Pakistan

This is no soap opera that Russia would come and bail out India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred)

It’s not as much a matter of choice for India as it is for Russia. India media might be scripting a Russia factor in fractured Indo-China relations but you ought to know better.

India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh is in Moscow. The foreign ministers of two nations joined their Chinese counterpart for a virtual dialogue on Tuesday. Both are pre-arranged engagements, not an offshoot of Galwan Valley. Yet hopes are injected that Russia would play a peacemaker. I suggest you examine the evidence than suffer a hangover which is a druggie’s profile the morning after.

Sure, Russia is India’s biggest defence exporter. The two leaders Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi share a rare warmth. They have reset economic ties to the extent that the target of $30 billion is revised to $50 billion by 2025. The two have a strategic partnership. Both need each other for trade corridors. Both have stood by each other on global forums. The two have not stopped liking each other in last seven decades.

But Russia is no big brother to India. India’s economy is more than twice the size of Russia. India’s arm buys are falling vis-à-vis Russia and leapfrogging with Israel, France, the United States etc. Tourism isn’t quite booming between the two nations.

On the contrary, Russia can’t do without China. Its’ trade with China is worth over a hundred billion dollars. It has a $400 billion energy deal with China. Both share a global vision in Indo-Pacific even though Russia, on its own, has little to lose on that sea expanse.  Both see in the United States an implacable rival. Both are looking after each other’s backs. You help us mate if submarines snarl in South China Sea. We look after you if NATO rolls down tanks in Eastern Europe. No formal pact, just a wink in the eye is good enough.

So, Russia could use its good offices to bring the two Asian adversaries on the table. But it can’t prevent a martial discord turning into a divorce. It doesn’t have that bargaining chip. If it was valued this big by China, the latter would’ve taken Russians into confidence before the Galwan Valley misadventure. And if they did take Moscow into confidence, and still went ahead, it’s worse.

It’s for Russia to plot its future in the 21st century. Its present woes began when it took control of Crimea after a referendum in 2014. The US-led sanctions in its wake are crippling.

It could choose to remember that India defended the referendum in Crimea while China didn’t.

It could turn a blind eye, if it wants to, China going big in elbowing it out in Central Asia which is so, so vital to Moscow.

It could choose to be a junior partner to China or retain the instincts which are genetic in a superpower.

It could ignore–if it could afford –the role India could play in linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Asian mass through Chabahar Port in Iran, now in India’s control.

It could miss, if it wants to, the critical role of India in the International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km network of ship, rail and road which frees up Russian transportation across Europe, Central Asia, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan up to India.

Nations today are guided by their own interests. Two countries could converge on one issue and diverge significantly on the other.  Russia discounts China’s role in the devastating Covid-19 spread on global forums but it has also shut its borders against China. Russia is indeed India’s friend for all seasons but it doesn’t stop them from selling arms to Pakistan and joining our arch rivals in military exercises since Afghanistan is vital. India too won’t let Russia come in the way of its growing convergence with the United States. But its adamant to buy S400 anti-missile system from Russia next year even though the United States is threatening crippling sanctions. There are camps, sure, but relationships are more fluid, unlike Cold War era. Look at Turkey, a member of NATO, but blackmailing Europe now and then on refugees.

So rejoice Russia is neutral but don’t expect them in your corner against China. Besides India itself is a power of considerable hulk. India’s issue with China won’t have a mediator. New Delhi would have to pack a punch of its own against China. Russia is no parent and India no child even though China decidedly is a bully. Call the bully out on your own. India could do it.

Indian media seeking Russia’s intervention is comical, if not tragic. On one hand you detest the United States offering mediation; on the other you seek one from Russia. It’s tragic for it betrays a sense of inferiority, a colonial hangover, which refuses to acknowledge India could hold its own. It distorts the immediacy India needs in its military preparedness. It injects a false sense of security.  It lets India down in its own eyes.

 

 

In case of war, would US rush to India’s defence?

(This is  reprint from NewsBred).

Behind their pandemic-induced masks, Indians have a floating question on their lips: What if China was to pour into India and spank us like it did in 1962.

Columns on military match-ups are box-office hits.  In today’s Mint, weighing scales have measured India and China on nuclear, submarines, armoured vehicles, boots-on-the- ground, everything. It assures readers we are better in inhospitable terrains, fighter jets and in shape thanks to our periodic pounding of Pakistan. It doesn’t look at the weight Pakistan could bring into equation but that’s okay. Indian soldiers are world’s envy for over a century for a reason.

Indians are also hopeful on the United States. That Trump and Modi would look after each other’s backs. This lack-in-self isn’t mindful that India’s nuclear arsenal is deterrent enough. We won’t be rolled over in a conventional war too.  Besides, still don’t have a formal military pact with the United States.

Sure, in last decade and a half, the US administration across presidents, and Indians between their Manmohan and Modi, have resembled two lost brothers who couldn’t have enough of each other. It began with access to military sheets (GSOMIA) but ramped up startingly under the Modi regime. An important threshold crossed was reciprocal logistical support (LEMOA) in 2016; and greater Indian access to US military technology (COMCASA) in 2018. The next stage is a deal for 2021 when US could share advanced satellite, intelligence and topographical information (BECA) with India. It would be huge, but not now.

The United States, as it is, has more military pacts than one could count. In the Indo-Pacific waters itself, it’s committed to come to aid of Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia and, a little beyond, New Zealand. Western Europe of course is a Biblical commitment in the form of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). It’s extremely possessive about Central and Latin America and if in doubt, ask a Cuban.  In the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia have the blank cheque of security. Since the Second World War, the United States has committed itself to defend a quarter of the world’s population. All are not cut-and-dried military pacts. But de facto, some 69 countries which is worth 75 per cent of world’s economic output, could claim a security umbrella festooned by Washington D.C.

Formal military pacts are dying trends. It forces counter alliances and the world is lit up in smoke as it happened during the First World War. Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were committed to each other against France and Russia and Great Britain was forging secret alliances of its own in a skullduggery which remarkably has been kept hidden by the historians of Oxford who make up the history narrative of English-speaking schools.

So, sorry folks, a military pact between India and the United States isn’t happening all too soon. If the United States enters the Indian Ocean, be sure that China and Russia would commit themselves in equal measure. The US would have its military cooperation, sea drills and logistical shares with India. It designated India as a major defense partner in 2016 itself. The satellite and intelligence sharing under BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) would be big on its own. It would be a game-changer in communications, navigational and threat assessment. India’s defence exports from the United States are second only to Russia. But don’t mistake it for a joint resistancce against an invader.

We’re in a fluid state. We are not at war with China.  Hotheads could spin it out of control for both, and Pakistan. Looking for the United States or Russia isn’t on the charts spread at military commands of the two Asian giants. Treat the two Cold War antagonists as proteins or steroids in a gym. The heavy-lifting is still left to us. Hopefully the worst is behind us. For the time being.

The lessons for India though are unmistakable. China doesn’t have our good in mind. We would know of the United States too if Russia holds firm and delivers us S400 missile system in 2021. Closer home, we need to free up our armed forces from stifling civil bureaucracy. If they want Rafale, that’s what they get. We have a huge lag and delay is not an option.

 

A muscular India gives its army a “free hand” to knock sense in China

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It would be a grave misjudgement to believe that China has walked over India in a physical showdown in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on Monday.

If nothing, ask the Chinese who made moves in lockstep over the last few weeks to test India’s nerves and found a nation mature in diplomacy and dare in equal measure.

India has used velvet gloves against a petulant Nepal which thumbed its nose on borders but didn’t elicit a raging anger from New Delhi that would’ve played into the hands of its puppeteer, China. India knows, as does Nepal, that the latter can’t survive without India’s open borders. Simply, the land-locked nation would run out of essential supplies. A manufactured border dispute has no future but for headlines and talk shows.

China meanwhile had crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at four different points in Ladakh, agreed for de-escalation but then stayed put when the two armies were to pull themselves back by a few kilometres. India would have none of an enemy’s forward-post left standing inside the Galwan Valley which belongs to India. It didn’t backdown from a physical combat either since arms and ammunitions are avoided by the two neighbours in sensitive stretches of border running into thousands of kilometres.

Now has come the news that Indian Army has been empowered to act as per the ground situation without looking for directions from New Delhi. In other words, the Indian Army has been freed from political constraints. It’s an unambiguous message to Beijing that they are now in the wilds. That your superior nuclear stockpiles, defence spending or armaments wouldn’t be of much aid if it’s bare knuckle fight. So, if it’s to fists, stones and clubs now, may the best man win. There is no referee.

Indian Express has quoted an army source thus: “Army has been given emergency powers for deployment there as per needs and new situations without looking towards Delhi…We have to demonstrate our strength on the ground…there is no need to show aggression, only our strength.”

This would put China in a spot. Either they shove the conventions and turn it into an armed combat. Or they pull themselves back as they did in Doklam in 2017. Or they escalate which wouldn’t go unnoticed to a concerned world. It’s a massive show of intent from Modi’s India which is largely consistent in its zero-tolerance approach on nation’s sovereignty and integrity.

It’s not like South China Sea where the Middle Kingdom has usurped islands, sea tolls, reefs and banks overriding neighbours protests. China could not only carry through the bluff but were assured of its efficacy by the mumbled response of the affected. India seems determined to call out the bully. It’s not the semi-autonomous Hong Kong, a cowering Taiwan or a Vietnamese fishing boat you could sink to the floor of the South China Sea.

China clearly is upset at India’s assertions in recent months. India has signed a pact with Australia in the middle of the pandemic which would give teeth to QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) between four democracies of Indo-Pacific: the United States, Japan, Australia and India itself. It has openly given a call to multinationals to shift their operations to India, a blow to China where it hurts the most. It has decided to screen the foreign investments beyond the FDI regulations. It now heads World Health Organization (WHO) which is to take call if China was complicit in hiding the truth on Corona Virus pandemic. It hasn’t helped the matter that Taiwan, which Beijing is paranoid about, could have “observer” status at WHO on pandemic deliberations. Then we have an expanded G-7 group of nations where India is to be included but no invitation has gone out to China

India has an uncontested control of Galwan Valley, between Ladakh and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin, since 1962. It suffers from poor infrastructure in a hilly terrain unlike China which makes use of the flat Tibetan plateau to carry its road and highway network unhindered. India in contrast has to cross several mountains to access the LAC. It’s only natural that India wants to secure its borders. China would either have to give up the encroachments or face consequences, no less economic. There is a groundswell of consensus to boycott Chinese goods. The little matter of Huawei 5G also hangs in the balance.

There is little doubt China faces uncommon heat across continents. Pushback against its over-arching reach has already begun in Africa and Southeast Asia. Unemployment is unprecedented. Economic woes are spiralling. The world is a hostile theatre after China’s machinations on pandemic which has set the world back by a generation in economic terms. Its present misadventure in Ladakh is an undisguised diversionary tactics.

There is little doubt Indo-China relations would freeze in near future. It would bring Pakistan in closer ambit of China. India, on its part, would have the United States in its drawing room. Distrust between the two main powers of Asia would now run deep. Russia is a common friend which could find its loyalty divided.

Who’s afraid of “Lobby of Six”? questions Gogoi; Puts nation on alert

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It’s the last time readers you would hear about it. So I want you to be serious. Ranjan Gogoi, former Chief Justice of India and now a member of the Rajya Sabha, has said that there is a “Lobby of Six” which controls our judiciary by maligning them.  You could make it a fun exercise. Or if you are serious, reflect how our system is compromised.

Three names immediately spring to my mind as suspects: Prashant Bhushan, Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Singhvi.  They opposed tooth and nail matters of national importance, such as Rafale, Ram Temple, Article 370, EVM, Loya judge case etc in varying degrees, individually or collectively.  Remember the names who wanted an “impeachment” motion against then CJI Deepak Misra? A few judges too cross my mind for some strange verdicts. But I better not spell out my hunch.

( Or it could be that Gogoi might be hinting at a completely different set who work behind the scenes. So folks, send in your choice of “Lobby of Six” on my twitter or facebook handle.  Let this issue hang in our public discourse. For your newspapers are unlikely to give it wind. They have already dug up trenches to bury Gogoi’s views. I would follow up this pieces with due credit to your credible hunches).  

Gogoi says that this “Lobby of Six” took recourse to “maligning” to control judiciary.  You only “malign” through propaganda. And propaganda is best managed by media. This is rather easy. I remember a piece I wrote when a “sexual harassment” case was popped up against Gogoi last year.  Three websites with Leftist bent–The Wire, Scroll and Caravan—made a coordinated attack. They appeared hand-in-gloves with the forces who wanted to malign our judiciary. My piece then had tried to connect the dots. Read it and see if you agree with my deductions.

The Indian Express and The Hindu are two other national dailies which are more than suspects, in my humble opinion.  The judges and advocates they have in their rosters as guest columnists/rent-a-byte individuals, all have a bent towards a particular ideology.  Refer to the pages of these two newspapers when a “sexual impropriety” charge was made against Gogoi last April. Or the recent spate of articles they have had against Gogoi’s nomination in Rajya Sabha.  That Gogoi has now chosen to speak to Times of India, and not Express and The Hindu, carries its own message. Or it could be that Express and the Hindu didn’t approach Gogoi in the first place. The latter is worse: for the gold-standard in journalism is to hear both sides of story. Don’t pronounce someone guilty unless you’ve heard him.

Be that as it may, do read Gogoi’s interview in Times of India. He makes some pertinent points which deserve to be a part of the collective memory of we the citizens who unfortunately are also readers of a few disgraceful newspapers. As per the supposed perks on being a Rajya Sabha member, Gogoi puts forth the same arguments I had questioned Left-Liberals on in recent days.

Gogoi says that Ayodhya was a unanimous verdict by a bench of five judges. So all other were compromised? Rafale too was a unanimous verdict. So the other sitting judges were also compromised? Isn’t it a slur on their integrity? Gogoi also took on his critics who said he practiced “sealed cover” jurisprudence. “Should I have made public details on Rafale”? Pakistan would’ve laughed its guts out. Why was this bunch silent when the judiciary asked for sealed cover report on “2G scam”. Or when now the Supreme Court has asked for “sealed cover” report on Shaheen Bagh?

Strong words. And a bit of humour from his ex-Lordship: “I never was, never am and never will be afraid of anyone’s opinion, except my wife.”

Hopefully, Gogoi’s interview would give teeth to “independent” voices within the judiciary.  There is no reason to buckle down to this “Lobby of Six” or anyone else. You have nobody but your conscience to be answerable to.

(Post script: As to how our judiciary functions, listen to the voice of a fearless amongst us, legal hawk Vibhor Anand, who had penned for us a few pieces in the past).

Why history won’t forgive Modi if he buckles under now

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi could sense a long road ahead. He is under attack from all corners, both at home and abroad. From civil rights activists to media; from foreign parliaments to Congress; Presidents to Islamic leaders. All are baying for his blood. And have declared him enemy of Indian Muslims.

It of course is not true. There is nothing in Citizenship Act which is anti-Muslim. There is nothing in NPR which wasn’t there in its’ previous exercise in 2010. NRC, if it happens, is too far out. But what does Modi do? Should he allow the events to overtake him? Or should he follow the time-table his government has set for the exercise? Should he compromise or should he stay firm?

Let’s evaluate what Modi gains if he softens his stance. Let’s say he scraps Citizenship Act or puts it in abeyance. Would he gain the support of Indian Muslims? Would shameless Indian media applaud him on his statesmanship? Won’t we read headlines in Western press such as “Power of people foil a bigot dictator’s pogrom”? Would Iran and Turkey; Pakistan and Malaysia hail him? The answer is NO.

Let’s also evaluate the fallout at his own side of the fence. He could appear weak to his millions of his supporters and lose their support. He could hurt his “raj dharma” by which he professes all too often. He has often said powers would come and go but India remains. Should he be true to his oath to the “Constitution” to do what he believes is best for the Republic? For which he has been chosen by 1.30 billion people of this land?

Now let’s consider the eventuality in case Modi decides to stay firm on his decision.  Let’s take the domestic and foreign fallout separately; though both in reality feed on each other. If Modi stays firm and presses ahead in the muddied waters, there could be: (a) More riots across the country; (b) Indian and Western Media would only intensify their anti-Modi coverage; (c) A few state governments could refuse to implement CAA; (d) Kashmir would burn now that winter is in retreat; (e) And even judiciary could buckle under and pass a stricture against him.

Again, what do you think Modi should do? Compromise or stay firm?

From above synopsis, it’s apparent that Compromise wouldn’t help him a wee bit. Or his government. Or India. Or Future governments. A weak Modi now would give a template to anti-India forces to pursue in years to come. Future leaders may also not have the energy, vision or selflessness of a Narendra Modi.

It would be a severe blow to Hindus who are in dire need to be in touch and in sync with their heritage of language (Sanskrit), culture and religion. A Hindu revival is what the world doesn’t want. A revival of Hindu ethos is what could save this world. A blow to it would only embolden the Islamist powers. Besides, history won’t judge Modi kindly if he succumbs to pressure. And what he would say as explanation???

Further, suppose the CAA and NPR throw up unaccounted for illegal migrants/infiltrators on our land. Could they be sleeper cells? Jihadists? Terrorists? Putting your and my life at risk? Would those who are championing “human rights” and “democracy” and “constitution” come to our help? In such an eventuality, who would we all end up blaming for?—Modi of course.

There is simply no going back, Mr Modi. People have given you mandate to run this country on their behalf for five years. Parliament has given you sanction. Supreme Court would judge you by the Constitution. Nothing else matters. States powers which put populism ahead of India, dismiss them. Jihadi Islamists, political leaders and their organizations who whip up Indian Muslims into arson and violence, book them. Media, which is unbridled and peddles fake news, suspend them. Western Media could take a walk. Don’t give a hoot to what a few foreign powers say. Ignore the garbage of a European Parliament or a United Nations Human Rights Council.

What would happen at the most? There might be a dozen more calibrated riots. A United States could slap you with sanctions (though it won’t as long as Trump is in power, hopefully till 2024). Military intervention is out of question against a serious nuclear power like us. Are you worrying about your reputation Mr Modi? Playing ball to anti-India forces wouldn’t spruce up your reputation. Indeed, it would break into splinters the hearts of millions of your followers.

You have four-plus years remaining in your second term. Use it with full conviction. Without fear of consequences. That’s what Bhagwad Gita says too. A weak Modi would lose all he has gained so far. It would hurt him, country and billion-plus Hindus. It won’t be the right homage to our suffering souls of a thousand years.

Ironically, a weak Modi at this stage won’t help the cause of Indian Muslims either. The anger of Hindus would bubble forth. The society at large could be prejudiced against Muslims. Muslims could be further ghettoized. They could also be expecting more entitlements. They could be further radicalized. It could be ripe for a ISIS or a Hizbul Mujahideen to make further inroads.  Remove their fear by actions. Withdrawing CAA would only confirm their worst fears about you. 

UN Human Rights Council is a disgrace and here’s why

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a disgrace and don’t take my words alone for it.

The United States withdrew from the body in 2018 stating it to be a “cesspool of political bias.” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo termed the council as a “protector of human rights abusers.” Nick Haley, the US envoy to the UN, termed it a “hypocritical body” that “makes a mockery of human rights.”

And this is not Donald Trump alone. The Bush Administration did likewise when the Council was created in 2006. The reasons cited were the same: The Council was ignoring same of world’s worst atrocities while showing its bias for a few on the religious lines.

Indeed, some of world’s worst terrorist-sponsoring nations and human rights violators have occupied the high seats of this Council. This Council would do nothing to pull up a Saudi Arabia or a Pakistan who treat women terribly. But talk of Israel and the Jewish nation has been censured no less than 68 times between 2006-2016. Sixty-eight times!!! And this is nearly half of all the resolutions the Council has adapted against countries in its existence till now.

The Counil, meanwhile, doesn’t bat an eyelid when the Palestinian Authority runs a “pay to slay” program which rewards those who indulge in bombing and terrorism; launch rockets and missiles at Israeli citizens from Gaza.

Do we need to remind the world how UNHRC ignores human violations in China or Cuba; Afghanistan or Congo? That there is death sentence for gays in Somalia and Sudan? That Mauritania allows slaves? That Qatar and Libya both enslave migrants? Or the tyranny which Maduro exerts in Venezuela? No prizes for guessing: All are members of the UNHRC.

Do you think this is an angst of a Hindu nationalist peeved at UNHRC’s resolution against India on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)? Consider this:

Former United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, mentioned the Council so in his farewell speech in 2016: “Decades of political maneuverings have created a disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel.”

What did the Council do when millions were being displaced and killed in Kyrgyzstan in inter-ethnic violence in 2010? It expressed “support and encouragement to Kyrgyzstan government for its efforts.” The Council spoke about “human rights violations” in Iran for a mere 171 seconds in 2015. The Council succumbed to the pressure of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 2008 and qualified their “freedom of expression” charter with the caveat that it didn’t cover religious discrimination. Can you beat it!

The present Council is a makeover of Human Rights Commission which was scrapped in 2005 by an overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly. This happened after decades of complaints and well-encapsulated by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan with these words: “The commission had been undermined by declining credibility and professionalism”. Autocrat states came together to block any scrutiny of their records. Libya, despite its poor human rights record, chaired the commission once. No action was initiated against Sudan despite its terrible excesses in 2004.

The new Council though was no different to its previous avatar. Many see it as a stain on United Nations.  Its members continue to vote in bloc rather than address each issue separately. African group tends to vote as a bloc and so does OIC, as per a report by the Democracy Coalition Project. Their stands mostly reflect security and economic ties and worrying about human right abuses is farthest from their minds.

So when such a body makes a political stand in the garb of “human rights”, take it with a pinch of salt. It has an overwhelming bias against Jews–and you could now safely add Hindus to this list. This disgrace on world community would be shown its rightful place by the Indian Supreme Court in due course. Meanwhile mark those Jaichands and Mir Jafars who are rejoicing at the censure of UNHRC against the Modi regime. These scums care little for your country or human rights. Reserve only contempt for such garbage.

 

 

 

 

Trump backs Modi on damning headlines; Now it’s for latter to keep his end of bargain

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Donald Trump trusts Narendra Modi on issues which make damning headlines around the world. But he won’t be up on his feet till India delivers the trade balance he wants between the two countries.

Trump went away home after two days in India on Tuesday with a ringing approval of the country and “his friend” Modi. He is now looking for India to do its bit to satiate the obsession he is known for around the world—trade.

President George Bush had his neurosis on “war on terror”, Barack Obama on “climate change” but it’s trade for Trump who won’t be drawn, for instance, into Hong Kong as long as he could muscle out trade concessions from China. India shouldn’t expect anything different.

Trade though was on the backburner in the overall theme of Trump’s visit. It was all about a reception unlike “anyone had received anywhere in the world at any time of history,” as Trump mentioned more than once in his interaction with the press on Tuesday evening.

The press corps looked for that one quote which could put Modi in poor light. But it never came. Kashmir was an issue “which has been on for a long time.” Trump was willing to help his two friends—Pakistan’s president Imran Khan and India’s prime minister Modi—if they wished so but to suggest it was an offer of mediation or intervention would be a stretch of imagination.

India’s contentious new Citizenship Act, the reporters were informed, wasn’t even discussed between the two leaders who had met privately in the afternoon. Trump viewed the ongoing violence in the Capital as a matter India could handle.  Of course, religious reforms figured in the talk between them but Trump was mightily assured Modi’s India meant no harm to any religious group.  When a specific question on Muslims was raised, Trump mentioned Modi and his “powerful statement” that Indian Muslims have grown from 140 to 200 millions in a very short period of time.

All this must be music to Modi’s ears. But he would’ve to do his part on trade to keep Trump in similar humour.  The US president noted India had managed to bring down its trade surplus from $23 billion to $14 billion in a short period of time but he expected more. Trump hoped for a trade deal between the two nations by the end of year.

India’s trade advantage vis-à-vis US is miniscule, at least 20 times less than what China enjoys against the US at $345 billion.  Yet it’s an irritant in Trump’s eyes. In 2018, he imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium.  In April next year, India lost its spot in the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme of the United States. It affected India’s exports to the tune of $5.6 billion.

India responded with tariffs of its own on 28 imported items from the United States. It’s high tariff on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, retaliatory moves on farm and dairy products also didn’t go down well with Trump. India seeks to improve its bargaining position in the service industry, have more employment visas for its young and talented. For sure, this is not an exhaustive list of contentious trade issues but just a sample.

To be fair, Trump has been unambiguous about what he expects from the world on trade matters. His inaugural address as President in 2017 was littered with mentions of America’s “foolish” trade policies…which had redistributed its wealth across the entire world.”

The US president looked fresh and eager, up on his toes for the better part of an hour in the evening, fielding questions from the press corps. There was no sign he had as hectic a day as he had endured on Monday, hopping from city to city, and viewing India’s people, culture and monumental masterpieces from close quarters.

On Tuesday, he met India’s president and business tycoons, paid respect to India’s father of nation Mahatma Gandhi at his memorial and oversaw negotiations between the officials of the two countries. His better half and the First Lady Melania Trump at times accompanied him and at other times charted out her own engagement in a local school in the Capital. By late evening, the two had headed for home.

 

Hafiz Saeed: It’s a personal angst against him

(This is a reprint from NewsBred and rt.com)

I have personal reasons to be elated with the 11-year-sentencing of the UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed in Lahore, Pakistan on Wednesday – though like most self-gratifying moments, I could be guilty of undue haste.

I feel a sense of lightness at the sentencing of a monster terrorist who masterminded the 26/11 attack in Mumbai in 2008, in which 166 innocent people were gunned down, including a very dear fellow journalist with whom I shared the newsroom at the English daily Times of India in the 1990s.

Though the sentence is too little, too late – and could still mean nothing in the days to come – Hafiz Saeed is the face of evil to me. Saeed’s men pumped bullets into my colleague and friend, Sabina Saikia, pulling her from below the bed where the terrified girl had hidden at the staccato sounds of machine guns outside her room in the iconic Taj Hotel of India’s commercial capital.

A nightmare that continues

The fateful evening was November 26, 2008, and I had long since left the Times of India. Now, I was busy marshalling the news desk of a national TV channel as the dreaded attack unfolded. I had no idea Sabina was in Mumbai to attend a wedding for a day and that she had checked in to the very hotel which had been watched for months by terrorists from across the border in Pakistan.

It would be four days before we knew who and how many people were murdered, as the killers holed themselves up in the ocean-front hotel before India’s security forces managed to neutralize them following dozens of hours of gun battles, watched 24/7 on television by a stunned nation.

Sabina’s was no ordinary casualty. She was the Czarina of Food, whose reviews in India’s best-selling English daily made or marred a restaurant’s reputation. She had dabbled in various news ‘beats,’ including crime and investigation, but found her seat at the high table of journalism as a food critic. There she had stayed put until those bullets took her life.

Anniversary after anniversary passed. I kept a tab on mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who was the co-founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group which had received its initial funding from none other than Osama bin Laden. This is the same Islamist group which was accused of an attack on India’s Parliament in 2001 – as well as the Pulwama suicide attack which killed more than 40 Indian soldiers in 2019, merely four months after Saeed was arrested for terror-financing.

All these years, Saeed was evil personified for many Indians. India knocked on the doors of global powers to have Saeed and his terror group sanctioned and watched in horror as the bearded, portly terrorist was arrested and released on more than one occasion by the Police-Judiciary interplay in Pakistan. India’s attempts to secure his extradition remained unanswered. The United States, since then, declared LeT responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attack and announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed’s head.

Breakthrough or strategic move?

At face value, Pakistan has cracked the whip on terrorism – the first condition for India to resume dialogue with its neighbor and arch rival. Logically, this should lower the tensions between the two nations, particularly strained after India revoked the autonomous status of the Jammu & Kashmir state last August. Saeed, in particular, was India’s nemesis in Kashmir Valley and has long-vowed to prise it out of India’s grasp.

But India is not too optimistic yet. It knows Pakistan has a critical meeting with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris this weekend, which could ‘blacklist’ it for insufficient action to keep a check on funding to terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. In that light, the country’s sentencing of the 70-year-old Saeed could just be strategic.

If it is blacklisted, Pakistan could lose up to $10 billion and be economically devastated. It would be an outcast in the international financial system. Its banking system would be crippled, remittances or access to international lending would be denied and foreign investors would keep the nation at arm’s length.

The last on Saeed has not been heard yet. But his sentencing is a balm, nevertheless, for the wounded soul in me.

 

Modi’s churn of silence is taming the beast of protests

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi could well end up taming the beast which hogged the headlines and filled the streets for two months now in protest against a new Citizenship Act.

A seemingly innocuous Act which fast forwards the citizenship process for persecuted minorities of three neighbouring Islamic states of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh was dressed up as one against the Muslims by Modi’s detractors. The propaganda succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

It tapped on the raw anxiety of Indian Muslims who were fed the misinformation the Citizenship Act was the first step towards their disenfranchisement despite various official clarifications.

Political opponents upped the heat by passing resolutions in state assemblies run by them, such as Kerala and Punjab, even though constitutionally Citizenship is a matter which doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction and strictly is a preserve of the Centre.

The Siamese twins of mainstream Indian and Western media fished in the troubled waters with inflammatory headlines. The New York Times wondered if India is becoming a Hindu nation and BBC termed it an anti-Muslim law.

Various cities in the United States staged anti-Citizenship Act protests though there were hardly many Indians discernible in those rallies. A segment of European Union called for a stricture against the Modi government which was withdrawn at the last minute. From United Nations Human Rights office to US senate religious committee, all whipped up a storm.

An Indian Maidan in the making?

A tiny enclave in India’s Capital, Shaheen Bagh bore all the markings of a Maidan of Ukraine or a Tehrir Square of Egypt. It’s the shrine of protests, so to say, well into its eighth week, full of mural arts, revolutionary songs, media briefers, technological deftness to be passed off as spontaneous. It holds the torch to a revolution India never had. This was Modi’s gravest crisis in six years.

Modi has chosen to meet this mushroom of clouds overhead with a churn of silence. He kept his police in the barracks, used a light hand over provocations. People, including his supporters, wondered if he had lost control. Now it appears to be a part of a grand strategy. He always knew the contours of powers, both at home and abroad, at work against him. Now his followers, which are the majority in his country, have been made aware of the gravity. It could lead to consolidation and additions in millions among his supporters.

Rivals are now waking up to Modi’s grand game. They are urging protestors to withdraw and go back home. A leader who was so nuanced in handling Kashmir against international storm, couldn’t have been silent without a reason. They sense a turn in tide. Credible surveys reveal that Modi remains muscularly popular; far from being severely bruised as his opponents had bargained for in the present protests.

Modi’s measures can now be clearly deciphered. On the domestic front, his ministers are linking the protests to a machination by the arch-rivals Pakistan who, unable to whip up support for Kashmir in international arena, are now being linked to causing unrest within India, an insinuation which never fails to get the ire up of a billion-plus people.

Bilateral ties are all which matter

In the world beyond his borders, all that matters is bilateral ties. Modi is yet to hear a move from any of the major nations against the Citizenship Act. The European Union and US Senate and George Soros of the world could make as much noise as they want; the Western press could send its army of correspondents and cameraman to India’s Capital in droves, the  non-state players like NGOs could work its collective noise to a shrill but all of this would materially make no difference to Modi or India’s standing. As long as there are no sanctions; and the majority of his people are behind him, Modi can afford to sit back and let the forces against him play themselves out into a meaningless heap.

Important alignments in Modi’s favour are beginning to emerge. All parties in alliance with him are backing him to the hilt on the Citizenship Act. The Supreme Court is due to take a call on the petitions this month and it’s unlikely to go against the Act.  Shaheen Bagh protests are alienating the rest of the Capital as its causing traffic jams, affecting local business, and rendering schools and hospitals in the area virtually inoperable.

There are now also incriminating videos in public where the prime organizer of Shaheen Bagh was heard hatching plans for India’s northeastern states to secede from the mainland. It has raised the hackles of a nation which has already been severed of its eastern and western arms on the grounds of religion at the stroke of independence seven decades ago.

Politics is not a zero-sum game but Modi is set to harvest a bounty nobody had seen coming out of the present crisis.

 

 

Troubled skies: United States’ Iraqi misadventure puts India on guard against rogue drones

(This is reprint from NewsBred).

India is scrambling to put its sky safe after the United States breached the sovereignty of its own “friend” Iraq in carrying out an illegal drone attack which killed, among others, Iran’s top military commander General Qassem Soleimani early this fortnight.

New Delhi already has a regulatory policy in place for the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and their remote pilots who require prior permission to be on Indian skies but it’s no safeguard if a foe (Pakistan) or a perceived friend (the United States) comes hissing from the above and starts raining mayhem.

India had begun to put its drone policy in place after Pakistan was caught out dropping a cache of arms in Punjab last September but it’s the United States, with its brazen disregard for international norms, as well as its murderous drone background, which has had a chilling effect in India’s strategic boardrooms.

General Soleimani’s was a cold-blooded assassination but the United States makes no distinction between its enemies and friends, or civilians, as its drone attacks in seven countries—Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen—bear the imprint of its rogue streak. It has a cooperative security relationship in place with Iraq yet it breached what was termed as “outrageous breach of Iraqi sovereignty” by the Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in the wake of General Soleimani killing.

US and its’ sordid drone history

In September last, a US drone strike in Afghanistan snuffed the life out of 30 civilian farm-workers and estimates of similar innocent deaths hover around 1000-2000 in numbers. The exact count is difficult to verify since the United States no longer releases the annual reports on the civilians its airstrikes kill. The allocation on drones in its annual budget though had spiralled to nearly $7 billion in 2018 and conveys the increasing importance of this unmanned weapon in the United States’ aggressive military designs.

Now, in the wake of General Soleimani’s kiiling, India’s army has asked the home ministry for the latest drone-disabling technology which could cut radio frequency and disable GPS. The future of warfare, if its’ already not upon us, would’ve drones mutating into swarms like one of bees or locusts and shooting them down would be near impossible. These swarms could swamp enemy sensors with their sheer numbers. Neutralizing them digitally makes better common sense.

India takes no prisoners

India is thus taking no prisoners as it has decided to expedite a “National Counter Rogue Drone Guidelines” which works out the measures to protect its leaders and vital installations from drone attacks. It had deployed drones to monitor the protests on its streets last month. Drone-strategy is part of Indian military’s ambitious plans to spend $250 billion until 2025 to keep itself battle-primed.

Much before the drone-induced heightened tensions of present times, Indian Air Force had shown no interest in buying drones from the United States. It had found the offer on 10 armed Predator or Avenger drones too prohibitive in costs last August. Besides, the low speed of these drones would’ve been of no use, say in the surgical strikes in Balakot which India carried out last year. It’s slow movement would’ve afforded enough time to the enemy to launch counter measures. Indian navy though is in line to buy a few 10 Sea Guardian drones from the United States for maritime surveillance in near future.

Pakistan, meanwhile, continues to be India’s palpable concern. Once winter gives way to summer and snow thaws in Kashmir, India is wary of Pakistan finding new ways to foment trouble in the Kashmir Valley.  There are intelligence inputs of terrorists readying themselves from across the border post-winter.  Pakistan-based terrorists have made air-space violations through drones in the past. There could be fresh attempts to air-drop funds, drugs and arms for their embedded sleeper-cells in the country. India, simply, can’t afford to take its eyes off either its friends or enemies.

(This story first appeared in rt.com).