Blog Posts by Nitin Pai

  • All at sea

    Other than the fact that six of its 22 sailors were Indian nationals, the MV Suez, an Egyptian-owned, Panamanian-flagged ship, was more about Pakistan.

    It was captained by a Pakistani national and was on a voyage from Karachi to the Eritrean port of Massawa in July-August 2010, when it was hijacked by Somalian pirates in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC), off the Horn of Africa. It sent distress signals to the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFORCE) patrolling the region but was seized before naval helicopters could arrive. The ship, cargo and crew have been held for ransom since then.

    Its release was also, on the face of it, a largely Pakistani affair. Negotiations between the ship's Egyptian owners and the pirates were deadlocked until February 2011, when Ansar Burney, a prominent Pakistani human rights activist, entered the scene. A ransom was arranged through his good offices and paid sometime in late May. As is usual with such arrangements, the source of the funds, its

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  • The sun doesn’t set on the Indian Republic

    It all started because the Indian government, reeling from the Great Fiscal Crisis of 2014, decided to tax the  foreign income of Indian nationals. All Indian citizens--from the rich taxi driver in Sydney to the poor investment banker on Wall Street--were told to get their PAN numbers forthwith and start paying taxes. The Non-Resident Indian income tax rate was set at 15% and to increase to 22% over the next five years. It was decided to impose severe penalties on non-payment, at the time of passport renewal. Passports would be valid for no more than five years. The legislation effecting this change sailed through parliament, without any debate, within seconds, surprising and infuriating the global community of pravasi bharatiyas and their deshvasi families.

    It was  Jagmohan Mehta, a bright spark from Navi Pune (then called Boston) who first raised the famous slogan, "No Taxation Without Representation!" If the Indian government wanted to tax NRIs, he argued, it must also give them the

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  • Double trouble

    Last month I described how a distinct military-jihadi complex has captured the Pakistani state and how it uses its nuclear arsenal as a shield to pursue its interests through the use of militancy and terrorism. While Pakistan's use of Islamist militancy as an instrument of policy towards India dates back to 1947 (see Praveen Swami's excellent account of this "secret jihad") the military-jihadi complex's ascent to power can be traced back to the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

    You should read George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War or perhaps watch the Hollywood adaptation of the book. Realpolitik brought US resources, Saudi money, Afghan guerillas, radical Islamists from around the world and a wily Pakistani military establishment together against their respective enemies. The US got the Soviets out, the Saudis pre-empted the spread of the Shia revolution, Afghan factions ousted their rivals from Kabul, the Islamists triumphed over unbelievers and the Pakistani military establishment got

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  • Why They Killed Osama bin Laden Now

    You might remember a Shekhar Suman gag on Zee TV's Movers and Shakers several years ago: An angry George W Bush announces that the United States will bomb the place where Osama bin Laden is found to be hiding.

    Hearing this, Vajpayee looks under his bed, pauses, and with a characteristic flick of his wrist says: "Thank God! He isn't here!"

    Over in Rawalpindi, General Musharraf looks under his bed, sighs in relief, and says: "Thank God! He is still here!"

    Shekhar Suman, more than most Western analysts, got the plot right. Keeping Osama bin Laden out of Washington's hands was vital in order to prevent having to publicly deal with revelations of how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex not only was connected with al-Qaeda, but might also have been involved in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks.

    Moreover, when the Pakistani military leadership was getting paid hundreds of millions of dollars per year to hunt bin Laden down, it made little sense to give him up quickly. As early as

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  • Understanding Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex

    Until we are clear what is source of the problems Pakistan poses to the world, we are unlikely to get anywhere near solving it. The source, I would submit, is an multi-faceted entity that I call the military-jihadi complex---a dynamic network of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance.

    It has captured the 'commanding heights' of the Pakistani state and subordinated the Pakistani people to its ends. It exploits Pakistan's geopolitical position to promote its own interests, passing them off---often quite successfully---as Pakistan's national interests, thereby becoming the primary beneficiary of international assistance that ought to have accrued to the peoples of Pakistan. Having total control over a nuclear arsenal has emboldened it to pursue ideological-territorial ambitions in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons do not secure Pakistan, as much as

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  • So why should India project power abroad?

    The dominant view among the members of India's strategic community is that India lacks a strategic culture. Given the cacophony, rancour and partisanship in public debate, with policy discussions taking place within the high walls of the government apparatus, with political leaders seldom articulating the rationale behind foreign and defence policy decisions and with few grand ideas coming out of the academia, it may well appear that a strategic culture is absent.

    Looking for culture
    Before we interrogate conventional wisdom, let us first ask whether or not there is an Indian culture? At first glance, one is confronted with not one monolithic, homogenous Indian culture but riot of many, heterogenous cultures. From music to visual art, from worship to cuisine, from costume to language, the reality is one of many Indian cultures. Yet, despite all these differences, it is possible to discern a common ethos among them all, making them parts of the whole.

    What are the aspects of this common

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  • Will the Ayatollah step behind the line?

    A few days ago, the Ayatollah crossed a line.

    In an open call to action, Ayatollah Syed Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, declared that "no virtue is better than rescuing nations from the demonic clutches of hegemonic powers, and no vice is worse than depending on and serving hegemonic powers." The nations that, according to the Ayatollah, needed rescuing were first Palestine, but also Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir. By including Kashmir in that list, he breached the defensive perimeter of India's foreign policy.

    See, the Indian politician -- as opposed to the Indian strategic analyst -- doesn't care much on what other countries say and do in other countries. India's political leaders are seldom consumed by the strategic implications of Iran's nuclear shenanigans, its support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and even its longstanding confrontation of the United States. When it comes to foreign affairs, you are likely to find them thinking and acting on

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  • Obama and the “K” word

    Two years ago, in the final stage of his presidential campaign, in an interview to TIME magazine's Joe Klein, candidate Barack Obama said that he intended to work "with Pakistan and India to try to resolve, and Kashmir, crisis in a serious way. Those are all critical tasks for the next administration. Kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where that is obviously a potential tar pit diplomatically. But, 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? ...I think there is a moment where potentially we could get their attention.

    It won't be easy, but it's important."

    Here's what President Obama said in New Delhi yesterday: "Both Pakistan and India have an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries. The United States cannot impose a solution to

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  • The missing ingredient in India’s soft power

    This is going to make you uncomfortable.

    The idea of secularism is meaningless in the amoral world of international relations. What is an excellent principle to order our diverse, plural nation is a millstone around India's neck when it comes to foreign policy.

    By believing that our foreign policy must be 'secular' we have automatically tuned out a number of strategic options that we could use. By eschewing the use of religion as a lever, the Indian republic finds itself unable to use its historical sources and reserves of geopolitical power. So much that in an era where the rise of political Islam, on the wings of globalisation, is challenging the established international order, India finds itself unable to play despite having a decent hand of cards.

    It's a double whammy actually. We have perverted secularism at home and suffered for it. We have practised secularism abroad and suffered for it too. This is in keeping with the overall upside-downness of our contemporary statecraft

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  • How to Fix Illegal Bangladeshi Migration

    "Probably the most important event in (Assam) during the last 25 years -- an event, moreover, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization -- has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry Bengali immigrants, mostly Muslims, from the districts of (Bangladesh)" You might think I am quoting a contemporary BJP leader. These are, in fact, words of C S Mullan, census commissioner under the British Raj. He made these comments in 1931. If you thought that the issue of "illegal immigrants from Bangladesh" is a recent one, then think again.

    Demographic change in the erstwhile Assam province in the first half of the twentieth century was at the heart of the Muslim League's demand, in the 1940s, that the territory be given to Pakistan. So those who argue that large-scale immigration from Bangladesh is one of the biggest long-term threats to India's national security are right.

    As much as the migration is

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