Friday, November 16, 2012

A Grand Bargain for America

Now that the election is over, the American people are now repeatedly inundated with media reports regarding the US Economy on the brink of going off of the “fiscal cliff." What's worse, depending on which network you watch, the reporting is framed to inform the viewer as to which party is ultimately responsible for failing to strike a deal. Whether it is the Tea Party faction of the House Republicans, the Obama Administration, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and/or Grover Norquist, the result of their failure will be the same, we the people pay the ultimate price in inflation, a double dip recession and continued grid lock exacerbating the situation. However, rather than focus on the areas of disagreement, there are a host of areas where compromises can be made in order to grow the economy, rebuild the country and solve many of the nation’s most contentious issues in one “Grand Bargain.” Though these ideas are very general in nature, policy makers should consider these as low lying fruit to a possible cure to the scurvy-like epidemic that all parties, Democrats, Republicans and Mr. Norquist have created. The Basics: Taxes, Dividends, Corporate Rates and Loop Holes Regardless of what Paul Ryan and the Republicans say, when it comes to taxes, President Obama did win a mandate specifically on the tax issue. It was the only issue that he actually articulated and thus did give the American people a clear ‘choice’ between he and Mr. Romney. Moreover, on this particular issue, he won in exit polling of those who voted either for or against him. However, there is room for compromise, which I am sure that even President Obama would agree. Now is not the time to dig in his heels just for the sake of sticking his chest out and saying ‘I am the leader of the free world’ despite what the extreme right wing would have you believe. Individuals – Simplify, broaden and deduction exchanges Rather than raising taxes on individuals making $250,000 or more, raise that number to individuals earning a million and above in personal income(notice I said personal making a clear distinction from a business and what a business owners business earns, not the owner with regards to personal income). Additionally, rather than raising personal income taxes to the tune of the 39% like under President Clinton, make it 38%. Couple this with an extension the Bush era tax cuts for those earning under this amount with one caveat specifically regarding loop holes and deductions. Mitt Romney had a great idea of creating an ‘exchange’ regarding deducations that individuals could select up to a certain amount based on personal income¸ capital gains etc. If you make a million or up, then 25,000 in deductions, and then have a sliding scale downward all the way to the $250,000 bracket. This includes charities, homes, student loans, child credits, religious donations etc. Anyone under 250,000 continues with the Bush era tax cuts, deductions, the AMT etc. Finally, simplify the code ranging from 10 million and up, 1 million to 10 million, 250,000-1 million and 250,000 and below. Of course you create the deduction exchange with a sliding scale based on income, but this will ultimately simplify and broaden the code for everyone. Small Business’, Corporations and Multi-Nationals The mischaracterization of small business with relation to corporations and multi-nationals based on the size of a corporations Board membership is grossly misleading. Secondly, in order to create a more fair and progressive tax rate for business’ the tax base must also be broadened in order to guarantee not only fairness, but that the backbone of America, which is the small mom and pop business remain a thriving entity, and the heart of communities all across this great nation. Like the tax code for individuals, this should also have a sliding scale, and all loop holes removed, which currently grants corporations and multi-nationals the ability to pay the highest paying tax attorneys and accountants to find ways in which to skirt their taxes. This is not only unfair, but in all honesty un-American given the fact that tax dollars fix our roads, fund our schools and military and drive R&D in this country. That’s just a fact. GE paying $1 dollar in taxes is offensive. Period. Currently, I work for a small family owned business in Lower Manhattan while searching for a employment more suitable to my education level, experience and financial commitments. In all honesty, I wish I could assist in taking the fourth generation of this business on to number five. However, like most small family owned business's, highly educated and skilled labor tends to be out of the price of viable employability. This is an unfortunate reality with regards to rising cost of education, student loans and cost of living on people seeking a higher earning potential. My employer is the quintessential family business and can’t offer someone who has obligations like student loans, credit cards and all the trappings that an individual takes on while striving for a high level high priced education. Be that as it may, they are the backbone of their community, and in order to pay their employees a proper living, provide health care and the potential of stability, they must not be taxed into submission which would stifle their growth and possible expansion should they consider to do so. Corporations and multi-nationals face a much different set of issues, mainly languishing beneath one of the world’s highest and most burdensome tax structures, and essentially driving them to set up shop overseas, or offshoring their profits. However, they are also granted so many loop holes that they are also able to skirt the majority of those taxes as well. The solution to this is simple. Drop the tax rate to 28% and eliminate all loop holes. Period. The Revenue Wild Card: Immigration Reform Ok Republicans, here’s your chance to make good with Latino’s, and show collective bi-partisan innovation, compassion and revenue generation in one broad stroke in the least likely of places. Rough estimates put the number of illegal immigrants working in this country at about 10-12 million. Imagine if rather than those individuals working under the table in many times slave like conditions with no rights as workers, they were legitimized by one stroke of the pen generating not only tax revenue from individuals, but from the very business’ that are employing these people in the form of pay roll taxes now that they will be on the books. This would also allow the fed to reduce payroll taxes or business’ due to the increase in payrolls generating revenue. Now, how could this work you ask? Through a joint effort of both immigration and customs and the department of labor, both immigrants in the country illegally and their employers will be given a one year period, or moratorium if you will, in which their employees can apply for green cards given the fact that they can provide their employer, where they live and how long they have been here without any concern of current or retroactive punishment, in exchange for no less than a two year work permit with the possibility of a green card and/or a pathway to citizenship. This area is a cash cow in terms of revenue, however, it will require both parties and the White House the chutzpah go after it. Once the moratorium expires, the federal government must put in place unprecedented penalties for both business’ and individuals who are caught with the old practice. The problem is so widespread at this point, you would essentially have to shut down every restaurant, farm, construction site, landscaping crew etc. However, this will be much easier to enforce should we bring these people from the shadows to legitimacy. Trust me, the overwhelming majority of those here illegally would have no issue with paying taxes. They will take legitimacy above all else. This will show a sign of compassion and understanding on such a level with regards to civil and human rights, that the US will once again be the standard bearer for the world to marvel at. Finally, the holy-grail and, holy cows: Entitlements and Defense Spending After talking ad nauseam about how to generate revenue, we must also make widespread cuts in our two biggest parts of the US Budget, entitlements and the Dept. of Defense. First the Democratic party Holy-Grail so to speak, entitlements. Entitlements can be reduced without having a loss in benefits. There is so much pork written into the policy that is syphoned off by one succubus after another which is inherently corrupt and dishonest. We could start by offering seniors the option of medicare or private insurance. Of course, the majority of seniors would stick with medicare, regardless those who choose to use private insurance, not to mention the conderation of phasing out high income earners from eligibility, would apy immediate dividend. Next, continuing the mechanisms put in place with regards to wellness programs, digitizing records, and a host of other areas can save billions. It will just take an honest overview, and commitment to making the programs solvent. Next is Defense, the Republican holy cow. The fact is, with the modernization of our military, the conclusion of two wars and the upgrading of useless dated equipment, we have a chance to nip the military industrial complex in the butt, all the while creating jobs, continue to lead in technological innovation (who do you think really created modern telecommunications, Al Gore?) and remain the most respected if not feared military in the history of human kind. The beauty of this scenario is that we can do this cheaper, quicker and in the very near future. In actuality, this is something that the military requested in their own budget, and in fact, then Defense Secretary Gates said the cuts could go much further. The culmination of cuts to these programs, as well as a consolidation and combination of various overlapping agencies, this country could be put on the path to fiscal responsibility and balance before the end of the year. The real question is, will the powers that be execute, or continue with the status quo that created the problem in the first place? We will know soon enough.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

India, Pakistan and Afghanistan: Kumbaya thru a Web of Chaos

The recent bilateral agreements between India and Afghanistan, as well as India and Pakistan, give hope to a prosperous and secure future for South and Southwest Asia. However, the hurdles that all three nations must clear remain high, and given the twisted web of historical dysfunction, a task that remains daunting at best.

The economic and security agreement between Afghanistan and India, according to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, signifies not only a “bold strategic move on behalf of India”, but an “acceleration of India asserting itself as a possible leader in what to this point remained a region without a leader.” Additionally, the tentative agreement between India and Pakistan regarding each other as most favored nation trade status, coupled with the $1.2 billion investment in Afghanistan thru 2013, are positive signs that all three regional players are utilizing regional confidence building measures bilaterally, beginning with economic cooperation to achieve long-term regional development and peace. It also signifies that relations between India and Pakistan have begun to thaw behind the scenes, which is the only way the India-Afghan agreement could exist. However, there are still many hurdles in the areas of security that threaten to not just complicate matters, but can dismantle any short term gains for the long term future of the region.

The injection of Indian military and intelligence officials into the Afghan theatre initially raises concern about conflict between India and Pakistan, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The mistrust that the three nation states share towards one another undoubtedly is far more difficult to overcome than just agreements on paper. Let us not forget that a majority of militant groups based in the region for decades had one sole purpose; to fight the Indian military in an attempt to drive them out of the Kashmir Valley. In fact, the resistance by the Pakistani authority to reign in terror organizations who continued to receive unofficial aid and support via the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) continues to exacerbate the mistrust of both India and Afghanistan that Pakistan will become a reliable regional partner. The two agreements India has achieved given the historical antagonism towards the two Islamic countries, as well as a broadening relationship between India and the United States, continues to serve as a coming out party of good will and greater international assertiveness emanating from New Delhi.

Realistically, India finally positioned itself so as to not just be perceived as a ‘pivotal state’ or ‘emerging market’, but having an ability to enter an exclusive club of nation states who have can lead and impact a region and the global community through the implementation of economic aid and material security support. On the surface, this is a marked change in the perception of India externally, whereas the reality internally, much like China, has an extremely underdeveloped and poverty stricken populace throughout the country. In fact, India, Afghanistan, and especially Pakistan have yet to tackle their own internal issues and struggles, especially when it comes to terrorism, security and poverty. Oddly enough, despite the micro level internal issues, the questions regarding the macro policy discussions of the region are now thrust to the forefront. The most important question being: Does India have the political will and patience to see their regional venture into a leadership role all the way through, or will regional dysfunction, backbiting and corruption result in the typical outcome of falling far short of expectations?

Given the two scenarios and how high the stakes are for the region as a whole, especially India, which is taking the greatest risk with two typically unreliable partners, this once and for all is a sign that the region is taking the necessary steps to combat the internal cancers of terrorism and poverty. Moreover, announcement of the agreement between India and Pakistan as favored nation status regarding trade will go a long way to alleviate tensions after six decades of antagonism between two nuclear states. This antagonism has continued for decades due to dysfunctional policy-making, cronyism, and corruption, ultimately resulting in a false sense of reality with regards to their importance as emerging markets and global players, all the while allowing China to surpass them with ease and superiority despite greater hardships with regards to poverty alleviation and being a non-democratic society. The inclusion of economic and social development as a fundamental criterion of the new agreement between India and Afghanistan in the end will bring Pakistan into the fold on security issues, raising the prospects of regional economic prosperity to unforeseen heights rather than continued uncertainty.

As previously stated, the terror networks that need to be dismantled and ultimately eliminated by the Pakistani government have fought against the Indian military for decades. During this time, Pakistan has watched India average an annual economic growth of 8% over the past decade, while Pakistan at 3% growth at best, and has regressed to the point of near economic collapse. This has forced Pakistan to reform its thinking with regards to their conflict with India, especially in the region of Kashmir. Moreover, now that Pakistani military and intelligence officials realize they have lost control over the terror networks, they have quickly come to realize that Islamic militancy is only beholden to a twisted version of Islam deep rooted in nihilistic philosophy.

The considerable damage and harm inflicted upon the two regional partners necessary for Pakistan’s long-term future, India and Afghanistan, continue to receive attacks with ISI protection. To add insult to injury, these same groups now threaten the internal stability of Pakistan. Finally, the militants’ coordinated effort against the US military continues to cause incredible strain with the United States, which once served as Pakistan’s largest economic donor. Pakistan now finds its relationship with the US at considerable risk, and the billions in economic appropriations possibly terminated by the US Congress.

However, Pakistan’s self-inflicted problem believe it or not opens the door for India to fill that vacuum the US will leave in its wake. A vacuum that just months earlier appeared to be filled by China through a series of agreements with Pakistan. One agreement in particular, regards the construction of a Chinese naval base on the Pakistani coast of the Indian Ocean. However, India has a significant comparative advantage in this regard due to their cultural ties with both Pakistan and Afghanistan that the US and coalition forces could never achieve. The disputes between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are more like an argument between Cane and Abel rather than two differing social, cultural and religious paradigm. This does not mean it will be easier to say the least.

The blossoming partnership between India and Afghanistan has maintained a steady growth since the beginning of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban. India is the sixth largest donor to Afghanistan, promising nearly $1.2 billion in aid thru 2013. This assistance has laid the groundwork for trust and familiarity with a regional face and footprint in Afghanistan. Moreover, this will free the people of Afghanistan and the region of the fear that the intentions of the United States are to permanently establish themselves as a regional hegemon. Afghans will now develop alongside a regional partner whose intentions are to see them develop, but will allow them to do so on their own terms. There is a new found belief that if this initiative is successful, it would help eliminate a host of other issues shared throughout the region.

Fortunately for Afghanistan, they have gained a strategic partner not only from the region, but will gain incredible knowledge in the ability to fight specific militant groups from Pakistan due to the Indian military and intelligence services familiarity. Additionally, Indian officers will gain knowledge via interrogation of captured militants coming across the border, and will be able to find the direct linkages between Pakistan and the insurgency on both fronts. This presents an even greater possibility of heightened tensions between the regional players, given the necessity for border control between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, it will open the door for Pakistan to have a wedge in which they can clean house on the militants in their backyard. Coincidentally, it will enhance their negotiating position with both India and Afghanistan as a reliable partner to combat terrorism and Islamic extremism. Most importantly, it will establish greater trust in regional economic and trade initiatives in the future.

India’s clever usage of terming their agreement with Afghanistan as “capacity building” for the Afghan National Security Forces means that, following the scheduled US pull-out of the Afghanistan theatre by 2013, the Indian military will fill that void based on the terms of this agreement in the security areas. Though it is not stated specifically as such, it is obvious that this is the intention despite being initiated bilaterally between the three nations, rather than as a joint initiative. This will show Afghanistan that they and have a trusted regional friend who also benefits from seeing Afghanistan grow economically and socially. Moreover, this will give India a bargaining chip with Pakistan.

Cross border trade on the AfPak border is devastated by the continuing conflict and would relieve considerable economic strain for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the only way that Pakistan has found the India-Afghanistan agreement remotely palatable. Be that as it may, it must be noted that Pakistan’s objections to the agreement were not as vociferous as expected. India’s only reasoning for taking such considerable risks on both the economic and security front is economically motivated. The declaration of India and Pakistan’s favored nation trade rights just one week following the Indian Afghanistan security and development package signified that regional parties are communicating, and that these agreements did not come as much of a surprise.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement between India and Afghanistan is confirmation that New Delhi is willing to invest in the region in order to develop greater trade advantages through development initiatives. India, with a commitment of $1.2 billion through 2013, is already the sixth largest donor to Afghanistan. Coupled with the recent tentative agreement with Pakistan, it shows the ability of India to successfully implement more of a carrot and stick approach with regional partners who were once perceived adversaries. India’s involvement in diverse development projects in infrastructure, education, and agriculture will pay dividends in easing the minds of the Afghan population who may side more with Pakistan than India when it comes to understanding their particular issues, especially among the Pashtun population. The agreement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in New Delhi goes beyond development and humanitarian assistance, and may test average Afghans who view India as nothing more than an opportunist nation.

Finally, India will also assist “as mutually determined, in the training, equipping and capacity building programs for the Afghan National Security Forces.” In addition, the two countries will hold a regular strategic dialogue “with the aim of intensifying mutual efforts towards strengthening regional peace and security.” Significantly, two side agreements were also signed for the development of minerals and natural gas in Afghanistan, which is said to hold mineral deposits worth $1 trillion. If all this is a reflection of friendly ties between India and Afghanistan, it comes with the knowledge of the dysfunctional nature of geopolitics in the region. More importantly, it shows a desire to finally move forward out of the chaos.

Pakistan has responded to the agreement between India and Afghanistan with calculated skepticism, but one has to wonder if Pakistan was really in the dark about the agreement given the timing of the economic and trade agreement Pakistan announced with India. If all continues to go without a hitch, we may soon see a real ‘kumbaya’ moment between the three regional partners. More importantly, this may signify the end of terror groups’ ability to inflict damage causing strains to the tripartite partnership. At the very least, the region is moving at lightning speed to alleviate economic and development shortcomings. Once the security issues are handled, the sky is the limit.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wikileaks Leaked US Cables Reveals Truth About Kashmir

Recently released US State Department cables by Wikileaks underscores how India and Pakistan have kept the conflict alive via financial collusion with separatists, mainstream politicians and militant groups, with the exception of one separatist who continually stated that the “money-game” is the real reason the conflict still exists today.

The most recent cache of US State Department cables released by Wikileaks, specifically the cables from the New Delhi Embassy, paints a clear picture of how India and Pakistan have kept the Kashmir conflict alive and well for a myriad of reasons. The direct involvement of both countries’ government, military and intelligence apparatuses in the six-decade-old conflict led to the senseless killing of over 100,000 lives, not to mention disrupting the communal harmony that once led to rock anthems about Kashmir’s ephemeral beauty, and known simply as ‘Shangri-La’.

In 2006, then US Ambassador to India David Mulford wrote a classified cable titled “Kashmiri Politics as Filthy as Dal Lake”, along with a host of other significant cables specifically regarding the conflict. Amb. Mulford stated that “Corruption cuts across party lines and most Kashmiri’s take it as an article of faith that politically-connected Kashmiri’s take money from both India and Pakistan.” Mulford added that, “money from Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies and from Saudi and other foreign extremists has further distorted Kashmiri politics, incentivized leaders to perpetuate the conflict, and perverted state and central government institutions.” As someone who worked on the issue at the Kashmiri American Council, I know first hand how money, power and influence has directly undermined the prospects of peace.

The unspoken truths commonly understood by those working on the issue from the inside, and confirmed via the released cables, are that two human tragedies and development complications exist due to the childish nature both sides continue to play. First, the average Kashmiri lives every day in fear not knowing if the next time he or she steps out their door, it may be their last. Moreover, that the person who will ultimately kill, rape or torture them may or may not where an authorized uniform, but certainly will not suffer any form of prosecution or arrest for doing so. In fact, they may even get a bonus if they are lucky.

The dysfunction created by India and Pakistan resulted in an insurrection communally cleansing the Valley of the Pandit population over a rigged election in 1987. The result of this to the present day is the death of over 100,000 Kashmiri’s, both Muslim and Hindu, thousands of which are buried in mass graves. Then there are the billion plus South Asians in general, who are continually held hostage to the threat of war, terrorism or retaliatory communal killings throughout both countries outside of the Kashmir region. Ultimately what it shows is that both India and Pakistan view any casualties of the conflict as ‘collateral damage’, and in many cases more dollars to be secured for the military industrial complex. The irony of all this is that the one person who started and led the insurrection, comes off looking like the only non-state actor not on the corruption dole.

Surprisingly, Ambassador Mulford acknowledges that India admittedly rigged the Kashmiri elections in 1987. This resulted in Yasin Malik, Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and a pollster for the party who lost the election, to pick up arms, and wage war against not only the Indian Military, but unleashed his wrath on the Pandit population as well. This was accomplished via direct training, funding and logistical support by the Pakistani military, and more importantly the ISI. However, the past fifteen years Mr. Malik has engaged in his own form of ‘truth and reconciliation’ by visiting the refugee camps in Jammu, asking for forgiveness and for the Pandits to return to the Valley. Finally, given his background as a militant, he has served as an interlocutor of sorts between militants and the two governments. It must be acknowledged that funding and support via the ISI has continued from Pakistan, where militants seem to choose between fighting the Indians or going to Afghanistan and fighting their ever expanding Jihad.

In actuality, Mr. Malik has engaged in a six-year campaign to root the corruption out of Kashmir. His saving grace from steering clear of the corruption results from two key aspects; he’s secular and he’s from extremely humble beginnings. His ability to maintain legitimacy and relevance in Kashmiri politics stems from one reason; he has actually fought for his people and not just stood behind the walls of privilege like his counterparts in both the mainstream and separatist movements.

Having worked on the Kashmir issue for the last six years either as a government relation liaison, or as an independent analyst, I can say without a doubt the US Government fully understands and appreciates the twisted reality of the Kashmir problem. Additionally, the US Government understands the hypersensitivity that India has towards third party intervention due to it’s own complicity in corruption, rape and murder inside Kashmir. Unfortunately, the economic relationship between the United States and India appears for now to be trumping the ability to apply the necessary pressure to force India and Pakistan to finally bring the conflict to its rightful conclusion.

I spent six weeks on the ground in Kashmir in 2008, visiting with Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani. All three gave contrasting views, and in hindsight, the analysis from the former Ambassador was spot on. With the release of the cables from former Ambassador Mulford, one could only hope that both India and Pakistan will begin to see the writing on the wall. Otherwise the cables to be released may find some of the military and civilian leadership spending some time in Holland at the ICC.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mass grave sights in Kashmir offer only one solution to India and Pakistan, Truth and Reconciliation.

The recent acknowledgement by authorities of the mass graves discovered in Indian Administered Kashmir over three years ago by Dr. Angana Chatterji and her colleagues initially brought hope to a region that the truth of the last 60 years in this troubled region will finally come to light. Additionally, recognition that the graves are in fact civilians who have “disappeared”, and not what the Indian Military claimed as “foreign combatants from Pakistan” by not only local officials, but groups such as Amnesty International, as well as Hindu based groups in both India and the Kashmir region as well. The recognition by Hindu based organizations not only grants a greater sense of legitimacy, but highlights a fundamental complexity that the outside world continues to misunderstand with regards to the historical and ethnic complexities of the region. In fact, the mass graves reveal that local issues are at the heart of the matter, and that to some, that a terrorist from Pakistan and Indian Military Personnel are one in the same. It is through this recognition along communal lines that South African style ‘truth and reconciliation’ may be the ultimate way forward to solving this six decade long conflict.

In South Africa, it was through the process of truth and reconciliation that peace was possible between the sacked Afrikaan Government, and the newly elected Nelson Mandela government. More recently in Iraq, ‘truth and reconciliation’ between Shia and Sunni tribes initiated by General David Patreus, had a greater impact on lowering sectarian violence in Iraq than the overly publicized troop surge of the Bush Administration. This format is possible if utilized through the proper cultural methodology, the questions is, are the governments of both India and Pakistan interested in such a proposal, and admitting unfortunate truths of state sanctioned terrorism, militant support, rape and torture?

Kashmir in and of itself remains a political problem created by forces by both Indian and Pakistani Governments. However, bringing the Dogra’s or Pandits of Jammu (Hindu), Hanji’s of the Valley (Muslim) and Ladakhi’s from Ladakh (Buddhist) together to reconcile their differences will force the hands of Indian and Pakistani authorities to resolve the issue to benefit the society as a whole. There is a shared history and culture recognized by all three communities and a desire to reconcile their differences. A truth and reconciliation format presents the best possible way to free the Kashmiri from differences created at the nation state level, and restoring the communal harmony that once existed prior to the uprising of 1989. The only way to begin this process however, both India and Pakistan must undue the revisionist history both sides continue to propagate, and the truth must finally be disclosed, and perpetrators must come forward with their crimes that continue to cause millions to suffer.

First of all, it must be recognized that both the Indian Government and the Muslims in the Valley who took up their arms and essentially “ethnically cleansed” the Valley of Pandits must be agreed upon. Only from this starting point will the Indian Government find an acceptable beginning, rather than the continued mantra by Kashmiri Muslims that Indian military personnel perpetrated the only crimes against civilians. Next, the Indian Government must cease in it’s continued efforts to frame the conflict in the international media and community as a conflict along communal lines, and not the result of a rigged election, which is actually the case. The Hindu population was essentially forced to flee to refugee camps in Jammu, which the State of India now subsidizes in an effort to keep the two communities from reconciling. Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik, a secular Muslim leader in the Valley continuously visits the camps promising the safety of the Pandit community, and calling the lack of Pandit presence in the Valley a “cultural void that can only be filled by the Pandits themselves.” However, Hindu Nationalists continue to propagate Mr. Malik as a Wahabbi demon wanting to kill all non-Muslims, and force all of Kashmir to live under Sharia law. Mr. Malik was a major part of the Pandit cleansing during the late 80’s and early 90’s, however he has initiated his own form of truth and reconciliation by visiting the camps, apologizing to family member, especially those he directly impacted in an extremely heinous manner.

On the flip side, the Indian Military must come clean not only about the graves, but address the issue of “half-widows”, assassinations, disappearances, rapes and killings that leadership continues to rule out as “encounters.” Recently, one such false encounter took place where the Indian Military claimed to have killed a Hizbul Mujahideen leader turned out to be a Hindu civilian once the encounter was investigated by outside investigators. Moreover, the fact that multiple gravesites continue to be discovered and upon closer inspection, are filled with the bodies of children and women, rather than supposed militants from Pakistan, also continue to inflame local populations. However, rather than engage in violent encounters with the military, which would be the supposed action of a population who continues to be accused of supporting and participating in militancy, they engage in non-violent protest as they have over the past six years.

To some, this idea may just be viewed as another pie in the sky idea from an outsider. However, as someone who has worked closely with the many of the separatist leaders in the Kashmir region, as well as initiated dialogue between the people of Kashmir and the Indian and Pakistani Government, I know this is possible. It will take the ability of both sides to admit fault, but accept the responsibility of the pain they have inflicted on a population whose only crime is being ethnically Kashmiri. As more graves are uncovered, truth and reconciliation will be the only way forward to finally bring this six decade long conflict to its rightful conclusion.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finally, It’s Hillary’s Turn

Global terrorism emanating from Pakistan, a nuclear Iran, and the military and economic ascension of China are issues that we read and hear about every day. In the case of India, they must deal with these issues as a bordering nation to all three. Next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the US-India Strategic Dialogue, a series of meetings that she also presided over last year in Washington DC regarding security issues that both nations share. Fortunately for Sec. Clinton, her unique gift of leadership and strength, combined with seldom-matched intellectual prowess, affords her an uncanny ability to maneuver the complicated issues of what may be the most complicated region. Her assertiveness as a leader demands others to think outside the box, and inspire everyone in the room to address real problems with realistic solutions, and not just in the hypothetical. It is this ability that Sec. Clinton must use to not only kick start upcoming peace talks between India and Pakistan, but also lay the foundation that can lead to its rightful conclusion.

This past weekend, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said at a South Asian Regional Cooperation Conference that, “South Asia cannot realize its full potential until and unless the region solves its differences peacefully and develops the culture of solving our problems themselves.” The main issue with this statement is that India and Pakistan have consistently refused any form of mediation or facilitation by a third party, preventing any possibility of a problem solving culture to develop. However, Sec. Clinton has the grace to not only facilitate, but also to allow India and Pakistan a belief that they ended their seven decade feud on their own. More importantly, India could finally emerge as the legitimate counterweight to China that India assumes is already a reality. Finally, India can become the powerful regional ally the US must have for a myriad of security and economic reasons.

As the relationship between the US and Pakistan continues to sour, the relationship between India and the US continues to expanded considerably. Moreover, Sec. Clinton will enjoy greater flexibility to assist in addressing issues such as Kashmir, water rights and nuclear arms reduction due to the recent Obama Administration announcement or the suspension of $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan which Pakistan typically used to strengthen it’s border with India and fund militant groups, rather than the intended purpose of fighting terrorists and the Taliban. No longer can India point to US assistance as being part of the problem. Finally, the recent killings of Osama bin Laden and Ilya Kashmiri by the US inside Pakistan also tells India that the ‘US understands the terror state that is Pakistan’, and will unapologetically do what it takes to rid the world, and more importantly the region of this cancer. Nobody appreciates this more than India; except for maybe Pakistan behind closed doors.

In addition to dealing with the Pakistan v. India conundrum, Sec. Clinton must also address Pakistan’s quickly emerging relationship with regional rival China. Make no mistake; China is India’s biggest threat, not Pakistan. A fact that China has gone above and beyond to display much to India’s chagrin. In the past month China and Pakistan have strengthened their relationship with announcements of Chinese construction of hydroelectric damn projects in Pakistan, military assistance and sales of fighter jets and naval ships, possible Chinese bases on the Indian Ocean and civilian nuclear power assistance. Moreover, reports of Chinese military personnel roaming the Pakistan-India border, in addition to roaming the India-China border has also raised eyebrows. You see, there is a flipside to India replacing Pakistan as the United States prime regional ally; China is attempting to replace the void left by the US in Pakistan. As one security analyst recently said, “If conflict were to break out between India and Pakistan, what would China’s reaction be?”

Fortunately, the timeliness of Sec. Clinton’s visit just before peace talk are set to resume between the two rivals in New Delhi the following week couldn’t be better. Coupled with all three nations attending the annual ASEAN conference in Bali, Sec. Clinton will have an ability to lay the groundwork through possible shuttle diplomacy given Pakistan’s eagerness to try and recoup some of the US assistance it so desperately needs. In addition, this may also be the counterpunch the US and the region as a whole need to China’s recent assertiveness in South and Southeast Asia. Secretary Clinton would have an ability to use the resumption of funding as an incentive for Pakistan to accept some of the terms put forth by India with regards to their concerns over the water issue, as well as nuclear safeguards. Additionally, Sec. Clinton would have an ability to present new and possibly logical solutions to deciding the fate of Kashmir that is acceptable to all parties, including the Kashmiri people. Through incentives as well as a fresh voice with new ideas, India and Pakistan can gain on a number of levels via US Assistance, yet an ability to claim ownership in resolving their own bilateral issues.

The real question remains, can India and Pakistan be reliable partners in a region beset by dysfunction and failed promises. Once and for all, the table is set for Sec. Clinton to finally emerge from the Presidential shadows that have cast over her by both her husband and current boss. Finally, it’s Hillary’s turn.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The death of Ilyas Kashmiri Vastly Exceeds Osama bin Laden

The impact of the killing of Pakistani militant/terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri by a US Predator drone strike paid far more dividend than the killing of Osama bin Laden. Of course, the symbolism of killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan remains symbolically more significant. Regardless, the direct impact resulting in communication disruption and rooting out the poisons within the Pakistani military and intelligence circle are only just beginning. The killing of Kashmiri dealt an incredible blow to Al Qaeda, as well as a host of other terrorist groups located in Pakistani Administered Kashmir and the tribal areas. The recent arrest of Pakistani Brigadier General Ali Khan, and the interrogation of four other Generals had far less of a connection to bin Laden’s phone, than to Kashmiri and the terrorist network who enjoyed 30 years of financial, military and tactical support from the military and ISI.

Until his death earlier this month, Kashmiri was well known primarily in South Asia, especially India and Pakistan. Kashmiri hailed from Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and had a long history of working intimately with what later became Al Qaeda during the 1980’s in Afghanistan as a member of the Special Forces in the Pakistani military. Once the Soviets were repelled from Afghanistan, Kashmiri went back to Kashmir and began waging jihad against the Indian Military in what he viewed as a “liberation movement” for the Kashmiri people from Indian Rule. It is this connection that spans over three decades that is the biggest blow to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and may in fact be the tipping point for both the US in Afghanistan, as well as Indian and Pakistani relations.

Kashmiri during the 80’s and early 90’s was the logistical master of shuffling young fighters to training camps in both Pakistan and Afghanistan for “on the job training” against the Russians, and to be played out on the battlefield against India. The importance was he not only was able to transport young fighters for training against India, he established the connections and links necessary with villages and tribesman in the mountainous regions ensuring safe passage. This network continues today, but with the killing of Kashmiri, his network appears already in free fall in Pakistan, which will have a greater impact in Afghanistan as movements become of greater challenge through the tribal areas. The people who provided aid and comfort did so primarily to their relationship with Kashmiri, and not just tacit support for a militant movement.

The connection between bin Laden’s ability to hide in Abbottabad under the nose of retired military and intelligence officers was of no coincidence. Kashmiri had the connections and ability to call in favors knowing that questions would never be asked. Kashmiri was instrumental in the Mumbai attacks, which gained him great favor within the establishment community. Despite the Pakistani militaries fighting with the Taliban, everyone knows that the real danger in the mind of the military and intel community is India.

However, just this past week Indian officials paid Pakistan a visit in what was viewed as a precursor to renewed talks between the leaders of the two sub-continent rivals. I asked both former Pakistani, Indian and Kashmiri officials if they thought the death of Ilyas Kashmiri would have a direct impact on relations between India and Pakistan, and most of them just said “of course.” One former Pakistani official took things one step further and said, “not only could this lead a major breakthrough for Indian and Pakistani relations, but the death of Kashmiri will turn the tides once and for all for the Americans in Afghanistan.”

There is no question the recent decision by US President Barack Obama to reduce troops in Afghanistan was directly impacted by this high level target. Of course, the US Generals wanted to keep more boots on the ground. However, we must remember that Generals think in terms for what is happening today. The Taliban’s continued ability to engage and fight with the same passion and fury as they always have. What US Intelligence officials in the region feel, is that there will be a decrease in numbers, and far less traffic along the boarder regions. The Pakistani military will be much more alert and assertive when encountering militants attempting to move along the region. On the flip side of that coin, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are becoming much more reluctant to travel through the region to various safe havens because they are being taken away one by one.

In the end, the death of Ilyas Kashmiri will go down as one of the biggest victories, as well as the possible trigger to India and Pakistan finally resolving their 70-year-old differences. With arrests within the Pakistani intelligence and military community sure to come, militant activity on the Indian border. Additionally, this will open the door for India to finally begin removing her 500-700,000 military troops occupying Indian Administered Kashmir, especially in urban areas. Finally, al Qaeda and the Taliban lost their regional broker who provided safe passage and support from top ranking military and intelligence officials. I am sure that numbers in Osama bin Laden’s phone helped a bit in being able to find out who knew, and how high up the power chain knowledge of his whereabouts went. However, in just three weeks since that US drone strike in early June, already the death of Ilyas Kashmiri vastly exceeds the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hooray for Ai Weiwei

For the past three months, the story that received the most copy regarding China was the detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei’s skyrocketing popularity and becoming the darling of the western media as the poster child of Chinese internal dissent had western governments and human rights organizations calling for his immediate release and/or charges for the reason of his detention. This continued fascination with Chinese human rights policies and detention of homegrown detractors continues to clog up the headlines in the most reputable newspapers around the world. I am not suggesting that the attention Ai Weiwei’s detention received was not justifiable, nor deserving of the international outcry it has received the past three months. However, the real stories regarding China and the impact their strategic moves of late will have on over a billion people, and not just one activist, are being passed over without a thought by op-ed and senior foreign correspondents leaving a general audience without knowledge of the strategic gains China has racked up over the three month Ai Weiwei saga.

I must confess I have always believed the most important stories are those five to ten line blurbs that most readers casually glance over without understanding the considerable impact those stories may have in the not so distant future. China has aggressively pursued alliances within the region and made moves that could only make the greatest of global hegemonic powers proud. In fact, one almost would wonder if Chinese leaders actually calculated the amount of focus the Ai Weiwei detention would receive, creating a nice diversion to a series of regional strategic moves they were beginning to embark upon, and to some within international security circles, very provocative to say the least.

Here are a few in case you missed them:

China assisting DPRK utilizing it’s own model of growth

The first story should come as no surprise given the relationship between China and North Korea. However, this feel good story of China actually helping their troubled neighbor to the south open a series of economic processing zones (EPZ’s) with the intention of assisting the DPRK with loosening market restraints, and giving citizens access to viable employment in a variety of sectors. Additionally, this may also be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to the DPRK, as well as providing the DPRK with economic growth and possible ways in which an authoritarian regime can relax market constraints without jeopardizing the status quo enjoyed by ruling elites.

China for the past two decades has grown through the use of EPZ’s established by western corporations via subcontractors generally from Taiwan who had a clear understanding of how local politics in China worked, and the ins and outs regarding environmental protections and a lack of workers rights. Regardless of the old argument regarding working conditions and the environmental degradation in the countryside where these zones were established, China would not be the world’s second largest economy without EPZ’s. It is ironic that the Chinese would seek to solve some of the DPRK’s economic and employment problems through such measures. However, the same model was used by both the US and Japan in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore with great success. Who better than China to understand what steps an authoritarian regime must take in order to loosen the economic stranglehold and growth on the economy at home? On the other hand, China must also be responsible not to allow that growth to lead to an expansion over the DPRK’s controversial nuclear program, rather than the tradition laissez faire approach. I would only hope that such measures are structured into the agreement, but like most agreements involving China, one can only speculate given the lack of transparency the Chinese authority prefers to conduct international affairs.

Old problems continue to surface

Over the past week alone, tensions in the South China Sea continue to escalate between China and Vietnam, and China and the Philippines. For those of you unfamiliar with the South China Sea, it contains some of the highest oil, mineral and natural gas reserves, not to mention a robust fishing area for regional nations as well. Despite decades of third party intervention, working groups hosted by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the rights to these reserves continue to be a matter of debate regarding whose sovereign claims over areas such as the Spratly and Parcel islands are legitimate. Recently the Vietnamese government made a plea for third party intervention due to China’s continued muscle flexing. In an interesting move, the Chinese government issued a warning to the US to stay out of it’s “internal matters”, which according to one DoD official was “surprising given we have not really thrown our weight behind Vietnam with regard to the Spratly Islands, and have long held the stance that regional parties should sort out maritime matters on their own, through regional bodies such as ASEAN or the UN.” However, the stance takes an about face when a much closer ally comes under threat like the Philippines.

The South China Sea maritime issues are nothing new, however the level of escalation between the regional states was a matter of surprise. The fact that China now finds itself in maritime disputes with all of her neighbors at one time displays the confidence that China has in its regional prowess, if not regional hegemonic aspirations. China knows that without third party intervention, there is not one nation state, with the exception of possibly Japan, that has the ability to stand up to China economically or militarily. It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out for Vietnam and the Philippines, as it may serve notice for what is about to come in the future as China seeks to secure more assets necessary for long-term sustainable growth.

Firmly establishing South Asian footprint, and forcing India’s hand

For decades China has in many ways been a silent player when it comes to security, development and economics in South Asia. Many have little idea that China is actually a player in the Kashmir dispute. Of course, remaining innocuous regarding highly contentious issues is China’s specialty, and when it comes to issues in South Asia; China mastered navigating the minefield of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. However, recent agreements between China and Pakistan, as well as other provocative what ifs raised in international media with regards to Pakistan’s invitation to China to establish naval bases on it’s Indian Ocean coast have thrust this once silent member front and center.

This outreach comes on the heels of some landmark agreements between the Sino-Pak relationship. First, China agreed to provide 50 fighter jets to Pakistan following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a move that showed China was all to eager to fill the void the US would leave given the strains between to the two “strategic” partners. In addition to providing the fighter jets, Pakistan would allow China port access for oil exports via a pipeline from Iran, as well as the possibility of establishing naval bases in order to serve as protection for the increase of traffic of Chinese oil freighters and naval ships. Next, was the establishment of a civilian nuclear agreement between China and Pakistan that has everyone guessing the contents to the framework of the agreement, despite both sides expressing that we take the two parties at their word that this involves to civilian reactors, and that’s it. In addition to the two nuclear reactors, a $15 billion dollar proposal is close to agreement to dam the Jhelum River, a river that is a deep source of contention between India and Pakistan with regards to water rights, as well as hydroelectric energy generation for the sub-continent. The one positive may be that India and Pakistan will now hold legitimate peace talks seeking solutions to their 70 year old disputes, rather that just the occasional photo-op of a meeting.

No more noise please

So as we take a look back at the past couple of months and realize the level of activity China has taken in Northeast, Southeast and South Asia, it should come as no surprise that those in the economic and security realms find it surprising the most attention being paid by the media was on Ai Weiwei. Of course, the portly charismatic artist does make for good copy, especially the way in which he flaunts his spotlight to bring a clearer picture to the outside world with regards to China’s continued policy of silencing any and all internal dissent. For this I am happy of his release and must shout a “Hip Hip Hooray for Ai Weiwei!”