Middle East

If India Burns (Part II): No longer a question now that Nadda has thrown down the gauntlet

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

(This is the second part of “If India Burns”, a grim picture of coming days, a forewarning for all of our stakeholders: Majority, minority, government, judiciary etc. No less us, the ordinary citizens. I am excluding media for apparently it couldn’t care less. The first part could be read here).

This glimmer of hope which I mentioned in the first piece has been offered by JP Nadda, Bharatiya Janata Party president, who has announced in Bengal that Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has only been given a pause due to Covid-19 and that it would be implemented once it’s over.

Let’s admit, for or against, we all were traumatized for months by anti-CAA protests. I doubt if any one of us, in any part of the country, wasn’t held up by protestors on streets at least once. Even Supreme Court came down to public relations. No solution seemed feasible. Until Coronavirus intervened.

Now Nadda has thrown a challenge: Government isn’t backing down. Maybe, the Centre feels it won’t be taken by surprise. Maybe it feels it now knows how to deal with trouble-makers. Or with their chorus party of European Union, US Congress and the UN. “Urban Naxals” are facing the heat in our Courts; Khalids and Zargars face years in jail; Yogi Adityanath has worked out how to name and shame etc, etc.

But does the Centre know enough of how the “trouble” would respond? Have they got, as they say in cricket or in war, all their bases covered? Have they kept a watch on how protests have shaped in Hong Kong and Bangkok, not to say in the United States during BlackLivesMatter anarchy?

In Hong Kong and Bangkok, these are leaderless protests. No forewarning like you got in JNU, Jamia or Shaheen Bagh. A flashmob gathers and before the anti-riot police could bring in their water cannons, they are holding fort somewhere else, a fluid crowd as it were. “Be Water-like” is the guiding principle. Authorities could never be on top of their game.

So these days, they communicate in close offline chat. If it’s WhatsApp in India, it’s Telegram in our South Asian neighbourhood. You get detailed messages on how to pack and where to assemble. There is now goggles, umbrella, masks, sun-creams, water bottles and of course helmet in your backpack. Youngsters in their “rebel” age are enthused to be part of a converging, swarming mob of youth. They get overcome with emotions. To hell with the cause. The hide-and-seek with the police has its own thrills and a sense of accomplishment. Your friends are going, what are you waiting for?

Leaderless yes but it’s not to say that this ProtestNext generation is devoid of symbols. A “Milk Tea Alliance” has sprung up in our neighbourhood of Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Its aim is to spark protest across Asia: Like they did with “Arab Springs” in MENA (Middle East North Africa). Topple governments, cause anarchy and bring the region to its knees as Middle East presently is.

Milk Tea Alliance is around Thailand’s orange-hued tea; the less sugary Hong Kong version of the drink and Taiwan’s boba tea. The plan is to garner youth, swamp societies, create mayhem.

They have created their own characters too: animated ones like Milk Tea Girls which are emblazoned on T-Shirts of various colours and sizes. Youths who are not part of this fluid mob nevertheless wear it to show solidarity. Suddenly 100s becomes 1000s and that into tens of thousands. It’s on top of everyone’s head.

Then there is this three-finger salute (see image above). This has been co-opted from Thailand’s Hunger Game movie series. This gesture is for people, by people, from people who are facing injustice that the “protestors are in sync” with them. That they are all speaking for each other.

The drawn face-off first time in India would be different this time. The showdown is inevitable, more so since Modi government wouldn’t backdown what the Parliament has authorized and the Constitution demands. India’s protestors, while they vouch for democracy, sanctity of Constitution and supremacy of judiciary, would junk it in every action they do. So would our discredited politicians and prepaid media. It could be CAA one-day, farm bills next day and a Hathras next.

It would take some effort from the Modi government to be on top of its game: Nigh impossible in states like Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan and Punjab where law and order is in the hands of Opposition: Much like in the United States where largest violence and loot during the BlackLivesMatter protests happened in states controlled by Democrats. BJP won’t junk CAA, an assertion of its raj-dharma, but it would need to think on its feet: Its police, cyber cell, intelligence and enforcement agencies need be bigger in numbers, resources and resolve. That alone would douse the fire if India Burns which seems inevitable.

 

A geopolitical tsunami has hit Middle East: It’s music to Modi’s India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A geopolitical tsunami has hit Middle East and it has the potential to change the contours and politics of the region for decades.

Israel and United Arab Emirates signed a peace deal in early hours of Friday (Indian Standard Time) which would split open the Middle East into camps of “future” and “past.”

“Future” belongs to those Islamic states who are bound to follow the example of UAE and drop the cloak of hostility of decades against the Jewish state. “Past” is those regressive actors of the region who prefer bloodshed to keep nurturing the blood-soaked tree of hatred and enmity.

First the bare facts. The United States president Donald Trump has announced that Israel and the UAE have reached a diplomatic agreement. In exchange, Israel would suspend the annexation of occupied West Bank territory.

Israel’s embattled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, assailed by corruption charges, had announced that he would annex 30 percent of West Bank which has Jewish settlers and leave the remaining 70% in the hands of the Palestinian authority.

This was an improvement on the previous plan drawn by Jared Kushner, a senior advisor to his father-in-law Trump, which had outlined a negotiated settlement between the two: West Bank being divided between Israel (30% annexation) and Palestinian Authority (70%) who could set up an independent state. Palestinians lost little time in rejecting the plan.

A peeved Netanyahu then announced that he would annex the 30 percent of West Bank he had in mind for the Jewish state anyway by July 1. It set off a storm of words and finger-wagging. Egypt, Jordan and a host of other Arab states warned of consequences. The Jewish settlers in West Bank were unhappy too.

What happened next was a masterstroke. Israel turned this non-starter into something magical. Netanyahu somehow convinced Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE, nudged of course by Donald Trump, to shake hands and announce a formal deal of peace and prosperity between two sworn enemies. In return, Israel suspended its plan to annex part of West Bank.

Netanyahu could thus show his people that if he hasn’t fulfilled his plans in West Bank, he has been able to strike a historic deal with a traditional enemy. Zayed could tell his people that he was able to stop the annexation of West Bank.

It’s not just a win-win situation for both these nations. Other Gulf sheikhdoms like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman would lose little time in making open what they have been doing secretly with Israel behind public glare. They would hate for the UAE to offer its financial paradise in exchange for Israel’s technological prowess—be it in agriculture, health care or in cyberspace.

The losers of course would be Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Syria and all their proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis etc who could find themselves out in cold. The Palestinian Authority has also been dealt a body blow. It’s all Arab and Gulf allies would no longer be by its side. It is in this background that one has to view the deadly Israeli cyberattack on Iran in recent months, undeniably bolstered by its growing footprints in the enemy’s camps.

Certain expected reactions are already flowing in. The Palestinian ambassador to the UAE is being recalled over. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has described the deal as “treason.” Hamas has called it “stabbing in the back of our people.”

Netanyahu meanwhile has announced his commitment to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. This is only for the consumption of his domestic audience. It won’t happen soon. Netanyahu would hope this deal with UAE would secure his place in history, like it did for Richard Nixon, battling Watergate, by opening the doors of China for the world.

It’s a marvellous news for Indian ears. India has grown astonishingly close to Saudi Arabia and UAE during Modi government’s two tenure at the helm. It had been concerned about its deteriorating ties with Iran and has watched it with alarm that the latter has fallen into the lap of China. India has also been upset by Turkey’s hostility, its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan using his acerbic tongue like a Wild West desperado does by shooting from its hips.

Better still, this deal will hurt Pakistan big time. It would force them to come out in open, in support or against the deal. It’s given it won’t support the Israel-UAE deal. It would thus only push them into more regressive elements of Islamic world. A Sunni Pakistan in bed with a Shia Iran is a delicious prospect we shall await.

China moves to turn Iran into a client-state; stakes up for India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India would watch with concern a blood-pact in the making between China and Iran which could mean trouble both at home and abroad.

China put an agreement in place last month which would virtually turn Iran into a vessel state. Tehran is already in bed in wild anticipation, once its parliament approves the union.

The 18-page agreement, accessed by the New York Times, involves 100 projects worth a staggering $400 billion. China would get discounted oil for next 25 years and in exchange would pepper the Persia of old with subways, high-speed railways and airports. There would be free-trade zones in strategic locations, including two which would overlook the critical Persian Gulf (Abadan) and the Strait of Hormuz (Qeshm).

Iran plans to hand over Jask, a port just outside the Strait of Hormuz, to China which is the vantage point through which most of the world’s oil transits. India, which imports 84% of its oil, has reduced its dependence on Middle East in recent years but it still accounts for 65 per cent of its needs. Saudi Arabia and Iraq are two of its biggest oil suppliers from the Middle East.

China has a string of ports in Indian Ocean, such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan, and now soon in Jask, which puts New Delhi at unease on its energy and security needs, if China was to block the free seas and give these ports a military makeover.

It also messes up the Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman which India has helped build and now controls since 2018. India had soaring ambitions of turning this base into access to Central Asia and much of Eurasian landmass, through a mix of sea-land routes, not to say oil pipelines, bypassing the physical barrier of Pakistan on its north-western borders (see image).

Now India is hemmed in on its north and west flanks by two enemies and in between are the impassable Himalayas. It would be increasingly reliant on the military muscle of the United States for its freer access to seas upwards.

The United States would be no less alarmed by China’s move on Iran. It had sought-and controlled—the Middle East for decades since the World War II. Now its Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, could face China’s build-up. Its warships have regularly tangled with Iranian fleets in the busy sea lanes of the Persian Gulf.

The proposed deal also makes a nonsense of the United States sanctions against Iran under the Trump administration, which had brought Tehran on its knees with crippled oil supply and blocked access to world’s financial highways. China, it seems, has braced itself too for the US economic sanctions which are inevitable in the wake of this agreement and would intensify the trade or covert war between two of world’s biggest powers.

Iran needs to produce—and supply—at least 8.5 million barrels a day in order to be relevant in the energy sector. China seeks to import at least 10 million barrels a day for its energy needs. It imports 75 percent of its oil from foreign oilfields.

The agreement also outlines China’s plan to help Iran build its 5G telecommunications network, riding on its major player Huawei. The Trump administration has barred Huawei from the United States and India is set to do the same under prime minister Narendra Modi.

The Shia Factor

India’s ties with Iran have plummeted in recent months. The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had made inflammatory remarks on the CAA and on Delhi riots in February for which it was rebuked by the Modi government. India has the second highest number of Shias in the world after Iran. India’s Shias have been a moderating influence on a virulent Muslim section in India.

The document also outlines military cooperation, joint training, exercises and research besides intelligence sharing and manufacturing weapons. The military ties between China and Iran have only scaled up in recent years. The Chinese navy has participated in military exercises in Iranian waters at least three times since 2014.

Then there is the Russia factor. Moscow is India’s biggest defence importer but if asked to make a choice, it would look after China’s back than of India. It is India’s oldest and most reliable friend but the ties now are facing its litmus test. The clincher would be the supply of S400 missile system in 2021 which India is committed to buy and the United States is determined to prevent. It would be a make or break moment for India-Russia ties, at least in the immediate future.

The second Cold War is unfolding. In its first version, the United States and Soviet Union were ranged against each after World War II, in the battle-lines drawn by the NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the European theatre, their respective allies in the neighbourhood of Central-Latin America and Eastern Europe-Central Asia visible in plain view. The contours of the second Cold War is no less apparent. The United States and China are snarling at each other, with Indo-Pacific and the Middle East the two most likely flashpoints. The stand-alone moment for India is gone.

 

 

 

Western Media is trash: Here’s the proof you always wanted

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It’s a bad time to read Indian or Western media or perhaps there would never be a better time to read them.

Headlines such as “India’s politics of hate” (Washington Post); “Millions of Indians could be in detention camps” (Bloomberg); “New Delhi turns into battleground” (New York Times) or Newsweek talking about India’s ruling party’s agenda to “marginalize Muslims” are guaranteed to give you a bad conscience. However, it could also be an occasion to brush up your primer on Western Media and know why they do what they do.

I of course am referring to the unfortunate violence which erupted on New Delhi’s streets and claimed 20 lives even as the president of the United States Donald Trump was beaming from ear to ear on the massive welcome he received from masses and Indian establishment this week.

Let’s believe Hindus and Muslims could’ve been on the opposing sides of violence even though India’s intelligence is in the middle of determining if it was engineered by inimical forces. Let’s also not deny that law and order, crime against women, caste, linguistic identities, inequality etc is unreal in India. Let’s also not frame this debate on the narrow binary of rise of Narendra Modi which has let the genie of Hindu-hating Western Media out of the bottle.

Modi alone is not the fall guy

The truth is no Indian leader—be it Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee or Modi—has escaped the scalding venom which Western Media has poured on them. Nehru was lampooned for his Non-Aligned Movement; Indira for standing up to violence in neighbouring East Pakistan; Vajpayee for Nuclear test and Modi of course for everything he does. It doesn’t matter that these leaders, at various times, were overwhelmingly voted into power by India’s massive population.

In essence it’s the colonial and imperial hangover of the “North” against the “Savage South” who must get tutorials on “tolerance”, “peace” and “multiculturalism.” This hangover is the binding thread of policy, business, academia and media in the West. Woven with the cloth of liberty, religious freedom and human rights. Of American Exceptionalism and the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon world. An outsider like Donald Trump might be loathed. But the moment he does “right” things against Iran or Venezuela, he is a darling.

Try pointing out the racial violence on American streets, the bogus wars it wages in Middle East or elsewhere; or the travel bans it has on Muslims from around the world. Try asking them why they oppose countries which choose an independent course, such as Russia, China, Syria or Iran—and yet pat those who were dictators like Suharto and Pinochet and reserved bayonets for their citizens. Why proven legends of humanity such as Salvador Allende, Kenneth Kaunda or Kwame Nkrumah don’t catch their ticking human hearts.

Why local elites mirror Colonial masters

The Indian case is typical of any country which has freed itself from the colonial yoke. The freed countries are left with elites who are a mirror image of the masters. Same language and mannerism. Their worldview is similar. In due course, the two collaborate. They work to validate each other. When masses go against such a view, they are “savages” and “bigots.” Then popular mandates,such as for Rouhani, Assad, Putin, Xi or Modi, don’t matter. For the “masses” are not allowing the “classes” to keep the countries unstable; to exploit its’ wealth and resources.

It shouldn’t be too difficult for an educated Indian to comprehend that media is business. Media is not out there for ordinary folks. It’s for profit. Such profit would only come from subscribers. Home subscribers in UK or US are forever looking for who is a “good” or “bad” guy. Such boxes are duly created. In India’s context, those who could afford the subscription of Western media outlets such as Washington Post, New York Times or the Guardian are prime catch. Ordinary folks, who neither could understand English nor pay to buy Western rags, don’t matter. When such faceless masses, who don’t come to TV studios, rise and Trump, Putin Modi or Brexit happens, there is mayhem.

India has its problems. It always had. It always would. It can’t be otherwise in a country of multiple religious and linguistic identities. Yet it has grown to be one of world’s biggest economic success stories. It’s digital and space milestones are massive. Its democratic traditions are unbroken. Its interiors today have access to health, education, houses, electricity and gas. Its’ roads, trains, airports and infrastructure are on a major revision course. India is more than just one Narendra Modi. Let Western Media and their local mirror image see India in the Modi- binary alone. You and I should know better.Western media has always peddled a narrative and people from Asia—and Africa—have suffered most from it. If you don’t wake up now, this “rape” of our minds would continue into our next generations.

India is better served shifting horses midstream in Middle East

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India has not quite yet changed the horses midstream but it seems to have asked its’ two important guests to to lend a shoulder for it to shift its’ diplomatic destiny in 2020 and beyond.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javid Zarif were in Delhi yesterday and met their Indian equivalent Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, as well as Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, to help India fit in in the diplomatic attire it now wants in the Middle East.

India has been alarmed with the duplicity of its professed friend United States which hosted a 2+2 meeting (foreign and defence ministers of the two nations) for India in Washington last month but gave no inkling of the assassination it had planned for Iranian General Qassem Soleimani within days which has bloodied and disfigured India’s domestic and foreign interests.

India stunned by US betrayal

India has been snuggling up to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and downgrading its commitment to Iran, for some time now which was viewed as pointers to its closeness to the United States.  But now this presumption has been torn to shreds: Not only United States shrouded a dagger in its sleeve but in the wake of General Soleimani’s assassination, it chose to call up Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Bajwa while ignoring India’s top brass completely. Even Donald Trump, who never tires of terming Modi as his dear friend, didn’t bother to ring up the Indian prime minister. All that bonhomie of last few years between the two amounted to nothing. To rub further salt into India’s wounds, the State Department has now announced the resumption of US-Pakistan military co-operation.

India’s domestic compulsions are no less compelling. It has mounting energy bill from the Middle East which could hit sky if the region descends into chaos. It would only add to India’s present economic woes. It also has to worry about its 8 million large diaspora in the Middle East—and many more if one counts their families back home–which sends a sizeable remittance of $40 billion every year. India also has the second-largest Shia population in the world, 45 million by the last count, which is furious by Gen. Soleimani’s assassination: Down United States and pro-Iran slogans have been witnessed in Kargil, a part of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state.

It’s also pretty apparent that Iran is the umbrella under which anti-US sentiments in the Middle East has now grown to a feverish pitch in the Middle East. Iran’s militia proxies operate from the bases of most nations of the region and its’ missile strike at two airbases in Iraq last week showcased that Iran doesn’t need to be a nuclear power to inflict damage on the United States.

India has begun to warm up to Iran

India has been on a course-correction vis-à-vis Iran for a few weeks now. It refused to be part of a global naval alliance which the United States had called upon to secure the Persian Gulf. India was startled when Iran, in conjunction with Russia and China, launched a joint naval exercise from the Chabahar port in response for four days last month. It was a sure sign that Iran has important friends and the Chabahar port in which India has invested so heavily and yet ignored under the US pressure, could slip out of India’s grasp. Chabahar essentially allows India to maneuver in its extended neighbourhood. A strong Iran is also a good bet against Islamic State (IS)—buoyant now that its sworn enemy General Soleimani is dead—who could unleash terror against India’s interests in the Middle East and closer home.

India would hope its old friend Russia is a good bet to mend its’ fences with Iran as it looks to align its’ interest in the Middle East of now. Russia is now a force and an arbiter in the Middle East, a stabilizing presence against a chaotic and war-mongering United States. It has ears of diverse and even conflicting forces of the region, be it Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria or Saudi Arabia, Israel and Libya.

It’s in this respect that India gave a full-throated welcome to Lavrov. Lavrov, and Zarif, on their part, would be equally keen to return the Indian warmth. Russia is now ambitious to have a presence in Indo-Pacific—as Lavrov’s comments in Sri Lanka on the eve of his India visit testify—and Iran shares too deep historical and cultural ties with India to stay away for too long.

The United States sent its own two important functionaries on the occasion: Deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger—a known-China baiter and Alice Wells, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs. But theirs was a sideshow, neither gaining audience from India’s big men nor securing any guarantee that India still has positive lens on the United States.

(A modified version of this piece was published in rt.com).

 

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.

 

World Cup final: Greatest game ever? My foot!

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Just think of the cricket stars who were there in the World Cup 2019.  I mean Tendulkars and Pontings; Akrams and Warnes; Kohlis and Roots; Williamsons and Warners. Pure galaxy.  You must have also seen Clive Lloyds and Dave Richardson, ICC’s honchos in the gallery. Those many cricketers, commentators, journalists, game’s guardians. None of them could spot the silliest of rules: A tied game being decided by the boundaries hit.

How did it happen? I mean now you won’t find a single person on the planet who is not beating the silly rule with the stick of his choice. But who do you hold responsible? ICC which regulates the game but borrows the laws from the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club); cricket boards who are bound to read and ratify the terms and conditions or the captains themselves who put their careers on line if not their necks to the knives of their countrymen? Who do we hold by the collar for the error of 9/11 scale?

This was cricket’s equivalent of 9/11.  A few box-cutters got into a few planes, took over the American skies, plunged the fuel-laden objects into two symbols of world’s capitalism and changed our world forever. We are still debating how they got into the cockpits when the CIA had forewarned White House of such a plan; when commercial planes were the preferred vehicles for terrorists of previous plots and when World Trade Center had been targeted before.

What do we tell the families who lost 3,000 collectively at ground-zero? The wars which followed in its wake? The destruction of Middle East, millions killed, raped and displaced? Refugees all over which has triggered the collapse of the Global Liberal Order as nations build walls around their boundaries?

Let’s rewind the clock and presume its September 10, 2001.  The world is in a preventive mode. Fighter planes are circling the Twin Towers and the airplanes have bulletproof doors. 9/11 thus never takes place. The guy who thought of bulletproof doors would get no mention in our consciousness. A line might appear in newspapers: “Joey, who helped avoid the 9/11 disaster, died peacefully in his sleep.” Instead, who are in our collective memory? Those fire-fighters, the New York mayor, the spirited bulls of New York Stock Exchange who are now stuff of legends.

Humanity has a way of presuming disasters won’t happen. The World Cup organizers didn’t account for such an eventuality. All those gurus and custodians with over a billion dollars under their belt couldn’t visualize what an idiot would they appear if a World Cup final was to be decided on boundaries hit. All those cricket luminaries. All those grave commentators. All our heroes. They refused to think, imagine. They were busy striking deals, making stands colourful, confetti and firecrackers were bought in truckloads.  A simple leap in imagination, a scenario imagined, would’ve warned them of a cricket’s 9/11 equivalent.

And we are still fooling ourselves. We are talking of the greatest game ever. Of a sage like Kane Williamson,  gladiator Ben Stokes and getting lyrical about the sleight of destiny. We are still in denial of our collective failure. Our inability to get beyond our comfort zones of matches played, won and lost; heroes found, villains emerged. Two imaginative kids in a room, playing a game of fantasy, would’ve warned us of such an equation.

So go beyond the spills and thrills of 2019 World Cup final. Engage a psychologist next time who would tell you we humans just never think of an unlikely situation. We protect ourselves with what we know; we never plan for what we don’t know. Look for those who take the reverse route and begin with what we don’t know. Only then we can transcend our follies which turn out to be catastrophic in hindsight.

Remind US they once wanted Iran to become a nuclear power

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

United States keeps harping “on the gravest threat to world peace” if Iran is to become a nuclear state. The truth is different, as enunciated by one and only Noam Chomsky in a piece.

  • According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for “greatest threat” is won by the United States. In second place, far below, is Pakistan. Iran is ranked below those two along with China, Israel, North Korea and Afghanistan
  • Iran’s military aggression isn’t borne by facts. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014. It’s a 57% jump since 2005. Largest share is of US allies, Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in US weapons deal between 2010-2014).
  • US Congress knows that Iran has very low military expenditures. The US intelligence community has reported that there is no evidence of Iran pursuing an actual nuclear weapons programme.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) finds a “conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have…an overwhelming advantage on Iran…”
  • Iran’s military spending is only a fraction of Saudi Arabia and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eighth, an imbalance that goes back by decades. CSIS implies that Iran’s weapons are virtually obsolete.  Israel in contrast has the most advanced US weaponry and of course a huge stock of nuclear weapons
  • Another protestation against Iran is the grave human rights violations. Indeed the gravest human rights violations happened under the Shah who US and Britain had hoisted to power, overthrowing overthrown Iran’s parliamentary government in 1953.
  • Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as “the world’s leading supporter of terrorism,” which implies its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of these movements emerged in resistance to US-backed Israeli violence and aggression. Hezbollah is guilty of compelling Israel to withdraw from its occupation of southern Lebanon which took place in violation of UN Security Council orders dating back decades. Hezbollah and Hamas have the popular vote in the only free elections in the Arab world. Iran hardly ranks high in support of terror worldwide.
  • Iran is accused of fuelling instability in the region. Indeed, Iran was the only one to come to the aid of Kurds defending themselves against the Islamic State (IS). If anything, the US invasion of 2003 killed hundreds of thousands and generated millions of refugees. Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world, according to WIN/Gallup polls. Sectarian conflicts have been ignited, laying the basis for creation of the IS. And all this is called “stabilization.”
  • The five-year Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended in failure when the US, joined by Canada and Great Britain blocked efforts on a WMD-free Middle East. Former President Barack Obama blocked it in 2010 and 2015 at Israel’s behest. A nuclear-free Middle East you would think is the easiest way to get rid of the Iranian threat.

Iranians recall that not a day has passed since 1953 in which the US was not harming Iranians.  When the Shah was overthrown in 1979, Washington threw its lot behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein who would in 1980 launch a war against Iran.  After the war, President George H.W. Bush even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the US for advanced training in weapons production, an extremely serious threat to Iran. Sanctions against Iran were intensified, actions were initiated to bar it from the international financial system In recent years, the hostility has extended to sabotage, the murder of nuclear scientists, and cyber-war.

Indeed, under the Shah, top US officials—Dick Cheney, Ronald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger—were urging him to proceed with his nuclear programmes. Asked later, why he supported such programmes under the Shah but opposed them more recently, Kissinger responded honestly that Iran was an ally then!

Why then such blatant disregard for truth? Under the Clinton Doctrine, the US was entitled to resort to the “unilateral use of military power,” even to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources,” let alone alleged “security” or “humanitarian” concerns.

(This is a piece from our archives).

 

 

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.

Civil War in India: Are we condemned to such a fate?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A tweet video is trending in which a Muslim is caught having just broken an idol of Hanuman and uttering that he did it in the name of the Allah.

We do not where and when it happened. We don’t know the name of the offender. We don’t know what happened to him thereafter.

Five years ago, when Modi had just ensconced himself in Centre, there was a recorded event of a Hanuman idol being attacked in Andheri (W) in Mumbai. As the news spread and devotees began to mass around the temple agitated, the possibility of an ugly turn to events was real.  However police was able to persuade the seething crowd to cool off.

Last year a temple in Howrah in West Bengal was ransacked with portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses thrown in mud. If you click on this link, you would find various attacks on Hindu idols in temples in Pakistan, Bangladesh and even United States.

I am not writing this to contrast the outrage which Lutyens Media had shown three weeks ago when a skullcap of a Muslim was thrown on the ground and police had later contested that the victim might have actually kept the skullcap in his pocket. I am also not trying to whip up an outrage among Hindu majority. And I am certainly not trying to paint millions of Indian Muslims in a corner who I believe are largely peaceful.

My point is larger and the instance I quote is of Lebanon to show how stray incidents, if not checked, snowball into something monstrous.

On April 13, 1975, a few gunmen of a PLO (Palestine Liberation Organiztion) faction barged into the Church of Notre Dame de la Deliverance in East Beirut and opened fire on the VIPs present, killing four people.

It was a religious transgression and it began the civil war in Lebanon which lasted for 15 years (1975-1990).  Around 120,000 people were killed. By 2012, approximately 76,000 people had been displaced within the country. There was also an exodus of over one million people.

It was a flashpoint and sure the genesis of it was building up over the years. At the turn of the century, Lebanon was a Christian-majority country. It was a model nation of liberal values. By 1950s, Lebanon had entered into its golden age. Politically stable, economy booking, excellent tourism, exemplary banks, envied even in Western world and termed as the Swiss of the Middle East.  After Israel, it was the most prosperous country in the Middle East and this too without oil as its backbone.

It began to change when Lebanon opened its border to accept hundreds and thousands of Palestinians during 1948-1967 period, a stretch when Israel became a nation and fought wars with Arab nations. The Muslims’ demography in Lebanon was already booming: Having 10 children in family was a norm. With the influx from across the border, the demographic equation changed, religious battles for turfs became common and Civil War loomed. A flash point was all it needed to wreak havoc.

I am not getting into the debate about the role of demography, about Islam’s ideology of propagation of faith or its resort to violence to achieve its goal. My point is still larger and its’ something which liberal world could either choose to dismiss it as Islamophobia or gird up its lions to deal with it.

We all know that the adherents of Islam are 1.20 billion in the world. That majority of them are peaceful. That only 10-15 percent, or a few millions it is, who cause horror. But this number is enough to bring the liberal world to a staggering halt.

Weren’t Germans by and large peaceful before Adolf Hitler and his ethnic cleansing program dragged them into World War II and caused millions to die? Wasn’t Joseph Stalin a role model of a “reformed” Communism who caused tens of millions to die of starvation and hunger in Soviet Union? Do we need to tell what Mao Zedong did to millions of his men? Do we need a reminder what 19 wood-cutters did to our world by bringing down the towers of World Trade Center?

Would peaceful majority of muslims deny that there are hundreds of Sharia courts in England which were unthinkable a few decades ago and which run parallel to the laws of the land? Would they disagree that there are dozens of areas in France which have been declared “no-go zones” even by the police?

Closer home, weren’t Indian muslims largely peaceful yet the Partition occurred in 1947? In view of historical and present facts, would they revisit their empathy for Rohingya Muslims? Or, to rethink if the so-called state aggression on “innocent” Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir could have a contrary viewpoint? How now do they view the “tukde-tukde” gang? How do they view the growing presence of Islamic State (IS) in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Bengal? Do they have an opinion on Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute?

The crux is peaceful Indian Muslims need to stand up and be counted. At least those who are well-off and not struggling to meet their ends meet. They need to be angry on lynchings and be equally outraged on loses in the Hindu quarters.  They need to find a leadership within which speaks for say, Kashmiri Pandits and condemn terrorism.  The narrative of violent Islam needs a course correction and it must come from within the community. Or they would hand over the future of their own coming generations in the hands of a dreaded few.

As for Hindus, they need be aware of the danger of demography, the limits of secularism and the pitfalls of bookish “liberal” values.  Not for nothing it’s said: Those who refuse to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.