Monday, October 31, 2011

Attacks on Foreigners in Capital Get Afghan Faction’s Message Across



KABUL, Afghanistan — Every bomb, they say, has a return address.









When car bombs blew up in West Beirut, or explosions cut down worshipers in Sadr City mosques, survivors generally knew who was to blame, and more or less why — even when no one claimed responsibility.

So, too, with the suicide car bomb that on Saturday delivered the worst blow that NATO forces have suffered yet in Kabul, smashing into an armored bus full of troops and killing 13 foreigners, most of them Americans, and at least 4 Afghans.

The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, but Afghan and American officials suspect that, more specifically, it was the fearsome Haqqani faction, whose fighters have proved better trained and organized than many Taliban, and which in recent months especially has focused its attacks on military targets rather than civilian ones.

The message the Haqqanis are sending — to the world and, especially, to the Afghan public — is that they are willing and able to kill foreign troops. And with the Haqqani bombs comes a particularly troublesome return address: Pakistan, where the group is based.

One Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic ground rules, said it was clear that if the Haqqanis were behind the attack, the militants were reacting to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent trip to Pakistan. During the visit, she again demanded that the government do something about the Haqqanis, whose bases are in the Pakistani territory of North Waziristan.

“No one goes to this much trouble if they don’t think you’ll get the message,” the diplomat said.

An Afghan political analyst, Haroun Mir, agreed. “These are planned attacks in response to the pressure from the United States on Pakistan against the Haqqani network,” Mr. Mir said. Beyond that, he added, “the Pakistanis are sending another message, too: They are not willing to abandon their support of the Taliban.”

Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, the spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said Sunday in an interview that many of the so-called spectacular attacks in Kabul in recent months had been clearly linked to the Haqqani network. He described the group as “a criminal clan, like a Sicilian family clan, who are into criminal activity of all types, drug dealing, smuggling as well as insurgency.” He added that it had been badly hit by coalition raids and arrests this year.

Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesman for the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service, said about the bombing on Saturday: “Usually these things are the Haqqani network. Kabul is their area of operation, and all the signs and indications point to the Haqqani network.”

With the surge in American forces this year, Taliban dominance of many areas in Afghanistan’s south has been ended, forcing them to find other ways to fight back, General Jacobson said. “We see less and less capability to actually face us,” he said, “so there’s an increased use of I.E.D.’s and assassinations, and we can call them spectacular attacks, attacks that are simply laid on to make it a big story in the media.” (I.E.D. is the abbreviation for improvised explosive device.)

Since the summer, there has been a string of such attacks in the Kabul region, most characterized by complex assaults using suicide bombers or multiple attackers and acting on considerable intelligence about the target.

The Hotel Intercontinental was hit in June, followed by the British Council, a cultural relations agency, in August on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, the celebration of the end of British rule.

In September, seven insurgents with sniper rifles, an 84-millimeter recoilless rifle and rocket-propelled grenades, among other weapons, attacked the American Embassy and the ISAF headquarters next door, using a perch in a hotel under construction and possibly pre-positioned ammunition caches. A week later, the former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated; he was the head of the High Peace Council, charged with reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

On Thursday, another complex attack was launched in Kandahar on the Provincial Reconstruction Team, a largely American group that is helping to distribute aid money as part of the war effort.

Afghan officials have placed blame for all of those save the Rabbani assassination directly on the Haqqanis.

General Jacobson pointed out that all of those attacks had missed their aim to some degree: none killed Americans or other foreign allies who were targeted. Most victims were Afghan civilians and police officers. At the British Council, no one inside was killed, although a New Zealand commando among the responders died. In the embassy attack, 20 died, but none were inside the compound, and none were Americans or other NATO forces. In Kandahar, an Afghan interpreter was killed.

Still, the general added, the insurgents gained something: “They were not effective militarily, but they gained a lot of publicity.”

And that facet of the war remains crucial, with the players all fighting for position, and the public eye, as the clock ticks toward the planned American military withdrawal in 2014.

“This is a war of perception,” said Mahmoud Saikal, a former Afghan deputy foreign minister and a political activist. “The shift to urban warfare and suicide attacks in urban areas gives them lots of propaganda.”

In that sense, killing a considerable number of Americans, especially in the glare of publicity in the Afghan capital, is a notable success.

“Well, it hurt. Put it like that,” General Jacobson said. Still, he added, the attack consisted of one man in a car, and it is unclear whether the attacker just happened on his target or had information that led him to it.

“This could be a target of opportunity or a planned attack,” the general said. “We will have to find out. It might turn out that he just had a stroke of luck.”

Shukria Barakzai, the chairwoman of the Afghan Parliament’s Defense Committee, believes it was much more likely that the attacker had specific intelligence about where and when to strike. “That’s impossible, to just cruise for a target. There are too many checkpoints, and heavy cars are quite visible,” she said, adding: “Other intelligence services have to be behind this. They are choosing Kabul because there’s lots of media, and they are shaking NATO’s door here.”

Like many Afghan politicians, she has no doubt about either the message or who sent it. By Rod Nordland for the International Herald Tribune

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Japan, India to jointly develop rare earths



Rare earth ore, shown with a United States penny for size comparison


Japan and India agreed Saturday to promote at the private level joint development of rare earths, which are indispensable for automobiles and information technology products.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Indian Foreign Minister Shri S.M. Krishna also agreed to step up negotiations toward conclusion of an India-Japan nuclear agreement during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry's Iikura Guest House in Minato Ward, Tokyo, according to officials.

The bilateral agreement over rare earths joint development comes against the backdrop of an attempt to offset the predominance of China in the field, observers said.


Rare earth element
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

These rare-earth oxides are used as tracers to determine which parts of a drainage basin are eroding. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.[1]

As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium.[2] Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.

Despite their name, rare earth elements (with the exception of the radioactive promethium) are relatively plentiful in the Earth's crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper). However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms. The few economically exploitable deposits are known as rare earth minerals.[3] It was the very scarcity of these minerals (previously called "earths") that led to the term "rare earth". The first such mineral discovered was gadolinite, a compound of cerium, yttrium, iron, silicon and other elements. This mineral was extracted from a mine in the village of Ytterby in Sweden; many of the rare earth elements bear names derived from this location.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why China Should Bail Out Europe



EUROPE is drowning and needs a lifeline. A series of marathon meetings this week yielded a new set of proposals, but what they depend on is cash — and lots of it, perhaps trillions of dollars — to save Greece and the European banking system and to prevent financial contagion from spreading to Spain, Italy and even France, which would destroy the euro zone as we know it. Where to turn for help? The answer is obvious: China.

Indeed, the call by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France this week to President Hu Jintao of China, seeking support for the European Financial Stability Facility, could represent a major change in the global landscape: the consolidation of China’s economic dominance at the expense of the status quo powers — the United States and Europe.

Despite the agreement among Europe’s leaders on Thursday to recapitalize banks on the Continent, the reality is that Europe cannot muster this cash on its own. In part, this is because most countries are fiscally stretched and even Germany, with a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio above 80 percent, is reaching the limits of its check-writing ability. But it is also because Germany seems reluctant to transfer resources, either directly through fiscal means or indirectly through the European Central Bank.

And with a United States essentially sidelined because of its own economic and fiscal weakness, it is even less of a surprise that the S O S is going out to China. Only China, with its $3 trillion in reserves, is now able to provide the magnitudes of relief that Europe desperately needs.

What should China do? So far, it has opted not to be an active financier of the European countries threatened by crisis. But that is increasingly becoming a less tenable position. China is the world’s major exporter, and averting economic collapse in the indebted importing countries of Europe will be very much in China’s interest.

But China has a choice. It can help Europe bilaterally by back-stopping the stability facility, as Europe has requested, or by guaranteeing to buy Italian and Spanish bonds at a rate that would keep these countries’ finances sustainable (much as the European Central Bank ought to be doing). Or it can help by providing the International Monetary Fund with additional money to, in turn, lend to Europe.

From China’s perspective, the possible advantage would be to exert power to obtain direct and concrete benefits. For example, it could ask for market economy status in Europe, which would reduce the scope for protectionist action against Chinese goods entering the European market. It could also seek to buy companies in distressed countries on advantageous terms.

The risks in this bilateral approach are considerable. It would expose China to the charge of becoming enmeshed in European politics. Domestically, it would expose the government to the charge of privileging foreign investment at the expense of investing in what is still a poor country with great development needs and challenges.

Helping Europe by strengthening the I.M.F. and increasing its lending would avoid some of these political costs, especially since China would not be directly involved in European politics and problems. But China would have to receive something considerable in return for the extra resources that it would be providing.

China should demand nothing less than a wholesale revamping of the governance of the I.M.F. to reflect the current economic realities. Governance reform can no longer be just about the nationality of the I.M.F.’s managing director but should fundamentally be about who will have the greatest voice and exercise the most power in the new world.

Today, the United States and Europe each have effective veto power in the I.M.F. because important decisions require an 85 percent share of the vote. If China were to become the I.M.F.’s major financier it should have veto power on terms equivalent to those of the United States. Europe’s power should be reduced commensurate with its transition from creditor to potential borrower status. Supplicants, China should insist, cannot have veto power in a financial institution.

The Chinese government could then trumpet a nationalist achievement — equal status as the United States, and a greater status than that of Europe, in running the world’s premier financial institution — as the return for investing its cash abroad.

These demands would be legitimate and indeed be welcome for the world because they would tether China more firmly to, and create a stake for it in, the multilateral system. Those in the United States and Europe who would resist these changes should remember that the alternatives are worse. A China that uses its might bilaterally to gain narrow political advantages would be a worrying portent for the future when China becomes economically bigger and stronger. And a China that refuses to take the phone call at all could well push Europe off the cliff. Europeans are running out of options; debtors cannot be choosers.

By Arvind Subramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is the author of “Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance.” International Herald Tribune

Friday, October 28, 2011

When Government Corruption Becomes Part of the Scenery, Beware



On Monday, Nyoman Minta became Indonesia’s most famous gardener after he managed to bypass three security perimeters and walk within five meters of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with his vintage bicycle and a bag full of coconuts.

Even though many found it perplexing and a bit amusing that such a major breach of security could occur at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Fair, it is doubtful that the soldiers and police officers present lacked training or diligence. Instead, it was likely due to the ubiquity of gardeners themselves. The more common a sight, the less we tend to pay attention to it.

Our society is replete with examples of people getting used to something that ultimately can present itself in a dangerous form. Corruption, for example, is so common in Indonesia that people did not even feign surprise when Yudhoyono declared that a massive robbery on the state budget had occurred.

People were more surprised that Yudhoyono had the temerity to declare his outrage over the waste, considering that it is an open secret that it often takes a lot “grease money” to get anything done in Indonesia. It was also an open secret that graft remains rife regardless of all the election slogans of “saying no to corruption.” In fact, considering how many scandal-tainted ministers still retain their posts in the reshuffled cabinet, many people are simply resigned to the idea that corruption eradication has never been a top priority of this administration.

It is not that people no longer care about corruption. They despise it, especially when it comes in the form of blatant misconduct tinged with arrogance. The public uproar over the construction of a new legislative building — and the graft seen as part and parcel of its planning — ultimately forced its cancelation. Now people are demanding an accounting on what happened with the Rp 118 billion ($13 million) spent on the project — money that House Speaker Marzuki Alie has declared non-refundable.

The problem is that the major cases that attracted public attention are only just a drop in a bucket compared with the systemic corruption that occurs within the bureaucracy. In fact, systemic corruption is so prevalent in Indonesia that many people have given up fighting it and joined the bacchanal. In good times, the private sector could shrug off the cost of corruption as just another way to grease the wheel. It was just another cost of business in Indonesia.

At the same time, left unchecked, corruption has the potential to bankrupt and plunge the country into chaos. In tough times, when every rupiah matters, corruption will prevent economic recovery and plunge the country further into the abyss of chaos. Witness the turmoil in Greece, Italy and various other states, including Indonesia itself back in 1998, which was caused by economic meltdown thanks to the highly inefficient and corrupt state bureaucracy that strangled economic growth.

Recent violence in Papua was the canary in the coal mine, the five-meter perimeter that Minta passed in his misadventure. Corruption is a major cause of poverty and violence in Papua. In April, Tempo reported that Priyo Budi Santoso, a Golkar Party legislator, estimated that trillions of rupiahs were siphoned from the budgets for education, health, and infrastructure.

With most of this money ending up in the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, it is no wonder that resentment grows among local Papuans toward what they see as unjust exploitation. With local troublemakers stirring for independence and the overreaction by the police force to the minuscule pro-independence demonstration, the scene was set for recent violence in Papua.

There are many ways to pacify Papua. The government could send more police officers to Papua. It could provide better training to the officers to prevent another public relations disaster, such as police brutality on a peaceful demonstration. It could raise the level of alertness of the province to the military emergency in order to bring in the military personnel to quash the separatist movement. I don’t doubt that the Indonesian military is capable of pulling it off to again impose order and secure peace in Papua. I know they can do it if the government orders them to pacify the entire island.

Still, without tackling the root of the problems, which is the pervasiveness of corruption among Papuan politicians and bureaucrats, any peace will only be temporary. The government would not be able to pacify the land in a long run. Papua will remain a troubled province should Yudhoyono’s government remain hesitant in completely quashing corruption in Papua.

Today Indonesia celebrates the anniversary of the “Youth Pledge” of 1928 that declared the unity of Indonesia. Maybe we should devote the day to fighting corruption too. By Yohanes Sulaiman lecturer at the Indonesian National Defense University. Jakarta Globe

India's Congress Party and Corruption













Sniping at anti-corruption crusaders won’t save them

A sustained campaign of sniping at the leaders of the anti-corruption movement by senior members of India’s Congress Party speaks of policy confusion and lack of leadership. What is it designed to achieve?

Two members of corruption protest activist Anna Hazare's campaign team -- Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal -- were found to have allegedly fiddled expenses and diverting donations . That gave the Congress Party opportunity to ridicule the anti-corruption campaigners.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, another key member of Hazare’s team, delivered the opinion that people of Kashmir should decide whether they wished to stay in India, be independent or switch to Pakistan. That is a 'sacred-cow' issue with most Indians. He was assaulted in his office by thugs believed to be members of an extreme Hindu fundamentalist organization.

Thus Team Anna are on the back foot and divided. But that doesn’t absolve the Congress Party of accountability for corruption in government. A corrupt government smearing anti-corruption campaigners does not win it sympathy from a public fed up with civil servants and politicians who abuse their positions.

Manmohan Singh, a weak prime minister out-maneuvered by powerful political warlords, signals administrative dysfunction to voters. There is no one in the driver's seat. This is a lame-duck government that will in all likelihood be turfed out at the next general election.

Corruption works for everyone except the dispossessed. The victims of India's systemic corruption are the powerless masses who can't get relief from policemen, government clerks or elected representatives with their hands out for bribes. The middle classes are annoyed that they have to grease palms at every turn. The rich leverage it to bend the system to their benefit.

State legislators and parliamentarians see election to the government as their ticket to amassing wealth by exerting influence on government contracts. Corruption works for everyone except the dispossessed. So what incentive is there for Parliament to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, also known as the citizens’ ombudsman will, which seeks to pass restrictive laws dealing with political corruption?

None. About 25 percent of sitting parliamentarians are convicted of crimes or pending charges. A larger proportion manage to benefit without legal trace. Indian 'black money' estimated at more than US$1.4 trillion is stashed in Swiss banks. It has been estimated that up to 40 percent of India’s gross domestic product disappears from the economy, stolen by politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats. The last thing India's political class wants is public scrutiny of its methods of enrichment from public finances.

Thanks to the Right to Information Act which was forced on the government in 2005 by an earlier public campaign, activists can request sight of documents, memos and contracts which were previously inaccessible. That data can be quickly distributed through social networks to name and shame the guilty. The politicians deeply regret passing the information act. Manmohan Singh recently floated a trial balloon saying the RTI needs to be reviewed as it inhibits civil servants from appending notes and comments to proposed bills and projects and that it slows down the normal functioning of government.

That brought a torrent of protest from social activists, amply magnified through TV talk shows and press commentary.

Taking lessons from the effect of the information act, the political class is in no rush to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill despite lobbying by Anna Hazare which has brought thousands to the streets. It is a severe tool designed to rid India of its Neta-Babu (bureaucrat-politician) nexus through swift justice meted out by a citizen's Ombudsman and his avenging angels. It gives corrupt judges, ministers, civil servants and legislators little legal privilege. It is punitive and extreme to a political class used to distorting legal process to escape responsibility.

Election risk

Anna Hazare has warned that if a strong Jan Lokpal Bill is not passed into law by the winter session of parliament, he will tour all the states where by-elections are due and re-ignite public anger against Congress Party candidates. That is no idle threat.

The public fury that was triggered across the nation by Anna Hazare's fast in August has not gone away. India's voters are restive. And the game has gone well past the stage for the government to invoke security as a cover to lock him up.

Congress Party strategists are toying with the parliamentary process and legal punditry to water down the Lokpal bill and starve budget allocations for the ambitious central and state anti-corruption machinery. By a clever combination of toothless legislation and budgetary under-provision, politicians of all parties hope to escape dismissal, seizure of assets and jail.

After all, what’s the point of getting elected if you cannot leverage your position to become a millionaire?

(Cyril Pereira is a senior journalist who comments regularly on Asian affairs.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Papua Turmoil















Wednesday's brutal crackdown of a pro-independence rally in Papua was indicative of the way the government treats the native population, an activist said on Friday. (AFP Photo)


Tensions are boiling over in Indonesia's restive Papua province, with the government rushing in paramilitary reinforcements following a spurt in killings blamed on separatist rebels.

Meanwhile, labour unrest, allegedly incited by the rebels, leaves the world's second-largest copper mine crippled.

Security has been raised to the highest level in Puncak Jaya, where a local police chief was shot dead this week, bringing the death toll to 12 in two weeks.

The police have asked the military to assist in security-related issues in the region.

Analysts have warned that the situation could worsen if Jakarta does not show Papuans it is serious about improving their lot. They remain one of the poorest Indonesians despite being home to the country's richest resources.

Tensions rose last month when workers in Freeport's giant gold and copper mines in Grasberg walked out on their jobs for the second time this year demanding better pay.The strike forced Freeport to declare yesterday force majeure on some sales from the mine, freeing it from contractual obligations to supply buyers.

The news buoyed copper prices on the London Metal Exchange yesterday; the benchmark contract rose as much as 3.5 percent to $7,785 a tonne, just below a one-month peak of $7,820 on Tuesday.

Besides the mine strike, there has been a spate of shootings in recent weeks, allegedly by separatists. A pro-independence congress held in Abepura town was forcefully dispersed, leaving six dead. About 300 of the 5,000 involved were arrested. Six were charged with treason.

The latest incident occurred on Monday, when two men shot a police chief in the head at the airport in Puncak Jaya, a regency in the Papua highlands.

Violence has plagued Papua since 1969, when Indonesia took over control of the region from the Dutch, ignoring Papuan demands for political sovereignty. In response to rising demands to separate, Jakarta granted the region special autonomy in 2001, with a promise that the funds allocated from the government budget would help accelerate development in Papua's restive provinces.

Indonesia began giving land concessions in Papua for mining projects soon after, assuring Papuans they would gain from such investments.

Earlier this year, the government's Supreme Audit Agency revealed that 4.12 trillion rupiah (S$589 million) of the 19.12 trillion rupiah in special autonomy funds between 2001 and last year had been misused and embezzled.

By and large, many Papuans remain impoverished and believe they have not reaped the benefits of their resource-rich province.

Papua Peace Network said a deep mistrust of Jakarta has prevailed and spurred the insurgents.

In 2005, immigrant numbers were estimated at 41 per cent of the population in Papua. It is expected to jump to 53.5 per cent by the end of this year, making indigenous Papuans a minority in their own home, according to the Papua Road Map. Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. Zubaidah Nazeer - Straits Times Indonesia

Recognising two Chinas first step to unification




PRESIDENT Ma Ying-jeou's announcement that Taiwan is prepared to sign a peace agreement with China within the next decade may have been made to enhance his chances for re-election in January but it was also a practical acknowledgement of political realities.

For one thing, China is becoming increasingly powerful and it is by no means clear how much longer the United States will be able to guarantee Taiwan's security. So, holding talks on a peace agreement when Washington is still willing to defend Taiwan is a smart thing to do.

Moreover, the discussion of sensitive political issues cannot be put off indefinitely. The two sides have signed 15 agreements on economic issues over the last three years.

But China has made it clear that it wants to move on to political issues. And since the easier issues have already been tackled, the more difficult -- and sensitive -- political issues will need to be faced.

The idea of a peace agreement is not new. In 2005, President Hu Jintao and then Kuomintang party chairman Lien Chan signed an agreement which called for pursuing "together the happiness of the people on both sides" and resuming "consultations on an equal footing", as well as the signing of a peace accord. There was no explicit mention of reunification as the goal.

And when Ma ran for the presidency in 2007, his campaign platform included economic cooperation with the mainland and eventual political discussions that would lead to a peace agreement.

By putting negotiations for a peace agreement on the agenda, Ma is taking the initiative. He is also subtly setting conditions that will be difficult for China to resist.

Thus, the Taiwan leader has said that no agreement would be signed unless it was endorsed by a referendum. By saying so publicly, Ma is making it impossible for Beijing to object to a referendum, which China had previously insisted was something that Taiwan could not do, since referendums can only be held by sovereign states.

Actually, ever since Taiwan became a democracy, it has been true that no government can possibly reach an agreement with Beijing on issues such as unification or independence without the approval of the electorate. Beijing is now forced to accept that as a reality.

Much will need to happen before there is a peace agreement, including putting in place measures to create mutual trust so as to avoid military conflict. Certainly, it will have to include the removal of Chinese missiles threatening Taiwan.

But if a peace agreement can be reached, it will mean the end of a decades-long problem that has brought the US and China to the brink of war.

It is not clear how future political talks would be held, what the contents of any agreement would be and -- if there is an agreement -- whether the signatories would be two political parties or two governments.

Presumably, Beijing would prefer an agreement between two ruling political parties. However, this would not be acceptable to Taiwan's opposition party or, indeed, to its public.

But if the agreement was between two governments, then Beijing would have to make the very difficult decision to abandon its current stance of not recognising the existence of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The Chinese position is that the government of the Republic of China, instead of having moved to Taiwan in 1949, simply ceased to exist when the People's Republic of China was established on the mainland.

For more than 60 years, Beijing has adamantly opposed the concept of "two Chinas" and insisted that no country could recognise both the governments in Taipei and in Beijing.

However, China recognised both East and West Germany before German reunification in 1990 and, currently, it has diplomatic relations with both North and South Korea. Why, one wonders, is it acceptable to have two Germanys and two Koreas but not two Chinas? After all, it is simply reality.

In fact, it is likely that recognition of the existence -- and legitimacy -- of the Republic of China will be a prerequisite for any political agreement with Taiwan. After all, no Taiwan government can agree that it does not exist, or is illegitimate.

Continued refusal to accept the existence of the Republic of China will remove any chance of a cross-straits agreement. Acceptance of this reality is the only way that may eventually lead to unification -- that is, if the two sovereign governments on opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait agree to it. By Frank Ching for The New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur

Mekong incident proves that the Golden Triangle is still volatile



In early 2002, when the Chinese authorities were breaking huge boulders to improve the navigational route between China and northern Laos and Thailand on the Mekong River, local residents and environmentalists were half joking when they said they would be standing by with their slingshots to attack the project engineers and crew members.

They were opposed to the Chinese-funded project out of concern that it would affect fish stocks and consequently their livelihood. A series of reefs and rapids would be removed, making it possible for 500-tonne cargo vessels to travel further up and down the river.

But while the Chinese engineers were busy dynamiting the rocks and reefs, the authorities conveniently overlooked one glaring security concern - that the stretch of river between the Chinese border and Thailand's territorial waters is also the domain of opium warlords and drug armies operating out of the Burmese sector of the Golden Triangle.

Prior to the coming of the Chinese cargo ships, the notorious United Wa State Army (UWSA) - dubbed the world's largest armed drug-trafficking outfit by the US State Department - at one time even set up a small port of its own in the northern Burmese border region. Embarrassed by the Wa's flag flying high, the Burmese government asked its Wa allies to close the port down, or at least not make it so obvious.

There is always a sense of nervousness - whenever passing through this no man's land - among those who observe the Golden Triangle's opium trade and its related ethnic insurgents. But regional integration cannot wait for Burma's internal conflict to subside, thus, the decision by China to improve the trade link through this area.

Over the years, the authorities and stakeholders have tolerated the banditry and armed robberies that often take place along this route. But earlier this month their worst fears were realised when a group of bandits hijacked two Chinese-flagged cargo vessels and killed 12 people. A 13th person is still missing.

According to the Thai police, a gang run by Nor Kham, a Shan warlord, is thought to be behind the simultaneous hijack attempt that appears to have gone wrong. The incident took place about 20 kilometres from Thai territory.

Most of the victims had been handcuffed, tied and blindfolded. Nearly one million methamphetamine tablets were found on the two cargo ships.

Major General Prakarn Chonlayuth, commander of the Pa Muang Task Force, reportedly said that authorities believe the gang demands protection money. But if any vessels refuse to pay, they will hijack them and use them to transport drugs into Thailand.
Somehow the Task Force was alerted to this incident and sent its men to go after the two ships after they had entered Thai territory in the Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai province.

The official explanation as to what had taken place, and why so many drugs were on board, has raised more questions than answers.

The drug gangs in the Golden Triangle produce millions of methamphetamine tablets on a weekly basis and tonnes of opium and heroin on a seasonal basis annually. These illicit drugs are usually smuggled into Thailand via the land route. So why would a drug gang that knows the Thai-Burma border area like the back of its hand opt to use this particular strategy and entry point - a security bottleneck - to enter Thailand with hijacked ships with a massive amount of drugs on board.

Were the drugs already on the ships when they left the Chinese port? This wouldn't make much sense, since the drug armies and warlords in the Burmese sector of the Golden Triangle operate somewhat freely without interference from the Burmese authorities.

In 1989 the Burmese junta granted the UWSA autonomous status in an area called Special Region 2. Trying to go "legitimate", the UWSA announced in October 2005 that it would ban opium cultivation in Wa-controlled areas. But the world, with the exception of a hopeful handful of Chinese intelligence and security officials along the Sino-Burma border, paid them no mind because methamphetamines continue to flood out of the region.

Thailand's Yong Kha Development Project, a crop substitution scheme, launched in Wa-controlled areas near the Thai border in December 2003, was another laughing stock, as no one fell for it. Shortly after that, the US announced more arrest warrants for Wa leaders. It was a big embarrassment for the then Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who permitted himself to be duped by his Burmese counterpart, General Khin Nyunt. The Yong Kha Project did more to whitewash the UWSA - and strengthen Thai-Burmese relations - than address the plight and suffering of Wa peasants, or long-term peace and stability.

In the end, none of the piecemeal projects and initiative worked.

Today, a cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over Burma's sector of the Golden Triangle, and the river that runs by it, as warlords and drug armies continue to roam freely. If anything, the murder of the 12 Chinese crew members is a reminder of how things can go awfully wrong when officials overlook obvious security concerns.

Like opium and insurgency, development and stability in this rugged part of the world, where warlords and drug armies play for keeps, go hand in hand. Development and regional integration will always hit a snag if the security issue is not addressed in a comprehensive and meaningful way. The Nation, Bangkok

In Indonesia and Around the World, Human Trafficking Casts a Long Shadow















Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. It results in enforced waged labor, unpaid servitude and sexual exploitation. While many of us are angered by its existence, we are often unaware of how widespread and lucrative the phenomenon really is.

In 2008 alone, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, the business of human trafficking generated $31 billion and affected 2.5 million people across 127 countries. Out of 12.3 million forced labor victims worldwide, some 2.4 million were trafficked. To date human trafficking remains one of the world’s most profitable businesses, alongside the trade of illegal weapons and drugs. And while these figures are disconcertingly high, given the clandestine nature of the trade, figures are likely to be underreported and could reach much higher.

Human trafficking has been illegal since 1948. More recently, international awareness and abhorrence of this phenomenon has brought about punitive legislation. The UN Convention Against Trans-National Organized Crime, adopted in 2000, is currently the main international instrument used to fight this organized cross-border crime. The convention established the first definition ever of “trafficking of persons” in 2001, calling it “the acquisition of people by improper means, such as force, fraud or deception with the aim of exploiting them.” However, while the legislation does have serious consequences for those caught, human trafficking persists.

Just as rape victims, paradoxically, are often blamed for enticing their rapists, what do we say to those who blame the trafficked for “letting” themselves be trafficked? The reality is that no one chooses to be a victim of trafficking. The phenomenon is more pronounced among people facing extreme poverty, or where gender or ethnic discrimination is high. Poorer layers of society find themselves especially exposed as they search for any way out of their desperate poverty and succumb to a fallacious offer of a better life, better work or the possibility of resettling in a more prosperous country. All too often these opportunities are the doorway to an even more soul-crushing way of life than the one they left behind.

So while there is a growing awareness that slavery is wrong, and people would not knowingly offer themselves up into slavery, why is human exploitation and trafficking still a reality for so many marginalized people across so many countries, including Indonesia?

In 2011, Indonesia has been a major supplier of women, children and men trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Indeed, according to Unicef, most of the trafficked women and children have been abducted against their will for commercial and sexual exploitation within Indonesia, but many are smuggled overseas too.

Illicit recruitment agencies often play a sinister role in this trafficking process. While most labor recruitment agencies — known in Indonesian as Perusahaan Jasa Tenaga Kerja Indonesia — are legal and follow the rules on labor export practices, a number of them are unlicensed and work outside of the law, and in reality operate similarly to illegal trafficking rings.

Using slick marketing tools, these agencies seem to offer a legitimate road out of poverty. The women are often so desperate to leave their impoverished situations that they borrow money, often from these agencies themselves, and fall immediately into a cycle of debt and bondage. They need to work to repay their debt, but the only work they are offered is in the form of involuntary and unpaid servitude, ultra-low wage work or work in the sex trade, ensuring they never can repay the debt and have to continue working for the agencies.

These agencies charge fees as high as $3,000, which the victims can rarely pay back. Confiscating passports ensures that women cannot run away and return home. Some manage to contact their family to pay back the money for them, which, in the rare instances in which they can, obliges the family to sell any meager assets they may have accumulated up to that point, or borrow more money from others, thus ensuring that the family is worse off than before.

In cases involving children, the State Ministry for Women’s Empowerment reports that efforts to retrieve children who are trafficked are not particularly successful. Adolescents that drop out of school are the most vulnerable. Trapped by poor education, poor economic conditions and little or no work opportunities, they are the first to fall prey to traffickers, especially those adolescents arriving in big cities. Often they are picked up off arriving buses and around bus stations, before they can develop any meaningful support networks. Tragically, others are kidnapped from their village or handed over by their own parents as repayment of a family debt, or to rid poor parents of another hungry mouth to feed. Others are lured with promises of well-paying jobs domestically or overseas.

Even though the House of Representatives has approved a bill to punish captured human traffickers, Indonesia has still not been able to stop the flow of people sold commercially by these highly organized and ruthless networks of criminals. Individual cases have been brought to justice, but the government has failed to take more large-scale traffickers to court, reflecting an overall weakness of the Indonesian system.

It also reveals flaws in Indonesia’s cooperation with neighboring countries, where most Indonesian women end up, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and as far afield as the Middle East.

Given that most of these countries are members of Asean, with Malaysia topping the list of end destinations for Indonesian women in particular, according to the International Organization for Migration, what should we be doing, both as caring Indonesians and as concerned citizens of Asean?

At the individual level it is important to raise awareness among one’s neighbors and within one’s own family that stories of well-paying jobs that sound too good to be true, usually are just that. We should lobby the court system to give maximum sentences to traffickers and make an example of them. We should lobby our own representatives in the legislature and those in power along the now well-known trafficking routes to do their best to stop this trade, at least within their own spheres of influence. We should insist that better cooperation is undertaken at the Asean level using Asean-specific laws and protocols to ensure better chances of arrest and punishment.

Traffickers take advantage of Indonesia’s porous borders. Border areas like the Riau Islands, Kalimantan and some areas of Sulawesi that provide neighboring countries with a seemingly never-ending supply of new victims need special attention.

Human trafficking casts both a local shadow and a deeper, darker global shadow that requires global interventions. Starting at home, raising awareness among the wider public is critical, but improving conditions in the regions that supply most of those trafficked is also important.

Being secure and prosperous at home means potential victims are less likely to need to escape poverty. Lobbying is needed for those officials who are supposed to work in our interest, in the legislatures and in the court systems. Global connections need to be strengthened too. In 2007 the European Union and Asean agreed to cooperate on the joint fighting of organized crime and human trafficking. Also, several UN agencies are working closely with affected governments, including in Indonesia, and NGOs continue to play a crucial role. Seamless cooperation is the key.

It would seem we are all in the same boat, trying to overcome trafficking, but we need to row harder, and in the same direction if we are to make any headway.

By Akira Moretto deputy head of research at Strategic Asia Indonesia, a Jakarta-based consultancy that works to promote cooperation among Asian countries. Jakarta Globe

Indonesia Intelligence Law Draconian: Human Rights Watch



Human Rights Watch called Thursday for Indonesia's new intelligence law to be repealed or amended, slamming it as vague and broad, and likely to mute political opposition and disarm the media.

HRW urged for the law to be repealed or amended to meet international human rights standards, fearing it could impose "repressive practices" reminiscent of the Suharto dictatorship. Broad terms such as "national stability" and "opponents" in the law had been invoked during Suharto's rule to justify crackdowns on pro--democracy activists, it pointed out.

HRW called for an "improved and independent" oversight of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), which was granted "special powers" to intercept communications and track fund flows suspected for terrorism activities with a court order. It said that because the courts are known to act on political interests, BIN could use spying as a tool for political repression against politicians and activists.

Indonesian human rights groups are worried the law will persecute activists and limit freedom of expression.

BIN's deputy chief Muchdi Purwopranjono was acquitted of plotting the murder of activist Munir Said Thalib in September 2004. An independent team examining the trial last year found that BIN had refused to cooperate in the case and withheld key documentation that would have supported the prosecution, HRW said.

Cambodia's Unrealized Peace Promise














PHNOM PENH - Twenty years ago this week Cambodia entered a brave new dawn. The four Cambodian factions that had fought a protracted civil war since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 came together with signatories from 18 countries in Paris to sign the Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict, otherwise known as the Paris Peace Agreement. It was a document that promised the Cambodian people peace, stability, democracy and human rights after decades of war and hardship.

On paper, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has followed through on some of the Paris Peace Agreement’s promise. It presided over the ultimate disintegration of the Khmer Rouge after more than three decades of war, slaughter and widespread suffering; it established the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in an attempt to provide justice to the victims of the genocidal regime; it signed various international human-rights covenants and treaties; it oversaw Cambodia's entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and it has achieved a fair degree of economic prosperity and development.

In the fields of democracy and human rights, however, its accomplishments are less clear. Prime Minister Hun Sen's government has routinely flouted many of the covenants it has ratified; further entrenched a pervasive culture of corruption and impunity, allowed the wealth gap between the elite and vast majority of poverty-ridden Cambodians to widen alarmingly, and waged a sustained legislative and administrative campaign to control every aspect of the Cambodian people's lives, showing scant regard for the rule of law, democratic institutions and human rights and freedoms.

Freedom of expression in Cambodia has been steadily squeezed, with those wanting to speak openly and protest peacefully increasingly stifled by legislative and judicial means. Leveraging its strong parliamentary majority won at the 2008 polls, the governing Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has passed and continues to pass restrictive laws that play to its political advantage. The courts, which are under total executive control, often act as anti-democratic enforcer, implementing draconian measures under a legislative veil of legitimacy.

For example, the Penal Code, which came into force in December 2010, maintains the dissemination of "disinformation" and defamation as criminal offenses punishable by prison terms. These codes have since been used to silence human-rights activists and others who question or criticize the RGC's personalities, policies and actions.

Limiting freedom of association has recently been given government priority. The latest - and most controversial - law in this legislative campaign is the pending Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which is set to impose mandatory registration requirements on all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations while allowing for arbitrary administrative sanctions, including suspension and closure.

The forthcoming Law on Trade Unions, as currently drafted, also threatens to deal a serious blow to the right of freedom of association in Cambodia, imposing onerous registration processes and reporting obligations on groups of employees.

Under both laws, groups must register their activities and the very act of forming associations without official approval will be deemed illegal. Recent events, including the suspension of an NGO involved in monitoring a government compensation program and the official harassment and intimidation of other watchdog and advocacy NGOs, suggest that such laws are part of a wider effort to erode democratic space and silence civil society.

Without a viable political opposition, Cambodia now functions as a veritable one-party state. Sam Rainsy, the eponymous leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, is in exile fleeing a raft of politically-motivated criminal charges. Kem Sokha, head of the Human Rights Party, has also come under legal threat. It is not inconceivable that the next general election in 2013 could be contested without the leaders of the two main opposition parties.

Hun Sen outlined his intention "to make the opposition group die" in a speech earlier this year and later pledged to arrest a government critic whose comments about the Arab Spring were perceived as an attempt to foment a similar popular uprising in Cambodia.

Rather than limiting the space for opposition voices, the RGC should ensure that the government's ongoing development is shared by all, with social development prioritized as much as economic development. An increasingly educated and technology savvy new generation can play its part, as young people take advantage of opportunities that their elders were deprived of by the grim demands of the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime.

A rising professional class envisions Cambodia as a high-tech, educated, prosperous country playing a leading role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Under the current regime and restrictions, it's a democratic vision that risks going unrealized.

There is much that the international community can do. While the RGC contends that the implementation and protection of democracy and human rights is a sovereign issue not subject to international interference, the 18 other signatories of the Paris Peace Agreement - as well as the United Nations (UN) - are legally bound to protect and promote democracy and human rights in Cambodia.

These parties can use their economic and political leverage to ensure that the long-suffering Cambodian people can at long last enjoy the democracy and human rights that were promised to them two decades ago.

All stakeholders in Cambodia's future - the RGC, the signatories to the Paris Peace Agreement, the UN, the donors and the people of Cambodia - should use this anniversary as an opportunity to ensure that their substantial commitment and investment is not squandered. By Ou Virak president of the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Filipino Muslim rebels have much to explain these days



The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should be made to disclose how it spent the P5 million given to it by the Aquino administration. Suspicions are swirling that the government funds were funnelled to the rebel forces responsible for murdering 19 soldiers who were after a suspected criminal.

Are government funds being used to arm or to train rebel leaders? Will somebody please explain this to the Filipino people?

The Palace admitted that it gave the P5 million, which was meant for capacity-building programs for emerging Muslim leaders and professionals. Sounds suspicious. Sounds like public funds are being used to train rebel officers to kill soldiers and overthrow the government.

The Aquino government tried to deflect some of the blame by saying that the previous government under former President Gloria Arroyo had committed to give the money to the rebels. Palace officials want us to believe that their hands were tied when it came to delivering the financial commitment.
Really? The Aquino government has shown no restraint in junking other commitments entered into by the Arroyo administration. That was the case, for example, with the dredging of Laguna Lake. If the commitment to give rebels money is illegal – and probably treasonous – why push through with it?
The fact is the P5 million was released during a meeting in Malaysia in August – under the watch of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd. For that matter, the President should clarify if he followed up the release of the funds after meeting with MILF leaders, including its chairman, Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, in Tokyo also in August.

Assuming the funds were meant to advance the cause of peace, will someone from government explain what the people got in exchange for their P5 million? Are we to believe that the money carried no conditions? Not even a promise not to shoot at our soldiers?

At the very least, perhaps the Aquino government should have asked the MILF not to harbor any criminals, including those who were being pursued by the soldiers who were slain doing their duty by the MILF warriors. For that matter, the MILF should be made to explain why they were providing sanctuary for “lawless elements.” And are there any other criminals or terrorists under their protection now? Surely, P5 million is enough to buy some information.

Define real intentions
Perhaps the more important question that the MILF should answer is – Are its leaders sincere in wanting peace?

Can they be trusted? Rational people are right to ask this question. Given recent developments, it seems more sensible to suspect that the peace talks are being made to serve as a ruse to confuse naïve government officials.

Even if the top leaders of the MILF were really sincere, the actions of many of its maverick commanders raise concerns. Why doesn’t the MILF top leaders not rein in those so-called breakaway factions and make them honor the commitments to peace? And if Messrs. Murad et al. do not want to or cannot, then Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is correct to be asking – What is the point of the peace talks? What is the point of talking to the MILF if it has no control over all of its forces? Are we to believe that the MILF is an empty shell? Perhaps the government negotiators are talking to the wrong people. Manila Times

The Philippine Challenge
















Jakarta in 2005 was a city perpetually on the edge, hovering between hope and dread. With a new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, every bomb or natural disaster seemed to send the city — indeed the entire country — into convulsions.

Now, as I visit Manila for work, I sense a similar degree of anticipation and anxiety among Filipinos. They too are getting used to a new president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. At the same time, they’re wondering whether their country is returning to some measure of normalcy.

Having been dismissed as a basket case, the Philippines looks set for a major change.

Noynoy’s decisive victory in last year’s presidential elections has improved international perceptions of the country. There’s a sense that the Philippines has at long last a leader with a mandate to move the republic forward.

This is not to say that the country is without problems; Typhoon Pedring has highlighted the Philippines’ many weaknesses, in the way the 2004 tsunami shook Indonesia.

There’s no denying the two countries share unfortunate similarities, including a susceptibility to natural disasters, endemic corruption and poverty, poor infrastructure and weak government — especially in far-flung regions.

Indeed, the challenges are all the more acute in the Philippines. More than one-fifth of all Filipinos (23 million) currently subsist on less than $2 a day.

Philippine democracy is still shaky, emerging as it has from decades of Ferdinand Marcos’s autocratic rule. While public institutions and civil society are seeking to regain strength, they often run against the entrenched interests of the Philippine elite or “trapols” (“traditional politicians”).

Political violence is still a reality in the Philippines — as the 2009 Maguindanao massacre tragically demonstrated.

Nevertheless, the Philippines, like Indonesia, has tremendous potential. Both countries are vibrant democracies by most counts. The Philippines has a huge population of 94 million, compared with Indonesia’s 240 million. In 2010, the republic registered an amazing 7.1 percent growth rate.

Natural resources including gold, copper and nickel are also plentiful. Troubled Muslim-majority Mindanao is estimated to have a $1 trillion in oil and gas deposits.

Even the Philippines’ weaknesses are an opportunity. The construction of the roads, airports and bridges the country sorely needs will be a key source of growth.

The Philippines — for decades an international laggard — is no longer cash-strapped. Individual Filipinos have become big savers and the country’s reserves ($76 billion) far exceed net foreign debt: a better record than most of Europe.

There are three fast-growing drivers of the local economy: business process outsourcing, remittances and tourism.

According to the brokerage CLSA, BPO generated $9 billion in 2010, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier. The republic is targeting $25 billion in revenues from the sector by 2016. The Philippine workforce has the advantage (compared to Indonesia) of a strong command of English and an amazing service culture.

BPO jobs have kicked off a mini-boom as housing, banking and auto sales benefit from the country’s 600,000 middle-class consumers, with major hubs in provincial cities such as Cebu and Davao. Remittances have also grown steadily. With more than 10 million Filipinos working abroad in 2010 (compared to about 5.2 million Indonesians), over $18 billion was sent home. Moreover, the country is sending more skilled workers such as nurses, accountants and technicians to Europe, the Middle East and North America.

Tourism is also set to grow, with the Philippines well-positioned to become a major playground for North Asian tourists. The soon-to-be inaugurated “open skies policy” will loosen Philippine Airlines’ hold over aviation and bring more visitors to the splendid islands of Bohol, Boracay and Iloilo with their white sandy beaches and historic towns. At the same time, casino operators, having witnessed Resorts World’s success in the capital, will be pouring money into newer and grander developments along the Manila Bay area.

With a 70 percent approval rating, Aquino has a golden opportunity to change his nation’s future fundamentally. Having seen how SBY has transformed Indonesia’s standing, it would be very unwise to bet against the Philippines’ nascent turnaround.

Indonesia must to take note: It is no longer the only “big story” coming out of Southeast Asia. The Philippines is challenging it on multiple fronts — especially services — and it will have to up its game to stay competitive.

By Karim Raslan columnist who divides his time between Malaysia and Indonesia. Jakarta Globe

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Marshall Plan for South Asia





A proposal to break the deadlock










The war of words between the United States and Pakistan in recent weeks has put in stark relief the two core strategic conundrums Washington has vis-à-vis Islamabad, as well as the integral role India plays in both of them.

The first is to encourage a more constructive Pakistani approach in Afghanistan, which Islamabad regards as a theater for its endemic rivalry with New Delhi. The second is to steer a nuclear-armed but deeply dysfunctional Pakistan away from failed state status, a harrowing prospect that many believe is all too plausible unless Islamabad is convinced that its prospering neighbor to the East actually represents an economic opportunity rather than an existential threat.

The Obama administration entered office believing that Pakistani cooperation on Afghanistan was a function of addressing its acute security anxieties regarding India. Two weeks before the November 2008 election, Barack Obama declared that resolving the perennially-inflamed dispute over the Kashmir region was one of the “critical tasks” for U.S. foreign policy and worthy of “serious diplomatic resources.”

It was a valid observation but the manner in which Washington pursued it guaranteed a quick failure. Moves to appoint a turbocharged envoy (in the person of Richard Holbrooke) with the mandate of mediating the Kashmir issue– similar to U.S. efforts to broker the Middle East peace talks – met with Pakistani approval but proved too much for the sovereignty-conscious Indians to accept.

For the past three years, Washington has struggled to find a way to bring the two sides together and focus them on their common interests. Fortunately, the parties may have found one themselves. Despite the obvious displays of mutual suspicion in both capitals, a consensus is growing in the two countries – especially evident in their business communities – that the time has come for a more normalized relationship.

After a three-year hiatus caused by the 2008 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, India and Pakistan have restarted their peace dialogue. In July, Pakistan’s new foreign minister, the 34-year-old Hina Rabbani Khar, held unexpectedly warm talks in New Delhi, where she emphasized that a “mind-set change” was occurring among younger Indians and Pakistanis. Last month, for the first time in 35 years, Pakistan’s commerce minister visited New Delhi, bringing with him a notably large business delegation.

The trip was especially productive. The two countries pledged to more than double their two-way trade flows – to the $6 billion annual level – by 2015. They agreed to ease visa rules for business travel and to open a new customs post at the Wagah border crossing that lies midway between Lahore and Amritsar. Islamabad also committed to extending “most favored nation” trade status to New Delhi, reciprocating the status India earlier conferred upon Pakistan.

This last development promises to enliven the 2006 South Asia Free Trade Agreement which up until this point has been all but a dead letter. India’s commerce minister, Anand Sharma, captured the spirit of the meeting when he exclaimed that “only shared prosperity can bring lasting peace.”

The annals of India-Pakistan relations are filled with numerous false dawns and the current moves toward greater economic engagement could well founder upon the sharp historical animosities that regularly bedevil bilateral affairs. But things may be different this time. Reports out of Islamabad indicate that the Pakistani government realizes the country is in desperate economic straits and that closer ties with India constitute a much needed lifeline. The military establishment is also said to understand that the eastern border needs to be stabilized so resources can be focused on combating rising internal security threats.

If enhanced trade ties were to develop between South Asia’s largest economies, they would produce significant economic and (eventually) security dividends for both countries. Despite the common civilizational and historical bonds that permeate South Asia, as well as the unified market forged by the British Raj, the region today is remarkably fragmented economically. Trade flows between India and Pakistan, for instance, represent a miniscule fraction of each country’s overall trade portfolio.

Wagah is the only vehicle crossing along the 1,800-mile-long international border. The two-lane road there is only open a mere eight hours a day and the cargo that passes through it must be unloaded and transferred to local trucks. Indeed, the crossing, which some refer to as the “Berlin Wall of Asia,” is better known for the Kabuki-like displays put on by the border guards than as an efficient transit point.

The pervasive barriers to bilateral economic cooperation have also spurred circuitous and highly inefficient trade patterns. A booming India requires cement for its construction sector yet is forced to import it from Africa instead of Pakistan, where the cement industry has excess capacity. Off-the-books trade – the value of which easily rivals official levels – is also conducted via third countries like Dubai, Singapore and Afghanistan. According to various studies, a more liberalized trade regime would increase bilateral exchange at least 20 times above current figures as well as boost economic prosperity in both countries.

The Obama administration would do well to reinforce the current stirrings by launching a Marshall Plan-like initiative geared toward the expansion of cross-border economic linkages between the two countries. One of the keys to the Marshall Plan’s far-reaching success was the major financial inducement it gave European countries devastated by World War II to frame their economic futures in conjunction with their neighbors.

By putting an emphasis on reconstruction projects that crossed national frontiers, it was an important catalyst for the historic reconciliation between France and Germany and paved the way for the deep economic integration embodied in today’s European Union.

A similar vision should inspire a US effort to bolster cross-border economic cooperation between India and Pakistan. This initiative would be aimed at helping the two countries, on a joint basis, upgrade and expand the meager transportation infrastructure presenting connecting them. It would support projects that increase road and rail linkages, as well as the number and capacity of customs posts. It would help provide resources for modernized seaport facilities that enable more two-way trade.

And with each country plagued by chronic power shortages, it would help bankroll cross-border energy projects such as joint electrical grids or the proposed natural gas pipeline connecting Central and South Asia via Afghanistan.

This effort would dovetail well with the “New Silk Road” initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced to foster the economic integration of Central and South Asia. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was born in what is now Pakistan, has spoken eloquently of the powerful role stronger economic linkages can play in bridging South Asia’s deep political fissures. In early 2007, he spelled out his vision for regional integration:

“I dream of a day when, while retaining our respective identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That was how my forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live.”

For his part, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has even expressed the hope that India and Pakistan could one day join together in an economically-unified zone like the EU.

The original Marshall Plan entailed a staggering sum of money – well over $100 billion in today’s terms – and an austerity-minded U.S. Congress would certainly balk at any scheme with a similar price tag. But the initiative outlined here need only entail a modest level of expenditures – say, $50-75 million per year over a five-year period – and could be paid for by redirecting funding already authorized under the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. Better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, the act provides $1.5 billion annually in non-military assistance to Pakistan through 2013. But due to a variety of factors, much of its economic development funds remain unspent.

To avoid potential concerns in New Delhi and Islamabad that Washington might try to extract diplomatic concessions from specific funding decisions, resources could be routed through the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank, where professional staff would assess the viability and impact of proposals submitted jointly by the two countries and make final judgments on which projects go forward. Additional countries, such as those assembled by Secretary Clinton in New York last month to discuss the New Silk Road plan, also could be invited to contribute resources.

Obviously, this initiative offers no magic bullet for transforming the singular intensity of the India-Pakistan strategic rivalry. But it would be a creative investment in nurturing promising developments already underway in both countries, which if they take root over the long term would help lead to a game-changing situation in South Asia: One in which Islamabad looks upon New Delhi more as a partner than as an outright enemy. If such a development came to pass, U.S. interests in the region would be vastly easier to safeguard than they are today.

(By David J. Karl president of the Asia Strategy Initiative, a political and economic consultancy. He earlier served as project director of the Task Force on Enhancing India-U.S. Cooperation in the Global Innovation Economy, jointly sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and the Pacific Council on International Policy.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

China Seeks Military Bases in Pakistan



While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan province, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan or in the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) that border Xinjiang province.

The Chinese desire is meant to contain growing terrorist activities of Chinese rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that is also described as the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP).

The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to well-placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Beijing's wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both countries in recent months as China (which views the Uyghur separatist sentiment as a dire threat) has become ever-more concerned about Pakistan's tribal areas as a haven for radicals.

Beijing believes that similar to the United States military presence in Pakistan, a Chinese attendance would enable its military to effectively counter the Muslim separatists who have been operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan for almost a decade, carrying out cross-border terrorist activities in trouble-stricken Xinjiang province.

The Chinese desire to have military bases in Pakistan is not a new one and has been discussed in the past.

An article published on the official website of the Chinese central government (www.gov.cn) on January 28, 2010, signaled that Beijing wanted to go the US way and set up military bases in overseas locations that would possibly include Pakistan. The obvious purpose would be to exert pressure on India as well as counter American influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Chinese demand to set up military bases in Pakistan has gained momentum at a time when the Indian military leadership is already raising a hue and cry over the alleged presence of People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir as well as in the FANA, which was earlier called Gilgit and Baltistan.

The peril of distributive injustice in Papua




The recent flare-up in Timika, Papua, has raised questions not simply about the labor disputes at PT Freeport Indonesia, but also about the long-standing problem of welfare and equal distribution of wealth and opportunity for indigenous Papuans to exploit their land.

Elsewhere, the country’s frontiers of Tanjung Datuk and Camar Bulan in West Kalimantan have allegedly been occupied by neighboring Malaysia.

Nevertheless, the problem does not stop there, since issues over the quality of life of Indonesian citizens are also emerging. Jealousy is inevitable when one sees that his neighbor’s grass looks greener than his own.

These two situations clearly describe the same nuance that exists in some of our provinces. Our fellow citizens in remote areas are desperately in need of the state’s attention, particularly in terms of social welfare.

It is also a fact that, in an attempt to appeal against what is happening on their land, many Papuan people keep questioning the status of Indonesia’s sovereignty. This certainly could be regarded as a peril to our national integrity.

Learning from those phenomena, we can thus assume that distributive (in)justice is closely close related to certain claims to statehood. American philosopher, Robert Nozick, once opined, “The complete principle of distributive justice would say simply that a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution.”

From a human rights perspective, all people should be able to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

To support this argument, much research has concluded that economic oppression as a form of material self-interest may lead to considerations of secession. This includes situations in poorer regions in Sri Lanka, East Timor, Quebec, Scotland, Corsica and Bangladesh.

Related to this, another American philosopher, Allen Buchanan, has two grounds in upholding the claim of statehood on the basis of distributive injustice. First, he argues that “distributive injustices would embroil international legal agencies in controversies about the substantive content of transnational distributive justice that they are not presently equipped to resolve in any principled and legitimate way”.

Second, distributive injustices might also “encourage groups of people to claim that they are subject to discriminatory redistribution and are therefore justified in calling for seceding when in fact they desire to have their own state simply in order to better their own economic situation at the expense of their fellow citizen”.

The secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 may be a good example in this respect. Politically and economically speaking, East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh) was distinct from the West (now Pakistan). The West used to receive raw materials and foreign exchange from the East, but by no way was the West economically dependent upon the East.

With exploitative structures of economic policy and prolonged human rights violations, the relationship between the two regions more likely to represented an “internal colonialism”, which justified the right to secede for people in the East.

The UN General Assembly seemed to support such a situation by qualifying East Bengal as a non-self-governing territory in Resolution 1541 (XV).

In relation to this, a brief discussion of national economic interests might also be useful in constructing a claim of statehood.

For example, it is widely known that, compared to the separation of Katanga from Congo and Biafra from Nigeria, the situation in Bangladesh was more favorable for the international community since it did not place too much of an economic burden on the rest of the country.

Hence, it is worth noting that some international practices show that the legitimate economic interest of a nation as a whole should be taken into account in determining the legitimacy and legality of secession.

If we apply the distributive justice test to the situation in Papua, the welfare and distribution of wealth issue may give justification to how the government should provide opportunities for its nationals to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

The international practices conveyed above should shed light on how distributive injustices can harm national integrity. The despair of people living in border regions, and the threats they make to move to the neighboring countries, should actually serve to notify us of the importance of ensuring equal welfare and economic justice for all people.

In the same way, demands for a referendum and proclamations of a West Papuan state, a few days after the Freeport upheaval, should be overcome not only with security measures but also through a distributive justice approach.

All in all, a claim to statehood should no longer be seen merely from a classic point of view, which comprises mainly people and territory. It also has to be seen as a claim to take responsibility to protect and fulfill people’s rights.

By Harison Citrawan, who works at the Human Rights Research and Development Agency under the Law and Human Rights Ministry. The Jakarta Post

Asian Anxiety



As U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tours Asia this week, he will find a region increasingly nervous about its future. Not unlike Europe in the late 19th century, nations large and small are seeking to enmesh themselves in webs of protective relationships that in turn feed the insecurities of others. The result is a worsening of the risk cycle and the increased possibility that miscalculation or nationalist fervor will trump common sense.

How reducing the Pentagon’s planned expenditures by nearly $500 billion over the next decade will limit the U.S. ability to maintain stability in Asia is a major concern of Asian states and should be a central part of the American debate over the next several years.

The cause for most of the worry in Asia is not simply the growth in Chinese military power over the past decade. Rather, it is the ways in which China is now exercising its new abilities. In particular, given the importance of trade routes, the expansion of the Chinese Navy’s operations throughout the East and South China Seas is causing alarm.

In the East China Sea, where both the United States and Japan maintain significant naval forces, China has largely limited itself to probing around the territory of Japan and ostentatiously sending flotillas through waterways near Japanese islands. Yet a near crisis last year over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing vessel in waters around the strategically important Senkaku islands revealed that Beijing was not afraid to take on the region’s largest democracy.

By comparison, the smaller nations of Southeast Asia field a very limited naval presence in the waters that lead to the Malacca Strait and link the western Pacific to the Indian Ocean. In the south, Chinese ships have been far more active and have been charged with interfering with vessels from nations ranging from the United States to Vietnam. In one incident in June 2010, an armed Chinese maritime fisheries vessel trained its gun on a smaller Indonesian naval ship that had detained a Chinese private fishing boat in Indonesian waters.

Even the Indian Navy has felt China’s presence, with one of its vessels purportedly being challenged recently on the high seas after making a port visit to Vietnam.
However, China’s growing assertiveness is not being ignored by its neighbors, no matter how outgunned they may feel. Last month, the Philippines and Japan announced that they would undertake increased joint naval exercises and institute regular talks between maritime defense officials. In a meeting between the two countries’ leaders, the issue of freedom of navigation and stability in the South China Sea was among the key issues discussed.

Manila has claimed that China is interfering with its exploration for oil, while Japan’s worries about possible threats to free transit through strategically important waterways is pushing it to contemplate a larger role outside its traditional maritime neighborhood of Northeast Asia.

Nor have China’s moves resulted in a response from only Asian nations. This past July, the U.S. Navy conducted noncombat training exercises with Vietnam, continuing a trend of expanding maritime exercises with Southeast and South Asian nations, including Malaysia, Cambodia, India and Bangladesh.

Even more important, the United States and Australia have agreed to dramatically deepen their military cooperation, with U.S. forces getting access to Australian bases and the right to store supplies on the continent, along with more joint exercises and training.

Looked at from a height, Southeast Asia is increasingly resembling a multiplayer chessboard, where different players ally with each other at the same time, moving pieces around to try to secure territory. In this case, the jockeying occurs largely over contested 200-mile exclusive economic zones, guaranteed to countries by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Territorial disputes over the numerous islets of the South China Sea have created a patchwork of overlapping claims, including Beijing’s own over the entire sea.

The competition over territory masks a larger issue, that of the balance of power in Asia. Beijing is trying to shape a favorable balance of power in the region by preventing smaller nations from allying with each other or creating effective partnerships with larger powers like the United States.

For all the increased joint training between the U.S. Navy and Southeast Asian states, China’s leaders may be calculating that Washington simply won’t go so far as to extend security guarantees to them. That would ultimately leave China as the dominant naval power in a region that expects a continued decline in the United States’s strength and ability to maintain its presence in Asia.

Whether things get out of hand in Asia seems increasingly to depend on China’s future actions toward its neighbors.

China’s leadership change planned for next year will be a period of potential instability and delicacy. An insecure or weak leadership may try to buttress its position by pushing its claims even further and harassing its neighbors.

Alternately, many analysts in Washington and Asia fear that the Chinese military will have greater influence over the new leaders, and will be in a position to act on the aggressive statements sometimes made in the Chinese media by senior officers.

The resulting insecurity will only highlight the role that the United States continues to play in maintaining stability, and the dependence Asian nations large or small have on the forward presence of the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines. How to keep a credible U.S. presence in Asia under a significantly reduced military budget is the new challenge for Mr. Panetta. The answer, unfortunately, may well rest with Beijing.

By Michael Auslin resident scholar in Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations.” The New York Times

Building India Inc



A weak state has given rise to a new kind of economy. Without reform, it will hit limits


WITH the Western way of doing things under siege, India’s rise offers a dollop of reassurance to anyone who believes in the combination of democracy and capitalism. It is a superpower-in-waiting whose people vote, whose society is raucous, and whose firms are red-blooded and striding onto the world stage. The contrast with China’s authoritarian capitalism is one that fans of laissez-faire find comforting. Some see an echo of America’s freewheeling approach, with spicier food and worse roads. But that view is a delusion, as our special report explains. For while India’s capitalism does have oodles of vim, it is writing its own rules, some better than others.

Mumbai, as seen from Mars

Some Indian firms have, admittedly, followed an American-style fairy tale. Infosys, a technology firm, leapt in a generation from a start-up to a global blue chip, owned by institutional shareholders and measured against that most Western of yardsticks, the stock price. Yet this is the exception, not the norm. A Martian investor landing on Mumbai’s streets of gold might judge its business scene a mix of São Paulo, Seoul and Shanghai, with only a dash of Silicon Valley.

In Western economies well over half of stockmarket profits are from firms controlled by institutional investors; in India only an eighth are. Instead capitalism is skewed towards the state and business houses (conglomerates usually controlled by families and family trusts). Government—grumpy, doddery and sometimes bent—still looms large. State-backed firms, similar to China’s, make 40% of stockmarket profits and dominate energy and finance. A vast number of other public-sector entities, some of them decrepit, often create bottlenecks. These are the remnants of India’s Fabian nightmare.

India Inc’s newer companies rose after a burst of liberalisation back in 1991. In its wake foreign firms piled into industries such as consumer goods and carmaking, drawn by a big pool of labour and customers. Between 1995 and 2003 superb new local entrepreneurs made fortunes in the sunrise industries of telecoms, air travel, technology and health care.

The revolution also hit the traditional business houses. Many flabby outfits declined. Yet plenty fought back, becoming much more professional outfits. Thus alongside stars born in the 1990s, such as Bharti Airtel, a mobile-phone firm, older conglomerates such as Reliance Industries, Aditya Birla and Tata Sons still loom large in the Indian mind, their extraordinarily diverse output driven, eaten, worn and watched, their hereditary bosses as famous as film stars. Though mid-sized by global standards, they have entered the consciousness of foreigners too, with takeovers abroad, from Novelis, an aluminium outfit, to Corus, a steel company. The next rank down of business houses, such as Mahindra, are now going global too. India is exporting a corporate form which owes as much to South Korea’s chaebol, Japan’s keiretsu and Brazil’s barons as it does to a current American or European ideal of the firm.

Perhaps India is just at an earlier chapter of the Western script. In 1900 American industry was dominated by tycoons such as John Pierpont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. Now, thanks to the need to raise capital from outsiders, antitrust probes and the absence or flaws of heirs, the remnants of their empires are dismembered and answerable to fund managers—as Microsoft and Apple already are.

Still, by that yardstick Indian firms have decades before institutional capitalism takes over. And their approach of being widely spread and tightly owned has lots of puff left. After the ructions of the 1990s the share of activity from family-linked firms has been stable for a decade. The few firms controlled by diffuse owners often bin their MBA textbooks and run as conglomerates too. First-generation entrepreneurs who made it in the 1995-2003 sunrise era are diversifying their groups and teaching the kids to take over. And although the biggest group, Tata, will move beyond its family when its heirless fifth-generation patriarch retires in 2012, it is in no hurry to break itself up.

This suggests there is in fact a logic to India’s favourite way of organising firms.

It makes sense for businesses to sprawl because the Indian state is still pathetically weak. Infrastructure is so awful that companies often build their own.

Courts are slow and sometimes corrupt, so contracts are hard to enforce and banks and businesspeople are inclined to stick with companies they know and trust.

Established business houses can use their muscle to expand into new areas, sometimes at the expense of newcomers. Fewer new firms have broken into the big league since 2003 and those that have done so have tended to be good at working the political machine.

Capitalism for a billion, not just billionaires

All this might seem a recipe for disaster. In Korea and Japan closely held and widely spread firms became slothful. So far India Inc has been different: its big business houses compete and innovate fiercely. Their returns on capital are neither pathetic nor outrageous and most are prepared to invest billions of dollars in the risky capital projects that India needs so badly.

The danger is that over time, without another bout of reform, sclerosis will set in. India’s firms mostly thrive in spite of the weak state; they need to make sure they do not thrive because of it. Already there are two worrying signs: the slowdown in new entrepreneurs breaking into the established order; and endemic corruption. Both clash with the aspirations of the masses, who want India to be a land of opportunity. The current popular fury against graft is aimed at politicians, but India’s oligarchs have often been on the other side of the deal and may be next in line to get a roasting.

Few dispute the uselessness of much of the state and the need for an Indian Deng Xiaoping or Margaret Thatcher to roll it back. Whether that reformer arrives soon to deliver better infrastructure, swifter justice and good governance is less clear. But businesses can still do their bit by cleaning up their act, loudly supporting reform and improving their own governance, which is often murky. India Inc has a huge amount to be proud of. Now it needs to venture into the unknown. The Economist