Thursday, March 31, 2016

India to accede to the Ashgabat Agreement

Ashgabat City, Turkmenistan
There is an old Chinese story. A Chinese princess was sent to marry a king. As the kingdom was far away, she and her party took considerable time to travel that distance. By the time they arrived, the person whom she was supposed to marry died and his son became the new King. Princess finally married the new king and happily lived thereafter.
In old days concerns about long distance travel was not only about the enormous time it took but also the heavy risk associated with that and expenditure. However now, because of advances in technology, supply chain management and logistics long distance transportation of goods became cheaper and simpler. Still it a big concern for companies when source/ destination is far from sea and goods has to pass through multiple international land borders. We all saw how much US had to struggle to supply materials to their troops deployed in landlocked Afghanistan. It took considerable cost to transport goods from Karachi port to Afghanistan due to continuous terrorist strikes on the way. Finally, they opened NDN (Northern Distribution Network) as an alternate (safe but costlier one).
It is in scenario we need to understand the importance of intergovernmental agreements for a common framework mechanism. One such mechanism is Ashgabat Agreement.
This agreement is "an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf….has Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as founding members. Kazakhstan has also joined this arrangement subsequently. Accession to the Agreement would enable India to utilise this existing transport and transit corridor to facilitate trade and commercial interaction with the Eurasian region"
Recently Union Cabinet of India decided to accede to Ashgabat. Once the founding members gave the consent Indian will become a party to this agreement.
Hope that after became a party to this one India will be better connected with Central Asian, Euresian regions.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

China - An Economy in Decline?

People's Bank of China, Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia
From Deng era onward China enjoyed high growth rates. Many predicted an end of that phenomenon for long. However, China didn't fit into their equations. Now it looks like the economy is finally slowing down. Its fine, after all no country can clock a growth rate of above 7% infinitely. For 25 years ended in 2015 China's growth rate was 7% or above. As the economy becomes bigger, maintaining high growth rates year after year is a challenge for any country.

Current concern has more to do with rapidly depleting forex reserves, real estate bubble and huge unrecoverable debts in Chinese bank's balance sheets. In addition to that, most of provincial government's budget doesn't looks good.

For a long time China allegedly manipulated the currency to make her export highly competitive. However, now she is struggling to keep her currency depreciations within range. Market interventions for this already proved very costly to China's forex reserves. China could have let her currency gain value in boom years when huge amount of money (dollar, euro, yen) in the form of payment for manufacturing goods and capital investments flowed in to the country. But they didn’t do that. Instead government bought all those and built a mammoth trophy for the world to see - close to $4tn forex reserve. Was such a big forex reserve was required? Well, it's another question for another day.

In last December Chinese reserves fell by $108bn; in January the number was $99.5bn. From mid-2014 reserves fell from a magic number of $4tn to $3.23tn. As a matter of fact, IMF model suggests that an "economy of China’s size needs $1.5 trillion with strict capital controls and $2.7 trillion without them". That means China is very well safe. The questions are, will China stop intervening in market and let the yuan fall? How far they will take the money out of reserves to keep Yuan stable? Will China impose capital controls?

As per Bloomberg report, "Capital outflows increased to $158.7 billion in December, the most since September and were $1 trillion last year, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence. That’s more than seven times the amount of cash that left in 2014".

By the way China still have the biggest currency reserves in the world.

Chinese are not sitting idle. In addition to the use of reserves, As per NYT reports, "They also made it harder for Chinese citizens to use their renminbi to buy insurance policies in dollars… Beijing bank regulators have halted sales within China of investment funds known as wealth management products that are denominated in dollars… also instructed bank branches in Hong Kong to limit their lending of renminbi to make it harder for traders and investors to place bets against the Chinese currency in financial markets".

Chinese leadership may be in a fix now. They can't let the currency depreciate too much, as it will it will accelerate the demand for dollar and downward journey of yuan. At the same time, they can't tap in to forex reserves too much because Chinese leadership were using huge forex reserves as a trophy of their success. Hence, it may not look good on current leadership if the reserves contracted too much. Imposing strict capital controls may reduce the amount of dollar inflow as foreign fund managers may not be so interested in an economy from which they can't pull back the money. In addition to that Chinese funds and companies may also try to take money out of China, if strict capital controls were imposed.

Well, one immediate causality may be the reduction on China's huge investments in non-critical infrastructure projects. They may not construct so many costly highways which have more to do with building an impressive image abroad than economic viability. Will the highway planned to pass through highly contested Pak Occupied Kashmir and finally to reach sea (after passing through highly terrorist active areas) be in the causality list? Let's wait and watch.


1. New York Times
2. Bloomberg

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Andy Grove - The Intel Insider - RIP

Andy Grove
Time finally took one more giant from IT industry - Andy Grove (original name - András István Gróf), a person who contributed a lot to silicon valley culture and to the growth of Intel.

For Andy life was never easy, his story itself is an inspirational one. Andy born in 1936 in Budapest, Hungry. Hungry was then under the control of Nazi regime of Germany. Andy's Jewish heritage only made this things complicated. After surviving the Nazi Regime and World War II, Hungry came under brutal Soviet style regime. In 1956 Soviet forces brutally suppressed a popular uprising against then Communist regime of Hungry. It was at this time Andy (at the age of 20) fled to Austria and then to US. It is to be noted here that, when he reached US he was barely able to speak English.

After reaching US he got a degree in Chemical Engineering from City College, New York and then a PhD from University of California, Berkeley in 1963. After that, he joined Fairchild Semiconductors. When Gorden Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild and cofounded Intel, he joined Intel (first hire) and worked as its Director of Engineering. He went on to become Intel's president in 1979; CEO in 1987; Chairman and CEO in 1997.

He dropped his position as CEO Intel on 1998 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years earlier, though he remained as Chairman of the board till 2004.

Andy was very famous in the world of management with his unique philosophies no nonsense approach.

According to Andy, "Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction... Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive."

May his soul rest in peace.


Photo Courtesy: Stanford University

Is Pakistan changing - A fillip in Pakistan's dark Atmosphere

When I say change in this post, I am not talking about a common Pakistani’s outlook; but about Pakistan government’s view. It’s not that overnight, Pakistan’s government become a white horse. No, that is not the case. But I believe that, there is a genuine desire for change at Islamabad; this desire may break if Rawalpindi resists.

Pakistan government’s willingness to act on certain occasions is an indication that, they are ready to change. First case in point is the hanging of Mumtaz Quadri. 

Hanging Quadri

Quadri was a police bodyguard for then Panjab governor Salman Taseer. However, Quadri turned out to be the assassin of Taseer rather than a protector. What irritated him and other hardliners is the fact that, Taseer pushed forward a presidential pardon to a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. This is an accusation for which producing proof will repeat the blasphemy.

Government could have sat on the decision to execute him for a very long time. Not taking any decision made sense, as hanging him may result in law and order problems. However, government went ahead with hanging (though administration had to order broadcasters to downplay the even and block news about his funeral).

Hindu Marriage Bill

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Monday passed the final draft of Hindu Marriage Bill 2015, where five Hindu lawmakers were specially invited...The Bill will now be tabled in the National Assembly where it has fair chances of being passed as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party is supporting it. - The Hindu

Honor Killings

After the documentary – A Girl in the River - was nominated for Oscar’s in January “but before it being screened nationally, the film caught the attention of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who vowed to tackle a deeply rooted tradition in the country that sanctions killing women who disobey male elders in matters of love and marriage”. - WSJ

Criminalizing Violence against women

The new law criminalizes all forms of violence against women, whether domestic, psychological or sexual, and calls for the creation of a toll-free abuse reporting hot line and the establishment of shelters.

It might be the recent high profile extremist attacks in Pakistan’s own territory - including the one at school on December 2014 (killed more than 130 students) - made a major opinion change about extremism in civilian government (probably among top brass at Rawalpindi as well). Certainly this is not enough; Pakistan has to seriously act against extremists which regularly blew up minorities spiritual places and extremists focused and obsessed with the idea of destroying India.

Looks like government is willing for a change, will they take the first step and walk all the way to free South Asia from extremists? Or is it too big to ask from Current Pakistan government?



GoI launched 'Setu Bharatam' Project for Building Bridges

Prime Minister Mr. Modi launched 'Setu Bharatam' programme for building bridges on National Highways for uninterrupted travel. This project aims to free NHs from railway crossings by 2019. As part of the plan 208 Railway Over Bridges (ROB)/Railway Under Bridges (RUB) will be built at level crossings at a cost of 20,800 crore.

Details of ROB/RUB is as follows,

Andhra Pradesh – 33, Assam – 12, Bihar – 20, Chattisgarh – 5,
Gujarat – 8, Haryana – 10, Himachal Pradesh – 5,
Jharkhand – 11, Karnataka – 17, Kerala – 4, Madhya Pradesh -6,
Maharashtra – 12, Odisha – 4, Punjab – 10, Rajasthan – 9,
Tamil Nadu – 9, Utarakhand – 2, Uttar Pradesh – 9, West Bengal – 22.

Detailed Project Reports have already been received for 73 ROBs and out of these 64 ROBs are likely to be sanctioned with an estimated cost of 5600 crore in this financial year (2015-16) itself.

Around 1500 old and worn down bridges will also be improved by replacement/ widening/ strengthening in a phased manner at an estimated cost of 30,000 crore.

Another good initiative by 'Ministry of Road Transport & Highways' is the established of 'Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS)' at 'Indian Academy for Highway Engineer' in Noida. Objective of IBMS is to carry out conditions survey and inventorization of all bridges on NHs in India by using Mobile Inspection Units. As of now inventorization of 50,000 bridges are completed. The first cycle of the survey is expected to be completed by June 2016. This data base will be the largest of its kind and will also help in smoothening the movement of Over-Dimension and Over-Weight consignments on NH.

Hope that, the new bridges will ease the travel across rail crossings and save a lot of time in transporting goods and people.



1. Press Information Bureau, Government of India

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dream Shattered: South Sudan

We celebrated when South Sudan was born, world’s youngest nation. But now, when it is undergoing an existential crisis where army rapes their own citizen’s as a mode of payment world is looking at the other way. If rest of the world and its institutions could give enough attention to this tiny little country; at least a quarter of attention they providing for Syria, Afghan, Iraq etc, this place could breathe a bit.

What South Sudan desperately required is an institutional mechanism, which even if don’t provide education or medical service at least wont rape, torture and kill them. As humans we at least have the responsibility to save our fellow beings from merciless mass slaughter. If we are not acting now, then the blood will be in our hands too and its won’t be easy to wash out.


Army Engineers shouldn’t have been at WCF organized by ‘Art of Living’

Army engineers and equipment were called in to build two pontoon bridges over Yamuna River’s flood plain at Delhi for ‘World Culture Fest’ organized by Art of Living foundation. It is another matter that ‘National Green Tribunal - NGT’ expressed concerns about the impact of lakhs of visitors coming to this program and construction of these structures on already fragile ecosystem of Yamuna.

Why government asked army to build bridges for a private, religious program in the first place?

There may not be a rule which specifically prohibits these type of deployments; but is it correct to use army’s manpower for private events? Even though Art of Living claims that it’s a charitable trust, their courses costs a lot.

Today if it’s for Art of Living, tomorrow it will be for some other organizations. Army engineers have specific goals and objectives and government should say no when it has to say no. We shouldn’t set WCF as a precedence. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"If I Had My Life to Live Over"

If I had my life to live over, 
I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. 
I'd relax, I'd limber up. 
I would be sillier than I've been this trip. 
I would take fewer things seriously, take more chances, take more trips. 
I'd climb more mountains, and swim more rivers. 
I would eat more ice cream and less beans. 
I would perhaps have more actual troubles, 
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. 

You see, I'm one of those people who lived seriously, 
sanely, hour after hour, day after day. 
Oh, I've had my moments, and if 
I had it to do over again, I'd have more of them. 
I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without 
a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. 

If I had to do it again, 
I would travel lighter than this trip. 
If I had my life to live over, 
I would start going barefoot earlier in the spring, 
and stay that way later in the fall. 
I would go to more dances, 
I would ride more merry-go-rounds. 
I would pick more daisies.

by Nadine Stair


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Fried Ice Cream and Momos

Full... Starting...
Close to where I am currently staying, there is a hotel with an interesting item in its menu – ‘Fried Ice Cream’. For some days I was trying to taste this one. After all, who don’t want to taste fried ice cream? Till know either I forgot to buy it when I am close to that restaurant or reached there after 7 ‘o’ clock. This item is available in between 4pm – 7pm only.

Fortunately, I remembered it today and went there at 6.30pm and ordered one. I tried to pull Rakesh too; however, he was not in a mood to wake up after playing a cricket match in the morning. I ordered and within ten minutes it reached my table. Hmm…it was brown in colour and looked more like a bigger egg with chocolate cream sprayed over it. Numerous yellow and green coloured tutty fruity squares where there in the plate.

Half way down
I think they just took a sphere of vanilla ice cream, immersed in liquid gram flour. Then…. Fried it a bit. I missed to ask how they prepared it. If it was hot then this would have been tastier.

Its good; but not good enough for 60 INR they are charging. Anyway, I appreciate the person who came up with this fried ice cream concept.  Will try to taste it from a different restaurant

After that, I went outside to have some pazham pori, mulaku bajji, veg cutlet, ada, aaloo bonda etc. However, the crowd in front of that store was too big; hence I moved towards a nearby momo shop and had a good plate of spicy Paneer Momos. Nice snacks for a Sunday afternoon.


Paneer Momo with chatney

US Selling F16 To Pakistan To Combat Terrorism.... Really?

USAF F16 Fighting Falcon Block 40

Last time when I checked, none of the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan had an air force. Forget air force, they don’t even have a single plane. If logic for selling the equipment to Pakistan is to combat insurgency, then why F16? I believe for counter insurgency; attack helicopters are better suited than a full-fledged fighter jet. 

Why don’t sell them attack helicopters instead of modern, versatile multi-role fighter plane like F16(training and radar equipment as well)? I don’t think Pakistan is going to use F16 to bomb their own territory; when the need of time is attack helicopters. I think this plane will find its way to its eastern borders than the fluid one at west. 

As per ‘The Diplomat’, “Back in March 2015, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs froze $150 million in foreign military financing and put a hold on the delivery of a number of used U.S. Navy cutter vessels since they were not deemed essential in fighting militants in Pakistan.” If the house committee didn’t block the deal, then these cutter vessels may already with Pakistan Navy. How these cutter vessels will help in combating insurgency in Pakistan’s western border, which is far away from sea?

Pakistan already operates 70 F16s. May be 13 more F16 A/B is already on the way from Jordan. In between 2010 and 2012, US sold 18 new F16 C/D Block 50/52 planes to Pakistan; this is in addition to 14 used F16 they delivered in that year. It is believed that coming batch of 8 will be more advanced than anything Pakistan received till now. 

There is a catch here. Though the sales program is under FMS (Foreign Military Sales), it might be the US tax payers who will pay 46% of cost to Lockheed Martin on behalf of Pakistan Government for 8 F16 planes. This deal is valued at $699mn. What a wonderful deal!!!

Another problem I am finding here is, US is selling weapons to both India and Pakistan which are loggerheads with each other. What is point of buying weapons from a country which is selling advanced weapons to our opponents as well? Its indeed ridiculous. Assume a future war where India and Pakistan fights with each other using US provided planes and bombers...!!!



1. The Diplomat

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Cabinet Approved LIGO-INDIA Project

Union cabinet approved the proposal for LIGO-India project. LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) - India project is for setting up state-of-the-art gravitational waves observatory in India in collaboration with LIGO laboratory US, ran by Caltech and MIT.

This will further enhance the study of gravitational waves and will provide an opportunity for Indian scientists to do research on this newly opened up astrophysical frontier. Indian industrial houses may also get an opportunity to work with their US counterparts in building 8 KMs long beam tube at ultra-high vacuum on a levelled terrain for the lab.



1. Press Information Bureau - GoI
2. Above video is the announcement of LIGO's discovery of Gravitational Waves

Thursday, March 3, 2016

New Delhi - How Much Vulnerable She Is

Google defines siege as "a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside."

This is an important aspect of war employed by multiple conquering forces around the world. History has many examples. Alexander's army conquered Phoenician city of Tyre - which most of the commanders before him considered as impregnable - after seven month long siege.

Many of so called impregnable cities surrendered or tried for a final breakout once the supply of essential commodities ran out. The point to be noted here is - supply lines. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for any government to maintain law and order long after the essential supplies ran out.

Take a look at our national capital - New Delhi. During recent Jat agitation, those people  damaged Munak canal which supplies water to Delhi. Because of this  water supply in national capital came under severe stress and government was forced to close schools.

Problem with Delhi is unwise use of Yamuna - which now is more of a sewage channel than a river - left Delhi to look for water from near-by states and Ganga. Those near-by states won't be interested in feeding a faraway city when their own water requirements are not getting fulfilled. This makes Delhi too much dependant on long stretched canals and faraway rivers. Recent Jat agitation showed to the world how vulnerable Delhi really is. Governments were panicked and eventually army had to come to secure a canal damaged by agitating Jats.

Just imagine an event of war or any other agitation; just by damaging a canal anyone take Delhi as hostage... That also with a couple of weeks. Siege or not, Delhi has to think about alternate sources for water.


Sprinting backward – Jats, Reservation, Law and Order

In most parts of the world being socially backward is considered as a handicap. However, in India communities fights to include their names in backward list. Everyone want to a get a part of the cake called reservation – an affirmative action mentioned in the constitution. One such community which violently push this idea forward in recent days is Jats.

Are they eligible for reservation? Let’s consider the background before answering this question. Two backward commissions set up - in 1995, 2011 - excluded Jats from Backward group. Even after excluding Jats from eligible communities for reservation list, political parties offered reservation for them during 2004 election campaign. In 2011, KC Gupta commission - formed after an agitation in April 2011 - recommended the inclusion of Jats and four other castes in Special Backward Class (SBC). Later - before elections - then Hooda government of Haryana granted 10% quota to Jats knowing very well that, it would be quashed by Supreme Court.

Interestingly K C Gupta Commission also states that,
a. Jats already have 17.82% representation in Class 1 and Class 2 government jobs.
b. In educational institutes it is 10.35%.
c. Only 10% of Jats are landless.

In addition to this, out of 10 CMs of Haryana till now 7 are Jats.

The question of why Jats are asking for reservation is indeed an interesting one to consider. Take a look at Haryana’s reservation policies, only 17 (out of 80) doesn't have their name in the list (notification of SC and OBC). So you can’t entirely blame Jats for asking reservation, if everyone is getting the benefits, then why don’t give a try?

The entire policy is skewed. I agree with affirmative action and empowering poor to come forward to mainstream. But it should only for communities who are really backward. To an extent, I believe India’s ST list is fine, but GoI and state government has to take a serious look at SC, OBC and EBC list (this should not be an encyclopaedia of India’s castes).

Current offer to Jats are, government will prepare a draft bill for reservation and bring it in coming assembly session beginning March 17.

However, everyone knew it very well that this bill will not withstand judicial review. Haryana already have 27% reservation for OBCs, 20% SCs, 3% for disabled. As per earlier rulings, reservation is not to be exceed beyond 50%. So there isn't even 1 % left to offer. So this new reservation has to be carved out from existing numbers which will of course make other communities angry. If government is trying to solve the problem in that way, then we may have to prepare for next set of riots.

They real problem is Jats did rioting in massive scale and damaged hundreds of crores worth of public and private properties. They even damaged rail roads and critical canal which supply water to New Delhi.

This riot is not in response for any sudden event, but against a long standing issue. Hence it is not possible that, everything happened all of a sudden. This might be in cooking stage for some time. How come the state administration and police didn’t know about this in advance? Either the administration knew it very well and did nothing (In that case central and state government has to take a serious look at the way they are running the state) or they are clueless (In this case both state and central government has to revamp state CID department and other police departments responsible for intelligence gathering).