Friday, September 30, 2016

India and Pakistan inching towards war?

After three wars in the past and over two decades of skirmishes on the Kashmir Line of Control (LOC), events of the past couple of weeks have inched the two South Asian nuclear powers closer to war. The incident of the Uri camp on the Indian side which left 18 Indian soldiers has worked Indian media and the hawks into a frenzy of war mongering. When seen in isolation India certainly would be aggrieved by the attack which was carried out by Kashmiri separatists and India's claim that they were armed and supported by Pakistan.

There are two ways to see the current crisis, a short 3 month to 3 year view, or go back to the genesis of the dispute. There cannot be any doubt that the recent protests within Indian Kashmir against the Indian government control of the area by Indian Kashmiri's has left India embarrassed about their assertion that Kashmiri's were well assimilated into the main body of the Indian Union. The fact that there were curfews and violent protests against Delhi in Srinagar and elsewhere in Indian Kashmir cannot be denied as home grown, even though pro Pakistan elements may well have fuelled the fire.

On the flip side there is also every possibility that domestic turmoil within Indian Kashmir will be exploited by both Indian Kashmiris in exile within Pakistan Kashmir and also by militant elements within Pakistan. For Pakistan the difficult situation has been that while it is combating the terrorists of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other anti Pakistan groups within their country, there is the Kashmir card that some other anti Indian militant groups play to draw support even from those terrorist groups that Pakistan army is battling within the country. Roping in this organisations is not easy and for Pakistan to train them and support them is counter productive. The military in Pakistan does not want to make the mistake they made of training and arming the Taliban for the battles within Afghanistan only to see these former allies turn on their hosts; Pakistan.

The hawks on both sides clearly are not interested in measures to de-escalate the current confrontation which is closely resembling an inching towards a limited war. India has already evacuated over a 1,000 villages on their side, supposedly as a precaution, which Pakistan could well be seeing as a precursor to the Indian army crossing the international border. For both armies it is one thing to have skirmishes on the Line of Control in Kashmir and another thing to cross the International Border. For India the attack in Uri gives them the pretext to talk about Pakistan sponsored terrorism and avoid discussion on the situation within Kashmir. For Pakistan the sabre rattling by India allows the Sharif government to try and divert attention of the opposition, led vy Imran Khan, to further besiege the government on the issue of corruption.

Sadly sensible voices are being drowned in the noise as India, unusually, has upped the ante to talk of further surgical strikes. The last time this happened there was a vicious war in the Kargil area in which neither side came out looking the better. However, the military situation has changed and the belief that Pakistan now possesses tactical nuclear weapons, whether they be depleted uranium ammunition or low yield flash nuclear weapons, gives the Pakistan army the edge that should their international border be crossed in a formal war then such weapons would be used. India's response in this sense would only have to be an escalation to deploying non tactical nuclear weapons. Washington is aware of the risks and it would be important that both sides are encouraged to rein in the war mongering as neither side will win this war.

From a Pakistan point of view to be called a sponsor or terrorism is considered absurd having lost over 54,000 personnel and 300,000 civilian losses, including injuries, over the past 17 years in fighting terrorism. There has to also been an acknowledgement that Pakistan cannot reign in each and every group just as India or the US or any country can ensure that rouge terror attacks will not happen. From India's point of view there has to be a visible effort to reduce the attacks on their territory from elements coming across the border.

Both sides should engage in serious discussions to prevent an escalation and both should consider a 3 mile wide buffer along the line of control and ask for the United Nations to administer the buffer zone. I also personally believe that the Kashmiris really do not want either side and seek an independent state of their own. Pakistani side Kashmiris in this sense have not shown an anti Paksitak bias while in contrast Indian Kashmiris have had their moments of love and hate with New Delhi. For the moment both sides have more to gain by pushing for peace rather than testing their military might in a senseless war where there will no winners.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

US Election: The Final Stretch.

The US election on the face of it is looking closer than most would have thought it to be a month or so back. Based on the electoral college and the key states race it would seem Hilary Clinton does lead the race. However there are a few unique challenges to both sides and the next 50 days is really the make or break. Each candidate has from now on to look more presidential and most of all keep the eye on the ball. It might be worthwhile seeing the issues forward.

For Hilary Clinton:

Plus side: She has kept to her message and her support seems to have galvanised with Obama throwing in more of his weight into the campaign ensure that the Obama factor amongst his die hard supporters comes to the ballot box. In addition Bernie Sanders, in his forceful manner has been imploring his supporter 'to ensure that Trump is not elected' by turning in their support for Mrs Clinton. In addition she has kept the focus of her agenda on educational reform, including reforming college student debt, pushing a fairer tax system, reforming Wall Street, getting immigration reform and controlling gun violence by reforming the gun laws (not eliminating the second amendment). She also continues to play her strong card of a better understanding of world politics compared to her rival and sees a stronger role for the US in world affairs including dealing with ISIS and other terror threats.

Negative side: The email controversy does not seem to go away and while in the scheme of things it is not a major negative it remains to the unfamiliar voter a red herring that she needs to tackle head on. While it cost her the election, perhaps not but she needs to have her camp handle it better.
Her recent short illness while has raised the issue of her health her handling of it so far has been good, but she needs to be careful it does not emerge as a major election issue again. Over all the perception that she is closely tied into with big business seems to have emerged again with questions about the Clinton Foundation. Her camp is not handling this issue with the forcefulness that it deserves and it might continue to stick to her as a smoking gun.

What Hilary Camp needs to do?

Spell out their tax and economic plan in more detail and put forward the numbers to show how they plan to make it work. She needs to close out the email controversy and while she has accepted some responsibility for it, there needs to be a better closure of this matter.  The issue is perceptional given that between Congress and other commissions there has been hours and hours of discussion and hearings on this her camp needs to issue a 'common man' white paper so the average american in the street understands the issues. She needs to push more on the issues of Trump revealing his taxes, clearly that is the achilles heel of her opponent and she is not attacking it enough. She needs to make sure that the Bernie Sanders support base also comes to the forefront as that would eat into some of the rivals support base of white workers who feel that Clinton has ignored them in the past. She also needs to formally step down from any role with the Clinton Foundation now, even though it might have academic value it will do her more good than harm.

For Donald Trump:

Plus side; He seems to have realised his off the cuff style has caused more havoc than good and has stuck to the script more effectively than before. His recent move to spell out his economic plan, and his child care reform bring an element to his campaign, which thus far was high on rhetoric and low on details. His recent trip of Mexico to meet the Mexican President while seemingly a good public relations exercise showing him in a more presidential role, actually showed mixed results apart for an embarrassing disagreement with his hosts. The steps he has taken to spell out his policies is welcome sign and he will need to spell out his policies more in detail. The benefits of his economic plan clearly are his trump card (don't mind the pun), however he has to clearly spell out how will be pay for these benefits. As one would say he has to make the numbers add up. His biggest change that has helped him has been his less mercurial attacks on his opponents and in recent interviews answer questions more than retort to a question with a question.

Negative Side: The biggest problem for the Trump camp has been his propensity to shoot from the hip with statements which either reverse his position or make claims that are contrary to facts. His biggest liability is the earlier remarks he made about minorities and he recent attempts, for example, with the black voters seemed insincere and contrived. While he appeals to the uneducated voter (the not so astute) the larger silent vote bank sees his claims that his opponent 'wants to take your guns away' is simply not true. His weakness on foreign policy issues is glaring with praise for Putin and not even knowing that Crimea was annexed by Russia are the pitfalls of lack of knowledge that cannot be quick fixed so late in the game.

What the Trump Camp needs to do?

Fix the perception that there is a racist bias to their campaign, (reinforced with some questionable appointments to his campaign staff). Spell out the economic plan and how he plans to reduce taxes and still have money to pay the debt and pay for the benefits he has promised. Perhaps appoint a respected foreign policy expert to lead the comments on foreign policy issues or hand over that part of the agenda to his running mate, Pence. Come clean on his misstatements (Iraq war, Muslims etc), like he has on the birther issue and be man enough to simply say "I was wrong" and move on. Most importantly he needs to put aside his silly argument about why he is not releasing his tax returns and should bite the bullet and do it as it is what is expected by all.

On balance the Presidential debates will be interesting and for Trump to keep his cool will be important. Apart from the prepared statements how he handles the questions will be crucial to the outcome of the race. Hilary Clinton on her part will clearly be prone to touch his soft spots and his thin skin might just get him to make one of his infamous gaffs. As for the vote bank it would seem that Trump has alienated the black and hispanic vote to the degree that wining them back is a gigantic task. His recent proposal to ban Western Union transfers to Mexico by illegal Mexican workers with the aim to negotiate with the Mexican government to lift the ban if they pay for the wall- its on the Trump website. Credit to the Trump camp they have tightened the race, the question is whether it is enough to make a difference. For the Democrats the big challenge will be to make sure that their vote bank turns out on the crucial day. Many of the Trump die hard supporters may have an edge in that regard and voter turn out in some key states could well be a crucial aspect of the final outcome.