Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Interlinkages between the food and fuel crisis emerging in India

Important points from a recent discussion among acquaintances.

Land and water resources are experiencing population pressures in India. This is manifesting the lack of growth in the amount of arable land and a gradual decline in rural living standards. Expanding access to water is feasible on a ten year timescale, however a massive investment of this nature would only significantly boost agricultural productivity at a very high ecological cost. A most direct expression of the ecological cost would be in the form of a dropping water table and a gradual but consistent reduction in forest cover. Biodiversity issues are also likely to present on a far larger timescale than earlier anticipated.

A trend that has become more pronounced over the last ten years has been the manner in which sizable tracts of arable land are being acquired by leveraging buyouts from farmers living in debt. The objective of such acquisition is not the construction of new industry or power stations, but rather the development of high end real estate. In these developments, the locals are deliberately driven out of their lands to make way for mahals and havelis that suit the tastes of the modern Indian princes.

This sort of thing creates two major problems. Firstly loss of arable land adds to a growing deficits in food production and secondly, we add to the rural-urban migration trend creating severe resource problems inside cities.

As the shortfall in food production can only be met via food imports - we become *more* reliant on global trade patterns and out overall trade deficit rises. Additionally, in order to move the food from the sources in foreign lands and from the port of entry to our hungry citizens we consume more carbon fuel resources - especially diesel -which we only have a very limited refining capacity for.

The sale of their ancestral land also shifts farmers out of the land based social security system to a paycheck based economy which they are not adequately trained to function in. The collapse of this social security system creates a large pool of internal migrants that are disconnected from their roots and traditional identity structures.

In Pakistan we have seen what happens when this sort of thing is allowed to get out of hand. The vacuum created in the identity structure is filled by new expressions at the individual and social level. In India we can reasonably anticipate the growth and hardening of caste and religion based conflicts in such a migration environment. Perhaps the biggest lesson that India can draw from Pakistan in this context is that using a social polarisation model improperly or incorrectly (i.e. without thought to the consequences) will result in a persistent and bloody internal conflict.

As you are all aware, in Pakistan, a religious model was used to consolidate Sunni youth in the 80s. The full extent of the exact consolidation protocol was never discussed publicly and a cost benifit analysis was abandoned in favour of a pursuit of expedience. The result is that mess that we are seeing today - where no one - not the Army, the Islamists or the Feudals can restore order over any meaningful timescale.

Given the overall similarity between Indian and Pakistani society, it is imperative that we take proactive steps to prevent a repeat of such events in an Indian context. Most specifically, religious indoctrination techniques developed in the 90s in India, should be discarded as a tool for social or political mass mobilisation. Marxist models that have gained currency over the last decade need to be seriously toned down as well - there is no point getting people up in arms over their lack of economic opportunities if no direct relief - even in the internim term is possible.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What's in it for us?

An important question that people must learn to ask - especially the DCH.

Some 50,000 or so Indians have lost their lives to Pakistani inspired violence. If that was not enough reason for us to slice their throats ... why should a few thousand non-Indian casualties in Afghanistan matter to us?

If someone can't "occupy" Pakistan with the Army's help, how would they successfully occupy it without the Pakistan Army's help?

Why should we sit around and watch valuable global oil resources be expended to drive humvees in Pakistan, when the same oil could be used to make electricity that powers schools, universities and factories in India?

For the past thirty years, a military dictatorship sat on our borders and talked down to us about human rights and self-determination and democracy. Why would we want a self-declared global hegemon on our borders lecturing us on the same things?

Look if you don't have enough fuel to carry out your military operations in Afghanistan - you need to find ways of doing more with the fuel that you do have.

Look start small ... just turn the airconditioner off and then don't use the helicopters to ship toilet paper... and then scale back pointless artillery barrages.

Coming up with more fuel expensive military ventures is not a sensible approach and no it isn't going to scare the Pakistanis.

Added later:

It is immature to expect a border across a continous cultural landscape to be sealed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A few notes after a silent week.

Some notes after a period of silence.

The American economic plunge has gained momentum. A major bank had to be rescued by its friends in government. The price of gasoline continues to rise. Ever expanding discussions continue on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. No one quite knows where the bottom is - though hopes that there is a bottom run high. It is unlikely that public pressure over Iraq will deflate soon, however it is likely that public support for a presence in Afghanistan will remain even after a US withdrawl from Iraq. One also notes the curious effort at scaremongering in a closed session of the American parliament recently. One also sees lust in the eyes of those looking north towards Canada and Alaska.

In Pakistan a calm introspection over the prospects of facing the Islamists without the Army's support will dampen provocative gestures vis a vis Musharraf the Magnificient. The Pakistani public at large wants to see a demonstration of "accountability". Some demonstration will have to be arranged to appease the masses, but I doubt it makes sense to try this with someone called Pervez. At the end of the day - Pakistan's problems stem from its poorly developed industrial sector, and the Army with its allies in the Fauji, Shaheen, and Bahria foundations, represents the bulk of Pakistan's industry. The feudals cannot hope to create a stable feeding trough inside Pakistan without the Army's support. The Khilafa Coastal Refinery will ultimately "save" Pakistan - and the refinery will not be built without the Army's support to whoever is in power. The Feudals will have to content themselves with a game of musical chairs. The Pakistanis need to articulate the problems arising out of a collapse of their agriculture sector. It has been conveyed to them that India has a limited ability to resolve contentious water distribution issues *inside* Pakistan. The wheat crisis of today, is merely a preview of things to come unless Pakistan gets its act together on the water management issue.

In India we are only now gaining the first insights into how the crisis in the US will affect us. The dollar's problems directly impact the Indo-US nuclear deal in ways that go beyond KT's next paycheck. I have held my peace on this for long enough - with a recesssion looming in the US economy, I think the time has come for me to speak clearly. A collapsing dollar creates a climate that does not necessarily favour us. The US cannot expect us to purchase anything from them while simulataneously restricting our market access. Without a structure to offset losses due to the fall in the dollar - we cannot be expected to proceed towards anything on this deal. Setting all political considerations aside, one has to confront this issue.

Added later:

As predicted - the next wave of assaults (after the attacks on the SciCom) on Sri. Vajpayee have begun. An entirely circular logic is openly displayed - yet again - the results of the Shakti series are being questioned solely to justify the need for a gigaboom. No rationale is presented for a gigaboom - only drumbeating is indulged in. A time will soon be upon us when Sri. Vajpayee is blamed for not doing enough to make a gigaboom.

I now sadly await the public humiliation of Sri. Vajpayee at the hands of the very people he helped bring into the national mainstream. This will be a truly disgusting spectacle - watching a bunch of utter morons insult a man who is too weak to raise even an arm to defend himself. Tragically, as far as I can see, this is the only way in which these people will finally realise that without Sri. Vajpayee to do their thinking for them - they have no appeal to the rest of India. Only after humiliating Vajpayee and burning their bridges to the rest of India will these people realise their utter irrelevance in today's India.

As the US economy plunges, the US NRIs will become more vituperative and lacking the ability to project their angst in the US, they will turn on India. The angst of the NRI SuperHindus will feed the fight for succession in the BJP. This is one of those tragic cases of blowback - and I can do nothing about it.

Tis' a grisly affair we are about to witness, a very long night of very long knives.

On another note:

It appears Secy. Paulson has had no sleep recently - the word "depression" is making an appearance. The search for a "bottom" to this mess has begun.

So it is time for me to show *my* cards on this issue.

I *personally* think the following:

This is - at the end of the day - about manageability.

Human nature is troublesome at best - if everything seems fine - then no one will want to change. Even when everyone knows change is necessary - the bigger the change - the less is the incentive to actually do it. The more you shield people from the bad news, the less they feel the need to change.

On the other hand, if you make people feel like crap - albeit temporarily and when things are actually still really fine - you can induce them to change.

A sudden sharp shock following a period of brief semi-shielded exposure could achieve rapid swings of the desired variety. You will be able to reach ahead of the curve and drive the system at the desired rates.

That said.. it has to be done just right. It needs extreme attention to detail - I am not saying this is easy - it is easier than the alternative i.e. trying to fix everything at once.

And now I will go back to being silent on this issue.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Gigaboom and Other Stories

I wrote this reply to an email, but then the topic was relevant so I decided to share it with all my readers.


The 1998 tests proved that we have a high degree of reliability in our fission based designs.

There was no "failed thermonuclear test" in 1998 - that is an NPA invention. The NPA are simply exploiting information compartmenting inherent in every nuclear test - the fact that no one outside the actual team knows what the exact device is and that there is a large crowd of people who think they know what the device is. The NPA know that we have fed them crap about our design via the usual gang of idiots and since they are paid to go houbara hunting - this entire "failed test" thing is their way of making the real Indian houbara run.

The FBF was deliberately tested because it was a more challenging design idea and because the site itself limits the yeilds that can be safely tested underground. The FBF kept the yeild low while ensuring a demonstration of the mastery over the same physics that goes into a much larger bomb. This ensured that the Indian houbara stayed underground and the air sampling black shaheen returned empty handed.

If the arsenal were to be defined in narrow terms - i.e. the same terms that the Americans used to murder the Japanese into submission (the only proven usage of nuclear weapons in the battlefield) - then we have a credible arsenal of fission and fusion based weapons. Remember the Americans had only tested their designs once - ergo the two tests of each design are sufficient to achieve narrowly defined aims.

If the arsenal is to be defined in wider terms - i.e. the same terms that the Americans used to allegedly beat the Russians into submission (the use of the size of the arsenal as a device for rhetorical escalation - though I do not consider this a "proven" use), then mere tests do not inspire credibility in the arsenal's value as a robust economy does. The Americans had a robust economy based on unfettered access to oil. The Russians did not - and that is where they "lost". If the Americans can't keep their economy under control, they will "lose" also - i.e. be pushed into a situation where their arsenal becomes an unsustainable expense.

One would think that if India intends to become a "big power" - and "talk like the big boys" do - it has to have an economy that backs up its talk.

Talking about "gigabooms" is not going to scare anyone.

Doing a few tests may prove the technical ability to field an arsenal of this kind, though one wonders what the point of proving the same thing that was proven in 1998 - again. The 1998 tests prove that despite whatever the sons of Mother India say - a suave looking jackass in a suit on television will tell the DCH that the test was a failure and then the DCH will agitate for another test. Every test - as the American "natural allies" will never admit - risks the security of the arsenal. It reveals just that much more about what our exact capabilities are.

I am not saying whether India should test or not. I do not have the authority or the competency to advise on those matters. That is purely the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Council.

I am merely pointing out that if a cost benifit analysis is done - as I am sure it is done before every test - then I personally feel that the "appease the DCH" aspect is likely to be outweighed by a desire to preserve the security of our capabilities.

The cost benifit analysis that goes into a decision to test is very complicated and the DCH and its "heart's desire" are a very small fraction of that. Beyond that I am not keen to comment on this - as I am not a party to the process and even if I was it is not something I would talk about in public.

*** unrelated note to sparsh - have I captured the earlier discussion on "bigger v/s smaller"?


Another unrelated note on information compartmenting strategies allegedly pursued in a major democracy which many people in India seem to like and (not-so) secretly admire. Typically in this country no one knows all the exact details of the warhead design. Everyone who comes into contact with the warhead is only cleared to know a small chunk of the information that is relevant to what their role is. For example, the person charged with releasing the weapon on the target does not know anything about the details of actually designing the warhead. They are simply told which sequence to push the red buttons on the black box in front of them. If by some accident the person tasked with the release becomes aware of some other details of the weapon's operation - they are immediately subject to a very painful and time consuming clearance revision protocol.

Similarly in this country the scientist who designs the warhead casing does not have to know the details of the nuclear reactions that make the explosive charge work. Unfortunately unlike man-made technology which can be specifically engineered - natural physical laws do not lend themselves easily to security - anyone can design experiments and gain information about these things. Most physicists are pretty generally trained, so it is not difficult for a physicist to "figure out" how something works - and usually if you know one piece of the puzzle you can make intelligent guesses about what the other piece looks like.

In order to keep a check on this tendency of physicists to do things ... that are well ... less than wise... this country has devised the concept of the "born secret". Per this concept - any information that sheds deep and meaningful insight on the functioning of the explosive core of the weapon is a "born secret" - i.e. irrespective of whether you enjoy a specific security clearance - if you "figure out" something that sheds light on the functioning of a nuclear explosive - you are automatically charged with the responsibility for keeping that information from spreading to the wrong hands.

A very tiny fraction of the people preparing the compartmenting protocol actually know all the details of the weapon - and their identities are obviously not public knowledge.

Another example of a compartmentation scheme is also available in the history books - where it is alleged that a foreign government asked two teams to simultaneously pursue weapons design. One was told to work with plutonium and another to work on uranium and the two were kept completely in the dark about the other.

A corollary to this - is that the military is kept out of certain kinds of information. Ofcourse every military in the world has chafed under the manner in which non-combatant civilians seem to control the nuclear thing. Indeed many a military man questions whether the weapons he brandishes with such zeal actually work at all. Any military man would be a fool to not atleast ask himself whether he has simply been given a dud to parade for public amusement.

I do not know the answer to such questions, but I point out that whatever the answer is - it is quite simply the way Allah has willed it.

It is said that the seekers of martyrdom are seldom denied their wish in Allah's court, however I feel, in their own best interests, eunuchs and handmaidens of the men-at-arms should refrain from questioning the will of Allah.

The DCH and their pied pipers will do well to know such things.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Peculiar Situation in the US.

Flipflopping, backpedalling, indecisiveness etc... are not things we associate with American policymaking but those seem to be abundance lately.

After having opposed the India-US nuclear deal, the Democrats and the NPA are now running in circles trying to avoid blame for the failure of this deal.

In the Senate and Congress, when the deal was first discussed, the Democrats used the occasion to vent all their pent up anti-Bush sentiment and in the process ensured that the Bush admin's attempt to change the American relationship with India was completely destroyed.

Now faced with the prospect of perhaps inherting the White House, the Democrats are moving to put themselves into a negotiation with the Indian government or whoever they think they can talk to in the Indian government. I mean literally - this is exactly - "maan na maan - main tera mehmaan".

God forbid the Indians lose interest in the deal - how will the Democrats demand "expressions of support" from India to move the moth eaten deal across the floor of the Congress and the Senate?

Without at least an Indian nod, there is no question of the Americans making a dime in the next round of negotiations over the deal - because well... as Allah miyan knows, there is will simply be no next round. Without a next round - the entire game fails horribly for all those highly paid lobbyists in Washington DC. Arre bhai many of them probably have debts that rival Ken Lay's "profits" and at the very least everyone has at least one mortgage to pay... I mean seriously not everyone can die of a heart attack before the creditors come calling.

The problem is that the Democrats really do not know anything about foreign policy. Foreign policy is what they think they hear when they listen to "experts" like the NPA or read that magazine they call the "New York Times". Most of them would not know foreign policy even if it was dropped on their head. So even when they actually want to come and beg the Indians to pay them bribes, it only comes out sounding like commands and orders - which most Indians find tiresome.

One might think that a repeat of the Jaswant-Talbot talks could happen - i.e. where a wily Indian overtly massages his American "interlocuter's" ego and mumbles "shiboleths" and talks from every "azimuth" in his body. One might even expect that the well "vibed" American then writes a book about how he saved the world from "nuclear destruction" - complete with a foreword by George Perkovich.

And very sick people - you know the behuda badzaat haramis - like me would simply delight yet another self serving account from D.C.

I mean then we can once again show up the Man of Steel next door who claimed to have been hugged by Clinton in Jordan - can he claim that he was the topic of a self serving pat-on-the-ass-cheek account? ... see even our lowly foreign minister has a bigger claim to fame than those of high office elsewhere.

Another account of this kind would be a major badge of honour for total kameenas like me.

And for all I know this might be what will happen. As they say in my city - dekhna ek din hum iske baare mein bhi Hindi film banayenge.... kaun chahiye director? - Karan Johar, Mani Ratnam... etc...

However there are a few things one must keep in mind.

The proximity of the Republican Party to key/core industrial groups in the US is undeniable and only someone with the right name - Abbaji ka khaas - is likely to know what parameters are acceptable in the deal - as only such a person would be capable of polling the opinions of the people that matter in the US and communicating accurately with them.

A layer of think-they-know-it-all types from the Democratic Party are not really going to assist in this negotiation. I mean they might go some distance in providing comic relief now and then, but beyond that one should not look get our hopes up.

At the present time the bulk of the core power brokers inside the US are heavily invested in carbon based energy. These people effectively control global utilisation of such energy via various pricing mechanisms. They are keen to invest in the growth of nuclear power in India purely because they want to hedge against possible competitive pressures on their *existing* investments. Until a stable investment structure is reached for these people - where India's interests are safeguarded against any unfortunate errors of judgement (i.e. monopolistic tendencies) on their part - negotiations will remain protracted - regardless of what window dressing sits in a house somewhere.

The Democrats are preparing for a change of drapery in D.C. - all this deadlining and interlocuting is all in aid of the getting ready to answer the phone when it rings at 3 AM when the children are asleep etc....


Kya kya dekhna padta hain bhaiyon...

*** Can't resist ***

Inspector Pandit - Shani... arre rey yeh kya kar rahe ho?... tum Shani ko kha rahe ho?....

Inspector Purohit - Shani? kyon.. is mey... ?Hain..?

Inspector Pandit - Arre Shani toh... aadmi ko kha jaata hain....

scene outside Abdul Chacha Ka Dhaba near Minara Masjid...
-- from the movie Maqbool