Author: Ashish Shukla

India’s border woes: A legacy of Colonialism, geography and Pakistan

(A reprint from NewsBred).

India is shouting from the rooftop it has made no transgressions across its eastern borders in neighbouring Nepal but it has made no difference to latter whose prime minister KP Oli  has joined his citizens who hit the streets in protest last week.

Nepal’s bitter political rivals, Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress, are united in anger and so are the students on the streets who are convinced India has swallowed the long-disputed Kalapani area in its latest map which it released in the wake of reconfiguration of Jammu & Kashmir state early this month.

India, meanwhile, has stressed it’s the same map and same boundaries it has depicted all along for over half a century now, including the other disputed territory of Susta in Nepal’s south which for the time being doesn’t get Nepal’s hackles up.

Blame it on geography’s changing moods and the toxicity of colonialism that India finds itself enmeshed in border disputes with not just Nepal but many others in its neighbourhood, including China.

Kalapani, and Susta are territories around Kali and Gandak rivers. After the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816), Nepal and East India Company signed a treaty in March 1816. The two rivers drew the arbitrary borders between these two long-disputed sites. Territories right of Gandak river, including Susta, belonged to Nepal; those on the left were with India. Since then Gandak river has changed course: Now Susta is on the left of Gandak river and hence with India. As for Kalapani, British kept changing the source of Kali river which has led to rival claims of today.

China: Talks after talks

India’s border disputes with China are one of the most protracted ones in the world. Since the first border talks began in 1981 to the latest, the 22nd round, which is due later this year, solutions have eluded the two Asian giants who fight the legacy of British colonialism and are afraid to upset the domestic audience in a give-and-take eventuality.

The two countries share a 3,488-km long unresolved border but two, the Western and Eastern ones, are particularly contentious. China controls 37,000-square km sized Aksai Chin in the West, a virtually uninhabited high-altitude desert; India 84,000 square km-wide populated Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The two fought for a month in 1962 but since a peace deal was struck in 1993, dialogues have been preferred over violence.

Yet, no solution is in sight. Along vast stretches of the borders between the two, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India follows the Johnson Line in the Western sector, proposed by the British in the 1860s, which allocates Aksai Chin to them. China asserts it never agreed to the Johnson Line and thus Aksai Chin is its own. Aksai Chin is between volatile Kashmir and China’s Xinjiang province which are seen troublesome to the two nations. Then there is MacMahon Line in Eastern sector, initiated in 1913-14 between China, India and Tibet which is disputed.

Fortunately, pragmatism has brought about Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two Asian giants. Soldiers patrol their territory but back off when brought face-to-face with each other. Quite often military commanders at the border share a bonhomie, exchange views and sort out local issues.

Pakistan: An intractable issue

The border dispute between India and Pakistan concern Kashmir and are on since their independence in 1947. Pakistan launched a tribal militia in Kashmir on independence and the ruler of Kashmir, Maharja Hari Singh, sought India’s assistance which put a condition on Kashmir first acceding to India. Having duly secured the accession, India airlifted its troops to Srinagar and by the time cease-fire was secured after a year, India controlled two-thirds of the Kashmir while the remaining one-third was possessed by Pakistan. The status-quo has prevailed despite three wars and as many peace agreements (Tashkent, Simla, Lahore) between the two neighbours.

Bangladesh: All quiet at borders

India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) became free from the British empire in 1947 but the two retained thousands of citizens in hundreds of enclaves in each other’s territory. These enclave dwellers lived without any rights or papers, virtually stateless and lacking basics in education, health and security. All this changed for the good when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi signed a historic pact with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in 2015. It allowed these thousands of stateless people an opportunity to choose either of the two countries as their own. Land was also swapped between the two nations. The border dispute between the two is settled for good.

Similarly, India had a small dispute with Sri Lanka over an uninhabited 235-acre island, Katchatheevu, which was satisfactorily solved after India formally gifted it to Sri Lanka in the 70s. India has extremely minor border issues with Myanmar and practically none with Bhutan.

The curse of colonialism has left India with border issues which are non-existent, say in a majority of Europe or even between United States and Canada even though the demarcating line between the two countries is a straight one. With strong governments in place, India and China could settle the mutual issues to a great deal. The one with Pakistan though is another matter.

 

 

 

 

Indian military crackdown on “honey-trap” by Pakistan

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The Indian military is in the midst of a massive nationwide crackdown on its own men for leaking sensitive information to Pakistan, including the one on world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, a proud product of joint collaboration between India and Russia.

The Indian military intelligence has taken over the mobiles and computers of a few select personnel and are scanning their bank details even as they have issued an advisory to be beware of 150 fake social media profiles which are no better than “honey-traps.”

This is the latest advisory following the one in July this year where personnel were asked to avoid joining large groups on Facebook or WhatsApp where the identity of quite a few members is largely unknown.  Facebook, incidentally, has admitted to up to 270 million fake accounts, most being bots or honey traps.

India’s army chief Bipin Rawat has already warned of an epidemic of “cat-fishing” attacks against his men. It has been worrying revealed that no less than 98 personnel of various wings of India’s military forces were compromised in a matter of a month by a Pakistan female-spy who went by the fake identity of one “Sejal Kapoor.”

In a purely digital operation of modern times, two viruses were injected into the computers of officers through alluring images and videos and the identity of the female-spy was masked through a maze of 25 internet addresses. Among the information leaked was the classified detail of India’s premier BrahMos missiles, claimed a report in The Hindu.

BrahMos is name made up of two rivers: Brahmaputra of India and Moskya of Russia. It’s an outcome of a joint venture between the two enduring friends, based on Russia’s premier sea-skimming cruise missile technology, primarily one of iconic P-800 Oniks cruise missile. BrahMos is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world which could be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft or land.

A senior engineer with the BrahMos Aerospace , Nishant Agarwal, is presently under custody. He had stored sensitive BrahMos information in his laptop and hard disk which fell prey to a “honey-trap” by a Pakistan female-spy, coaxing him to download an app which automatically transferred the classified information of BrahMos to sniffing intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

It hasn’t though deterred India from successfully testing the BrahMos missile in September this year, fired from a test site in a coastal city, which travelled some 290km before hitting its target. The test involved a land-attack version of the missile.

A young Indian officer posted at the borders in Jaisalmer in the north-west state of Rajasthan was arrested last week for having been befriended by a Pakistan female-spy on social media who posed as an officer of the Indian army nursing corps. He was lured into releasing classified information on Indian tanks, armoured personnel carriers, assorted weaponry and location of army formations of the area. Indian army and navy have been reporting incidents of “honey-trapping” of its men in the last few years.

The Indian military high-command has warned its men to not only be wary of “honey-traps” but also of “Babas” (holy men) who promise to intervene with divinity on their behalf. Dubious job offers, such as one offered to Agarwal which made him share his involvement with the BrahMos missile project, have also been cautioned against.

Unlike the legendary Mata Hari who spied for both France and Germany and finally met a violent end during the First World War, espionage today is high-tech where a single trap can lure multiple victims without ever putting a spy to physical danger.  On the flip side, it reduces the possibility of bestowing a legendary status to a spy with his or her skin in the game.

At the turn of the decade, there was this infamous incident of a female second secretary with the Indian High Commission in Islamabad who spied for Pakistan. Once her cover was blown off, she was summoned from Pakistan on the pretext of an official assignment and promptly arrested once she landed in New Delhi.

Spying has always been a part of human affairs. A few of the earliest instances have originated in Asia itself, notably in India and China and the treatises of “Arthshastra” (4th century BCE) and The Art of War *6th century BCE) have stood the test of time. Espionage was deeply embedded in the years of the Second World War, the Nuclear Age and the Cold War and even today countless billions are spent by state security apparatus of the United States (CIA etc), Israel (Mossad) and the United Kingdom (MI5) among others.

Meanwhile Indian military has described “honey-trap” as an extension of hybrid warfare unleashed by its enemy from across the border. A list of Dos and Don’ts is presently being circulated. It’s no mean task to send its message across as Indian military of over a million strength and hope they won’t be tempted.

 

Kartarpur: India sees it as a passage for terror

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India doesn’t believe it is reading too much in the designs of arch-rivals Pakistan in opening up its doors for Sikh pilgrims to visit the resting place of their founder, Guru Nanak Dev, within its territory.

The two Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and Imran Khan, stood at two sides of border to facilitate the first batch of 500 Sikh pilgrims make a 4-km trek to the holiest of their shrines, Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, on Saturday.

India sensed a chill behind the warm words wafting through from across the border as Imran Khan bemoaned the lockdown in Kashmir and his foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi mocked if India could do the same for Muslim pilgrims longing to visit their holy places in Kashmir.

A few days ago, India was stung when Pakistan had released an official video welcoming pilgrims which showed images of three major slain militants who wanted to carve out a separate homeland for Sikhs in Indian state of Punjab in the 80s.

Though the separatist movement for Khalistan, a homeland for Sikhs, petered out in the 1990s there is still fire in the dying embers and India believes Pakistan would do its best to stoke its doctrine of “bleeding India with thousand cuts.”

India has tightened security, including ban on drones, in its north-western state of Punjab as it fears it could be a route to supply arms and terrorists to Kashmir—and that the holy corridor for Sikhs could act as a cover.

India finds Pakistan’s new-found affection for Sikhs a coat of deception and remembers multiple instances as a marker in support of this theory.

No sooner had Pakistan came into being as an Islamic state in 1947, Sikhs along with Hindus were driven out, killed and raped in thousands who retaliated by doing the same to Muslims from across the border. This set in motion the greatest migration in human history which cost two million lives, the horror of the violence rising up to the scale of the Holocaust.

Still, after the fire of Partition had died out, almost 23 per cent of Pakistan’s population comprised of non-Muslim citizens which now has been reduced to less than 2 per cent.  Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were repressed and displaced whom the Indian government now is trying provide citizenship through an impending Act.

India is still battling the scars of five lakh Hindus being driven out of Kashmir Valley in the 1990s as grave terrorism spouted within its borders and the hands of Pakistan in spurring it to life was internationally acknowledged.

Pakistan also couldn’t keep its Bengali Muslim brothers within its fold as it let loose a reign of terror in East Pakistan in late 60s, killing hundreds of thousands, before the local resistance, with the help of India, broke free and a new nation Bangladesh came into being.

Pakistan’s flip-flop in run-up to the opening of holy corridor for Sikhs hasn’t gone unnoticed too.  The “goodwill gesture” will now cost Sikh pilgrims $20 dollars on each visit though the first two such trips, including the 550th birth anniversary of their founder, Guru Nanak Dev on November 12, would be free. Further, while Imran Khan has waived the requirement of passport for pilgrims, his omnipotent military is insistent on such a requirement.

“Pakistan is professing love for Indian citizens but this is the same country which is refusing its air-space for Indian prime minister to fly out on his foreign trips. Which Pakistan do you think we should believe,” said a retired diplomat who didn’t want to be named.

This is the latest saga in the frosty, bitter and violent relations between the two nations which share a common heritage yet have fought four wars and accuse each other of one or other violation practically every day. The guns haven’t stopped booming at the borders. Let’s hope this fresh smell of rose is for real.

(This is a reprint from rt.com)

 

Sunni Waqf Board is still to clarify stance on 5-acre land

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A new twist to the Ayodhya saga could still come about if the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board or other prominent Muslim bodies refuse the offer of a 5-acre land for a Mosque construction as compensation to the demolished Babri Masjid, as directed by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Saturday directed the Indian state to allot a 5-acre plot to assuage the feelings of Muslims, retain communal amity and put a lid on a simmering dispute between the two communities which had lasted for decades.

But within no minutes of the judgment being announced, most prominent Muslim parties and leaders, including the intransigent Asaduddin Owaisi, expressed outrage over the idea that a land in compensation could be accepted by their community.

“We don’t need a 5-acrre land as a donaton…don’t patronize us,” said Owaisi in his first reaction to the reporters.

Kamal Faruqui, a member of the AIMPLB, said even if the government gives 100-acre land, it’s not enough. “Is this justice,” he bristled in dissatisfaction.

UP Sunni Waqf Board, who are designated as a body which would get the 5-acre land as compensation by the government, has announced that it would not challenge the SC judgment though it has reservations on the ruling. Still, it hasn’t clarified if it would accept the 5-acre land when it comes about in three months time.

A one-page statement by Zufar Faruqi, chairman of the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, read thus:

“We welcome and humbly accept the verdict of the honourable Supreme Court.

“I as chairman of the UPSCWB make it clear that it will not seek any review of the Apex Court’s order or file any curative petition, hence any statement in this regard by an individual, lawyer or organization which mentions that the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board will go in review is not our line.”

However, there is no mention to their stance on the proposed 5-acre land awarded for a mosque.

So far a nation of over a billion Indians have shown remarkable restraint following the emotive judgment with both Hindus and Muslims refraining from aggressive posturing or violent reactions. The reaction of India’s vituperative media too has been remarkably toned down, neither triumphalism or dejection marking their coverage though a directive by the Centre in this regard surely played a critical role.

Millions of Hindus, who waited for this verdict for decades, put a lid on their celebrations all across the country. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cautioned restraint in the days leading up to the judgment. So was the reaction of Indian prime minister Narendra who cautioned his ministers and party members to refrain from any chest-thumping on the positive verdict for the Hindus.

Indian state had feared for the worst as police had fanned out in districts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh and paramilitary forces were called out in Ayodhya, ground zero of the Ram janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. This, along with aerial surveillance, is still on to prevent any communal incident.

Still, if the Sunni Waqf Board rejects the offer of a 5-acre land by the government or is opposed by other Muslim bodies and leaders, it could vitiate the atmosphere of amity and peace and provide a fresh flashpoint to the dispute.

Admittedly, accepting the offered land wouldn’t dear the Sunni Waqf Board too to their Muslim audience, especially the clerics and hardliners who are fundamentalist in nature.

India’s liberal and secular brigade is already upset at the verdict and reactions from Pakistan are stoking insecurity among Indian Muslims. Any confrontational stance would add fuel to the fire.

 

 

 

India stares at failing Afghan policy

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

US Congress has now been front-loaded with a report on Afghanistan by its think-tank, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which is a double whammy for Indian policymakers.

The report talks of “fear of encirclement” in Pakistan over India’s commercial and diplomatic ties with the Afghan government which has led the Islamic nation, in retaliation, to patronize Taliban insurgents for decades now.

In reality, India is staring at a failed Afghan policy. It trusted United States to provide a strong democratic government in Afghanistan. Now United States is looking for a face-saving exit from the mountainous terrain and the Kabul government has never been weaker in years. The double blowback is the think-tank report which makes Pakistan, and not India, appear an aggrieved country which must be shored up with funds and arms.

All this is because Taliban is at its strongest in years. US had to woo it with a peace plan till recently even as Taliban ruled out ceasefire and the presence of Afghanistan government on the same table. Taliban peace-makers moved with ease in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran even though none of the three powers had a liking for Taliban.  This was pragmatic for Afghanistan today can’t be solved without Taliban.

A little background is in order: Taliban owes a great deal to Pakistan. Its muscle is in southern Afghanistan which shares a fluid border with Pakistan and thus a safe cover to insurgents. US counters Taliban with funds and arms to Afghan government. It does stop Taliban from gaining a decisive military victory in the absence of international forces which left Afghanistan in 2014. But it does little else for the stability of the Kabul government.

The trouble is India has burnt most of its bridges with Taliban.  In the 1990s, there was a brief window for diplomatic ties when Talibans were in power in Afghanistan. But then Talibans became “blood brothers” of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment and India had to look for its succour in fledgling Afghanistan governments. Afghanistan is of critical importance to New Delhi as it opened door for Central Asia and Middle East, overcoming the physical barrier of Pakistan on its north-west frontiers.

Over the years, India’s stance on Taliban has only hardened. It’s wary of presence of Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) which moved to Afghanistan in 2015 and whose core belongs to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. (It’s another matter that Afghan government props up this organ of ISIS in the hope it would counter Taliban).  India fears that ISKP would always appeal to young Afghanis who have grown up on the killing fields of Afghanistan in the civil war of last two decades. One, there is not just Taliban but also Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbek insurgents in Afghanistan who need a rallying force. Two, Islamic State could use the base of Afghanistan for its revival and unleash terror in Kashmir.

Besides, India suffers from a fractured psyche in its long battle against terrorism. It knows Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not only props up Taliban but also Haqqani Network which US has designated as a terrorist organization. Its deputy leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of its founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, was reportedly involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 which killed 58 people.

India was pleased when Trump called off peace talks with Taliban following two bomb attacks by the terrorist group that killed 10 civilians and an American soldier in September. Afghanistan government lost little time in announcing elections for September 28. Taliban struck back with two suicide bomb attacks within an hour of each other: the first one at an election rally of president Ashraf Ghani and the second near US Embassy for a combined death toll of 48 people. The turnout predictably was low: Only two million out of 10 million registered voters turned up at vote-casting booths.

Not that it helped clear the mist. The results weren’t declared on intended date of October 17 nor did it come about this week. The winner would now be known only on November 14. The election commission puts the delay due to a hacking attempt on its servers and tampering with its digital lock. Taliban, predictably, has made accusation of rigging and mismanagement.

Thus, as things stand, India finds itself trapped in Afghanistan. The Kabul government is tottering. It can’t survive without United States which in turn is waking up to a Vietnam-like situation, looking for a face-saving exit. On the other hand, walking towards Taliban is a minefield. India can’t make a “fight against terrorism” as bedrock of its foreign policy and yet extend a hand towards Taliban.  It’s Pakistan which seems to be holding all the aces for having backed the right horse in Taliban.  And yet, a US Congress think-tank is alerting the world of Pakistan fearing “encirclement” from India in Afghanistan. Indeed it’s India which has a lot to fear—and lose—in the unending saga of Afghanistan.

 

 

 

There is a way out for this gas chamber called Delhi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India’s capital Delhi is gasping for breath and the fact that schools have been shut, flights diverted, construction work halted and public health emergency declared should tell a thing or two about the dire air-pollution blanketing world’s second most populous city of 30 million people.

Man and nature outdo each other every winter in producing a gas chamber which irreversibly damages the lungs of millions of children and makes air-pollution the fifth biggest killer of all–bigger than diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and malnutrition.

The megalopolis lies lower than its surrounding areas which has dust blown in from the deserts (Rajasthan) and smoke from burning farms (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab) that remains trapped due to stagnant air of cold winter. Tens of thousands of industries on its periphery, snarling trucks with construction materials which inject dust in air and at least 10 million vehicles on its artery of roads further choke the lungs of its residents.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi registered a high of 484 this week which is in severe category, way above the 0-100 considered “good” and “satisfactory”.  Half of this problem is due to stubble burning of crops in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Yet, twice as trickier is the solution than the problem would appear at first sight.

Every year, after the paddy harvest, farmers are left with stubble which has grown progressively stubborn over the years due to increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. It doesn’t interest cattle. It blunts the cutting instruments. Pulling it out is time and money-consuming. Transporting it further involves expense. With a fresh crop season beckoning, farmers opt for burning the stubble as an easy way out.

India is a federal nation and states and Centre often run at cross-purpose to each other. They haven’t found a way to incentivize the farmers to pull out the stubble and transport it, say to private power producers who in turn could be incentivized to use the stubble and its valuable biomass fuel into renewable electricity. Big players have already invested $42 billion in India’s renewable energy sector since 2014 and could lap up to this opportunity which would end the stubble menace. Thailand took a similar route to tackle rice husk issue and overcame it in five years.

One of the measures being tried by Delhi government presently is odd-even scheme for cars which is odd-numbered cars run on odd dates and even-numbered vehicles on even dates. However, since vehicles measure up to only 2% of the problem, this at best is a band-aid to what is a badly-infected body.

To be sure, Delhi isn’t the only Indian city grappling with clean air issue. Indeed, 22 of world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. Population is one issue which makes India’s cities highly congested and reduce traffic to a crawl, filling the air with toxic smoke. Nearly 100 million Indians still use fuelwood and biomass cakes for cooking and general heating needs which World Health Organization (WHO) reckons leads to death of 400,000 people each year due to indoor carbon monoxide poisoning. India burns ten times more fuelwood every year than the United States. Most Indian cab drivers use adulterated fuel blends of gasoline and diesel to reduce their gas expenses but at a great cost to environment. India, lest we forget, is also the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind China and the United States.

India has woken up late to air-pollution but frankly so did the world–only around the turn of the 21st century. Humanity lived with bad air for centuries before realizing that air pollution is causing unimaginable health disasters. Today it accounts for one in nine deaths worldwide. It kills 7 million people a year, more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Every single city in Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO markers as does 99% of South Asian cities and 89% in East Asia. Even in Europe it accounts for 500,000 deaths per year.

In India, the air pollution act was passed in 1981. Since then India has formed its own National Air Quality Index. This year it has launched the National Clean Air Programme with 20-30 per cent pollution reduction target by 2024.  This plan is specifically meant for 102 cities which are considered to have worse air quality than the national standards. After all, life can’t do without breathing.

 

 

NAM adrift as helmsman India has better views on horizon

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) with 120-member countries is second only to the United Nations (UN) in size yet its’ two-day 18th Summit in Baku, Azerbaijan on Friday would be lucky to find front-page mention in your newspaper.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi would give it a miss again, like he did in Venezuela in 2016, and so would heads of a whole lot of other nations even though Hassan Rouhani (Iran), Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh) and KP Sharma Oli (Nepal) as notable exceptions are making rounds in press releases.

It’s unlikely, anyway, that Baku would see more heads of states than eight viewed in Venezuela, down incidentally from 35 witnessed in a still previous edition in Iran in 2012. The NAM doesn’t have a formal constitution or a permanent secretariat, only a coordinating office adjacent to the UN in New York, and a formal media communiqué is all they have to declare to an indifferent world.

It wasn’t so when the world was freeing itself from colonialism in the aftermath of World War II in 1945, and few charismatic world leaders– Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Sukarno (Indonesia), Gemel Abdel Nasser (Egypt) and Josep Broz Tito (Yugoslavia)—rallied the new nations under the banner of the NAM to keep an equidistance from the two superpowers, United States and the Soviet Union. It was a Third World-grouping which didn’t lean either way in the dangerous nuclear-race of Cold War era.

The grouping ensured the vestiges of colonialism didn’t linger on long in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean through their activism in UN General Assembly which declared de-colonization as its main objective in 1960. They brought their weight to bear on the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty and later helped the superpowers to formulate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 

 

But the Cold War ended in 1989, the Soviet Union was no more soon, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. The NAM still defined its role through the prism of Third World nationalism. Western hegemony was still the elephant in the room.

All of it has changed with the rise of China: What was an ideological war has today become one for economics and geography. Many of the NAM members are economic basket cases of the West. As many as 40 of Africa’s 55 states, along with the African Union, have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Beijing in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build their ports and airports, highways and railways. Over 50 NAM countries figure prominently in the index of failed states.

You thus have a situation where support for Iran’s nuclear programme is voiced in the NAM’s summit but the same nations back economic-sanctions resolutions in the UN Security Council against Tehran. A host of Arab countries bristle with anger against Israel in the NAM conferences but lap up profitable military and economic ties with the Jewish country once outside the boardroom. From conservative Colombia to Leftist Venezuela; from pro-West Malaysia to socialist Cuba, all have hosted NAM conferences.

India which skillfully used Soviet Union to secure their veto in the UN Security Council on Goa and Jammu & Kashmir  in the 50s and 60s and used the Western economic assistance to bail themselves out of a food crisis don’t see much value in NAM these days. S. Jaishankar, present foreign minister, had no qualm in declaring in Venezuela Summit that blocs and alliances are less relevant in international order, and the world is moving towards a “loosely arranged order.”

Still, India has embedded itself in nimble regional networks such as SAARC and BIMSTEC, multilaterial ties with ASEAN; is a respected dialogue partner of the European Union and a special invitee to the G-8 summits. It has a trilateral grouping with Russia and China; holds a quadrilateral security dialogue (QUAD) with the United States, Japan and Australia.  There is then BRICS and SCO.  It is thus easy to see why India is losing steam on the NAM.

In an ideal world, NAM could be an immense balancing bloc to lower the heat in the South China Sea. Lesser states in Asia-Pacific would pay a heavy price if US and China up the ante of their animosity. The NAM could restrain US and Russia; help China and India lower their suspicion of each other.  There are still dime-a-dozen limited wars being fought around the world and the NAM, if it wants, could still be heard in the UN.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the NAM in its pomp, India, Egypt, Indonesia and Yugoslavia, bear little resemblance to the era of 50s.  For good or worse, they have moved on. Without a credible helmsman, the NAM is nothing but a talking shop.

 

New India beefs up Mahatma Gandhi in a formidable armour

(This piece is reproduced in NewsBred courtesy rt.com)

India is abuzz with Mahatma Gandhi in the year of his 150th birth anniversary but there is a new version to his message of “ahimsa” (non-violence) which its enemies are finding out at a great personal cost.

Gandhi was the “apostle” of peace and non-violence who offered the other cheek when slapped but India of today would rather leave a black eye on its aggressor as it did on Pakistan with retaliatory heavy shelling in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Sunday which left at least 6-10 Pakistani soldiers dead and blew up three terrorist camps into thin air.

It was a grim fresh reminder to Pakistan that India has the doctrine of an eye-for-an-eye in its new rulebook and the “surgical strikes” and “Balakot airstrikes” which followed the terrorist attacks in Uri (2016) and Pulwama (2019) was the new philosophy and not an exception.

India is still an adherent to “non-violence” and has an unbroken history of peaceful coexistence, never eyeing others’ territory but the painful lessons of past demand it puts a premium on the integrity of its Union.

India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval often reminds his audience that India was overrun by invaders despite being arguably the most advanced civilization of its times. It never protected its seas even though they straddle three of its four corners. It led to the servitude of almost a thousand years. It faced wars imposed by Pakistan on three of four occasions: 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. It didn’t use 90,000 prisoners-of-war as a bargaining chip nor advanced deep inside Pakistan after winning a conclusive war in 1971 which led to the creation of Bangladesh.

India was seen as an epitome of a “soft” nation as terrorists kept crossing the Line of Control (LoC) through Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir and cost tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers lives since 1990. The horrific attack in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, when terrorists from across the border sprayed machine guns on civilians on streets and five-star hotels, known as 26/11 in nation’s damaged psyche, evoked no retaliatory response from India. Worse, the very next year in 2009, the same United Progressive Alliance (UPA), returned to power without any retribution from its masses.

All this has changed for good. India today is driven in its bid to modernize its army: It has only recently ceded its top spot to Saudi Arabia as the biggest arms importer of the world—the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reckons India accounted for 12% of the total global arms imports for the 2013-2017 period. It has lapped up Russia’s S-400 advanced missile system defying the threat of sanctions from the United States. It has gone ahead with its purchase of France’s Rafale fighter jets even though the move threatened to derail Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s bid for a second term on the unfounded charges of corruption this year.

India today is literally taking the fight into enemy camp: It rakes up the issue of Balochistan and its independence from Pakistan; it has vowed to wrest back the control of PoK for a unified Kashmir and its defence minister Rajnath Singh has already debunked the “No-First-Use” nuclear doctrine. India stood up for its ally Bhutan and stared down China in a face-to-face standoff between the two armed forces in Doklam in 2017 which lasted months.

India is not only flexing its armed muscle but is also a crusader against global terrorism on international forums. India has successfully overturned China’s reluctance in having Masood Azhar of Pakistan blacklisted by the United Nations. It dissuaded South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan from joining the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit hosted by Islamabad in November 2016 after the Uri attack. It recently tried it’s very best to have Pakistan blacklisted by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) and has openly fallen out with Turkey and Malaysia for standing by Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

India loves and is proud of Mahatma Gandhi and the message of “vasudhaiva kutumbakam (The World Is One Family) which defined the great man’s extraordinary life. But it doesn’t want to ignore the lessons of history. It is prepared to lift arms to protect its people and boundaries which is different from being an aggressor. It’s a nuanced approach to Gandhi’s philosophy and it seems to be paying dividends.

(This is a reprint from Russia Today—rt.com— for whom the author has penned this piece).

Hail India’s war against poverty but don’t overlook the dangers ahead

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Every coin has two sides but let’s first flip the one which is justifiably being feted across the globe: In mere 10 years, India has halved its poverty from 55 to 28 percent, i.e 369 out 640 million people are out of its vicious grip. The World Bank estimates that if India doesn’t lift its foot from the pedal, extreme poverty would belong to past in 2030.

Extreme poverty isn’t about the money you have in your pockets which incidentally is less than US$1.90 per day in monetary terms. The global standards follow Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which focuses on health, education and living standards and measures them through the 10 indicators of nutrition, child mortality, schooling years, school attendance, sanitation, cooking fuel, drinking water, electricity, housing and assets. Those who lack in one-third of these parameters are extremely poor.

 It’s no-brainer to most Indians to identify the areas in which India has managed giant leaps: 93% of India now has access to electricity; almost 100 percent houses now have household toilets; 94% have access to cooking gas and housing-for-all could be a reality by 2022. However nutrition (India’s in 100th out of 118 in Global Hunger Index); child mortality (at 1.2 million a year the highest in the world); education (one in six Indians is out of its bounds) and drinking water (100 million Indians have almost zero-access) are gaping holes and forces us to look at the other side of the coin.

Urban and rural divide for instance. An urban worker earns eight times an average of agriculture worker even though two-third of India’s 1.3 billion people live in its villages. This disparity partially explains why 34 farmers commit suicide per day in India. Indian farmers are smallest landholding class on the planet and can’t bargain in open market for their little produce. It tells us about the inequality in consumption and physical and social infrastructure. If forewarns us about the violence which is heaving below the urban-rural divide.

India’s political elites do paper it over with doles such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREG) programme which assures 100 days of guaranteed wages for unskilled manual labour. But what about the other 265 days? Why waste India’a incomparable human resources – every second Indian is less than 25 years—on digging wells and laying roads when they could be trained to use technology? Is there even a comparison between manual and skilled labour? What stops Indian farmers to adopt technology?

Gender and caste are two other areas which continue to hold India back. Jobs for women indeed have fallen off from a high of 36 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2018. Nearly 200 million women either don’t get paid or are in the unorganized sector. Poverty and restrictive social or family mores still keep them out of the basic education loop, forget about the digitized education which has overtaken the world.  

Muslims and Scheduled Tribes/Scheduled Castes continue to be India’s poorest living groups. Sure there is a huge reduction in their rates of poverty between 2006 and 2016, still every second person among Scheduled Tribe and every third among Muslims is poor. Admittedly, there is a reason for it since Muslims still prefer Madarasa (seminary) where religious initiation is the preferred mode to grounding in science and mathematics. Tribals face the issue of assimilation in mainstream India.

At a macro-level, 364 million Indians are still extremely poor, which is more than the population of United States. At a micro-scale, just four states—Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh—account for 196 million of these extremely poor. Some are as poor as Sierra Leone in Sub-Saharan Africa, like Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh, the poorest in India, where 77 per cent of people aren’t sure if they would live to see another day.

It’s not to deny India’s eye-catching gains in war against poverty. The average life-expectancy of an Indian has increased by 11 years since 1990. Still it remains one of the 10 poorest countries in the globe alongside Bangladesh, Peru, Vietnam, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Combodia, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Haiti. It’s a war which is not over till it’s over.

 

 

 

New US farce in Ankara today is the latest from the West

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Two Mikes from the United States, Mike Pence (vice-president) and Mike Pompeo (secretary of state), would be in Ankara on Thursday which is the latest farce on Turkey’s invasion on Kurds in Syria, now in its 10th day.

Pence and Pompeo have been ridiculed by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan even before they have set foot on Turkish soil but that’s a badge of honour for the two who would defend president Donald Trump till the end of the world even if it tars a fresh coat on their reputation-for-ridicule as the most repulsive figure and worst secretary of state in the history of United States.

Both are on mission of “Saving Kurds” from Turkey which was facilitated in the first place by their boss himself who since then have swung from one extreme to other that would put a spider monkey and its prehensile tail to shame. Trump first questioned Kurds’ loyalty; then vowed to destroy Turkey’s economy and has now indicted latter’s state-owned Halkbank even though the real “sanction” is an eternity away.

This farce outrage for public consumption has been echoed across the Atlantic by the traditional European allies of the United States. European Union and NATO have bristled with fury, a whole lot of European nations, be it heavyweights Britain, France, Germany or lesser lights like Spain, Italy and Netherlands have put embargo on arms export but none of them have ventured to slap debilitating sanctions on Turkey. After all, who would risk millions of refugees dumped on their doorstep, and further beef-up the right-wingers in their own backyard?

Closer home, Erdogan chortled in glee when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took days to condemn his incursion into Syrian territory even though it multiplied manifold the existential threat of the Jewish nation. Saudi Arabia took the potshot against Turkey behind the veil of Arab League, another sound of fury signifying nothing. Israel and Saudi Arabia can neither count on any tangible action from their “big brother” United States in their backyard—after all, what did US do on Aramco attack?—nor have the requisite muscle of their own now that Iran-Syria-Lebanon seem set to write new rules in the “great game” of the Middle East.

Syria has predictably moved forces in its troubled northeastern part but don’t be fooled it’s an operation against Turkey. Both are sidestepping each other’s toes in perfect harmony while a nervous world is being drummed the beats of World War III in their ears by the corrupt Western media. Nothing could be farther from truth.  Both would circle each other in ring but won’t throw a punch in anger: after all its’ referee Vladimir Putin who has every twitch of their muscles on his strings.

Did I miss United Nations? Or Australia? Or Egypt? Nor should you. The cheerleaders and their pom-pom in the piece so far is an essential guide. None of them give a damn to the fate of Kurds who not very long ago were being hailed as the saviours against the Islamic State (IS).

Meanwhile swoon on Erdogan at his bombastic best. He terms US “ugly”; warns Europeans to brace for refugees and tells everyone within his earshot that he stands “tall.” This is worth an Oscar for his domestic audience; a fillip to his loss in local elections in Istanbul in June; which came close on the heels of his drubbing in Ankara and other important cities like Adana, Antalya and Mersin in the March elections. The split in his own AKP (Justice and Development Party) is imminent. The less said about the economy the better: last summer’s balance of payments crisis hasn’t gone away; his son-in-law and finance minister Berat Albayrak is already an unmitigated disaster.

But Erdogan is safe till 2023 elections: his emergency rules allow him to use all the gross revenues. It allows him to talk of Operation Peace Spring against the Kurds; talk of war against terrorism even as he pummels and opens 78 investigations against those who dare to defy him on his move. Such is the farce which is inflicted on you and me; general citizens of the world. The duplicity of the West could shame the shameless but the naked Emperor. Meanwhile, rejoice at Russia which has allowed Syria and Iran to punch farther than their reach. It’s a seminal moment in Putin’s Russia: And it is not a farce.