Russia

India has moved away from United States orbit for good

(This is a reprint from NewsBred ).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who is Donald Trump fooling on Iran?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun, I say.

India won’t mind US out of Syria and Afghanistan

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

For someone like United States which created terrorism in the 1990s that has destroyed the world– think about it: the wreckage of Yugoslavia, paid mercenaries to drive Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the late 80s, the 9/11, the disastrous Iraq War, the nurturing of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS), the transportation of terrorism to our own Kashmir, the wreckage of Middle East where leaders like Muammar Gaddaffi and Saddam Hussein were thrown off only because they chose to be independent, the muscle which allowed Saudi Arabia to wreck Yemen, Egypt (Arab Spring), Ukraine, you name it—is being egged on by extensions of this “deep state”—your international news agencies and closer home their lackeys in Lutyens’ Media—to stay on in Afghanistan and Syria. Why? Because US presence–in their worldview of brainwashing citizenry of the world– is necessary to curb terrorism!!!

United States as a nation has lost thousands of its soldiers in this “pursuit” to end terrorism, which truth must be told is nothing but to benefit its Military-Industrial Complex—read it as “deep state”—that profits monstrously whenever chaos, anarchy, civil strifes and wars are lit by its own machinations around the world. The reconstruction of Iraq after Saddam Hussein is the costliest and biggest scam to have ever happened in human history. Their generation-long overstay in Afghanistan has institutionalized the smuggling of drugs around the world which passes the Gulf and in connivance with these desert kingdoms and Pakistan’s ISI, reaches long-forgotten Africa and destroys millions of youth either sides of Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Illegal drugs today is the third biggest trade in the world after oil and gas. You must doff off your hats to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for that. Don’t be deluded that the big cat called CIA is funded by the meagre funds of US Congress. It’s this illegal drugs trade which allows them the muscle to buy and destroy the world.

But trust our newspapers and news agencies to spin a completely different take on the issue.  Ask them if you must that why they published with glee the pictures of Islamic State swords striking their handcuffed, face-covered victims on their front pages but reduced the news of disappearance of Islamic State, a few years down the line, as a snippet inside their news pages. Shouldn’t it have been a cause of celebration? The middle-pages spread? The distinguished edit-page writers? All those South-Pacific-Human Rights-blah-blah Foundations which plant expert pieces in our newspapers? And why we must not treat them as nothing better than extension of this “deep state”, funded and controlled by them.

The barbarity of Islamic State was perpetuated and highlighted to drive fear in the hearts of world citizenry and legitimatize the US-European NATO operations in the name of saving “liberty, freedom, democracy” of the free world. And who do you think were supplying Islamic State funds and arms by stealth? Who do you think were buying the oil that Islamic State sold from captured oil wells of Syria and Iraq? Every kid, each living soul in Middle East knows that Islamic State was put on run only after Putin’s Russia entered the fray and risked it’s all.

So when Donald Trump wants to put “United States First”—trying to haul out its thousands of military youth rotting in deserts, inhospitable conditions, facing disease trauma and death, conceding that these wars and occupations were never meant to liberate those people and lands but to feed the deep, insatiable pockets of its own military-industrial complex, and its allies, causing a financial ruin to the United States, all hell has broken lose. Newspapers are aghast: how could US abdicate its responsibility of policing the world and nailing terrorism? They wouldn’t tell you the answer if you asked them whether US involvement has increased or decreased terrorism in all these decades.

It is this delusion and sense of matrix which makes them deny the Brexit and emergence of Trump. Away from their propaganda, the faceless and powerless billions of this world are acutely aware they live in a world controlled by powerful monsters who rule even their own governments. These monsters wouldn’t mind if the world goes up in smoke – as long as the money keeps rolling in. It’s this faceless and powerless citizenry which has brought Trump to US Presidentship. It’s these faceless and powerless who punctured David Cameron and won the referendum on Brexit. Forces are at work to wreck both Trump and Brexit—like they are out to damage Modi, Putin and Xi – for they are shaping a world beyond this matrix of “deep state.”  The saccharine calls for “Freedom, Liberty, Democracy” fools nobody in today’s connected world of social media.

Look at India’s English mainstream media of today. All are shedding copious tears and stoking fear that with US’ announcement of withdrawal from Syria and downsizing by half its forces in Afghanistan, India would be at peril from the horrors of terrorism. They won’t stop and question why US’ presence didn’t douse terrorism in the first instance over a generation. India would be just fine, as would be the world, if US doesn’t bestow itself with the role of interfering in the world in the name of “freedom and democracy.” And that too, without the sanctions of United Nations.

And now the twist. Do you really think the cat has caught too many mice and is willing to take a rest now? A long shot. Even as US has announced withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, it’s quietly ramping up its military presence in Kuwait. A secretive massive military drill is underway in conjunction with its Siamese twin, Israel. It’s again on boil on Russia and North Korea. The more things change, they more they remain the same. But if knowledge is power, let it be your only defence against these ruinous powers.

Russia brings Taliban on table as India observes

Russia secured a huge diplomatic victory when it got Taliban to turn up at a meeting on Afghanistan, attended by no less than a dozen countries, in Moscow last Friday.

This was the first time Taliban were face to face with the other side, the government-appointed Afghanistan High Peace Council, in the “Moscow Format” multilateral meeting which lasted less than three hours and was only aimed at kick-starting peace talks.

This was an acknowledgment that Taliban are stronger now than at anytime since 2001 when they faced the wrath of United States who took out the revenge on them for hosting Al Qaeda, the group blamed for 9/11 attacks.

Taliban, who were in power in Afghanistan between 1996-2001, have clawed back to the extent that they now control almost half of Afghanistan and deadly attacks on the Kabul government in recent times—whom they consider to be a US puppet—are at an unprecedented level now.

The Kabul government is in control in only 55% of 407 districts while the rest is largely under Taliban control or influence. Taliban is in no mood to hold direct talks with the Kabul government and stressed they would only hold talks with the US till an agreement on withdrawal of foreign military presence is decided.

The Taliban and US have met twice in July and October this year in order to break through the impasse. In the “Moscow Format” meeting, US turned up as an observer after skipping its first edition last year.

No less than 28,529 Afghan soldiers have been killed since 2015 alone and Taliban’s growing might have forced United States to hold meetings with them in Qatar this year.

Despite over a decade of presence in Afghanistan, United States has achieved little and citizens, caught in the crossfire between Afghan government and Taliban, with US raining bombs and missiles from the sky, have nowhere to go, resigning themselves and their next generation to death any moment.

It’s a horrific situation and a threat to world stability, as Russia perceives Afghanistan could turn out to be a breeding ground for Islamic State (IS) terrorists, planted at the behest of United States, which could wreak havoc in Central Asia and threaten its own backyard.

Russia, historically a foe of Taliban, has tactically succeeded brilliantly in having countries as diverse as Pakistan to India to China to attend the “Moscow Format” meeting.

The Chinese delegate found the Taliban’s demand for withdrawal of troops as reasonable. The Pakistani delegation, seated next to Taliban officials whom they promote openly, stressed the road to peace was a long one. India had sent two non-officials who only observed and didn’t make any statements.

India has close ties with the Afghan government while Pakistan, as said, doesn’t hold itself back in promoting Taliban.

Iran and Russia declared the need for American troops to leave Afghanistan.

Afghan and Taliban delegations were amiable during lunch and tea breaks and acknowledged each other at the table.

Taliban’s resurgence of recent years is a new phase of Afghanistan conundrum. On one hand, it highlights the failure of United States on all fronts—diplomatic, political and militarily, not to speak of turning the country into a heroin/opium/drug supplying outpost to the world which, according to estimates, is now the third biggest of all trades, barring oil and gas, albeit an illegal one.

The newly-appointed American general in charge of US and NATO operations, Gen. Austin Scott Miller recently conceded to NBC News that Afghan war can not be won militarily. “This is not going to be won militarily,” Gen. Miller said, “This is going to be a political situation.”

 

 

 

Rahul needs to know of Mahatma Gandhi & Capitalists

For all his piety, love and reliance on non-violence and ahimsa, it’s one of history’s indisputable facts that Mahatma Gandhi relied heavily on Indian capitalists’ funds to keep the Congress going in pre-Independence days.

Today, when we hear Rahul Gandhi shriek “Suit-Boot ki sarkar” as a barb to Narendra Modi and his NDA government, it seems so improper given the financial diet which kept Congress on its feet in pre-1947 era.

B.R. Nanda, a contemporary and a pre-eminent biographer of Mahatma Gandhi admits in his book: “In Search of Gandhi..,” that two thoughts dominated his early years in India in 1920s: “One, that capitalists kept Congress and Gandhi flush with funds…and as quid pro quo, Gandhi astutely checked the revolutionary aspect of his struggle against the Raj to suit the vested interests of the capitalists.”

The experience of “Deshbandhu” Chittaranjan Das was a bitter testimony to such a belief. Subhas Chandra Bose was a disciple of Das. In the latter’s biography “Brothers against the Raj,” hugely acclaimed author Leonard A. Gordon writes thus (condensed for brevity):

In 1920, Gandhi promised “Swaraj in one year” as he gave call for civil disobedience. The call was a massive success. When on November 17, the Prince of Wales arrived in Bombay, Calcutta was completely shut-down by protestors. Around India, some 25,000 Congress workers were arrested. Congress was declared unlawful. Thousands more now poured into British jails, including Das and Subhas Bose. But when British offered a proposal of roundtable meeting, Gandhi rejected. Das was angry with Gandhi. In Das’ own words:

“I myself led people to prison. I started the movement in Bengal. I sent my son first to jail. My son was followed by m wife, and then I went to prison…I knew that the spirit of resistance that manifested itself was mighty and the proudest Government did bend to it. You (Gandhi) bungled it, and mismanaged it. Now you turn round and ask people to spin and do the work of Charka alone.”

In 1922, the Chauri Chaura incident happened. The Congress working committee met and suspended the planned civil disobedience. Peasants were instructed not to withhold rent payments from landlords, who were informed that the Congress `in no way intended to attack their legal rights.’

Writes Gordon: “The Congress…when ending many non-coperation activities and calling off the planned civil disobedience action, opposed rent strikes by peasants against their landlords. The Congress wanted and needed the support of the wealthier strata in society and was not willing to challenge economic vested interest.” (Italics mine).

“He (Subhas Bose) was possibly the author of a leader for Bangla Katha journal of 7 February 1923 which read: `The swaraj which the Congress had so long knowingly or unknowingly wished to have, is the swaraj of the rich and middle class. We do not always properly realize the fact that the masses of the country are still lying outside the Congress arena.”

Among the historians and observers, there is a stream of thought which believes that civil disobedience and non-cooperation movements, burning of foreign clothes etc, directly benefited India’s own Capitalists. Another though premises that due to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which announced the arrival of Communism on world stage, Indian capitalists were fearful of a similar outbreak of resistance among its own workers. It was in their interests that such revolutionary methods were kept in check and Congress, being the leading party, alone could do it.

The above details is not to suggest a conspiracy between Congress and Capitalists. But personal interests perhaps guided both. Congress was close to bankruptcy when Gandhi arrived on the Indian scene. All it could do was to hold its’ annual sessions. It badly needed money and Gandhi proved to be a brilliant fund-raiser. It’s not to doubt Gandhi’s integrity or his commitment to his idea of India. Nor is to say that a few Indian capitalists were not genuinely inspired by Gandhi’s religious and political ethos. Both needed each other in those turbulent years.

But when Rahul Gandhi today accuses of Modi government siding with the Capitalists, it appears such a sham. He needs to go to libraries and read books to know more about his own Congress and its affiliation with capitalists.

Modi finds his nerves tested by US on Iran

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India going ahead with S-400 missiles from Russia

(This has also been published in NewsBred).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modi and calculus behind “no” on Jerusalem

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

There’s been a disquiet in India’s public space over Modi government’s rejection of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital in a United Nations General Assembly resolution recently.

This disquiet has grown to anger after Palestinian envoy in Islamabad was seen in the company of Mumbai attack mastermind and global terrorist Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi though a strong protest by India since then has led to envoy’s recall to home by the Palestinian Authority.

The erudite supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are questioning why he would stand with the Palestinian cause and vote against US, and Israel,  having worked so hard to get both of them eating out of his hand lately.

Modi had become the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in July 2017 and the latter’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit India in the first fortnight of the new year.

Israel’s support in the realm of technology, agriculture, security and defense has ramped up significantly in recent times and Trump misses no opportunity to gush over India and its leader.

The rabid supporters of BJP are aghast why their government would stand by “ungrateful” Muslims while it’s erudite patrons are questioning why New Delhi didn’t abstain from voting as 35 others had done.

Adding to the chill is US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley’s crude words “…this vote will make a difference…on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN.” Trump threatened to cut down funds to those who opposed him and Netanyahu called the UN a “a house of lies.”

The truth is, India did everything right on all three counts which should matter for the country: beneficial, practical and moral.

About 19 per cent of India’s total world trade is accounted for in the Middle East (as compared to nearly 1 per cent with Israel) which ought to halt in track the juggernaut of criticism. Such scales of benefit could only be denied by fools, if not blind.

The practical takeaways, if anything, are bigger. US has fallen flat on its face in West Asia and its strategy to sow discord and anarchy through Iraq invasion and conduits for the growth of Islamic State (IS) has been successfully reversed by Russia, in alliance with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. So much so that even a traditional US supporter Turkey is on the opposite side of the fence.

The vacuum of US in the Middle East would soon be filled up by Russia in alliance with China which is using its typical trade and infrastructure growth route to look for strategic stranglehold in the region. India would be foolish to be seen standing in opposition to the new Big Boys in the region. India can’t overlook the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) too which would encircle it in an iron clasp more so since China is parking itself on ports of Sri Lanka. Letting go of West Asia at this stage would be a suicide, no less.

By rejecting the Trump’s move on Jerusalem, India is also letting the world know of its independence lest it be seen as a US lackey. It would earn India respect and a sense among its friends that it’s a principled ally. Further, India can’t allow itself to be bound by Trump’s often hasty and boorish decisions.

Absentation would’ve been a paper umbrella—only giving the notion of protection against a downpour. It would still have earned a scorn from the free world, without quite endearing it to US or Israel. Worse, it could’ve emboldened them to see if they could kick around India in future.

India’s decision to stand on its moral compass would draw a host of lesser nations in its orbit. Forget criticism, Modi government’s move deserves a standing ovation.

To brush up history for the uninitiated, Israel has been controlling the eastern Jerusalem since the 1967 six-day war. It’s being sought by the Palestinians as the capital for its future state.

India & Russia seek trade in gold

Sberbank, Russia’s largest state-owned bank, is looking to finance the direct import of gold to India.

Aleksei Kechko, managing director of the bank’s Indian subsidiary, has made an announcement to this effect which is no surprise to those who have followed the gold-buying spree of BRICS nations, especially China and Russia.

India imports a lot of gold. Indeed, it’s the second largest importer of gold in the world. India imported $35 billion worth of gold in 2015. The direct gold trade between India and Russia would help both nations.

“We hope to sign the transaction by September or October this year,” said Kechko “We are also exploring the possibility of entering the gold loans sector as well.”

Russia has been keen of late to conduct business with BRICS nations in gold. Russia now has a yuan-clearing bank in Moscow and it’s Central Bank has opened a branch in Beijing to make for better communication between the financial authorities of the two countries.

The effort by BRICS nations is to work towards bypassing the dollar while also using gold for transaction commodity between member nations.

BRICS nations actively are moving towards creating a new financial architecture to tackle the dominance of the US dollar in global finance.

The initiative was taken in the eighth summit of BRICS in India last year. The new institutions set up by the BRICS include the New Development Bank (NDB), the BRICS-led Contingency Reserve Fund (CBF) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Russia is world’s third largest gold producer behind China and Australia, as per the 2016 data. Still, it has been on a massive gold-buying spree in recent years. Hit by economic sanctions by West, Russia’s ruble is the most gold-backed currency in the world. Moscow sees it as a safeguard against western attempts to destabilize Russia’s economy.

The same is the case with China who wants to be ready for economic warfare by the West. Both China and Russia have added almost 50 million ounces of gold to their central banks while selling off more than $267 billion of treasuries.

As for India, it simply loves gold leading to its constant demand. Be it newly-wed brides or trinklets with peasants in countryside, Indians simply love gold.

However, importing gold is relatively a new phenomenon. Until 1990, gold imports were virtually banned. Bullion was smuggled and cost 50 per cent more at home than abroad. However, deregulation set off an explosion. Now most gold legally comes to India through banks.

 

 

Chabahar is a real deal for India

For its commercial and political implications, the Chabahar Port deal with Iran marks the finest achievement yet of Narendra Modi’s global engagements.

The commercial implications are obvious—India was hemmed in by Pakistan’s intransigence to refuse direct trade between India and Afghanistan and China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision had the potential to clamp manacles on India’s ankles.

In one stroke, India has freed itself from the curfew and it could now entertain visions of trade and infrastructure links with Middle East and Central Asia and still further with Russia and Europe.

Let’s take up the bare details before we look at the wider implications and how Pakistan, China and United States, the other key players in the region, would react to it—Afghanistan, as we know from the history of Hindu Kush in the colonial times, is a prized land. So far it was its geographical location but now is the promise of immense mineral wealth which, according to Geological Survey of United States, could be worth as much as $1 trillion, due to its iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium potential.

Afghanistan, unfortunately, has always attracted predators who couldn’t care less about the welfare of Afghan people; who could go to any length to destabilize it in order to retain a degree of control over the cursed land. United States, on one pretext or another, stays put in the name of eliminating terrorism while, as everybody knows, promoting the same in cohort with Saudi Arabia, and not long ago, Pakistan.

The birth of modern terrorism occurred in the wake of Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan as United States planted mujahideens, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia providing men, resources and ground support. The country was soon in chaos, split between war lords of one camp or other, and the lure of illicit heroin trade, which by a conservative estimate is second only to oil and gas in volume, has kept them involved. They aren’t going to leave the country in our lifetimes.

Afghanistan thus has every reason to distrust Pakistan—after all its bête noire Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar were traced there—and by inference United States. It sure receives significant infrastructural aid from China but so tied are the fortunes of the Middle Kingdom with Pakistan that Kabul can’t ignore the political implications.

India has diligently nurtured its ties with Afghanistan. Since 2001, it has provided Afghanistan with $2 billion development assistance. In December last year, Modi inaugurated Afghan parliament built on India’s aid of 90 million dollars. It has contributed $300 million on Salma dam and hydroelectric power plant at Herat which Modi is expected to inaugurate next month. In 2009, India had built a 217-km highway costing $100 million that links Zaranj with Delaram, located on Afghanistan-Iran border. From there, the local road connects to Chabahar.

India has always worried over its energy supply, most of which emanates from the Middle East. It receives 57 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East which would only increase manifolds in the coming years.  Saudi Arabia is its biggest supplier but knowing the close equation between the Arab kingdom and Pakistan, India has always been keen to get Iran on its side. The latter, for this very reason—after all the Middle East conundrum is largely a tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for dominance in Muslim world—seeks a natural affinity with India. Both nations have close cultural and historical ties. Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century.

Chabahar is located on the Gulf of Oman, just 80km away from Gwadar which is the cornerstone of China’s pivot to Pakistan. Chabahar is just 299km east of world’s most critical passageway for oil tankers, the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran urgently wants this port to work as 85 percent of its seaborne traffic is managed by its Bandar Abbas port in the Strait of Hormuz. However, this port can only handle 100,000-metric ton ships. Large ships first offload at the Jebel Ali port in the United Arab Emirates en route to Iran. In contrast, Chabhar is a deep-water port and could process large ships. Chabahar would also allow both India and Iran to access large parts of Africa, Asia, Arabia and Australasia.

India has so far committed $500 million on the Chabahar project. It’s also assisting the 500-km rail link between Chabahar-Zahedan-Zaranj. The free trade zone of Chabahar could also encourage investment by its industries in urea, smelter and aluminium etc. In 2012, India had already used the port to transport a 100,000 metric ton shipment of wheat to Afghanistan.

According to the JV plans, India will develop two berths in Chabahar, one to handle container traffic and the other a multi-purpose cargo terminal. The MoU includes the sea-land access route to Afghanistan. India has plans to build a road-railroad network from Chabahar to Milak in Iran which in turn would link up the Indian-built 223-km Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan.

India has also allayed worries on Iran’s part over its pending $6.5 billion payment. It has begun the process of payment in Euros, as requested by Turkey’s Halkbank. A cash-strapped Iran urgently needs investment and repayment of dues.

It’s a win-win all situation for all three nations. Both India and Iran are surrounded by hostile powers; both need avenues to grow. Afghanistan would finally be able to access the Indian Ocean.

Don’t expect United States to sit and watch this alignment of India-Afghanistan-Iran to take shape. Already we hear of encroachment of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. US could again find a reason to impose sanctions on Iran. India too remains handicapped by its financial and regulatory hurdles.

But such is the opportunity in front of India, Afghanistan and Iran that one expects Chabahar Port to be a reality soon enough. There sure would be hurdles and interventions, but the three must stand together for their own good.