Thursday, June 11, 2015

Boasting may not help repeating success!

There is a great euphoria in Indian media on the well-planned and successful surgical strike against terrorists targets in the Indo-Myanmar border. India lost 20 [1] of its service men in an ambush on June 4, 2015. This was followed by another attack on June 7, 2015 in which no causalities reported [2]. The well-planned and successful strike is commendable. However, this is not the first time Indian Armed Forces have crossed the border in pursuit of terrorist targets [3]. According, to Brig. Rumel Dahiya the operation Golden bird could have been more successful but for the untimely announcement of Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi [4]. Though Indian armed forces have been having the capability for quite some time, it is the change in the attitude of political bosses that is new. It is widely believed that order for the operation was given to raise the morals of the service men.

While the Defence Minister of India is correct in saying that the action reflected the change of attitude of Indian Government, his insinuation that India is capable of such operations in the other regions of its hostile neighbourhood is an exaggeration at the best. His insinuation isn’t lost on Pakistan, either. Mr. Parrikar’s dig prompted a response from Pakistan reminding him that Pakistan is not Myanmar [5]. The principal opposition has also reacted in response to his comments [6]. Interestingly, there are contradictions from Myanmar, as well [7]. In any case, I believe that it is not currently possible for India to repeat its Myanmar success in Pakistan or China.

Myanmar’s military has a good relation with India and in many cases they cooperated but for the foot soldiers who seem to side with the militants. Though there is gaping void between the capabilities of respective countries, Myanmar is more occupied with its counter-insurgence activities. Hence, a combination of good-will and the definite military superiority could have given the edge to India.

May not be possible to replicate

In the case of Pakistan, India has a hostile relation particularly with respect to the former’s use of terrorists in its soil. Further, though Pakistan’s military prowess fare low in comparison to India it is among the top 20 military powers in the world [8]. It is also the country with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal [9]. With no no-first-use moratorium, Pakistan is not shy in using its nuclear card either [10]. India is well aware of Pakistan’s tendency to escalate any limited interventions to a full-fledged war that could easily escalate to a nuclear war, as was feared during Kargil war [11].  This is reason the reason behind India’s Cold Start War doctrine [12]. However, this doctrine is criticized by many analysts as could lead to war expansion [13-14], the very scenario the doctorine is supposed to prevent. In addition, Pakistan’s relation with US and China is likely to put pressure on India. This is the reason why India has desisted in the past to cross border against terrorist’s camps in Pakistan, though it had known its operations for a long time. 

In this context, if indeed India intents to talk the walk, it could do so if it acquires the following capabilities:
  • Ability to rapidly mobilize troops to prevent Pakistan from escalating any such interventions into a full-fledged war.
  • Ability to plan, execute and extract troops in a very short time – in a matter of hours, so that India would have the element of surprise and Pakistan would be incapable of responding and internationalizing the issue.
  • Ability to stealth intrusion and extraction – abilities that India currently doesn’t have. India may have those capabilities when the Fifth Generation Fighter it develops with Russia enters production. However, the fighter wouldn’t be of much use if China is to supply capabilities to counter it.
  • Superior technologies - most of the military technologies currently India has had been acquired from friendly nations, which means Pakistan could do so too. Unlike China, which used its foreign educated nationals to bring back know-hows to build its technology, to my knowledge, India is not that keen.

The stakes totally tilt against India, in the case of China. In any case, China is not harboring terrorists against India in its soils, though on occasion it had aided groups that were against India.
In this case, the best India could do to neutralize terrorist targets within Pakistan’s territory are:
  • Re-activating its covert abilities which were disbanded by Mr. I. K. Gujjral as an act of good-faith [15].
  • Continue to acquire weapon systems encouraging an arms-race with Pakistan, which would force Pakistan’s already perilous economy into further doom. However, this would likely put Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists.

India could do better, if it tries to remove its red-tape and control its corruption and nepotism to bring talents drained to other countries. However, it remains to be seen if India is indeed intent on developing this capability.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lack of Regional leadership helps China's hegemony in South Asia

China's Strategy in South Asia
Xi Jinping, declared that "China will never pursue its development at the cost of sacrificing interests of other countries... We will never give up our legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests. No country should presume that we will engage in trade involving our core interests or that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harming of sovereignty, security or development interests", at a Party Politburo Study session on 28 Jan 2013 [1].

The statement is clear that it won't compromise on its territorial claims even though its claims, on historical grounds is dubious at the best[2].  However, I believe that the lack of regional leadership is what helping China push its way through coercion.

China aspires a bipolar world (at least for now) with US and itself as twin poles. China's booming economy is largely fuelling its aspiration. Its military expenditure grows accordingly. However, what is troubling to the countries in the region is its territorial claims. China claims almost the entire South China Sea and Arunachal Pradesh in India. 

Source: Wikipedia
The claims of China on the South China sea intensified following its publication of huge potential oil reserves in the region[3]. This area overlaps the Exclusive Economic Zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. However, none of these countries could stand up to the military brinkmanship of China whose military expenditure ($131 billions) is more than thrice the total military expenditure of these countries put together. However, China also has disputes with Japan and claims the Senkaku islands of Japan as its own[4].  US also comes into fray due to close association with Japan and interests in the region.  
Source: The Economist
Similar situation prevails in India's North East. After its occupation of Tibet, it claims Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet. It claims the Twang region of the Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds that the Fourth Dalai Lama was born there. However, being a religious leader, Dalai Lama can be born anywhere[5]. The claims are in contrast to its earlier agreement in 2005 that no populated regions would be exchanged. Further, to complicate the issue China avoids providing clarifications on Line of Actual Control (LAC)[6]. To complicate the situation Chinese army routinely enter into regions claimed by India as under its LAC[7]. Though the CBMs and the established procedures had helped diffuse the situations from escalating into a full-fledged war, so far, it seems China is least interested to settle the dispute. It complicates the situation by implicitly accepting Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) as Pakistani territory by issuing visa while contending J&K and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territories. Historically, it doesn't share a border with Pakistan but thanks to PoK and Askai Chin, it now does and by enforcing PoK as Pakistani territory it tries to pre-empt India from reclaiming its regions, in future.

Whenever any of the countries, with which it has conflict with, tries to internationalize the situation or tries to build relations with a superior force, it adopts to coercive diplomacy, like in the case of Vietnam [8] and India [9]. At the same time, it pushes economic ties that are in its favour, which by fuelling its economy is helping in building its military might[10] leading to more coercion from China. 

The China's strategy in the region seems to be centred on: 
  1. Make India pre-occupied with South East Asia
  2. Pre-empt any attempt by countries in the regions from forming a front.
  3. Resist US deployments
China is helping Pakistan to build its missile[11] and nuclear capabilities[12], though it is against International norms. Pakistan has good network of terrorists in India and is a volatile country constantly engaging in exchange of fire and has already been in war with India multiple times. By making Pakistan Nuclear, China is has placed India's focus on countering Pakistan which is more likely to engage in war than China whose last war with India was in 1962. Further, in the name economic cooperation it is pushing a "string of pearls" strategy to engage and contain India within the region. As a part of the strategy, China is developing Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. Both these countries are also caught in the debt trap set by China and could not refuse to China's intentions without heavy cost to the economies[13]. In South China Sea region, China coerces countries that tries to internationalize the border dispute while pre-empting any attempts by the countries to form an alliance. It is forming artificial islands in the region to bolster its claims and to use them as backup airstrips to its carriers to pre-empt US from the region. China also feels that US is incapable of helping the region given its engagements in the Middle-East and its sagging economy. Nevertheless, it accepts US as a force to reckon with. 

China's tactic in the region is not just its military might. It uses economy as its second weapon. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and a host of other countries carry huge Chinese debt and have to follow Chinese suit in the matter. It now pushes its ambitious Silk Road policy, which India views with suspicion as the same infrastructure could be used to mobilize armed forces during conflict. As a matter of fact, I believe that China is slowly building infrastructure surrounding India in the name of co-operation with India's neighbours until an opportune moment. Similar situation prevails for the maritime route connecting countries in the South China sea as well.
Further, by encouraging rogue states such as Pakistan and N. Korea to develop nuclear weapons, it adds a level of uncertainty in the region. In the likelihood of war with China, Pakistan will jump in to make the most of the situation. India, having focused for a very long time on Pakistan is incapable to fight war at two fronts. Similarly, it can use unpredictable N. Korea against Japan and US installations in the region. 

If all the countries in the region including Japan and Australia forms a economic-military block, then it would be possible to contain China's hegemonist attitude and brinkmanship in the region. Such an attempt requires commendable leadership and the ability to outmaneuver Chinese designs in the region. However, it seems, the South Asian region is devoid of such leadership which is what is letting China unchecked in the region to pursue its hegemonist attitude. Though US could not spread its resources thin across the globe, it could let countries like India, Japan and Australia and help them from behind. However, US is also highly dependent on China for its imports and China holds ~7% of US treasury bonds, which makes one doubt if US would be full committed to contain China in the region. Unlikely, as is evident from the very many one step forward two-step backward acts of US in the region. This is the South-Asian Conundrum Waiting for a solution.



Monday, June 8, 2015

Spot the "Mocking bird"

What Everyone Should know about the Media

The title is derived from the infamous CIA campaign of the 1950s called the "Operation Mockingbird". It was(?) the propaganda arm of CIA to spread dissent, influence public opinion, etc. During 1950s, in its peak, around 3000 employees were working on propaganda efforts. In 1976, the then Director of CIA George H. W. Bush declared that CIA wouldn't enter into any paid contract with journalists. However, if it is the actually the case is anyone's guess...

In any case, a close observer could find the footprints of "Mockingbird" all over the media. Let us see some of the cases, which may make one suspect if the "Mockingbird" is still alive. 

Iraq War I & II

Perhaps the most well known example in the recent history is the testimony of Nayirah al-Sabah. Until her testimony to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq went widely unnoticed by the Western Media. The emotional testimony of Nayirah, supposedly as a part of the campaign, "Citizens for a Free Kuwait" helped stir public opinion in US to support Kuwait in the War (Operation Desert Storm). It is also alleged that she was paid by CIA to take acting lessons

Similarly, in the lead up to the Iraq War of 2003, Western media was whipping up mass hysteria and paranoia about the WMD in Iraq. Only after the war, at the cost many US lives and its allies', it was found that Iraq had none. While over 4000 US life were lost, some were extremely benefitted. I followed up the news to ExxonMobils website and apparently it is having a couple of affiliates in Iraq but I'm not sure if these oil companies shared their profit with the deceased, after all its the death of the service men which led to their profits, isn't it?

Interestingly, during the 1990s and in 2002, US was experiencing recession and unemployment was high. Can the occurrence of such incidents twice be coincidence?


In 2014, AP exposed the secret US program aimed at encouraging Cuban Youth to revolt against the countries communist government. In 2010, US Agency for International Development (USAID) created a text only social networking and microblogging service called "Zunzeo" (in cuban slang referring to a hummingbird's call) through a complex network of shell companies in Cayman Islands. The US Govt. obtained the phone numbers of some 40000 Cuban youths, who would form the seed subscribers for the program. Though no details is available on how the phone numbers were obtained, it is suspected to be through covert means. While the programs objective was to slowly grow the network until it reaches a critical mass to foment "Cuban Spring", it was retired without notice in 2012, ostensibly due to the expiration of funds.

While the reception of "Zunzeo" among Cuban Youths and the "actual" reasons for its retirement is anyone's guess, it demonstrates US mastery over social networking. However, US is not alone in this. The UK's top secret STRAP COMINT unit of the GCHQ is similarly manipulating posts to go "viral". Thanks to Mr. Snowden the UK's capabilities of social network manipulation came to fore. The documents along with the exposure of Zunzeo reveals how aggressively the Western Govt. are exploiting Internet as a means to manipulate public sentiments both within and abroad to suit their interests.

Indian Elections

While manipulating social networks for propaganda is organized by secret Govt. programs in the West, it seems Indian politicians are masters in that as well. The recent victories of Mr. Modi and Mr. Kejriwal is largely attributed to their adept manipulation of public sentiments through social networks. Mr. Modi has been cultivating NRI and upper middle class' networks for quite some time since his time as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. This network aided him to project himself as a leader of change though other states such as TamilNadu and Andhra Pradesh had better GDP, and was rated high in Human Development index than Gujarat. Wikileaks leak that he is incorruptible helped to secure public sentiments in his favour. However, the series of tweets later by Wikileaks that it never described Mr. Modi as incorruptible, never reached Indian ears. Thanks to Mr. Modi's vast network and effective propaganda. Another personality who rose to power by piggy-backing on the anti-corruption sentiment and Mr. Hazare's anti-corruption movement is Mr. Kejriwal. His party too have used social network extensively for its propaganda. The use of social networks for political propaganda are also effective in circumventing the restrictions imposed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Electoral spending since these restrictions only come to existence after the declaration of elections and since ECI currently don't have a means to estimate expenses in such propaganda.

Source: Cover image of The Bane of Ethical Journalism
It should also be noted that, unlike Western Media, Indian media is already for sale. Between 2009 - 2013, ECI registered 1400 cases of paid-news where politicians paid print and television media to run favourable stories on them. Some media, is also embarking on extortion of industries/celebrities by threatening to run stories against them.  Thankfully, Indian public were usually adept and they hardly believed the media. But apparently, the situation is currently changing with the rise of urban youth who thinks less but are more busy forwarding funny pics. These youths with large social networks but with least capabilities to separate "grain from husks" are likely to be the target of present and future social manipulation by foreign countries/companies. With its huge population, India is at the risk of attaining "critical mass" in a very short period of time.

Canadian Politics

Recently, I published post on Mr. Harper using Islamophobia and Xenophobia to divert public attention from the failure of his economic policies.  Mr. Harper's intention to spend over 200 million Canadian dollars in a fight against ISIS also closely resembles the US' actions against Iraq in 2003. Prior to attack, as mentioned before, US used its media to whip up mass hysteria. Similarly, Mr. Harper used the two lone attacks in Canada to whip-up Islamophobia, which in addition to encouraging racism provided him a basis to intervene in Iraq. The attempt was so successful that there was no public sentiment against him for the intervention which costed Canadian public over 200 Million CAD, which could have been used to generate more Canadian jobs. Just think about it, assuming that an average person makes 1 million during his effective lifetime, the amount means a close of 200 jobs. However, when these dollars are invested to encourage industries, more than just 200 jobs would be created. When looked from the perspective of beneficiaries of Canada's action in Iraq, it seems some oil companies do have interests in the region. In addition, the prolonged crisis in Iraq is likely to boost the profits of Canada's domestic oil sector. In other words, Canadian public (federal and provincial) lost their jobs so that certain parties could make billions. However, there was no public response, thanks to the effective propaganda machinery of Mr. Harper.

In Canadian politics, Mr. Harper, is not alone in using media to push is agenda. Ms. Wynne, the premier of Ontario is also similarly using media to push her agenda on Sex Education. In my recent post, I described how Mr. Wynne is using the ignorance of teens to her advantage while diverting the public from asking pertinent questions. Her only defence is that parents could opt their children out of those subjects. What didn't she tell and what the public failed to ask is the efficacy of that measure, given that the children are now highly social-media savvy. Just imagine, how difficult it is for a student to keep her mobile open transferring the content of his/her sex-education to those students whose parents had opted out of those course. In that situation, the students who are not in the course are likely to err more given their natural curiosity and prurience at that age, which would eventually justify her curriculum. In effect, using media she had not only diverted public opinion but she is effectively manipulating the thought process itself

"Mocking Bird" everywhere

This phenomenon of manipulating or controlling media to manipulate public opinion is not limited to US and its allies alone.  China from the time of Mao is effective in using its propaganda to shape its public opinion. It even controls religion so that no other opinion creeps into public minds but its own. Censorship of foreign media criticizing it human rights abuses in Tibet or Xinjiang are also part of its strategy to prevent foreign media from sowing dissent in Chinese minds. In other words, China seeks to control what its people sees, hears or thinks. However, its propaganda machinery is not limited to its territory alone.  Its media, particularly Global Times, has been quite aggressive in posts in response to any Indian activities in Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its own as it claims the entire South China Sea. By terming 'Global Times' as a Tabloid it is able to maintain certain level of deniability. However, any one with some insights in how China operates would hardly believe it. However, recently there has been news of China's propaganda officials heading Chinese journalism schools. Taking a cue from China, Mr. Modi's Govt. too seems to be interested in training journalists in propaganda. If this phenomena continues unabated, the public could hardly believe what they hear, whatever they hear...!

Spot the "Mocking bird"

The previous sections gives a glimpse of how the Govts./politicians all over the world is using media (conventional and social) to shape/manipulate public sentiments in its favour. This is not limited to them alone. Even industries are in the game (Ex. Vogue). However, could we spot these attempts?

It is possible, but extremely difficult... From my perspective, asking rationally right questions is the start. However, as the "right questions" itself are subjective and changes with the news, spotting the public manipulation attempts become difficult. In my perspective, the following questions could help:

  • Who are the beneficiaries?
  • Why now?
  • How could the claim be justified?
  • What is not addressed? Why only certain things are addressed?
  • How could the news/information be proved?
  • What are the counter arguments against the said news?
  • How the counter-arguments weigh against the advertised arguments?
  • What is unstated expectation of the news?
  • Why this particular news is given so much attention compared to others?
  • How would I be benefitted?
These are just the some of the questions, in no specific order, that everyone should use to understand the real intention of the media coverage. The questions and analyzis become challenging and complex depending upon how the "news" is delivered. The very intention of this blog is to help people analyze situation and bring to fore those questions that were usually missed but, nevertheless, important to ask. The greatest of success of this blog would be how effective it is encouraging people to ask such questions.