Archive for the ‘Regional’ Category

Sri Lanka: After the Election Upset – What Next?

January 12, 2015: Maithripala Sirisena, sworn in as Sri Lanka’s president soon after his stunning upset victory in the January 8 election, will have a very different persona from his predecessor. His top priorities deal with domestic governance, and will be tough to implement. He presides over a coalition which has little in common except distaste for his predecessor. His election presents an opportunity to reset Sri Lanka’s relations with India and the United States. To do this, he and his foreign friends will need tact and creativity, and he will need all his political skills to keep the coalition together. A good place to start would be to suspend action on the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution on Sri Lanka while the new team gets its balance.

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Book Reviews 2014 – Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India-US

Photo from flickr,

Five new books: Gary Bass on US diplomacy, a “forgotten genocide,” and the birth of Bangladesh; Srinath Raghavan on global diplomacy in the same crisis; Hassan Abbas on Pakistan and and the “Taliban Revival”; Haroon K. Ullah on Pakistan’s Islamic political parties; and Rudra Chaudhuri on US-India relations. Read Teresita Schaffer’s review in Survival.

This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy ©, The International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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India, Pakistan and the United States

Modi greets Nawaz Sharif,

By inviting the leaders of the other South Asian countries to attend his inauguration, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a message of continuity and change. The continuity lies in India’s strategic commitment to maintaining primacy in the region. Every government of independent India has shared this determination; so did India’s imperial rulers. The change is primarily one of tone, but tone has a way of becoming substance. It adds up to a moment of opportunity for India, which the United States can encourage.

Read the rest of Teresita Schaffer’s essay, released by Brookings Institution as part of a collection on the challenges facing India’s Prime Minister Modi as he heads for the United States.

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No Campaign Bundlers in Sight

February 18, 2014. The brickbats cast at the Obama administration for appointing unqualified candidates to important ambassadorial jobs notably did not include any directed at envoys to the South Asian countries. Unlike the representatives Obama has nominated this year to the fleshpots of Western Europe and other comfortable parts of the world, all six American ambassadors assigned to South Asia are career Foreign Service officers, five with previous experience in their host countries or elsewhere in the region. Campaign bundlers and other would-be politically-appointed ambassadors haven’t been breaking down the doors to reach this challenging and often dangerous part of the world. With some noteworthy exceptions, mostly but not exclusively in India, those among them who have been chosen have not brought assets to their embassies that Foreign Service officers could not have provided. The South Asia experience makes a good case for the assignment of FSOs as ambassadors. Read more

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Bangladesh’s Flawed Election

Parliament, by Souravdas,

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

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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

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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:

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Manhattan Breakfast: Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif Meet

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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

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

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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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