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.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading “No Campaign Bundlers in Sight”
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.