A Fresh Start For Sri Lanka?

SRI LANKA-POLITICS

In a surprise upset on Friday, the country’s strongman president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was voted out of office, losing to his opponent Maithripala Sirisena, who had promised much-needed reforms and reached out to the country’s marginalized Tamil and Muslim communities:

Sirisena, a one-time ally of Rajapaksa who defected in November and derailed what the president thought would be an easy win, took 51.3 percent of the votes polled in Thursday’s election. Rajapaksa got 47.6 percent, the Election Department said. … Like Rajapaksa, Sirisena is from the majority Sinhala Buddhist community, but he has reached out to ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims and has the support of several small parties.

Kate Cronin-Furman stresses what a mess of things Rajapaksa made during his decade in office:

Over the course of 10 years in power, Rajapaksa had undermined the institutions of South Asia’s oldest democracy, beefing up Sri Lanka’s already robust executive presidency. He also consolidated power in the hands of his family. One brother served as secretary of defense, a second the speaker of Parliament, a third a cabinet minister, and numerous sons and nephews were installed in positions of power. Potential opponents to the dynastic project were bought off or brutally silenced. Election Day fell on the sixth anniversary of the killing of well-known journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, who accused the Rajapaksas of his killing in a chilling posthumous editorial. Independent media have since learned to self-censor. …

The first few days of Sirisena’s presidency have already brought change.

By Saturday, long-blocked Web sites were suddenly viewable, surveillance of journalists had been officially discontinued, and political exiles had been invited home. Word spread that a reinstatement of impeached Supreme Court Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was in the works.

The editors of the Christian Science Monitor pray Sirisena will move Sri Lanka forward in the healing process after its lengthy and bitter civil war:

While his victory was a rejection of the power grabs and corruption under his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, just as noteworthy is the fact that he won a majority of votes from the country’s major ethnic and religious groups. This brings some hope that Sri Lanka will finally allow a full accounting of a war that lasted nearly three decades and took an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 lives. Sri Lanka’s government has not come clean on civilian casualties toward the end of the war. It needs that kind of truth-telling for social healing, as other conflict-scarred nations, such as South Africa and Brazil, have discovered.

The editors of Bloomberg View are excited at the prospect of turning the South Asian island nation away from China’s sphere of influence:

Whether the U.S. and India can exploit this opportunity, however, will depend on whether they recognize what’s unique about Sri Lanka. The first thing to appreciate is that voters weren’t necessarily driven by resentment of China. They elected Maithripala Sirisena as president because they had tired of the opacity and perceived cronyism of Rajapaksa’s administration, symbolized in part by multibillion-dollar projects handed out to Chinese companies with little oversight. Elites had begun to fear that Beijing would soon demand more political and military influence as part of its largesse. Yet, unlike Myanmar, which shares a land border with China, such concerns remain somewhat theoretical. Sri Lanka has vast infrastructure needs — and therefore good reason not to reject Chinese money entirely.

Harsh Pant observes that it won’t be easy to disentangle Sri Lanka’s extensive ties to the Middle Kingdom:

China’s support was crucial for Sri Lanka during the last phase of the war against the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]. Chinese support has also been invaluable for Sri Lanka to Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.00.42 PMconfront U.S.-backed resolutions at the UNHRC [United Nations Human Rights Council]. As a result, the two nations now have a declared “strategic cooperation partnership.” For China, its ties with Sri Lanka give it a foothold near crucial sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean, as well as entry into what India considers its sphere of influence. China is financing more than 85 percent of the Hambantota Development Zone, to be completed over the next decade. This will include an international container port, a bunkering system, an oil refinery, an international airport and other facilities.

Indian policymakers will be mistaken if they think that a change of regime in Colombo will lead to a dampening of Sino-Sri Lanka ties. China’s role is now firmly embedded in Sri Lanka – economically as well as geopolitically. India will have to up its game if it wants to retain its leverage in Colombo.

Alyssa Ayres links the China question back to Sri Lanka’s lingering challenges regarding good governance, human rights, and transitional justice:

Sirisena defeated Rajapaksa with a platform focused on ending corruption, restoring Sri Lanka’s image and its relations abroad, and renewing a “compassionate governance” in the country. The perception of the Chinese financing itself became part of the Rajapaksa regime’s weakness—the perception that Sri Lanka’s ruling family had not only mortgaged the country’s economic security but had enriched themselves. Sirisena’s manifesto speaks of a 90 percent pilfering, for example (p.8). (These are all allegations, not proven facts.)

We can expect a Sirisena government to launch inquiries, and likely cancel the more than $1 billion contract with China to build a new port city, as promised by then-opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, now prime minister, in mid-December. While the new Sri Lankan government is not looking to end its relations with China—after all, it is the second priority country listed in the election manifesto—it will be very difficult to mount anti-corruption investigations and unwind these sorts of contracts without introducing tension into Sri Lanka’s relations with China.

(Photo: The new president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, gestures to supporters after speaking outside of the Buddhist Temple of Tooth in the central town of Kandy on January 11, 2015. Sri Lanka’s new government on January 11 accused toppled strongman Mahinda Rajapakse of having tried to stage a coup to cling to power after losing last week’s presidential election. By Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)

Uber Comes Under Fire Abroad

Vlad Savov sums up this week’s bad news for the ride-share company:

In Madrid, a judge has ruled that Uber should cease all activities in Spain because its drivers are unregistered and thus act as unfair competition to existing taxi services. … Authorities in Thailand have reached a similar conclusion, deeming Uber’s operation of unlicensed and uninsured taxi services to be unlawful, and have also asked the company to cease business — at least until it starts using properly accredited drivers rather than private cars.

India has already instituted a ban on Uber in Delhi following the rape of a female passenger, but now the country is broadening its prohibition and advising all its state governments to enforce it. It specifically bans the use of web-based taxi-hailing apps, meaning the ban will have an impact on others beyond Uber, but the focus on the California company is intensifying with the Delhi Police “also exploring the issue of possible legal liability of the taxi service Uber in the crime committed,” according to Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

To Jason Koebler, the incident in New Delhi demonstrates that Uber doesn’t care about riders’ safety:

Uber’s entry into in India show that the corporation’s sensibilities and values—that is, to crush existing taxi services and its tech savvy competitors like Lyft—haven’t changed a bit, even if some high-profile cases (like the​ time it called a several-hour abduction of a woman an “inefficient route”) in the US have forced the company to take a modicum of responsibility for its drivers. Now, we get at least a basic background check and nonsense like the “Safe Rides Fee” (which only exists in Canada and the​ US, according to the company).

But in developing countries, Uber is making the same mistakes with rider safety that it made in the United States. It’s treating these countries like the Wild West until it’s forced to change: “If [Uber] can bully its way in the US, and not care about law and regulations there, then it has absolutely nothing to worry about in India,” wrote o​ne internet commenter who claimed to have experience with the company there. “The law enforcement is weak, to say the least.”

But Danny Vinik blames the Indian authorities, not Uber:

Uber offers a new transportation option that offers users at least some ability to hold their drivers accountable for their actions. That doesn’t mean it’s a cure-all. In many cases, Uber’s ability to ensure the safety of its user will rely on the infrastructure already in place. Ultimately, improving that infrastructure is up to the local communities and officials, not Uber. That doesn’t mean Uber is blameless, but their cars offer one of the safest traveling experiences in India. At least the company has a background check system to speak of, and users have the ability to rate their drivers. With other transportation optionsrickshaws or local taxis, for instancethat isn’t necessarily the case. Uber’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement. This brutal incident doesn’t change that.

And as Amanda Taub points out, Indian cities are often unsafe for women to get around in, whatever mode of transportation they choose:

I saw this effect firsthand during trips to India in the past year. Everyone had different advice for me about how to stay safe, which meant that in the aggregate I was warned against using every possible form of transportation. (Only use radio taxis, they’re safer, never use local taxis. Don’t use radio taxis, you don’t know who they’ll send, better to rely on these local taxi drivers, we know them. Don’t take autos during the nighttime. Don’t take autos during the daytime. Come with us in the auto, it’s safer than going on your own. Don’t walk, take a bicycle rickshaw from the train station. Don’t take bicycle rickshaws. Don’t take the train.)

Given the choice between taking all of that advice and never leaving my apartment, versus selectively ignoring it and getting on with my day, I chose the latter. But finding safe and reliable transportation where and when I needed it was still always a challenge. That challenge is of course far more significant for Indian women, who have to face it every day, usually without the resources that I had at my disposal.

That was the problem that Uber needed to solve. But the facts surrounding this alleged assault suggest that they have failed to do so.

Mallika Dutt expects the Uber ban to make that problem worse, not better:

The quick decision to ban Uber is important in that it sends a message to all companies operating in this space that they need to follow regulations with seriousness. However, it is already unsafe for women to get around in Delhi. The metro has separate compartments for women—but what do they do when they step off the train? That’s partly why Uber and other private cab companies are in demand in the first place. Decreasing access to multiple modes of alternative transportation for women is a short-term and limited solution. Rather than further limiting the options available to women, how about increasing women’s safety not only by enforcing regulations and providing safer modes of operation, but by also increasing the number of men who hold themselves and others accountable for their behavior and actions?

The way Leonid Bershidsky sees it, the incident “highlights one of the web-based car service’s biggest problems: In some places, there is little to distinguish it from the anarchic system it seeks to replace”:

Those who live in the U.S. and other rich countries find it hard to understand the near-irrelevance of Uber’s ride-sharing model in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. Many countries in these regions have time-honored unregulated gypsy cab traditions. In Argentina and Uruguay, people call or text for a trucho. In Russian cities, if you raise your arm by the roadside, a car — almost never a licensed taxi — typically pulls up within minutes, unless it’s the dead of night.

His bottom line:

In emerging economies with shaky taxi regulation, Uber can’t be disruptive if it is as lax as the incumbents. Its offering can only be of value if it tries to be more like a traditional Western taxi service, obeying strict rules and convincingly projecting an image of safety and reliability. That is something it isn’t equipped to do now.

Bhopal: Still Toxic After All These Years

INDIA-DISASTER-POLLUTION-BHOPAL-ANNIVERSARY

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical spill, which killed thousands and is remembered as the deadliest industrial accident in history. However, just how many died and were injured in the incident remains in dispute. The Indian government estimates that 3,800 died and 11,000 were injured, but advocates for the victims believe that the true death toll is in the tens of thousands and that over half a million people were exposed to the poisonous gas. Adam Lerner explores the controversy over how many victims there are, what they are owed, and who, if anyone, ought to pay:

The very fact that so much contention exists surrounding the death toll, with different politically motivated figures varying by orders of magnitude, underscores the fact that, 30 years after the tragedy, Bhopal’s wounds are still open.

To this date, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal maintains that the site of the plant hasn’t been properly cleaned and that chemical contamination of the groundwater has injured and perhaps killed thousands more. (Union Carbide insists that the evidence linking it to contamination is insufficient.) Many victims and their advocates view the settlement made five years later in 1989 as a pittance given the scope of the damage and the size of Union Carbide and its parent, Dow Chemical.

A jury concluded in 1994 that Exxon should pay $5 billion in punitive damages for its Valdez’s oil spill, despite the fact that no one died. (Subsequent court rulings cut this figure down after Exxon paid more than $3.4 billion in fines, penalties, cleanup costs, and other claims). And this past October Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the tragedy, passed away—a fugitive from the Indian justice system who lived out the rest of his life in the U.S. while Indians burned his effigy in protest. Now, three decades after the cloud dissipated, Bhopal’s tragedy isn’t over.

Sanjay Verma recounts his family’s story:

My sister Mamta told me that there were four brothers and four sisters in our family. Our father was a carpenter, and I was the youngest in the family. We lost three sisters and two brothers along with our parents that night.

I then asked her, “How did we survive?”

She told me that she wrapped me in a blanket, and ran away along with our brother Sunil. When they were running, Sunil had to go to the bathroom, and fainted. The streets were so crowded as people were running and shouting, my sister was forced by the crowd, and couldn’t wait any longer for my brother Sunil to come back.

The following morning, when people came to collect bodies from the street, they found Sunil and thought he was dead too. They put him on a truck with many bodies, and took him to dump into a river so that they could keep the number of deaths as low as possible. When it was my brother’s turn to be thrown off the truck into the Narmada River, about 90km from Bhopal, he woke up and said, “I am not dead.” The people who were about to throw him in got scared, thinking a dead body was talking to them.

Nita Bhalla profiles Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, two Bhopal survivors who founded a rehabilitation center for children with disabilities allegedly resulting from the disaster:

The two women said they felt a sense of injustice over the lack of rehabilitation given to victims of the disaster, and began a campaign for better support for those suffering the aftermath of the gas leak. In the beginning, they mobilized about 100 women and walked 730 km (455 miles) to Delhi to protest the lack of livelihood opportunities for women like themselves who had to become breadwinners for their impoverished families after their husbands became ill.

Over the years, their attention turned to second- and third-generation children with congenital deformities, born to survivors exposed to the gas and to women who have been drinking water contaminated by undisposed toxic waste around the factory. However, there has been no long-term epidemiological research to prove conclusively that the birth defects of these children are directly linked to the tragedy three decades ago.

Alan Taylor rounds up photographs of the disaster and its aftermath.

(Photo: A notice propagating safety is seen on the casing of a machine inside one of the buildings at the now-defunct Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal on November 28, 2014. By Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

Where “Family Planning” Is Deadly

India’s controversial population control policies are in the news again now that a dozen women have died and many others have fallen ill after undergoing surgical sterilization at a government-run camp:

The women were paid 600 rupees apiece, or almost $10, said Dr. Amar Singh Thakur, joint director of health services in the central Indian district of Bilaspur. One surgeon performed surgery on 83 women in the space of six hours on Saturday — meaning he could have spent only a few minutes on each patient, Dr. Thakur said. The women began to fall ill around five hours after being discharged, Dr. Thakur said, experiencing giddiness, vomiting and low blood pressure. Sixty-seven women are being treated for septic shock in hospitals, and four are in serious condition and on ventilators, he said.

India’s sterilization drives began as part of a national population control policy under Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and continue today on a state-by-state basis. David Whelan emphasizes just how creepy this is:

In India’s pursuit of the dream birth rate, human beings are reduced to whole numbers, children to fractions and fallopian tubes to mobile phones. It’s become a weird meta-game for states, where their total fertility rate (TFR) is ​calculated, aggregated, and ranked. Rajasthan declared it would it would ​sterilize 1 percent of its pop​ulation during 2011 in exchange for mobile phones and lottery tickets for cars, like the monstrous Santa Claus of eugenics.

Basic human rights go out the window. In 2012, a single surgeon, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, conducted 53 sterilizations in Bihar without the aid of, oh, ​such trifles as running water or sterilizing equipment. One woman was apparently three months pregnant and miscarried 19 days later. In Uttar Pradesh ​you can trade getting snipped for guns, which is perhaps the most cynical population control ever conceived: Prevent people from reproducing and assist them in killing each other. Give whoever came up with that one the fucking Nobel Peace Prize.

On top of the obvious moral issues at hand, Dhiraj Nayyar questions whether such programs are even effective:

In fact, India’s fertility rates have been declining sharply for reasons that have nothing to do with sterilization programs. In 1971, the Indian average was 5.1 children per woman. That figure declined to 4.5 in 1981 and 3.6 in 1991; it now stands at 2.4, just above the level (2.1) at which a population stabilizes. Over that period, there has been no marked increase in sterilization programs; the government has focused more on building awareness about family planning and disseminating contraception. What has changed, especially after economic liberalization in 1991, are the living standards, rates of urbanization and education levels of the population.

Filipa Ioannou touches on the class dimension of sterilization-based family planning programs, both in India and elsewhere in the developing world:

This sadly probably goes without saying, but: India’s sterilization initiatives are disproportionately pushed upon the relatively powerless rural poor. In 2012, 53 women were sterilized in a single two-hour period in the state of Bihar; the operations took place in a middle school without access to running water or sterilizing equipment. Bihar has the lowest per-capita income in India; as of the 2011 census, it also had the lowest literacy rate. In 2013, the state said it planned to open 13,000 sterilization camps—temporary field hospitals where procedures are performed en masse. And last year in West Bengal, the fifth poorest of India’s 29 states, more than 100 women were dumped unconscious in a field after a mass sterilization gone wrong at a hospital that could not accommodate their numbers. When questioned in parliament, health officials said that in the period from 2009 to 2012, the government paid compensation to families due to 568 sterilization-related deaths.

A Warm Welcome For Narendra Modi, Ctd

A reader writes:

The United States should feel some pressure to enhance relations with India and Prime Minister Modi. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India this month andUS-INDIA-DIPLOMACY-MODIsigned signed three pacts meant to boost trade and investment between the two nations. Setting aside the economic impact, the visit indicated a significant trend in two ways: It was the first time India has welcomed a Chinese head of state with a public reception since the Sino-Indian War in 1962. The leaders were said to have had an easy chemistry and seem to be looking to ease border tensions through the pragmatism of economic trade. The other aspect worth noting is that the trade pacts weren’t signed in Delhi, setting aside the tradition of making international agreements in the capital. Prime Minister Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat saw rapid industrial growth. He clearly was aiming to highlight the impressive development the region has made since 2001.

The Obama Administration’s outreach toward the new Prime Minister has been circumspect. There was an understandable caution given Modi’s unabashed Hindu nationalism and the Gujarat religious riots in 2002. However, a détente between India and China would certainly complicate Obama’s “Asian Pivot”. The diplomatic dance over waivers on the Iranian sanctions certainly hasn’t helped matters. The “champagne and roses” probably aren’t a bad idea.

On a shamelessly self-promoting note, I recently covered these matters in their relation to the burgeoning Asian space race. There has been a good deal of discussion about India’s recent success with the Mars Orbiter, Mangalyaan. India is the only country to have delivered on its first Mars mission. There is undeniable prestige that comes with besting China and Japan in the race to Mars. However, this has overshadowed another important development from President Xi Jinping’s trip to India: There was an agreement to forge a closer bond regarding space activities. If this does indeed come to fruition, there would be tremendous consequences for the commercial space industry and for the geopolitical balance in Asia.

But Shikha Dalmia is worried about the fate of Indians under Modi:

The Obama administration has been working to normalize relations with Modi – as it must and should – now that he is the duly elected leader of the world’s most populous democracy. As such, the White House singled him out for a dinner with the president (although Modi declared that he won’t eat anything because he’s observing a nine-day religious fast, a flamboyant display of his fabled austerity).

But such quiet gestures were not enough for Modi who has the autocrat’s instinct to be the star attraction. His gaudy displays – literally unprecedented for visiting leaders – are not merely unbecoming. They are also deeply disturbing, because they highlight Modi’s need for self-aggrandizement. That does not bode well for the massive economic decentralization – the hands-off approach – that he himself touted as essential for offering a decent standard of living to all Indians. Maybe he’ll learn to keep a lid on this tendency as he grows in office. Right now, however, it seems to pervade his economic decisions, making even many of his cheerleaders nervous about his ability to lead India’s socialist, centrally planned economy to a free-market one.

Pankaj Mishra also views the prime minister with concern:

One of Modi’s political feats is to have tapped into the complex insecurities of rising Indians with his potpourri of fantasies tinged with defiant, if under-educated, Hindu nationalism. Thus, climate change, on which India rejects all compromise, can be tackled with the help of yoga, as he put it in his speech at the United Nations, and India, which was a “golden bird” before being enslaved for a thousand years by foreigners (read Muslims and the British), will regain its glory with “make in India” manufacturing. …

It’s not too early to worry about the pernicious fallout from the ambition to turn India into a golden bird in double-quick time. For Modi’s plan to redeem India’s thousand years of slavery through labor-intensive manufacturing may be about as realizable in these days of increasing automation as Mao Zedong’s project of overtaking America’s industrial production by making steel in backyard furnaces. Scapegoats are already being sought in India just three months after Modi’s ascent. A member of Modi’s own coalition protested last week that while “discrimination and the distrust of the Muslim were covert” in the past, “now the gloves are off and the hatred is in-your-face.”

But Reihan Salam isn’t counting Modi out. He focuses on how Modi “attracted 19,000 cheering fans to a rally in Madison Square Garden on Sunday”:

There are no guarantees that Modi’s strategy will work. To become a manufacturing powerhouse, India will have to reform its ridiculously stringent labor laws, which are very much the third rail of Indian politics, and spend vast sums of money on roads and power plants and all of the other basics of industrialization. This will be an issue, as the Indian bureaucracy is famously terrible at spending money wisely.

If Modi succeeds, however, India will do more than alleviate poverty, important though that is. It will become the “big, powerful country” of Naipaul’s dreams—the kind of place that can afford to ignore Pakistan, its hostile, dysfunctional neighbor, and that won’t get pushed around by China. So you can see why Modi attracted support not just from India’s urban middle class, but also from hundreds of thousands of people of Indian descent in countries around the world, including the United States: He is promising that all of these people will be able to walk a little taller in a world that has long dismissed India as a land of “hunger and snakes.”

(Photo: A crowd of US-based supporters await the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India for a community reception September 28, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York. By Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

A Warm Welcome For Narendra Modi

US-INDIA-DIPLOMACY-MODI

The prime minister of India, who was once denied entry to the United States for apparently turning a blind eye to deadly anti-Muslim riots during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, will be meeting with President Obama at the White House tonight. Somini Sengupta considers the significance of Modi’s visit:

Mr. Modi is visiting at a time when India and the United States are each seeking big things from the other. Theirs was supposed to be what Mr. Obama once called the defining “partnership” of the 21st century. The relationship has withered since then, though, and both Washington and Delhi are trying urgently now to repair it, showering each other with the diplomatic equivalent of Champagne and roses during Mr. Modi’s five-day visit to America.

He has met with two mayors and three governors, and more than two dozen members of Congress attended his event at [Madison Square] Garden. He is scheduled to meet on Monday with 11 chief executives from companies like Boeing, Google and Goldman Sachs, and then to speak at the Council on Foreign Relations. An intimate dinner is planned with Mr. Obama on Monday (though Mr. Modi’s aides have let it be known that he is fasting for a Hindu festival called Navratri), as well as lunch on Tuesday at the State Department and tea with Speaker John A. Boehner. His itinerary also includes a meeting with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Raghav Bahl argues that “Modi’s rapid transformation from persona non grata to esteemed White House guest signals a momentous shift, not only in India’s prospects but also in its relationship with the United States”:

Despite India’s long-time policy of non-alignment, Washington has fitfully pursued a closer strategic partnership with Delhi over the past decade. China’s runaway rise and the scourge of large-scale Islamic terrorism have pushed the United States and India into unprecedented strategic cooperation, erasing years of political differences, mistrust, and miscommunication. An economically robust India could muster the confidence and gravitas to become the assertive strategic ally the U.S. has always hoped for. When CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked Modi, in his first post-election interview, whether such a relationship was possible, the prime minister responded firmly: “I have a one-word answer: Yes.”

Adam Lerner believes that Modi “could turn out to be a tremendous boon to Washington, so long as the relationship doesn’t turn sour”:

Should India emerge from the inflation and slowed growth of the past few years and become an Asian dynamo, its success will inherently promote the oft-stated American goal of a vibrant, growing and democratic continent. In the long run, the biggest threat to unfriendly regimes in the region is not the U.S. military—it is a democratic, secular and growing India, embodying fully the ideals that framed the country’s independence in 1947. Modi provides a fresh start for Indians after the last administration’s corruption and indecision. So long as he avoids the sort of counterproductive Hindu nationalism that many fear is in his bones, there is reason to be optimistic that Modi could help fulfill this promise.

However, Rebecca Leber notes that the US and India may find themselves butting heads on climate change:

When President Barack Obama said “nobody gets a pass” on fighting climate change in a speech last week, he might as well have been speaking directly to India. India’s willingness to reduce greenhouse gases is a major wild card in negotiations for a global climate treaty next year. It’s difficult to imagine a meaningful agreement that doesn’t include some kind of commitment from what is, after all, the country with the second largest population in the world. But Indian officials haven’t been very enthusiastic about the prospect. Just a day after Obama spoke, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar told the New York Times“What cuts? That’s for more developed countries.”

Addressing those differences will be a major topic of discussion on Monday, when Obama and newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold their first-ever meeting in Washington. It’s easy to see why India’s emissions are so important. India is already the world’s fourth-biggest polluter — after China, and the U.S., and European Union combined.

Meanwhile, William J. Antholis puts Modi’s visit to the US in the context of his four-month “diplomatic whirlwind”:

First, he invited leaders from neighboring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to his inauguration – amidst tense relations with all three.  He then set off to a summit with Japan’s Shinzo Abe and hosted a state visit by Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr. Modi seemed intentionally to be setting the stage for his two most important summits – welcoming China’s Xi Jinping to India last week, and then travelling to the United States this week to attend the UN General Assembly meetings and then meet with President Obama.

Across the country – north, south, east and west – his election has uncorked an intoxicating optimism. His summer of summitry has been popular because trade and economics have been his core message. In my own recent trip across India in early September — traversing six cities in 12 days – I met with government officials, BJP and Congress Party members, business leaders, journalists, policy analysts, academics and students. Even Mr. Modi’s opponents concede that the nation’s mood is changed, and many are willing to help seize the moment to advance India’s future, at home and abroad.

In contrast, Hartosh Singh Bal isn’t so taken by Modi:

In India, there is already evidence that his political honeymoon is over. One of the few polling agencies to monitor voter sentiment in the country continuously, Cvoter, has aggregated the answer over time to the question: “Which party can best manage/handle problems facing our country today?” Since Modi was sworn in as India’s prime minister in late May, the levels of trust in his ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) have declined rapidly to where they were a month before the elections, and the BJP—after a national victory that ensured one-party parliamentary rule in India for the first time since 1984—has lost a series of important local elections. The party appears to have misread the votes it got in May as support for its far-right nationalistic tendencies, rather than its economic priorities.

(Photo: A crowd of US-based supporters await the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India for a community reception September 28, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York. By Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Al-Qaeda’s Newest Franchise, Ctd

Tunku Varadarajan underlines the link between ISIS and al-Qaeda’s new South Asian branch:

What should we make of this call by Zawahiri, of this loveless jihad? Why has he made this declaration, and why now? After all, al Qaeda has been in Afghanistan for years; and therefore in Pakistan; and therefore available, already, for anti-India jihad. Counterterrorism experts I spoke to were as one in pointing to the rise of ISIS in the Syria-Iraq theater as the main propulsion. ISIS has not merely stolen al Qaeda’s thunder; it is siphoning recruits away from the older organization, which has yet to recover from the catastrophic loss (in terms of charisma, and as a species of jihadi Lord Kitchener) of bin Laden. “Zawahiri wants you” doesn’t have quite the same impact on potential recruits as “Osama wants you.”

Gen. Ata Hasnain, a former Kashmir Corps commander in the Indian army, told me that before ISIS emerged as a jihadi force, al Qaeda “never felt the need to expand its ambit into South Asia. The anti-India terrorist groups in Pakistan were considered adequately motivated and organized, and al Qaeda preferred to remain only an inspiration for them, instead of overextending itself. Its prime battle was with Saudi Arabia and the U.S.” With the rise of ISIS, he said, al Qaeda has effectively been dwarfed. The avowal of jihad against India is its attempt to aggrandize itself anew.

The dwindling numbers of the Pakistani Taliban, partly thanks to the Syrian jihad drawing them away, could be another factor in the announcement of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent:

Just a few years ago, the Taliban was one of the two prime Islamist militant groups—the other being Al Qaida-aligned insurgents in Iraq—for foreign fighters around the world to enlist with. But with the self-proclaimed Islamic State on the warpath and new conflicts in North Africa, the Taliban has become less attractive. Specifically, the Pakistani Taliban. That’s the subject of a new report in CTC Sentinel, West Point’s counter-terrorism newsletter. As of July 2008, the Pakistani Taliban included around 8,000 foreign fighters, notes Raza Khan, a political analyst who authored the report. These fighters came from western Europe, the Middle East, China, Russia, India, and central Asian countries, particularly Uzbekistan. But today, only a few hundred remain.

But Arif Rafiq counsels against overstating the connection between ISIS and AQIS:

For the past few years, Al Qaeda has stepped up its outreach to Pakistanis. Its Urdu-language service is among its most active. Al-Zawahiri has also made a handful of statements addressing the plight of Muslims in Burma and India, and Islamic activists targeted by the state in Bangladesh. It’s been laying the groundwork for AQIS for some time. Indeed, more than beating out competition from IS, Al Qaeda is trying to fill a void in the South Asian jihadist communitythe absence of a grand patron. While Pakistan’s intelligence services continue to support militant groups in the region, such as Lashkar-e Taiba, its support for militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir has remained low for much of the past decade. That’s why Umar, the AQIS chief, in another video released this summer, asked Kashmiri Muslims to join Al Qaeda’s ranks and accused Pakistan of selling them out.

“The success or failure of Zawahiri’s new initiative,” Nisid Hajari writes, “may rest on one man: India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi”:

The fastest way to increase Al Qaeda’s limited appeal in India would be for the authorities to overreact, as China has done with Uighurs in its restive Xinjiang province. This would not only alienate the best source of intelligence on homegrown radicals — the local Muslim community — it would rapidly burnish the appeal of radicals over more moderate voices. Any government scapegoating of Indian Muslims would be equally damaging. Modi’s association with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh make him a lightning rod for many Muslims. He bears a special responsibility to endorse the loyalty of Indian Muslims and assure them they will not be targeted unfairly.

Probably the best way to ensure Zawahiri’s grand designs never come to fruition would be for Modi to push forward the stalled India-Pakistan peace process. As long as the wounds that divide the South Asian nations continue to fester, leaders on both sides will remain hostage to the actions of a few radicals: Any post-Mumbai terrorist plot in India that is traced back to Pakistan bears a high risk of setting off a wider conflagration.

Al-Qaeda’s Newest Franchise

by Dish Staff

In a video released today, Al-Qaeda international leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that the organization was establishing a branch in South Asia to wage jihad in India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Ishaan Tharoor examines the logic behind the decision:

Al-Qaeda’s desire for operational expansion eastward makes sense: There are roughly as many Muslims in South Asia as there are in the Arab world; there are more Muslims outside the Middle East than inside it. The history of the Mughal Empire allows al-Qaeda ideologues to invoke a narrative of lost Muslim preeminence, waiting for redemption, even though some Mughal emperors would have abhorred the terrorist organization’s brand of Islam. … But it’s hard to see how al-Qaeda can capitalize in South Asia if it hasn’t already. For all the tensions and enmities that exist in this diverse, overcrowded region, it’s a part of the world steeped in traditions of pluralism and tolerance. Al-Qaeda’s puritanical zeal, incubated in places such as Saudi Arabia, is wholly alien to the Indian subcontinent. And South Asian governments, particularly in India and Bangladesh, have stepped up cooperation on issues of counterterrorism.

One interpretation is that Zawahiri is trying to recapture al-Qaeda’s relevance as it loses ground in the Islamic heartland to even more radical outfits like ISIS, but Dan Murphy doubts it will work:

Can Zawahiri turn the tide against the upstart jihadis? For now, it seems unlikely. The small percentage of Muslims that support such movements seem elated by Baghdadi’s caliphate declaration, and imagine they’re living in epoch-defining times that will see their dream of converting the whole world at the point of a sword realized. The old Al Qaeda approach – that world domination wasn’t possible until “far enemies” like the US were somehow destroyed – is being upended by the arguably more conventional ISIS approach of seizing territory. For the small group of misfits and loners and true-believers who view the chopping of heads and gunning down captives in their hundreds as heroic, rather than revolting, ISIS is the emerging brand name. When was the last time Joe Biden vowed to chase Al Qaeda to the gates of hell?

Andrew North observes that al-Qaeda has even been losing support in its traditional Af-Pak stronghold. He suggests the decision has something to do with that as well:

Several Pakistani-based militant groups previously allied to al-Qaeda have recently pledged allegiance to IS and its goal of an Islamic caliphate. The group has now reportedly launched a support and recruitment drive in border areas like Peshawar. Booklets in the name of the Dawlat-e-Islamia (Islamic State) have been circulating among the many Afghan refugees living there. Graffiti, or wall-talk, another guide to sentiments, is also going the group’s way, with pro-IS slogans now regularly appearing on Peshawar buildings. And while Zawahiri’s announcement seems primarily aimed at India, the man he named as the new leader of al-Qaeda’s South Asia wing, Asim Umar, is reportedly a Pakistani.

Katherine Zimmerman, on the other hand, argues that the video proves al-Qaeda is still alive and dangerous:

The split between al Qaeda and the Islamic State is very real, as is the contest for the global jihadist movement. The Islamic State’s unprecedented success in Iraq and Syria has energized the movement as a whole, which is why al Qaeda leaders have supported Sunni victories in Iraq. The Islamic State, and then al Qaeda, must both be defeated. Going after one and dismissing the other is short-sighted and leaves American interests vulnerable to attacks. Allying with so-called lesser enemies like Iran, or Syria, as Senator Rand Paul (and others) have suggested, to go after the Sunni threat is just as short-sighted. Just because the Islamic State and al Qaeda want to kill Americans doesn’t mean Assad and Khamenei don’t. Al Qaeda’s newest affiliate is proof of life for those who were questioning. There are still groups seeking to affiliate with al Qaeda, and some of them, such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group in the Sahel, have killed Americans. Al Qaeda is not dead. It is still a threat to the United States, and Ayman al Zawahiri wants us to know it.