getting in early this time, before Mr Hazare's fast could get under way, perhaps officials hoped to forestall too big a ruckus.

But where the populist Baba Ramdev eventually fell quiet, apparently once officials started digging into the tax and other arrangements of the yoga-man’s own extensive, opaque, business empire, Mr Hazare is a stronger opponent. He has a long and consistent record of social protest, and only limited ties to political parties.
Recent official attempts to call him corrupt, too, have rung terribly hollow. Nor do attempts to undermine Mr Hazare for subverting the democratic process sound convincing, since the government agreed to work with him in April, once he called off an earlier hunger strike.

Mr Singh’s government thus looks cornered. Whereas all political parties are tainted by accusations of graft, it is his administration, and the ruling Congress party, that is held responsible for failing to do more to stop it.

Opinion polls show that voters are dismayed by the issue, especially urban ones, and Congress’s support is sliding. This is all taking place while Sonia Gandhi, the president of Congress and de facto leader of the country, is in America for prolonged medical care. The government desperately needs some bright ideas: first on how better to respond to Mr Hazare; and more importantly on how to show it will crack down on graft rather than those who complain about it.

Protect National Interest While Dealing With India

Speakers at a seminar on Thursdayurged the government to protect national interest while negotiating with Indiaduring the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladeshfrom September 6 to 9.

People are expecting a win-win situation insigning different bilateral agreements , memorandum of understanding (MOU) andprotocols between Dhaka and Delhi during the visit of the Indian premier, theytold the seminar on "Upcoming Manmohan's visit: Veracity andProspects" held in the National Press Club.

Organized by South Asia Youth forPeace and Prosperity Society it was chaired by chairman of Center for ForeignAffairs Studies Ambassador Ashfaqur Rahman. Prof. Dilara Choudhury presentedthe keynote paper.

Editor of The New Nation MostafaKamal Majumder, editor of the New Age Nurul Kabir, editor of daily sun ProfSyed Anwar Hossain spoke as the guest of honour.
Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul AnamKhan, Prof Faridul Alam of Chittagong University, senior journalist andcolumnist Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury, among others, also addressed the seminar.

Prof  Dr Dilara Choudhury, in her keynote paper,said transit and corridor are two different things. Transit means going to athird country using the land of second country, while corridor means going fromone destination to another of the same country using the territory of secondcountry, she added.

While using Ashuganj-Agartalaroad, India will get corridor instead of transit, she said, adding for thatBangladesh will not get any fees. On the other hand, giving corridor endangerssovereignty of the country, she said.

Ambassador Ashfaq, in his briefspeech, said Bangladesh can achieve its rightful shares from India or any othercountry "If we could develop enough diplomatic and negotiatingskill." 

Brig. Shahedul Anam said in thename of Ashuganj-Agartala transit, Bangladesh is actually giving corridor toIndia. Since independence, he said, Bangladesh has given enough to India, nowit is India's turn to give a good delivery to Bangladesh.
Emphasizing the need forupholding national interest in foreign policy Brig Shahed said Bangladesh isnot a good bargainer, this limitation should be removed.
Terming the seminar a very timelyand useful one Mostafa Kamal Majumder said Bangladesh now wants to seemagnanimity from Indian side in solving different bilateral issues, includingsharing of waters of international rivers. 

He said except Indus, India controls all therivers flowing through Bangladesh. Obstruction made by barrages and dams onfree flow of rivers in the upper riparian is destroying Bangladesh's reverielife, he added.

Referring to decommissioning ofstructures on rivers in Europe and America, he said Bangladesh may face erosionin coastal belts if unilateral withdrawal of water in the upper riparian is notstopped.

About Indian propaganda onBangladeshis crossing border, Nurul Kabir said Bangladesh's rural economy is better than India.

Giving transit to India withoutnational consensus will not bring any good for either side, he said, addingpolitical parties in Bangladesh should be united to protect nationalinterest.
Prof Syed Anwar Hossain saidBangladesh needs to formulate an 'India Policy' on permanent basis to negotiatebilateral issues with the neighboring country. 

Zaglul A Choudhury said the visitof Indian premier should be viewed objectively. People are in much expectationthat the visit will bring positive outcome for Bangladesh. 

Prof. Faridul Alam, evaluatingIndia's behaviour with Bangladesh during last forty years, said in case ofnational interest India never gives any concession. 


Why Manmohan Singh Should Resign

Activist Anna Hazare is riding a growing sense of anger in India. It’s time for the Congress Party to put the country’s interests first and step aside.

Imagine this scenario. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh puts his government on the line, as he did in July 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal. This time, his bĂȘte noire is not the Left Front, but the ‘People’s Front’ in the shape of Anna Hazare-led civil society.

Singh says that he will stick to his guns and will neither compromise on the Lokpal Bill issue nor on his government’s position over the increasingly vociferous and popular civil society. As governance becomes impossible, he tenders his government’s resignation. The opposition is taken aback and falls into disarray. The Left, meanwhile, doesn’t want to be seen to be on the same page as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, so the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved and fresh elections are called.

Now imagine that Anna’s advisors pressure him to take the plunge into politics and he forms a political party to contest the elections. Let’s name this political party the India Against Corruption Party (IACP). The newly-launched group contests all 543 Lok Sabha seats with people’s money – funds collected from Indian citizens.

The new party reaches an electoral understanding with Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who has a pan-Indian following running into the millions. This new electoral alliance declares Anna and Ramdev its prime ministerial and deputy prime ministerial candidates.

Riding a wave of popular anger, the IACP sweeps the polls and wins over 500 seats. All opponents lose their deposits. Even the opposition BJP is reduced to single-digit representation in parliament.

At the swearing in ceremony, the new prime minister names his cabinet, which effectively chooses itself like the pre-cricket World Cup team. Kiran Bedi becomes the new Home Minister, Arvind Kejriwal the External Affairs Minister, Shanti Bhushan the Defence Minister and his son Prashant Bhushan the Finance Minister.

Implausible? The mounting pressure on the United Progressive Alliance has seen the government and prime minister’s credibility fall to dismal levels. Singh now seems to have two options for dealing with the outpouring of support for Hazare: Meekly throw in the towel and accept his Jan Lokpal Bill, or stick to his guns and take Hazare and company head on.

Both these options are unlikely to resolve the underlying crisis, meaning governance may well become impossible. If the prime minister exercises the first option, apart from losing face, the government will also make civil society even more powerful. Such a move would also suggest that the UPA government is interested above all in clinging to power. If Singh goes for the second option, it will inevitably bring the wheels of governance grinding to a halt as the opposition-assisted civil society’s mass protests will only grow in number.

The only way out of this impasse is for Singh to tender his government’s resignation, citing governance difficulties. With the entire opposition lined up against the UPA government, the best bet for the Congress-led government is to resign and make way for an alternative. If an alternative government can eventually be formed, then it will have to deal with Anna Hazare. If no alternative government is possible, which is a strong possibility, then early elections are the only solution.

It is at this juncture that the Hazare-led civil society would confront trial by fire. Civil society would then be faced with choosing to support a political party that it believed would carry out its agenda, or else do the honours itself. Either way, it would be better for the nation if such contentious issues could be resolved once and for all.

The UPA II government has itself to blame for the mess it is in. It has lurched from one crisis to another in the last 27 months, and Manmohan Singh is a shadow of the leader he was in his first term. The list of blunders is long and well known to every Indian who has been following political developments. Before the government is forced out by countrywide protests or voted out in parliament, it would be better and more dignified for it to bow out of office. If the UPA came back – under Singh or Rahul Gandhi – then it could do so with a clean slate.

So far, Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have acted like typical politicians. They now need to act like statesmen who are thinking about the best interests of the next generation.