Thursday, October 15, 2009

Needless heartburn in India over a reported dam in Southern Tibet, BUT...

....what's the harm, especially when our Know Alls did not even know about the dam over the Indus built in 2004!!

The first picture is of a dam over the Indus built by the Chinese. It is a dam that exists. The first picture is taken from Google Earth. The second is taken by me of Demchog. The big buildings are part of an optimistic market built by the Chinese in their part of Demchog. The electricity produced by that dam has come till Tashigong, about 15 kms beyond this Demchog.

Unlike the so called dam the Indian Express front paged in an article in its 15th October, 2009 edition that China is supposed to be building over the Brahmaputra in the Nanshan Prefecture of Tibet, this one over the Indus exits. Yet, there have been many worried analyses of this yet-to-be-confirmed construction, and our . Funny isn't it? The Chinese have denied it, and these reports are at best speculative.

This dam can not hurt India as 80% of the waters of the Mighty Brahmaputra are picked up after it enters India.

The Mighty Brahmaputra as it makes an 'S' Bend when it enters India below Spur Top is a smallish river. After that it picks up considerable waters from the Yangsang Chu at Jidu, the Siyom and the Sipi at Yembung and several others before it leaves the hills at Passighat. Around this place it more than doubles its size with the waters from the Lohit and the Dibong. After that its right bank gets the Himalayan rivers like the massive Subansisiri, the wide Kamala, the Rong, the Kameng (Bharoli), Aie, the Saralbhanga and about forty others. Its south bank too gets waters from copious rivers like the Burhi Dihing, Namdang, Dhansiri, Kalang, Kopili, Digaru, Bajbala and thirty others. These make the Mighty Brahmaputra the size that it is. Not Chinese waters.

BUT, what is more worrisome is that since 2004 China had built a run-of-the-river largely earthen dam across the Indus. It is only 100 kms or so away from the India-China border at Demchog (Ladakh), and no one has as yet mentioned it even!

It provides water for civic and agricultural needs in the Ngari Khorsum province of Western Tibet. It gives electricty for 24 hrs and round the year for the fast expanding and developed towns of Ngari and Shiquanhe (Ali in Tibetan). The former is just 15 kms west of the dam and the latter is 25 kms NNE of it.

Even though the Indus at this point and even after it has entered India at Demchog is a fledgling river there is no excuse for our spies and their latest devices not to have detected that a dam was being built more than 5 years ago. The Indus is even more of a small stream, than the Brahmaputra when it enters India, where this dam has been built. It is before its confluence with the Gargunsa Chu- the river that comes past Gartok, the ancient trading centre of Western Tibet and now a thriving electrified busy town.

Does not say much for the observation capacity of the intelligent people trained to be on the look out for just such a development, amongst others! What is worrying is not that the dam has been built, for what is wrong in building a run-of-the-river dam, but that our snoops were not able to discover that it was being built and later that it had been built! And our usually alert and alrmist journalists too are ignorant about it! This dam has subsequently been mentioned in a book called "The Empires of the Silk Road".

The picture above is of Chang la or Dumchulle La, which is since October 1962 with China. The International Border runs along the ridge. The Chinese have got territory well inside India. More than 20 kms of it here. At the base of the spur to the right is a large Chinese market selling Chinese goods. The annual turnover of this market is reportedly more than Rs. 100 crores. The customers are the Indian Changpas- the nomadic shepherds who hop from one ribo (camp) to another with their flocks of pashm goats. The markets in Nyoma, Leh etc aree filled with what they buy here. The considerate shopkeepers sell goods on credit and do not mind waiting for months for money to be paid. This market is a source of information. And, many of the Changpas who come here are supposed to bring back information to their handlers in Dungti, Loma Bend and Kiari etc. In October 2003 when this picture was taken by me I had heard reprots from some Changpas that a dam was being built over the Indus. I am sure that such reports must have been received by the intelligence agencies too. Yet, we were completely ignorant of its construction. And even now are. Dumchulle is on the right bank of the Indus and not far from the recently revived airport at Fukche, near Koyul.

That is why the status quo of this picture above has not troubled any one since October 1962!

This is of the Indus near Umlung, 20 kms before Demchog, in Ladakh. The other bank of the Indus is in Chinese hands. The International Border ought to be the Thag La pass 20 kms further and seen here. It is on the southern side of the watershed and yet instead of taking back this singularly unacceptable occupation all that we can think of is- Aksai Chin (about 45,000 sq kms), which is as impossible for us to acquire as it is for the Chinese to even dream about getting Arunachal. There are more than 5000 sq kms of Ladakh, on the southern side of the watershed, that is occupied by the Chinese since October 1962, and this vast almost continuous swath is not even being mentioned at negotiations.

Romesh Bhattacharji

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Afghanistan, the United Nations and Peter Galbraith

Every one who can read has heard of Afghanistan and the United Nations.
How many have heard of Peter Galbraith? I had not till September, 2009.
He was till a week or so ago the United Nations' Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.
What I did not know was that he was the only gutsy and principled official that the UN had. Now he has gone. Made to leave within six months of joining at Kabul. It only proves that the UN will remain a shadowy organisation lurking around the fringes of power and supporting status quo, when change is what is needed.

Especially in Afghanistan. The recent monumental fraud in Afghanistan, blessed by the UN as an election, if consecrated will make Afghanistan uncontrollable. This is what Peter Galbraith had protested about. He had said that most of the votes cast for President Karzai were fake. He also accused Norwegian Kai Eide, his senior, of failing to act upon evidence of electoral fraud.
Mr Eide responded by saying he had the full backing of the international community and the US administration, which does not mean that Mr. Eide, the International Community or the US Administration are right. Infact the last two have a history of being wrong as far as Afghanistan is concerned.

Everyone in Afghanistan knows that ballot papers in nearly every polling booth were stuffed with fake votes for Karzai. Most election observers knew about it. And yet neither the International community nor the UN uttered a squeak, till Peter Galbraith legitimised all the rumours. Well done.

Nothing less could be expected of the son of John Kenneth Galbraith. I wish him well, for with such principles he will have many opponents.
If Karzai returns there will be a "slim possibility of peace and the probability of a longer, wider, more dangerous war."- quoting Richard Tanter — out of context. Romesh Bhattacharji

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Afghan Narcotics Tangle- Old sins cast long shadows

Many seasoned heads from across the world have been banging against Afghanistan’s hard narcotics wall. Only these heads have suffered.

Not the Taleban, who continue to profit from opium production. As they had done when they were supported by the US in the 90s and till that craven appreciation was given to them for supposedly banning opium production in early 2001. After 9/11 the Taleban were in disgrace and dumped. Not all of them. Old ties still bound the US policy makers to some of the Taleban and Mujahideen. These rogue elements were accommodated in the new administration headed by Karzai, an ex-Taleban himself. That is the reason why the too optimistic clamour for victory has now been replaced by a resigned acceptance of the stench of collusion. That is why narcotics, which funds the Taleban, is here to stay.
Despite UNODC publishing inaccurate, self advancing, self deluding and self congratulatory reports giving the impression that all is well and under control. This year they have shown a 20% decline in opium poppy production, which they attribute to their efforts. It is not so. It is because of bad weather that Afghanistan produced less opium this year. Their methodology, which has always been vague, is not given in the 2009 Afghanistan Report. The UNODC experts are silent about error margins too.

They and others are repeating the mistakes of 2001 when they allowed oil politics (the UNODC Chief Mr. Pino Arlachi had most unusually met American oil executives on several occasions in 200 and 2001) to give a certificate of merit to the Taleban for not growing opium. This was the Occidental driven campaign to give a clean chit to the Taleban so that a pipeline could bring gas cheaply from Tukmenistan, through Western Afghanistan, to Pakistan and then to the recipient countries. This was the inspiration behind the sly move to give the Taleban a clean chit. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for these countries to have even the thought of dealing with the repugnant Taleban accepted by their citizens. They had forgotten at that time that there were other objectionable things about the horrid Taleban like women bashing, mutilating and murder.

However, its Narcotics that I will stick to. Today’s narcs headache is because of the earlier shoddy conciliatory policies followed by the Western powers that encouraged this explosion of opium production in that blighted country.

During the end years of the maligned Najibullah Government in Afghanistan only 10,000 hectares were under opium poppy cultivation in 1986. This means an anticipated production of about 300 tons at most as at that time the yield per hectare was not very high. Then, as Najibullah’s hold weakened and that of the US and Pakistan fed, armed and financed Mujahideen and the Taleban became stronger opium production increased. In 1987 it was 25,000 hectares. In 1988 it was 32,000 and in 1989 by when Najibullah had been overthrown it was 34,300. The next year it was 41,300 and it continued to shoot up till 2000 when it was 82,171 hectares. By this time Afghanistan was infested with the Taleban and crawling with their foreign financiers and supporters. In this disgraceful period of collusion the US had coaxed the DEA to reduce their staff in Pakistan by 80% or so leaving only a skeleton of about ten persons. The DEA was the only department in the US Government capable of doing its job sincerely, and thus it was threat. It was the US policy at that time to make opium pay for the war against Najibullah, and afterwards to reward the Taleban by allowing it to keep its growing profits.

By now the public opinion in the US was hardening against the bestial and barbarous Taleban. It would have been revolted at any truck with them. Something had to be done to remake their image.

Taleban delegations were entertained in America repeatedly. They were convinced by bribery to at least say that they were against opium production. So lo and behold in 2001 only 7606 hectares were said to have been cultivated with opium poppy. But, is it true? Thousands of journalists, experts, diplomats, soldiers and know-alls willingly suspended their disbelief and accepted this preposterous assertion certified by a UN led team of eight nations (including Pakistan) that visited one area in Nangarhar and another elsewhere in March of 2001.

Every one had collectively ignored the hard reality that in 2001 an extremely severe drought had damaged not only opium but also other crops as well in the entire region stretching from Afghanistan through Pakistan and India till Myanmar and Thailand. Opium production in all these areas had been severely hurt.

During 2000 and 2001 Indian satellites had been surveying the opium fields in Afghanistan. There is a 30% margin of error in their observations but yet they reveal a contradictory picture. According to these pictures opium had been sown but in areas where there was very severe drought the crop had been irretrievably damaged. In some parts of Nangarhar (Achin for instance) the crop had not suffered too much. However, the UN team had been taken to the NE of Nangarhar.

The eight satellite pictures reproduced above show opium poppy fields in 200 and 2001. It shows the existence (+ or – error of 30% notwithstanding) of larger tracts of opium poppy than had been accepted earlier. The yellow blobs show opium cultivation. In case of Zamindwar there was more opium produced in 2001- the year that the clean chit was given to the Taleban- than in 2000!

These pictures, taken by Indian satellites in 2000 & 2001, will have many skeptics. That will be good. Nothing like a logical discussion.
My idea that the 2001 "ban" was an eye wash is strengthened by the tables given below. The first one shows a tremendous decline in opium production for 2001. The years before and after it have high production. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a ban, even if it is by the cruel Taleban, to be imposed so quickly over such a vast territory with such little communication. In India illicit opium cultivation has been banned for 60 years and yet, despite excellent communications and efficient enforcement agencies, it has been impossible to show more than marginal success. How could the Taleban, in one year and ONLY for that ONE year, achieve a reduction by about 30%!!! And in the years following 2001 with so many arms and men even a 5% reduction in illicit cultivation is thought to be marvellous. Misquoting the Stoic poet Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus, I can only say " Master of the bright thunderbolt, save (these UN, NATO, UK and US) men from painful ignorance." And yet the UN team of eight countries that was taken only to a corner of Nangarhar in March 2001 verified from that one corner that opium cultivation in all of Afghanistan had come down drastically. If it had it was because of the severe draught. Not because of the Taleban.

In the subsequent seizure tables I was surprised to find that there was no corresponding decrease of opiates at all. Why not? The reason is simple. Opium had been produced despite the so called Taleban ban and certified by a desperate West, but it was less because of the drought.

(All the statistics in this paper have been got from UNDCP/UNODC sources only)

Old sins cast long shadows:

The US had bent over backwards to appease the Mujahideen first and then the Taleban. After 9/11 though the US and NATO troops occupied Kabul and some areas their victory has never been complete. One reason is that some of the Taleban and Mujahideen, whom they had supported before 9/11, are still their trusted aides. They are in every form of governance in Afghanistan , which is verily a theatre of the absurd. How can these advisers, monkeys’ paws etc suddenly turn over a new leaf and abide by new rules? Impossible. If you sup with the Devil once he will not let you go. Such people will never report the truth or give the correct advice. If the inputs are all wrong it will be impossible to take the right decisions. And that is what is happening. On top of that there is enormous corruption everywhere, especially amongst the very same people who have led charmed lives from the 90s just because they were close to Pakistani and US officials. The present administration in Afghanistan is busy, as far as Narcotics is concerned, in trying to live with the criminals of the past. It can not disown them for then many scandals will emerge. That is why it is safe to spend more than a billion US $ every year and line many private pockets and groan and moan, helplessly and sanctimoniously about expanding opium production. They will not look at this problem objectively and rationally. There is at least one alternative, which could spell hope, but that has been deliberately reviled. I refer to the Poppy for Medicine proposal which suggests legalizing opium cultivation with the help of the village councils themselves.

Unless a clean break with the past has been made and earlier errors accepted it will be impossible to work solve the Narcotics tangle that Afghanistan is mired in.

Romesh Bhattacharji