19 December 2009

"Climate change" by all of us

There is a problem.  Some people caused it in the course of creating their prosperity.  Others want their opportunity to create prosperity (and add to the problem).  Who should solve it?  

True culprits (in the last 250 years) are US and EU.  Citizens of US, EU and West Asia cause the maximum damage per person.  However the smokestack is currently the worst in China, US and EU.  India, unrestrained, could join the list.

Fair solution requires two steps:  One, impose a quota based on area and population (and levy a penalty on excess); Two, levy a one time tax on past culprits to compensate those who did not cause it in the past.

Is this feasible?  Not unless US, EU, China and India agree.  True test of statesmanship for US/EU mostly and China/India to a lesser extent.

Until this is done, all children (American, European, Chinese and Indian) can look forward to a less comfortable planet to inhabit.

18 December 2009

"Seeds of Terror: The Taliban, the ISI and the new Opium wars" by Gretchen Peters

Gretchen Peters, the Harvard graduate who covers Af-Pak region for ABC News provides an objective analysis of the role of poppy seeds in nourishing terrorism.

If you are a venture capital investor, investing in Afghanistan/Pakistan in poppy seeds is the way to go.  Reasons:

Illegal drugs is a big market.  8% of global trade (against 5.3% for motor cars).

Poor governance in Afghanistan facilitates drug lords to “order” farmers to grow poppy; buy future deliveries under "salaam" system; bribe those in power to overlook trafficking; pay Taliban war lords to oversee safe transportation; produce heroin in the lawless borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan; export through Iran/Turkey or Pakistan to hungry markets in Europe and launder the money through Middle East.

The farmers get a pittance (and yet that pittance is 12 times what they would get for normal food crops).  But the Taliban warlords net quite a pile; $ 439 million in 2007!

The business model evolved over a period of time.

Cause 1:  In its obsession to win the cold war, US overlooked supporting religious zealots.  Zbignew Brezezinski asked, “What was more important?  A few stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”.

Cause 2:  US conveniently ignored the drug connection of the mujahideen.  Robert Peck of State Department testified to Congress in 1986 that US did not have enough evidence to believe the rebels were involved in narcotics trade.  In 1989 Ann Wrobleski of State Department defended eloquently that “opium is the only currency the rebels have”.

Cause 3:  Pakistan army and ISI did not have compunction in using drug money to fund covert operations.  Nawaz Sharif, in a 1994 interview to Washington Post confessed that General Aslam Beg, Chief of Army and General Asad Durrani of ISI sought his permission to fund covert foreign operations through large scale drug deals.

Cause 4:  Warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani (both now allied with Taliban) saw huge opportunity in being part of the supply chain but cleaned up their prospectuses by providing a religious coat to the business model and allying with Taliban.

Cause 5:  Taliban saw the drug revenue as a reliable source of income to fund its activities.  Selling drugs to non muslims was seen as part of the jihad.  Though Mullah Omar banned poppy cultivation for one year (that was revoked later) in 2000, it was an ultimate insider trading con.  That just pushed up prices ten times.  Net margins went up.  The only folks to suffer were the farmers.

Cause 6:  Post invasion, US pursued stability; but overlooked poppy harvest, heroin production and transport.  Again, obsessive pursuit of one priority and compromise with another that could hurt US in the long run.  The 1988 warning Edmund McWilliams issued to Milton Brearden of CIA that “we are financing our own assassins” is continuing to be ignored.

If Harvard were to issue a degree in being a Commander in Chief, course 101 would be on “cutting the funding for your enemy” and course 102 would be on “not taking your eye off all your other enemies”.

Gretchen Peters has several valuable suggestions:

One, bomb the refineries and chemists.  There are just 24 of them.  Should not be too much to ask after you have spent $ 2 trillion on a war machine.

Two, bomb the drug convoys.  You don’t need drones.  These convoys start in Afghanistan; mostly from Helmand province.

Three, exert influence over money launderers.  In the end, Gretchen Peters says, the drug lords keep their money in western banking institutions.

Four, go easy on the farmers.  They don’t love Taliban.  They hate Taliban.  It is just that they don’t have anyone else to love.  Install a government that can move into that sweet spot.

If not, remember Gretchen Peter's quote, “Amerians may have the watches; but Taliban have the time”.

12 December 2009

"The Limits of Influence - America's role in Kashmir" by Howard B Schaffer

Howard B Schaffer was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for US twice; and political counselor in US embassies in Pakistan and later in India in the seventies.  In this book, Schaffer provides an analysis of US role in Kashmir from an insider’s perspective.

Schaffer seems to sincerely believe that United States can fashion its policies based on its interests; but other countries should fashion theirs based on principles!  Unfortunately interest driven policy often produces tactical wins and strategic losses.  Schaffer is quiet about acknowledging the strategic failure of US policy toward Pakistan; and the threat this has created for US and South Asia and vociferous about India's intransigence in not conforming to "equity".

There is no equity about a partition forced by faulty thinking of a colonial ruler.  (Am not one of those who decline to accept partition. I am glad it happened).  Let us get back to basics!  Partition did not create a separate nation for all muslims!  After partition, India continued to remain home to a large population of Muslims spread throughout India.  There is no equity about Pakistan's claim to Kashmir.

Pakistan sees itself as the nation representing muslims in the subcontinent.  India sees itself as a multicultural and multi-religious nation.  It does not accept religion-based majority as sufficient for separation.

Pakistan is going back in time with Military dictators usurping power from weak civilian governments; feudal lords dominating economic assets; fundamentalists hijacking a peaceful religion to deny equality to women; education to young and membership in the Ulema to minority sects amongst Muslims.  India, on the other hand, has a stable and institutionalized democracy; civil liberties; rule of law; modern education; and religious tolerance.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have preferred India over Pakistan.

Not John Foster Dulles.  He saw (at the advice of an equally myopic Philip Noel-Baker of Britain) in Pakistan a “strategic ally” to be the frontline warrior against communism.  More importantly he alienated India by taking a Eurocentric view that Goa is a province of Portugal and resenting India taking control of its land from the colonial ruler.   Dulles ended up supporting a state that does not share American values of liberty, freedom, equality and plurality and was just clever enough to feign anti-communism to get access to American funds. This put US under pressure to, wherever possible, support Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute and in the genocide in Bangladesh.

It was India’s tactical alliance (again driven by interests than principles) with Moscow that saved the United Nations from getting hijacked by friends of Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue against India’s interest.

Later, US had to pursue a fine balancing act between its obligations to support Pakistan and wider geopolitical objectives with India.  US acquired a “morally unassailable ability” to remain in sidelines only after Pakistan concluded an agreement with India, replacing the UN defined cease fire line with a bilaterally defined Line of Control and agreeing to resolve Kashmir issue in bilateral discussions.

Pakistan did become an important frontline state in the cold war eventually.  US scored a tactical victory against the Russians using Pakistan. But the strategic price US had to pay is quite heavy:  (a) acquiescence in the development of nuclear bombs by Pakistan and (b) creation of jehadi warriors who are willing to die and therefore limitlessly powerful in killing.

After India and Pakistan exploded their nuclear devices, Schaffer confesses “the importance attached by US to the equities of the Kashmir issue were lessened”.  Preventing escalation is now in US interests.  Lack of US support (and in fact US opposition) encouraged Pakistan to withdraw from an aggressive posture in Kargil.

Pakistan again became important to the US after 9/11.  Pakistan rediscovered the business model of sustaining insurgency in Kashmir.  Schaffer says “Pakistan is delivering the goods in Afghanistan and insurgency in Kashmir did not pose an immediate threat to US interests”.

I have no issue with Schaffer in thinking US should pursue its interests for tactical wins!

What I find unacceptable is Schaffer’s belief that India should act based on equities of Kashmir issue and not based on its interests!  In my view, India too is entitled to advancing its interests by what India considers appropriate strategic or tactical responses.

It is in India's interest to develop a greater bonding with the US through interlinking the two economies.  US would keep its business interests (apart from political interests) in mind in shaping its policies.  In addition to clever pursuit of interests, this would be wise pursuit of principles too!

Additionally, it is in India’s interests to make peace with Kashmiris first; make it advantageous for them to be a part of India.  It is in India’s interests to protect the Indian state.  Against insurgencies exported from neighborhood.  It is in India’s interest to make peace with Pakistan.  Prosperity would facilitate this unity.

The best US can do is to not engage but be available.  That would be clever pursuit of interests; and good principle.

"More salt than pepper" by Karan Thapar

I bet every book lover has two traits.

One, she would keep buying new books even though she has not yet read half the books in her possession yet.  She just does not have the time to keep up the reading.  Yet she does not want to miss out on the new arrivals.  (She does not read them on a FIFO basis either.  Her choice often is based on mood; if not random!)

Two, she has to read more than one book at a time.  One book could be heavy (profound ideas that require highlighting and cogitation); another could be quite light and easy on the mind.

I have always had problems locating the second type.  Light. Easy. Yet, engaging.  Preferably light non-fiction (humor, biographies, essays).

Karan Thapar provides a “filler” that is fun to read.

I am not a fan of Karan Thapar.  I find his TV interviews a frustration.  He raises intelligent questions.  He has the ability to “stick to the knitting” and prevent his subject sidestep or obfuscate the issues.  However he hijacks the airtime; talks thirteen to a dozen; prevents even good answers from coming through; and does not know the difference between being firm in extracting an answer and being rude in preventing an answer.

However, I saw the soft and emotional side of Karan when he was interviewed by someone else (on the death of his Oxford classmate, Benazir Bhutto) and was provided decent time to respond!

Karan lets us have a peek at his opinions; his people and his life in this collection of short and light chapters.

One can easily visualize the contemplative Jawaharlal Nehru gazing at the distance and rambling about “stuff” while Karan’s Mamu was more interested in the mundane and immediate matter of securing the elder Nehru’s permission for younger sister Nayantara’s wedding.

One cannot so easily visualize Indira Gandhi chiding the children (including young Karan, his sister and Sanjay) to get ready to go to the President’s home; but ease themselves before going so as to not “spend a penny” in the Presidential palace.  Or replying with a smile how she manages when her schedule involves long lasting events!

One is thankful to Kris Srinivasan for some of his emails to Karan wondering:
1. Why are “wise men” and “wise guys” opposites?
2. Why “overlook” and “oversee” differ so much in their meaning?
3. Why is the guy who handles all your money a “broker”?
4. Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?
5. If people in Poland are Poles, are people in Holland Holes?
6. If electricity comes from electrons, does morality comes from morons?
7. Why are you ‘in” a movie; but “on” TV.

Karan adds his own gem:  If “I am” is the shortest sentence, is “I do” the longest sentence?

Excellent book.