Thursday, October 13, 2016

GCC and Saudi have to stop discriminatory Air Strikes

It is easy to drop bombs from air; especially over countries which don’t have any good air force, powerful anti-aircraft guns or SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles). Aggressors don’t have to worry about anything, as they are not going to lose anything – soldiers won’t come back in body bags; don’t have to engage in high causality ground/city warfare; no need to maintain attack prone lengthy ground supply chains etc. Everything is perfect if there is another humanitarian crisis going on; Saudi got Syria for the same. This is exactly what is happening in Saudi led strikes in Yamen.

Explaining a little background,
Houthis began waging a low-level insurgency against Yemeni government in 2004. Multiple peace agreements were signed and later disregarded. During 2011 Yemani revolution, Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi declared their support for it and asked for then President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation.

Conflict was going on between Houthis and Sunni tribes in northern Yemen; by September 2014 Houthi’s finally captured Sana’a (capital city) from government and forced President Hadi to negotiate an agreement. This led to the resignation of Hadi government.

A sequence of events happened. By end of 2015 January, Houthi’s seized Presidential compound. Later they dissolved parliament and formed a committee to govern the country. During this time, Hadi was able to slip out of Sana’a and traveled to his home town - Aden. From Aden he declared Houthi takeover as illegal and indicated his plan to remain as constitutional president of Yemen.

March 2015's suicide attacks on Sana'a Houthi mosques (four suicide attacks during mid-day prayer killed 142 people) changed the course of civil war. Houthi's renewed their campaign. It is believed that IS (Islamic State) carried out the bombing.

While this civil war is going on one side, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) made significant territorial gains in Yamen. IS also started gaining territory in Yeman.

For Hadi's part, he declared Aden to be Yemen's temporary capital.

Houthi’s and pro-Saleh army almost took over Aden. This caused Hadi to fled to Riyadh and met powerful Saudi prince Mohammad bin Salman. Later, forces loyal to Hadi recaptured Aden with support from Saudi Arabian government, airstrikes and shelling by Egyptian navy from sea.

Saudi led alliance accuse Iran of supporting Houthis. On the other side, United States was also a major weapon supplier to Yemeni government. Although weapons worth millions of dollars were missing after delivery.

As per news reports, Saudis along with eight other middle eastern countries - Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain, with logistical support from US are engaged in an air campaign against Houthi’s. Apparently Pakistan declined to join the bombing campaign (though they dispatched warships to enforce an arms embargo against Houthis). Alliance kept on striking positions in Sana’a which often led to massive civilian casualties.

This low profile but high causality war didn’t get much global attention due to ongoing high profile civil war in Syria. Due to humanitarian crisis in European borders and high decibel ‘US – Russia’ peace talks (other than the name nothing is peaceful) world is focused on Syria. As an enforceable peace agreement for Syrian war is nowhere in sight; and Assad and his allies started final assault to take full control of Syria’s largest city – Aleppo – world may not look in to Yemen any time soon.

Attack on Funeral prayers

Unlike previous air strikes this one on funeral prayers was a big disaster. Continuous strike on the building resulted in more than 100 civilian casualties. Saudi led alliance first denied the strike and later promised an investigation to it. I don’t think those kind of internal investigations will reach anywhere.

As per news reports, "Fighter jets from a Saudi-led military coalition repeatedly bombed a crowded reception hall in Sana where mourners were gathered after a funeral on Saturday, killing 140 people and wounding hundreds of others, according to Yemeni health officials and witnesses.... Tamim al-Shami, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said at least 104 people had been killed and 550 wounded" - NYT

This attack might be result of wrong intelligence and targeting information. But this is not the first time they are making mistakes; earlier they hit a hospital which have connections with Doctors without Borders; then a food processing factory. All these mistakes are causing human lives, which makes it more important to stop air strikes. These type of attacks on unarmed people even amounts to war crime.

If Saudi’s want to defeat Houthi’s and truly believe in nation building (which even US failed to do in Both Afghanistan and Iraq) then they should not solely relay on airstrikes. There is point after which Saudi led GCC has to put boots on the ground and try to gain territories and stabilize the country. Anyone can bomb a poor country from air and push them to stone age combined by famine and lawlessness. I hope Saudi led GCC will realize this mistake. If they can’t go all the way, then don’t try to destroy whatever left in Yamen.

I agree that UN have little tooth left; but that is the only agency we got. Let the matter go to UN and let UN decide what the next step should be.


PS: “The crew of a guided-missile destroyer fired three missiles to defend themselves and another ship after being attacked on Sunday in the Red Sea by two presumed cruise missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi-forces” - USNI News


2.       Wikipedia – Yemen Strike, Civil war history related articles.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS) - Keeping up with Bridge safety

Gandhi Setu - India's longest Bridge
When I went to Bihar, I wanted to visit Mahatma Gandhi Setu built across Ganga river. After all, this is the longest bridge in India with a total length of 5.75KM connecting Patna to Hajipur. However, crossing this bridge was a nightmare. There were too many vehicles to cross and bridge was under repair. This repair process was going on for a very long time. What is supposed to be a good journey across Ganga turned out to be a hard one. I still wonder why repair work is going on forever.

This is the situation of Indian bridges. There is no comprehensive record of how much weight a bridge can handle, whether new generation super heavy trucks can use that, when to repair, when to decommission etc. There were reports when trucks carrying heavy weights – boilers for thermal power plants etc – had to wait in front of the bridges for weeks to get permission for crossing the same. In many cases authorities denied permission for crossing and the trucks had to retrace and take lengthy routes to reach destination. This resulted in schedule overrun for many projects.

However now there is a solution in sight - Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS)

Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport & Highways and Shipping, formally launched Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS). IBMS is being developed to create an inventory of all bridges in the country and rate their structural condition so that timely repair and rehabilitation work can be carried out based on the criticality of the structure.

IBMS aims to prepare a data base of all bridges in the country and detailing their structural condition so that timely action can be taken to repair the structures or build new ones in their place.

IBMS is the largest platform in the world owned by a single owner, with database that could exceed 1,50,000 bridge structures. So far 1,15,000 bridges have been inventorized, of which 85,000 are culverts and the rest are bridges.

National Identity Number:
Each bridge is assigned a unique identification number or National Identity Number based on the state, RTO zone and whether it is situated on National Highway, State Highway or district road.

GPS Coordinates:
Precise location of the bridge in terms of latitude-longitude is collected through GPS and based on this, the bridge is assigned a Bridge Location Number.

Engineering Dimensions:
Characteristics like the design, materials, type of bridge, its age, loading, traffic lane, length, width of carriage way etc. are collected and are used to assign a Bridge Classification Number to the structure. These are then used to do a structural rating on a scale of 0 to 9; each bridge is assigned a Structural Rating Number. Rating is done for each component of the structure like integral and non-integral deck, superstructure, substructure, bank and channel, structural evaluation, deck geometry, vertical clearance, waterway efficiency etc.

Bridge Rating Number will decide the importance of the structure in relation to its contribution to daily socio-economic activity of the area in its vicinity.

Based on this inventory IBMS will analyse data and identify bridges that need attention. Further inspection will be carried out wherever required to improve the operational availability of the structure, enhance its life and prioritize repair and rehabilitation work. The data will help to decide which bridge needs critical attention, or which needs to be rebuilt.

This is indeed a step in the right direction.


1.       GoI Press Release
2.       Photo Courtesy (By Aksveer -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Return of Bear?

Power and influence are irresistible; so as the pull of past glory. Most nationalists around the world are trying hard to revive the past. They want to sat in front of glass tables where fate of nations is decided. Now-a-days it’s hard. Unlike old days’ raw power alone can’t decide or influence global events. Countries which want to appear prominently in global order has to have the economic, population, military and technological wherewithal to pursue it.

Consider Egypt; they have the biggest and most powerful army and biggest population among Arab nations. However, their economic situation is bad. Consider Japan, Korea; they are economic super powers, however they lack strength in military. For European nations; though they are well developed and have advanced technology, their size and population hinters their global power projection capacity. Still UK, France have the ware withal to do it. Other European nations are so small (or don't have any ambition to become a global military power) can’t alter the fate of global events individually (but as a group - EU or as part of NATO they can do). Consider the case of South American nations. They have size, population, and probably good military too. However, over dependence on commodity cycles often led these nations to boom-bust cycles, due to which they hardly have any chance to emerge.

This leaves only very small number of nations like US, China, UK, Russia, France, India etc. left with the capacity project power. In this group also other than US, rest can only influence the events in their near abroad.

It is in this situation, Russia under Putin is trying to revive its pre-cold war posture. Problem Putin is going to face is Russia's extreme high dependence on hydrocarbon. As global oil prices are nose-dived from all time high of $130+/barrel to 40s/barrel it is very difficult for Putin to generate money for huge military expenditure required for global power projection.

“The (Russian)defense ministry has reportedly more than halved its budgetary request (for financing of 2018–2025 massive rearmament program) from 55 trillion rubles ($915 bn) to 22tn ($366 bn). But the finance ministry is apparently offering only 12 tn ($200 bn). At a cabinet meeting in the Kremlin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu yelled at Finance Minister Anton Siluanov after the latter offered the petty sum (Kommersant, September 17). The price of oil remains depressed at under $50 per barrel. The contracted Russian economy is still stagnant. Russia cannot continue to spend on defense as when oil was well over $100 a barrel” – Jamestown Foundation

Recently Russia, is working to re-launch its former military bases in Vietnam (Cam Ranh Bay naval base) and Cuba (Lourdes signal intelligence station). Russia left both bases in 2002, when she was no longer able to run these bases due to budgetary constraints. Currently Russia has presence in Syria (Tartus), Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Molova, Tajikistan). Out of this, other than the one in Syria all other bases are located on previous Soviet Union territories. Looks like Russia is trying to revive all Soviet Foreign Bases. Will it be able to do that?

Vietnam may agree for renting out some space at ‘Cam Ranh Bay’; not so sure about Cuba, which is on a rapprochement path with US. With new bases Russia will be able to project its power far beyond its borders. However, maintaining its bases abroad is going to cost them a lot. Without reviving it industry and reducing the dependency on petro-dollars it will be hard for Russia to maintain foreign bases for long.



Tourist Jailed (3 Months) for Unplugging an amplifier that was broadcasting Buddhist Chants

Dutch "tourist, Klaas Haijtema, 30, was found guilty (was sentenced to three months of hard labor in prison) of causing a disturbance to an assembly engaged in religious worship. He had been staying at a hostel in Mandalay on Sept. 23 when a nearby Buddhist center began broadcasting the recitations of religious devotees...

“I was really tired that night and woke up to the noise,” Mr. Haijtema told the court...

“I was very angry and assumed that children were playing music. I told them to lower the volume of the loudspeakers before I unplugged the amplifier, and they didn’t understand me. That’s why I unplugged it.” Mr. Haijtema wept after the prison sentence was announced.

He was also fined the equivalent of $80 for violating the terms of his entry visa..." – NYT

I think Buddha himself won’t like this sentence. Myanmar has to travel a long way to reach the path of Buddha.


1. Myanmar Gives Tourist Who Pulled Plug on Buddhist Chants3 Months in Prison - NYT

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Straight from Kunduz, Afghanistan

Afghanistan is continuously at war since 1973, the year in which King Mohammed Zahir Shah (who ruled Afghanistan since 1933) was overthrown by his brother-in-law Mohammed Daoud Khan. After five years he was overthrown and assassinated during Saur Revolution. Then came Soviets followed by Mujahidins, Americans, Pakistanis and Taliban. After the collapse of Soviet Union and end of Cold war Americans abandoned Afghanistan. This act gave a free run to Pakistan and Taliban; Taliban conquered most of the territories except northern areas. Then the game changer happened – 9/11. American’s and NATO came again, overthrew Taliban and handed over the country to democratically elected government.

However, Afghanistan was hard to manage. Insurgency ebbed and flowed but never wiped out. Taliban and Pakistan (who sides more with Taliban) knew that Americans will go one day. Finally, NATO’s withdrew process left behind some 13000 troops, far cry from a time when they could call more than 1,30,000 NATO troops for assistance.

However, everything is not well here. For 43 years, this country is permanently at war or war like situation. As NATO withdrew, Taliban is increasing their reach. Eastern areas near Pakistan borders are hardly controlled by government in Kabul. In a recent show of force, Taliban went straight in to Northern city of Kunduz and reached city centre to raise their flag. Timing was critical; this happened on the eve of conference at Brussels where president Ghani was about to show his achievements.
Afghan Special Forces and NATO came to Kunduz to oust the insurgents.

Recently Taliban made a lot of gains in Helmand province as well. Probably 90% of province is under the control of influence of Taliban. May be, Afghan special forces and NATO will be able to recover some of the lost territories. However, without another surge it is highly debatable.
How long Afghanistan can solely look towards special forces (which is numbered around 17,000) and ever reducing NATO forces?

Brussels conference agreed to provide $3.8bn a year till 2020 to Afghanistan. But simply pumping money to a war torn country is not going to make any change; other than making some people extremely wealthy. This may eventually end up in property markets of Middle East or some foreign banks. What is important is implementation.

Unless and until Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is able to hold ground on their own, there is no way to protect Afghanistan in long term. I saw many people arguing the success of Taliban is a problem with army’s combat training. This argument is very hard to believe. Shall we really think Afghan army personal don’t know how to fight? Then how come Taliban, whose rank and file is also filled by people coming from same country is able to fight long and hard battles? I believe what is really missing is, government and its forces don’t really understand and assimilate what it stands for. I can’t believe it’s a problem with people don’t know how to fight. If it is about training, then Afghan forces have the best trainers in the world.

I think it is more to do with political leadership and their failure to show for what they are standing. Grandiose plans may get funding from conferences like Brussels. However, unless one is connecting with people on the ground and able to boost the morale of Police and Army; Afghanistan doesn’t stand for a chance.