Saturday, 17 June 2017

Modi Model should replace Chidambaram constructs (Sunday Guardian)

There is still a strong residue of the past and its practices. Now that three years are over, we are entitled to expect much more Modi and less of the past in the future.
News reports are that some Members of Parliament (MPs) asked Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju for “automatic upgrades” to Business Class on all flights, whether these be the national carrier or private airlines. The journalistic fraternity needs to identify the names of the individuals who made such a request. MPs, after all, are expected to be Representatives of the People, and it must occur to even the less curious of them that few of their constituents can even afford to travel Coach Class, as air travel remains a luxury for the overwhelming majority of citizens of a country that remains low income despite seven decades of freedom. In case any MP were to initiate a Private Member’s Bill limiting the moneys spent out of the exchequer for the total expenses of each MP to an annual amount that does not exceed ten times the per capita income of India, that would be welcome. Judging by the SUVs they alight from, and the dresses and watches they flaunt, it would appear that a large proportion of our MPs resemble US Senators, all of whom—bar perhaps the forgiving (Hillary Clinton) Bernie Sanders—are millionaires, if not billionaires. In memory of Mahatma Gandhi, it is time our MPs ensured that their own lifestyles conform to those of what Gandhiji termed the “dumb millions”. Television channels need to regularly air the lifestyles of individual MPs and their families, to check on how closely these reflect the realities of existence of those who voted them to their high responsibility. Public service is precisely that, service to the public, and this is scarcely possible if those involved live in the way this country’s colonial masters did. Gandhiji taught the value of sacrifice, but these days, the only “sacrifice” those who constantly repeat his name indulge in, is to go once every year to Rajghat and sit in mock contemplation, while the cameras roll. 
As for our underpaid officials, an amazing number of them seem to have mastered the art of sending their children to study in expensive foreign universities, or ensuring that their spouses regularly go to Europe for shopping expeditions, despite the pathetic salaries that the Government of India pays even its top officials. It is, of course, entirely coincidental that most of the time spent by successful businesspersons in India is devoted to sharing quality time with officials and politicians. Certainly our officials need to be paid more, and a way of ensuring that would be to create a “revolving door” through which jobs could be exchanged between government and private sector, thereby allowing individuals to spend some years in the underpaid world of officialdom, before replenishing bank accounts in private entities. Those who claim in feigned horror that such a move would encourage corruption, are being hypocritical, as the present watertight silo system of official recruitment and staffing has nevertheless led to substantial graft. Only leaner procedures and greater transparency in operations (for example, through a deepening of the RTI and in more hearings and processes being streamed over the internet) will lead to a cleaner administration, not straitjacketed recruitment systems that consider public and private service as mutually hostile entities. 
A businessperson takes a loan from a nationalised bank, usually after being recommended to the chairperson by a bank director appointed for the purpose. He then ensures inflated prices for imported equipment, thereby getting back the money spent on equity within a few months of the commencement of operations. Further purchases for the entity go to swell external bank accounts, even while the business gobbles up more and more tranches of funds. Finally, when it becomes impossible to lend any more money for the sole purpose of repaying old loans, the company goes “sick”, while the owners create new “healthy” entities that enter the same cycle. A regulatory environment of high taxes, North Korea-model regulations and lack of accountability and transparency in decision-making has ensured that only crony capitalists thrive on one company’s crash after the other, in their path towards hyper riches hoarded abroad, while bona fide entrepreneurs go bankrupt or leave this country. India needs a new class of entrepreneurs not tainted by the practices of the past, but for this to occur, there will need to be a substantial reduction in the difficulty of doing business, and a fall in tax rates. Officials look only to covering the current year’s expenses while fixing tax rates, neglecting the fact that over a three- or five-year period, lower rates lead to much higher collections. We need to exchange the Palaniappan Chidambaram model of vexatious rules and constant harassment for the Narendra Modi model of “minimum government, maximum governance” i.e., low rates and low penalties, leading to high compliance. The absurdly high penal rates set for black money disclosures during the past few years has led to the pathetically low level of recoveries seen thus far. Less than one dollar out of every two thousand dollars of illegal income banked abroad had returned by 2016, when a more rational penalty structure would have led to a manifold increase in such recoveries. Similarly, hyper-high penalties for declared illegal domestic income have led to a similarly low level of success of the black money mop up schemes. 
There is still too little of Modi in several of the fiscal, regulatory and monetary policies of a government the people elected to power with a Lok Sabha majority entirely because of their faith in the PM. There is still too strong a residue of the past and its practices. Now that three years are over, we are entitled to expect much more Modi and less of the past in the future. A qualitatively new generation of entrepreneurship, of officials and of politicians, is needed for India to succeed in becoming a middle income country during the next decade.

Friday, 16 June 2017

US Senators dance to Europe’s tune (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat | Geopolitical Notes From India

THE Democratic Party establishment in the US worked unitedly to ensure that the nomination for the 2016 Presidential election went to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is the Czarina of the Washington Beltway in much the same way as Sonia Gandhi has been of the Lutyens Zone. Both Hillary and Sonia have spent decades cultivating officials and politicians in their respective national capitals, for example ensuring that “deserving” (through the accident of DNA) children of key officials got scholarships to study in prestigious US universities or well-padded sinecures were provided on retirement to officials who refused to reflect even a second before obeying orders from either.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton worked hard to try and finish off the political career of Narendra Modi, including by arranging of teams to visit Gujarat to try and discover human remains from the mass graves her supporters claimed were dotted across the state. Finally, after much searching, a pile of buried bones were discovered.and there was much excitement in the US embassy in Delhi as well as the State Department in Washington. However, on examination, these turned out to be the remains of buffalos rather than of human beings. Hillary Clinton and her friend Sonia Gandhi were disappointed, but refused to end their anti-Modi quest. Officials who obeyed the commands of Hillary and Sonia found themselves promoted and their (sometimes deliberate) errors ignored by higher authorities.

Although Barack Obama prevailed over the Clinton machine in the race for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination, he made up for it after the polls by making “his” administration a collection of Clinton associates, while Obama’s own loyalists such as David Axelrod were pushed aside in the administration of the country’s first African-American Head of State. Obama needed (or believed he did) the backing of the Clinton machine during the 2012 race, and for this he was willing to sacrifice his shot at establishing a legacy as deep as that of Lincoln, Roosevelt or even Lyndon Johnson, the under-appreciated architect of the Great Society and of the removal of several of the detestable “Jim Crow” restrictions that had been placed on the country’s vibrant African-American community in order to slow down their progress towards material equality with the white population.

Hillary Clinton was a much weaker candidate against Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders, who ought to have won the Democratic Party nomination but for the unrestrained efforts of the Clinton machine to defeat him, efforts that were partially detailed in emails leaked from (and most likely by) Democratic Party insiders. In order to divert attention from their own bag of tricks against the straightforward but politically naive Senator from Vermont, the Clinton machine set in motion the smokescreen of Russian involvement in the US Presidential election. Certainly Russia must have been involved, but so would a dozen other countries, each eager to ensure a favourable atmosphere for selected policies after the polls. Russophobia suits the Atlanticist-Orientalist lobby in the US and Europe, as it promotes the continuation of primacy of Atlanticist policies in a world where the Indo-Pacific has emerged as the geopolitical heartland.

The longer Washington delays in developing and implementing policies that are based on Indo-Pacific reality rather than Atlanticist-Orientalist romance, the worse it will be for US interests. Coming from the hard-nosed school of the business of property development, Donald Trump appreciates the need for such a policy change. However,judging by the questioning on June 13 of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions by a US Senate Committee, it is clear that the Atlanticists continue to control the US Senate. Interestingly, both Senator Marco Rubio and Senator John McCain tried to damage President Trump through skillful questioning designed to further the cause of those seeking to impeach Trump and thereby weaken the Republican Party before the next Presidential election in 2020.

Senator Rubio clearly hopes to be the Republican candidate in that race, and this would be facilitated were Trump to lose his job through impeachment, the way the Clinton machine seeks to do, including with assistance from the Bush and Romney factions of the Republican Party that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has ensured still carries enormous clout in the administration. Priebus is clearly a believer in quotas, as he is trying to fit in Romney, McCain and Bush loyalists into key slots at the expense of those who had backed Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries. However,unlike the 44rth President Barack Obama, the 45th US President does not seem willing to jettison his loyalists under pressure, despite an early stumble through the removal of National Security Advisor (NSA) Michael Flynn.

The salty-voiced general was a target of Hillary Clinton because of the knowledge that he would use some of his vast powers as NSA to get her prosecuted. In contrast, the new NSA, General H R McMaster, has never taken sides in any political battle, and indeed has several friends within the list of those who are Clinton supporters Whether Republican or Democrat, the manner of questioning of Attorney General Sessions by the Senators was as if the US and Russia were at war with each other. What the Senators did was to sacrifice US interests in order to promote those of certain European states such as France, Poland and Germany. These want Russia to remain isolated and subject to punitive sanctions from the NATO bloc that would make it inevitable that Moscow turn to Beijing for succour, as indeed has been the case. Such a move is not in the US interest, which would get boosted were Moscow and Washington to work closer together in the Middle East and elsewhere, as sought by Trump and Putin.

However, not if the US Senate can help it. That institution remains committed to continuing the Cold War between the USSR and the US more than a quarter century after the fall of that entity created the conditions for the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as the world’s premier zone of activity. Both the EU as well as China will be happy at the US Senate and at the Atlanticists, including increasingly within the Trump administration, for their refusal to follow the clear-visioned US President in adjusting to 21st century realities, which inter alia mandate close ties between Moscow and Washington.

Insight : China Set Rules to Combat Extremism (Lok Sabha TV)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Insight: Karnataka ministers splurge on food; does CM endorse such profligacy? (NewsX)

With bills running to 7.24 cr and upwards, another controversy is brewing In Karnataka. With the Cong govt claiming that the expense is not just for ministers but the entire assembly and the secretariat. Criticism from the BJP is that the Congress CM endorses wasteful expenditure. Athar Khan discusses the issue with Nasser Hussain, GVL Narasimha Rao, Madhav Nalapat.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

President Trump’s war talk is bluff: North Korea (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

North Koreans say that as long as there are US troops in South Korea, Japan and Guam, Washington will not initiate hostilities against Pyongyang. 

North Korea will not agree to abandon its nuclear weapons program, as the family-controlled regime in office in Pyongyang regards possession of nuclear weapons and viable delivery vehicles as essential to its continuance in power. This was the conclusion of two individuals, who are accepted by analysts of the peninsula as being in touch with what they term as “Leadership Thinking” in the isolated but defiant state known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The term “Leadership” refers to Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and those whom he entrusts with responsibility at any particular moment in time. The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) meets almost no non-citizens (and very few even of the latter), and has thus far kept away from the international media. However, some of his countrypersons travel extensively across the region, and a few among them know first-hand Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s mind on the issue of North Korea’s accelerated effort to become a nuclear weapons power, with the capacity to inflict damage initially on the Pacific coast of the United States, including on Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and subsequently on the eastern coast, including the cities of Washington DC, Boston and New York.
According to the individuals contacted, Kim Jong Un has made a comprehensive study of US “words and actions” and has reached the conclusion that “the two are often in contradiction, especially where declared rivals of the US are concerned”. They say that as a matter of tactics, high-level (US) officials give assurances of safety and good intentions, including in public, but during that same time, secretly begin processes designed to weaken and eliminate those who are being lulled into a false sense of security through assurances that are “nothing but bluff”. Even those who have allowed themselves to be serially used by US agencies, have, later on, been severely dealt with, an interesting example cited being that of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, “who spent nearly 30 years in a US jail, despite doing all that the CIA demanded on him while in power”. According to them, information collected by a “data collection unit” in a location in South America showed that Noriega was incarcerated to punish him for revealing details of the way in which the CIA had used druglords to conduct “dirty tricks” within the region. They say that the Panamanian strongman was in touch with the “most important geopolitical rival” of the US and had fed them details of the CIA’s actions through a Cuban intermediary, but that the top leadership of this rival country secretly handed over this same information and its source back to US authorities in 1988, “without the knowledge of the (rival country’s) military”. They add that “the drug offences (on which Noriega was charged) were carried out with the connivance of the CIA”, which is presumably why proof of such activities, as would satisfy a US court, was not difficult to find. They also mentioned a list of more than four-hundred names compiled by DPRK analysts, and which “contains the names of those who were ‘neutralised, often with extreme prejudice’, once they gave US authorities all that was demanded”, a list that they confirm includes such obvious names as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. No copy of this “list of the betrayed” was shown to this correspondent, and the only proof offered was the word of the sources talked to. The two have, however, been authenticated as genuine sources of factual information by analysts familiar with the region and its flashpoints.
The “Leadership Thinking” in Pyongyang is emphatic that the US and its military allies “only wage war against a regime after that entity has surrendered its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and has also ensured access to US intelligence to map out every vulnerability in its defences”. Iraq, Libya and Syria were quoted as examples, it being added that President Bashar Assad made US intervention inevitable once he agreed to give up his chemical weapons stockpile. The gesture was under pressure from Moscow, which believed that the gesture would ensure either the ending of diplomatic moves by the US and the EU against the Russian Federation or a significant dilution in them. “Instead, the reverse took place and a year later, harsher sanctions got imposed”. The lesson drawn by Pyongyang is that “good” behaviour (i.e. obedience) is fatal, while only “bad” (i.e. flouting) can ensure regime survival. They say that so long as there are US troops in South Korea (which they call “Occupied Korea”), Japan and Guam, the US will not initiate hostilities against North Korea. However, in their view, “when confronted with a threat to their own cities, the US (administration) will not hesitate to expose Seoul and Tokyo” to attack from the DPRK and hence the DPRK will have immunity to attack once it gains the capability to target the continental US with nuclear weapons.
They add that Pyongyang seeks nuclear weapons and delivery capability only for its own protection and, hence, will not act against the US, unless it becomes clear that a war by the latter is imminent, which they say will not happen, “as all this war talk is bluff”, designed to make the DPRK expose itself to an attack by surrendering its nuclear weapons. While acknowledging the superiority in conventional weaponry of the Republic of Korea forces, they claim that the “revolutionary spirit of the Free Korean soldiers (i.e., those enrolled in the DPRK armed forces) will prevail over the RoK units, “the way they did against superior US combat units during the 1950s Korean war”. No mention was made by those close to the DPRK’s “Leadership Thinking” of the assistance in materiel delivered by the USSR or the crucial involvement of China’s People’s Liberation Army during those operations.
The sources claim that Kim Jong Un, while having “learnt much” from the example of the life of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, the present Supreme Leader of the DPRK sees his father Kim Jong Il as having had on occasion “an excess of trust” in the promises of those governments he was dealing with, and, therefore, initiating steps to downsize the DPRK’s WMD stockpile twice during his 1994-2011 tenure. They say that while Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is open to the idea of unifying with South Korea, he is of the view that the unified entity must be a nuclear weapons state, “to avoid blackmail by Japan and the US”. Equally, the Leadership Thinking is that any merger must include a coming together of the two militaries and state institutions, as well as a “lifetime leadership role” for Kim Jong Un, rather than an Iraq or Libya situation, where an entire governance structure was eliminated and chaos resulted. They regard Kim as “the protector of the spirit of the immortal Korean people”. The individuals spoken to claim that in any future election, Kim Jong Un would emerge as the most popular leader of a unified people, although this claim may never be tested. They add that in the view of the leadership, the US would “not permit unification, unless it was certain that it could control the new entity the way it is still dominating Germany and occupying the country with troops”. Hence, “unification talks with Occupied Korea (sic) are only possible once (the DPRK’s) nuclear weapons are tested and brought to readiness, and delivery systems capable of entering the continental US are operational”. Only then would the US “be unable to block unification talks based on Korean, and not Japanese or US, principles”.
According to them, such a phase (of the DPRK evolving as an intercontinental nuclear weapons power) would “assure peace (in the peninsula),” as the US or Japan would then never have the “spirit” to wage war. But what of President Trump’s warning that the US would not accept North Korea crossing such a threshold of nuclear capability? According to Pyongyang’s “Leadership Thinking”, such talk by Trump is bluff and bluster, “as history shows the US acts only when it is first attacked, or when the enemy is weak”, neither of which is likely, according to others talked to in locations within two cities close to or bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Given that Pyongyang seems unwilling to reverse course, and that within President Trump’s first term, the DPRK will, on the present reckoning, have the capacity to reach the western shores of continental US, it will not be long before the world knows whether Pyongyang is correct in regarding Washington’s warnings of war as being “mere bluff that will not scare the most noble son of Korea”, i.e., Kim Jong Un, or divert him from his determination to make the DPRK a formidable nuclear weapons power.
Another, and hugely important, variable is China. Were Beijing to cut off essential supplies to North Korea, the economy of that country would be brought to its knees in months. The “Leadership Thinking” is that the (North) Korean people would accept death and starvation, but not surrender. Clearly, such a move by China, were Beijing to enforce such a blockade, could lead to unforeseen actions and consequences beyond the civilian.
In the battle of wills between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, both are betting that the other will blink first. 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

India must ensure security in the Indian Ocean (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Neither India nor the US can ensure foolproof security in the Indian Ocean Region by itself. Moscow should of course remain a friend of Delhi. 

Although Henry Kissinger took for himself in his imaginings of history the credit for the 1970s diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and China, the fact is that he had been dismissive of the prospects for such an understanding until ordered to go to Beijing by President Richard Nixon in 1971. From the time he was elected to office in 1969, Nixon had sought to reach out to Mao Zedong, and finally succeeded in getting a response towards the close of 1970. If there were any “China experts” in the US who thought that Nixon and Mao were capable of forging a friendship, they kept that view a secret, except perhaps to their spouses. The Chinese leader had cold-bloodedly ensured the establishing of a Greater China through incorporation of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet into the PRC within a few years of coming to power. Mao was an original “China Firster” (the way Xi Jinping is), and understood that his country would not be able to geopolitically hobble the USSR on its own. Also, that the only possible partner with the potential for engineering such an outcome was the US. Hence his grasping of the diplomatic hand proffered by Nixon. Together, the two countries fashioned a security alliance that sharply reduced Moscow’s diplomatic space, thereby boosting the capabilities of the US at a time when the country had suffered a military defeat in Vietnam. The de facto alliance between China and the US outlasted Nixon, and was continued by his successors because of its utility. 
Success in geopolitical rankings hinges on a factual assessment of strengths and weaknesses, not the romantic calculus of Jawaharlal Nehru, who mistook dreams for reality and thereby forsook several advantages for India. Even some “hawks” in the Lutyens Zone base their policy prescriptions on the fantasy that India, with its $2 trillion economy, has on its own the capability of establishing by itself primacy in the Indian Ocean. Certainly the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) is the zone over which India has to aim for numero uno status, and not just when dealing with those states that comprise its South Asia partners. Clearly, given its embrace of Pakistan, China will not step forward as India’s superpower partner in the quest to ensure that the IOR be a zone where India has as much influence as was the case until 1947. That leaves the US, whose geopolitical objectives would be served were a friendly power that is congruent with its values and security to get an upper hand throughout the IOR over regional threats and challengers. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama understood this, but neither could succeed in ensuring a partnership with the depth and scope mandated by the imperatives of US-India security. Were Donald Trump and Narendra Modi to craft a relationship that would, in several particulars, replicate the breakthrough in ties between Beijing and Washington that took place nearly a half-century ago, they would create history, and in the process, keep the Indian Ocean Rim safe. An adequate defence and security understanding with the US would better enable India to ensure that no other country would be able to do anything that would detract from the keystone role played by India within the IOR.
China can make a significant contribution to economic growth in India, including through the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), and hence, there is no question but that Delhi and Beijing need to work much closer together on such matters than has been the case. Simultaneously, however, a defence and security relationship needs to get established with the US that would parallel the tectonic shift which took effect from 1971, as a consequence of the Nixon-Mao understanding. For this, there needs to be a fashioning of Indian policy that is based on existing realities rather than imagined strengths. A holistic India-US understanding needs to be worked out, and this could happen as a result of a coming together of strategies between Trump and Modi. In the same way, substantial forward movement in Sino-Indian relations will need to be both initiated and concluded at the leadership level, i. e. between Xi and Modi, rather than through the bureaucracy, as has too often been the case thus far. Signing of the other two Foundation Agreements with the US (CISMOA and BECA) are desirable. An impression has been created that such a signing would take away discretion from Delhi, but this is false, as any reading of the agreements would show. What should be operationalised early is a US-India “Over the Horizon” radar array based at the tip of our peninsula that would be similar to what is already functioning in Jindalee, Australia. Such an array would enable much better real time information on activities taking place in the IOR, thereby ensuring appropriate responses in the event that threats bubble up to danger level. Later, Washington and Delhi should examine the feasibility of setting up an anti-missile system in India that would better secure the world’s most populous democracy from nuclear-related threats. Whether in the development of nuclear submarine technology or in the expansion of our Air Force and Navy, closer collaboration between the US and India would be helpful. 
Neither India nor the US can ensure foolproof security in the IOR by itself. Moscow should of course remain a friend of Delhi. Under no circumstances should India sacrifice its longstanding friendship with Russia, or indeed countries such as Iran, as a condition of fullscope defence and security ties with the US. Washington and Delhi instead need to cooperate on meeting the threats and challenges that are common to both, which by itself forms a substantial list. The time is overdue for the US administration to “do a China”, this time with India, and for this country to adopt policies that are based on the realism of Mao, rather than the emotionalism of Nehru. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Ashraf Ghani should learn from Rajapaksa (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat | Geopolitical Notes From India

The President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, served in international organisations in positions where he had to report to those much higher up. A characteristic of those with experience in international organisations (especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) is that they regard citizens of the US as belonging to the highest caste, followed by those from the UK and France, both of whom are Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) as a consequence of Britain winning the 1939-45 war and ensuring that France was given the same privileges despite having been occupied by the Germans for the duration of that war without having had the chance to contribute significantly even in its own liberation in 1944.
Ghani shares the same trait as other South Asian leaders who in the past have been associated with international organisations, of accepting as Confucian wisdom the scattered suggestions and ill-informed conclusions (or perhaps a better word would be “confusions”) of the many think-tanks in the US and the UK that incessantly clamour for donations to be able to teach Third World countries to obey their betters the way it was in the past, especially during the 19th century. Several of such think tanks had supported the Taliban during the 1990s and have declined to adjust their conclusions, worried that by doing so, they would shatter the perception that they are infallible. Even after 9/11, even after ISIS, these think tanks have in effect acted as Public Relations agents for the Taliban in Afghanistan, by creating the fiction of a division within that entity into “Good” and “Bad” Taliban.
In practice, any offshoot of the militia that condescended to parley with the authorities in Kabul were accepted as “Good” Taloban, while the others remained “Bad”. Needless to say, “Good” and “Bad” switched roles with a frequency that should have alarmed the think tanks that were vouching for them in Washington and London, but never apparently did. As a consequence, despite an uninterrupted record of failure to persuade the militia to desist from its violent campaigns in Afghanistan, to this day the search is ongoing to locate elements of the “Good” Taliban to include in the Ghani government. This would, it is expected by the serially failed Afghanistan “experts” in Washington and London, result in other elements of the militia joining in the spoils of office and ensuring the end of a struggle that the combined strength of NATO has the far been powerless to eliminate.
Owing to his intellectual dependence on such London and Washington think tanks, President Ashraf Ghani is still calling for the Taliban to join his government. What he seems to ignore is the fact that even if a faction of the Taliban joins the Kabul government, its purpose would be to paralyse and wreck it from within, as the final aim of the Taliban is to dominate the whole of Afghanistan in a manner even more thorough than during 1996-2001. Allowing any part of the Taliban to enter his government should be a disaster for Ghani, yet he persists in calling for such an outcome because of the advice coming from two capitals that are regarded as very important in the World Bank and the IMF, London and Washington.
In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) followed a policy of asking for a ceasefire when they saw that the Sri Lankan Army was gaining an advantage. Largely because of international pressure, the Sri Lankan government would agree. During the halt in hostilities, the LTTE would strengthen its capabilities and replenish its stores of weapons. However, when Ranil Wickremasinghe (the present Prime Minister) was earlier in office, in 2004, he carefully encouraged Colonel Karuna (the most powerful LTTE leader after supremo Prabhakaran) to separate from the organisation. Karuna had been aware from 2003 that Prabhakaran was viewing him with suspicion as having become too powerful, and that it was only a matter of time before the supremo would have him killed the way he finished off so many others whom he regarded as inconvenient in the LTTE. Once Prime Minister Wickremasinghe got information about tensions between Karuna and Prabhakaran, he reached out to the former and gave him an honourable exit from the deadly organisation despite several Sri Lankan army officers opposing this.
The split weakened the LTTE substantially, and further damage was done by the December 26,2004 tsunami.Damage to LTTE controlled regions was severe, and nearly 70% of the budget that had been allocated to weapons had to be diverted for civilian relief. Newly elected President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaka saw an opportunity and with the help of his brother Gotabhaya (Defense Secretary) began a campaign that finally resulted in the elimination of the LTTE in 2009. President Rajapaksa defied pressure from the US and the EU to halt military action against Prabhakarn, but was given assistance from China, Pakistan and India.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan needs to learn from the Sri Lankan war and conduct a military campaign that does not stop until it results in the comprehensive defeat of the Taliban. The “Hot Cold” tactics urged on his by Washington and London will only result in chaos and crisis, the way it has happened in so many countries where the leadership made the mistake of outsourcing security policy to US and UK think tanks. Ghani should ensure that the Afghan National Army fight its war with the same determination as an enemy that has humbled NATO but which can yet be defeated by the valiant people of Afghanistan.

Opportunities and challenges of SCO expansion (CGTN)

Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of deepening mutual trust and regional cooperation especially in tackling extremism, during a speech at the 17th annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana. China also expressed hope that Pakistan and India will improve their relations after their ascension to the SCO.

Can the SCO manage existing conflicts between member states? What benefits could Pakistan and India achieve from joining the SCO? Wang Yiwei, Director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China, Madhav Nalapat, UNESCO Peace Chair and Director of the Geopolitics and International Relations Department at Manipal University, and Maxim Mikhalev, Director of East Asia and SCO Countries Program of the Center for Crisis Society Studies, share their opinions.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

BRICS panel: Deepening cooperation amid global slowdown (CGTN)

6/7/2017: The BRICS nations command a large portion of the world's population, land area and GDP. But can this organization be more than just a talk-shop? 

China is hosting the 9th BRICS Summit in September in Xiamen City, in the southeastern province of Fujian. Ahead of the high-profile event, 25 media groups from the five member countries gathered on Wednesday in Beijing for a forum. Recent years have witnessed some voices expressing belief that the BRICS era could come to an end, however the five national economies are determined to step up their cooperation. The group represents 42 percent of the world's population and 26 percent of its territory, and accounts for 30 percent of the global GDP. How can the BRICS nations remain as solid as a brick? To answer this question, World Insight has invited panelists from the BRICS countries: Zhang Jianping from the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation; Alexander Lukin, Director of the East Asian and SCO studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations; Charles Tang, President of the Brazil China Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Madhav Nalapat, UNESCO Peace Chair in India and Director of the Geopolitics and International Relations Department at Manipal University; Stephen Gelb, Principal Research Fellow at the Private Sector Development Overseas Development Institute and a former economics professor at the University of Johannesburg.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Freedom of Speech, Rest in Peace (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Snowden did a public service by showing how exposed the global population is to those state agencies with overwhelming mastery over the worldwide web. 
Sensible governments stay away from interference with the internet, save with those exceptional bits and pieces that expose those involved (or are about to be) in matters such as child molestation and terrorism. There certainly are intemperate comments, including sometimes at this columnist, but this is no reason to seek to enforce a blackout. Of course, it may be argued that those who post abusive messages should reveal their true identities. While internet addresses give clues as to the source of specific missives, those proficient in hacking are aware that mimicking an address is adolescent play. An individual trained in techniques of manipulating the internet could post a message from Manila and show its internet protocol address as being from Mumbai. Edward Snowden did a public service by showing how exposed the global population is to those state agencies with overwhelming mastery over the worldwide web. Barack Obama lectured several countries on the need for transparency and the toleration of dissent, but when it came to similar deeds targeting his own administration, the then US President imposed the severest of penalties. The military technician who transferred data to WikiLeaks on US Air Force strikes on innocent civilians was sent to an underground prison and released only after an incarceration lasting several years. Bloggers in Egypt, who followed her line on Arab politics, were hailed as heroes by Hillary Clinton, but those who dared to fall foul of the Secretary’s wishes soon saw themselves being hit by criminal charges. It is particularly nauseating that a country such as Sweden, which preens itself on being “liberal”, slapped criminal charges on Julian Assange and forced him to take shelter in a South American embassy in London. The UK establishment, itself always ready to lecture on the importance of freedom of speech and the need to expose wrongdoing, has since behaved towards Assange with all the sensitivity of North Korea. Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden exemplify in their deeds the devotion to freedom and justice that figure so frequently in the speeches of diplomats and officials from the countries persecuting all three, including “liberal” Sweden and “freedom loving” countries such as the US and the UK.
Senior officials within the Washington Beltway, have sought to cast Julian Assange and his website as a KGB (sorry, FSB) tool. Although there were those who argued for India to offer asylum to Assange and Snowden, it was clear that this was an impossibility, given the cowardice of the Lutyens Zone so far as Uncle Sam or other major powers are concerned. Besides, as can be seen from the way retired officials strategically planted in Right to Information tribunals have smothered the outing of information on several aspects of governmental functioning, the bureaucracy in India believes that the only information needing to be shared with the public is the day, month and year, or in extreme circumstances, the time of day. Neither was it a surprise that Bradley Manning was placed in a US prison and had his (or now her) life ruined. The “crime” was to act in a manner contrary to the Foundation Axiom of NATO, which is that the alliance is incapable of wrongdoing, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths caused by its interventions in just the 21st century notwithstanding. If US Air Force pilots killed individuals, who were obvious non-combatants in Iraq, the way their predecessors had gunned down helpless villagers in Vietnam, the fault lay in those who got killed, for they should not have left their homes while US aircraft were hovering nearby in strike mode. In the meantime, the contrived noise over Russia that has arisen across both sides of the Atlantic, obscures such other events as who in the US system ensured that almost the entire list of important CIA moles in China was exposed to the Chinese Communist Party, who made short work of them. In the case of India, an outed CIA spy is usually allowed to migrate to the US and enjoy the benefits of his service to the agency. The Chinese have a different approach. Those that are caught are given such a treatment, that what was administered to Bradley Manning would have resembled a school picnic. It does not take much IQ to figure out which approach best ensures that a country rids itself of the risk of its own officials becoming agents of foreign countries.
The outing and punishment of CIA agents in China took place during the precise interval when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and her confidant Leon Panetta was Director of the CIA. The latter would have had access to the true names of key US agents in China, and would have shared it with the then Secretary of State, being a 99.99% Clinton loyalist. Did that list end up in Secretary Clinton’s emails emanating out of the Clinton Foundation, mails that could easily have been hacked and which contained secret information? Few would accuse Hillary Clinton of knowingly revealing lists of spies to Beijing or to any other alien capital, but as yet the FBI has shown little enthusiasm in finding out exactly what hyper-sensitive emails could potentially have been exposed through being sent by the Beltway Czarina on a private server, including from Huma Abedin to Anthony Wiener. Did they include the lists containing the names of US spies? Rather than blame machine failure for the leak, it would have been logical for the FBI to have exhaustively examined how the names of the CIA’s key agents within the secretive Chinese establishment got revealed to Beijing. Equally, it would have been logical for the US media to zero in on this breach of security. However, given the obsession with bringing down President Donald Trump a la Richard Nixon, the spy list story has disappeared from media in the US. And of course, within the lynch mob surrounding Trump, few have questioned how and why establishments such as Washington, London and Stockholm that claim to respect freedoms and the right to information have taken such vicious action against those few who tested that vow in practice.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Africa new focus for global giants (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat | Geopolitical Notes From India

A language is spreading rapidly in an important continent, the continent of Africa. This huge territory inhabited by a wonderful, vibrant people has had a tortured history, and to this day, parts of it are subject to unfair exploitation by countries from far away. An example of the latter is France, which still dominates several of its former colonies on the continent, some by military force. In what is still called “French” Africa despite colonialism supposedly having been eliminated long ago, French companies enjoy an advantage based on the influence of Paris in decision-making in such capitals. They seek to keep companies from other countries out, but these days are finding this difficult because some of these countries are far bigger than France, examples being India and China.
However, this is not to say that the French will surrender their historical dominance without a fight. In the territory of Madagascar, for example, French companies are working hard to ensure that companies from Asia do not gain a toehold in a country that has remained desperately poor but which can emerge as an economic powerhouse once given genuine freedom from foreign predators. That the influence of businesses from Asia has been good for Africa can be seen from the fact that infrastructure in countries such as Kenya are rapidly improving because of such investment. For example, a modern railroad line on standard rather than narrow gauge has been built by a Chinese company operating in Kenya that has linked Mombasa to Nairobi.
The Chinese have been investing heavily in modern infrastructure in several African countries, something that was not done by European companies thus far. Not surprisingly, their companies are generating larger sales than those of competitors, including those from countries which were once the colonial masters of specific African companies, the British in the case of Kenya, a country where there is still a thriving British community involved in farming and in business, and which is contributing significantly to the Kenyan economy in the form of taxes and employment generated. Unlike France, the UK has not tried to retain its control over former colonies by inserting itself in their governance and in virtually selecting the governments that are in office in such quasi-colonies, usually with the assistance of French troops.
However, globally the spread of French or Portuguese is far slower than in that of English. The language got a significant boost when the American colonists decided to choose the language over German as the lingua franca of the new state. Another advantage came from the Knowledge Industry, especially the internet, where far and away the most prolific language used is English. Now that the UK has moved away from the European Union, an effort is being made to banish English from the councils of the EU, leaving in place French. However, despite the warmth shown (at least in public) by Merkel and Macron, the reality is that Germans are far more comfortable learning English and speaking the language than they are French, despite the obvious charm of that language. Also, new members in the EU, especially in East Europe, are aware that leaning English is of far greater use to them than a similar effort in France, unless of course they wish to settle down in some former French colony in Africa or the South Pacific.
Of course, even there the language is giving way to the international link language, given the exigencies of globalisation. The fact is that the biggest magnet is still the US, and in that country, the dominant language is English, although the rate of population growth of those speaking Spanish as either a first or a second language is rapid. Interestingly, India is a country whose leaders – especially those educated in the UK or in the US – have sought to downgrade the importance of English, refusing to allow it to be taught in government schools except very recently. There has been a strong class bias in such policies, as the same leaders who shower abuse at the international link language and those speaking it are precisely those who send their children to study abroad in Australia, the US, the UK or Canada.
Examples are Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, as also many in the BJP, who clearly do not want poorer people in India to get the opportunity they crave, which is to learn through English medium in government schools, the only education they can afford. A refreshing contrast has been the stand taken by the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, who has introduced English as a subject from the primary school level. Whether it be in Asia, Europe or Africa, the use of this global medium of communication has become widespread, although the same is yet to be the case in South America, where too governments in power have refused to teach English to their populations, confining much of learning through Spanish or Portuguese. The second language, especially, is useful only in a few corners of the globe apart from Brazil
The countries that speak English are known as the Anglosphere. Hence, in a modern Anglosphere, a country such as India (where over 300 million people speak some form or the other of English) should definitely be included, as should Singapore and South Africa, as also Kenya.
Such a 21st century Anglosphere would be a natural grouping of countries that could work together to promote values and growth. In such a context, the rapid growth of the international link language in Africa will assist in linking that continent with Asia. Indeed, such is the intention of the $ 150 billion Africa Initiative launched by Prime Ministers Modi and Abe of India and Japan respectively, and supported by the US. Hopefully, the growth of a common language will also result in a more accommodative approach towards disputes, so that war gets banished as an option of statecraft save against foes of humanity such as terrorists.

US bureaucracy at war with Trump (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat | Geopolitical Notes From Idia

CNN has been a reliable medium for the permanent US bureaucracy to get its views telegraphed across the globe. Embedded in US policy, the channel has seldom deviated from the messaging favoured by the Washington Beltway, whether this be the refrain that Saddam Hussein was storing mountains of WMD in his closets or that Muammar Kaddafy tortured and killed his fellow citizens on an industrial scale. During the past two years, it has served as a potent recruiting tool for IS, by constantly repeating the falsehood that Bashar Assad in Damascus is conducting a genocide of Syria’s Sunni majority. This when wife Asma as well as 70% of his ministers are themselves Sunni.
Interestingly, there are only anonymous “government sources” that CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets committed to ensuring the successful impeachment of the 45th President of the United States. Perhaps because these are all either serving or retired members of the Clinton brotherhood within the permanent bureaucracy. During their eight years in office, followed by eight George W Bush years, the
Clintons ensured that those loyal to them were protected, and indeed had their careers boosted. This because easier once Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the US, given that the “Obama administration” was in large measure a continuation of the Clinton administration of the 1990s. The other side of such generosity was a feral vindictiveness fixated on those whom the Clintons believed were disloyal to them or did something opposed to the Clintons or to their favourites.
The Clinton machine quickly drew first blood after the swearing in of Donald John Trump, securing the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn for behaviour that is a commonplace of the Washington Beltway, which is to meet foreign diplomats and make money from speeches and appearances after retirement. Some of those close to Trump panicked at the media assault on Flynn and got his exit organised, thereby boosting the oxygen levels of the “Impeach Trump” crowd, led by the Resister-in-Chief, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has acted as though he were still Republican National Committee Chairperson, seeking to accommodate different factions in the pile of jobs available for selection by the new administration. Priebus has chosen people who are seen as less than
personally loyal to Trump, and many are indeed known to be negative about him. This has given hope to the Clinton machine and to that section of the permanent bureaucracy that they are championing that the Trump Cabinet or the Republican Congress would come around to forcing the exit of the elected Head of State & Government of the world’s most powerful country.
As in the case of jiu-jitsu, President Trump’s very strengths are being used against him, including his openness and his candour. Hillary Clinton is completely scripted, with even her “spontaneous” remarks having been tested before focus groups multiple times. This is the reverse of Trump, who has the confidence to be himself. Given that traditional US policy is no longer working very well, changes are essential, and these can be effected only by a leader who is open to new ideas. Indeed, several within the permanent bureaucracy are aware of the need for change, some of the finest US citizens being part of the gargantuan administrative machine that ensures reasonably smooth passage for the country. Where Donald Trump miscalculated is in committing the same error as did Nixon. This is not obstruction of justice, for the shrill cries of CNN and other anti-Trump media outlets nothwithsanding, there was no such deed committed by the President of the US.
However, it will be remembered that at the very start of his second term in office, President Richard Nixon held a meeting of officials and demanded that they each submit their resignations. From that hour onwards, he was a political “Dead Man Walking”. The permanent bureaucracy, aware that the US President represented a possibly fatal threat to their careers, began the patter of leaks and innuendo that finally forced Nixon to quit. In like fashion, President Trump telegraphed his contempt for the permanent bureaucracy by appointing as Departmental heads individuals with a track record, often of decades, of opposing the very bureaucracies they were now in charge of. It has not helped that Chief of Staff Priebus, in his anxiety to secure a post-Trump future by accommodating each faction of his party in the spoils of office, has slowed down recruitment of Assistant Secretary and above levels to an unprecedented extent, thereby further reinforcing the perception that to President Trump, the less appointments get made, the better.
Once again, as during the final period of the Nixon Presidency, leaks and innuendo are filling (the largely compliant) media space, creating an impression of crisis where none exists. However, this time around, they may not succeed in driving out a President from office. Not unless the US public actually begin to believe in the falsehoods being retailed against President Trump and overwhelmingly turn against him. Provided Trump does not panic the way his team did in the matter of Michael Flynn, this seems a very unlikely prospect. After having beaten Bernie Sanders to pulp during the Democratic Presidential primary, it would appear that the Clintons will taste defeat yet again, this time at the hands of Trump rather than Obama.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

SC and PM must expand freedom’s boundaries (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Given the elasticity of meaning of Indian laws and power of courts to take up issues, it’s easy entangling a citizen in a case involving speech or other forms of expression.

Any country which aims to succeed in the 21st century needs to empower rather than constrain its citizens. Unless an act exposes the general public to harm, citizens need to be given the freedom to decide on their own, rather than be led by the nose in the manner of cattle at a farm. The philosophical foundation of India is Sanatan Dharma, which reflects freedom of choice in a manner that few other philosophies do. Individual choice is given primacy, and the decisions made are ratified by the philosophy, rather than reviled. However, between the government and the judiciary, save with the assistance of an electronic microscope, it would be difficult to come across any activity that remains the exclusive preserve of the citizen. Whether it be the workplace or public spaces, the bedroom or the dining area, laws, verdicts and prohibitions abound in such profusion in India that it is reminiscent of the situation in Saudi Arabia. 
Four years ago, it was possible that India would be the first country in Asia to recognise the fact that the gender of a life partner belongs in the realm of individual choice, rather than that of the state. The Delhi High Court had struck down the Victorian-era Indian Penal Code prohibition on partners of the same sex. The move was globally welcomed for accepting the 21st century maxim that the citizen has the right to decide on lifestyle matters. The High Court verdict, however, was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court. 
So, rather than India, it is Taiwan that has emerged as the leader in Asia in the matter of the right to decide on matters of personal union. The highest court there last week struck down the longstanding prohibition on same sex marriage, thereby making the judiciary in Taipei far more current with modern trends than is the case with the US Supreme Court, which in some ways remains bound to conventions and practices that ought to have faded away a generation ago. Indeed, the US Supreme Court may even, in coming years, roll back the right to abortion that was given in the Roe vs Wade judgement of 1973. Even there, two justices dissented, with one going on to head the Supreme Court for decades. Especially during the term of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who headed the US Supreme Court for 16 years ending 1969, several judgements were delivered that dramatically increased the power of the citizen vis-à-vis the state. As a consequence, the US shook off the trauma involved in losing the Vietnam War and once again emerged as a global powerhouse, retaining to this day its edge in technology and in the knowledge industries. Dragging US jurisprudence back a century, the way some in the Republican Party seek to do, will ensure that the US gives up its primacy in the global order. However, as yet this has not happened, and overall, freedoms in the US (including freedom of speech, a precondition for rapid growth of the knowledge sector) remain high. In India, by contrast, the HRD Ministry (to take one of several examples) devotes much of its attention towards micro-managing the educational institutions placed in its grasp, bringing in an artificial uniformity and an averaging of standards that has driven out excellence from our educational landscape. Even the PMO has not thus far been able to temper the HRD Ministry’s urge for control. 
Freedom of speech by the ordinary citizen is essential if a country is to leverage its human resources in the knowledge industry. In India, getting into trouble because of deliberate or accidental misrepresentation of the intent of words spoken or written is commonplace. In the Justice Sawant case, Rs 100 crore was accepted by the courts as reasonable compensation for a supposedly defamatory showing of a few seconds onscreen of the wrong image. Hence the path was cleared for claims in sums that would bankrupt almost anybody. Given the elasticity of meaning of several of the laws in India (thereby making it very difficult to predict the outcome even in cases where in other countries, the evidence on record would make the verdict obvious), as well as the power of courts anywhere in the country to take up issues almost at will, entangling a citizen in a case involving speech or other forms of expression is not a particularly difficult exercise. Nor is it difficult for the authorities to arrest an individual on any of the numerous grounds that are regarded in the statutes as liable for punishment, including in the laws dealing with speech. Until the Supreme Court and Prime Minister Narendra Modi step in and act in the manner the Warren Court did in the US, and unless both separately expand the boundaries of freedom of the citizen beyond the hyper-confined spaces of our colonial-era legal architecture, it will remain much easier for a knowledge start-up to succeed in San Jose, rather than in Pune. It may be unrealistic to expect officials and their political masters to roll back the grip of regulations and prohibitions that stifle initiative in a manner designed to ensure a copious flow of bribes. However, admirers of Narendra Modi remain hopeful of such an initiative. Should the Prime Minister and separately the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India work on transforming the landscape of governance for promoting individual empowerment rather than constraints, and ensure that processes energise rather than paralyse individual and corporate initiative, the Knowledge Industry alone would generate much of the 10 million plus additional jobs needed annually for India to escape from the potential chaos of mass unemployment. There is no better way towards double digit growth than by giving the 1.26 billion citizens of India the freedoms that are commonplace in the countries to which some migrate and thereafter excel.

‘Sukhoi likely downed by cyber weapons’ (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Given the range of cyber interference, the source of the attack could have been from thousands of kilometres or from only a few hundred metres away. 
Analysts based in the vicinity of New York and St Petersburg warn that the loss, days ago, of an advanced and mechanically certified as safe, Sukhoi 30 fighter aircraft, close to the border with China may be the result of “cyber-interference with the onboard computers” in the cockpit. This may explain why even the pilots may have found it difficult to activate safety ejection mechanisms, once it became obvious that the aircraft was in serious trouble, as such mechanisms too could have been crippled by computer malfunctions induced from an outside source. They point to the apparent loss of five Army vehicles, “due (according to the authorities) to a misfired mortar strike” in the same zone, saying that a single mortar round would not have enough firepower to take out such a large number of vehicles. They add that the possibilities are that the damage may have been caused by a larger projectile guided by electronic systems that may have been interfered with during flight. Given the range and complexity of cyber interference, the source of the attack could have been from thousands of kilometres or from only a few hundred metres away. These analysts warn that although India spends over Rs 200,000 crore on defence through the armed forces and another Rs 100,000 crore on security via police units, hardly Rs 4,700 crore gets spent on cyber capability. The analysts spoken to point out that almost all this gets expended on foreign vendors, rather than domestic producers. However, this reliance on foreign shores for defence and security is across the board, so far as capital expenditure is concerned, in contrast to China, which has almost entirely indigenised its capabilities over the past 15 years.
The international analysts spoken to, who are based in Russia and the United States, two of the four giants in the cyber field (the others being Israel and China), point to the devastating effect of the lightning shutdown of the Northern Power Grid on two separate occasions in August 2012. These were attributed by authorities to an “overdrawing” of power by Uttar Pradesh, omitting to consider the fact that such excess power consumption is routine, and that in the past, UP had withdrawn far more electricity from the grid than had been the case when it tripped. They say that it is probable that a cyber-related malfunction of a key gauge may have occurred, leading to the breakdown in supplies. It is pertinent to recall (to illustrate cyber capabilities) that it was at that time that the US and Israel introduced Stuxnet into even non-internet related control systems in the nuclear industry in Iran. As a consequence, the nuclear process gauges showed acceptable speeds, even while remote commands raised the speed of certain processes to unsafe levels, thereby leading to a shutdown in operations. Of course, they add that it is “next to impossible” that either the US or Israel were behind the Northern Grid power outage, although both have the capability to inflict such damage on essential civilian infrastructure, and that the Stuxnet example was only given as an illustration of the lethality of cyber weaponry.
The impact of cyber warfare on complex machinery may be judged by the crippling of the USS Donald Cook in April 2014 by electronic interference sourced from a high-flying Sukhoi-24. Exactly a year later, yet another Sukhoi disabled the USS Theodore Roosevelt (an aircraft carrier armed with multiple defensive and safety mechanisms) in the Baltic Sea. Both naval vessels had to be towed to safety, as their onboard propulsion systems got damaged by electronic interference. Other large-scale disruptions caused by cyber warfare include the crippling of operations of Stockholm airport for three days last year. There had also been large-scale power outages in the US more than a decade ago, after the worst of which a warning was conveyed by US authorities to the (state) perpetrator that the next time around, there would be a disproportionate cyber reaction to the event, targeting the offending country. Needless to say, that was the last time large-scale disruptions of the same kind occurred within the US.
Given the push towards digitalisation by the Narendra Damodardas Modi government since 26 May 2014, the realm of cyberspace has become critical in the security and economic matrix of the country. In this context, cyber theft from banks is a vulnerability which needs to be eliminated. However, as yet authorities have adopted a conventional approach towards such crimes, as for illustration the overnight siphoning of Rs 1,200 crore ($171.2 million) from Union Bank of India on 20 July 2016 through seven “swift” transactions. $166 million was taken from Union Bank’s account in New York Citibank, while  5 million was removed from J.P. Morgan Chase, again in New York. The money was wired to seven accounts: Mrs Pornjit, SIAM Bank, Thailand; Mr Sithonno, Canadia Bank, Cambodia; Sactec Corporation, Sinopec Bank, Taiwan; Mr Cheng Nesgig, Indo-China Bank, Cambodia; and three other accounts.
During the same period, Bank of Maharashtra is reported to have lost Rs 25 crore through fraud in their digital payments mechanism. Interestingly, the same year, a Bangladesh bank lost $89 million in the same manner as Union Bank of India. While the Bangladesh authorities visited Sri Lanka to bring the account holders (into which the cash had been transferred) to justice, thus far authorities in India do not appear to have been to the locations where the money was sent, to interview the recipients. In the Indian cases, authorities focused on backdoor diplomacy to try and get back some of the money stolen, rather than aggressively pursue the perpetrators and the beneficiaries. As a consequence, India is widely regarded globally as a soft target for cybercrime, despite harsh laws on the subject. “What counts is not law but implementation and the capability to react, and in both, India has remained well below its size and potential”, these experts claim. Based in the vicinity of New York and St Petersburg, they warn that the capabilities of Indian authorities in the cybercrime realm are of a “Fourth World” standard. They claim that only Open Source tools are used in this country to track depredators, including by locating IP addresses. However, such addresses can be easily disguised by experienced hackers, thereby leading to the wrong locations being blamed for a cyber attack. Hence, in case an attack comes from a particular country, it is close to impossible for Indian authorities to identify the source, which means that there is no way of knowing who to complain to and about whom. Unlike the US, Russia, Israel or China, where each has the capability to penetrate through such dodges and establish where exactly an attack originated from, India has thus far relied on outside police forces to deal with cybercrime in this country, many of which are in locations compromised by graft and connivance with criminal gangs.
Globally, geopolitics specialists consider Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be among the top four global leaders (the others being Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin). They, therefore, expect that India under PM Modi will soon rectify the vulnerability caused by decades of neglect of the fact that the realm of cyberspace is likely to be the theatre of future conflict. MoS (MEA) General V.K. Singh, while Chief of Army Staff, had put together a cyber warfare group, but this seems to have been relegated in importance by his successors. Interestingly, in the US, the backbone of that superpower’s cyber capability in both attack and defence is talent from India, either still holding Indian passports or naturalised citizens. They say that military mishaps which may be passed off as accidents may in fact be the consequence of cyber warfare from unknown sources, as there are multiple groups of experienced hackers globally available on hire to the highest bidder. They say that the creation of stronger firewalls against cyber intrusions, including in the corporate and urban infrastructure sphere, needs to become a top priority of the Modi government as it crosses its first 1,000 days of existence.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Oil price fall will benefit Asia (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat | Geopolitical Notes From India

Since 1948, the year when Israel was reborn in the sands of the desert, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and the US have been the twin guarantors of its security, and neither has let the country down. The sharp rise in prices of petro-products as a consequence of the Arab oil embargo following the 1973 conflict hurt the economy of Israel, but did no damage to that of the US. On the contrary, oil companies based in the US gained immensely from the rise in prices, just as they did during the years when George W Bush was President of the US. Bill Clinton had unlocked the doors to corporate greed by doing away with Glass-Steagal and other regulations designed to avoid speculation and profiteering, and the successor (Bush) administration made the path to riches even easier.
From the 1990s onwards, the US has become a more and more unequal society, where the richest gain at the expense of the rest of the population. In his second term, when Hillary Clinton was no longer the decisive force in his Cabinet, President Barack Obama sought to bring back social justice to an extent, especially through the Affordable Care Act. However, the hyper-rich in the US are similar to their counterparts in Switzerland or in India or China, and resent any expenditure that is not lavished on themselves. In particular, they have contempt for the poor, believing that poverty is self-inflicted the way certain social diseases are. As a reaction to their country’s first African-American President, poor whites across the US voted for Donald John Trump, who made no secret of the fact that his retinue was made up of individuals who were white and male.
Of course, after getting elected, Trump has placed a few non-whites in key positions, including Federal Communications Commission boss Ajit Pai and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, besides appointing Ben Carson to his Cabinet. However, the budget proposals outlined by President Trump are certain to ensure a runaway victory for the Democratic Party in the 2018 election cycle, given that they follow the Chicago School model of taking benefits away from the poor in order to lower taxes on the rich. Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs an annual growth rate of 12% in India to ensure that the bulge in the jobless gets absorbed into the labour market, President Trump needs a growth rate of 4% to avoid large-scale civil unrest as a consequence of the tax cutting, welfare reducing measures designed by the super rich and hyper rich individuals he has chosen to include in his team, where the only key players who are not millionaires are the former military personnel the new Head of State has appointed to his Defence and National Security team.
It must be said of Generals McMaster, Kelly and Mattis that each are of spotless integrity. Indeed, they have even stayed away from the lecture circuit or the lobbyist circuit that is commonplace in Washington. This is unlike General Flynn, who lobbied for Turkey and accepted $ 40,000 from Russia TV, although it must be added that neither of such ways of making extra cash is at all uncommon in the US or in several other countries. In India, for example, senior civil servants who retire from service very soon get chosen to serve on the Board of Directors of major private companies, including foreign entities, that find not only their domain knowledge but their access to those still in government to be worth the compensation paid. Had General Flynn been given $ 40,000 by a West European television outlet, no problems would have been encountered in his continuance as National Security Advisor. However, in that job he represented a potential risk to Bill and Hillary Clinton, as the NSA has access to a trove of intelligence reports.
Clearly there is appetite in Atlanticist Washington only to belabour Moscow and not any other Great Power. Had the Trump administration been less defensive and less clumsily reactive to the daily blows being administered on them by the Clinton machine, by now details of all contacts between Democratic Party insiders and diplomats and others associated with certain powerful countries other than Russia would have been made public However, there is good news for India, Japan and China coming from the Trump administration, and this is the 45th President’s bold removal of constraints on oil production. Not only has the Alaska pipeline been brought back to life but shale oil is being given a boost, as are reserves in locations across the US. Almost certainly, there will be a surge in oil production in the US, and this will keep rices way below $ 50 a barrel, indeed at around $ 30 a barrel, which is the natural price but for the Bush-Cheney boosts of the past, that saw prices reach the three figure range and remain there.
In the case of India, the fall in global oil prices has been a massive windfall to the Narendra Modi government, which has continued to levy taxes on petro-products designed to mop up almost all the savings caused by lower prices. The continuing low oil prices will help ensure that government finances do not deteriorate to levels seen during the time when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Modi has avoided the popular path of cutting taxes, instead increasing taxes in order to pay for social programs designed to give some sustenance to the poor. Of course, a contrary view is that lower taxes would boost growth, which in turn would ensure more taxes get collected than by high rates of tax. However, President Trump needs to resist calls from neo-cons in his team to launch military actions in Syria or even against Iran. The US President who in his campaign gave promise of resetting the US on an Indo-Pacific rather than an outdated Atlanticist course should continue to focus on Nuclear Threat Number 1,North Korea, rather than get sidetracked by domestic and international noise over Iran.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

PM Modi cleansing system of hawala-narcotics influence (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Modi has examined the records of officials under suspicion of having links to the hawala-narcotics industry. 

Although definitive numbers are difficult to come by, estimates are that the hawala-narcotics industry in India has a volume of Rs 186,000 crore annually, all of it unreported. Linked to the ISI, which has the final say in the operations of both the hawala trade as well as subcontinental commerce in narcotics, kingpins of the industry are the biggest funders of politicians across the ideological spectrum. An examination of the users of the chartered flights made available by the hawala-narcotics industry to VVIPs would show that the beneficiaries come from all sides of the political spectrum. Together with their political backers, this secretive industry enjoys the patronage of a large number of officials in agencies and departments, covering most segments of administration, but principally in the economic sphere. A particular target of their operations has been to seek to undermine or to get recruits from the uniformed services. In this context, the lapses in security that have enabled the entry of terrorists into several defence and security-related facilities over the past ten years, need to be examined by an independent authority, so as to overcome the manner in which each administrative and uniformed service seeks to cover up and protect those who (intentionally or otherwise) make mistakes that create avenues for terrorists to exploit. In the case of a post-2014 terror attack on a defence facility, basic standard procedures for ensuring the safety of personnel were ignored. Members of the service involved were, for example, found on the night of the attack sleeping in tents close to a fuel dump, which caught fire subsequently, leading to deaths through incineration, rather than through terrorist bullets of those who had been camped out in the open for reasons as yet unspecified. Ingress into the facility was made possible through ignoring of security parameters, as well as by errors that in other countries would call for a court martial, but in India appear to have been condoned. In the civilian field as well, gaps in procedures as well as errors in processes which facilitate the operation of hawala dealers linked to the narcotics trade have been commonplace till 2014, after which Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi began the lengthy and difficult process of improving the security and efficiency of systems and procedures in governance, especially in security-related fields.
The GHQ Rawalpindi-controlled ISI has used the channels available to it within the administration in India to periodically launch psy-war operations designed to bring into disrepute India’s uniformed services. An example was the report nearly five years ago of the commander of a wing of the military attempting a coup. Exaggerated descriptions were made of troop and vehicular movements, and these were portrayed as having a sinister intent. Special operations units that had been set up by the commander in question, and which were effective in identifying moles and secret agents of an enemy power, were tarnished in media reports. Interestingly, a senior minister in a previous government was responsible for persuading some media entities to carry reports about the fake coup, misleading them into carrying reports that in effect portrayed those then at the head of the military in India as being of the same cloth as their counterparts in Pakistan, who have made coups and martial law a natural accompaniment of politics in that country. Two decades ago, this same minister had, through his influence, ensured the passing of orders that greatly facilitated an expansion of narcotics production in India, ostensibly for medical reasons, but with almost no check on whether or not production was going into lawful channels or not.
Over the past two decades, as many as 37 civil servants have been the recipient of favours channelled through the politician in question. Several have been gifted properties, while others have been given funds to pay for the education of their children, or for shopping expeditions by family members in high cost locations in other countries. Any individual who crossed the politician could expect to get the attention of agencies tasked with ferreting out financial crimes in India. This was done in connivance with identifiable bureaucrats, who were smoothly herded through the promotion ladder because of the influence of the politician in question. An example was the ensuring of directorships in public sector banks to chosen individuals, who would then lobby for loans to corporate groups. The records will show many such appointments, especially from the period when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took charge in 2004, each made with the connivance of officials close to the minister in question. The umbrella of cash and protective services provided by the hawala-narcotics industry to those who were, and remain, the business, political and official associates of the politician in question, ensured a smooth ride also for those secretly linked to the ISI, usually through entities and individuals based in Dubai, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Unlike the “live and let live” attitude of his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted a Zero Tolerance policy towards the hawala-narcotics nexus that has infected so much of business, government and politics in India. Those associated with government processes say that Modi has carefully and methodically examined the records of officials under suspicion of having links to the hawala-narcotics industry, and specifically to the politician in question, who, together with some of his family members, has been known for decades to be close to such interests. It is likely that action will follow in the most egregious of cases of favours shown to particular politicians, despite the reality of some in the administrative services being overprotective of those in their particular cadre. Officers relatively junior in age, but untainted by linkage to anti-national groups, have been identified by the PMO and marked for advancement, while care has been taken by the PM to ensure that sensitive agencies come under the control of those with a spotless record. It is regarded as certain that such attention to personnel choices will ensure the cleaning up of the administrative mechanism by 2019 that was promised by Modi during the last Lok Sabha election cycle. As for the prominent politician, who played the ISI game by smearing the leadership of the military as coup masters, neither his access to money nor his friends in business, officialdom and politics will come in the way of accountability being enforced.
Of course, the former minister’s contacts are even now working overtime to ensure that he get off the hook, worried as they are that their own links to him and by extension to the hawala-narcotics industry will get exposed. However, it is clear that Prime Minister Modi will not allow any interested person or combination of persons to intervene in his drive to ensure that administration and politics in India get cleansed of those who are or were high up in the official machinery, who are associates of ISI-run narcotics-hawala syndicates in Dubai and Bangkok especially.