Category Archives: Politics

India should refuse UK development aid

India recently decided to declare the French Rafale as preferred bidder in its long-running order for 126 multi-role fighter jets. In doing so, the Rafale has trumped the only other fighter in the race – the Eurofighter Typhoon.

One would think that this decision would be received in the UK (one of four partnership in the Eurofighter consortium) with some reflection on why the bid lost out? Rather, it is leading to some fairly childish complaints emerging from the once great colonial power that suggest the UK hasn’t entirely gotten used to its new place in the world.

For one, comments from Britain’s politicians suggest that the Typhoon is actually the far better aircraft and the Indians are essentially idiots to pick the Rafale. It is hard to comment on which of the two are technically superior, but someone should tell David Cameroon that calling your prospective client an idiot is not the best way to get back in the game. Moreover, even the UK’s own analysts suggest the Typhoon may eventually be the better aircraft, but one that the Brits themselves don’t support at the moment. Then why should India?

The Brits go one further, asking how India has the temerity to accept millions in development aid and not reciprocating by giving the UK defence contracts worth several times as much.

Here’s why. For one, a little bit of aid does not a true ally make. The Calcutta Telegraph has an excellent article that highlights how, over the past several decades, it is the French and not the Brits that have stood by India in its time of need. Whether politics was a consideration in the final decision is hard to say, but again the Brits would do themselves a favor by looking at their own actions rather than blaming India for poor judgment.

Second, the question of development aid is, in general, irrelevant to the fighter jet order. It cannot be denied that India can use help in poverty alleviation but to my knowledge, has never asked Britain for aid money. Indeed, it is India that does Britain a favor by allowing it to assuage its colonial, developed world guilt. Indeed, this may be a good time for India’s Prime Minister to preempt the British debate by banning aid from the UK. You keep your aid money, we will keep our freedom to make our own decisions, which we gained when you left the country in 1947. Fair trade.

In India, an attempt to outsource the fight against corruption

If there is one issue that India is associated with right now, it is corruption. First came a series of scandals over the past months involving both politicians and high profile business leaders. Then, with  fortuitous timing, veteran social activist Anna Hazare launched a highly publicized “fast unto death” to force the government to draft an anti-corruption Lokpal bill. That was followed by an “awakening” of support from and demonstrations by the middle class, complete with campaigns over Twitter and Facebook. Earlier this month the government finally caved in to constitute a committee to look into the matter.

Commentators have compared this victory to the “freedom movements” in the Middle East. But there are few comparisons and this may well prove to be Pyrrhic victory. For while battling the corruption endemic in India’s political and administrative systems is certainly laudible, the way by which Anna Hazare and his supports plan to do so will only undermine India’s political freedoms and the faith the majority of Indians still hold in the system.

To control widespread corruption, the proposed Lokpal bill forsees the creation of an independent ombudsman consisting of representatives selected through a “participatory process.” Such an ombudsman would have widespread powers to investigate and prosecute anyone, yet be neither representative nor accountable to any branch of government.

Middle class Indians will probably say that all branches of government have failed them and they will be at least partly correct. The average middle class Indian today prefers to avoid any contact with the public sector. This apathy also extends to elections, where the middle class rarely participates. For them, the easiest solution to corruption in the system is simply to create an independent ombudsman.

Yet, only utopian naivete can explain why Hazare and his supports expect that an independent ombudsman would be any less corrupt than a system that has at least some checks and balances. Rather than fixing corruption and rent-seeking, it would simply move the problem from one place to another.

Worse this approach highlights, and will likely broaden, the rift between the middle class and the rest of India.

For while the middle class may have tuned out of participating in India’s politics, the majority of Indians continue to believe in the political system. They participate in elections and regularly reward or punish their politicians with amazing acuity. It is this majority that kicked out the BJP for suggesting India was shinning, when they were not; and this very majority that re-elected the Congress with a strong majority last time around, for proposing the motto of “inclusive growth.” It is this political vitality that has led to a competition amongst the states to grow faster, and that has taken Bihar from being a basket case to a success story.

So while the political system may not be working for the middle class, it is working for the many that continue to believe in it. Therefore, this middle class revival should not be compared to the protest movements in the Middle East. Rather, it is a tamer version of the yellow shirt protest movement in Thailand in 2008, which split Thai society apart. And it is a reflection of the middle class’ desire to blame someone else for their own failures.

Middle class Indians tend to see themselves as victims of corruption. Yet, they have done little about it. Facebook, Twitter, and the efforts of a Gandhian make it easy for them to let their anger be known. But Gandhian ideals require personal engagement and sacrifice, which is lacking from this movement. If Indians opt out of the political system and condone corruption in broader public life, they should not be surprised when it becomes endemic. And without a change in that apathetic attitude, it is only a matter of time before the ombudsman itself becomes a source of corruption, rather than a solution to it.

Is their a better dream than the American Dream?

On the NYTimes, David Carr provides Wall Street a lesson on failure. Speaking of “The Company Men,” he asks if we live in an age where the “game is rigged?” But that is a question that applies not just to Wall Street but to America in general. And it is one that holds much relevance for Asia, and India in particular as it seeks to balance an embrace of competitive capitalism with welfare.

Measuring the American Dream

Policy debate on economics has usually focused on economic inequality – which has been growing in America, together with many Asian countries, including India. The financial crisis has brought home this point in very simple ways, as reported in a Pew study:

Between 1979 and 2004, the real after-tax income of the poorest one-fifth of Americans rose by 9 percent, that of the richest one-fifth by 69 percent, and that of the top 1 percent by 176 percent.

That may not, in and of itself, be unfair. But it does become so if only a few people ever have a chance to be in that top one-fifth or top 1 percent. That is where socio-economic mobility becomes important. Americans believe they live in a particularly meritocratic society that allows its people to move up the ladder – the quintissential American dream. Ben Bernanke called it thus:

Although we Americans strive to provide equality of economic opportunity, we do not guarantee equality of economic outcomes, nor should we. Indeed, without the possibility of unequal outcomes tied to differences in effort and skill, the economic incentive for productive behavior would be eliminated, and our market-based economy — which encourages productive activity primarily through the promise of financial reward — would function far less effectively.

Yet, it is increasingly clear that the twin assumptions therein – that a) there is equality of economic opportunity, and b) effort and skill are the only or even the most important variables to success – are wrong. It turns out that economic mobility depends much more on our birth and our upbringing than our own effort and skill. One measure – the extent to which individual and parental earnings are correlated – suggests that:

…about half of the advantages of having a parent with a high income are passed on to the next generation. This means that one of the biggest predictors of an American child’s future economic success — the identity and characteristics of his or her parents — is predetermined and outside that child’s control.

Malcolm Gladwell called this “accumulative advantage” in his book Outliers – the phenomenon of the rich getting rich and the poor getting poorer. Such accumulative advantage should not be a surprise – even if the extent of its influence is. Yet, if we are to strive for a meritocratic society that offers everyone a chance at success a critical question must be to what extent does a state manage to shield its population from the ravages of destiny?

On this point there is much evidence within the OECD showing that America falls far behind European and particularly Nordic countries. On the previous measure (earnings elasticity) the USA is just below Italy and the UK, with the least correlation in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, and Canada.

Overcoming “accumulative advantage”

There are, then, two ways to measure a society – to what extent is it equal (more economic equality), and to what extent is it just (providing economic mobility). America hopes to be just, providing equal economic opportunity while accepting higher levels of economic inequality. Europe, meanwhile, believes that economic opportunity will never be truly equal and thus seeks to overcome or protect from hereditary disadvantages. Ironically, Europe’s model proves not only to be more just, but also more equal (with sufficient correlation between equality and mobility).

Ironically, though, as Europe’s model proves to be better, its very existence is threatened for being financially unsustainable. European governments, faced with massive debt, must choose which social programs to cut.

India is thus offered two models – one that fails to sustain itself, while the other that fails to deliver on the goal of an equal and just society. What do the policy choices of Indian politicians reveal about their preferred model?

India has since liberalization in 1991 been trying to seek high growth. Such growth ensures some form of economic mobility – incomes of successive generations increase along with overall growth. Put another way as the pie gets bigger everyone gets a bigger absolute part of the pie.

Yet, policy emphasis on growth itself resulted also in a more unequal society as those with a privileged birth – with at least well-educated parents – benefit disproportionately from the opportunities provided by liberalization. They do better than their parents. Meanwhile, the farmer in the hinterland – without the means to send his children to an English speaking school – must see his children continue to toil the land or seek opportunity in low-paid manual labor. Both equality and relative economic mobility thus go down.

In recent years, however, India has recalibrated its policies to be more welfare focused. In particular, a realization that the country cannot survive united nor compete unless everyone benefits, has brought forth some interesting compromises.

For one, government is starting to accept its welfare role in some areas – as illustrated by the rural employment guarantee scheme. Second, there has been some political pressure on competitive capitalism – this explains the edict of Andhra Pradesh’s politicians to the population not to pay back microfinance loans. And finally, companies and their wealthy seem to be taking some responsibility for good governance into their own hands – evident in the massive philanthropic efforts of individuals such as Azim Premji who focuses disproportionately on strengthening public schools, rather than creating a more efficient, but perhaps more expensive, private system.

Thus, India returns ever so often to the left, while seeking to convince the world it is the future of capitalism, with Ambani’s multi-million dollar mansion a clear reminder to those that may forget.

There is, therefore, hope that the disadvantaged in India will still see the benefits of growth. But a sustainable middle path requires combining two hard to reconcile social preferences – people must be highly motivated for the spoils of success (as in America and Asia), but hold a healthy regard for the welfare of others to allow for the redistribution of those spoils (as in Europe). To date no society has managed to do so, though the voluntary redistribution of wealth by the newly wealthy may provide some temporary relief.

India’s growth over the past several years has certainly raised wealth. But it has also led to a more unequal and a more unjust society. Of course, no society can be expected to completely shed its bias towards aristocratism. That would be against human nature. But the purpose of a state is not necessarily to change human nature, but rather to help those disadvantaged by some elements of it. In that, the American Dream has failed to become reality for too many people. India, looking for a dream of its own, can certainly promise – and ask – better to its citizens.

Women’s reservation is a (unreservedly) good idea

Note: This article first appeared on Desicritics prior to the passage of the bill. It was subsequently picked up by the BBC and Global Voices Online.

Writing on Desicritics on the Women’s Reservation Bill, Sandeep Bansal provides us with the equivocal conclusion that “reservation is an easy shortcut,” that while laudable in parts must have “proper backup steps to have any significant impact.” As a counterpoint, I believe it is worthwhile looking again at the very valid questions he raises, viz:

  • Do we need reservation for women?
  • Is reservation really needed at the highest level?
  • Are reservations really going to make any difference?
  • Do we need sub-quotas?

Do we need reservations for women?

That, of course, is a matter of opinion. More important is the question of why we might want reservations. Two reasons come to mind.

At the level of principle, this might be because in an ideal, fair, and just society lawmakers would represent their consituents – in the ratio of the constituents. Ideally, that representation should emerge naturally – not by legislation. But as Sandeep points out, reservations are one way to empower women and to change attitudes, so as to lead to that natural order.

A second reason, often overlooked, is that such a policy is likely to increase the pool of talent needed at the top of our political class. Few would argue that India’s politics suffers from a lack of credible leaders. To the extent that that is the result of limiting our talent pool to men only, this policy is likely to increase the number – if not the probability – of better leaders.

Is reservation really needed at the highest level?

Sandeep argues that reservations might be necessary at the lowest levels to “bring about social change”, but perhaps at the highest level “merit should prevail.” And he argues that there is a good reason for the lack of women at the top – their family duties.

This explaination is hardly satisfactory. Women may well have “family duties” but that is not why they do not reach the top. They fail to do so because they often have no opportunity to balance that “duty” with their professional aspirations. Where such opportunity is provided they manage to be both good mothers and good leaders. This is evident from a recent NYTimes article on India’s banking industry:

HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS and Fidelity International in India are run by women. So is the country’s second-biggest bank, Icici Bank, and its third-largest, Axis Bank. Women head investment banking operations at Kotak Mahindra and JPMorgan Chase and the equities division of Icici. Half of the deputy governors at the Reserve Bank of India are women.

One in five of India’s big bank, insurance and money-management companies is headed by a woman, according to a study by the headhunting group EMA Partners. By contrast, there are no women leading major American or European banks, and no woman has ever run a Wall Street investment bank.

Are reservations going to make a difference?

Sandeep argues that a reservation policy brings with it the risk of extending that policy to perpetuity. Yes, that risk is certainly there – but do the immediate resulting benefits outweigh that possibility? And even if that risk remains, it is a risk derived not from the principle (of better representation) itself, but from how that principle is translated into policy. So, avoiding that risk is simply a matter of better policy design – for instance by having rotating quotas to avoid institutionalization of the positive discrimination.

Sandeep concludes his answer to this question by saying it is too early to tell. But is it?

Enough countries now have quotas of one form of another to provide indications of the impact – both on performance of politicians and on public attitudes to women at the top. Indeed, if the objective of this policy is to encourage greater female representation and change attitudes, India’s own experiment with reservation at the panchayat and sarpanch levels offers substantial hope for a positive outcome:

Here, the evidence from a study of councils in urban Mumbai points to a positive effect. Women who have gained political office are more likely to run and to win in elections where there are no quotas.

Both men and women report a higher assessment of women’s performance as leaders once they have experienced it. A study of the state of West Bengal suggests that bias against women leaders remains, but is less likely to be based on the assumption they will prove incompetent.

Do we need sub-quotas?

For one thing, sub-quotas institutionalize into perpetuity exactly the kind of positive discrimination that Sandeep cautions against earlier in his post. Moreover, he argues that “real empowerment” can only happen at the bottom, but we need proper representation “across communities” at the top.

It is true that a women’s reservation bill without sub-quotas will benefit certain sub-groups more than others. But is that reason enough for sub-quotas? Or, can that problem be overcome in other way?

Which groups benefit will depend very much on which seats are reserved. For instance, if a muslim-majority constituency is reserved for women it is extremely likely that most parties will field muslim candidates and the winner would be a muslim. Hence, again the problem of unequal representation against communities is one of design (i.e. which seats are reserved), rather than one of principle (i.e. having sub-quotas).

Finally, of course, we must also acknowledge that a single bill cannot solve all social injustices. It is useful, therefore, to remind us of why we should have a reservation policy. If the objective is to increase women’s representation, then this bill should address that problem, regardless of others that exist in society.


Women’s reservation has been a long-time coming. This bill may not be the best solution or only solution to empowering women. But let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.

There is Nothing Wrong with Climate Litigation

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial decrying the emergence of “climate litigation.” The article, which makes no attempts to be neutral, lumps together trial lawyers and green pressure groups, suggests that such litigation is bad for business, and is based on “nuisance laws.” Far more significant is the assertion that this is a back door to changing policy since Congress and the White House have failed to legislate measures that satisfy the green lobby.

Mull over that one for a moment. Mr. Blumenthal isn’t suing to right a wrong. He admits that he’s suing to coerce a change in policy no matter what the public’s elected representatives choose.

No doubt, there is truth to each of these criticisms of climate litigation. But they are all also irrelevant.

Bad for Business? So What?

Yes, climate litigation might be bad for some businesses – particularly the more polluting ones. But it would also be good for others, such as businesses involved in improving energy efficiency, renewable energy generation and the like. But regardless, what if such litigation was bad for business – should we then disallow it? The US Clean Air act, when it was enacted in 1970, was also no doubt seen as bad for business. But hardly anyone would argue that it should not have been enacted on those grounds. So, “bad for business” does not qualify as a potential shield against such litigation.

What is a Nuisance Law?

What about the suggestion that such litigation is a “nuisance”? But who gave the WSJ the right to label certain laws as a nuiscance? Certainly not the citizens of America. In fact, the very term “nuisance laws” is an oxymoron. Laws are not a nuisance – they exist to provide citizens protection of their rights. And due process exists to ensure objectivity in the deliverance of justice, as far as possible.

Take the case of the Tobacco industry, which was sued by hundreds of individuals from the 1950s to the 1990s. No doubt such litigation was both “bad for business” and a “nuisance” for some. But it led to the Tobacco Master Settlement, a USD 206 billion settlement, and dramatically changed views on smoking across the US and the world. Interestingly, no individual “nuisance” lawsuits ever won in court, a validation of the checks and balances of the American legal system and the high burden of proof required of plaintiffs.

Given this history climate skeptics and the WSJ – “if that’s not redundant” – should actually welcome such lawsuits. They would allow both sides of the story to be heard in open court and an objective assessment can then be made of the link between CO2 emissions, global warming, and its effects on cities or ecosystems. Indeed, the burden of proof would be on the plaintiffs from the “green lobby” – so if the skeptics really believe there is no global warming they should hardly worry about such lawsuits. Just as in the case of the tobacco industry, no definitive link may be found for some time – but it may still lead to a better understanding of the issue.

Regulation through Litigation?

Finally, what of the criticism that such litigation arrogates power from Congress to the courts? This is indeed correct. Theoretically, the legislature legislates, the executive “executes” and the judiciary serves as the last word on the matter.

However, this broad principle cannot be taken as absolute because there has always been an overlap of power across these arms of government. And that overlap exists because the legislature is not a perfect representation of the people’s will – insofar as it is not direct democracy and is often biased by private lobby groups. Thus, the potential arrogation of some power to the judiciary is understandable.

Furthermore, there is a long tradition of regulation through litigation including by the US government itself (United States vs. Microsoft Anti-trust lawsuit, or lead paint litigation). At issue here are not the outcomes of these  efforts but the principle of whether individuals and private groups can sue. If the government can, then why not individuals?

Finally, regulation through litigation, while having its own set of problems, also provides benefits. These are summarized well by Tim Lytton in the Texas Law Review:

(1) framing issues in terms of institutional failure and the need for institutional reform; (2) generating policy-relevant information; (3) placing issues on the agendas of policy-making institutions; (4) filling gaps in statutory or administrative regulatory schemes; (5) encouraging selfregulation; and (6) allowing for diverse regulatory approaches in different jurisdictions.


The WSJ editorial argues that litigation against high emitters of CO2 is both frivolous and sets and a dangerous precedent for an anarchic world where everyone can sue everyone. Yet, a long history of similar litigation suggests that both governments and individuals have used litigation in the past to raise issues that the legislature failed to do so. Society is no worse, and some may argue, is better for such litigation. Despite the costs involved, the principle should simply be to let the truth prevail – rather than avoid facing it because it is “bad for business.”

With Pakistan, Wanting Peace is Asking for War

Dear Readers, my apologies for the long absence. It so happens that my vacation to India coincided with a month long illness in July. However, I return armed with plenty of observations on India and will start with India’s joint statement with Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

On July 16, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his counterpart Gilani in an effort to restart the stalled peace process. Much has been said about the joint statement that was issued, which was criticised both for “delinking” action on terror from dialogue, and for iincluding references to Balochistan.

In the face of substantial criticism the Prime Minister stepped into parliament to give his interpretation of the statement. Yet, his explainations have been largely ignorant of reality.

The Delinking of Action on Terror

The Congress has defended the delinking of anti-terror actions from dialogue by presenting its own interpretation of the statement. According to the Congress the statement implies that Pakistan must act on terror regardless of the status of the stalled peace process. If that were the case one must ask then why the statement does not say just that? Why is it open to interpretation?

One possibility is that it was “bad drafting“. If that is the case heads should roll – starting with Foreign Secretary Menon himself. But the more likely, and more worrying, possibility is that the ambiguous wording was intentional. This would be consistent with Manmohan Singh’s assertion that he would go “more than half way” to find peace with Pakistan. Yet, it is dangerous to go anywhere when Pakistan has not even budged an inch.

The Inclusion of Balochistan

The second about face in the joint statement was the inclusion of Balochistan, something that has never been a factor in any past discussions with Pakistan. So why now? Mr. Singh’s naive explaination is that India has “nothing to hide.” But that is, as Kanwal Sibal stated, a moral argument, not a diplomatic one. Following that logic we should also have included Kashmir, FATA, and Afghanistan?

By including Balochistan Mr. Singh has shown an absolute ignorance of diplomacy and bargaining. And the results are already there for us to suffer. Within days of the statement Pakistani officials were accusing India of fomenting terror in Balochistan. In the words of Pakistani officials, Mr. Singh has allowed Pakistan to “externalize an internal problem.”

Pakistan has been immensely successful in doing so in the past, and nowhere more so than in making Kashmir an international problem. As mentioned by the Daily Times, “after the Simla agreement in 1973, Kashmir had almost disappeared from the India-Pakistan discourse. But it made a comeback in the early 90s after India agreed to discuss Kashmir, interpreting it as discussing issues related to militancy and cross-border terrorism.” Now India has allowed Pakistan to do the same with Balochistan.

War, Peace, and Something in Between

Mr. Singh’s ambiguity in the choice of words and in including Balochistan may have been part of his bigger peace strategy. It certainly has strengthened Mr. Gilani’s position at home. Also, as some Pakistani news outlets have pointed out, delinking action on terror from dialogue with India may actually make it easier for Pakistan to act on terror – since it would not be seen as acting under pressure from India.

Nevertheless, by indicating to Pakistan that India is willing and desirous of peace, India has weakened its hand in future peace negotiations. Here, a few lessons on international negotiation are necessary.

First, by indicating that India is willing to reshape its foreign policy and go “more than half the way,” Mr. Singh has indicated that India is desperate for peace. And by doing this unilaterally, he has shown that India is willing to talk even on Pakistan’s terms. The words of that joint statement may be interpreted either way, but Mr. Singh’s actions in Egypt make one thing clear – that India will be willing to talk even after Pakistan foments terror in India. In other words, India wants peace at any price.

The reason for this is that, in Mr. Singh’s view, short of war dialogue is the only way forward for the two countries. This is a fair point. Yet, for this to work both sides must want peace and Pakistan does not. Instead, it has chosen to support a proxy war against India for the past several decades. In view of that, India should not seek dialogue with Pakistan. Rather, it should make Pakistan seek dialogue with India. This would be fitting, given it is Pakistan that must prove its good intentions. But by making utopian public statements that dialogue is the only way forward for India, India takes off the table options that Pakistan continues to retain and exercise.

If You Want Peace, Prepare for War

At the root of Mr. Singh’s peace initiative is the belief that both countries should be desirous of peace and that India stands to benefit from a strong and stable Pakistan. Yet, both assumptions must be questioned.

First, Pakistan is not desirous of peace with India. The belief to the contrary has been costly in the past. As noted by M.J. Akbar,

In 1965 Lal Bahadur Shastri thought a little give would purchase a lot of take at Tashkent. In 1972, Indira Gandhi bought Bhutto’s plea that what remained of Pakistan would crumble without her sympathy. She did not insist on a written agreement ending the Kashmir dispute along the Line of Control. Atal Bihari Vajpayee reached out to shake Pakistan’s hand at Lahore, and got slapped in the face at Kargil.

Second, history suggests that regardless of whether Pakistan is a dictatorship, democracy, or anarchy, the state will remain hostile to India. To believe that Pakistan will willingly disown terrorists it has long nurtured is naive when even American pressure has not weaned Pakistan’s establishment from its love of jihadis. The ISI and army continue to support Al Qaeda, Taliban, and Kashmiri terror outfits such as the LeT. And we must remember that the Mumbai terror attacks took place during Gilani’s reign.

The bottomline is that Pakistan cannot be trusted. And there is no reason to hope, as the PM appearently does, that Pakistan will change its behavior. In view of that, “it is Pakistan that must reshape its policy towards India, not vice versa.” Yet, if history is any guide, Pakistan is most likely seeking a detente till its troubles in the West have receded.

Nor should India try to prevent Pakistan’s disintegration by compromising on its own foreign policy. If Pakistan wishes to fail as a state, by breeding terrorists, that is its choice and India cannot (even if it wished) prevent that fate. The sole purpose of India’s actions should be to want Pakistan to speak to India, not the other way around.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done exactly the opposite and weakened us in the process. Mr. Sibal said it well:

Past experience shows that Pakistan would construe our reasonableness as weakness, and those who would applaud our moderation would not stand by us when needed. The bane of our Pakistan policy has been our inability to stay the course whichever the party in power. In time, we begin to see our reasonable position as undue rigidity and, disregarding the lessons of the past, we are ready to commit the same mistakes again.

Mr. Singh’s embrace of Pakistan is another such insulting mistake. As Kargil showed, it is India’s soldiers that pay the price of the naivete of its political leaders. They did so with China in 1962, and with Pakistan at Shimla and then again in Lahore. It is time India learnt from its lessons. And the first step would be to remove the Prime Minister, who has no understanding of foreign policy, from any role in shaping it. Then, we can start shaping a foreign policy in line with our aspirations.

For Sri Lanka Another Battle Lies Ahead

In Sri Lanka, a national holiday yesterday marked the army’s victory over the LTTE. Sinhalese Sri Lankans celebrated, as President Rajapaksa declared the war over. Yet, it is his next steps that will decide if he won the war or simply a battle. Because anyone familiar with insurgencies can confirm that only battles are won on the battlefield. War and peace are won through diplomacy, negotiation, and reconciliation.

To be sure, President Rajapaksa has made the right noises – such as addressing the country in Tamil. Yet, there are ominous signs that there will be no quick return of Tamil civilians to normalcy. The latest of these is the news that the ICRC has suspended its work in the north because the government is denying aid agencies access to relief camps. Simultaneously, Sri Lanka has also arrested its own doctors, that had served in the warzone, for providing “false” casualty figures. This suggests that Sri Lanka’s government intends to control both the destinies of Tamils and the opinions of the Sinhalese for some time to come.

To be fair, what has been achieved in Sri Lanka is most remarkable. Seldom in the history of the world has a dissident terrorist and militant movement been so strong and yet been defeated so quickly. For this the credit (or discredit) must go to the government of President Rajapaksa, which used the LTTE’s atrocities “as a license for its own abuses.”

Certainly, the LTTE’s own actions in the last days of the war showed it to be no more than a terrorist organization and the passing of Prabhakaran and his ilk should not be mourned. But in managing the aftermath Rajapaksa can learn from the experiences of Israel and India before metting out a collective punishment on those Tamils strong and lucky enough to survive.

The Palestinian community has no state to call its own, but is spread out across Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Egypt and Lebanon. In order to keep alive international claims for a separate Palestinian homeland, Arab States have denied these refugees citizenship or resettlement. As a result, Palestinians live 2nd-class lives and their ghettoization, to which Israel contributes substantially in the Gaza strip, engenders violence and anger against Israel and its allies both inside those camps, and out.

India’s handling of militancy in Punjab provides a more positive example. That movement was also silenced by the gun. But it was similar to the LTTE in that both were financed by diaspora abroad. Khalistan was funded by Sikhs in the UK, USA, and Canada. Eelam was funded by Tamils in Europe and North America.

While counter-insurgency was responsible in defeating militancy militarily, peace was won through political negotiations, a quick return to full civilian control, and by equipping a war-weary population with the tools for growth. As a result, even though support for Khalistan remained high abroad, it ebbed locally.

Sri Lanka may yet face a similar challenge because Tamils abroad are not yet ready to surrender. And no matter how hard it tries to weed out LTTE members, Sri Lanka is sure to miss some. To ensure that those that do escape remain marginalized, Sri Lanka must ensure that the bulk of the Tamil population moves forward and is not stuck in relief camps.

Sri Lanka would do well to show grace in its hour of victory. This is not a time to be searching for LTTE cadres but to prevent another LTTE from forming. To do so, President Rajapaksa should move the “biggest hostage operation” from rescue to relief. He can start by providing relief agencies unlimited access and funding.

There is a risk, of course. War crimes were probably committed on both sides and those of the government will surely come to light. For a State that has silenced dissent for so long that prospect is no doubt unsettling. But this too may be good, for a little introspection may go a long way in aiding reconciliation.

The irony of this war is that both sides purported to fight to “liberate” the Tamils. The LTTE wanted a Tamil homeland while the government called its endgame the largest “hostage rescue operation in history.” Oddly enough, they both killed, shot at, and bombed those very civilians they claimed to serve and protect. Well, the Tamils have now been liberated. If the LTTE defined the past, Sri Lanka’s government has the opportunity, indeed the obligation, to define the future of Sri Lanka. With such an overwhelming victory and public opinion in its favor, it also has the tools to do so.

Solving Piracy: Break the Legitimacy

By Bhagirath Jogdand

The hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, the first ship hijacked by Somali pirates with an all-American crew, might be a turning point in America and Europe’s efforts to fight piracy off the Gulf of Aden. Within days French special forces stormeda hijacked French yacht, while American special forces freed the captain of the Maersk Alabama, killing three pirates. But if anyone thought this would deter pirates, they were wrong. Within days pirates had hijacked 4 more ships. At least some of these attacks were clearly in revenge for the American operation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a four-point plan to fight piracy. The plan has several elements, but perhaps the most defining aspect is the “more muscular approach” propagated by it. In Secretary Clinton’s words, “The United States does not make concessions or ransom payments to pirates.”

But what is the track record of more muscular efforts? Since June 2008, when the UN Security Council sanctioned military intervention (under resolution 1816), naval operations by 18 countries have succeeded in thwarting some hijacking attempts. Yet, the sophistication and range of pirate activities in the Indian Ocean has continued to increase. Hijackings can now occur as far as 350 nautical miles off the Somali coast, and have grownfrom 59 in 2007, to 184 in 2008, and 65 so far in 2009 (see NATO chart).

Piracy-related incidents off Somalia. Source: NATO
Piracy-related incidents off Somalia. Source: NATO

More muscle may not be the answer. Secretary Clinton’s plan has an uncanny resemblance to the US’ “war on drugs,” which costs the US taxpayer over USD 40 billion annually, yet has had a questionable impact on the flow of drugs into the US.

Piracy emerged as a problem after the fall of the General Siyad Barre regime in 1991, which left Somalia without an effective government. Post 1991, the only period when piracy declined or was effectively contained was when the Islamic Courts Union ruled Mogadishu for a brief six-month period, re-surfacing again when Ethiopian forces drove the ICU out of power.

For anyone wishing to address the piracy problem, the UNSC resolution and ICU rule present two extremes of enforcement codes. Their respective outcomes show the extent to which military responses can succeed – they douse the fire but piracy tends to flare again when suitable winds blow.

Understanding the Fundamental Drivers

While it is easy to blame piracy on the lack of effective governance in Somalia, there is another deeper issue at play. Somalia’s fishing industry is in crises because an ineffective government is unable to guard its coastline and EEZ, which are immensely rich in marine resources. Somali piracy, in other words, shares its origins with an intense increase in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Somali waters – which has deprived fishing communities of their livelihoods. As the FAO notes, “there are also an estimated 700 foreign-owned vessels that are fully engaged in unlicensed fishing in Somali waters.”

It is thus interesting to note that Somali pirates claim legitimacy as being de facto coast guards. Last September, Sugule Ali, spokesman for a group that hijacked the MV Faina, said in an interview:

We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.

Justified or not, pirates see ransoms as fees extracted in return for illegal fishing in their waters. Of course, the ransom collected – between USD 30-150 million in 2008 – does not go into the national kitty. However, a large part of it is indeed spent in the local market. According to Peter Lehr of St. Andrews University, 700 Somali pirates directly support a shore-based infrastructure employing between 10-15,000 people. And indirect impacts are even broader, providing the impoverished masses visible economic imperatives to tolerate or support pirates. As reported by the NY Daily News, the pirate port city of Eyl now sports, “Big villas and hotels, former subsistence fishermen are driving Mercedes-Benzes and gold-digging women are showing up.”

For a country with no welfare programs piracy may be the only hope and those involved in it can seek statehood in the eyes of the people. The pirates turned patriots shall celebrate the bigger catches and the masses shall rally behind their providers. In such a scenario, how easy would it be for foreign militaries to chase pirates on the land or sea?

Break the Legitimacy

Why not break this cycle of legitimacy and win the trust of the masses first? To do so the international community needs to act urgently to return Somalia’s marine resources to the people of Somalia.

The UN estimates that illegal fishing conservatively costs Somalia about USD 100 million per year in revenue due to IUU activities by European and Asian vessels. This situation been described by Lehr as a “resource swap” with Somalis “taking $100 million annually in ransoms while Europeans and Asians poach $300 million in fish.”

The UN Convention on Law of the Sea recognizes sovereign rights of states over territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones. The absence of effective governance in Somalia has meant no controlling authority over these areas. Rather than allowing private profiteers from filling this gap, the international community and the UN should come forward and do so by establishing a Regulatory Authority for the Somali EEZ. The EEZ should be broken down into different areal sectors. Based on the potential fishery and other living stocks in each sector, the authority should decide the limits for maximum, safe and environmentally sustainable exploitation. Fix the minimum bid price for each sector depending on the varieties of stocks especially tuna, sharks and lobsters. Invite global tenders and award the fishing contracts to the highest bidders for each sector.

The proceeds of this fishing activity should go to yet another international body (a Development Commission for Somalia). The Commission would spend the money on creating productive assets in Somalia – in the fields of education, health and infrastructure – in the process creating livelihood options for the masses.

Territorial waters and some inshore areas should be reserved for traditional artisan fishing communities, with a possible tie up with foreign vessels to buy the artisan catch. The armada of 18 international navies could extend their mandate not just to fight piracy, but to ensure that only legitimate fishing occurs in the EEZ.


Secretary Clinton’s plan for the “war on piracy” ignores a fundamental reality – that piracy has its roots in a loss of livelihood, yet provides the fuel for pirates to gain the support of the local populace. While military actions may reduce piracy in the short term, a populace deprived of every other means of living, and desperate enough to risk lives crossing the Gulf of Aden, will certainly return to piracy.

As mentioned by Cristopher Jasparo, piracy partly reflects the failure of governance in Somalia itself. More important, it illustrates the insufficiency of a military response in combating non-state actors that represent the losers of globalization. A plan that truly solves piracy must address these realities if it is to be both effective and morally justifiable.

The plan proposed here strikes a balance between the legitimate rights of the international community for safe passage and its responsibilities to govern Somali waters “for the people,” in the absence of a functioning Somali state. It takes away the cover of national cause from pirates and shifts resource legitimacy and popular support towards the international community. Thus, it should contribute to a conducive climate for both political negotiations for government formation as well as concerted efforts in chasing the pirates and their supporters – wherever they are!

This is the first guest post by Bhagirath Jogdand, a graduating student from the International Organizations MBA program at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He is currently working on a plan to rebuild Somali fishing communities, as an complement to combating piracy off the coast of Somalia. Prior to joining the MBA, Bhagirath worked for several years in the federal and state police and security services in India.