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Robi & Nitin's Indian Ocean Horizons: 2005-1-25

| 11 Comments | 4 TrackBacks

Winds of Change.NET Regional Briefings run on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays too. This Regional Briefing focuses on South Asia, courtesy of Robi Sen and Nitin Pai of The Acorn.

Special Note: Obviously the top story of the last two months has to be the tsunami and is a topic that deserves its own special attention and post. This month we will focus on other important events in the area.


  • Thanks to a brazen attempt to hush up a gang-rape allegedly carried out by members of one of its units, the Pakistani military establishment is facing a serious crisis in its Balochistan province. Baloch rebels have escalated their armed struggle by launching a major attack on the natural gas plant at Sui, damaging vital equipment and pipelines, and disrupting power supply to much of the country. Karachi's stock market panicked. Musharraf's immediate reaction was to threaten tough military action, a repeat of the 1970s, but he has very little political support from any quarter.
  • Haroon Moghul, winner of three Brass Crescents, calls the unrest the umpteenth failure of Pakistan. While the dispute has caused additional problems for Musharraf and exposed the urgent need for representative democracy in Pakistan, it is unlikely that the rebellion will achieve a major success unless it receives external support. That again is unlikely.

Other Issues Include: Pakistan - Disputes everywhere; India - Pins, needles and a million matinees; Shifting Alliances; The Worlds Most Dangerous Man; Bangladesh gets lucky; Setting up governments is hard - Maldives elects a new parliament while Nepal does not.


  • Declaring that bilateral negotiations with India are not going anywhere, Pakistan has decided to escalate the dispute it has over India over the sharing of the Indus waters. For the first time in four decades, the Indus Waters Treaty that governs water sharing will be put to test.
  • Pakistan's Northern Areas territory, carved out of the portions of the state of Jammu & Kashmir that it controls, remain in a constitutional and legal limbo - it is not represented in the federal parliament and its people lack political rights. This Shia-majority region has been the site of serious sectarian riots after the assassination of a leading Shia cleric by elements of the Pakistan's Sunni jihadi outfits. Several key towns, including Gilgit and Skardu have been placed under curfew.
  • Robi and Nitin are on two sides of a debate over whether there is actually a purge of the Pakistani army in progress. Meanwhile, one of the Pakistani airmen implicated in the plot to assassinate Gen Musharraf in December 2003, escaped from official custody after receiving his death sentence from a military court. Given the complicity between the Pakistani military and the jihadi outfits, the escape would not have been very difficult.
  • Here is Avari/Nameh's take on one of Bollywood's recent attempts to portray Pakistanis as actually nice people.


  • There are telltale signs that Pakistan has resumed actively supporting the infiltration of jihadis into Indian Kashmir. The Indian army has called attention to two violations of the ceasefire within a week, and jihadis have targeted government offices.
  • India's own Maoist terrorists (Naxalites) have left a state government red-faced after pulling out from the much hyped peace-talks. So far, the Indian government's response to the Naxalite threat has been lacklustre, not least due to the presence of Communist parties in India's centre-left ruling coalition.
  • J N Dixit, the Indian prime minister's pragmatic national security advisor passed away in early January. While his replacement has not been named, the Indian government has appointed two separate point-men to handle bilateral relations with China and Pakistan. Another obituary is in the name of P V Narasimha Rao, prime minister in the early 1990s. While he is widely credited for unleashing India's economic reforms his role in weaponising India's nuclear capability came to light only after his death.
  • India has signed a long-term deal with Iran over the purchase liquified natural gas, which, along with the recent escalation of unrest in Balochistan, means that the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will be even less likely to take off. India is also trying to put together a buyer's bloc to counter the OPEC cartel.


  • Thanks to India's growing mobile penetration, a schoolboy recorded some of his escapades on his camera-phone; the digital video clip quickly found its way to several of his friend's phones; on to the campus network of India's premier engineering school; the Net; to video-CDs in New Delhi bazaars; and so on until the CEO of eBay's Indian subsidiary found himself in an Indian prison. Traditional Indian attitude to sex meets modern Indian affinity for IT.
  • Gay-marriage is an electoral issue in many countries. But not for India's prime minister.

Shifting Alliances

  • This month saw the inauguration of George W. Bush as the President of the United States. His inauguration speech received attention around the world as pundits, politicians, and some totalitarians tried to interpret what parts of President Bush's speech applied to them. While many in Europe and the Middle East remain unhappy with the administration, America's Asian allies largely welcomed the President's second term.
  • While many might argue that supporting a real democracy in Pakistan would lead to the election of Islamic fundamentalists now armed with nuclear weapons, Bush's speech seemed to imply that the administration will start to move away from supporting dictatorial regimes and reward the spread of democratic ideals. This view was greeted with much skepticism. The Belmont Club has an excellent analysis of America's past and present attempts to spread democratic ideas in the Islamic world here.
  • Unites States senate majority leader Bill Frist recently visited India along with a four member delegation to discuss ties between India and the U.S. Sen. Frist noted that the U.S. will not create an arms race in the subcontinent and the administration has made no decision on supplying F-16's to Pakistan. Some are concerned that F-16's supplied to Pakistan could be used as nuclear weapon delivery systems although much of this concern is overstated.

The World's Most Dangerous Man: A.Q. Khan Watch

  • Every month more news appears about A.Q. Khan who some label 'the most dangerous man in the world'. Recently the mainstream media has noted that the Khan network had supplied nuclear knowhow and technology to a number of other countries such as Egypt, Niger, Nigeria, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries, even India.
  • Basically wherever A.Q. Khan went there seems to be an emergence in covert activity for development of nuclear weapons. The list of countries continues to grow and many speculate the Khan network is still working or at worst justjust dormant until the world loses interest.
  • Seymour Hersh has also suggested that the U.S. has traded Khan-for-IranSome have suggested that the recent deluge of information on the Khan network about players such as Iran were back alley deals between the current administration and Musharraf, instead of more likely continued intelligence work from on going investigations.


  • Usually, every passing natural disaster makes sure it pays a courtesy call on Bangladesh. But the country was fortunate to escape any significant damage in December's tsunami.
  • Bangladesh celebrated Victory Day on December 16th; that was the day in 1971 when Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan. The debate on whether Bangladesh's equation with religion started soon after and continues to this day.
  • Bangladesh celebrated a victory day of another, many would argue more important, sort --- its national cricket team chalked a victory in one-day international cricket, that too against India; and a test victory against Zimbabwe.
  • The Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline is one step closer to reality. Bangladesh is poised to earn lucrative transit royalties, secure natural gas for itself and inviegle some important trade concessions from (what it perceives as) an otherwise obdurate India.
  • Another political dynasty is emerging in Bangladesh, with the return (with American wife) of Sajib Wazed Joy, son of opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wajid, and grandson of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Bangladesh's founding father.


  • Nepal continues to languish in a state of civil war, with the Maoist rebels making slow progress. Hopes that King Gyanendra's visit to New Delhi would help break the deadlock were dashed as his visit was postponed, and not just because of the tsunami.
  • The Nepalese rebels recently kidnapped 14 Gurhkas on leave from their units but then released them a few days latter demanding that India and the U.K. stop recruiting from Nepal.
  • The ugliest side of Sri Lanka's civil war showed when the government and the Tamil Tigers continued to take political potshots at each other even as the tsunami relief operations were going on. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the chief of the Tamil Tigers is still alive and did not get washed away in the tsunami as was rumoured for a while. Perhaps as a result of realising how silly they looked slugging it out against each other in the wake of a major humanitarian crisis, the Tigers at least have announced they have seen the light of reason. It remains to be seen how long that lasts.


  • Recently Lt. Neil Prakash and Indian born tank platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment of the United States Army was awarded a Sliver Star for conduct under fire. Neil is also a blogger writing fascinating accounts of his experiences in Iraq here at Armor Geddon. Congratulations Lt. Prakash!
  • Extra Extra has been voted the best Sri Lankan Blog at the Asian Blog Awards.

4 TrackBacks

Tracked: January 25, 2005 6:58 AM
Excerpt: A million matinees now Starting this month, the monthly round-up of South Asian events and their wider implications on Winds of Change has been renamed Indian Ocean Horizons. This month, Robi and I cover: Boiling Balochistan; Pakistan - Disputes...
Tracked: January 25, 2005 10:04 AM
But What is the Solution? from Seriously Sandeep
Excerpt: Rajmohan's op-ed sounds promising but ends flat on its face. The author oversimplifies and generalizes, and in the end, doesn't offer any solution. For example, he intersperses the article liberally with several clichés: 1. India has begun to find...
Tracked: January 25, 2005 10:09 AM
Excerpt: As I noted a few days ago The New York Times Magazine sent an intrepid journalist to chronicle the rise of Islamism in Bangladesh. This story is getting some play on the web, Winds of Change and Little Green Footballs...
Tracked: January 25, 2005 10:38 AM
Asia by Blog from Simon World
Excerpt: Asia by Blog is a twice weekly feature, usually posted on Monday and Thursday, providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Previous editions can be found here. The round-up has four key areas of focus: China, ...


One thing that the Bush administration deserves credit for is managing to tilt both toward India and Pakistan at the same time. Now that's a neat trick. Of course, it was an area largely left to Powell and Armitage, and hence it wasn't screwed up.

Agreed. Nothing short of miraculous really. I would kill to have been a fly on the wall at Powells first meeting with Mushariff after 911. Also Tommy Franks had a sit down with him as i recall.

You might want to read some of our older posts here at Windsofchange. Its hard to tell and be sure but we have some critical comments for Powell in that he seems to have believed Musharraf and been taking in by a lot of his promises which latter turned out to be false. One may make the case that things have gone well despite Powell. At the same time it is hard to make these sorts of analysis just based on open source materials.

Actually, Mark, it was Armitage who delivered the message ... one of his standard jobs, given his forceful physical presence.

Robi, I did read your comments on Powell and IIRC I disagreed with them slightly at the time and do so now. Nitin, IIRC, was also a bit peeved at Powell taking credit for things that were worked out on a bilateral basis. You guys have to admit that you have a small anti-Pakistan bias, so I tend to discount that.

Ohh I would not say I am anti-Pakistan and I have several Pakistani friends and at one time even had a Pakistani girlfriend. I can not speak for Nitin but I am not very comfortable with Musharraf and I am extremely uncomfortable with the IIS. I think you are correct that I am biased and I do tend to see Musharraf, Pakistan's military, and the IIS in a negative light but we have also been pretty good about pointing out when Pakistan has helped and assisted the U.S. although the motives are usually self serving, which only makes sense.

I have also pointed out that while Pakistan has taken much of the blame for nuclear proliferation if anything the Chinese are far worse. Indeed there is plenty of evidence that the Chinese government was providing support for the Khan network far and above that Pakistan's military provided.

As for Powell I have not made up my mind about him. I think in general he is a good person but I think he has been a rather poor Secretary of State especially in regards to Africa. I think this article by Christopher Hitchens sums up many of my feelings about Powll

Regardless we appreciate any and all feedback and appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by and please continue to lets us know your thoughts.

Cool, like I said, it's small. I have actually learned a lot from you guys. Heck, you may even be right and completely justified in being anti-Musharraf and down on Pakistan generally. But you're certainly no Pak Postive!

Regarding Darfur, no doubt the United States could have save a lot of lives there. But unfortunately we had other priorities.

Sounds like a great time to get ahead of the curve and start some back channel talks with the pro-democracy group

Woah! Amazing compendium - almost like a week's newspaper.

Great job guys


I have no problems admitting that I have an anti-Pakistan bias; and will continue to do so until that country stops being a threat to its neighbours, and indeed to the rest of the world. But I must qualify that by saying that rather than an antipathy towards the country or its people, I am opposed to the Pakistani military and its nexus with jihadi terrorists.

I think it is a shame NOT to be biased against a state that sponsored terrorism and nuclear proliferation; and is unrepentent over it.

And I think it is a shame that the opposition parties in Ukraine get moral support and more; while democratic oppositions in Pakistan have to make do with exile (and worse).

And I think the Bush administration cannot simultaneously talk about "evil" and "tyranny" and at the same time tilt towards Pakistan (or Saudi Arabia).

Saying you have an anti-Musharaff/ISI bias is like saying you have an anti-Al Qaeda 'bias.'

Yes I suppose it is and your point? There are plenty of apologist and supporters of both. I admit a bias in that I think that Musharraf has done things that help the U.S. for example but I think he has always done it for cynical reasons rather than being a real ally. There are people in U.S. government, especially State, who seem have a much more pro Musharraf stance and tend to see his actions in a much more positive light.

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