India Insight

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Beneath the radar, a Russia-Pakistan entente takes shape

Russian PM Putin shakes hands with Pakistan's PM Gillani during their meeting in St.Petersburg

One of the early calls that Vladimir Putin took following his expected victory in the Russian presidential election last weekend was from Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. He congratulated Putin on his success and invited him to visit Islamabad in September which the Russian leader accepted, according to newspaper reports citing an official statement.

It would be the first visit by a Russian head of state to Pakistan which stood on the other side of the Cold War, peaking in its emergence as the staging ground for the U.S. campaign  to defeat the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. It's now again the frontline state in America's war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan, but it is a far more conflicted partner than those days of war against the godless communists. So fraught and uncertain is the nature of the relationship with the United States that Pakistan has sought to deepen ties with long-time ally China, but also Russia, the other great power in a dangerously unstable neighbourhood.

Last year Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari made the first official visit to Russia by a Pakistani  head of state in 37 years after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's trip to Moscow. The visit capped a series of  exchanges including on the sidelines of a four-way summit that Russia has promoted involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, besides Moscow, to discuss regional security. Zardari and outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev have met six times in the past three years, according to a count by an Indian security affairs expert, and last month Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was in  Moscow negotiating an  agreement to guide futue ties including Russian investment  in the Pakistani economy.

There is always a risk of reading too much into bilateral  exchanges that you would expect between two major countries, both nuclear powers with shared interests in the region. Visits alone don't transform ties, and especially ones with a troubled history behind them. And then there is India to be factored in, both for Russia and Pakistan.  Moscow  has long stood in India's corner from  the days of the Cold War to its role as a top weapons supplier to the Indian military, still ahead of the Israelis fast clawing their way into one of the world's most lucrative arms markets.A nuclear-powered submarine has just sailed from Russia to be inducted into the Indian navy - a force-multiplier in the military with the sub's ability to stay beneath waters long and deep and far from home.

Is India really the world’s fifth most powerful country?

India is the world’s fifth most powerful country, according to a New Delhi-authored national security document, the Times of India reported on Wednesday, as Indian analysts placed the emerging nation above major European powers.

Outranking traditional global powers such as the UK, France and Germany, India’s ballooning population, defense capabilities and economic clout were cited as reasons for its position behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Russia in India’s National Security Annual Review 2010, which will be officially released by the country’s foreign ministry next week.

Its statistical foundations in terms of population numbers and GDP aside — in terms of purchasing power parity, it should be noted — India’s experience of wielding power on the global stage of late, boosted by its temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, has been less encouraging.

The Mongol Rally: Siberia

The Mongol Rally: SiberiaThe morning brought good news. We were closer to Semey, a large town near the Russian border than we thought. There was still the issue of how to get our half-broken-down car there.

(To read earlier posts from Mongol Rally, click here)

It was time to put our knowledge of off-road driving to the test and manoeuvre the car as lightly and gently as possible over the potholes to the safety of a garage.

The sight of a gaggle of sunburnt, shirtless mechanics smoking on a garage driveway was a relief. It took the combined intelligence of the three members of my rally team and four Kazakh mechanics to communicate, mostly using sign language, what was wrong with the car.

from Global Investing:

What worries the BRICs

Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD's annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.

MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.

This has been exploding over the past decade. Net outward investment from developing countries reached $198 billion in 2008 from around $20 billion in 2000. The 2008 figure was only 10.8 percent of global FDI, but it was just 1.4 percent in 2000.

from Global Investing:

Time to kick Russia out of the BRICs?

It may end up sounding like a famous ball-point pen maker, but an argument is being made that Goldman Sach's famous marketing device, the BRICs, should really be the BICs. Does Russia really deserve to be a BRIC, asks Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an article for Foreign Policy.

Åslund, who is also co-author with Andrew Kuchins of "The Russian Balance Sheet", reckons the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is just not worthy of inclusion alongside Brazil, India and China  in the list of blue-chip economic powerhouses. He writes:

The country's economic performance has plummeted to such a dismal level that one must ask whether it is entitled to have any say at all on the global economy, compared with the other, more functional members of its cohort.

India, China leaders move to ease new strains in ties

While Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia captured all the attention,  Singh’s talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao may turn out to be just as important in easing off renewed pressure on the complex relationship between the world’s rising powers.

India said this month it will bolster its defences on the unsettled China border, deploying up to 50,000 troops and its most latest Su-30 fighter aircraft at a base in the northeast.

While upgrading the defences has been a long-running objective, the timing seemed to suggest New Delhi’s renewed fears of “strategic encirclement” by China by deepening ties with all of its neighbours, not just Pakistan but also Sri Lanka and Nepal.

from MacroScope:

Victory for emerging BRICs?

Emerging market ministers, particularly those from the BRIC economies -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- are painting this weekend's G20 meeting as a victory in dragging them out of the shadows of global policy-making.

The finance ministers' statement included the promise of more money for the International Monetary Fund and regional development banks, on whom struggling emerging economies rely for support.

It accelerated a review of IMF quotas by two years to 2011, which should give emerging economies more say in the running of the multilateral lender. It also suggested that the headship of IFIs -- international financial institutions -- would no longer be guaranteed to Americans or Europeans. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India – aiming for diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan?

India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.

According to the Times of India, "India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan's key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting..." The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.

As discussed previously on this blog, in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India's response was to look to the United States to put pressure on Pakistan. It also appears to have won some support from Russia, whose officials said publicly that the attacks were funded by Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don who India says lives in Pakistan. China, Pakistan's traditional ally, supported the United Nations Security Council in  blacklisting the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity accused of being a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba.  China's Foreign Minister has also telephoned his counterparts in India and Pakistan urging dialogue, according to Xinhua

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Russia points to Dawood Ibrahim in Mumbai attacks

Indian newspapers are reporting that Russian intelligence says underworld don Dawood Ibrahim -- an Indian national who India believes is living in Karachi in Pakistan -- was involved in the Mumbai attacks.

The Indian Express quotes Russia’s federal anti-narcotics service director Viktor Ivanov as saying that Moscow believes that Dawood’s drug network, which runs through Afghanistan, was used to finance the attacks. Ivanov said these were a “burning example” of how the illegal drug trafficking network was used for carrying out militant attacks, the paper said, citing an interview in the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The stories caught my eye not just because of the alleged link to Ibrahim, but because it highlights the extent to which Russian and Indian intelligence may be cooperating over Mumbai and on the wider issues over Afghanistan and the heroin trade. (A colleague in our Moscow bureau tells me that Ivanov is close to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and has good connections in the Russian intelligence community.)

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