Thursday, 19 October 2017

SC Ban on Cracker Sale - Is it Judicial Overreach?

Diwali is the festival of lights… not the festival of sound (and pollution).

Keeping this in mind, the Honourable Supreme Court of India has issued an order on the ban on selling of fireworks in the NCR till 1st November, 2017. This means that there is no ban on bursting of fire crackers.

There are many good reasons that has been cited for this move. First and foremost being the deterioration of the air quality in and around Delhi. Secondly, this almost coincides with the season of crop burning in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab. Lastly, the smog situation in Delhi during winters, despite having the largest fleet of CNG buses and 100% Green Metro (DMRC) and temporary closure of coal based Badarpur Thermal Power Plant. This is not a revelation. This is a constant reminder of the fact of the failure of the central and state governments to tackle this multi-directional cumbersome problem. CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) and SPCB (State Pollution Control Board) are toothless tigers that have been entrusted to monitor the air-quality. In case of Delhi, CPCB is supposed to send a daily air quality report to EPCA (Environment Pollution Control Authority) that is supposed to implement the “Graded Response Action Plan” formulated by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest in January, 2017. The State Secretaries have been designated as the Nodal Officers for the implementation.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

Many believe, it is too little, too late – including me.

We need to have an overarching plan to combat the pollution, not just in Delhi. This is a basic governance problem that has not be effectively alleviated, resulting in the Supreme Court to step in. In this context, much has been highlighted in the media about the petition received on behalf of 3 children last year, that has resulted in passing of this order.

But will this achieve the desired results? Is it not a judicial overreach?

We need to understand that this is a temporary measure, just like the highly debated odd-even scheme. Secondly, why target just Diwali as the festival and why not also include crackers as a whole across all occasions including marriages, Christmas and New year? This shows that the issue is being addressed in a piecemeal approach. Thirdly, why not ban bursting of crackers as well? Fourthly, the livelihood, GST and various other factors have already hit the informal sector hard enough. This will also result in lower income of this population segment engaged in fireworks production. Fifthly, despite 1,200 kg of illegal fireworks seizure since SC ban on the sale, those enthusiastic enough will buy on black market or from places outside of NCR. Lastly, once the fireworks are bought, do the Indian government have actually enough manpower and effort to actually validate whether it was purchased legally?

On the aspect of Judicial overreach, while it is understood that the honourable SC was passing the judgement on the petition submitted by the children last year; should it not be the responsibility of taking the government, the CPCB, SPCB and EPA to task and grill them why the situation remains grim with respect to pollution, especially in NCR that the air is unbreathable and remains at 999 on AQI? The SC may have all the good intentions at the core, but also needs to ensure that the respective agencies entrusted to protect the environment along with the Government are doing their job. Also, just banning the sale and not the bursting of crackers is another example why this order will have limited impact on the pollution.

To conclude, Judicial Activism is good and important in the Indian democratic context. When this turns into Judicial Overreach – primarily due to the failure of Government institutions, this becomes a problem. The current SC order, in this case seems to be a classic catch 22 situation where there is a very fine line drawn between Judicial Activism vis-à-vis Judicial Overreach. As someone said, “Like beauty, Activisim lies in the eyes of beholder!” So, you the reader – be the judge of this situation…

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Sunday, 1 October 2017


A sad sad world… tripping on a landmine
Haze and hail – that won’t let through sunshine…

Was there a loss, when the lost world embraced you?
Did you win when the real world lost you?
Where is the sorrow when you smiled through those glazed eyes & blew yourself up?
Where is the happiness when the mortal fragments are scraped through & stuffed in a cup?
Where is the fulfilment when humanity rejects your ideals?
Why this emptiness when fates are sealed by a name-sake friend that closes a devilish deal?
Deals of sufferings, pain, loss and deaths
The end game is only lying of wreaths
Out of which no one comes out winning
That only inflicts more tears and suffering

A funny world we live in,
Thoughts of which are no longer considered a sin!

Where candle vigil and prayers are held dear,
It’s only a tribute that led to the cause for the depart.
Yet, none is ready to face the real fear,
As the world tears itself apart.
For those who terrorises – they reign through terror,
They are considered by many as martyr
While one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter
Words that you cannot take any longer lighter...
Because, if there is some iota of humanity left,
Then there would be less of lives theft.

Universe goes through ups and down,
Eventually there is zilch value of nickel and crown.
Earlier you understands & gain some moral uplift,
That will be the day, which can be considered a fundamental shift.
A shift so important, which be held dear in glove,
Will be spoken of only love and dove!

But Alas! It’s all a haze and hail,
I can still hear those loud and silent wails…

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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Curious Case of Kulbhushan Jadhav

India and Pakistan’s diplomatic row has reached to another level. After 46 years, since 1971, India for the first time has approached the International Court of Justice, Hague, in the hope of resolving an issue that could have been possibly solved through bilateral negotiations and backdoor diplomacy. While mentioning this, the author acknowledges the fact that there is every possible chance that backdoor diplomacy might have been tried but failed to yield any results – unfortunately, such actions cannot be brought to public light... just yet.

The issue in question is the Kulbhushan Jadhav’s death sentence row by Pakistan’s military tribunal. While Pakistan claims that he is a RAW agent, sent by India to create unrest in Balochistan; India maintains that he is an ex-Naval officer who owned legitimate business in Iran and was abducted by ISI near Pakistan border. There is contention on both sides – whether he was illegally in Pakistan at the time of his capture or snatch – terminology depending on the intent.

*Courtesy DG ISPR website

The Indian passport in question mentions his name as Hussein Mubarak Patel. This raises more question than it answers. Also, there has been no open decry (that the author is aware of at the time of penning this article) from Indian side against denying the fact that Hussain Mubarak Patel and Kulbhushan Jadhav are two different persons. Here lies a fundamental question on which Pakistani arguments and allegations lie – Why the same person has 2 different names or rather an alias? What was he doing near Pakistani border in Iran? Also his past as an ex-Naval officer doesn’t help much to save him, but raises more suspicion in the mind of the Pakistani establishment.

Even though a lot of reasoning can be provided around his legitimate presence including business that he owns near Indian developed Chabahar Port in Iran (strategically to counter China’s involvement in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port some 50 km away), it still becomes a point of contention – why was the person travelling under the Indian passport that bears his name as Hussain Mubarak Patel instead of Kulbhushan Jadhav? Is it a Pakistani ploy to mislead India? Was there any maleficent intent on the part of the person in question? Did he really pose any legitimate threat to the sovereignty of Pakistan? Well, it will be folly to speculate or answer the question – as whatever possible logical conclusion that might be construed will be without facts to support in the public domain. It will be the only select few at the top echelons at both sides of the government who are fully aware of the truth at this stage.

*Courtesy Asian Age

Now, for the sake of argument – there are four possible theories:
  1. Kulbhushan is innocent and no agent of RAW
  2. Kulbhushan is innocent at the time of capture but might have different objective
  3. Kulbhushan is a legitimate entity, assisting Indian foreign policy, but was in Iranian soil at the time of capture
  4. Kulbhushan is guilty as charged by Pakistan

Irrespective of the whether Kulbhushan is guilty or not, he should have been provided Consular Access by Pakistan under Vienna Convention that was denied. It no doubt is a violation of Human Rights. Hence, this calls for review of the legitimacy of the verdict passed by the Pakistani Military Tribunal – which is nothing but a sham (compare this with the open trial of Kasab). This is the cornerstone on which esteemed lawyer Harish Salve has set across his argument that has been hailed as an initial victory for India; which led to the denial of Pakistan playing the supposed confession tape (in all probability obtained under duress) in front of the judges.

But it is not the time to celebrate for India yet, unfortunately. There are dangerous precedents that can be set in motion (you can read it here). There is a pretty good chance that India might lose this case. In all probability, Pakistan might still go ahead and execute Mr. Jadhav disregarding the ICJ ruling even if it’s in India’s favour, or might decide to use him as a bargaining chip in the long run. Kulbhushan Jadhav’s future doesn’t look bright right now, but it is still heartening to see that he is garnering the attention he deserves as an Indian national under foreign imprisonment unlike Sarabjeet Singh or so many umpteen fishermen who are often caught straying into Pakistani waters unknowingly.

Every covert operative is aware of the dangers of operating in the shadowy circumstances and the disavowing protocol of plausible deniability if caught, but that should not lead to any action at all – which has been the Indian stance so far in the last 70 years of independence. There has been the famous case of the American spy Gary Powers who was caught by USSR flying a U2 Recon plane over Russia at the heights of Cold War in 1960-62.  He was eventually swapped with a Russian spy in 1962 after spending almost 1yr 9 months in captivity. Here lies some hope.

If all else fails, there should be an ace up the sleeve that India should be able to utilise effectively and efficiently to ensure that Kulbhushan Jadhav is returned unharmed back to India. Hoping, Lt Col (retd) Mohammed Habib Zahir working for Pakistan’s ISI and supposedly part of the team that captured Kulbhushan Jadhav is possibly that ace – whom Pakistan claims to have been abducted by India from Nepal in a bid to arm-twist Pakistan into submission. Let’s hope it’s true; but hope against all hope – let’s hope it will not come to that. If it does, then let’s be hopeful of an Indian version of Gary Powers. Finally, let’s pray that Kulbhushan, the son of India returns unharmed. All’s well that ends well!

N.B. A detailed transcript of the application submitted by India before the ICJ can be found here.

Additional References:

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Sunday, 18 December 2016

Is India's Growth Story that different from China's?

India and China – two largest nations on the Earth in population terms; chose different ways towards their right to self-determination. While India, based on the earlier established limited democratic framework under the British and the GoI Act 1935 decided for a democratically elected bicameral legislature with President as the head of the state; China went for a unicameral legislature with Communism as the core doctrine – what Chinese call as ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’.

Despite China and India moving on different political trajectories post 1940 – both of them have remarkable similarities.  Both the countries gained total control to decide their future roughly around the same time – 1947 for India and 1949 for China. It is notable that both the countries had similar share of world GDP in 1950 [4.2% & 4.5% for India and China respectively] and were agrarian in nature, both had to fight illiteracy, poor health care and corruption; But China today is on much better footing than India, even HDI says so.

The start for either of these countries was marked with challenges – primarily being how to increase the pie to be effectively shared amongst the population?

India followed the Nehru-Mahalonobis model of development favouring heavy industries over agriculture and China followed a similar path – both relying on USSR initially to expand the industrial technology. Both the countries were averse to the idea of ‘West’ helping them, leaning towards self-sufficiency. Then came the famines – Earlier in China as a result of Mao’s ill-conceived Great Leap forward [1958-1961] and in India as a result of poor monsoon [1966-1969]. For India, it was a positive outcome resulting in ‘Green Revolution’. On the other-hand in China, it resulted in heavy censure of Mao. Mao had to launch the ‘Cultural Revolution’ unleashing his ‘Red Guards’ over his perceived enemies consolidating this power from 1966 till 1978. This put Chinese development on a stand-still till Mao’s death in 1978. India faced a similar situation much later in 1975-1977 when Emergency was declared and India witnessed a pseudo-dictatorial regime within a democratic framework. So for both India and China – the periods from 1947-1980 and from 1949-1978 respectively were the age of self-learning through mistakes.

China rebounded harder under the leadership of her visionary leader Deng Xiaoping who is credited with Chinese reform. One of the first things that Deng did was to make China more receptive of growth of its Asian neighbours [Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea] and learn from their experience and implement them under Chinese context. Introduction of Family Responsibility System, allowing foreign capital and opening up SEZs were great steps under communist regime. India partially opened up in 1980’s but the shock of 1991 was the actual turning point when the doors were finally opened to foreign competition ushering in LPG reforms. But, it was easier to introduce reforms in China than in India – due to the political culture in place. Chinese leader had the final say on all major reforms while Indian PM often had to appease a larger audience in the political spectrum to remain in power given the coalition politics.

The key takeaway is Chinese rise as compared to other communist countries seems an anomaly, primarily due to the fact that China has been able to segregate its Political ideology of Leninist State from its economic prerogatives and decisions [allowing limited capitalism within communist ideology]. In India’s case, economic socialism is inbuilt in Indian democracy as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, but still has a long way to go. India’s case seems to be driven primarily by private sector entrepreneurial spirit that is best served by limited government intervention unlike China. License Raj was a glorious failure. In today’s interconnected world, closed economy is a guaranteed failure. A lesson learnt by both the countries.

In conclusion, China will have to eventually address the questions of political ideology when dissent happens – but so long, the economic prosperity ensues, such questions can be kept in check. India on the otherhand may remain a soft-state as compared to China, and little chance that it can ever catch up with China in the next few decades economically, but nevertheless, free speech and actions will ensure that poverty is eventually a bygone word in Indian context.
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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

To Be or Not To Be | India's Energy Consumption vs Growth Dilemma

World is witnessing incredible changes in the sphere of environment sustainability in this decade. The steps taken, though tentative, are instrumental in reversing the damages caused due to rapid industrialization over the last 2 centuries.

Kyoto Protocol has been hailed as the most successful initiative so far that had the blessings and willingness of more than 190 countries – an amazing feat. It has been able to heal the ozone layer to an extent in a short span of 2 decades. More recent Paris Agreement on Climate Change was ratified by again a similar number of countries in less than 11 months of its conception – another wonderful feat indeed considering the challenges that are inherently associated with such a large number of countries with their own demands and needs & getting the same accommodated to everyone’s satisfaction as was highlighted by Prof. Ghosh of CEEW at the seminar conducted by Takshashila in Delhi on 5th Nov, 2016.

But few questions remain.

One should ask – Is it enough? There is enough criticism on the content of the Paris Agreement. Firstly, it is largely non-binding on the member countries. Secondly, many estimates suggest that the current commitment of NDCs are too low to restrict temperature rise below 2 degrees, while restricting it below 1.5 degrees by 2100 is more preferable. Thirdly, there are enough caveats for the developed countries to bypass the existing commitments [like purchasing Carbon Credits] – which no doubt is a great instrument in investing in cleaner energy in developing worlds; but essentially provides the right to pollute by more wealthy countries. Fourthly, it has a finance component of USD 100 Billion to be invested by 2025 which seems to be a challenge.

With respect to the last point about climate finance, Green Climate Fund [GCF] was proposed, established and operationalised in COP 15 [Copenhagen Accord], COP 16 [Cancun] and COP 17 [Durban] respectively. The objective was to generate a fund of USD 100 Billion by 2020. But only USD 10.3 Billion could be raised from member countries – with major European Countries facing tough financial situation during the period. It seems the that finance component of the new Paris Agreement is the extension of the same with an extended target. How much of it would be feasible and successful is yet to be seen; given the history of poor generation of finance from the wealthy countries who have a moral obligation to invest in such areas that focus on cleaner technologies.

But still Paris agreement is a positive step in the right direction. It focusses primarily on adaptation of new technologies rather than Mitigation. Thereby, it stresses on use and investment in cleaner and newer technology, rather than implementing safeguard measures and workarounds on the existing polluting means of energy generation. It will be a quantum jump for the developing nations and underdeveloped nations to directly use and utilise these technologies which do not come cheap. It is in the world’s best interests that the developed countries provide these technologies at an effective viable cost and subsidize where necessary along with a liberal IPR policy where required - in order to allow these technologies to be widely adopted; so that the social benefits are not traded off with development goals of these nations.

What should India do?

India has done quite a lot in this regard – slowly gaining traction as a pioneer of thought leadership in this arena. India has in place relevant laws enacted domestically to counter and support the stand it needs to take globally. But more importantly, Mr. Modi has led from the front with the foundation of International Solar Alliance – a grouping of 121 poorer and developing countries, pledging growth with the help of greener energy. Converting this motley alliance of 121 countries into a strong buyers’ club effectively has put the ball in the court of the richer developed countries that has a moral obligation to financially support these countries in the goal of achieving energy independence through cleaner energy without compromising on the developmental aspects.

One aspect that goes in India’s favour is that, there can be proper planning to add new energy sources to the existing power grids – evaluating in advance whether it will be through existing standard power generation techniques primarily thermal and nuclear power plants or through other means like hydel, tidal, wind or solar. GoI has already announced the target of 175,000 MW of renewable energy production to be achieved by 2022 as follows: 100,000 MW from solar power, 60,000 MW from wind energy, 10,000 MW from biomass and 5,000 MW from small hydro power projects. This provides a clear sense of direction.

Subsidies are already in place for both producers and consumers promoting solar energy adoption, especially at individual unit level. But unfortunately, the residential units figure at the bottom of the list of priorities for availing the subsidies [1]. Understandably, schools and government institutions like hospitals are higher on priority, but low income groups need to be kept in mind, specially first time energy consumers who may not have the purchasing potential to avail these schemes. There are few pockets in the country where off-grid subsidised solar energy sets are being provided at a minimal price, but as mentioned, these are happening in pockets.

Second aspect to be looked into is how soon can India reach its peak energy demands? This has various aspects and implications. Firstly, peaking is important to consider if the target of temperature rise has to be contained below 1.5 degrees by 2100. Secondly, later we peak, lesser time we have to cut down on emissions. Thirdly, can India afford to declare the peak emissions like China did [2030] at this stage? This doesn’t augur well for India at the moment, and hence no peak year has been mentioned. It would be more apt to look at the consumption pattern for another decade before a peak year is committed – as we are far behind China as far as development goals are concerned. It is a typical catch-22 situation. So, in short it is in India’s best interests to peak its energy demands as fast as possible – implementing and upgrading its existing energy infrastructure as per the policy defined above.

Last aspect being, can there be some radical means to bypass the entire discussion of energy savings and fight between rich and poorer countries on clean energy adoption and technology transfer?

We need radical technologies to effectively change the current pace of environment degradation – many existing estimates suggest that we might be a little late in containing the damage [2] [3]. There are ground-breaking new technologies like SolarCity and Hyperloop One that are being worked upon which will completely revamp two keys areas where energies are consumed in bulk – Housing and Transportation. Elon Musk’s overall objective is to tie in both of these horizontally with his Tesla project thereby creating an effective loop of energy savings. And the best place on Earth to start with, on a large scale should be China and India – two of the largest and fastest economies where appetite for energy is going to increase in the coming decades. Both India and China has to aggressively support such innovative technologies and embed them as part of national policies on energy – so that the right message is sent out to the world that we are indeed serious about climate change it is not all rhetoric and that we will walk the talk. The current challenges seem to be the investment climate of these countries coupled with complex bureaucracies that has a negative effect on investment from these companies in the energy sector.

In conclusion, there are technologies that are focussing on improving the efficiency of existing energy consumption – vehicles, power generators, etc. A renewed focus is on reduce, reuse and recycle. Actions also underway in creating carbon sinks to suck up atmospheric carbon-di-oxide that acts as a greenhouse gas. But the rhetoric is primarily around containing the temp increase below 2 degrees which may not be enough, especially for island countries. Developing countries and India also need to keep their self-interests intact and there are ways and means that have been highlighted above. It may be about time to take a step back and reassess if the existing solutions should be adequate to address the situation or should we focus more on new radical technologies and investment techniques that has more potential in saving the day and assess their impact – however radical it sounds.

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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Pakistan-China Nexus :: The CPEC Conundrum

I. The Rising Powers

There are many who argue that cinema are true reflections of the society that we live in. It shows us a portrait or a snapshot, that helps us acknowledge who we are; making us confront the truths that may be otherwise too difficult to acknowledge. With the advances of science in cinematography, we are able to recreate entire universe altogether on the large screen.

Is it a relevant discussion when we discuss geo-politics?

Well indeed it is – and will cite 2 such examples to buttress my point…
  1. “Gravity” directed by Alfonso Cuarón
  2. “Interstellar” directed by Christopher Nolan
Both of the above movies were made in Hollywood – the holy grail of sci-fi. Both the movies are critically acclaimed. Both have broken multiple barriers and records.

There is a reason, these movies are being referred to. In “Gravity”, Chinese space station Tien-gong plays a very crucial role for the American astronaut [Julia Roberts] to reach back to earth safely. In “Interstellar” Indian Air Force drone was shown at the beginning of the movie [1:35] that was in air, circling the Earth for over a decade [!!!], supposed to explain the robustness of Indian technology and to top it off, the programming language controlling the drone was in Sanskrit [2:00 – 2:07; notice the laptop screen]. Watch the video below.

These are plain imagination. But Hollywood has an uncanny ability to predict future where sci-fi is involved. The movies, which are part of American production houses, have done their due diligence and research, whose directors are critically acclaimed – that ought to say something – India and China are on the rise and will eventually beat America, technologically. That’s what these movies predict. Why not an American space-station or an American drone depicted in these movies? Well, that might be anybody’s guess; but the truth is India and China are too big to ignore today and if one charts their paths, both of these countries are moving precisely in that direction.

India’s stupendous success of Mars Mission that was on a budget cheaper than that of “Gravity” movie was the talk of the town for a long time. Today, China has sent it astronauts on the longest space mission so far on its Tien-gong 2 space station to make it eventually habitable by 2022. Both India and China are on the path to create their own regional GPS – IRNSS and Beidou respectively. While China possesses ASAT [anti-satellite] capabilities, India with its vast knowledge of missiles and satellites can quickly develop ASAT capabilities. India’s Chandrayaan mission has found water – it seems a day before NASA did. Now India is planning for a manned mission to moon that hopes to find resources and give NASA a run for its money. Space is the final frontier.

But there are issues closer to home – the Earth. The duel of China vs. India – the rise of Asian giants in the twenty-first century, wrestling to become the next world power.

II. The Clash of Titans

China clearly is in the lead given its economic clout and military advances. China had an export led growth for over two decades and is now trying hard to maintain it through domestic consumption led growth. India has a considerable catch-up to do. One of these many pawns in the game of geo-strategy is CPEC, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor ['Colonising Pakistan to Enrich China' as Christine Fair calls it] by China.

Pakistan’s [supposedly] all weather friend, China has proposed to invest a mind boggling USD 46 billion in the fledgling state. It is a miniscule drop in the huge forex reserves it has built. How should one look at it? It has thrown open a Pandora’s box of questions that is the current hot-topic on the agenda of geo-strategic analysts in South East Asia.

Is it sheer foolishness to invest in a country that openly courts terrorists and is almost an international pariah, also considering the fact that a major part of the CPEC infrastructure will run through the most hostile regions of Pakistan?
Is it a calculated move?

Is it a gift from a wealthy friend to a less fortunate one?
Is it an extension of Chinese soft power?

Is it solely to bypass the Malacca strait and improve energy security of China?
Is it part of the larger Chinese String of Pearl Strategy?

Is it about making Pakistan a closer ally?
Is it a larger strategy of keeping Pakistan subservient to China’s overall foreign policy to counter India?

Should India be worried? Obviously, given the fact that China has blocked India’s NSG membership fearing India’s rise and doesn’t support declaring Masood Azhar of JeM a terrorist by UN; by no stretch of imagination is China India's friend, even 45 years after Sino-Indian War, doesn't support India in these critical issues.

China exhibits all the traits of a rising hegemonic power in Asia. The following are some examples which are more or less in news at regular intervals:
  • It has already openly threatened to disobey the judgement of the International Tribunal in The Hague regarding the claims of waters of South China Sea.
  • It regularly breaches the territorial waters of its neighbours – Japan, Philippines and Vietnam to name a few.
  • It has established military bases in Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoals that are claimed by other countries in the region – disregarding their claim completely.
  • It has forcibly forced away Vietnam from 2 of its oil drilling operations.
  • It regularly breaches the Indian borders in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh which it considers as disputed territories and provides stapled visas to residents of these states visiting China.
  • Also, it has a taken up an aggressive stance against India in the TAR.
  • In recent times, it has been sparring an invisible duel with America – especially in South China Sea, whenever American warships or Maritime Aircraft enters the hotly contested South China Sea.
  • The ability to declare ADIZ [Air Defence Identification Zone] that also includes the Senkaku islands claimed by Japan.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. One cannot simply be a military might without being an economic powerhouse. This is a basic paradigm since eons – be it Roman Empire or British Empire; Or the American hegemony as of today which is on the wane, economy is the decisive factor that decides the might and standing of a nation in the global arena. A nation that aspires to be a force to reckon with, cannot ignore this simple rule. Take India’s example – the 1962 War with China; a resounding defeat primarily because defence was not a focus area for Indian leadership. ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ was the slogan of the day and the Himalayas that was never breached was still expected to stand guardian of the nation despite modern advances in military technology – such was the naivety of the Indian leadership. There were many other issues and lacunae as well that was highlighted by Henderson-Brooks report, but the major cause still remains that defence was neglected due to poor political will despite have the largest military industrial complex amongst newly independent nations! How much one spends on defense depends on how much one can afford to spend and the opportunity cost of not spending it on the social sectors for a country that is still developing.

India spends around USD 50 billion a year [2.3% of GDP] on defense, while China's defense expenditure is in excess of USD 210 billion a year [1.9% of GDP].

III. The Money Plant

China sits on a massive forex reserve of USD 3.5 trillion. The current trade deficit between US and China stands at USD 365 billion. These 2 figures tell us how, financially, US is at the mercy of China – without even facing a single Chinese soldier. If China decides to rock USD, it can simply do so by flooding the market with US dollars and improving the standing of Renminbi. US will be held an economic hostage in such a situation. Already there are tell-tale signs that Renminbi is now considered as a racehorse – by being included in the IMF basket of currencies in IMF’s SDR – in addition to USD, Euro, GBP and Japanese Yen.

There might be a lot of rhetoric about China trying to elbow India out of Indian Ocean region and establish itself as the most credible partner in IOR and other littoral countries. So is China India’s natural enemy? It depends, as there are a lot of issues where India and China has common interests – like controlling Greenhouse emissions or addressing infrastructure bottlenecks. Each nation addresses its concerns as per their perceived strategic interests. So, essentially it makes China look after its strategic interests – and given its size, any direction it moves causes ripples which is aggravated further by its hard bullying stance against smaller nations.

But the simplest explanation of Chinese investment in Pakistan is that China can afford to spend USD 46 billion without batting an eyelid even if it is a sunk cost given the situation in Pakistan.

If CPEC is viewed through this specific lens, it doesn’t look as menacing as it sounds. The entire Malacca strait is bypassed addressing security challenges, routes shortened, jobs created in Kashghar province, bringing Uighur to mainstream economy. It seems to be in India’s interest, as it will bring more stability in the region since CPEC also tries to address the critical power shortage problem that plagues Pakistan – thereby supporting its industries and small scale businesses, providing a necessary economic boost. CPEC will also open up alternate roadways in Balochistan which can lead to new businesses opening up along the highways.

But, CPEC has unnerved India to a huge extent – primarily due to two reasons:
  1. CPEC passes through PoK [which is technically part of India under Pakistan occupation] in Gilgit-Baltistan area. Pakistan has even transferred some areas to Chinese and Chinese soldiers are present in this area. India can only protest.
  2. Gwador – the deep sea port and alternate to Karachi port can be quickly converted into a Chinese naval base if the need arises. That’s is a huge naval threat for the entire Indian Western-Seaboard.
These two points will strengthen Pakistan’s claim of legitimacy in Kashmir, in which case it will become difficult for India to claim and control PoK in future if CPEC becomes operational as it also brings China into the picture; as Chinese will have a valid claim to defend CPEC and its sanctity as part of Chinese National Interest. This poses a huge threat to India. Hence India will also have to deal with China if a possible future war with Pakistan breaks out. India’s cold-start doctrine needs to be revisited in such a situation.

IV. Indian Response

So, which is the greater good – an operational CPEC or poorer unstable Pakistan without CPEC? There is no straight answer to this, but it depends.

Operationalising CPEC is no mean feat. It has to travel through the hostile terrains of Balochistan and FATA where anti-Pakistani interests are in play. There is always a threat to the movement of goods through these regions. Secondly, there is a severe water shortage in Gwador and Balochistan in general that is difficult to address if one wants to improve population density along CPEC routes to create viable businesses and make the routes safer. Thirdly, Balochs are primarily kept outside of CPEC development in Balochistan causing a local resentment. Fourthly, at the northern end of CPEC, it goes through inhospitable Karakoram Range, where laying down navigable roads all year round would be a huge engineering feat. There are many other concerns, but operationalising CPEC is not as easy as it sounds.

Now, India can look at alternate unconventional options to block CPEC, so that the larger Indian claim on PoK isn’t diluted. And the most obvious means to do so is to support the Baloch separatists and their demand of Baloch homeland. It will be a costly proposition for Pakistan and China – one that will not be easy to sort out; exactly in the manner Kashmir issue has been kept alive by Pakistan over the last 70 years. Playing the cards, the way Pakistan does would be the most sustainable means of thwarting CPEC, with limited liability on India along with full plausible deniability clause. For this, there has to be considerable political resolve to see it through. India’s poor political will has often been roadblocks to a standard response in similar situations.

Balochistan is the fulcrum of the entire CPEC, where Gwador is located. Isolating Balochistan is enough for CPEC to fail. Indian government can start granting asylum to Baloch separatists and start citing human rights violation in Balochistan, to expose Pakistan’s duplicity. In the long run, it will also make Pakistan’s Kashmir claim more diluted as Pakistan will be given a dose of its own medicine and will be kept busy containing the unrest. China will be able to help little, except occasionally breaching the MacMahon line causing headaches to Indian establishment – but hopefully that would be well-calibrated and localised in nature like past incursions.

Secondly, there are too many disgruntled neighbours surrounding China. An effective nexus against China will definitely make it think twice before entering into a full blown conflict with India – which seems highly unlikely, even if India intervenes in Balochistan. India has already started creating an informal grouping of such nations through bilateral MoUs and other instruments. For example, providing Vietnam a line of credit to purchase naval vessels. It also has a robust relationship with Japan and Australia along with other SE Asian Countries. In the IOR, it has strengthened ties with Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles both economically and from maritime security perspective. The recent LEMOA with US was signed also keeping in mind, the US’s strategy of Pivot to Asia that aims to limit China and position almost 60% of American Military hardware in the Pacific theatre to contain China’s meteoric rise.

Thirdly, utilise the issues of common interests as coercive bargaining chips. India needs to swing properly and calibrate its timing well with respect to issues where Chinese need our support – be it WTO issues related to trade and tariff barriers or climate change issues for controlling emission norms. Let’s make it a high cost bargain for China to gain India's support on these critical issues that are of Chinese interest. That way, it ensures that India’s position is not compromised like it happened for NSG membership.

Fourthly, India needs to utilize fully its soft power and 'Mausam' / Spice Route project to counter the overall Chinese One Road-One Belt and Silk Road strategy. India obviously cannot compete with China at the scale they have conceived due to huge investment needed, but nevertheless, most of the countries, especially in IOR are ideologically aligned to India's needs and interests and these projects would be a start to gain a proper foothold.

Lastly, despite covert and diplomatic initiatives, India still has to make use of the international platforms to isolate Pakistan and counter China’s position informally, without irking the neighbour. It is important to keep up the rhetoric, so that Indian position isn’t perceived to be weak; which unfortunately has been the Indian legacy for the better part of last 70 years.

As Sun Tzu says in ‘The Art of War’
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

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Islamic State :: As a Brand Success & Failure

ISIS or ISIL is a stunning success in the world of terror. It has captured the imagination of every wannabe terror entrepreneur who one day dreams to be a CEO [Chief Extremist Officer] after passing out of IIM [International Institute of Mujahideens].

Jokes apart, what makes this organization so unique, if one removes the lens of religion and extremism is the way it conducts itself as an organization, that has contributed to its success. If one keeps morality and ethics on the side-lines, there are spectacular parallels between successful organizations and this terrorist organization in terms of building a brand image.

As NATO and other allied forces converge upon Mosul, the last major stronghold of ISIS, it may be worth a thought what made ISIS such a strong brand name in the world of terrorism. As a student of management, could not help but draw the similarities between a successful brand and ISIS – what it has done right so far and also where it has and will go wrong [hopefully]. Let’s evaluate.

The Success Factors:

1. Brand Communication

The group has been highly successful in establishing its brand image as the true liberator of Islam through its PR and social media. It has found powerful mascots in the form of “Jihadi John” and others who portrays the true brand image that ISIS wants to portray. It is very active in the cyber space and has utilised it fully through its gory videos and has extensively used twitter, Facebook and other channels resulting in high brand recall – the next pointer.

2. Brand Recall

ISIS Brand Recall is extremely high. It has been high for the past 3 years or so. Only very few brands in the same space with the exception of al-Qaeda has had a successful brand recall for such a long duration. Every day on newspaper, internet, radio, one gets to hear about ISIS and their atrocities. They manage to stay in news. They are able to successfully ensure that ISIS is a dominating force in daily news and there by improve its relevance to the world and its followers – our next pointer.

3. Brand Relevance

It is borne out of the following 4 key tenets:

    a. Customer Obsession: Ensuring that its true customers, the jihadists are obsessed with ISIS Ideology that it has successfully done.

    b. Distinctive Inspiration: It has inspired those who never dreamt of picking up arms earlier, faithful to the cause. It has transcended boundaries and nationalities and has inspired teenagers, married couple, educated and elite to join the cause alike. It also has distinguished itself from other jihadist groups and factions who dare not to call themselves ISIS. It has a distinct ideology than al-Qaeda and even al-Qaeda is appalled at the gory and merciless killings perpetrated by ISIS. The utilization and positioning of ISIS itself not only against the West, but also against other sects of Islam, like the Sunnis, Yazidis or Kurds – was something that even al-Qaeda did not even dream of. ISIS took it a notch above. It is insanely ruthless and ruthlessly insane and above all pervasive to the point of being rash, resulting in too many fault lines. But again, this has been one of the success factors for ISIS’ rise.

    c. Pervasive Innovation: It has the mindset of the innovator. Just when the West thinks that it has given a resounding blow to ISIS and its tactics, ISIS comes back with a renewed vigour with a new tactic under its sleeve. America and its allies despite a multination effort has not been able to defeat ISIS even after 3 years of direct confrontation. It has been possible only because of the way ISIS has innovated on the battleground using scarce resources, using local intelligence to the fullest, driving a state of fear in the hearts and mind of people and above all trying to be a step ahead in the game. In one of the latest attempts, they have bought drones from Amazon, jury-rigged with bombs and have effectively used it against the coalition forces.

    d. Ruthless Pragmatism: They are very serious about their growth and goals to remain relevant and are relentless working in their pursuit. There is absolutely no doubt about it given its track record.

4. Brand Cannibalization

In the world of marketing, this happens when a reduction of sales volume of a product occurs due to introduction of a new product by the same producer.

This is not explicitly true for ISIS, but for the terrorism industry as a whole.

Many erstwhile supporters of al-Nusra front and those of al-Qaeda, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] were founding members of ISIS. Brand cannibalization typically is detrimental for a brand, but for ISIS, it has worked wonders. Hence it is one of the positives, rather than a negative, in my opinion in case of ISIS. Though it has been detrimental for al-Qaeda in general.

The Causes of Brand Failure:

1. Brand Ego:

This becomes the biggest cause of failure when a brand believes that it can support a market singlehandedly beyond its means. It over emphasizes on its importance than it can allow itself to, with limited means at its disposal.

ISIS is already facing heat as it has opened too many war fronts – Iraq, Syria and Kurds. It is fighting the Sunni Militias supported by Iran. It is being bombarded by NATO coalition jets from above. On the ground, there are technical advisors from Russia advising Syria Democratic Forces while special operatives from American Military are embedded with Iraqi special forces unit fighting ISIS.

Its resources are dwindling as world is cracking down on its financial resources. Mosul, the biggest city under its capture in Iraq has been a haven for cheap oil that has fuelled much of its war-chest, second to selling antiquities.

Its human resources are also decreasing steadily as most of the operatives are now disillusioned with the ideals and hatred that is being spread with little expectations that has been met that were promised at the time of induction and has quit or thinking of leaving. Also those travelling to join ISIS are well aware of their consequences after returning to their native countries – that will be detrimental for their own well-being as well as their families – except Sweden maybe [where more than 300 fighters joined ISIS and few have returned back but were not arrested by Swedish Police].

2. Decreasing Brand Loyalty

This is a major challenge that ISIS faces right now and is going to haunt them eventually. One cannot fool over a long period of time. Teenagers and those who left their creature comforts of the home from the West to fight for the Islamic Caliphate now understood the harsh conditions and realities of their stay, coupled with the terrible manpower management and little expectation setting. There is no 360 degree feedback which also takes into account how juniors feel about their seniors and their ways of working. These dissatisfied customers will be the biggest strength of the West and its allies as they pass on valuable information and intelligence that can help bring down ISIS as and when they quit ISIS.

3. Brand Deception

This is kind of tied with the above pointer of Brand Loyalty. One can say that Brand Deception is directly proportional to decreasing brand loyalty.

In case of ISIS, the dreams and those fabulous castles shown by Abubakr-al-Baghdadi hasn’t materialised that has left many ISIS supporters disillusioned. The harsh living conditions and constant fear of death has turned an ordinary citizen, who believed in true Caliphate, feeling deceived and hurt; unable to fulfil its promise; breaking the Golden Rule in the world of Branding.

4. Brand Paranoia

This happens when a brand faces increased competition from its competitors and hence there is a fight on the claims, trying to outperform its competitors.

It is especially true in case of ISIS – wherein it has proven itself extremely distinct from its competition by mass execution and innovative strategy of drones or lone wolf killings – that keeps its competitors at bay. This has also resulting in loathing of ISIS within terrorist fraternity by those who doesn’t have the stomach for such gruesome deaths.

5. Brand Fatigue / Over Marketing

Too much marketing of a particular brand, causes fatigue in general and makes the brand undesirable as per brand marketing.

This should also hold true for ISIS. As it becomes more and more infamous, as more of its atrocities and inside workings are exposed to the world, its grotesque nature and shameful ideologies that it has twisted in the name of religion and jihad is laid bare in front of the world to see, should act as a detrimental factor for new recruits, thereby stemming the tide or influx of new fighters into the region.

A brand manager always wants to ensure that her brand does well and performs beyond market expectations. For the sake of humanity, and most importantly, for the sake of Islam and its 1.6 billion followers who believe in peace, let’s hope that ISIS does everything, as mentioned above under cons, destroying itself as a brand sooner than expected – so that this menace of terrorism is overcome, bringing it to a long awaited conclusion. The Brand should be destroyed effectively, so that there are is no remaining residual brand value to pick and build upon in future.
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