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.
- Global Guerillas also has noted the Balochistan pipeline attacks and tied it into their analysis to similar Oil infrastructure attacks in Iraq. Infrastructure attacks can be extremely effective creating cascading system failure and infrastructure meltdowns.
- Chapati Mystery (a deserving recipient of a Brass Crescent and the ABA Best Pakistani Blog ) provides a background to the Balochistan rebellion. Danial writes how the army remains part of the problem, while Gedroshian holds up the flag of the Baloch rebellion.
- 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.
PAKISTAN - DISPUTES EVERYWHERE
- 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.
INDIA - PINS AND NEEDLES
- 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.
- A report released by the CIA suggests that India and China will be major players in the world of 2020. Fareed Zakaria notes that India is brimming with confidence; and the G-7 finance ministers have kept a place for India on their breakfast table this year.
- 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.
INDIA - A MILLION MATINEES NOW
- The seat of the Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram is one of Hinduism's most respected institutions but the current occupant, Jayendra Saraswati finds himself accused of murder most foul. An attack on Hinduism or a triumph of the rule of India's secular law?
- 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.
- Anna has been voted the Best Indian Blogger at the Asian Blog Awards. Voting at the IndiBloggies is over and the Bharatiya Blog Melas are in full swing. Indian bloggers are up in arms against plagiarism and worse.
- 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.
- Seymour Hersh's article on U.S. clandestine military operations in Iran, while containing some false, incorrect, and purposely misleading information suggests Pakistan has been working with the U.S. against Iran, which it helped in creating a nuclear program. It is most likely true that the U.S. would work with Pakistan against Iran and it is hard to understand how any responsible U.S. official would not use any resource possible to prevent Iran using a nuclear weapon against anyone.
- 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.
- While most assume that Khan worked with the backing the complicity of Musharraf and the Pakistani military the Chinese connection receives very little attention. The U.S. this month decide to take notice and punish eight Chinese companies it accuses of serial proliferation.
- 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.
BANGLADESH - GETS LUCKY
- 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.
- The rise of the pro-Islamic political parties (that actually opposed Bangladesh's separation from Pakistan) has added a new dimension to the debate. Sadly Bangladesh seems to be coming increasingly under the sway of Islamic ideologues and zealots and is increasingly becoming a haven of jihadis.
- 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.
MAKING GOVERNMENTS - DIFFICULT IN ALL SIZES
- 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.
- Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom, is contemplating becoming a constitutional monarchy of sorts. Its national goal is maximizing gross national happiness.
- 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.