China

Iran feels let down by India and rightly so

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Iran has shown its hurt on India which has unilaterally stopped the import of its oil, unwilling to stand in the corner of the adversaries of the United States.

Ali Chegeni, Iranian Ambassador to India, didn’t mince his words in a press briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday, chiding India for succumbing to the “sanctions” of the United States.

The Donald Trump administration is going berserk in his attempt to destroy Iran, first pulling out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) despite Iran being faithful to the deal and piling on with economic sanctions without approval from its allies or world community in the form of United Nations.

India hasn’t imported oil from Iran for months now and couched its action as “reduced” and not “stopped” to suit its independent image. But now that Iran has gone public, India has been shown as having been arm-twisted by the United States.

Fans of India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and his muscular foreign policy could feel cheated as a multi-polar world—against the unipolar bullying of United States—is nearer to being a reality.

Russia and China, hit by sanctions and trade wars, are now joined at hips and Iran is a vital clog in their drive to keep Middle East, even Eurasia, out of bounds for the United States. European Union (EU) has created INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) to keep trading with Iran without resorting to direct transfers of money between the two entities. India is seen as one final piece of jigsaw of the emerging multi-polar world which would signal the further unravelling of US’ hegemony.

To be sure, the United States is one hell of an economic power and throws its weight to bring nations under its heel. It’s the nerve centre of global economy. Be it goods or money; data or transportation, the world doesn’t move much without the express will of the United States.

The United States is the kingpin of globalization. It anchors International Monetary Fund (IMF). It controls over 50 per cent of the venture capital, all but 10 per cent of currency trade use its dollars.  Tech and finance doesn’t move without its dollars; it could cripple phone-operating systems of the world; it controls the fund-management assets. As The Economist puts it: “Across the panel, it’s normal to use a Visa card, invoice exports in dollars, sleep beside a device with a Qualcomm chip, watch Netflix and work for a firm that BlackRock invests in.”

If a firm is blacklisted, no bank would touch you with a barge pole and you are put outside the dollar payment system. There is a law in place which controls the foreign investment into Silicon Valley—if you fall foul, you could virtually say goodbye to transactions in semiconductors and software, a virtual ruination in today’s world.

Economy isn’t the imperative though which has guided India’s change of course vis-à-vis Iran. India needs to hedge its bets. That’s the demand of the geopolitics reality. It neither can annoy the chief actors of the drama nor it can afford to align itself with either of the two groups: United States vs the Russia-China combine.  If it snuggles up to the United States, it loses the strategic and military advantage of Russia. It provokes China to join hands with Pakistan and cause mayhem on its borders. If it slips into the arms of Russia-China, it must brace itself to the devastation which the United States could unleash, like the one they have in Hong Kong.

India thus follows the sensible policy of keeping its suitors interested. Both the United States and China need India. The United States in its existential mission to squeeze China and badly needs India. China wants to keep India dormant for the same reason. It can’t afford a naval configuration of United States-Japan-Australia-India to spike its waters.

India too needs to do a balancing act of its own. So it relents on South China Sea to ensure China doesn’t help Pakistan to the extent its borders are put under siege. It relents to United States’ demand on Iran to ensure its military purchases from Russia are unimpaired. It knows the mischief the United States is capable of.  India internally is in an ideological churn. And the United States is expert in fishing in troubled waters. Kashmir could so easily go horribly wrong.

I suspect Modi’s India, in its heart, is for a multi-polar world. United States doesn’t follow rules, it isn’t friends with anyone. All it wants is servility. Those who are independent—like Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China, North Korea or Iran—face its wrath.  India is still some leagues away  before it could trust China completely and dump the United States for good. India is pivotal to Project Eurasia but can’t afford to annoy either of the two blocs. It’s a watchful tread by them.

It’s just not the United States: India has also made a choice in warming up to Saudi Arabia-Israel in the Middle East. They are Iran’s sworn enemies. By drawing close to the Gulf Muslim nations, India has left Pakistan sterile. Pakistan’s fervent appeal on religious lines to Muslim nations has drawn a very tepid response on Kashmir. Instead we have the situation where Modi is being accorded the highest civilian honour in UAE and Bahrain.  This comes in the backdrop of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Maldives conferring similar honours to him. It has isolated Pakistan on Kashmir.

Iran has shown it can’t wait for India interminably.  It doesn’t want to be a minor player in India’s international diplomatic games. It’s a perfectly legitimate response given how Iran and its’ proud people are waging a war for survival. Modi government though is in the thick of its own war with internal and external enemies.  One hopes, through the backdoor diplomatic channels,  India and Iran remain warm to each other. Till the time is ripe.

It’s good for the world.

 

Indian Express unearths new “star” to peddle agenda on J & K

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian Express is going to length to find voices which could question the Centre on its fiat on Jammu & Kashmir, notably on constitutional, human rights and its federal-character-under-assault grounds.

Conveniently kept out of view is terrorism, loss of tens of thousands of civilian/army lives and billions of tax-payers money which never reached the commoners of the troubled state.

The newspaper doesn’t have a stance on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, that minorities were discriminated against in the state, that caste reservations was out of bounds; and that 106 Central Laws (Prevention of Corruption Act, Land Acquisition Act, Right to Education Act, National Commission for Minorities Act etc) were rendered lifeless by those who governed the Centre and Srinagar.

Where are people in Indian Express’ discourse? Do we hear from them on Jammu and Ladakh which has bigger area and still bigger population than the Valley? Where are its investigating geniuses who hide from its readers that Kashmir Valley gets more financial allocation that what Jammu and Ladakh divisions, put together, are provided for? Why it escapes them that the per-capita subsidy to J & K is 16 times more than West Bengal and 12 times more than Bihar?

In its’ Sunday’s edition today (September 1, 2019), Indian Express has flushed out a Supreme Court lawyer Aman Hingorani who turned a doctoral research into a book (Unravelling the Kashmir Knot) and now has an entire page dedicated to his discourse to the crème da la crème of the Capital on the Constitutional heist which the Modi government has pulled off in J & K.  The newspaper takes Hingorani’s discourse on a page they pompously call “Explained”.  The man himself is preening to his audience that at the end of his discourse, they would realize the futility of Centre’s move. (You dumbs, here I am to get you rid of your ignorance).

I am not sure if it was an interactive session or Hingorani’s monologue. But since Express claims the session was meant to benefit its’ readers, I as one of its most long-lasting consumer, have a few questions for Hingorani and I hope they are not inconvenient enough to be ducked by both the newspaper and the “star” it has peddled today.

HINGORANI:  The Accession terms were the same in J & K as it was for other princely states.  But while other princely states merged their territory into India, Jammu and Kashmir refused to do so…

Question: Please avoid the misinformation that all other princely states had merged their territory into India. Junagadh and Hyderabad hadn’t.  They were intransigent compared to a prostrated Maharaja Hari Singh of J & K.  But while Junagadh and Hyderabad succumbed to India’s military pressure, J & K was allowed to dictate terms.

Now how did that happen? Was it because Junagadh and Hyderabad were managed by Sardar Patel while J & K was left to be Pt. Nehru’s toy? Your turn Mr Hingorani.

HINGORANI: Article 370 had been emptied long ago…It had never come in the way of New Delhi dealing with the state in the way it wanted to deal with the state.

Question: Article 370 was the stepping stone on which Article 35 and 1954 Presidential Order were later added. It allowed J & K to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal region of Kashmir.  It allowed the state government to discriminate against Hindu and Sikhs who migrated at Partition; against Valmikis of Punjab whom they lured with the promise of citizenship but never delivered.

Article 370 makes a mockery of Article 14 which guarantees equality before the law and the principles of liberty. As we know, not everyone living in J & K could vote in the election to the state assembly. Further, Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, sex, place of birth or race etc.

So Mr Hingorani, could you please revisit your position in light of the facts obscured in your discourse?

HINGORANI: Many states have restrictions on people buying land, what’s so special about it (Article 370)?

Question:  Let me rephrase this question and see Mr Hingorani what’s your response: Which are other states where a woman, if she marries outside her state, is denied rights over land? Ok, here’s a dollop of escape route I let you have: Just name one state.

HINGORANI: India can’t go to United Nations and then say (Kashmir) is an internal issue…

Question: So Mr Hingorani, what did United Nations do when Pakistan not only occupied a part of Kashmir but also later ceded 20% of the entire area, Gilgit-Baltistan etc, to China? What right Pakistan has on the area of Kashmir it has illegally occupied? What rights Pakistan has of ceding Kashmir to China which has no claim over the territory? Did they take the route of people’s referendum? Was there any instrument of accession signed that you are so fond of quoting?  Hasn’t United Nations become irrelevant on Kashmir? If it hasn’t, then why didn’t United Nations make any noise after India’s move this month: That wait, this matter is under us, and India can’t decide on its own on J & K?

HINGORANI:  Presidential Rule is an emergency provision. It is not meant for taking far-reaching decisions…

Question:  And you think 70 years spent in the quagmire still doesn’t confer an emergency-status to J & K. If the application of President’s Rule now is a travesty of justice, what would you say to the Presidential Order of 1954? Does our constitution bind the President not to take such a decision? If it doesn’t, what’s your gripe?

HINGORANI:  Can you use emergency provisions to dismember and destroy the identity of a state?

Question:  You call it dismembering of state but not question the latter which had no time for Ladakh. You would call it destruction of identity of state but would make no mention that how come Kashmir Valley, with lesser population and lesser area, had 46 assembly seats to Jammu’s 37           in the state assembly. Isn’t it a stolen identity? Who did it? Didn’t it allow Muftis and Abdullahs perpetuity in power? Was it subversion or empowerment of democracy?

It’s important we interject when our newspapers peddle a one-sided warped discourse. It’s certainly not neutral or unbiased. It’s easy to hide behind the cloak that it’s a writer’s own personal view.  But when none of your editorials present any piece which speaks for Kashmiri Pandits, minorities, deprivation of central laws or the welfare of SC-STs in J & K or even question why after 70 years the lot of Kashmiris haven’t improved, then it’s legitimate to ask: Who are you speaking for?

 

When would Mufti and Abdullah be set free?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India and Pakistan have started whipping up support in their corners as the Ring that is Jammu and Kashmir gets ready for a trade of punches.

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan wants his people on the streets in solidarity against the rearranged status of Jammu and Kashmir while Narendra Modi is reserving the month of September for his ministers’ outreach to people in 35 state capitals and 370 cities.

The momentum is with India where Modi has secured a cheque of gratitude from a billion people and possibly from history too on the once intractable issue of Kashmir.  He has second guessed almost everyone including the global powers, jihadi nuts in the Valley and secessionists forces within India. It’s nearly a month and India hasn’t fired a single bullet in anger.

Imran Khan is relying on propaganda and the good offices of China without realizing that slaves could only stare at the feet, and not go at the throat of the masters. It has a good ranch of guerillas, terrorists and Talibans but to take on world’s second largest army, bigger than United States, you need stallion and not jackass. Mooting closure of airspace could only evoke yawn. His dream of becoming prime minister is now a raging nightmare.

India’s enemies are investing much in the hope that Muftis and Abdullahs would be free soon and hold court; Valley would be put to flame and Lutyens Media would manufacture sob stories. For the moment, they have nothing but the sham cry of violations of human rights and India’s federal-structure-in-danger to keep stoking the dying embers.

When would Muftis and Abdullahs be set free? My guess is not in next four weeks. Modi government prefers embarrassment to harm. Half measures would come back to bite. You don’t do PR exercise with enemies. If the world can turn one eye away on Xinjiang in China; it could as well the other on Kashmir.

There is incremental easing up in Kashmir Valley. Landlines have been restored. Independence Day and Eid were celebrated.  Journalists, despite the brouhaha, are getting passes to move around at will. Schools and Colleges have been reopened. It’s not to say Valley would be quiet.  Muftis and Abdullahs could pay a heavy cost if flutes and music alone is the noise in their backyards.

There are a few things which the Modi government must follow as gospel. One, learn to ignore the barking dogs. Valley and Lutyens Media would be shooting from both sides of mouth. They must not be allowed to set the agenda. Give them a damn. Two, this outreach to people in September can’t be one-off thing. People need constant repeats on facts. Lose no opportunity, be it face-to-face, social media, spokespersons or editorials in newspapers. This is the only war your adversary would be engaging you in; so treat it as one. Three, name and shame the enemies within who run contrary to India’s interests. Three generations of this lobby has fattened itself on Kashmir. The cat is too fat now; it must be made to shed some weight.

I suspect Centre has hit upon an ace in raking up some high profile cases. So mournful is media on P. Chidambaram’s custody that Kashmir has been put on the backburner.  The cases against Sharad Pawar and Ahmed Patel’s son too would shrink space on Kashmir. Heat has been turned on against Trinamool Congress (TMC). Three state elections in three months would further pull the rug under Kashmir’s feet. Why, when was the last you heard on “Jai Shri Ram” crimes and “lynchings”?

But this is just the first phase of preparedness. Kashmir is serious. Heads could roll in Pakistan’s establishment. Imran Khan could invite a fate similar to Nawaz Sharif.  General Qamar Javed Bajwa has to justify his extension. United States could change tack in case it can’t summon India against China, Iran and Russia. So don’t take your eyes off. India has to handle Kashmir in real time. It could take months, years and even generations. But a start, a good one at that, has been made. And the nation can’t be thankful enough.

 

 

Now Jammu, and not Kashmir Valley, would call the shots

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The game and set are already with the Bharatiya Janata Party vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir but the match would be truly over when the delimitation exercise kicks in.

The chances are it would happen in double quick time as the Centre has decided to set up a delimitation commission which would loosen the unethical hold of Valley’s political parties over the entire erstwhile state and disallow them from punching above their weight.

The shenanigans of unscrupulous Congress and Abdullah dynasty had carved up the erstwhile state, now a union territory, terribly tilted in favour of Kashmir Valley even though in size and density Jammu had a far larger claim to presence in the legislative assembly.

Out of 87 seats in the assembly, 46 were reserved for Kashmir region and 37 for Jammu (Ladakh had the other four seats). No wonder Abdullahs and Muftis, due to their clout in the Valley, controlled the levers of the troublesome region

This of course is historical injustice. Dogras (Jammu) have dominated the region historically. Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh amassed a state bigger than left behind by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a Sikh ruler in the 19th century. Till 1941, Hindus in Jammu numbered Muslims in Kashmir Valley.

However, Kashmir changed forever once Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah rose to power simultaneously in Delhi and Srinagar. Nehru afforded Abdullah a free run. Abdullah arbitrarily allocated 75 assembly seats in the 1951 state assembly between Kashmir Valley (43), Jammu (30) and Ladakh (2). There was no population data but just his whim to guide Abdullah.

Jammu and Kashmir had changed forever.

Abdullah’s son, Farooq, made it worse. His father had constituted the Delimitation Commission which had further increased Kashmir’s representation to 46 seats, as against 37 to Jammu. Farooq amended the Section 47 of the Jammu & Kashmir constitution in 2002 under which no addition or alteration of constituencies could take place up to 2026.

Game, set and match over. Or so they thought.

Modi has now abrogated Article 370 and 35A and bifurcated the erstwhile J and K state into two union terrirotry, J & K and Ladakh. The one of J & K though would still have a legislative assembly and if the present arrangement is allowed to remain, the PDPs and NCs would still control the valley and call the shots.

But now the J and K Reorganisation Bill, 2019 would remove the anomaly. The strength of assembly was 107 (24 being earmarked for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) which would now become 114 after the delimitation exercise is carried out. The new Union Territory will also have reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the legislative assembly.

Once the delimitation kicks in, the ascendency of Jammu is inevitable. It already has more area than Kashmir Valley. It has more people in some constituencies than Valley has in two. (For instance, two constituencies in Srinagar City has nearly 50,000 less electorates than in single constituency of Gandhi Nagar in Jammu region. Same would be the case with Jammu City East seat).

Once this happens, everything would flow from the ballot and not from the bullet. Just imagine the scenarios below:

  • Lakhs of Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddies–around 11 per cent of the state’s population—don’t have any reserve seat in the Valley even though they were given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status way back in 1991. The seven reserved seats for ST—Chamb, Domana, Ranbir Singh Pura, Samba, Hiranagar, Chenani and Ramban in Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur district–are all in Jammu region and have stayed stationery since 1996, never ever rotated to Kashmir Valley;
  • A secure Kashmir would be such a powerful bulwark against Pakistan and its’ ISI, not to say a leverage which would come handy against China;
  • If terrorists are throttled, Jihadi organizations such as Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda, not to say Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed—and its leaders such as Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar—would be neutralized.
  • Safer borders means lesser martyred soldiers. A buoyant and not a demoralized force. It would also free up India’s security apparatus. Men and money both could be saved.

The delimitation commission would table in its recommendations to the Centre with regard to the number of assembly constituencies only. The number of Lok Sabha seats—three to Kashmir Valley and two to Jammu—can’t be altered as Parliament had passed a law freezing it till 2026.

 

 

India has moved away from United States orbit for good

(This is a reprint from NewsBred ).

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, finishes his three-day visit to India today and a beaming him has made it to the front pages of all the dailies. Don’t be fooled by it.  India has moved away from the United States big time.

It’s not  a zero-sum game and hands would still be shaken and pictures clicked but the United States wants to swoop on India’s strategic autonomy while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to protect his own turf.

India won’t let go on five squadrons of S-400 missiles from Russia nor would it back down on Iran beyond a point as Modi looks to pivot India for 2050 when the United States would be just one of the great powers and confronted with the possible axis of Russia, India and China.

The United States sees Russia and China as rogue nations who are going broke to dominate Eurasia but neither sanctions against Russia nor tariff wars and threats against China are yielding much. Indeed, Russia and China are now joined at hips and enjoy a bonhomie not seen since the heady Communist days of 1950.

That India has firmly moved into the Russia-China orbit was tellingly visible in the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where Narendra Modi chose silence rather than condemnation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Modi’s India has been an unequivocal critic of BRI but he didn’t say a word in protest against the Bishkek Declaration which praised BRI and bore the endorsement of assembled heads of states.

Modi didn’t praise BRI but he didn’t criticize it either in his own speech. Indeed, he evoked “Wuhan Spirit” to charm the Chinese. Tellingly, it didn’t elicit any sharp barb either from Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin.

India, critically, has accepted Russia’s invitation to assist China in creating a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic Sea, a commercial shipping venture through Russia’s Northern Sea Route as part of the BRI. The project is worth trillions of dollars and would connect the two continents of Europe and Asia with sea. It would bring liquefied natural gas from central-northern Siberia to be delivered across Europe, Japan, South Korea and China of course.

Modi held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with Xi and Putin in Bishkek which is only one of many scheduled between the two leaders in the remaining months of 2019.  Modi and Xi would meet thrice, besides an informal summit in India, probably in Varanasi. With Putin, it’s twice as many times in rest of 2019.

That Modi has decided to thumb his nose at the United States is visible on the revival of RIC (Russia, India, China) dialogue which the three nations have decided to hold at the very summit where G20 nations are meeting from Friday—Osaka, Japan. It sure would raise heckles from the US president Donald Trump who would also be present in Osaka.

Modi has been given a mandate by millions of Indians to lead the country on the path of growth and security. It’s only feasible when India pursues its interest with autonomy and not as a stooge of the United States, more so with a whimsical president like Donald Trump at the helm.

Alice Wells of the US State Department has recently outlined the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States. Said Wells: “The US, alongside India, Japan, Australia and other trusted allies and partners will support the political and economic autonomy of the Indo-Pacific countries…We cannot allow China or any other country to subvert our partners through unsustainable push economies into unsustainable debt…” Yet, as far as India is concerned—as Modi outlined in Shangri-La Dialogue, “Indo-Pacific” is not a strategy.

The US is also offering the bait of including India in the US’ International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which would give India a status equal to one of NATO allies. Along with the status would come the export of high-level military technologies including ballistic missiles, drones, nuclear weapons simulation tools and energy weapons. It’s unlikely India would fall for it given how easily US dumps such pacts—sample TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), climate deal of Paris and the nuclear deal with Iran.

The United States knows what the alliance between Russia, China and India would mean. Even a casual look at the geographical map is enough to convey the control these three nations would exercise over the landscape of Eurasia. In wooing India, US is banking too much on the bond of democracy and a commitment to liberal international order which came into being after World War II and had rules and institutions dominated by the United States.

Kiron Skinner of the US State Department has already stated that the US perceives its strategy against China   as a “fight with a really different civilization.” India has no such issues. It understands that the global power balance and West’s control of it is on its last leg. China and India are coming on to their own as they have for most of human history. India would push for its strategic autonomy and it lies in opening up access to Iran, deepening military ties with an all-weather friend like Russia, bringing neighbours’ into its orbit and be China’s friend, now that the latter really needs it.

India also knows that it could no longer be ambivalent. The United States and China are polarizing the world and there is no middle ground left for anyone. It has to make a choice and one gets the feeling it already has. If the US wants to pass sanctions against those who go against its wishes, then so be it.

 

Who is Donald Trump fooling on Iran?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I am not a stockbroker but if I was I would bet big against Donald Trump unleashing a war against Iran.

I mean he heads a country which needed half a million of its servicemen to tame a small Kuwait and prepared six months to arrange for its logistics. How would do you do against a large territory like Iran?

His country United States can’t fight two medium-sized wars and can it really afford to free up Far East and China who would strangulate Taiwan the moment it’s off-radar?

And please don’t give me this Nuclear-muscle nonsense. It works best before you use it.  You can nuke a Hiroshima or Nagasaki but you can’t nuke the whole of Iran.

It’s also as if Trump doesn’t know that Pentagon would give a damn to his command for war. US can only declare war if its army wants so—as was the case with Vietnam and Iraq. The military generals of the US have already rejected the notion of abiding with the President’s order for an illegal war.

We know the US, the adolescent that it is of only 200-odd years, makes some silly mistakes (Remember the hostage crisis of the 70s: Jimmy Carter’s helicopters couldn’t fly over Iran at a low height because its filters got clogged with sand). But a war with Iran would be worth an Oscar of the Absurd.

For one, if you don’t allow oil out of Iran to the world; Iran would stop any oil to go out of the Middle East (see picture). Shias are everywhere:  60% of Iraq is Shia; 80% of Bahrain is Shia; the majority in Kuwait is Shia; the oil in Saudi Arabia is controlled by Shia. Iran would damage tankers and make sure the blame doesn’t come its’ way. In the last one month itself, four tankers anchored near Fujairah in UAE were damaged. Two tankers with petrochemical products were attacked in Gulf of Oman this week. No traces were left. It would become a routine. Saudi refineries could go up in smoke. Iran has strategic partners in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Afghanistan.

We also know that the US’ Iran policy is based on a single agenda: Change of Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran. This agenda is unfulfilled even after 40 years. This is a country which unlike a France or England could survive on half a bread. Threat of a war, doesn’t open up the factional feuds in the country. Instead it draws them together—as Western-oriented parties and hardliners are hugging each other at the moment.

It’s also as if the US doesn’t know that its’ tough stance would probably make Iran a nuclear-powered regime in six months. Iran announced on June 17 that it would start withdrawing from compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. But if the US pulls out of the deal unilaterally and the other signatories of the pact—China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany—hold their silence, what options Iran is really left with but to press on the raw nerve which inked the pact in the first place?

In this week itself, Iran would exceed the limit on enriched uranium which the 2015 deal had stipulated—only 300kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 per cent, or it’s equivalent, for 15 years.  If Iran adds a few thousand extras of centrifuges, it would reduce the time Iran needs to arm itself with a nuclear weapon.

And how do you think Iran’s opponents would face up to the Persians? Saudi Arabia is so pathetic it can’t even bring tiny Yemen to submission. They can’t do anything to Houthi. A war would only make Turkey stronger. Iran is already being wooed by Russia and China. A common bank is being set up by Syria, Iraq and Iran to facilitate trade between these countries.

If anything a war would break up the United States. By mid-2020, oil prices would hit the roof. Insurance premiums on tankers would be prohibitive. Consumer prices of oil products would multiply. If oil prices exceed $100 per barrel, it would hit China, Europe and the US. If the oil prices are doubled, the US would be in ruins. It is the biggest consumer of electric power.  It doesn’t matter where it gets its energy from, be it Texas, Siberia or Saudi Arabia: if it’s 150% per barrel, US is destroyed.

Then why the hell is the US tightening its screws on Iran? And Donald Trump is increasingly sounding like John Wayne with holster unbuckled?

The short and sweet answer is: Trump wants to stoke up fears in the Middle East so that it could sell its military hardware to Iran’s opponents and fatten up its GDP. It never wanted a war, it never would. If the US wanted a war, it wouldn’t be looking the other way as Iran continues to sell 300 million cubic feet of gas to Iraq. Iran’s sale of oil in the region could go up to two million barrels of oil daily.  

The trouble is, Iran knows the game and is upping the ante: It has given an ultimatum to remaining signatories of the 2015 Pact either fall in line by July 7 and help preserve the nuclear deal or face the music. It’s a classic case of the hunter becoming the hunted. Trump has climbed up a tree but doesn’t know how to get down.

Fun, I say.

Delimitation: Amit Shah set to make early moves in Kashmir Valley

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Delhi has little control in Kashmir Valley. Out of 87 seats in assembly, 46 are reserved for Kashmir region and 37 for Jammu (Ladakh has the other four seats). No wonder Abdullahs and Muftis, due to their clout in the Valley, control the levers of power in the troublesome state of Jammu & Kashmir.

This of course is historical injustice. Dogras (Jammu) have dominated the region historically. Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh amassed a state bigger than left behind by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a Sikh ruler in the 19th century. Till 1941, Hindus in Jammu numbered more than Muslims in Kashmir Valley.

However, Kashmir changed forever once Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah rose to power simultaneously in Delhi and Srinagar. Nehru afforded Abdullah a free run. Abdullah arbitrarily allocated 75 assembly seats in the 1951 state assembly between Kashmir Valley (43), Jammu (30) and Ladakh (2). There was no population data but just his whim to guide Abdullah.

Jammu and Kashmir had changed forever.

Abdullah’s son, Farooq, made it worse. His father had constituted the Delimitation Commission which had further increased Kashmir’s representation to 46 seats, as against 37 to Jammu. Farooq amended the Section 47 of the Jammu & Kashmir constitution in 2002 under which no addition or alteration of constituencies could take place up to 2026.

Game, set and match over.

Fast forward to present times. Modi 2.0 is in place. His party BJP rose to power, among others, on the promise of abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in its manifesto. Nationalism and his tough stance on separatist forces in Jammu & Kashmir, and their masters in Pakistan, reflected in Balakot surgical strike, helped him win the 2019 mandate with a staggering majority.

In people’s mind, Modi’s success or failure in his second tenure would be judged by what he does with Kashmir. The appointment of hard-nosed Amit Shah as home minister is an early signal. If Kashmir is settled, Modi would’ve earned the nation’s gratitude for centuries to come. He would be the favourite child of India’s history.

Modi has made his first move within hours into his second term. Amit Shah is positioned as home minister. Shah too has lost little time: He already has held a detailed closed-door discussion with Satya Pal Malik, governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The state is presently in its second year under the President’s rule. (Legally, President’s rule is tenable for three years at the most).

The rumour is abuzz that delimitation in Jammu & Kashmir could happen soon. Petitions are being written to the President of India. Now that the power of J & K assembly is vested with the President, it’s within his powers to order such a move. A Delimitation Commission could be set up which could redraw the constituencies—and take away the stranglehold which Kashmir Valley has enjoyed over the rest of the state. The freeze till 2026 would go in a jiffy.

This has the separatist forces in the Valley in a flutter. Everyday, Omar Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP) are warning of the consequences if this comes to a pass. Once the freeze is lifted, the ascendency of Jammu is inevitable. It already has more area than Kashmir Valley. It has more people in some constituencies than Valley has in two. (For instance, two constituencies in Srinagar City has nearly 50,000 less electorates than in single constituency of Gandhi Nagar in Jammu region. Same would be the case with Jammu City East seat).

Once this happens, everything would flow from the ballot and not from the bullet. Just imagine the scenarios below:

  • A state under its political control could make BJP do wonders in not just protecting the integrity of the state but also of its soldiers who have died in tens of thousands over the last few decades;
  • Lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits, driven out of Valley by militants, could regain their paradise lost;
  • Lakhs of Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddies–around 11 per cent of the state’s population—don’t have any reserve seat in the Valley even though they were given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status way back in 1991. The seven reserved seats for ST—Chamb, Domana, Ranbir Singh Pura, Samba, Hiranagar, Chenani and Ramban in Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur district–are all in Jammu region and have stayed stationery since 1996, never ever rotated to Kashmir Valley).
  • Legislative control in the J & K assembly would make the abrogation of 370 and 35A a child’s play;
  • A secure Kashmir would be such a powerful bulwark against Pakistan and its’ ISI, not to say a leverage which would come handy against China;
  • If terrorists are throttled, Jihadi organizations such as Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda, not to say Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed—and its leaders such as Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar—would be neutralized.
  • Safer borders means lesser martyred soldiers. A buoyant and not a demoralized force. It would also free up India’s security apparatus. Men and money both could be saved.

Modi has the mandate. Shah is in the hot chair of home minister. Millions of Indians are looking for askance: Settle Kashmir once for all. This dispensation has a historic opportunity to undo the damage of appeasement to the Valley which India has practised since the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.

Importance of being Jaishankar: Only behind Modi-Shah duo

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Not Rajnath Singh. No Nitin Gadkari. India’s third most powerful minister in the present dispensation—besides the obvious duo of Modi-Shah—is Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a career-diplomat turned foreign minister.

When the troublesome duo of China-Pakistan are breathing down India’s neck on its two flanks and Donald Trump is baring his fangs in United States, India is hot under its collar and Jaishankar has been put on the burning deck.

On the face of it, everything looks cool: India has had a serious of significant ticks in international arena, be it tacit approval on its Balakot strike or getting the world behind to outlaw dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar. Significant alliances have emerged in the Muslim world even as Israel is now a very strategic critical ally. Respect for Modi could only grow now that he has been re-elected with a stunning majority in 2019 General Elections.

But trouble is at the door with Donald Trump’s United States determined to punish India over its buying of S400 missiles defence system from Russia. Already, India has lost the tariff benefits which US accords to less-developed countries under the Generalised  System of Preferences (GSP). The Trump administration had held off only because the 2019 General Polls were on in India. But now that it’s over, the $5.6 billion export that India enjoyed against the United States in 2017, would no longer be possible.

Trump is equally determined against India’s buying of S400 missile-defence system from Russia and a spokesman for the US administration has made no bones about it. India was warned on Friday that if it bought $5 billion worth of S400 missiles from Russia, it would have serious repercussions in terms of defence deals with United States.

United States has a policy for the world where countries, howsoever friendly, would be slapped with sanctions if they fostered ties with their adversaries, in this case Russia. The policy is called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Iran is another prickly issue. Trump had given a waiver to India from November to May to buy crude oil from Iran despite the sanctions it has in place against the orthodox Shia nation. But any further extension is completely ruled out.

As reports emerged that India was looking at ways to beat around the sanctions and continue its oil imports from Iran, US has made its position clear: “There will be no more oil waivers granted.” This would push up India’s oil import bills as  Iran used to supply 10 per cent of India’s needs. If US withdraws from Afghanistan, Pakistan would acquire further muscle in its intervention in Kashmir.

India’s troubled borders on its east and west make both China and Pakistan as perpetual adversary and frictions are never far off.

Modi didn’t invite Pakistan in his oath ceremony this week and the latter responded by firing a nuclear-capable Chinese-designed intermediate-range ballistic missile to serve a warning. India too flexed its muscle when just before the 2019 polls, it launched a missile to “destruct” one of its own satellites, becoming only the fourth power after United States, Russia and China to shoot down an object in space.

It’s clear that Jaishankar would’ve his hands full but if there is one person more competent with a better track record than the former foreign secretary, he or she is yet to be seen in India’s diplomatic circles. Over his long tenure, and significant stints in Russia, United States and China, among others, he has acquired a formidable network, his phonebook being the envy of most diplomats.

He was India’s foreign secretary till the last year and his understanding of India’s personnel or policy is unlikely to catch him unawares. He knows the system pretty well.

Jaishankar has worked around different governments but it’s under Modi that his stock has risen up. As India’s envoy to China, he first impressed the present Prime Minister when the latter was visiting China as Gujarat chief minister in 2011. He was there when Modi made his first “rockstar” visit to United States on his election to PM’s office in 2014. Modi promoted him as foreign secretary in 2015. His framework on foreign policy greatly helped his successor Vijay Gokhale as Doklam and Balakot occurred.

Jaishankar is known to be a very hard negotiator. Together with Modi and Amit Shah, he can cut through the government flab. The near future is tough for India but the nation can’t have better men than Modi-Shah-Jaishankar to steer its course. In Hindu pantheon of Gods the trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Mahesh (destroyer) reign supreme. In Modi, Jaishankar and Amit Shah these are today’s political equivalent.

Modi finds his nerves tested by US on Iran

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

United States wants India to cut down its oil imports from Iran which stands as its third biggest supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump has followed his pre-election promise with withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA) which had enabled China, Russia, France, Germany UK, European Union and the US itself to dilute the economic sanctions against Tehran. Now the sanctions are back in place with the deadline of November 6, 2018 and the world is in turmoil, no less India.

The Trump administration has chosen a new way to browbeat the countries which don’t fall in line. Last August, it introduced CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) to scare those away from trade relations with “hostile” countries such as Russia, North Korea and Iran. International banks and companies which defy the sanctions would bear the brunt. Less oil imports from Iran would hike up the prices and import bills, not just of India but of many around the world. It would hit both inflation and Indian rupee. Since US dominates the re-insurance and payment gateways, bypassing them is difficult.

India’s dilemma is apparent. Before 2005, it paid $12-14 billion annually to oil bills by Iran. But signing the 2005 Indo-US Nuclear Civil Deal, gave New Delhi’s leash in US hands. India voted against Iran in the IAEA General Conference in September the very year; dithered on the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline and sounded the death knell of Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. By 2014, India had reduced the Iranian oil imports to $4 billion annually.

The US treasury methodically shut down the banking options for India who then began paying Turkey by cash which then converted it to gold bars and sent it across to Tehran. India was in no position to pay oil bills in US dollars. India did try the balancing act: while Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ceased dealing with Tehran-based Asian Clearing Union in 2010, it came to an understanding with Iran to pay half of its bill in Indian rupees in 2012.

But once the JCPOA came into being, India-Iran trade relations grew back to 2012 days. India also decided to pay out $6.5 billion it owed to Iran, held up due to sanctions. Modi government renewed the stalled Chahbahar port project. Its’ ministers made a beeline to Tehran with promises of oil and infrastructural projects. Iran obliged on its part by granting Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) the gas fields of Farzad B for exploration. The air of optimism only grew better when Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited New Delhi this February with his oil minister Bijan Zanganeh. India pledged it would double its oil imports from Iran in 2018-2019. Iran, on its part, promised to cut down the freight by $1 per barrel. India pledged to increase import by 500,000 barrels a day.

But now comes the fresh US imposition. Even though foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has reiterated India would only abide by the mandates sanctioned by the United Nations (UN), it’s easier said than done. India and US have a booming trade of $140 billion which could take a grave hit, as well as around $31 billion of bilateral trade surplus advantage India has. Chahbahar port project, which could save millions in trade and increase Afghanistan’s tilt towards India, stands to lose steam. Besides, it just would give a bigger fillip to China to snug closer to Iran, shutting the doors on India.

India would be encouraged by the stand of UK, France, Germany who have expressed “regret and concern over Trump’s disruptive action. The Modi government meanwhile has started to flex its own muscles: in reaction to US postponing the 2+2 dialogue, India has declined US’ offer to host Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. India also seems steadfast in increasing its military deals with Russia which faces similar offensive sanctions from United States.

The one fall-out of all this, including trade barriers ratcheted up by both US and India, is Modi government swinging back appreciably into the China-Russia zone. India has this strategic advantage where countries are looking to wow India rather than the other way around. However, India-US relations for the moment are several notches down than they have ever been since Trump came to power.

India going ahead with S-400 missiles from Russia

(This has also been published in NewsBred).

India doesn’t intend to scuttle its plans to buy S-400 Triumf from Russia despite the spectre of US sanctions.

The visit of India’s defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Moscow last month was a firm indication of India’s resolve to ignore CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) which Donald Trump’s regime had invoked last year on Russia for its alleged interference in 2016 US elections.

India has always relied on Russia for its military hardware and technology which remains undiminished despite Modi government’s increased military reliance on United States. Presently, it imports 62 per cent of its military needs from Moscow.

US is adviced to go easy on India in case the deal materialized for one, it’s a bulwark against China in the Pacific Ocean; (2) It’s world’s largest arms importer benefiting US directly; (3) It could push India into the arms of China and Russia and thus completely neutralizing influence of US in Asia.

New Delhi had expressed its caginess against US sanctions during a visit of foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale to US recently.

The S-400 anti-air missiles have been billed as US F-35 killers by Moscow. During the cruise missile strikes by US, French and British army on suspected Syrian chemical weapon sites recently, it was noticeable they avoided areas protected by S-400 systems.

Russia has already begun delivering S-400 missiles to China; Turkey has a $2.5 billion deal to purchase S-400s from Russia. Iraq has expressed its interest too rather than US Patriot surface-to-air missile defence system which was dubbed a failure to protect Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh against the missiles launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

S-400 is one of world’s best interceptor-based missile defense system. It has an estimated operational range of 400 kilometres and an altitude of up to 185 kilometres. It could intercept missile warheads in their terminal stage.

India is expected to announce the purchasing of S-400 missiles from Russia when the leaders of the two country, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin, hold a bilateral summit in October this year.