Thursday 31 January 2008

Killing Economic Reform in India (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Manmohan Singh, India's present prime minister, was brought back from Geneva to India as economic advisor to the government in 1990 by the commerce minister at the time, Subramanian Swamy. The long-time bureaucrat had been particular that a protege, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, be made the commerce secretary, a condition that was accepted by the minister.

A year later, Singh became finance minister in the first regular Congress government to be headed by an individual not from the Nehru family. P.V. Narasimha Rao was determined to accelerate the pace of economic reform, aware that the statist policies of the past had led India to bankruptcy, and in Manmohan Singh, found a willing instrument in the process.

Sadly for the country, by 1995, Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia began a political destabilization of Rao, afraid that his continuance would permanently block the Nehrus from reclaiming the Congress Party. From the beginning of that year till Rao's election defeat nearly two years later, the cautious finance minister obeyed the new signals and slowed down the reform process to a crawl.

Fortunately for Manmohan Singh, his numerous contacts in the Delhi media ensured that this phase was ignored, and that he -- rather than Rao -- got the credit for the 1992-96 reform package. It was therefore with substantial expectations that the 280-million strong Indian middle classes welcomed the takeover of formal power by Singh eight years after the 1996 election defeat of the Congress Party.

Nearly four years on, these hopes have died, together with the reforms.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

No Thaw Across the Himalayas (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned Wednesday from a four-day visit to Beijing that even his spinmeisters could not categorize as a success. Having made the India-U.S. nuclear deal the foundation of his legacy, Singh had expected Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to follow through on the promise of "nuclear cooperation" that he had made during a 2005 visit to New Delhi.

While there was a reiteration of that pledge in the Vision Statement released during the visit, this was qualified by subsequent explicit references to any such partnership being within the boundaries set out in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. As the justification for the deal was that it opened the way for international civil nuclear cooperation with India outside the restrictions imposed by the NPT on powers other than the five recognized nuclear weapons states, this caveat reduced the Chinese offer to a meaningless pleasantry.

Neither in the International Atomic Energy Agency nor in the Nuclear Suppliers Group did the Chinese leadership give any indication during the Jan. 13-15 talks of softening their earlier position that India would have to sign on to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons power -- in other words, to denuclearize -- before securing international cooperation.

Then came another blow. The new Labor government in Australia reversed the decision by former Prime Minister John Howard to sell uranium to India once the India-U.S. deal becomes operational. Canberra said that India's signing the NPT would be a precondition for such transfers. This is a non-starter in the Indian context of the need for a nuclear and missile deterrent against possible attack.

Manmohan Singh had also hoped to persuade his hosts in Beijing to nudge the long-stalled border talks forward by accepting India's condition that areas with "settled populations" would be excluded from any exchange of territory. Although Wen Jiabao had accepted this condition in 2005, a year later Beijing returned to the earlier hard line that even populated zones were open to negotiation.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Why Benazir Bhutto Posed a Threat (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — On Nov. 7 this columnist wrote that Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto's election plans were likely to fail "if she survives." The skepticism over her longevity was because of the threat she represented to both the Punjabi component in the Pakistan army and to the continuation of the military's monopoly over state power.

While President Pervez Musharraf avoided challenging the latter, since 9/11 he has quietly but systematically sought to reduce the suffocating grip of the Punjabis over the army, giving better representation to Mohajirs, Balochis, Pashtuns and even a few Sindhis in the higher reaches of both the military as well as the civil administration. Had there been a teaming up between the wily Musharraf and the mercurial Bhutto, especially after he was made to quit as army chief, the two may have succeeded in leveraging anti-army sentiment in Pakistan enough to send the soldiers back to their barracks.

Since the 1950s, those in uniform have controlled Pakistan's civilian institutions, ensuring that these were melded with the military into a seamless system of preference and privilege to a military that has made jihad a lucrative industry. Especially since anti-U.S. passions rose after the Iraq war in 2003, but dating back to the earlier attempt by Musharraf to put the Taliban out to dry in Afghanistan , the Baloch and Pashtun components of the Pakistan army turned against their chief, to be joined by the Punjabi component shortly thereafter.