Archive for the ‘Regional’ Category

Bangladesh’s Flawed Election

Parliament, by Souravdas, http://www.flickr.com/photos/souravdas/2130502968/sizes/m/in/photolist

January 8, 2014: Bangladesh’s January 5 parliamentary election dealt a serious blow to the country’s fragile democratic institutions. With major opposition parties boycotting the voting and violently pressing their demand that the polling be held as before under a caretaker administration, the ruling Awami League and its allies won a huge majority of the seats, over half of them without a contest. The United States and other concerned foreign governments and international organizations have criticized the way the elections were conducted and the violence that marred them.  They have vowed to keep pushing for an agreement that will set the stage for more credible fresh elections.

Prospects for such a settlement in the near future are not promising.  The reelected government and the opposition, led by bitter rivals renowned for their stubbornness, disdain for one another, and unwillingness to admit error, are likely to hang tough.  They and their supporters will be more influenced by the impact the political situation and the violence that accompanies it have on the country’s key ready-made garment industry than by the admonitions of friendly and concerned foreign governments.

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Afghanistan: The Negotiating Minefield

Photo from flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/34956641@N03/10287359243/in/photolist

October 24, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry’s surprise visit to Kabul wound up, 24 hours later, with two smiling figures facing the cameras and declaring success. After last June’s abortive talks with the Taliban, U.S. predictions of gloom at the prospect of missing an October 31 deadline, and months of tough talk from Afghan President Karzai, this was an unexpected finale.

But it’s not a finale, at least not yet. This latest twist in the tangled story of U.S.-Afghan relations illustrates at least three of the key explosives buried in the negotiating minefield. The path to success, if there is one, will involve focusing creatively, on the substantive differences, and not being trapped by traditional negotiating processes.

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Five books on South Asia – 2013

Photo from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3/4683685/sizes/m/in/photolist

Teresita Schaffer reviews five books about South Asia:

  • Muslim Zion, by Faisal Devji, traces the ideas behind Pakistan’s national Islamic identity and situates them in the history of political thought.
  • From the Ruins of Empire, by Pankaj Misra, recounts the careers of Asian intellectuals Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, and Rabindranath Tagore.
  • Aspiration and Ambivalence, by Vanda Felbab-Brown, describes the challenge of governance in Afghanistan.
  • Samudra Manthan, by C. Raja Mohan, analyzes the strategic rivalry in the Indian Ocean between India and China.
  • Transforming India, by Sumantra Bose, sketches the role of local and regional identities in India’s conflicts and governance.

Click here to read the review.

This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy ©The International Institute for Strategic Studies. Available online at: http://www.iiss.org/publications/survival/.

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Manhattan Breakfast: Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif Meet

Photo from flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ser_is_snarkish/8337288961/sizes/m/in/photolist

October 2, 2013: Few were surprised when Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif made little headway in reversing the recent deterioration of India-Pakistan relations when they met in New York on September 29.  Nawaz’s election in May on a platform that included improving ties with India, especially in the economic sphere, generated rosy hopes. These were dimmed by an outbreak of serious violence in Kashmir and by the preoccupation of both governments with other pressing problems.  The weakening of Manmohan Singh’s Congress government by an economic slump and a series of high-level political scandals has also taken its toll.

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India and Pakistan: Low Expectations

Ajmer Shrine, photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajmer/4478622642/sizes/m/in/photostream/

March 11, 2013: Pakistan lame-duck Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s brief private visit to India March 9 accomplished nothing of substance, but it put an unintended spotlight on the troubled state into which India-Pakistan relations have fallen in the past few months. The causes of the downturn are many and varied – trouble in Kashmir and along the Line of Control, concerns about post-2014 Afghanistan, a stalling of their encouraging trade opening, and perhaps most importantly impending elections in both countries. A State Department spokeswoman welcomed Ashraf’s visit and confirmed Washington’s interest in the two nations talking to one another. But such long-standing U.S. cheerleading from the sidelines is unlikely to have any meaningful impact. Significant progress seems unlikely until parliamentary elections are held in both countries, Pakistan’s this May, India’s probably in early 2014. Read more

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Political Confrontations Grip Bangladesh

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bdgamer/8466028340/sizes/m/in/photostream/

A series of increasingly violent, interlocking political confrontations have gripped Bangladesh for more than a month. The conflict threatens the country’s fragile democratic institutions and its remarkable export-oriented economic progress. As we found in a recent visit, many observers fear that the fundamental issues that underlie these confrontations cannot be resolved within Bangladesh’s constitutional framework.  Some worry, as we do, that in the absence of some form of compromise among the main political parties, especially on the hot-button issue of the conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections, the Bangladesh Army will again step in, as it has many times before in the country’s forty years of independence.

The United States, for its part, should privately warn political leaders of the dangers Bangladesh’s democratic institutions face – and they with them. But as the experience of one of us as American ambassador in Dhaka in the mid-1980s suggests, any effort by Washington or other friendly foreign powers to intervene more directly is likely to fail. The only country that might effectively do so is China, but it avoids such roles.

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US Voters: Foreign Concerns are Short Term, Economic

By Steve Rhodes, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8114647325/

The October 22 debate between Romney and Obama presented a badly distorted view of U.S. foreign policy. Their discussion does offer a perceptive glimpse of the most urgent short-term international worries of the American electorate.

The defining image from the October 22 debate between President Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is of the two candidates passionately disputing their prescriptions for the U.S. domestic economy. The moderator, veteran TV journalist Bob Schieffer, caught the spirit of the evening with his final words before inviting the debaters to make their closing comments – “I think we all love teachers.” A visitor from Mars might be forgiven for not realizing that this was a debate on foreign policy.

Read our article in The Hindu, October 27, 2012.

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Book Reviews: Lashkar-e-Taiba; Indian Military History

Photo by Todd Huffman, http://www.flickr.com/photos/oddwick/3449534019/sizes/m/in/photostream/.

Two very different, but quite compelling, books on the military problems of the region: Stephen Tankel’s Storming the World Stage traces the history of Lashkar-e-Taiba and its complex relationship with the Pakistan army, concluding that this is unlikely to change; and Srinath Raghavan’s War and Peace in Modern India recounts in elegant detail the diplomatic and military history of the conflicts that peppered the first fifteen years of India’s independence.

Read both – but to get more of the flavor of them, read the review by Teresita Schaffer.

This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy ©. The International Institute for Strategic Studies; Survival: Global Politics and Strategy is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/ .

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Book reviews: Boo, Inskeep and Berenschot on South Asian Cities

Mumbai, from Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/cactusbones/4392053621/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an unforgettable walk through the Annawadi neighborhood, next to Mumbai’s airport. Ward Berenschot’s Riot Politics links the ever-present search for patronage in India’s cities to the grisly communal violence that breaks out there from time to time . Steve Inskeep’s Instant City weaves together the ethnic stew, political infighting and scarcity that make up Karachi.

To whet your appetite for all three, see Teresita Schaffer’s review. This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy ©. The International Institute for Strategic Studies; Survival: Global Politics and Strategy is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/ .

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Hillary Clinton’s Whirlwind Visit to Bangladesh

US Government photo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_embassy_newzealand/5147456283/sizes/m/in/photostream/

May 11, 2012: After the tumult that surrounded her visit to Beijing, when Chinese dissident activist Chen Guangcheng’s defection stole center stage, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 20-hour stopover in Dhaka must have been a welcome change of scene. The visit provided a highly successful public diplomacy spotlight on U.S.-Bangladesh relations and showed Hillary Clinton at her most engaging. It also provided an opportunity for quiet discussions about some of the problems that are likely to intensify as Bangladesh navigates an increasingly turbulent and controversial pre-election period. Read more

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