Sep 1 2014

The India-Pakistan relationship: From Delhi to Islamabad via Rawalpindi

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MattNelsonSharif’s presence at Modi’s inauguration was widely perceived by the media as a positive sign for India-Pakistan relations. But Matthew J. Nelson argues that although Sharif might be well-disposed to India’s new administration, increased trade and better relations will rely on India’s support for Sharif’s efforts to persuade the Pakistan Army of the benefits.

This post forms part of a new series on the India At LSE blog, India’s Foreign Relations Under Modi. Click here to see more posts.

Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif recognise that expanding economic opportunities via increased trade could pay enormous political dividends—for their countries and their parties. The economic and political landscape of South Asia is shifting rapidly. During the past 20-25 years, labour migration, urbanization, and an entrepreneurial spirit have fuelled a rapid expansion of opportunity (and, some would say, insecurity) across the informal sector. Today, tech-savvy young people rail against old-school forms of corruption tying South Asia’s self-serving bureaucrats to its notoriously venal politicians.

Prime Minister Modi has this young tiger by the tail, at least for the moment, stitching India’s lower castes, business leaders, and urban youth together with his traditional Hindu-middle-class supporters. But, in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is struggling. He continues to enjoy the support of most Punjabis—in the Punjab itself as well as in Balochistan and Karachi—but beyond this his outlook is uncertain. In the Punjab, urban youth are toying with the idea of shifting their support to Imran Khan; Karachi and Balochistan remain violently split along ethnic lines; and, across Pakistan, the PML-N’s traditional ties to right-of-centre voters are becoming tangled up with militants bent on tearing the country apart one sect at a time. Modi and Sharif are business-oriented politicians. Each sees the value of increased trade. Each believes that the benefits of trade ‘trickle down’. Each understands that economic optimism (however precarious) equals votes. They want to work together. But can they?

Modi & Sharif

Image credit: flickr/Narendra Modi

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Aug 29 2014

Exposing the great ‘poverty reduction’ lie

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HickelThe UN claims that its Millennium Development Campaign has reduced poverty globally. This assertion is far from true, writes Jason Hickel.

The article was first published by Al Jazeera English.

The received wisdom comes to us from all directions: Poverty rates are declining and extreme poverty will soon be eradicated. The World Bank, the governments of wealthy countries, and – most importantly – the United Nations Millennium Campaign all agree on this narrative. Relax, they tell us. The world is getting better, thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid. Development is working, and soon, one day in the very near future, poverty will be no more.

It is a comforting story, but unfortunately it is just not true. Poverty is not disappearing as quickly as they say. In fact, according to some measures, poverty has been getting significantly worse. If we are to be serious about eradicating poverty, we need to cut through the sugarcoating and face up to some hard facts.

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Image credit: flickr/UNDP in Europe and Central Asia

False accounting

The most powerful expression of the poverty reduction narrative comes from the UN’s Millennium Campaign. Building on the Millennium Declaration of 2000, the Campaign’s main goal has been to reduce global poverty by half by 2015 – an objective that it proudly claims to have achieved ahead of schedule. But if we look beyond the celebratory rhetoric, it becomes clear that this assertion is deeply misleading.

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Aug 27 2014

Five reasons why Modi could successfully rekindle US-India relations

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HemalShah_headshot (2)At the end of September Modi is due to make his first state visit to America. Hemal Shah argues that despite Modi’s 2005 visa ban and India’s rocky relationship with the US to date, it is possible to be cautiously optimistic about the future relations between the two democratic giants.

This post forms part of a new series on the India At LSE blog, India’s Foreign Relations Under Modi. Click here to see more posts.

Next month, Narendra Modi will make his first trip to Washington as India’s newly elected prime minister. He has his work cut out for him. Four years ago in New Delhi, President Obama hailed the US-India relationship as “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.” But since then, drift and disagreement over innumerable issues and India’s lackluster economy have pushed the relationship to a new low. American businesses are wary of India’s flip-flop on investment rules and policy uncertainty. The culmination of the 2008 civil nuclear deal is long overdue, but so is the ratification of the Bilateral Investment Treaty that could potentially thrust US-India trade from the current $100 billion to $500 billion over the next decade.

To be sure, the two economic giants have failed to establish a relationship worthy of their combined GDP of nearly $19 trillion. This is unsurprising given India’s economic growth – fallen to 5 percent since its double-digit heydays – coupled with staggering inflation, weak public finances, energy shortages and indecisive leadership. It is also considered one of the toughest places to do business ranking 134th out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index (lagging behind her BRICS counterparts).


Image credit: flickr/aquaview

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Aug 25 2014

Book Review: Legions of Peace: UN Peacekeepers from the Global South by Philip Cunliffe

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The huge number of security forces stationed around the world as United Nations peace keepers is second only to the global military deployments of the USA. But most UN peacekeepers come from the emerging powers and developing states that comprise the global South. A major contribution of Legions of Peace is its critical review of UN peacekeeping, which rejects any blind, religious like faith in such a system. The analysis of contemporary peacekeeping operations is backed up by rich material, which brilliantly answers the research question with strong and concise arguments, writes Shuo Liu.

This post originally appeared on LSE Review of Books.

As of 31 May 2014, there are 122 countries contributing to the UN peacekeeping operations. Interestingly, the top ten are all developing countries, with the top three contributors being Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. This phenomenon of the global South constituting the major source of soldiery to the blue helmets is featured in Philip Cunliffe’s new book, in which a critical constitutive explanation is given for why the Southern countries supply most of the UN peacekeepers. The research question is addressed through analysing the post-Cold War international context in which the Southern states exist (Part I) and the motivations behind the Southern states’ commitment (Part II).

Contrary to the common belief that the cosmopolitan UN peacekeeping is anti-imperial, the author argues that UN peacekeeping actually represents the “highest form of liberal imperialism” (Chapter 3). Peacekeepers from the global South are important players in securing the imperial interests of our time (Chapter 4) and they form a new generation of ‘sepoy’ recruits from Indian forces and ‘askari’ recruits African colonial forces who enhance the legitimacy, expand the resources, and reduce the risks and costs of peacekeeping (Chapter 5). Subsequently,the author argues that the UN peacekeeping institutions are essentially serving the security concerns of the powerful global North (Chapter 6), and it can be seen as an imperial multilateral system, in which the Southern countries are successfully incorporated (Part III).

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Aug 22 2014

Imagining poverty in popular Indian cinema

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Esha5Esha Shah argues current theories on development and globalisation fail to take into account the powerful impact affective atmospheres have on shaping social and political reality. In seeking to address this, she uses popular Hindi films to sense the contemporary mood and to show how the shifts in the way poverty situations are depicted hint at changes in public morality.

This article links to an earlier India At LSE post: Can film offer an(other) authoritative source of development knowledge? by David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers & Michael Woolcock

If the rich could hire others to die for them, we, the poor, would all make a nice living

This is a Jewish proverb that figures in the classic film Fiddler on the Roof. The subjective positions of the rich and the poor in this proverb are entangled in an ironical way. The rich are afraid of dying and the poor do not have enough for living. From the point of view of poor people, while the deaths cannot be exchanged for money, the rich would not hesitate to trade them if they could. Historian David Hardiman discusses another such ironical proverb linking poor peasants with Marwari-Jain money lenders: “A Baniya’s logic can never be understood; while he never drinks water without straining it carefully, he drinks blood freely.” In these representations of popular culture, poor people are not always portrayed as occupying the position of deprivation, need or marginality in relation to rich people.

Yet this is not how poor people and poverty are visualised in the policy discourses. Development discourses routinely conceptualise poverty in terms of different forms of lacking – for instance, lack of health, income, resources, well-being, education or capabilities. They also widely employ mechanical, spatial, and hydraulic metaphors such as up/down, below/above, centre/periphery, inside/outside, inclusion/exclusion to quantify or qualify the phenomena of poverty which is largely described in negative connotations.

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Aug 20 2014

India and WWI: balancing demands of war with defence of Empire

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AdamPrimeDuring WWI, India found itself in the unusual position of being low on the British Empire’s list of concerns. Adam Prime explores the competing priorities of the British in the Great War, highlighting that while Kitchener was keen to divert troops from India to Europe, the colonial leadership feared that losing the British military presence would lead to the collapse of the Raj.

On 26 September 1914 the first regiments of Indian Expeditionary Force A landed at Marseille. This amalgamation of Indian and British units soon joined the fighting at the First Battle of Ypres (19 October- 22 November 1914). Six further expeditionary forces later saw action in various theatres of the First World War while India found itself in the unusual position of being low on the British Empire’s list of concerns.

In contrast, the majority of the nineteenth century had seen British military strategy firmly focused on defending, and indeed expanding, the Indian Empire. The North-West Frontier of India was the chief among the British authorities’ defensive concerns: tribal uprisings in this area were a frequent problem and the threat of Afghan invasion or Russian invasion through Afghanistan had also always loomed large. An added concern for soldiers and politicians alike was the threat from within India; in the form of rising nationalist sentiment and the constant trepidation over the loyalty of soldiers dating back to the rebellion of 1857. The private correspondence between Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and General Sir Beauchamp Duff, for example, shows how these concerns had to be weighed up against the growing burden of the First World War.

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Aug 18 2014

The Russia-India relationship: A shadow of past ties?

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TomilaLankinaVladimirIn the first of India At LSE’s series on foreign relations under Modi, Tomila Lankina and Vladimir Lankin discuss the historic ties between India and the Soviet Union and ask if Modi’s leadership could lead to a revival of these bonds with Russia.

The imposition of tougher Western sanctions against Russia in recent weeks has aroused much speculation about Russia’s pivot to Asia.  These discussions have tended to focus on Russia’s relations with China and their implications for regional and global power dynamics.  Less attention has been paid to Russia’s renewed focus on its relations with India.

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Image credit: wikimedia/

Throughout the entire post-communist period, India has occupied a somewhat marginal place in Russia’s foreign policy—despite even the avowed “Eurasianist” orientation which came to influence Russia’s foreign policy from around the mid-1990s onwards.  This placid relationship has been a pale shadow of the ties—cultural, economic, and political—that bound the Soviet Union with India despite the latter’s non-aligned status and skilful engagement with both the superpowers during the Cold War.  Many Indians who came of age in the 1970s and early 1980s still fondly remember reading the Soviet Land magazine—a glossy source of doctored information about the achievements of socialism published for Indian consumption.  For India’s intellectuals, socialism represented an attractive solution to the appalling inequalities that plagued (and continue to plague) India’s society.  In turn, Soviet citizens could not get enough of the syrupy Bollywood dramas—a form of escapism from the drab realities of Soviet life. The Soviet intelligentsia also admired the art and stories of Rabindranath Tagore, the films of Satyajit Ray, and the music of the Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar. These cultural ties served to imprint a mutual fondness among the peoples of the two countries and a genuine sense of the existence of a vibrant friendship.  Sadly, barring the older generation that grew up during the Cold War, this sentiment has been all but wiped out.

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Aug 15 2014

In the shadow of conflict: Kashmir under the AFSPA and the search for opportunities

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DeepanshuOn the anniversary of partition, India At LSE columnist Deepanshu Mohan considers the recent history of Kashmiri conflict. He argues that revoking the Armed Forces Special Provisions Act (AFSPA) and boosting central government investment in the region would help to create stability and opportunities for the young and unemployed in Jammu and Kashmir.

As Indians celebrate the 67th anniversary of independence against a backdrop of chaos in the Arab World, it would only be pertinent to raise matters concerning pre-existing conflict for decades within India.  The Indian government recently backed the UNHRC’s resolution to launch a probe into the country’s offensive on Gaza and has condemned the “disproportionate use of force” in a surprising diplomatic move against Israel. The case of Kashmir is also frequently cited as an insolvable problem and yet it has never been crusaded for – despite witnessing a cynical, discreet armed military game propagated by a similar “disproportionate use of military force” within the valley.

Alexandre Marchand

Indian soldier in Srinigar. Image credit: flickr/Alexandre Marchand

Rivers of ink have been spilled writing about the complicated historiography of the Kashmir conflict. It has resulted in more than three wars amidst other grave differences with our arch rival, Pakistan. The antagonisms that have transpired since these wars and 1990s, however, have hardly been accounted for, despite (or perhaps due to) the corporatised 24/7 media today.

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Aug 13 2014

“One should not forget the rarely mentioned but colossal contribution made by India”

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Speaking at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival in June, LSE Alumnus Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a life peer in the House of Lords, political theorist and author, highlighted India’s contribution to the Great War. Naomi Canton reports on his talk.

This is a shortened version of an article which originally appeared on the Asia House website. It has been reproduced with kind permission.

“British India contributed most generously and its contribution was greater than the rest of the Commonwealth put together” said Lord Parekh.

There were 1.5 million Indian volunteers or active soldiers that took part in World War One, out of which 50,000 died, 65,000 were badly wounded and 10,000 reported missing. Two hundred army nurses were killed, of which 98 were from British India. India also supplied 170,000 animals and equipment for military warfare, as well as 3.7m tonnes of supplies. Indians won 13,000 medals including 12 Victoria Crosses.


Image credit: Asia House

All of this, including the salaries of the Indian soldiers, was paid for by the Indian taxpayer and British India raised an approximate £2 billion loan (at today’s rate).

Indian soldiers brought valuable skills that the British military forces did not have  – such as patrolling in a form that is suited to trench warfare – having been involved in skirmishes in the Himalayas.

But in the first few weeks they lost nearly 50 per cent of their soldiers.

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Aug 11 2014

Book Review: Sexuality in Muslim Contexts: Restrictions and Resistance, edited by Anissa Helie and Homa Hoodfar

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Using case studies from Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Israel and India, Sexuality in Muslim Contexts argues that Muslim religious traditions do not necessarily lead to conservative agendas but can promote emancipatory standpoints. This book is one that should be read by all those interested in sexuality, religion, Islam, or gender, writes Olivia Mason. The wide range of case studies make it suitable for both an academic and general audience while the examples make it a stimulating and accessible read.

This post originally appeared on LSE Review of Books

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In Sexuality in Muslim Contexts: Restrictions and Resistance, a new book by editors Anissa Helie and Homa Hoodfar, issues surrounding the policing of sexual rights in diverse Muslim settings are explored. The book offers an original insight into the relationship between sexuality and bodily rights and discusses ways sexuality is restricted in Muslim contexts but also the ways women are combating these and resisting traditional understandings of sexuality. The editors argue sexuality is stigmatsed in Muslim contexts and detail culturally appropriate practices to combat this. The editors are clear to explain that religious identity is not the main focus of this book and that there are multiple reasons for sexual restrictions. The book’s main aim therefore is to share a more fluid understanding of Islam that encompasses issues over time and space. The book contains contributions from a wide range of actors from judges to activists to academics to create a book full of rich case studies and varied inputs.

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