South Asia

India Rewrites Nuclear Rules

Writing for India’s Mail Today, Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India and a member of EWI’s Board of Directors, assesses the probable impact of the controversial Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, recently passed by the Indian Parliament.

The bill, which finalized the civil nuclear agreements between the United States and India begun under the Bush administration, has drawn heated criticism domestically and internationally -- particularly among U.S. nuclear suppliers. Spurred by collective memory of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, in which thousands of people were killed by poisonous emissions from a pesticides factory, Parliament crafted a bill that would hold suppliers liable in case of nuclear accident. Ordinarily, only operators are held liable.

Much of the controversy over the bill stems from the fact that India is re-writing international civil nuclear law, notes Sibal. But the main thrust of criticism is that suppliers from United States, France and Russia, fearful of risk exposure, will not help bring new nuclear power plants to India. Sibal argues that this is not the case:  “It is not chest-thumping to say that foreign suppliers will find it very difficult to ignore India’s large nuclear market, and ways to adapt to the Indian legislation will eventually be found.”

Some of suppliers’ worst fears about legal repercussion are baseless, according to Sibal: by the new law, a plant’s liability is not automatic, but would need to be established in court, and insurance amounts would be capped at a “tiny percentage” of a nuclear plant’s budget.

Despite critical reception to the bill, Sibal writes that the bill is ultimately a positive indicator for Parliament’s ability to seek consensus through compromise. As for whether India -- the nuclear community’s newest member-- should be able to alter international civil nuclear law, Sibal points out that for better or for worse, it already has.

Click here to read Sibal’s article in Mail Today.

After Pakistan’s Floods

Pakistan’s recent floods have left eight million dependent on aid for survival. The Pakistani government has confirmed that 1,600 people are dead and 2,366 injured, and the country’s disaster agency fears there may well be a “significant rise” in the death toll as waters recede and the numbers of missing are counted. For the flood’s survivors, staying alive and healthy is a challenge. In areas where food is scarce, crowds scuffle at the rare sight of a relief vehicle, leaving women and children vulnerable to stampede and injury. Elsewhere, survivors are exposed to epidemics by a lack of clean drinking water and the presence of huge pools of stagnant water, which breed disease. U.N. officials estimate that 72,000 severely mal-nutritioned children are at high risk of dying. Pakistani officials warn that millions of people face disease and food shortage.

So far, international aid has been directly largely at the crucial task of helping the flood’s victims survive from day to day. But as the flood waves recede, we must recognize that the country faces a tide of unfolding challenges. Only by understanding the economic devastation wrought by the floods can we begin to reckon the kind of long-term assistance Pakistan requires for true recovery.

Pakistan’s struggling economy depends heavily on its huge swathes of rich farmland, much of which has been wiped away by the floods. Water has caused damaged to homes of 4.6 million farmers.  More than 100,000 cattle have perished and seven million hectares of agricultural land are submerged. World Bank president Robert Zoellick estimates that crops worth $US1 billion have been destroyed. For a country where agriculture accounts for more than 21 percent of gross domestic product and employs 45 percent of the labor force, the long-term consequences will be dire, writes The Sunday Telegraph’s Nicola Smith, adding: “For farmers the destruction of crops, cattle and land has crippling financial consequences, plunging many into debt and deep poverty.”

Moreover, floods have inflicted widespread damage on infrastructure. In cities, flood waters have destroyed electricity installations, roads and phone lines.  About 1,000 villages in flood-hit districts of southern Punjab are without power. The destruction could set Pakistan back many years (if not decades), further weaken its feeble civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military. More than 5,000 miles of roads and railways have been washed away, along with some 7,000 schools and more than 400 health facilities, according to the The New York Times.

In the past, friends and allies of Pakistan have asked the country to do more to secure its borders; the flood threatens those efforts. “Pakistan's floods have not just devastated the lives of millions of people, they now present an unparalleled national security challenge for the country, the region and the international community,” The Telegraph’s Ahmad Rashid warns. “Lest anyone under-estimate the scale of the disaster, all four of Pakistan's wars with India combined did not cause such damage. It has become clear this week that, unless major aid is forthcoming immediately and international diplomatic effort is applied to improving Pakistan's relations with India, social and ethnic tensions will rise and there will be food riots.”

While extending a temporary lifeline to rescue the victims may help them survive from one crisis to another, assistance facilitating a gradual recovery is necessary to revive the country’s economy. Such a strategy would see Pakistan’s trade partners easing restrictions and raising import quotas. Allowing greater market access for Pakistan’s textile goods in particular would be a significant step, as the textile sector comprises over 50% of the country’s export and about 40% of the its manufacturing jobs. Additionally, countries importing manpower for their service sector should consider recruiting laborers from Pakistan’s flood-hit area as a means to support the affected families. Such measures will ease the pain of losses and facilitate a smooth rehabilitation.

“The international community needs to be ready to support Pakistan in a lasting manner,” states the European Union’s Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, adding “This will be a significant element for the long-term recovery. A safe, secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in the interests of the EU and the wider international community.” Underlining a sense of urgency, Ashton points out: “You have vast parts of Pakistan affected by floods; it’s immensely, strategically significant, and the situation will sadly get worse and worse. There’s a real need to demonstrate the international community as a whole can react.”

Thus, the pressing question is not only how the international community will provide immediate relief for Pakistan’s 20 million affected people, but whether and how it will mobilize resources for their long-term recovery. The nature of the aid Pakistan receives and how it is used will determine if the nation heads towards decades of dependency or towards a path of recovery, revival and sustainability.

 Mr Abbas spoke on BBC Arabic about the costs and consequences of Pakistan's floods and their national and regional implications. 

Disasters and the Aviation Factor

Writing for The News, EWI board member Ikram Sehgal discusses the importance of disaster relief in light of the floods in Pakistan, and more specifically, the significance of aviation and air power.

In a detailed account of Pakistan’s previous natural disasters, Sehgal analyzes the importance of helicopters, and the high cost of not having enough of these transport vehicles.  Sehgal opens his piece with a discussion of the 1970 cyclone that hit East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, killing 300,000 people.  “The immediate need was helicopters (and more helicopters), followed by boats of all kind,” states Sehgal.

In a description of the necessary disaster relief for the earthquake of 2005, Sehgal explains that accessibility is a critical factor in effective and efficient aid: “The prime factors were simplicity of planning, cutting across red tape, effective implementation, plenty of flexibility and above all, accessibility.”  In the past, 50 per cent of the air powered disaster relief has come from international forces, which sends a negative signal to the citizens of Pakistan about their country’s internal efforts.  “The shortage of helicopters reinforced the adverse perception, both among the intelligentsia and the masses in East Pakistan, of indifference towards them in the face of catastrophic tragedy,” Sehgal writes.

The negative repercussions of a government’s inability to react quickly to natural disasters has larger effects on the country overall.  “That had grave political repercussions, affecting the general elections only 20 days later and one (if not the prime) catalysts leading to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh a year later,” Sehgal says.

In the case of natural disasters such as the current one, the cost of additional air power is far less than the number of lives lost.  “The human cost of not having more helicopters is far too expensive for us to morally sustain,” Sehgal concludes.

Click here to read Sehgal’s piece in The News.

Rising Dragon, but Whither the Tiger?

Writing for, W. Pal Sidhu analyzes China’s economic and military growth in relation to the U.S. and India.  Sidhu argues that China’s biggest challenge will be to maintain its steady economic growth and simultaneously increase its military strength.

“The news last week that China surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy (after the US) coincided with the annual report the US department of defense presents to the US Congress, on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2010,” Sidhu writes.  “This happenstance reflects the direct correlation between China’s growing economic strength and its increasing military might and holds important lessons for many countries, notably India.”

While China’s growth is impressive, Sidhu points out the economic and military differences between the U.S. and China: “On the economic front, China’s annual GDP of around $5 trillion is still one-third of the US’ $14 trillion.” China’s defense budget is pegged at somewhere between $80 billion to $150 billion dollars: “Yet even this high figure dwarfs in comparison with the towering US defence budget of over $650 billion,” Sidhu explains.

China plans to expand its growth through new technologies with a focus on cyber warfare, missiles and space technology, and extended-range power projection capabilities.

Sidhu concludes with by looking at India’s progress and the challenges of its future economic and military growth. “Perhaps the most important lesson is to seek to create a cooperative security arrangement, particularly involving China, so that the prospect of war is eliminated,” he asserts. “This might prove to be the most ambitious challenge of them all.”

Click here to read Sidhu’s article on

Quicken the Pace of Ties with Japan

The conclusion on August 21 of the fourth round of the India-Japan strategic dialogue at Foreign Minister level provides the peg to assess the current state of India-Japan relations. These relations are headed in the right direction, but it has taken time to change their compass and the pace has been tardy. Some of the factors that explain the past aloofness account for the current rapprochement.

Japan’s political and security calculus has been entirely different from that of India all these decades. Japan has depended on the US for its security through a mutual defence treaty whereas nonaligned India has abjured all military alliances. The two countries have not therefore had a shared security perspective. In foreign affairs Japan has followed the US lead, tuning its relations with India to the tenor of India-US relations.

India’s political closeness with the Soviet Union may not have been a contentious element in India-Japan ties bilaterally, but it certainly impinged on Japanese view of India’s role in south east Asia- a primary area for Japan’s post-war economic effort. India’s closed door economic policies until 1991 discouraged a pragmatic build up of mutual economic ties with an economically focused Japan, despite political divergences. When China opened up economically 12 years before us, India lost out in regional economic stakes, as Japan put its investment and trade energy in building a massive relationship with the giant next door.  The nuclear question has bedevilled India-Japan relations more than it need have because of peculiar Japanese sensitivities as the only victim of the actual use of nuclear weapons.

This Japanese squeamishness has seemed politically and morally dubious as Japan has hung on tenaciously to the nuclear weapon guarantee of the very country that martyred it with nuclear devastation. Japan has, with twisted logic, disregarded the nuclear threat to an India without any external nuclear shield from two collaborating nuclear neighbours, and irritatingly lectured India on the virtues of nuclear abstinence.

Major changes- all welcome- have taken place in the quality and content of India-Japan relations in recent years. India’s transformed ties with the US has prompted Japan to modulate its policies toward India. With India and the US stepping up their defence cooperation, India and Japan announced enhanced defence cooperation between them in a joint statement issued during Indian Defence Minister’s visit to Japan in May 2006.   With India and US establishing a strategic partnership, the Indian and Japanese Prime Ministers also announced a Strategic and Global Partnership in December 2006. It envisages stepped-up defence and technological cooperation, annual summit meetings, dialogue between National Security Advisors, a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, working together for the security and safety of international maritime traffic, pursuit of the G-4 agenda for Security Council reform and close collaboration in the East Asia Summit(EAS) as well as in the East Asia Community(EAC).

As India-US understanding has grown, so has India-Japan bonding. In December 2009, during Prime Minister Hatoyama’s visit, a New Stage of Strategic and Global Partnership was announced, with agreement on an Action Plan containing specific measures to advance security cooperation, such as deepening the annual strategic dialogue between the two Foreign Ministers, holding an annual Defence Minister level dialogue, instituting a combined foreign affairs and defence 2+2 dialogue(held in July this year) that Japan has only with two allies- the US and Australia, and, calling, in addition, for an open and inclusive East Asian Community as distinct from China’s exclusivist approach that would   impair India’s Look East Policy.

To put the bilateral relationship on a higher strategic footing, Japan has removed 11 Indian entities from its end-user list, sent its army, naval and air chiefs to India and participated in the trilateral India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercise and a quadrilateral exercise with Australia’s addition that became politically controversial in India because of concerns about it slipping into US led defence arrangements in East Asia and China’s querulousness about the intent of these exercises, which also made Japan and Australia baulk at quadrilateral initiatives involving democracies in Asia.

Japan has tried to manage China’s rise constructively by creating positive economic linkages intended to blunt potential friction through interdependence, emulating US strategy. China no doubt provided a huge new market for Japanese products and investments, doubly important because of Japan’s stagnant economy. But a rising and confident China, with bulging economic, financial and military muscle, has begun to cause concern to neighbours because its political and strategic intentions remain unclear. Japan and China have already had a face off in the South China sea which China now defines as its “core interest”. In this background, as well as saturation limits on Japanese economic expansion in China, India’s value as a strategic partner is obvious. Neither Japan nor India has any intention to antagonize China or pursue any containment policy, and the leaders of both countries have clarified publicy that their security cooperation is not China-oriented, but hedging strategies against a potential China threat even as that country is positively engaged cannot be ignored.

A third driving factor in the Japan-India relationship is, of course, the economic opportunities that Japan’s stagflation ridden economy burdened by unemployment and an aging population sees in a growing and dynamic Indian economy. India and Japan are working on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement(CEPA), and hope to sign it when PM goes to Tokyo this October. CEPA is intended to enhance reciprocal investments and boost the current low levels of India-Japan trade- $13 billion in 2008-2009- far short of the target of $20 billion by 2010. India could potentially serve as a global manufacturing hub for Japanese industry if projects like the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor financed by Japan are accomplished. For India hi-tech trade with Japan holds great promise in the fields of energy efficient technologies, ultra mega power generation projects based on super critical technologies, and new and renewable energy sources like clean coal, solar and nuclear.

The Indo-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver for India has opened doors for India-Japan discussions on a nuclear pact. Japanese companies like Mitsubishi and Hitachi which control GE and Westinghouse would no doubt want to capitalize on India’s commitment to the US for the installation of 10,000 MWs of nuclear power in the country by its companies. The first round of talks on the nuclear nuclear pact has followed discussions on the subject between the Indian and Japanese Prime MInisters at the June 20 Toronto G-20 summit. The pitch has been queered by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki opposing nuclear cooperation with a non-NPT country like India, prompting Foreign Minister Okada  to state publicy at New Delhi on August 21 that he expected Japan’s philosophy of non-proliferation, including suspension if India tested, to figure in appropriate terminology in the agreement, to conclude which no time lines will be drawn- a signal that it is unlikely to be ready by October when PM goes to Tokyo. Ostensibly, Japan wants India to go beyond the  language of the India-US nuclear deal. One cannot see how India can.

The author is a former foreign secretary of India and a member of EWI’s Board of Directors. The article was published in Mail Today.

Strike the Right Balance on Nepal

Writing for India’s Mail Today, Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India and a member of EWI’s Board of Directors, discusses the political and geographical challenges of the power balance between Nepal, India and China.

“As a country wedged between India and Tibet, Nepal has traditionally played the Chinese card against us,” Sibal writes.  “No matter which government is in power there, to a lesser or greater degree our China problem with Nepal will remain.”  There is a constant struggle between Nepal’s sovereignty and India’s expectations for cooperation, preventing a mutual relationship of trust: “The 1950 Treaty, the reality of the open border, the historical, cultural, linguistic and religious ties between the two countries underpin our expectations.” 

As a result of the historically tumultuous relationship between the two countries, Nepal relies heavily on China, an issue of great concern to India with the rise of the Maoist party in Nepal.  “In general, Nepal has been provocatively testing our China-related sensitivities and we have resorted to fire-fighting to counter its moves, without being able to reach a clear understanding on the self-restraint Nepal should voluntarily practice in its dealings with China out of a recognition of the particular nature and the depth of its ties with India.”

The surprising Maoist victory in Nepal’s 2008 election worried India, contributing to the rising tensions between these three countries.  “The Maoists have constituted the most hostile force in Nepal toward India, backed in the past by the Palace to counter the Nepali Congress seen as pro-India,” explains Sibal. 

Given those political developments, India will continue to wrestle with the dilemma of what to do about its neighbor. “How to find the right balance between engagement and non-intervention is a challenging task,” Sibal concludes.

Click here to read Sibal’s article in Mail Today.

Climate Change is our Number One Security Challenge

Saber Hossain Chowdhury has been a member of the Bangladesh Parliament since 1996. He is known for championing human rights and individual liberties in Bangladesh and around the world. He is also Chair of the Bangladesh Parliament’s All Party Group on Climate Change and Environment, First Vice President of Inter Parliamentary Union’s Standing Committee on Peace and International Security, an active member of Parliaments for Non Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and a Member of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association (CPA) Task Force on Climate Change.

PN: What are the current security challenges in Bangladesh?

SC: First and foremost, we’re still fighting poverty and trying to provide the basic necessities such as shelter, food, health services to the vast majority of the population of Bangladesh. So food security is a very important challenge for us. We’re very well aware of the Millennium Development Goals and the attainment of these goals is not easy.

From a regional perspective, one of the greatest positive developments in the South Asia is that we have democratically elected governments in almost all the countries. Another challenge is to preserve and build on the peace that we’ve finally reached, for instance, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh and also in Sri Lanka after years of insurgency. And we should also keep in mind a possibility of a nuclear threat; we have two nuclear powers - India and Pakistan - in the region.

But the most formidable challenge, that Bangladesh faces is how to deal with the impact of climate change, which I consider to be our number one national security challenge.

PN: How does climate change affect Bangladesh?

SC:  The effects are multi-dimensional and of such a magnitude that may not apply to any other country.  The most obvious threat is a sea-level rise. If you take a look at the map of Bangladesh, you will see that we have the largest river delta (the Ganges delta) in the south of Bangladesh. And the estimates are that if the water level rises by one meter, 17 percent of our land in the Ganges Delta will submerge.  It will cause the displacement of around 30 million people. The map of Bangladesh will change dramatically because of the sea level rise.

We also have a threat from the North, which comes from the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, which serve as the water towers for a large part of the South Asia. The glaciers in the Himalayas are melting at an alarming rate, leading to increased flooding in the immediate future. And in the long-term perspective, we might experience water shortages, because the glaciers are the sources of fresh water.

Therefore, the problem becomeshow to share the limited resources with other countries. This  makes the wise management of water resources in the Himalayasa major challenge for regional security.

Another problem is migration.  There are people who are already migrating from coastal areas to Dhaka City because of the sea-level rise. This problem is likely to aggravate as the number of internally displaced people and families grow.
The frequency of extreme weather events has also increased. In the past we used to have big cyclones once in a decade, now we’re having a major cyclone every two to three years. And if we bear in mind that food security is our primary problem, then you see that the cyclones damage crops and disrupt food supplies

This is quite a grim scenario and confirms that climate change poses formidable challenges for security and governance in Bangladesh.  Climate change is both a threat multiplier and a threat accelerator.  What I would like to emphasize is that climate change is not a distant possibility but a reality in Bangladesh.


PN: Are there any regional initiatives among parliamentarians to tackle these security threats in the region?

SC:  There is an organization in South Asia called SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) which provides a framework for joint actions. But, frankly speaking, we haven’t achieved as much progress in this framework.  Bilateral tensions have limited the cooperation.

Hopefully, now that we have democratically elected governments, there will be a qualitative change and we can move forward. Terrorism is a major security concern in the region and Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has proposed the formation of a regional task force to combat terrorism.
In Bangladesh, we’re trying to overcome this problem by creating an All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and Environment.  No matter how different our political programs are, we need a consensus as far as climate change is concerned. I think it’s first necessary to achieve a consensus within each particular country and then see if we can extend this accord in a regional perspective.

PN:  Are you satisfied with the level of the international community’s recognition of your security problems?

SC: I must say that there is a lot of talk but not enough action. The Copenhagen conference was not a success. We are still far away from concluding a legally binding agreement.  There are no commitments to cut emissions substantially and there are fears that the process will become irreversible.

What we desperately need is money for adaptation funds.  Adaptation is the main task for Bangladesh. I think technology transfer is going to be challenging because it can infringe on intellectual property rights, so technology should be made much more easily available. It was agreed in Copenhagen to allocate $30 billion over the next 3 years for immediate mitigation and adaptation needs of the most vulnerable countries but  we haven’t seen a cent from this fund flowing into Bangladesh yet.

This sum, however, is not enough to solve the problems. So the Bangladesh government has showed its commitment to adapt to climate change by creating its own fund. $150 million have already been made available by the government to strengthen the country’s resilience. We’re not just asking other countries for help, but we’re trying to contribute to solving the problem ourselves.  I think the message from Bangladesh is loud and clear – we are not just victims but also leaders in terms of adaptation.

PN:  Speaking about national security problems in Bangladesh, what is the most troublesome region in the country?

SC: I would not pick a certain region in the country. We did have some insurgency in the past in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, whichis peaceful now, the implementation of the Peace Accord remains a challenge for us. The current Government’s zero tolerance policy on terrorism seems to yield good results, which leaves the development agenda and adapting to climate change impacts as the the major concerns.

PN: If we speak about purely military security issues, are there any parliamentary initiatives on the regional level to deal with them?

SC:  There is still no official framework for that so far but there is an ongoing discussion to engage more parliamentarians on a regional basis. Since we didn’t have much of parliamentary democracy before and the institution of democracy is relatively new, this process is going slowly. But we hope that we will be able to network more frequently with parliamentarians and people’s representatives from other South Asian countries in the next couple of years.

PN:  Is there any official committee within the Bangladesh Parliament that deals specifically with conflict prevention?

SC: We don’t have a committee that is directly involved in conflict prevention. But as I’ve mentioned before, our number one security problem is climate change, so we discuss security issues in the All-Party Group on Climate Change. Since it’s an all-party group, we are trying to reach a certain level of consistency in implementing the relevant policy no matter what reshuffling occurs in the government. The Bangladesh Parliament has supported the UN SG’s Five Point Plan on Non Proliferation and Disarmament through a unanimous resolution, making Bangladesh the first country to have made the important linkage between disarmament, development and climate change.

PN: Is this All Party Group involved in any joint actions with other parliaments?

SC: We have been cooperating with the UK’s House of Commons. We combined our resources to produce a Joint Report on climate change, which was launched in Copenhagen during COP15. We have also been active in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Task force on Climate Change. We plan to keep on working with the British parliament in the future. The European Union is also actively involved in a climate security agenda, so we hope to be able to get in touch with MPs from the European Parliament on this issue as well.

PN:  You’re familiar with the scope of activities of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention. How do you think the Network can help Bangladesh to tackle its security problems?

SC: I think it’s just very important to get together and begin networking and discussing. And it’s very important to engage parliamentarians as elected representatives of the people, not just the representatives of the executive branch.

Besides, parliamentarians exercise an important function of supervising the allocation of resources. Once the adaptation fund, for example, is available for Bangladesh, the MPs will have to make sure that the money allocated will reach people that need it most. And speaking more generally, MPs in all countries, from Bangladesh to the U.S., are responsible to ensure that funds are spent properly.

More interaction, dialogue and networking amongst parliamentarians can thus only be positive, constructive and beneficial for all.

PN: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Chowdhury.

Still Surreal on Pakistan

Writing for, W. Pal Sidhu analyzes the recently released Country Reports on Terrorism 2009, focusing on the U.S. assessment of terrorist affiliations. Its biggest failing, Sidhu maintains, is that it overlooks the threat of terrorism in Pakistan.

“The report, mandated by the U.S. Congress, is supposed to present an authoritative assessment of the threat posed to the U.S. by non-U.S. terrorist groups as well as countries designated as ‘state sponsors of terrorism.’”  Sidhu points out.  However, the report effectively absolves Pakistan from its known compliance with terrorist groups.

In contrast, the report lists Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” based on the presence of three banned terrorist groups in Sudanese territory.  “By this logic, Pakistan—home to at least five of the banned terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, and consistently found wanting in its ability to rid its territory of these groups—would be an obvious candidate for that label,” explains Sidhu.  In addition, the report fails to acknowledge the fragility of the Pakistani state after its devastating floods

Sidhu points out that the U.S. war in Afghanistan could be the reason Pakistan escaped severe criticism, and ultimately the label of a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

“Even the most benign interpretation that the State Department was blissfully unaware of Pakistan’s links with terrorism is troubling, especially as this was public knowledge even before WikiLeaks,” Sidhu concludes.  “While all of this might well explain the surrealist nature of the report, it cannot justify it.”

Click here to read Sidhu’s article on

Recalling Asian History and Making It

Greg Austin wrote this piece for his weekly column in New Europe.

As Europeans head for the beaches and mountains over summer, they might recall anniversaries this week of two major events some 65 years ago – the opening of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 on 17 July and the first test of the atomic bomb in Alamogordo New Mexico the previous day.

At the Cecilienhof Palace in Germany, Truman, Churchill and Stalin met to map out the future of Europe after the Second World War and to show Allied unity in the final stages of the war against Japan. Many of the agreements signed then shaped the course of history in Europe for the generations that followed. But the conference also set the course of events in Asia in the coming decade. The Declaration signed by the three war-time allies was in fact about ending the war in Asia, where all three had territorial interests and geopolitical ambitions.

The first article said that Japan would be given an opportunity to end the war, and the second warned that “The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan.”  The ultimatum called for the unconditional surrender of Japan and, if it did not, threatened the “prompt and utter destruction of Japan”.

The Allies did not need the atomic bomb to make such a threat. The fire bombing of Tokyo over just two days in March destroyed almost 300,000 buildings and killed almost 100,000 people. Bombings led by Air Force General Curtis LeMay destroyed more than 50 per cent of all building in 30 Japanese cities in the six months before Potsdam. But the United States did use the atomic bomb just days after the Potsdam Conference concluded.

Well, 65 years later, the Americans and Europeans are still making history in Asia, and in some of its most remote parts. In Kabul on 20 July, the Afghanistan government will host the first ever international conference of its kind in the country itself on national reconstruction and development. According to the Afghanistan government, the meeting of more than seventy countries “marks a new phase in Afghanistan’s engagement with the international community”. One aim is to “mobilize international confidence and resources for a new generation of “bankable” national programs”, albeit in accordance with “ President Karzai’s inaugural speech of November 2009”. The clear message of that speech was that the future security of Afghanistan will be determined more by what the people of Afghanistan and neighboring countries want, rather than by the United States or its NATO allies. That is of course the ideal. What the Afghanistan government would prefer is that those distant countries retreat from political interference in the country while still providing aid. President Karzai is more comfortable with support from Asian countries.

Japan and the Asian Development Bank each provide more aid to Afghanistan then the European Commission, while India, Iran, Pakistan, the UAE and China are also important donors. But the UK provides more and military forces than any Asian country and the United States contribution to civilian is more than ten times that of the top Asian donor, Japan.

The question Asia’s leaders must ponder going into the Kabul Conference is just how much they want their region’s history to continue to be shaped so profoundly from Washington and London. Many Asians are comfortable with the “old” powers playing this role. But 65 years after the beginning of the end of imperialism and colonialism, wealthy Asian governments need to get organized among themselves and shoulder more responsibility for regional security.


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