Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Pakistani Army confronts its declining moral mandate

As I am sure you have all heard already, a group of retired Pakistani military general officers have apologised to the Pakistani nation for past misdeeds.

This move comes close on the heels of an other suggestion that this group offered to General Pervez Musharraf to resign from his post as President and restore civilian leadership.

As I am sure you recall, the Pakistani Army had lost its standing with the Deobandi ulema of Pakistan after the Lal Masjid incident and without a single religious cleric to back their political maneuverings, the Pakistan Army gradually lost its position of dominance on Pakistani affairs. Already in the NWFP, a number of Islamist radical groups have gained an upper hand, and an increasingly hemmed in Pakistan Army is now fighting a losing COIN battle there. In Sindh and Punjab, the PPP and PML cadre are openly questioning the Army's authority.

In my opinion these are attempts by sections of the Pakistan Army top brass to regain the Pakistan Army's moral mandate. Due to the very nature of these efforts - a simulated distance has to emerge between Musharraf and the people making these efforts.

It is important to reflect on why that is so.

The Pakistan Army at the end of the day - relies on its ability to murder people at will to project its leadership of Pakistan. To some extent the legitimacy conferred by the religious elite on this license-to-kill is benificial but not essential. This apparent independence carries with it a flip side - when one uses violence with such a limitless sense - an adamantine chain of consequence links one to the consequences of the specific acts of violence.

Any attempt by the Pakistan Army to seem penitent for these acts will be seen as an admission of guilt by the people who were at the recieving end. This implication of guilt will serve as just cause for them to seek vengeance on the Pakistan Army itself. Any open apology from the army will carry with it the guarentee of a righteous retaliation.

And so the apology must be made in a veiled fashion - as coverty and as deniably as possible.

That - in my opinion - is what is going on right now.

Will the people of Pakistan - specifically the religious elite - find this apology credible? I do not think so. I fear that yet again the Pakistan Army is seriously underestimating of the extent of polarisation within the population.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pakistan: Gen. Karim's article on ORF

Gen. Afsir Karim has written a piece about the impact of events in Pakistan on India.

There is a comprehensive discussion on Islamic radicalism in Pakistan. This is by far the most mature commentary on this topic I have seen anywhere.

The author very astutely notes that "presently there is no militant cleric group strong enough to dictate terms to the powerful urban elite in Pakistan" - the emphasis is mine.

The author also points out that the number of young people inside Pakistan have reach a critical mass - exceeding half the population of the country. While the nature of grievances in Pakistan is not very different from those in India - the lack of viable means of airing grievances in Pakistan has created a growing trend towards radicalisation.

Gen. Karim - in my opinion - quite correctly points out that the most of the present radicalisation of Pakistan society is driven to a great measure by US intervention post 9-11. The Pakistan Army's policy of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds is creating a massive disorientation inside society and this is feeding support for the radicals. Even if the support base for the radicals does not expand dramatically, the Pakistani population at large is unlikely to remain receptive to the idea of American puppets leading it for much longer. This creates a situation not very different from Iran in 1979.

Gen. Karim highlights the economic disparities between the urban rich in Pakistan and the people that they claim to represent the interests of. It seems unlikely to me that the feudals and their urbanised or secularised hand maidens would really appeal to the Pakistani population at large. I was skeptical of the late Benazir Bhutto's abilities in this regard, and quite frankly I do not see anything different about the others. Their appeal among the vast numbers of underprivileged youth is limited, and quite frankly their ability to engage increasing numbers of them in constructive social dialogue in my opinion is very poor. I doubt most of these urbanised clowns amount to anything - they may speak English with the right accent, but honestly speaking their communication skills *inside* Pakistan are poor.

There is a large discussion on the nature of the Tehrik-e-Taliban and its link to black world financial channels inside Pakistan. The ability of such forces to access the under-economy of Pakistan especially outside of the Pakistan Army's surveillance capacity - creates all manner of complications. The author also discusses the rising popularity of Jihadi icons inside Pakistan - the effect of icons on the spread of radical ideas is often greatly underestimated.

At the very end of the paper, Gen. Karim fleshes out some of the implications of all this for India. As with many Indian writers, Gen. Karim describes the problems of Pakistan in great detail but deliberately hides most of the information about the impact of this radicalisation on India in the sub-text. It takes a practiced eye to spot the details.

I do not want to deny my readers the potential to develop such an eye, but in the interests of time let me drop the following hint - broadly speaking, we in India have a naive view about Islamic radicalisation. We remain of the opinion that key the indigenous Indian schools of Islamic thought will retain an ability to communicate with their Pakistani descendants. This is largely true, however it is incorrect to say that this is a one way street. There is infact a very complicated cross flow of ideas between Islamic thinkers in India and Pakistan. Given the manner in which radicalism is infusing into Pakistani Islamic institutions, and the manner in which moderates have been steadily marginalised in Pakistan - our ability to insulate India's Islamic ideosphere from these memes will be heavily strained. The Kashmiris are done with their war - they do not have the will to fight - their ability to add a layer of insulation to the spread of such memes is limited and that is all I have to say for now.

I very strongly recommend that my readers go over Gen. Karim's article with a fine tooth comb - I see a great many things worth thinking about in there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Comment on the Shultz-Perry-Kissenger-Nunn article

The article in WSJ appears to indicate a shift in the US strategic mainstream that a world order based on certain notions of nuclear deterrence is unstable.

This article goes straight to the heart of what India has been saying now for the better part fifty years. It also implicitly suggests everything I have been talking about on this very blog.

A vital part of this from the perspective of Indians keen on disarmament is the segment of this article which proposes that the US "discard any existing operational plans for massive attacks that still remain from the Cold War days".

Such a move would undercut the need for large stockpiles of weapons in the US and Russia. From the point of view of the nuclear fuels industry it would create a huge stockpile of highly enriched Uranium and Plutonium. This stockpile - if properly downblended could yeild a fuel resource that the world finds useful in the future. For the Americans too this is benificial as it would turn their economically unsustainable nuclear weapons arsenal into a fuel resource that the world could then buy with all the "excess" dollars the Americans have been palming them. In time one hopes that at least some people in the US think outside of the Greenspan era ideas of a world that is forgiving of America's debts and devise ways of paying back those debts. Such a world order is unsustainable - no matter how many nuclear weapons you have.

A global trade based on nuclear fuels from downblended weapons grade material would aleviate the competitive pressures building up on the US drug research and development industry. Current plans to "save the American economy" rely on using US dominance in the field of drug related r&d and health technology to build new markets. This policy can only offer short term relief to the US economy as the American pharma sector like the US IT sector relies heavily on a globalised manpower base to minimise development costs. Even with strict IPR controls, the ability of the US to retain its dominance on health related technologies would be limited to perhaps a decade or less - especially if key companies in India and China decide to aggressively indigenise drug development.

Which brings me to another issue about global trade -the India-US nuclear deal - and as you all know it is - dead.

It died the day the NPA shot a stream of venom at the Indian public consciousness. The venom was designed to ignite India's fears of loss of soverignity. Dimwitted as they may be, the NPA know enough about India to get it riled up about something. By routing their venom via Indian intermediaries, the NPA have lit a blaze of anti-deal sentiment that no one can quench.

Today Indian opposition to the deal is driven entirely by "political compulsions" which cannot be overcome. The BJP opposes the deal because if it lets the Congress (I) do this, then BJP will suffer a tremendous loss of legacy. The BJP paraded itself as the party that most aggressively sought out the interests of the capital owning classes. If the Congress (I) brings uninterrupted electricity to the Indian industrial groups, then BJP will lose its power base. The Left Front, does not care for legacy issues, as the Left's political models are closer to those of slumlords - as long as economically marginalised segments exist in India - we will never cease to have a Left Front. The Left opposes the deal because it fears a loss of leverage to Indian Industrialists. The Left has successfully used its presence in the media to convince others in the Indian political spectrum that the industrialists of India are a political threat that needs to be contained before it becomes too large for anyone to handle. The combined effect of these factors is political paralysis.

It is unclear if the carbon mafiosi that paid the NPA to hit the deal understand the full implications of this paralysis. Perhaps they remain under the illusion that by curtailing India's access to nuclear fuel - they will be able to promote India's reliance on diesel and natural gas. Or perhaps they believe that deal can be held in suspended animation until the carbon mafiosi in the US have had time to retrench their long term investments in carbon energy to more lucrative ones in the nuclear/alternative fuels sector. I do not seek to imply that President Bush was somehow remiss in the manner he proceeded down the road to the India-US nuclear deal but it does appear from the tone of the American press that somehow his attempt to open doors to India alienated a large faction of the American carbon mafia. I can't imagine any other reason for so much anti-Bush publicity would accompany the anti-deal rhetoric in the US media. It is crystal clear that at least some extermely powerful carbon groups in the US were very upset with the manner in which the India-US nuclear negotiation was conducted. Given the manner in which this group relies on the idea of keeping nuclear fuel reserved exclusively for use in weapons - the sudden shift away from this idea (which the India-US deal implied) created a major stir inside the US. The deal became identified with President Bush and worse still - a Ken Lay-esque pursuit of opportunity.

It is difficult to draw a firm conclusion about the thoughts of the American carbon mafiosi - especially regarding US domestic politics but the naive notion appears among some of these people to be that countries like India will put up with this kind of harassment and shakedown forever.

I do not know if the special interest groups in US will be able to salvage this deal at a later date by somehow reversing the impact of their own psywar campaigns. I am some what pessimistic in this regard - I do not think it is possible to reverse the effects of this.

I anticipate a slowdown in India's real growth rate. This increasing growth rate has been the key to ensuring that the national import-export deficit remains manageable and a balance of payments crisis is avoided. With a slowdown of the growth rate - this deficit will assume importance as will any unanticipated costs within the economy - especially in the energy sector.
We will become extremely sensitive to shocks on oil market!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Tata Nano: The Not-So-Subtle Implications

More on the Nano and its implications

The Nano will presently not be sold in the US because it will not meet US safety norms.

The US is about three times the area of India and it has about one-fourth the population. This means that the US population density is about a tenth of India's population density. In the US, everything is very far from everything else, - vehicles typically run up 15000 miles a year in the US. If you want to get from point-A to point-B in the US in a reasonable amount of time - you have to travel faster usually at around 60-80 miles/hr. This is not how it works in India - things are simply closer together, you don't drive as much or as fast. This has nothing to do with infrastructure, it simply has to do with the size and population density of India. An Indian car drives about 3000 miles a year at a relatively sedate pace of about 30-40 miles/hr.

As the average speeds in the US are higher, most cars bound for the US market have to meet higher safety norms. The occupants have to be able to survive at least an 80 mile/hr collision. This means the American cars are heavier. A heavier car implies a bigger engine, because if you are on a highway ramp in the US and you have to accelerate to get up to 65 miles an hour - the average speed needed to enter the highway traffic safely you need acceleration - you need *engine* power.

The Nano does not have the size to provide the kinds of crush depths needed in the US market. It is simply too small to accomodate a larger more powerful engine and it cannot safely enter an American highway. A Nano can probably be used as a limited mobility solution in certain urbanised parts of the US - may be places like Manhattan, parts of Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle etc... could use the Nano as way to minimise congestion and pollution, but honestly I don't think most Americans would fit in the Nano - it is just too small for them.

The Nano will not be sold in Europe at the present time - not because it will not meet safety or pollution norms, but because the European manufacturers will oppose its entry. All major European manufacturers are already cranking on their R&D machines to produce clones - we have seen the enthusiasm for collaboration with Tata in France, competitiveness in places like VW, and to our European friends, I say ... best of luck!

The Nano is going to really scare the Japanese and the Koreans. They are used to being the home of industrial innovation in Asia. They were expecting a comfortable ride in India - continually using Maruti Udyog and Hyundai India to control the Indian small car segment. Their ride just got really rough and to top it off - the Indians went and did something they didn't think was possible at all. Major heartburn, worrying and concern will dominate these places - both countries are only just getting used to being second fiddle to China in Asia- neither will enjoy being viewed as below India in anything like this. We will have to deal with this loss of status type fear building these two countries. As things stand, the Japanese and Koreans have some of the best technology development cycles in the world. They should definetely consider developing a powerplant that costs $700 or less, gives out 35-60 hp and is completely emissions free. To our Japanese and Korean friends I say... look what happens when you ignore the needs of your brothers in Asia.

The Chinese are going to copy the Nano, this is just how they react to things like this. They copied the Migs they got from Russia, the rockets they got from America, the motorcycles they got from Japan etc... one should think of it as a Chinese way of learning. Sure, in Shanghai with America-like roads and highways - the Nano will be out of place, but in the cities inside China, the Nano clones will rule the roost. To the Chinese - I really don't have anything to say, if I say something I am worried they will simply repeat it and then claim Chairman Mao said it and then I might be accused of being a Maoist!

As Nano clones gradually takeover the earth - the impact of such a large number of cars will be felt on global oil supply. The urban planning issue in India will get sorted out, but the long term implications for oil demand - say on a twenty year scale are worth looking at. This needs real brains... not the kind that we have auditing Carbon use in India lately.

Which brings me to the Cabron Dioxide "nightmares" that some people are having. One needs to put this in perspective - the Nano driven for about 3000 miles will emit about 0.7 tons of Carbon dioxide. That is about 20 times less than the annual emissions from a well tuned Hummer H3/Chevy Suburban/Chevy Caprice (US Yellow Cab). There are about 100,000 taxis in the US (and about twice that number in service with police and US GSA), about 100,000 Hummer H3s and as many Suburbans in the US, (and a comparable number with the US Army). So all in all just Hummers and Caprices in government and private service constitute about a million vehicles. We should be able to populate the earth with atleast 20 million Nanos before we get to the amount of carbon dioxide these guys are currently emitting.

The Nano emits about 6 times less than the Toyota Prius Hybrid. There are about a million of those around today. Assuming that we take the 1 million Hummers and Caprices and replace them with Prius hybrids, we can still sell about 14 million Nanos and remain at the same emissions level globally.

Yeah... wow.. didn't expect that did you?

BTW.. are you all pissed about the number of enviro-experts that are mouthing off about the Nano? - this is not an isolated occurance. Welcome my friends to the new age of the Carbon Proliferation Ayatollahs.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Tata Nano: Some Subtle Implications

The Tata Nano heralds the start of a new economic race to exploit the emerging markets in Asia and Africa. Thanks to western advertising and propaganda, the car is seen a status symbol all over the world. A vast majority of the lower middle classes in India, China, South East Asia and Africa are keen to purchase this status symbol.

As usual, the western observers are dismissive of the Tata effort - they see it as nothing great - technologically speaking and they fail to see why anyone in the world would want a car without power windows. They are incorrectly comparing it to Western cars - when they should be comparing it to alternative transport options in Asia and Africa i.e. the moped, the public transport bus etc... This kind of attitude on their part showcases the key problem that Western industrial groups and MNCs face - locked up by layers of bureaucracy in high towers they are out of touch with the nature of the world market. They now find themselves losing out to more flexible, informed and adaptive Asian competitors.

The electronically loaded and fuel inefficient cars of the West are out of place in the Asian and African markets, the poor people in Asia and Africa cannot afford them. Also the poorer regions of the world are characterised by overpopulated urban spaces where the high performance engines of Western cars are utterly useless as the driver never gets above 30 miles an hour in city traffic.

Tata has hit the right nerve, and for better or for worse, Bajaj, and Maruti will follow. Where these three go - others cannot afford not to follow. The emphasis on small, energy efficient cars without luxury fittings, and low maintenance costs is the core of Tata's approach. Tata's approach will bring mobility to the masses in a far more economically and fuel efficient way.

If Western car manufacturers want stay economically relevant in the long term, not only will they have to focus on building cars that sell in the Americas and Europe - they will have to gain a market share in Asia and Africa. The Tata Nano and the philosophy it represents simply cuts Western car manufacturers out of those markets.

To a great extent the Western philosophy of car design which centers around fuel inefficiency and luxury - is held aloft by governments that keep the price of oil artificially low in the West. As Asia and Africa start to consume more oil, the ability of the Western governments to artificially support low oil prices will decline precipitously. The very same oil companies that have been bribing Western governments to kill energy efficient cars will now turn their backs on those governments and jack up the prices at the pump without care for the socio-economic consequences.

The end result is that the Western philosophy of car making will die and with it a way of life will go as well. Given how infectious Tata's idea is, it is very plausible that the Americans will have to go to India to buy cars then sell the Tata Nano - in the US with a GM, Chrysler or Chevy label.
While the senior management in these places which is tired of running the red might welcome that change - it is unlikely that ordinary Americans and Europeans will welcome this.

The Tata Nano effectively puts the entire Western auto world on notice. It tells them their way of doing things is completely out of sync with global economic realities. I can't imagine how they would feel about that sort of thing - at the very least it going to add to that long list of complaints they have over their loss of status.

What Shakti-1998 did to the global nuclear order - the Tata Nano does to the global automotive order.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

IGMDP Completed

Yes, it is official, IGMDP has been closed down.

The IGMDP has reached a natural closing point - the objectives of the programme have been achieved. The core of the programme was aimed at development of propulsion (solid and liquid fuel systems) technologies, and certain guidance systems (reliable INS). All the systems that were developed under this program are now in production at various PSUs.

On the reseach side, there have been no new personnel hires for the IGMDP and most of the people originally hired for these projects have been reallocated to downstream (Nag,Akash,Prithvi,Agni etc...) projects or retired from service over the last ten years. All the new personnel hires have been for downstream project specific developers and technologists. The money that has been allocated was also directed at specific platforms *not* at technologies related to the core programme. The core of all these missiles is the same thing that kalam and Project Devil folks worked on some thirty years ago - yes I remember everyone who made fun of them.

The IGMDP will be eventually replaced with a new program aimed at intelligent guidance (read UAVs, cruise missiles,GPS-guidance), flight control (far from stability flight, high maneuverability) and advanced propulsion technologies (high efficiency, high speed, novel fuels, ultra high endurance etc...). The conclusion of the IGMDP has been hinted at in several utterances by top level science policy people. There has been talk of new propulsion systems for over a decade now and over that same time scale, UAV/intelligent guidance related development has been undertaken at DRDO with collaboration with a number of foreign countries.

The low innovation-cycle times of these "collaboration" programs and their relative immunity to sanctions regimes have been praised so often in science policy circles that many neutral observers have tended form the association that this strategy of "collaboration" and "tie-up" is the "way of the future" at DRDO. There is a naive belief among some people that the west will easily yeild its technology lead built up over three centuries to an India flush with cash. The prevalence of this feeling among external observers, has sparked a misguided notion that the IGMDP closure reflects a shift in Indian scientific thinking towards a "collaborative" or "participatory" approach.

Saner voices in India have privately pointed out that there are things money can't buy - but the external observers are so high on media hype - that they are failing to see the obvious.