Monday, January 28, 2008

India and Israeli Satellite

With Israel, is sky the limit?
New Indian Express (Chennai), Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The successful launch of 300 kilogram Israeli satellite on Monday by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C10) from Satish Dawan Space Centre in Sriharikota undoubtedly marks a new stage in the Indo-Israeli relations. Also known as Polaris, TecSar has a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), a radar system which is more advanced than the Ofek generation satellites that Israel currently relies on. This allweather satellite is capable of providing images with a resolution of up to 10 centimetres.

Media reports in Israel were quick to point out that this new spy satellite significantly enhances Israel's intelligence capability and offers a roundthe-clock monitoring of its principal foe in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran. With its lingering suspicions over Iran's nuclear ambition, the launch could not have come at a better time for Israel.

For the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Polaris is a vindication of growing international confidence in its ability to successfully place satellites in orbit. Not long ago, it placed an Italian satellite in orbit and the Indian space industry is keen to corner a significant portion of this growing market. With only a handful of countries capable of launching satellites, the market is rather lucrative and aspires to earn about Rs 750 crores before the current financial year ends in March.
The issue however, is not as straightforward as some would like to believe.
Launching of satellite, especially spy satellites, is never a simple commercial transaction, more so, if it involves Israel.
The pre-launch publicity which is normally associated with the ISRO was conspicuous by its absence. As one keen media observer noted, the formal announcement was made not by the space agency but Antrix, the marketing and commercial arm of the ISRO.
The launch was originally slated for late last year but had to be postponed a few times. While space officials attribute this to "technical difficulties" and weather, media reports suggest that the delay was due to intense "political pressures" from the Gulf countries.
No country is however, formally named. Given the tacit political understanding that exists between them and the Jewish State, the Arab countries are unlikely to lose their sleep over an Israeli spy satellite. Indeed some of the smaller countries like Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have unpublicised low-level Israeli representations on their soil. Hence, it is safe to assume that such pressures, if real, could have come primarily from Iran.

Not known for its restraint, the Israeli media was quick to flag the Iran ian angle. Unnamed Israeli officials were quoted as saying that the Polaris gives "Israel the capability to keep an eye on the Iranian nuclear programme." In the light of the tension and war of words between Israel and Iran, such statements are bound to paint India as an active collaborator in Israel's military strategy vis-à-vis Iran.
Put simply, should Israel resort to a military option against Iran's nuclear installations in future, Polaris would be pivotal. Perhaps it was due to this consideration that the launch was surrounded with secrecy.

Second, though the space agency might present it as a commercial enterprise, India's participation in the Polaris highlight India's growing military-intelligence cooperation with Israel. Spy satellites are often clear political signals. Through the launch India also signals its growing confi dence in forging security partnership with Israel. Since the relations were established in January 1992, military relations primarily benefited India.

Through arms sales and upgrading of aging Soviet weapons, Israel significantly contributed to the Indian military establishment. For its part Israel benefited economically.
The satellite launch marks a new phase and indicates India's willingness to play an active part towards Israeli security calculations. By enabling Israel acquire real-time intelligence over its adversaries India is enhancing Israel's security.
Three, the launch should not be seen in isolation. Last July the Cabinet Committee on Security approved a $2.5 billion project for the development of missiles capable of intercepting aircraft and other aerial targets. To be undertaken jointly by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries, this was a marked improvement in India's security ties with Israel.
From the erstwhile the cash-and-carry approach, New Delhi took a quantum leap towards joint defence research.

Four, the launch was also a subtle but firm message of the UPA government to the coalition partners, especially to the Left parties. Since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada by the Palestinians in September 2000, the Left has been highly critical of the bilateral relations. When the BJP was in power, it even depicted them a part of the anti-Muslim agenda of hindut va. Hence, after Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister in May 2004, the Left parties were demanding "a course correction" and the freezing of all military-security ties with Israel.
Not only did the UPA government not oblige the Left, but it has also taken bilateral relations to a higher level.
Joint missile defence and Polaris launch are a part of its willing to consolidate is military-security ties with Israel, despite the Left. Unlike the NDA, the UPA government is more transparent in disclosing its military transactions with Israel. Furthermore, such actions challenge the argument that the Indo-Israeli relations are a part of the anti-Muslim agenda. When the Cong party which is conscious of its Muslim support base is seeking military cooperation with Israel, the antiMuslim rationale depicted by the Left becomes impossible to sustain.
The launch, however, could generate some criticisms, concerns and negative reactions. Given the Israeli rhetoric, Iran is bound to react strongly. Some in Tehran might even accuse New Delhi of joining hands with the "Little Satan", the ayatollahs favourite expression for the Jewish state. As happened following India's vote in IAEA in September 2005, Iran might link the spy satellite to ongoing price negotiations over energy supplies. Despites its own problems with the ayatollahs, Egypt which is yet to come to terms with the Indo-Israeli normalisation, might join the chorus.
Other countries however, would not be blind towards the larger realities. India's bilateral relations with the Gulf countries are independent of Israel and vice-versa. Put it differently, Israel will not be able to address India's energy security and the Arab world can't address India's military security.

As the ISRO Chief Madhavan Nair aptly described, the Polaris is "a landmark event." But definitely not for the technical finesse of the launch.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

India Sril Lanka

Lanka & the Lakshman Rekha

New Indian Express, (Chennai), January 18, 2008, Friday.

SCHEDULING problems. That is how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opted to resolve the controversy surrounding his anticipated visit to Colombo for the 60th Independence Day celebrations of Sri Lanka on February 4. The disappointment in Colombo was understandable especially when the Indian leader was expected to be the chief guest.
Since becoming President in November 2005, Mahinda Rajapakse has visited India thrice; two state visits in December 2005 and November 2006 and the summit meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in April 2007. Manmohan Singh who was happy to host him, however, had to operate under different sets of constraints.
India is yet to come to terms with its bitter experience vis-a-vis its southern neighbour. If the ill-conceived Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987 and the subsequently deployment of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to fight the Tamil Tigers were not sufficient, the brutal assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide bomber in 1991, virtually ended India’s involvement in the Lankan civil war. By encouraging Norwegian mediation, New Delhi has largely washed its hands off the long standing conflict.
As the current head of the SAARC, the Indian leader would be making an official visit to Colombo before handing over the responsibility to the latter. But to participate in such a visible event like the Independence Day celebrations was not something that India could contemplate easily.
Yet, New Delhi cannot ignore the Sri Lankan policy towards the ethnic conflict. Despite the costly war and human losses, Colombo has not formally abandoned the military option. It is hopeful of 'resolving' the problem by eliminating the cadres of Tamil Tigers. Media speculation about the health and welfare of LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran is part of this military option.
New Delhi should also remind Colombo that even if a complete military 'victory' over LTTE, if that is ever possible, will not resolve the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Tamil militancy gained prominence because of the systematic marginalisation of the Tamil minorities and not the other way around. One Muttiah Muralitharan or Lakshman Kadirgamar does not make Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural republic.
Secondly, New Delhi’s avoidance of a mediatory role and its desire for good neighbourliness should not imply that India is turning a blind eye to the destruction of innocent civilians, especially women and children, by the Lankan army. Because such violence evokes strong resentment and public anger within the country, New Delhi will have to abandon its deep slumber over Sri Lanka.
However, if it wants to avoid revisiting the saga of the 1980s, New Delhi has to draw its Lakshman rekha not only vis-a-vis Colombo but also vis-a-vis Chennai.
The events of the 1980s were also a reminder of the tensions within India's foreign policy: conflicting perceptions, one might even say interest, between New Delhi and Chennai visא-a-vis Sri Lanka. The ethno-national links with Sri Lankan Tamils play out strongly in the Tamil Nadu politics. Driven by narrow worldview and electoral calculations, many have turned a blind eye to blatant act of terrorism pursued by the Tamil militants or the widespread presence of child soldiers in their ranks. With the result, not many were abhorred by widespread fratricide and elimination of prominent non-LTTE personalities.
While Rajiv's assassination was a setback, pro-Tiger sentiments are still visible. Thus, even while being Chief Minister M Karunanidhi could openly eulogise a slain LTTE leader, without New Delhi making a murmur. All said and done, technically S P Tamilselvan was a member of a banned 'terrorist organisation' for its suspected involvement in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Surviving on the support of the 39 MPs from the state, however, the ruling UPA does not have the stomach to annoy the Dravidian leader. The political compulsions of the state thus, are so strong and paradoxical that pro-LTTE and anti- LTTE forces often co-exist amicably; just as J Jayalalithaa is happy with pro-LTTE Vaiko the Congress survives on the DMK.
It is time, New Delhi draws its Lakshman rekha vis-a-vis the politicians of Tamil Nadu, especially those members of the UPA coalition. As a democratic country India would have to listen, accommodate and reflect concerns and aspirations of all segments of the population. The right of different groups to influence policy is a pre-condition for democracy. A contrary view regarding the rights of different ethnic, religious, linguistic and political groups would mean end of democracy in India.
Such a right is also essential in the foreign policy arena. Strong ethnocultural heritage and linkages have enabled a number of groups to articulate stands vis-a-vis certain aspects of Indian foreign policy.
The Bengali elite for example, wield considerable influence upon India's policy towards Bangladesh. Same is true for Kashmiris vis-a-vis Pakistan. As publicly stated by the Prime Minister in September 2005, India's policy towards Iran has a Shia component.
Similarly, the people of Tamil Nadu who share strong ethno-national and linguistic heritage and affinity with the Tamils of Sri Lanka, has an inherent right and duty to influence India's policy regarding Colombo, especially over the ethnic conflict. A contrary position will be untenable in a democracy. Hence, despite the lame excuse of 'scheduling problem' it is widely recognised that the reluctance of Manmohan Singh to visit the island republic at this juncture is primarily due to pressures and demands from his coalition partners, especially the DMK and its allies.
As a democracy, New Delhi cannot ignore the concerns of various ethnic, national and religious groups while formulating its foreign policy. At the same time, it is essential to recognise that interests and positions of a particular group will not always be in sync with wider national interest.
As with corporate lobbying, ethno- national groups would advocate positions which are not beneficial to the larger society and this is true for Tamil politics.
While Singh's visit would have strengthened the position of President Rajapakse, it would also be interpreted as a sign of Indian endorsement of the military option and the Lankan abrogation of the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. Hence, not going to Colombo is the best option, despite the stated reasons.
At the same time, Singh will not be able to put off visiting Sri Lanka forever, especially with Colombo hosting the SAARC summit later this year. So, pressures from Chennai will resurface.
Many in the state would see electoral dividends from the stronger Indian stand towards Sri Lanka. The active involvement and eventual intervention in Sri Lanka in the 1980s were the result of New Delhi accepting the demands of the leaders of Tamil Nadu.
Driven by emotions, the political forces in the state pushed for a course that eventually proved disastrous for all. One should at least learn from the past. Put it differently, Chennai can influence but not set New Delhi's agenda regarding Colombo. Even geography says it: Sri Lanka is east of Tamil Nadu but south of New Delhi.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Benazir UN Probe

UN probe a non-starter
New Indian Express, Saturday January 5 2008 07:40 IST
THE demand by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for an inquiry by the United Nations into the death of its leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has exposed not only the diminishing credibility of the Pakistani establishment under President Parvez Musharraf but also wider problems facing Pakistan.
Thanks to Musharraf’s strong-arm tactics against the senior judges, independent judicial investigation is no longer an option for Pakistan. By replacing independent-minded judges with his Men Fridays, Musharraf has systematically destroyed the impartially of the judiciary.
Even the minimal credibility of the government was lost when the establishment claimed that Ms. Bhutto was killed not by the assassin’s bullets but due to injuries she suffered from the sunroof lever of her Toyota Land Cruiser. Even if Ms. Bhutto’s body was eventually exhumed for post-mortem, any official explanation about the actual cause of her death would have few takers within the country. It was under these circumstances, the new leadership of PPP, has demanded a probe by the UN.
Such a far-reaching demand for an international intervention into a domestic situation highlights internal schism within the country. Ms. Bhutto pointing needle of suspicion at the President has only complicated the matter. If Musharraf was part of the plot against Ms. Bhutto, he cannot be a part of the investigation into her death! However, by demanding an inquiry by the UN, the Pakistani leaders have raised the stakes. Though unusual, this is not unprecedented. The UN is currently investigating the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri who was killed in a terror attack in February 2005.
The parallels between killing of Hariri and Benazir are rather interesting. Like Benazir, Hariri was a popular leader who remained a thorn in the Lebanese establishment. His policies were at odds with President Emile Lahoud, who was seen closer to Syria.
In a country rife with sectarian divisions, Hariri emerged as a unifying force. As a wealthy businessman with closer links with the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, he had considerable political clout abroad. In short, like Ms. Bhutto, even while out of office, he was popular both within and outside the country.
These qualifications, ironically made Hariri a threat to powerful sections of the Lebanese establishment tied to Damascus. His independence came in the way of large-scale Syrian military presence (some might say occupation) in Lebanon. His popularity undermined Syrian ability to dictate Lebanese politics.
There were apprehensions that Hariri could be victorious in the 2006 parliament elections and challenge the Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. It was under such circumstances Hariri was brutally killed in a car bomb in Beirut that also killed 22 others.
Widespread anger at Hariri’s killing however galvanised the popular opposition against Syria and eventually forced Damascus to pullout its troops which came to Lebanon following the outbreak of the Civil war in 1975. At the same time, prolonged Syrian military presence, coupled with the refusal of Damascus to recognize Lebanese independence and sovereignty, made official investigation into the killing of Hariri an impossible preposition.
Many attributed Hariri’s assassination to his anti-Syrian policies. Despite the formal withdrawal of its troops Syria maintained considerable influence and leverage in the country, especially through the Islamic militant group the Hezbollah. Under such circumstances, Lebanese investigation into Hariri’s death became a non-starter. Hence, supporters of Hariri demanded an international investigation into the killing of their leader.
The dissimilarities between the murders of Hariri and Ms. Bhutto are also interesting. The UN probe for Hariri however, enjoyed the unqualified support of the US and also of France, an erstwhile patron of Syria.
Capitalising on the popular sentiments within Lebanon, these two countries worked with others and prodded the UN to act. The anti-Syrian rhetoric of the Bush Administration and the hasty Syrian retreat from Lebanon enabled the UN Security Council to swiftly act. The spate of killings of anti-Syrian personalities following Hariri’s assassination had also helped the situation.
After months of behind-the-scene negotiations and arms twisting by Washington, in April 2005 the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1595 that called for an International independent Investigation Commission into the killing of Hariri.
Initially it asked German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis to head the probe and he was later replaced by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz. Their prolonged investigation implicated Lebanese and Syrian intelligence in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister.
Such an international backing however is unlikely over Ms. Bhutto’s killing. Despite its strong criticisms, Washington is unlikely to exert similar pressure for an UN probe. Given the fragility of the situation in Pakistan and widespread violence, Washington can ill-afford to openly express no-confidence on Musharraf.
The US pushed for a UN probe over Hariri because it enabled Washington to heighten its pressures against Syria which was impeding some of American policies in the Middle East, especially over the peace process.
A similar move over Benazir however would not only alienate the Musharraf administration but also might accentuate further tensions within Pakistan. Without a resolute great power demand, the UN is unlikely to get involved in Benazir’s killing.
Second, it is not clear if the PPP leaders had a closer look similar UN involvement in Lebanon. More than anything else, the Hariri probe has accentuated internal tensions within Lebanon. Indeed, the country is functioning without a president ever since Lahoud completed his term on November 23 as both sides were unable to agree on a mutually acceptable candidate. Far from healing the wounds, a UN probe might only complicate things for Pakistan.
Three, the track record of the Hariri probe is not encouraging. Two chiefs, three years and four reports later, the Hariri file still remains open. Given the political nature of the UN as well as patronage enjoyed by Syria, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would ever be held personally responsible for Hariri’s killing, let alone be convicted.
Hence, there is no reason to believe that if and when the UN takes over the Benazir case, the end result would be any different.
However, the demand for an international probe underscores deep divisions within Pakistan. Through his short-sightedness, blatant nepotism and sheer inefficiency, President Musharraf has systematically destroyed major institutions of Pakistan.
While none, not even his friends in Washington, believed him to be a democrat, many had high hopes on his willingness and ability to fight terrorism in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Growing militancy and violence in different parts of Pakistan has severely undermined his usefulness for the American “war on terrorism.” Thanks to Musharraf even the army could no longer be looked upon to save the country. Benazir’s killing was the last straw.
By demanding the world body to investigate a domestic political killing, Pakistani leaders have raised the banner of helplessness. Whether one likes or not, Benazir’s death is a Pakistani problem. Hence solution would have be Pakistani one. No external power, however well intended, would be able to establish the real cause of her death. Meanwhile, Benazir’s assassination would only intensify conspiracy theories, hidden hands and unresolved mysteries.

India, Iran and the US

Delhi: Between Tehran and Washington
Middle East Quarterly, winter 2008
As the U.S.-Iranian dispute escalates, both Washington and Tehran seek friends and allies. New Delhi is caught in the middle. While the U.S.-Indian partnership has grown closer in recent years, New Delhi's approach toward Iran's suspected nuclear program causes concern in Washington. Overshadowing the debate is India's own nuclear program. With the July 2005 U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear deal yet to win U.S. Senate ratification, is India seeking to strengthen its energy security through Iran? Or is New Delhi pursuing the civilian nuclear deal without being sensitive to Washington's concerns vis-à-vis Iran?
Full text of the article can be found at: