Monthly Archives: November 2009

We’re On the Same Side, Morons

Looks like Mumbai police’s newly established counter-terror combat units  are proving a bit too effective, if anything. A report in today’s Mumbai Mirror tells the slightly awkward story of when a tip-off about a group of armed men in a Toyota triggered a city-wide alert, a car chase and the eventual apprehension of … a group of National Security Guard personnel protecting the head of the All-India Anti-Terror Front.

Good to put the combat units through their paces, although it sounds like they’re “wired a bit tight” perhaps – reminds me of that scene in The Hurt Locker.

Post-Mumbai, Security Goes Private

A couple of reports on the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks highlight the fact that the shortfalls in India’s counter-terrorism capabilities are having to be filled by a huge increase in private security guards. This piece in the New York Times leaves the reader slightly concerned by the fact that the new front line is being manned essentially by rejects from the army or police. There’s a slightly different emphasis in this piece from the ISN Network, which gives the impression that India is following a similar path to that seen in the US after 9/11, with the huge profits available to private security firms causing them to expand at a huge rate and increasingly take over responsiblities that traditionally fell within the remit of the state.

One worrying implication of all this is that security in India is becoming even more of a bought commodity.  Given the continued dire state of public security measures a year after the Mumbai trauma – as neatly depicted in Soutik Biswas’ blog  this week – it seems that this could become an increasingly graphic reminder of the country’s wealth differentials – the rich protected, the poor unprotected – in a country already riddled with disparity.

Natural Ally or Potential Spoiler?

It must be pretty exciting being the first people invited round for tea by the most popular family in the world. Even the ethereally low-key Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must have gulped down just a hint of excitement – a little twitch of the whiskers – when he found out he was ahead of the British, the Germans, the Chinese – everyone. But as always, the politics behind the glitz and jewel-encrusted curry dinner is a complicated diplomatic tangle.

In fact, all the talk of “natural allies” and “no stronger friend than the United States” is designed to make up for the fact that the US has bigger fish to fry in the region. The state visit to China last week resulted in a milestone document for future Sino-US relations, a blueprint for shared global leadership. By contrast, the joint announcement between Singh and Obama did little more than trot out the usual promise to share more intelligence on counter-terrorism/science/stuff.

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Bowel and Border Movements

My blogging career almost ended before it began when my stomach announced that the inevitable had occurred less than a fortnight after my arrival in the subcontinent. As mudslides and torrential downpours brought unprecedented devastation to parts of Tamil Nadu, so similar unleashings were occurring on a more personal level in the claustrophobic heat of my Kochi hostel toilet; the grim rumblings of late monsoon thunder in the sky above Kerala mirrored by the gaseous tumult going on in my stomach for four long hellish days and nights.

Somewhere amid that delirium, I managed to read a copy of Outlook magazine which ran a series of articles on the rivalry with China, particularly relating to the disputed region of Arunachal Pradesh, which China prefers to think of as Southern Tibet).  I liked this article in particular since it echoed the sentiments in my first entry on this blog that India has a serious case of the green-eyed goblin when it comes to its Communist neighbour, which often leads its commentators to confuse a strong and successful China with a threatening China.

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Clinging on, but surely not for much longer

Excellent op-ed in The Hindu a couple of days ago about the seriously embattled Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari. His “imminent demise” has been imminent for about as long as he’s been president, but surely his staying power must be running low. As always in Pakistani politics, the army are the ultimate arbiter and it’s amazing to see just how much Zardy has managed to trample over their interests and still be in power:

From the botched attempt to bring the Inter-Services Intelligence under the civilian government’s control, to his insouciant declaration that Pakistan would agree to a “no first use” policy with India for its nuclear weapons, to his statements that the Kashmir issue should be put on the backburner, and that India was not the real enemy, he repeatedly tread on the Army’s toes. His attempt to build an independent relationship with Washington was a further provocation for the Army. He was blamed directly for the put-down of the Army in the Kerry-Lugar legislation, its incorporation of Indian concerns about the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

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String of Pearls – Pinch of Salt

The idea that China is an increasing military threat in South Asia colours much of US and Indian policy. But so far the evidence shows that it is commercial rather than military interests that have preoccupied China.

The dynamics between the three great powers of India, China and the US are a muddle of contradictions. From certain angles, partnerships look strong – the Indo-US nuclear deal for instance; or India and China teaming up for climate change talks. From other angles, things look decidedly rocky. The US would like India to provide the equivalent of the US-UK special relationship in South Asia, but New Delhi frequently shows itself to be far less pliable than the poodle in Europe. A report from India’s environment ministry on Himalayan glacier melt shows just how distant their respective attitudes can get.

This was part of the message from Financial Times correspondent Edward Luce (whose book In Spite of the Gods: the strange rise of modern India is about as good a guide to the 21st century subcontinent as can be hoped for) when he gave a lecture to the LSE in London last week. When New Delhi sees its interests diverging from Washington it is quick to exert its independence.

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