Saturday, October 23, 2010

Plain talking

Steve Coll of the New America Foundation always provides excellent analysis. The main thrust of his latest article, "Kashmir: The Time Has Come", is that Barack Obama needs to do some plain talking, as when he did about the Kashmir problem before his election in an interview:

For us to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower—why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing—why do you want to keep on being bogged down with this particular [issue] at a time when the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan border? I think there is a moment when potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.

(Link to Steve Coll's article)

Coll advocates plain talking by the U.S. administration in this way:

A reconsidered American approach to Kashmir should return first of all to the tone of Obama’s Time interview: honest talk about an admittedly difficult problem. More such straight talk is now required. The United States and India share an interest in the emergence of a stable, economically successful Pakistan with an army that believes it is in Pakistan’s national interest to stop fomenting jihadi violence in Afghanistan and India. It is difficult to imagine that such a Pakistan will evolve if groups such as Lashkar are not disarmed, delegitimized, and defunded. And it is difficult to imagine that such an achievement would be possible in the absence of a political settlement that satisfies the great majority of Kashmiris and delivers economic benefits to Pakistan, such as preferential access for textiles to American markets, as well as water and energy security. President Obama and his foreign policy team should articulate this alternative to the status quo before Indian and Pakistani publics, without embarrassment.

These sentiments are correct, but missing from Coll's argument is the conversion of the Pakistan army into a normal military force, subject to political control. This, Coll should know, is the crux of the problem in South Asia. No amount of convincing Pakistanis and Indians is going to matter a whit as long as the Pakistan army's incentives remain intact: incentives that reward state-funded terrorism with American money to the military, and a military budget that finances foolhardy wars but that remains secret from civilian view, let alone civilian control.

Coll's thesis here might be more convincing if he talked more plainly about the Pakistan army and about what the U.S. administration could do to put it back in its box. Yesterday's announcement of 2 billion in fresh military aid shows that this administration does not believe it has any options, and that any diplomatic talk is just hot air.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nilekani's ideas

An excellent, quick summary of where India is today, from Nandan Nilekani at TED.

Nilekani explains using a few key ideas, for example:

It used to be that we thought people were mouths to feed, but now we think of them as an asset.

From TED's blurb:

Nandan Nilekani, visionary CEO of outsourcing pioneer Infosys, explains four brands of ideas that will determine whether India can continue its recent breakneck progress.

In fifteen minutes, Nilekani outlines quite a vision of where India is and where it needs to be. Worth watching. (Watch 15-minute clip on YouTube)