Michael.Kugelman

Michael Kugelman

Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He tweets @MichaelKugelman (twitter.com/MichaelKugelman)

Four misconceptions about Narendra Modi

India’s new prime minister is a man of contradictions. He covets foreign investment and embraces globalisation, but he also speaks limited English and harbours hard-line Hindu nationalist views. He is alternately described as a pro-business reformer and an anti-Muslim ideologue. Narendra Modi, who was sworn in on Monday, is a complex figure. Not surprisingly, he is also dogged by many misconceptions. Four in particular are getting a lot of mileage these days. Now is the right time to expose them. 1. Modi has been banned from the US since 2005 Observers routinely claim that Modi has not been allowed to visit America since 2005. Actually, this is not technically true. In ...

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4 reasons elections won’t fix Afghanistan

Observers across the board – from think-tankers and diplomats, both current and retired, to journalists and election monitors – are describing Afghanistan’s elections on April 5, 2014 as critical for its stability. And for good reason. A successful election would be a democratic milestone since it would mark the first time Afghanistan has experienced a peaceful transfer of power. A legitimately elected new leadership, particularly one seen as effective and above all clean, could conceivably help convince Afghans that their government is a better alternative to the Taliban – and thereby, weaken recruitment to the insurgency. It would also bring to power a leader not named Hamid Karzai – and therefore, ...

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Four Pakistani conspiracy theories that are less fictitious than you’d think

Last year, Pakistani journalist Nadeem F Paracha published an article titled Malala: The real story (with evidence) on the website of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. The article argued that schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot not by the Pakistani Taliban but by the CIA – and with blanks. The shooting had been completely staged. The triggerman? Robert De Niro “posing as an Uzbek homeopath”. Paracha was clearly satirising Pakistani conspiracy theories but some of his countrymen took him quite literally. One obscure newspaper, The Lahore Times, even published an article which was later removed from its website, reporting Paracha’s article as fact. Dawn eventually posted a disclaimer noting that the article was fictitious. One ...

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Peace talks or muscle power, that is the question

Pakistan may finally be getting more serious about tackling its militancy problem. But don’t get your hopes up. For years, the US government has pushed Pakistan to crack down harder on militancy and for years, Islamabad has largely refused. Instead, it has dithered as extremist violence has spread across the country. Last week, investigative journalist Umar Cheema revealed that Pakistan’s previous government used a secret counter-terror fund to purchase jewels, rugs and even sacrificial goats. Yet the tides may be turning. Last week, Pakistan was rocked by a rapid succession of bomb blasts, including attacks on consecutive days that killed Pakistani soldiers in the northwest and ...

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Five ways to improve US policy in South Asia in 2014

If there’s one word that defines South Asia in 2014, it’s transition. Elections are scheduled in three countries – Afghanistan, India and a controversial one already held in Bangladesh on January 5. Newly elected governments face their first full year in office in four others – Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan. And hovering over this all is the international troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Amid this change and uncertainty, Washington’s chief objective for South Asia will remain the same – attaining stability. It’s an admittedly ambitious goal in a region cursed by interstate and intrastate tensions alike, and flushes with security threats that range from ...

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The superpower shuts down

Congratulations to the United States Congress. It has accomplished something that America’s enemies—including al Qaeda—have long wanted to achieve: Bring the government of the world’s sole superpower to a screeching halt. We Washingtonians are used to talking about shutdowns. Several times in recent years, Congressional gridlock has threatened to bring the government to its knees. Yet last-nanosecond deals have always averted disaster. Not this time. The story is sadly simple. Congress can’t agree on how to fund the federal government beyond October 1, the start of the new US fiscal year. In recent days, the Republican Party (goaded by its ultra-conservative Tea ...

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Making sense of the Musharraf indictment

On Monday, Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation. He spoke of staggering challenges: a paralysed economy, a crippling energy crisis, the existential threat of terrorism.  The implication: there’s much to be done, with not a moment to lose. The very next day, Pervez Musharraf was charged in connection with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Is this unprecedented indictment of a former army chief a resounding victory for democracy in Pakistan? Absolutely. But is it also an ill-timed move that smacks of revenge politics? Certainly. What else to make of the fact that the leader of a cash-starved, energy-deprived, militancy-choked, flood-ravaged nation has chosen ...

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After the Kerry visit: Dialogue may commence, but drones will continue

It was scheduled, then postponed. Then it was rescheduled—only to be postponed again. Then, on July 31, it finally happened—US Secretary of State John Kerry made his long-awaited trip to Pakistan. Alas, there were few major achievements. However, there were two notable takeaways. At first glance, each one may seem to be a boon for US-Pakistan ties. Yet at second glance, one comes away significantly less optimistic. The first takeaway is that Kerry and his Pakistani interlocutors are really serious about restarting the Strategic Dialogue, which has been suspended for two years. This is undoubtedly a good thing. Deep and sustained dialogue builds trust, which ...

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Afghan Taliban peace talks: Tragedy in Afghanistan, farce in Qatar

Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, second as farce.” The war in Afghanistan has proven Marx wrong. Years from now, people will look back on this conflict and see that history can be both tragedy and farce at the same time. Events in recent days vividly demonstrate why. Let’s start with the farce. A Taliban office opened in Qatar to launch negotiations to end the war. The Taliban inaugurated the office with a flashy press conference, and proceeded to cast itself as Afghanistan’s true government. Kabul was furious, and refused to send negotiators. Washington asked Doha to demand that the Taliban, one of ...

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Iran-Pak pipeline: Still a Pipedream

It’s official; the Pakistan-Iran pipeline project will soon be underway. Work is scheduled to begin on the Pakistan side today (Iran’s portion is nearly done), and is expected to be completed in less than two years. Predictably, Washington is not pleased. “We think that we provide and are providing the Pakistani government and people a better way to meet their energy needs,” a State Department spokesman recently declared. That’s a questionable claim. US officials have been trumpeting their investments in hydropower projects, which are intended to generate more than 1,000 megawatts of power. Yet the pipeline is expected to provide more than 4,000 MW. Indeed, from a pure supply/demand argument, the ...

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