This article was originally published in The Hans India, a Hyderabad-based newspaper, here on August 24, 2016. 

As India celebrates the success of PV Sindhu at Rio Olympics, many have rightly pointed out at the outstanding contribution made by her Coach Pullela Gopichand in nurturing talents like her and many others. Gopichand has indeed been at the forefront of this revolution of sorts in Indian Badminton. His academy at Hyderabad has produced champions in the sport who have won laurels and medals for the country. But Gopi, as he is popularly known, should not be looked at as only a Badminton Coach. He is, in every sense of the word, a change-agent.

In a country that never forgets to lament the poor quality of its sporting infrastructure every four years when the Olympics is held, Gopi is among the few rare personalities who dared to challenge the status quo. As a champion sportsperson himself he was always aware of the limitations of the country’s sporting facilities. But what sets him apart from many others who merely acknowledge the problem is his intention and grit to step forward to change the way things are done. He has shown us that the buck need not always stop with the government. Rather, as someone who understands the game as well as the systemic structure around it, he took it upon himself to set up a world-class facility that could support and help the next generation of Badminton players achieve what he had missed out in Sydney, an Olympic medal.

Gopi’s contribution to Indian Badminton therefore goes much beyond just coaching or mentoring. He has donned multiple roles, that of a fund-raiser, administrator, strategist, besides a coach. He has established an eco-system that will help the game to thrive for generations to come. The laurels that players like PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have brought to the country have already ignited the interest and passion of Indians towards Badminton. The kind of excitement that gripped the nation when Sindhu played her final match was simply phenomenal. People coming out on the streets to watch and celebrate a non-cricket sporting event has always been a rarity in the past. But in the recent years, we have seen glimpses of attitudinal change, thanks to a generation of Olympic stars like from Vijender Singh to PV Sindhu. It is only when we have facilitators like Gopi that stars like these emerge.

There is no denying the preeminent role that the government ought to play in improving the sporting scene in the country, but the case of Gopichand shows how individuals too can make a lasting impact. Gopi’s symbiotic relationship with the government shows that government structures are not always as rigid as we think. In fact, the sort of intervention that he has made in the system should be an inspiration for people in any field or sector, even beyond sports. We are a country that knows and reiterates its problems well, be it potholes on the roads or shortfall of jobs for a growing population. What we really need are change-agents like Gopichand who take ownership in their respective field of expertise and lead the country in the right direction.

Kamal Madishetty is a research associate at Vision India Foundation, New Delhi and an alumnus of IIT Guwahati.

The article was originally published in the Swarajya magazine here on 21 August 2015. 

In the wake of the recent gruesome attacks in Afghanistan – many allegedly traced back to Pakistan, the question many in the Afghan government and civil society are asking is, has President Ghani’s outreach to Islamabad failed? And if it has, what is the alternative now – especially in dealing with the Taliban?

The recent wave of attacks in Kabul saw at least 65 people killed and hundreds severely injured. The attacks began, on August 7, with a suicide bomber detonating explosives outside the National Police Academy killing at least 27 students. Then, a truck laden with explosives blew up killing 15 people and injuring 240 in Shah Shaheed area of Kabul following which an assault on Camp Integrity, a NATO military facility, killed nine, including a US soldier. Three days later, another five people were killed and 16 others injured when a suicide bomber attacked the main entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The gruesome attacks have evoked strong reactions from the Afghan government and civil society. President Ashraf Ghani in his televised address to the nation blasted Pakistan for its role in the attacks and said, “Pakistan still remains a venue and ground for gatherings from which mercenaries send us messages of war”. In a rare public rebuke of the neighbour, Ghani slammed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban insurgents in their 14-year war against Kabul. “The last few days have shown that suicide-bomber training camps and bomb-producing factories that are killing our people are as active as before in Pakistan,” he said.

Further, Afghan government’s CEO Dr.Abdullah Abdullah, in his interaction with the council of ministers, said that elements who commit crimes in Afghanistan are being financed and armed in neighboring Pakistan. He also criticised Pakistan for not making the peace process result-oriented.

The Afghan Intelligence – National Directorate of Security (NDS) has said that specific elements within the Pakistani army were behind the deadly attacks in capital Kabul, gesturing towards the country’s military intelligence – Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The Haqqani terrorist network, nurtured by Pakistan, is also said to be involved in the attacks.

The attacks have come in just weeks after the Parliament attack in Kabul on June 22, which killed five people and injured 30 others. The NDS had reported then that the attack was masterminded by Mawlawi Shireen, the military commander of Haqqani network, allegedly with financial and logistical support provided by Bilal who is an officer of the ISI. It was also alleged that some 75 lakh of Pakistani rupees was spent on the Parliament attack.

Besides sponsoring and planning attacks inside Afghanistan, Pakistani military is also claimed to have been involved in direct attacks on the Af-Pak border, in spite of Afghanistan’s multiple protests at the diplomatic level. The border provinces of Kunar, Paktika and Nangarhar have all come under rocket and mortar attacks in the past two months, with as many as 43 missiles hitting areas in Kunar alone.

Earlier this week, Pakistani military is said to have attacked an Afghan police outpost in Narai District of Kunar resulting in atleast 13 casualties. The aggression by Pakistan Army on its Western border has been concomitant with its repeated ceasefire violations on the Eastern LoC with India. In another disturbing report, Interior Minister Noorul Haq Ullomi said that Pakistan is sending armed individuals disguised as Islamic State (IS) fighters to destabilise the country. In the worn torn country of Afghanistan, the arrival of IS has already caused great complication in the security scenario. With Pakistan trying to exploit this situation, stability in Afghanistan might become all the more elusive.

The general sentiment seems to be that Pakistan can never be trusted to bring peace. It was no surprise therefore that ever since President Ashraf Ghani reached out to Pakistan, after coming to power in September 2014, he has been coming under severe criticism at home and beyond. Civil society organisations in Afghanistan such as the Civil Movement for Social Justice have said that the government has failed to devise an effective foreign policy to deal with Pakistan. But in less than a year, Ghani seems to have finally understood why his people were never optimistic about his outreach to Pakistan as he is finally saying things which his people want him to.

Pakistan, on its part, is unwilling to let go of its ‘strategic assets’ – in the form of Taliban and other terrorist groups – any time soon, despite all the rhetoric that they support a stable Afghanistan. Despite Ghani banking nearly all his political capital on Pakistan to compel Taliban get to peace talks, Islamabad has at best responded with optics and hyperboles. Violence continues to wreck people’s lives in almost every corner of the country even as the so-called peace talks with Taliban are underway, raising fundamental questions on the effectiveness of such engagements to bring any peace. In fact this year’s fighting season has turned out to be the bloodiest ever, with the Taliban carrying out attacks and taking control of several districts even in the north.

However, with the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death creating fissures within the Taliban, Ghani has an opportunity to turn the tables. He must use this moment of epiphany to course correct his approach to Pakistan and the Taliban. With Pakistan’s unabashed involvement in multiple attacks on Afghan soil coming out to the fore, the Afghan government would do well to talk tough and put pressure, both bilaterally and internationally, on Pakistan to rein in its state and non-state actors.

Commentators in Afghanistan have urged their government to turn to the UN Security Council for redress by exposing the depth of Pakistan’s destabilising activities. The role of international community is indeed crucial if Pakistan is to be made accountable for its actions, else violence in Afghanistan would continue to wreak havoc in the region.

This article was originally published in the US-based International Policy Digest here on 4 August 2015. 

On 29 June 2015, it was the first anniversary of the establishment of a ‘caliphate’ by the Islamic State, also known as the ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh. The Islamic State today holds a territory roughly equal to the size of the UK and commands a force of 30,000 fighters, besides being a fast growing ideological brand. It collects taxes and, according to some reports, has its own currency.

Throughout the past one year or more, IS has shown no hesitation in aggressive expansion – in terms of capturing territory on the ground, inspiring terrorism, and spreading its ideology across the world through a well-funded web and social media campaign. According to the 2014 Global Terrorism Index, it is one of the few terrorist groups that are responsible for the majority of death and destruction caused by terrorism in the past year. It has attracted youth from over 100 countries to join its ranks in Iraq and Syria, and inspired several other terrorist groups to swear allegiance to it including those which were previously associated with the Al-Qaeda. It has claimed attacks in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, as well as the recent bombing of a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and the concomitant ‘lone wolf’ attacks in Tunisia and France. Further, IS has threatened those Islamic organisations which it feels have not been stringent enough in their religious enforcement, such as Hamas in Palestine.

It is not hard, therefore, to predict similar gains for IS in the war torn Afghanistan. To those young Taliban fighters who may be disillusioned or marginalised by their leadership, IS offers a new brand of extremism. The Islamic State thus wasted no time before it begun tapping into this potential in Afghanistan, just as it did elsewhere. In December 2014, the group made it clear that it would expand into the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. In January this year, it was declared that the IS will establish the Khorasan province in the region as part of its larger caliphate. It even announced the leadership that would take the movement forward.

There have been several incidents involving the IS-affiliated militants in Afghanistan, who have been fighting against both the Afghan security forces and the Afghan Taliban, since the Khorasan declaration. The eastern Nangarhar province has emerged as the hotbed of Islamic State’s activity, where there have been heavy clashes between the Taliban and IS-affiliated militants. On June 16, the Taliban in a letter addressed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi warned IS to stay out of Afghanistan. It insisted that that the jihad against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under “one flag and one leadership” and urged IS to stop recruiting in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government has also been taking note of IS related activity. President Ghani has constantly articulated, especially during his foreign visits, the need to check the rise of IS in Afghanistan. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) formed a Special Force to exclusively combat IS and has seen at least some successes since then. The US’s drone strikes have also been successful in targeting and killing IS commanders and fighters.

But with the weakening of Taliban following the confirmation of ‘Amir-ul Momineen’ Mullah Omar’s death, IS has got an opportunity to bounce back. While Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor has been declared as the new supreme leader of Taliban, a section within the Taliban wants Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqoob to be the successor instead. This growing rift between the Taliban cadres might lead to a breakup of the group which would allow the Islamic State to re-launch itself among the young Taliban fighters and carve out its own sphere of influence in the region. The IS has in fact alreadyclaimed a breakthrough in its efforts to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. Their spokesman for Khorasan province has claimed that pledges of allegiance to Islamic State are taking place across the country.

The Islamic State’s trajectory in Afghanistan would be clearer once the current fighting season ends and different parties of the conflict take stock of the damage suffered and gains made. However, if the recent trends are any indicators of the future, the security situation in Afghanistan is headed to take a complicated turn that would further test the resolve and already dwindling resources of the Afghan government and security forces.

The outreach to Pakistan that President Ghani embarked upon after coming to power has clearly paid no dividends, at least until now. Pakistan is unwilling to let go of its ‘strategic assets’ – in the form of various terrorist groups – any time soon, despite all the rhetoric that they support a stable Afghanistan. Violence continues to wreck people’s lives in almost every corner of the country even as the so called talks with Taliban are underway, raising fundamental questions on the effectiveness of such engagements to bring any peace. In fact this year’s fighting season has turned out to be the bloodiest ever, with the Taliban carrying out attacks and taking control of several districts even in the north. Stepping into such turmoil is another deadly player, the Islamic State.

Saddled with challenges of corruption, illicit drug trade, illegal mining and pending electoral reforms, besides the rapidly deteriorating security situation across the country, the Afghan Unity government is finding it increasingly difficult to meet any of its objectives.

This article was originally published in The Diplomat Magazine here on 24 July 2015 and was re-published by Gateway House here on 29 July 2015. 

As the world prepares for the crucial negotiations of COP 21 to be held in Paris this December, where an agreement is expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new framework that limits the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, India has been showing a renewed interest – and confidence – in leading the talks.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his diplomats to “shed old mindsets” and said India must take the lead in countering the challenge of climate change. Some three months later, India’s Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian gave a glimpse of India’s strategy for Paris and signaled a confident approach. It is interesting, therefore, to consider what kind of role India, a key player, is likely to have during the negotiations in Paris.

With a business-friendly government, India today is looking to begin writing an economic growth story that will enable it to lift millions of its citizens out of poverty. Achieving this aspiration will require high and sustained economic growth that is buttressed by a sound strategy for energy security. Unlike China or the East Asian Tigers, though, India will have to pursue economic development alongside significant commitments toward climate change action. But herein lies an opportunity, to choose a path of development that unlike the Chinese approach doesn’t have to be environmentally painful. India can save its population from the harmful effects of the unchecked exploitation of energy resources such as coal. Moreover, as India is home to some of the most vulnerable areas and people when it comes to climate change impacts, policies need not be seen as obligations alone, but as voluntary actions that will help save its people and environment. In the summer of 2015 alone, India has seen more than 1,800 deaths linked to heatwave conditions. Neighboring Pakistan also saw over 800 deaths due to a heatwave around the Sindh region. Reports have suggested that these conditions can be largely attributed to the effects of climate change. There were also reports that climate change stalled the monsoon this year. In recent years, these extreme weather conditions have become increasingly prevalent in South Asia and will only become more so unless strong climate measures are taken urgently.

In an article published by the Indian Express in May this year, Arvind Subramanian gave a backgrounder to India’s approach in Paris. He explained that the setback to climate change action that came in the form of a large decline in international energy prices could have been dealt with in a much better way had governments taken offsetting actions to impose taxes on petroleum products. India has done well on this front: It increased taxes while advanced countries preferred to pass on the benefits of price reductions to consumers and producers. Subramanian noted that India has taken a number of positive actions to combat climate change, which include increasing the excise duty on petrol and diesel, quadrupling the coal cess from Rs.50 per ton to Rs.200 per ton, and unveiling Modi’s ambitious plan to ramp up the production of solar energy from 20 Gigawatts currently to 100 GW by 2022.

It is encouraging from the Indian point of view that U.S. President Barack Obama during his meeting with the Indian prime minister in January agreed to help finance this planned $100 billion expansion of solar power in the next seven years. With its recent actions, India seems to be pushing hard to achieve its solar power objectives. Solar power projects are being encouraged and accelerated in a big way and the country is moving on track to become one of the largest solar markets in the world. Even Indian Railways is looking to chip in, starting trials of solar powered trains last month. It is also planning to come out with a solar policy for procuring 1000 MW solar power in the next five years.

India has also been aggressively looking to ramp up its nuclear power capacity. From operationalizing the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement to striking nuclear cooperation pacts with countries like Russia, France, Canada and Australia, New Delhi seems to be taking steps to achieve its target of 14,600 MW nuclear capacity on line by 2020. Additionally, if India manages to accede to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it would raise the bar for the country’s nuclear power capacity even higher.

In light of these government initiatives, India is poised to take a much more confident and dominant role in the climate change negotiations in December. India has set an example of newer types of climate change action that could be employed by other countries and that could also be included in the general global framework. For a successful meet in Paris, India, as one of the most important stakeholders, will clearly need to be in accord with the world’s advanced countries. For this to happen, all sides must reach out and help each other, quite literally, to combat the common challenge of climate change. The recent acknowledgements from the developed world of India as an important partner are welcome. There is a new vigor and willingness to partner India constructively in green initiatives such as the Global Apollo Programme – a plan to find ways within the next 10 years to make green energy clean cheaper to produce than energy drawn from coal, gas or oil. Such partnerships, technology transfers, and collaborations would go a long way in increasing the confidence and trust among the developed and developing world. That in turn will make it easier to find common ground for climate change action.

UN-flagsInternational Relations, as Madeleine Albright (Former US Secretary of State) famously said in February this year, is not like a game of chess, where people sit quietly, thinking out their strategy, taking their time between moves. It is rather more like a game of billiards, with a bunch of balls clustered together.

‘International Relations’ is by far one of the most imprecise disciplines in the Social Sciences. It is a bag of assertions as well as contradictions. Over the span of its existence as an academic field of study, it has seen the embodiment of several ideas into theories and counter-theories. In recent times, there has also been an effort to bring to light those ideas which pre-date the known ones and have been waiting to be uncovered from years if not centuries.

In the realm of International Relations, amidst the disagreements and contestations, there exist some key objects that need to be studied. The tremendous importance that these objects hold is something that, in a lot of cases, cuts across the boundaries of different ideologies and theories. The first and foremost actor is the State or Nation-State. “The nation-state is the central actor in the international system. Not everyone agrees with this premise. There is growing evidence that sub-state and transnational actors and forces in the international system are increasing in importance, and, in many cases, challenging the cohesiveness and effectiveness of national governments. Nonetheless, the nation-state appears unlikely to surrender its preeminent position in the international system anytime soon” (Bartholomees Jr., July 2004). In the realist point of view, State is the single most important actor. It suggests that to understand global politics one must simply study the States and their quest for security and power . Even Liberalism, which is though a proponent of Individualism, recognizes the importance of State as the key player in International Relations.

The second important object is Power. Power may not tangibly exist in itself, but is still an important object that shapes the relations between nations of the world. Hans J. Morgenthau in his book ‘Politics Among Nations’ says, “International politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power”. While Realism projects Power as something that is fiercely sought after by the Nation-States, Neo Liberalism uses this object in a different way. Neo liberals claim that Power can sometimes end up stabilizing the world if it exists in certain ways or patterns, as the case of hegemonic stability provided by the US post-cold war. Thus, it is very useful to study the power equations in world politics in order to understand the behaviour of States and consequently, the relations between States.

The third object is IGO, i.e., International Governmental Organization. While United Nations is the paramount IGO in the world, successful regional organizations like the European Union and ASEAN have also gained huge prominence in understanding the way the nations are interacting today. Some other existing regional groupings in world are the NATO, African Union, SAARC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Function specific organizations exist too, such as IMF, NAFTA, GATT, WTO, WB, OPEC, Artic Council, etc. Organizations, such as those mentioned here, are pivotal in the understanding global politics from the view point of neo liberalism. This is evident, for example, from an influential article published in 1995 by Robert Keohane and Helen Milner titled, “The Promise of Institutionalist Theory.”

Soft Power is another object of interest in the field of international relations. Soft Power differs from Hard Power in that it does not deal with the material interests and capabilities, but rather focuses on ideas, identities and perceptions. The importance of Soft Power is in a way stressed upon by the Constructivists who believe that social reality is not assumed to be given, but is constructed. It is important how States see each other, and how people of one State see the other State, its culture and ideas.

Apart from the objects mentioned above, there are other objects which may not be in the core of studying international relations but nevertheless have become increasingly important factors influencing world politics. Firstly, there has been a surge in the number of International NGOs like Amnesty International, Transparency International, Green Peace, etc., since the end of World War II. They have a huge impact on both domestic and foreign policies of several nations. Secondly, giant MNCs for example Google, Microsoft, Unilever, JP Morgan Chase, etc., who are major players in today’s globalized world also play a role in influencing the decisions of many nations. Thirdly, there also exist some religious and ethnic organizations which have joined the world stage. Lastly, we also see many terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or more recently the ISIS, who have increasingly made their presence felt in the international space.

Manthan Times

Posted: September 23, 2012 in IIT Guwhati
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It is that time of the year again! Yes, it’s time for MANTHAN, the annual inter hostel cultural championship of IIT Guwahati. Famously called “the best time of the year!” by the IIT-G junta, Manthan is the time where new friendships are made, loyalties tested, and most of all, the entire campus comes to a stand-still  and watches the spectacle unfold! Music, dance, drama, fine arts, debate, you name it, we have it!

My tryst with Manthan has been a memorable one. As a freshman, I was completely spell bound by this cultural showcase. It instantly became my favourite event in the IIT-G calendar and rightly so. I was part of the dance team of Umiam for the two editions of 2010 and 2011 and have some really wonderful memories of that time! Apart from dance,   I was also involved with a lot other events. In my second year, I had the honour of managing the Literary Team of my hostel as the Literary Secretary. The talented debate team of Umiam, our amazing writers and poets all helped put up Umiam’s best ever performance in literary module last year. Sleepless nights, midnight fried maggi, unlimited bakar, funde pelna, the self-motivation on the d-day, the wild hooting, everything about this Mahabharat of hostels is unforgettable.

Although the participation and enthusiasm of the people involved in Manthan is immense, there are some serious issues that should be looked into. It would not be going overboard to say that the Cultural Board, atleast in the last edition had failed to put up a transparent show. There were several grievances from across different hostels about the organizing and judging of the competition. There were clear miscalculations and errors in the judging sheets of some events. And this is NOT a rumour but something that I have seen for myself along with cultural secretaries and other representatives of different hostels. Irrespective of whether or not these errors would bring a change in the final standings, it clearly shows the kind of irresponsibility that prevailed in the organizers of Manthan 2011.

There is also another issue that was and will be a cause of concern in future, the quality of judges. Manthan, for a lot of people like me, is the best time of the year. The magnitude of effort put in by students of IIT-G is known to all. But unfortunately the results don’t reflect the actual performances of the respective hostels, atleast in some of the events. Infact, last year we’ve had sleeping judges and even judges who went for a walk in the middle of the performances in some events. This is disheartening as well as discouraging as the hostels put in a lot of effort. All those sleep-less nights better be valued by the organizers. The quality of judging is big question mark.

There is a serious call for transparency and efficiency in the organizing of such events where you have people putting their heart and soul into. The dedication and spirit showed by the junta deserves much better than this. I heartily hope that the Cultural Board will do a better job this time round and make Manthan 2012 a controversy-free and fair edition!

The First Post

Posted: September 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

My first post finally arrives! It’s been a long wait this! (Not for you the reader, but for me!) I’ve wanted to start off with my blog for quite some time now. Finally, I make the inception! The purpose of my posts will be to use this as a medium for voicing my thoughts and opinions about various issues around me, the places I see, and the world in general. I am of the firm belief that every opinion must be grounded in facts and evidence. I therefore place a high premium on objectivity and hope this would be reflected in my articles. I am person of truly varied interests, so expect anything from me!

That’s enough said. Not bad for a first post, is it? 😀

Watch this space! 😉