September 2008, Vol. 3, No. 8

Kosi River Flooding

Bihar flood

Kosi's flooding of north Bihar and four villages of Nepal has brought into focus two significant questions: a) the need for meaningful cooperation between countries on water management issues, and b) the value of dams and embankments, given that one of their main functions – prevention of flooding – is not served and sometimes only exacerbates the phenomenon. In this month's feature, Bharat Jhunjhunwala and Kanak Mani Dixit argue that embankments amplify floods rather than mitigate them. Dixit even argues that perhaps it is time to ‘live with the floods', an older, low-tech but more effective way to deal with annual flooding. M.S. Swaminathan provides practical advice on how agriculture can benefit from floods.

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In this Issue:

  1. Feature: Kosi River Flooding

  2. Carnegie Events and Analysis
    Engaging Pakistan - Getting the Balance Right; Missed Opportunity - Nuclear Suppliers Group

  3. Views from South Asia:

    Foreign and Domestic Politics

    NSG waiver; Singur: Mamata versus Tata; Kashmir's future Olympics - India's Best Ever Performance

    Economics and Development
    World Bank poverty estimates; Free Trade Agreement with Asean

    Zardari's election; U.S. unilateral strikes; Islamabad Marriott blast; Economic Management

    Parliamentary poll dates announced; High Food Prices; Maritime Boundary Talks

    Prachanda interview; An Inflated Budget?; Kosi flooding

    Internally Displaced Person Crisis; Economics of Ageing

Editor's Note

Last month, the Indian state of Bihar and some areas of Nepal were devastated by a flood as the river Kosi changed course after breaching a barrage. Nearly 3 million people were marooned and are currently living in camps, waiting for the water to recede. The tragedy has brought under scrutiny the utility of embankments and dams. In this month's feature, several commentators, including Bharat Jhunjhunwala and Kanak Mani Dixit argue that embankments amplify floods rather than mitigate them.

Islamabad's Marriott hotel was devastated by a massive truck bomb on September 20. A little known group, Fidayeen-e-Islam, claimed responsibility. Even though they claimed that the targets were Americans, most of those killed or injured were Pakistanis. It remains to be seen whether the new civilian president, Asif Zardari, can rise up to the challenge and clearly articulate a coherent strategy to combat terrorism, often considered ‘America's war' in the country.

The Sri Lankan army has moved closer to the northern city of Kilinochchi, the political hub of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As fighting intensifies, a humanitarian crisis is looming with about 100,000 Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire. Even if they escape the area, these internally displaced people need to be provided with security, shelter, food and clothing – a serious challenge given limited state assistance and that NGOs have left the area.

Ashesh Prasann
Editor, South Asian Perspectives



Bihar floodKosi River Flooding
The regions of India which border neighboring countries tend to be the poorest and most vulnerable to natural disasters. Pratap Bhanu Mehta makes the case that north Bihar and other borderlands occupy the fringes of national consciousness and their development is rarely a consideration in India 's relations with its neighbors. Moreover, even as public consciousness about the recent catastrophe increased, public sympathy has not yet translated to public purpose because the state's role as a mediator is no longer credible. ( Indian Express, September 5, 2008 )

Kanak Mani Dixit points out that the real challenge lies ahead for areas affected by the Kosi flooding. If the river consolidates on its new course and the shift becomes permanent in India's most densely populated area, long-term rehabilitation will become close to impossible. The temptation to construct a high dam in Nepal as a panacea should be avoided and the socio-centric approach of ‘living with the flood' be promoted. ( Himal Southasian, September 2008 )

An editorial in the Business Standard blames the flooding on the neglect of silting in the catchment area of embankments, rather than remedial work to strengthening of bunds, which was undertaken by government authorities. The paper argues that silting leads to elevated river beds and decreased capacity of rivers to hold water. ( Business Standard, August 28, 2008 )

As part of Outlook's coverage of the disaster, its causes and relief work, Debarshi Dasgupta traces a series of actions which could have prevented the flooding. ( Outlook, September 15, 2008 )

More embankments mean more floods, not less. Bharat Jhunjhunwala contends that embankments help only in years with normal rainfall; in others they amplify flooding by not allowing waters to recede. The author uses a cost-benefit analysis to conclude that embankment building is undertaken simply for the benefit of the bureaucracy. (Daily Excelsior, September 8, 2008)

M.S. Swaminathan focuses his attention on the problem of reviving sustainable livelihood opportunities after the flood water has receded, including the need for weather codes and creation of seed reserves of crops which grow well after floods. ( The Hindu, September 5, 2008 )

In a detailed and enlightening interview, Dipak Gyawali, former minister for water resources, analyzes the causes of Kosi river flooding and what governments in India and Nepal should do in the future. ( The Kathmandu Post, September 1, 2008 )

Carnegie Events and Analysis

Engaging Pakistan: Getting the Balance Right
Ashley J. TellisThe process of political evolution towards democracy needs to be supported regardless of the leaders it produces, asserted Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. Haqqani joined Ashley J. Tellis in discussing Tellis' new policy brief, Engaging Pakistan–Getting the Balance Right , in which Tellis warns that the next U.S. president must pursue a balanced strategy toward Pakistan that simultaneously strengthens the civilian government—the best hope for Pakistan's long-term stability—without alienating the Pakistani army.
Click here for summary and video.

GrareMissed Opportunity: Nuclear Suppliers Group
This month, a group of 45 countries dealt a serious blow to the world's nuclear nonproliferation regime. Succumbing to enormous pressure exerted by President Bush and his administration, the Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed to allow nuclear trade once more with India–a country that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998.
( Click here to read the full text )

Views from South Asia

INDIA - Foreign and Domestic PoliticsIndia-China foreign ministers

NSG waiver
On September 7, the India–U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement passed another key hurdle, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a cartel of 45 countries, which agreed to trade with India unconditionally. Now the deal moves to its last stop, the U.S. Congress, for approval. Limited time for consideration and opposition in the Senate complicate its approval but pressure from U.S. energy companies, which do not wish to lose business to Russian and French firms, could override those factors.

Shiv Shankar Menon and K.P. Nayar offer a rare insider's view into how New Zealand, Austria and China , three of the staunchest opponents of the nuclear deal at NSG, were won over by New Delhi 's unconventional tactics. ( The Telegraph, September 8, 2008 )

An editorial in Hindustan Times identifies India's diversified foreign policy as the reason for the NSG waiver. It also contends that old, sentimental friendship with China should be given up following its opposition at the NSG, and replaced with a tit-for-tat foreign policy ( Hindustan Times, September 8, 2008 ).

K. Shankar Bajpai argues that the ability to act despite simultaneous and contradictory impulses is necessary for India to become a great power. Responding to criticism that India has given up its right to test nuclear weapons in the nuclear deal, he makes the case that the world's reaction to any future testing will depend on the global power India commands at that time. Also, the U.S. sees China as the second major power of the future and hence seeks to strengthen India, but this does not preclude India from any policy it might wish to undertake in the future. ( Hindustan Times, September 7, 2008 )

After the NSG waiver, domestic dissent should now be resolved in favor of a national consensus. C. Uday Bhaskar refers to the Congress and Left's initial opposition of the BJP led government's nuclear tests in 1998 and then the closing of ranks around the nuclear creed. He also makes the case that Vajpayee's voluntary moratorium on testing and commitment to ‘no first use' policy were critically important in securing the waiver. ( Times of India, September 9, 2008 )

The path to nuclear security lies not through bigger or more lethal bombs but through the development of missile technology. Prem Shankar Jha contends that India has no need to conduct more nuclear tests if it simply improves the range and accuracy of its missiles. This, he claims, was a fact overlooked in the extended public debate on India 's legal rights in case of future testing, thus neutralizing the ‘we're giving up our foreign policy independence' argument. ( Outlook, September 22, 2008 )

Meanwhile, Siddhartha Varadarajan argues that the U.S. interpretation of the 123 agreement endangers any foreign investments India will seek for its nuclear power sector. Analyzing the text of the State Department's letter to Congressman Howard Berman, he makes the case that the U.S. has been negotiating in bad faith and for India, the prospect of sanctions and denial of fuel supply will impact any future decision on testing. ( The Hindu, September 6, 2008 )

The magnitude of damage caused by the NSG waiver to the nonproliferation regime will depend on whether India resumes nuclear testing. If it does, the consensus rule at the NSG will ensure that the nuclear deal beneficiaries like Russia and France will prevent the body from stopping nuclear commerce with India. The Bush administration has lined up with profit-takers and has weakened key multilateral institutions, asserts Michael Krepon. ( The Hindu, September 10, 2008 )

Singur - Mamata versus Tata Singur Highway
After simmering for a while, the Singur issue came back into limelight last month. On one side was Mamata Bannerjee, leader of Trinamool Congress, supporting the demand for land based compensation for farmers not willing to sell their land. On the other was Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, chief minister of West Bengal, who had already given 997 acres of land to the Tata group for the production of Nano, dubbed the “people's car” because of its low price (about $2,500). After a round of protests and highway holdups, a consensus was reached on September 7. The devil though, is in the detail, and it remains to be seen if the consensus can lead to a resolution.

An editorial in the Hindu ponders on the consensus reached on the Singur situation and warns that the modalities of land-based compensation need to align with the Tata group's constraints of not having far off ancillary units. ( The Hindu, September 10, 2008 )

An editorial in Business Standard argues that despite sunk costs of around $25 million, the Tata group will not hesitate to move its plant from Singur to Pantnagar if the Mamata Bannerjee led opposition to the Nano project is not resolved quickly. Moreover, Mamata Bannerjee's Trinamool Congress may also lose out in the upcoming assembly elections. ( Business Standard, September 4, 2008 )

The Telegraph too reaches a similar conclusion by analyzing Ratan Tata's statements. It implores the politicians of Bengal not to deprive the state of industrialization. ( The Telegraph, September 12, 2008 )

The value of the culture of street activism which has crippled West Bengal's industrial progress is questionable. In an assessment of the Singur situation, Amartya Sen points out that there is a case for the government offering higher prices for the acquired land than it did, because prices would have risen when Tatas came in. On balance though, he concludes that the effect of the Tata group moving out will be damaging for the state, a consequence perhaps not appreciated by political interests. ( The Telegraph, September 20, 2008 )

Reflecting on the lessons to be learnt from the Singur imbroglio, A. K. Bhattacharya concludes that the West Bengal government should have made public the incentives it gave the Tata group, which would have prevented the characterization of the Nano project as a ‘secret deal' by Trinamool Congress. He also believes that the government should have assessed public sentiment in Singur and the Tatas should have interacted with the people in the area to promote understanding, which is critical to the future of the project in any case. ( Business Standard, September 16, 2008 )

Protecting property rights is not just a preoccupation of the affluent. Rishabh Bhandari argues that the poor are hurt the most because of low-level protection from the state. In light of the inequitable power relationship between the state and the poor, he questions the West Bengal government's assertion that the farmers of Singur voluntarily exchanged their land for a ‘market value'. An overhaul of the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, which allows easy expropriation by governments, is in order. ( The Times of India, September 9, 2008 )

Kashmir's Future
Commenting on the agreement between Sri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti and the Jammu and Kashmir government, an editorial in the Hindu commends Farooq Abdullah for displaying political courage in welcoming it and not just playing to his electoral constituencies. It also advocates the immediate opening up of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road for trade across the Line of Control as a way of re-establishing New Delhi's legitimacy in the state. ( The Hindu, September 2, 2008 )

Secession is never simply a choice internal to the community seeking it. Gazing into the future of a potentially independent Kashmir, Kanti Bajpai argues that geopolitical dependence on its neighbors and inability of a politically untested Hurriyat to clearly articulate its vision, weaken the case for secession. ( The Hindu, September 6, 2008 )

Starting from similar assumptions, Praful Bidwai outlines the future steps that India needs to take in Kashmir. He believes that opening up of the border with Pakistani Kashmir is necessary for valley Kashmiris to evaluate their relative quality of life. The strengthening of Article 370, devolution of power, and thinning of Indian forces in the state are other measures required to build confidence in the state. ( Dawn, September 13, 2008 )

Mukul Kesavan outlines the dilemma for an Indian liberal who values the idea of India as a valuable experiment in democratic pluralism, when faced with the current Kashmir scenario. He can support the call for azadi (freedom) knowing fully well that its logical outcome will be a sectarian Muslim statelet or more territory for a larger sectarian state, Pakistan. The alternative is to endorse the status quo as the price to be paid for the greater good for a pluralist India. The choice is between two squalid, compromised ideals. ( The Telegraph, August 28, 2008 )

Olympics - India's best ever performance
The State had little or no part to play in India's best ever performance at the Olympics, concludes Sunil Sethi. Social units like families, small town communities, and sometimes, sheer individual will in the face of apathy have produced Olympic medals. ( Business Standard, August 23, 2008 )

INDIA - Economics and Development

World Bank Poverty Estimates
“The majority of people residing in Asia were actually dead in 1950!” Surjit Bhalla reaches this absurd conclusion by extrapolating the World Bank's current per capita consumption numbers backwards in time. In an insightful article, he exposes the fallacy of new World Bank figures which reduced Asian incomes by 41% between 1993 and 2005 by readjusting its Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) estimates. ( Business Standard, August 23, 2008 )

Sunil Jain points out the difference between the Government of India's poverty estimates and the World Bank's and argues against the suggestion that this is caused by a new definition of ‘poverty' by the WB. Instead, he sources the discrepancy to the World Bank's downward revision of PPP, which in turn implies much lower productivity of services in India than in the U.S. ( Business Standard, September 1, 2008 )

Free Trade Agreement with Asean
India successfully concluded a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN under which duty-free imports in 4,000 out of 5,000 traded goods and reduced tariffs in four out of five sensitive farm products were negotiated.

The editorial in Business Standard suggests that the FTA with ASEAN should be viewed in the larger context of India 's ‘Look East' policy which is partly born out of the Doha talks repeatedly stalling. This will eventually lead to the creation of a large trading bloc which includes China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. (Business Standard, September 10, 2008)

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Asif ZardariZardari's Election

Harinder Baweja recounts the story of how a “philandering, polo playing son of a cinema house owner” became the president of Pakistan ( Tehelka, September 20, 2008 )

Cyril Almeida believes Pakistan president, Asif Zardari, is dangerously close to being pushed out by the army. He questions the value of Zardari's silence on American special operations' forays into Pakistan , assuming that the success of U.S. policy in Afghanistan depends on Pakistan 's active military participation. ( Dawn, September 17, 2008 )

The civilian government cannot be dismissed any more except by direct intervention by the army. Ayesha Siddiqa points out that this is a consequence of the president and prime minister being from the same political party. This is in contrast to the 1990s when governments were dismissed thrice by the president. Despite changes like these, she argues that structural features like patronage politics, a homogenous ruling elite and civil-military relations, have not changed, hence decreasing the chances for genuine transformation. ( Dawn, September 12, 2008 )

U.S. Unilateral Strikes

Commenting on the danger posed to Pakistan's stability by U.S. strikes across the border, Tariq Ali makes the argument that it is a direct consequence of the disastrous war in Afghanistan. He then makes the claim that escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a part of a long-term U.S. hegemonic strategy to establish permanent military capabilities on the borders of Iran and China . Concluding that this strategy will fail because of its lack of support in either country, he recommends an exit strategy for the U.S./NATO forces which includes Pakistan, Iran, Russia and India. ( Outlook, September 17, 2008 )

Shahid Javed Burki takes a long view of the current situation in Pakistan and examines the ‘idea of Pakistan '. He reasons that religion can't be the basis of Pakistan's nationhood, especially as there are too many differing concepts of an Islamic state. A pragmatic solution is to define Pakistan on the basis of geography and broader political and economic objectives. ( Dawn, September 16, 2008 )

In a similar vein, Pervez Hoodbhoy bemoans the cultural shift of Pakistan towards the Arabian Peninsula and away from the Subcontinent. He identifies state involvement, return of immigrant workers from Saudi Arabia imbued with Salafi and Deobandi ideas and militarism in school curriculums as some of the key causes. ( Himal Southasian, September 2008 )

Islamabad Marriott BlastMarriott blast

Decoding the symbolism of the Marriot blast, Syed Shoaib Hasan writes that the message from the militants is clear – there will be no surrender or change of heart. This, he believes, is ‘battle to death for the soul of Pakistan' as ordinary citizens are targeted. ( BBC News, September 20, 2008 )

A Dawn editorial toes a similar line and argues that the war against terrorism is an internal war. The claim that those opposing Americans or Indians or Afghans are no harm to Pakistan is no longer true. A key determinant for the success of any counter-insurgency will be a clear articulation of ‘us' and ‘them' by the government. ( Dawn, September 22, 2008 )

Is the Islamabad Marriott blast a watershed or way marker? Chris Cork believes that Pakistan has problems, but the bombing is not a sign of its disintegration. He places the blame on politicians who refuse to unequivocally condemn such incidents, giving rise to a culture of extremism. (The News, September 22, 2008 )

Economic Management and Development

IMF conditions like sustainable fiscal and external deficits are now general conditions for economic behavior in a globalised world. Pervez Tahir argues that despite this the loss of freedom to choose the importance and size of deficits, sequencing and time frame of reform are against the national interest. He recommends the usage of inflows from the Biden-Lugar bill for long term economic development rather than simply reimbursing military expenditure. ( Dawn, September 10, 2008 )

Pakistan can learn from and adopt much of Brazil 's experience in agriculture, claims Shahid Javed Burki. Identifying a permanent shift in demand for commodities, he reasons that government should encourage farmers to reinvest their windfall profits to increase the productivity of land and labor. He also advocates the provision of cheap credit, alignment of procurement prices with global prices and investment in agricultural research.

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BNP supportersParliamentary Poll Dates announced

Bangladesh will hold a parliamentary election on December 18, ending nearly two years of an army backed interim administration. The two major parties, led by former prime ministers Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina respectively, would take part in the elections and the state of emergency would be eased or lifted before the polls, to allow unhindered campaigning.

A New Age editorial warns that the scheduling of local government polls immediately after the parliamentary polls could be counter-productive. The diversion of the election commission's resources from focusing on the parliamentary polls could make them less credible thus avoiding a repeat of the political standstill which has frequently plagued Bangladesh. (New Age, September 22, 2008 )

Shafeen Mushtaq takes a dim view of the interim government's decision to release high-profile Bangladesh Nationalist Part (BNP) and Awami League (AL) politicians from jail. He believes that there is a danger that archaic political figureheads may impede the movement to democracy. (The New Nation, September 14, 2008 )

High Food Prices

Another New Age editorial points out that despite falling oil prices and bumper harvest, food prices are still rising. It blames collusion amongst businessmen and faults the government for employing security measures instead of market regulatory authorities to rectify the situation. It also faults the overzealous anti-corruption drive by the military government for reducing consumer confidence in savings and investment, another cause for economic downturn. ( New Age, September 21, 2008 )

Maritime Boundary Talks

The resolution of disputed sea boudaries in the Bay of Bengal is becoming increasingly important to allow offshore exploration of oil and gas. Although talks between India and Bangladesh, undertaken after a 28 year gap, did not make much headway they were hailed as ‘progress' by both sides. ( New Nation, September 18, 2008 )

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An Inflated Budget?

Dissecting the Maoist government's first budget, Raghab D. Pant points out that existing revenues and proposed expenditure will lead to an extraordinarily high deficit - 94 billion rupees. The increased expenditure will lead to further inflation. Pant also questions the government's assumption that the economy will grow at 7% and achieve ‘double-digit' growth soon after, concluding that there is a wide gap between goals and reality in the budget. ( The Himalayan Times, September 22, 2008 )

Newar Protests Newar protest

A cut-off of state funding for the influential Newar community's Indra Jatra festival led to violent protests across Kathmandu. The Maoist government had to reverse the decision, highlighting the difficulty of implementing a budget, which sought to achieve its goals by cutting down on religious celebrations funded by the state. ( The Kathmandu Post, September 21, 2008 )

Prachanda Interview

In his first interview after becoming prime minister, Prachanda outlines his vision of ‘socialistic communism' for Nepal. Asserting that socialism without multiparty competition and political freedoms cannot survive, Prachanda believes that gradually his party will win more seats in elections and the country will get used to the idea that only Maoists can run it. ( BBC Nepali, September 3, 2008 )

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LTTE fights backInternally Displaced Persons Crisis

The Sri Lankan army is very close to capturing the northern city of Kilinochchi , the political hub of the LTTE, and ‘winning the war'. This has meant that there is a whole section of internally displaced people who can only avoid the crossfire by escaping from Wanni to Vavuniya, a district under state control. S. L. Gunasekara argues that if they remain where they are, they will be used as ‘human shields' at some point and urges the clergy to help them escape. ( Daily Mirror, September 21, 2008 )

In a speech, Tamil National Alliance Leader, R. Sampathan warns the Sri Lankan state that as the fighting intensifies, a humanitarian crisis is impending with 100,000 Tamil civilians likely to be displaced. He implores the state to act on behalf of the people who it considers its citizens. ( Daily Mirror, September 13, 2008 )

An editorial in the Island criticizes the Indian defence minister, A.K. Antony, for making a statement expressing concern for Tamil civilians in recent Sri Lankan army operations. The article goes on to blame India for not criticizing terrorism enough and inadvertently helping the LTTE. ( The Island, September 19, 2008 )

Economics of Ageing

Sri Lanka will become the world's most rapidly aging country in the next two decades, an outlier amongst developing countries. In a low-income country distracted by war and devoid of geriatric care services, this will present a serious challenge. Traditionally, extended families have undertaken this role but with changing values, the onus will increasingly shift to the state to develop adequate social security systems. ( Sunday Times, September 21, 2008 )

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Editorial Staff

Ashesh Prasann, Junior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
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Washington, DC 20005
Ph: 202-939-2332

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