Friday, 25 May 2018

Missed opportunities by US bedevil Trump (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

SAY this for the United States, the country has both those who hero-worship and those who work tirelessly at showing why the heroes of the country ought to be relegated to the wastebasket of history. Henry Kissinger followed the example of Winston Churchill and wrote by himself what has since been regarded as the definitive account of Henry A Kissinger, former Secretary of State. Overall, his books ( including “Diplomacy”) are of little value to practitioners of foreign policy, although they obey Richard Gere’s dictum in the musical “Chicago”. Which is to “give them the old razzle dazzle”. Mixing irrelevant examples of European diplomacy with anecdotes about he charmed world leaders, Kissinger has almost surpassed Churchill in literary self-glorification.
Reading his books on the history of the period when he dominated US foreign policy, it would be impossible to know that Kissinger was instrumental in giving false hope to President Nixon that he would be able to rescue South Vietnam from annexation by Ho Chi Minh, provided yet more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese,Laotians and Cambodians got killed by the bombing and intervention caused by US involvement on the French colonial side in the Vietnam war. For his success in helping to control the population of the planet, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee clearly was ignorant of the fact that the war was ended by Kissinger through his North Vietnamese interlocuters only after even the Secretary of State realized that mass killing would not work against Ho Chi Minh, unless almost the entire population of the country got killed, something even Nixon and Kissinger shrank from. An individual less narcissistic but as brilliant as him, Seymour Hersh, has written in convincing detail about the facts behind the “fake news” narrative spun by Kissinger, only to be ignored as just another scribe on a rant against the powerful.
Kissinger missed an opportunity for peace (and to save more than two million lives) by not agreeing to work out the same peace agreement he finally worked out with the North Vietnamese, an agreement that had been placed on the table by Hanoi from the initial days of the Nixon presidency. Bill Clinton missed two mega geopolitical opportunities, the first to enlist Russia as a staunch US ally and to do the same with India. The problem faced by US Presidents and many of their appointees is that there is a lag – sometimes of several decades – between the reality of the present and the glories of the past. Looking at the way in which he is walking along a path that could lead to war with Iran and North Korea, it would appear that Donald J Trump is still of the view that US influence is where it was in the 1960s, before the Vietnam war and emphatically before the Taliban in Afghanistan has managed to prevail over the US and its allies since 2001, even though they are at the crossbow stage of weapons development when compared to the NATO forces battling them with all the finesse of a Keystone Cops brigade.
Say this for the 45th President of the US, he loves his admittedly remarkable country to distraction, thereby endowing it – and himself as its Commander-in-Chief – with perfection. No other explanation is possible for such policy initiatives as asking Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un to surrender his nuclear and missile stockpile just for the privilege of being in the same room as Trump. Because of the opportunity missed by two-term Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, by now North Korea has a stockpile of nuclear weaponry that can kill around six million people overall in South Korea, Guam and Japan before the country itself gets eliminated by a US nuclear attack that through the effects of fallout and blast will kill almost as many South Koreans, Chinese, Russians and Japanese as it will North Koreans. Already Pyongyang has the missiles needed to reach South Korea, Guam, the Philippines and Japan. Well within a year, it will be able to send missiles that would hit the Pacific coast of the US, and in a few months more, the East coast.
This is the country that Vice-President Pence (who seems not to have been briefed about the difference between nuclear and conventional weapons) is threatening to “do a Libya on”. Given such charming perspectives, beyond detonating a few test sites that have outlived their use, including by becoming vulnerable to external attack, the chances are close to zero that the DPRK’s Supreme Leader will surrender the only capability of his that matters to the big powers. As time passes with US officials blowing hard but doing little, soon the only question will be whether Secretary of State Pompeo will accept the inevitable and work out a peace deal with North Korea sweet enough to make Pyongyang as much a buddy of the US as Vietnam now is. The alternative would be to follow the Kissinger playbook and cost 2 million lives. Over to Mike Pompeo.
As for Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have calculated that Israel will remain unaffected by the meltdown (within an already existing meltdown) in the Middle East that the Netanyahu-Trump diplomacy towards Teheran is heading towards. This seems to be the case at first glance, but the law of unintended consequences suggests that those in power in Israel should not expose their people to a future risk from unforeseen effects of the cauldron that the region will become once the US and its allies actually land up in a conflict with Iran. This columnist warned his friends in the US and Israel several times that Bashar Assad was no Muammar Kaddafy but much more resilient, and that he was preferable to the available options (such as Al Nusra). Now that President Rouhani has been politically emasculated by the US walkout from the nuclear deal, the hardliners are in full command, with the advantage that the average Iranian has swung to their side after the US withdrawal. The chance for John Bolton to “take out” the Iranian regime was when he was with George W Bush, who lacked the grit to finish that job. To attempt a similar move now would be collective suicide.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Opposition unity boosted by Karnataka events (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The BJP appears to believe that the path to victory in 2019 flows through securing control of as many state governments as possible. Hence the fiasco in Karnataka.

 That a clear winner of the Assembly polls in Karnataka (i.e. a party securing a majority on its own) would have secured pole position in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is obvious. Had the Congress Party secured a majority, it would have proved its ability to successfully challenge the BJP in future contests. However, the Congress fared poorly in seats when compared to its tally in 2013, while even the seat score of the Janata Dal (Secular) fell. In contrast, the BJP secured more than double the seats it had won the last time around, which made it the only party of the trio with the right to claim a “moral” victory in the polls. This would have been possible were the party to have decided at the start to allow the JD(S) and the Congress Party to form the government in the state, given that their poll losses made both “losers” rather than “winners”. Only by acting as a strong opposition can the BJP put on the defensive the incoming Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka, but this will not be easy under the leadership of B.S. Yeddyurappa. For Kumaraswamy is a wily politician with the same level of skills as his father H.D. Deve Gowda.
Not forming the government will crimp the financial health of the BJP in Karnataka. The financial fortunes of the JD(S) will rise substantially, while the Congress retains most of the liquidity the party enjoyed during five years of incumbency, were the Congress-JD(S) to assume power. However, while financial resources are important in an election, this is not enough. High spending power can succeed only as an add-on to the good performance of the party in power or as a boost to the seat trajectory of the opposition, but only in a state where the ruling party is encountering substantial headwinds as a consequence of bad performance. The Uttar Pradesh Assembly result had little to do with demonetisation and much to do with the way in which the BSP sought to wean away Muslim voters from the SP, in the process alienating other possible pools of support, while ultimately showing itself unable to persuade significant numbers of Muslim voters to cast their ballots for Mayawati, rather than for the Akhilesh-Rahul combo. Pandering to the minority fringe carries electoral risks. From the 1990s, a reaction has gathered traction within the Hindu community against the implicit premise in “secularism” as practised in India, which is that the majority community should be treated the way minorities are in several countries (i.e. be discriminated against by government). Such a mood is still the BJP’s best bet in 2019.
This is so despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi apparently deciding that it will only be in a second term that he removes discriminatory edicts and regulations that handicap the majority community, including those dating back to the British period. This has disappointed some of his 2014 voters, but most believe that while there is a reasonable chance of such dreams such as a Ram Mandir coming up during Modi’s tenure, it is unlikely that the leaders of the major opposition parties would take the risk of annoying the 2% of the Muslim community who are Wahhabi by going ahead with the construction of the temple. The fact is that 98% of Muslims would have no problem with a Ram Temple coming up in Ayodhya. Sadly, the modern, moderate Muslim has—especially after 1947—been ignored by both the media as well as the governance mechanism within our country. While even a leader with the mass appeal of Jawaharlal Nehru did not risk introducing reforms in the Muslim community in the 1950s the way he went ahead with the Hindus, Prime Minister Modi has gone ahead with reformist measures braving Wahhabi ire, such as the ordinance banning the practice of Triple Talaq. While this legislation suffers from infirmities, as for example making arrest and incarceration in such cases mandatory, rather than leaving these to the discretion of the aggrieved spouse, overall it represents a move away from the longstanding governmental practice of conflating the prejudices of the Wahhabis within the Muslims as representing that of the entire community. Out of fear of “Muslim” (i.e. Wahhabi) blowback, successive Prime Ministers have ignored the need to equalise laws and practices across all faiths. Instead, they indulged the Wahhabi fringe through policies crafted to appeal to this segment. That the BJP under Modi seems the only national party to sense and respond to the awakening of Hindu majority consciousness across the country has been a primary factor behind its poll victories. Interestingly, the unwillingness of the Vajpayee government to move beyond past practices where communal dynamics were concerned led to enough supporters staying away from voting during the 2004 polls to ensure a UPA victory. However, the majority-bashing policies of Manmohan Singh led to Modi securing a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Judging by its post-2014 electoral strategy, the BJP appears to believe that the path to victory in 2019 flows through securing control of as many state governments as possible. Hence the fiasco in Karnataka. The fact is that few state governments would be able to satisfy the expectations of voters, with the result that an anti-incumbency mood may grow that would affect the Lok Sabha polls. Such a factor may make many of the states under the BJP an electoral liability, which is clearly the case in some states. In India, the only victory that counts is that won for control of the Lok Sabha. Even if a party or combination controls very few states but secures a majority in the Lok Sabha, such a party would be much better positioned nationally than a party which controls several states, but has lost the Lok Sabha to its rival. The BJP’s tactics since the results of the 2018 Assembly polls in Karnataka got declared have made opposition unity a certainty in several states (including Karnataka), a factor which could cause the BJP major headaches in the coming parliamentary polls.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Anwar should give Mahathir 3-5 years (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
MAHATHIR Mohammad is among the greats of the post-colonial period in Asia. In the case of India and Pakistan, where the leaders who took over from the British failed to ensure a high growth rate and acceptable social indices. Mahathir ensured that Malaysia became a moderately prosperous country, which today has a much higher per capita income than the South Asian countries. Although he was often critical of the manner in which colonial states exploited the territories they controlled, this did not prevent him from associating Malaysia closely with Europe and the US, to the economic advantage of both. Unlike in so many other newly liberated countries, where corruption remained endemic, only difference being the skin colour of those who were doing the looting, Malaysia had a relatively clean govt so long as Mahathir was in charge.
This changed after Najib Razak took over, for the new Prime Minister believed that the Malay majority in Malaysia would always support the UMNO rather than opt for parties that depended on the votes of the Indian and Chinese communities. In Mahathir Mohammad, he met his match, for the brilliant and tenacious doctor of medicine was the originator of the “Bumiputra” laws and practices that from the inception of the country have ensured primacy of opportunity to the Muslim Malays over Hindu Indians and Buddhist Chinese, even though the Chinese have emerged as the most important component of business in Malaysia, the way they have in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand as well. At the same time, Mahathir sought to integrate his neighbours through ASEAN, a group that India unwisely opted to stay out of when it was formed, among the numerous geopolitical errors committed by those who led India in the decades after August 15,1947.
When it became a choice between Mahathir and Razak, voters of Malay descent were confident that the former would protect their interests, and voted for him in sufficient numbers to topple UMNO from power, to the shock of Najib Razak. Unlike Narendra Modi, who till now has adopted a largely absent accountability policy towards those who led the 2004-2014 United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Mahathir immediately blocked Razak from travelling abroad, perhaps never to return, given the wealth that the former Prime Minister and his friends have amassed. Although Modi has given several verbal darts against the UPA leadership, in practice not even a First Information Report has been filed by the police against any top UPA leader. Only the son of former Finance Minister Chidambaram was briefly arrested, that too over a petty case involving a sum below a million dollars, small change for South Asian leaders, who deal in the billions of dollars.
Unlike Modi, Mahathir has moved against the UMNO leadership from the start, beginning with Razak, aware that he has to demonstrate to the Malaysian voters both that the former ruling party was corrupt and that he as the new Head of Government has the will and the ability to punish them for such a betrayal of the public trust. At 92,Mahathir is still fully alert in both mind and body, and is clearly the architect of the victory his alliance has just scored. However, those in Anwar Ibrahim’s party would like the public to believe that it was the former Deputy Prime Minister who was responsible for the defeat of Najib Razak. While Mahathir has released Anwar from prison (to which he was sent earlier by Mahathir himself), there will certainly develop tensions and fault lines between the two individuals. Anwar will not be able to forget that it was Mahathir who was responsible for his downfall, while the new Prime Minister of Malaysia understands that he needs at least three years ( if not five) to ensure that his leadership style and intellectual prowess ensures change on the scale sought by the Malaysian voter. Mahathir brought Malaysia into the 20th century and he needs time to bring his country firmly into the 21st century at a time when Najib Razak was trying to make Malaysia go the South Asia way of corruption and economic mismanagement accompanied by bravado and bombast.
Nelson Mandela was a much admired figure for his absence of anger consequential to the decades he spent in prison just for wanting his people to be freed from racial tyranny. However, during his five years as President, the pace of genuine change in South Africa was slow. In the same way, Jawaharlal Nehru may have spent years in prison thanks to the British, but he presided over an economy that limped rather than ran. The private sector in India shrivelled into a midget compared to global giants, while in both Japan and South Korea (where private enterprise from 1945 till the 1950s was much below the levels of their counterparts in India) governments ensured that Japanese and later South Korean companies became world beaters, exactly the way the Chinese Communist Party is ensuring that Chinese companies are beginning to dominate the global space in several fields.
Already it is more Anwar Ibrahim than Mahathir Mohammad who is being interviewed by media from the US and the EU, the latter being aware of the strong feelings that Mahathir has against the way in which a proud continent was reduced to penury by European domination. Already Anwar’s followers are seeking the early retirement of Mahathir and his replacement by their hero, who has just been freed from prison thanks to the very individual who first put him there. The fact is that Malaysia elected Mahathir Mogammad and not Anwar Ibrahim to power. And that Prime Minister Mahathir needs time to clear away the rot that has crept into the state maschinery because of UMNO corruption under Razak and his intimates. What Anwar Ibrahim needs is to put his ambition in check and give Mahathir three or even five years before stepping forward as his successor. His previous downfall was because he was over eager to take over from Mahathir. Anwar should not repeat this mistake by constantly pressurizing Mahathir to step down well before his 5-year term ends.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Terrorists will gain through a Kashmir ceasefire (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

Terror groups would get time to replenish stocks of personnel, weaponry and cash, all of which would be running low after setbacks against security forces.

Whenever terror organisations go on the defensive as a consequence of effective action against them by the uniformed forces, those sympathetic to their cause call for an immediate ceasefire by the security forces. This would give the terror groups time to replenish stocks of personnel, weaponry and cash, all three of which would be running low after sustained setbacks against security forces. The LTTE in Sri Lanka was expert in such tactics. Each time the Tamil Tigers were on a losing trajectory against the Sri Lankan military, their international supporters would lobby Colombo to declare a cessation of hostilities, always succeeding in such a quest until Mahinda Rajapaksa took over as President of Sri Lanka and defeated and destroyed the LTTE, defying global calls to give the organisation an extra life through a ceasefire. Rajapaksa was different from other South Asians, who having emerged from three centuries of European domination, took advice coming from that corner as gospel, even when it was damaging. This South Asian propensity to swallow without restraint suggestions from the continent which colonised them applies also to guidance given by those in North America. Talk within the Lutyens Zone is that it was hyper-billionaire Bill Gates who took upon himself the cause of persuading the Narendra Modi government to make 1.26 billion Indians go cashless through a shock demonetisation. If it was Gates who first sounded the DeMo bugle, the refrain was soon picked up by some in the most consequential posts within the Modi government, all of whom championed the measure to the Prime Minister. The consequence was the 8 November 2016 demonetisation that set back growth in India through its aftershocks. Bill Gates is not reported as having weighed in on the issue of a Ramzan ceasefire, so hopefully there will not be a rush within the Lutyens Zone to urge the Prime Minister that such a measure be implemented, as indeed it was during the period when A.B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister. Vajpayee’s ceasefire in Kashmir gave terrorist groups there a welcome pause in actions against them by the military. This was used to recoup their strength. Despite or because of such a show of governmental restraint, the Pahalgam and other massacres took place during Vajpayee’s tenure.
Later, PM Vajpayee created a perception within the pro-Pakistan lobby of being ready to move beyond the Constitution of India. He promised to settle the Kashmir problem not wholly through law but via the diffuse concepts of “jamhooriyat” and “insaniyat”. These terms were interpreted by Pakistan-controlled elements as code indicating that Vajpayee would accept a change in the status quo that would get created through an intensification of the “Azaadi from India” movement. What the then Prime Minister ought to have done was to make it clear to each and every individual in Kashmir that its accession to India was final and irreversible, and that the Constitution of India was the inescapable basis of any negotiation, rather than poetic phrases such as those used by Vajpayee. Not surprisingly, the first BJP Prime Minister of India failed to overcome the problem of insurgency, which remained severe throughout his six years in office. As for Vajpayee’s Lahore journey of 1999, this show of one-sided goodwill was met with the perfidy of Kargil, besides countless other thrusts by the ISI and its proxies in India. Given that the central mission of the Pakistan army is the attempted disintegration of the Union of India, efforts to cast the potential for India-Pakistan relations in dreamy poetry rather than harsh prose is an errand doomed to failure from the start. In such a context, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s constant efforts to show generosity and forgiveness to Pakistan-directed groups have predictably made them even more intransigent and determined to delink Kashmir from the rest of the country. Given the failure of Vajpayee’s numerous peace initiatives, it is a mystery as to why the lady believes that similar gestures on PM Modi’s part will create outcomes different from those that faced Vajpayee. The Kashmir CM appears to be fixated on a policy of appeasement of anti-India groups, a line of action that has been directly responsible for the substantial deterioration in the internal situation in Jammu & Kashmir since the BJP installed her as the Chief Minister of the state through its incomprehensible alliance with the PDP.
Responsibility for the murder of a tourist from Tamil Nadu in Kashmir by stone pelters can be directly ascribed to the policy of amnesty for such elements that was—surprisingly for a party claiming to take a tough line on national security—meekly acquiesced in by the BJP. If the Union Home Ministry is in any way concerned by the tango being danced by the PDP in association with pro-Pakistan elements, that venerable if hardly venerated institution has kept such feelings to itself, barring a few ineffective disapproving clucks from Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Those who voted for Narendra Modi in 2014 did not expect just words from his government, but action. However, in Kashmir, the BJP seems to be a passive spectator to the systematic way in which the PDP is giving oxygen to pro-Pakistan elements by its permissive policies towards those seeking to once again drag the state into the same cauldron of hate and violence into which it was thrown during the period when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was Home Minister of India. Let it be admitted that on Kashmir, Manmohan Singh’s record was stellar when compared with the follies of the present government in handling the state. It is time for those in thrall to the Vajpayee years to remember that voters threw out his government in 2004, and that the BJP won in 1999 only because the country had just recently been at war. A war that was caused by the neglect of the Vajpayee government in protecting the country’s borders from nibbling by the Pakistan army, but which its superior PR skills passed off as a great victory. India needs real victories, not make-believe ones. And these can come only when realism replaces romanticism in policy.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Trump active in ‘Contra-Trump’ mode (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

JUDGING by present indications, it would appear that President Donald J Trump has been placed on the defensive by serial cooked-up allegations of collusion with Vladimir Putin. The Washington Beltway is a forest of lobbies, each inhabited by lobbyists energetically working for whatever vested interest is willing to pay for their services. Those around Trump are not followers of Mahatma Gandhi, whose possessions consisted of a few dozen loincloths, three pairs of spectacles and some books. They relish the good life, which is presumably why they signed on to the tension-filled atmosphere inside Trump Towers in New York. Not just those around Trump but associates of Hillary Clinton as well operated with an implied “For Sale” sign affixed to their offices, but Robert Mueller seems in no mood to investigate any individual other than those close to the President.
If we were to believe the many US media outlets working on overdrive to get Trump impeached, the most important issue facing the US is the $ 500,000 payment made to legal counsel Michael Cohen by a company reported as having links to a US-sanctioned Russian billionaire. Given the tensions between the Atlantic Alliance and Russia, oligarchs from the latter are an endangered species, unless they create a firewall between their activities in Russia and the operations they conduct within the NATO bloc. Several have become hidden “agents of influence” of western intelligence agencies, giving information and conducting operations involving Russia on behalf of their hidden controllers. The recent poisoning through a nerve agent of a former Russian spy and his daughter was most likely carried out not by the Russian state but by a Russian oligarch eager to ingratiate himself with those seeking to portray Putin in a dark light.
The incident gave an excuse to the Theresa May government in London to expel several Russian diplomats, exactly as the gas attacks in Syria (which were immediately ascribed to the UN-recognized Syrian regime) opened the door to a rain of US,French and British missiles on Bashar Assad’s facilities. A lethal shower of projectiles that is expected to have the effect of persuading the GCC to spend yet more billions of dollars on armaments from France,the UK and the US that will get used only against tribespersons in Yemen and such other unfortunates, barring weapons that will go to those in the field active against groups and militias.
As a candidate for the office he now holds (and hopefully will for years to come), Donald J Trump adopted a sensible policy of seeking to keep the US out of regional conflicts and faultlines in the Middle East. However, the battering he is getting from the Washington Beltway is forcing the 45th US President into embracing several of the policies that he condemned on the 2016 campaign trail, including inserting the US more deeply and in a partisan way in the Iran-Saudi conflict that is reaching the danger point which threatens global security and financial stability. Iran and Saudi Arabia are at the centre of that battle, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has opened a two-front war.
It is beyond the capacity of the Saudi establishment to prevail in both, and the needs of the 21st century mandate that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman focus on the battle within Saudi Arabia against internal extremism rather than disperse the resources of his country in going to war in Yemen and in other locations. The only player in the cauldron of regional politics is Binyamin Netanyahu, who is clearly seeking to act as a catalyst to ensure a meltdown in the Middle East that would leave Israel as the only stable power in the region. And this in an era where increased production of shale oil by North America can take up any slack caused by disruptions in oil supplies by Iran, Saudi Arabia or other regional oil producing countries. Just as conclusions were aired about culpability almost as soon as information was released about the “chemical weapons attacks” in Syria, the Netanyahu government has claimed that the Quds Force in Iran was behind an ineffectual aiming of missiles from inside Syria on Israeli positions on the Golan Heights.
These could as well have been fired by anti-Assad fighters clustered near the Golan so as to generate a military response against Damascus, which is precisely what Israel has done. Wars are seldom created deliberately, unless those such as the 2003 attack on Iraq by Bush and Blair are taken into consideration. The reflexive pinning of blame on Teheran and Damascus by Washington and Jerusalem on any apparently hostile military activity from within Syria assumes that Bashar Assad is in control of the country the way he was before a well-resourced campaign to unseat him began in 2011. Such jumping to conclusions may lead to a situation in which a major conflict becomes inevitable. In such a contest, the casualties on the Syrian and Iranian side will be several times more than the harm suffered by their foes, but such punishment will unleash furies across the region that will take decades to play out, and which in the meantime could wreck the stability of several states. Netanyahu is taking a gamble that he can insulate his country from such a catastrophe, and in the short term he is probably right, although over time the impact of widespread turmoil will impact Israel as well, thereby creating more pain to a people that have undergone unimaginable miseries throughout much of their history.
The way in which the Washington Beltway is forcing President Trump into adopting Trump Contra policies through ceaseless efforts at driving him prematurely from office is generating the possibility of a Middle Eastern war in a situation where the Korean peninsula stands at high risk of a conflict, despite the anodyne headlines coming out of Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang. Countries such as China, Japan and India need to build pipelines that could bring oil from Russia to their refineries, as well as diversify sources, including tapping shale oil. The probability is high that the Middle East is tilting towards a debilitating meltdown engineered by those responsible for the spreading of extremist in ME, hence the need to lock in alternative sources of oil.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

M D Nalapat on GSTN, Karnataka and Price of Crude and who is driving it up (PGurus)

PGurus with M D Nalapat on GSTN, Karnataka and Price of Crude and who is driving it up. A higher crude could hurt India's growth.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Trump faces a daunting decision on Korea (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The greater Kim Jong Un’s success in ‘peace diplomacy’, the more difficult he calculates it will be for Donald Trump to push the red button that denotes a full-scale war of elimination of North Korea’s offensive capabilities.

Donald J. Trump is accurate when he blames his predecessors for causing the dilemma that the 45th President of the United States finds himself in on the nuclear capabilities of the DPRK (North Korea). President Bill Clinton had the best chance of settling the issue in a manner satisfactory to US interests, but waffled and shifted goalposts frequently, thereby confusing Pyongyang. Since the USSR had collapsed, the Clinton administration was taken in by NGOs claiming to have the means to generate mass agitations against the Kim family, claims that proved to be a hoax. The consequence of the belief within the Clinton White House that they could topple the Kim family on the cheap, led to a reneging of secret commitments made to the DPRK, a factor which led to the acceleration of a nuclear program that till then had been given only secondary importance when compared to the build-up of conventional forces. The Clinton era was riddled with lost opportunities, including the possibility of an alliance with India during the period (1992-96) when P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. The Clinton White House let go of this chance by demanding that Delhi make impossible concessions to Pakistan on Kashmir and at the same time dismantle its entire atomic research program. Secret exchanges between the United States and Indian sides during that time show how the Clinton administration defined “dual use” nuclear technology in such a broad way that the entire program begun by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s would have had to be sent to the junkyard. In the case of North Korea, Kim Jong Il was willing to scale back the program to “Iran nuclear deal” levels and even below such a threshold, and sent several feelers to the US side for high-level talks on this, all of which were insultingly ignored by the Clinton White House, that saw the DPRK as being vulnerable to internal subversion. His successor did little better. Puffed up by initial successes in Iraq, President George W. Bush (2001-2009) zeroed in on a “maximum concessions from North Korea, zero from the US” negotiating stance that was not backed up with any serious intention of militarily confronting the DPRK. This lack of aggressive resolve barring tough talk became known to the Chinese and thereafter reached the North Koreans, who thereafter ignored as bluff any verbal threats coming their way from the Bush White House.
The only way Bush could have secured his stated objectives regarding de-nuclearisation of the DPRK sans substantive concessions to Pyongyang, would have been through the launch of a pre-emptive military strike, but the Afghanistan-Iraq quagmire took that option off the table in the minds of those dealing with the subject during the George W. Bush period. A role was also played by the Bush family’s desire not to offend Pyongyang’s prime (indeed, only) patron, Beijing, which then and now remains opposed to any use of the military option by the US and its allies. The initial years of the Barack Obama administration (2009-2017) provided the last chance for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue in a manner that would meet US interests without entailing substantial casualties in the RoK (South Korea) and Japan, including of US forces stationed in both countries. However, the Obama administration neither offered concessions on the scale needed to tempt the Kim regime into scaling back its nuclear program, nor gave any credible indication that it had the stomach to launch a war against North Korea. In 2011, Hillary Clinton joined hands with David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy to finish off Muammar Gaddafi and his regime, thereby convincing incoming Supreme Leader of the DPRK Kim Jong Un that giving in to US demands would only delay his end and not eliminate that possibility as was being promised by US and UN diplomats. From that time onwards, the nuclear and missile program took top priority within the Kim regime, and as a consequence of secretive assistance by a clutch of scientists from countries that regard their homelands as having been short-changed by the US, by now the DPRK has built up sufficient offensive capability to cause mass casualties running into the tens of thousands in South Korea, Japan and Guam. Within a couple of years at most, the North Korean regime will have the capability to drop a viable nuclear device on New York or Washington, but eliminating that capability would almost certainly entail mass casualties on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War ended. The only scenario that could avoid much of such a blowback would be a joint US-China strike on North Korea, with the US destroying the offensive conventional capability of the DPRK in the south of the country (especially along the DMZ), while China would move in and seize control of the nuclear facilities clustered near its border with North Korea. The US would eliminate almost all the DPRK’s conventional (and part of its WMD) capabilities without sending troops across the 38th parallel, in deference to the sensibilities of Beijing, which could then justify its takeover of nuclear assets in the northern part of the DPRK as being needed to “protect” the communist regime in power in Pyongyang. A new administration would thereafter be set up in the DPRK that would be without participation by the Kim family, who could be provided shelter in China and Russia, two countries they still maintain frequent contact with.
However, it is unlikely that the negotiating skills of the Trump administration are versatile enough to enlist the Chinese into a joint move against North Korean nukes and missile systems. That would leave the option of either accepting Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons power or launching a killer strike against its capabilities that would be certain to entail mass casualties outside the boundaries of the DPRK, and which would be resented if not resisted by China, now that in Xi Jinping the country has a leader in the mould of Mao Zedong for the first time since the founder of the People’s Republic of China passed away in 1976. DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has skilfully used his considerable diplomatic skills to convince the international community that he has a safe pair of hands so far as the nuclear button is concerned. He has a partner in the effort to avoid another Korean war in President Moon Jae-In of South Korea, who believes in the option of integrating the DPRK into a regional economic and security network. Treating it as an outlaw, the way successive US administrations (and some in South Korea) have done, has forced Pyongyang to use unorthodox methods to secure its needs. Sanctions on the DPRK have neither reversed its nuclear and missile program nor made the Kim regime compliant with other international norms. President Moon understands that only a “Bright Sunshine” policy towards the North can peacefully ensure that Pyongyang cease to be a global troublemaker, but instead be a good neighbour, including to its hitherto implacable foe, Japan. If not such a course, the only other method is war, with its attendant loss of life in several countries.
President Trump has acted with a boldness that was beyond the capabilities of Bill Clinton, who passed on a genuine chance to make peace with a de-nuclearising North Korea and that too in Pyongyang. However, Kim Jong Un is unlikely to believe Trump’s assurances given the previous record of the US just within the 21st century. He will refuse to begin rolling back his WMD capability, unless the US pulls out of the entire region militarily, an impossibility both politically as well as strategically for Washington. In the meanwhile, the Supreme Leader is seeking through a charm offensive to convince the world (especially domestic opinion in the US and Europe) that he is a statesperson who favours peace over war, conciliation over conflict. The greater his success in such “peace diplomacy”, the more difficult he calculates it will be for President Trump to push the red button that denotes a full-scale war of elimination of offensive capabilities of North Korea. For Kim Jong Un, there is no choice. He has to retain his WMD capability to avoid going the Gaddafi way. For President Trump, it is a choice between a costly (in lives and treasure) war or accepting the DPRK as a nuclear power capable of inflicting unbearable harm on the US. Kim may of course offer some face-saving gestures that the Christiane Amanpours could showcase as a US success. This would be while holding on to their core WMD capabilities.
President Moon meanwhile will be seeking to integrate North Korea into a relationship with the South that would reduce the prospect of future conflicts to very low levels. There are several diplomatic and policy projectiles in the air around the Korean peninsula, but by far the most difficult decision will need to be taken by President Trump well within his present term in office. This is whether Trump “declares victory” and accepts the reality of the DPRK as a significant nuclear power or takes the decision to enter on a war with consequences that by now have grown immense but incalculable.

NewsX Kannada conclave 2018: The good aspects being sidelined, says Congress (NewsX)

It's time for the big Karnataka conclave. Its 5 days to go for the Karnataka poll battle and NewsX is conducting the mega NewsX Kannada conclave 2018. India's biggest faces are joining us today.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Rahul must escape the toxic 2% legacy (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

98% of Muslims have the same societal impulses as the rest of the population.

Across the world, a perception is being spread that Muslims are different, “they are not like the rest of us”. Several of those holding on to such a view are themselves friends of members of a community that has crossed a billion in number globally. Such friends would prove that 98% of Muslims (as indeed, 98% of Hindus) have the same societal impulses as the rest of the population. India’s Muslims want adequate standards in shelter, food, health and employment. While in states such as Kerala, Muslim women are being educated to a level not seen in many other states in India, these days—across the country—girls from the diverse strands of the Muslim community are demanding the right to get educated to the same level as their brothers. The backwardness of a territory is in inverse proportion to the empowerment of women, and this reality can be witnessed all over India, especially in places where women (no matter the faith they profess) are regarded as “children of a lesser god”. It is no accident that the quality of life in low-income Kerala stands comparison to countries in Europe with far higher per capita incomes, for women in that state are moving close to equality with men in access to employment and education. Returning to the issue of why Muslims are being singled out as exclusivist, the explanation may vest in the fact that society (even including the Muslims themselves), in effect, acts as though the 2% of the community that are exclusivist and medieval are genuinely representative of the wider population. Whether it be in the fashioning of policy or in allocating talktime in television studios, those belonging to the 2% fringe get a hugely disproportionate share of the access and attention given to members of the community.
Rajiv Gandhi was a modern individual, as much at ease in London or New York as in Mumbai or Bangalore. However, in 1986 he brushed aside Arif Mohammad Khan in favour of those who sought to perpetually keep women in check through repressive laws and practices. Ironically, the then Prime Minister himself revealed to this columnist the names of the Muslims known to him who were adamant that the Supreme Court’s verdict in defence of the rights of Muslim women should be overturned. They included more than a few who were as cosmopolitan as Rajiv was, but who so misread their own community that they portrayed to the then PM the 2% fringe as being representative of the entire community. The Muslim Women’s Bill was the turning point in the political career of an individual who had till then the potential to transform the country into a 21st century phenomenon. Of course, Rajiv Gandhi was not the first leader of the Congress Party to mistake the Muslim fringe as the mainstream. During 1919-1922, Mahatma Gandhi embraced the Ali brothers and their revivalist cause of bringing back the Turkish caliphate, a decision by the Mahatma that vastly increased the power of the fringe within the Muslim community. Partly because of attitudes from outside the community, Muslims have overwhelmingly remained silent in the face of the takeover of leadership by the fringe. There were practically no protests when Shah Bano and other women similarly placed got deprived of their rights by a new law passed explicitly to nullify the apex court verdict in Shah Bano’s favour, while a series of staged protests took place when the Supreme Court verdict was announced. Empowering the 98% of Muslims who are modern and moderate to take on the 2%, just as has taken place in the case of other communities, was dealt an early blow after India became free, when Jawaharlal Nehru avoided legislation to ensure reforms in some longstanding practices of Muslims in India, while going ahead from 1951 onwards with the Hindu Code Bills. This was again a case of a liberal acting in accordance with the myth that in the case of Muslims, the small minority that are medieval represent the overwhelming majority of those born into the faith. Had Nehru gone ahead with ensuring needed changes to such Muslim practices as multiple marriages or triple talaq, the social chemistry of India would have been altered in a beneficial way. Instead, there have been serial genuflections by policymakers in India to the Muslim fringe. Not surprisingly, such solicitude has energised the Hindu fringe, so much so that these days, many policymakers are confusing the fringe’s exclusivist and medievalist views on matters such as diet or lifestyle to represent the mind of Hindus as a whole. A competition in appeasement of the fringe of both faiths is taking place among political parties in India, that cannot end well for the country if continued.
This columnist comes from a family which had to flee from their homes to save themselves from Tipu Sultan, so he may be pardoned for not sharing the enthusiasm of Congress president Rahul Gandhi for the former ruler of Mysore. That Rahul talks of Tipu as “secular” is indicative of the misreading of the term that has so skewed policy in India, and which the new Congress president needs to walk away from. He needs to move away from the toxic legacy of appeasement of the minority fringe, a line of action that was carried to such levels by the Manmohan Singh government that it proved disastrous for the Congress Party. While Rahul has been visiting temple after temple, such sojourns will carry more conviction if he also supports the building of a Lord Ram Complex at Ayodhya. Such a complex, especially if complemented by the restoration of the ancient Kashi Viswanath temple in Varanasi and the creation of a Krishna Janambhoomi Complex at Mathura, would ensure that the Hindu fringe would find itself unable to mislead others in the community into regarding Muslims as the hostile “Other”. Kapil Sibal has created a perception that the Congress is against a Lord Ram Complex at Ayodhya. Unless Rahul Gandhi ignores the veto of a scant 2% of the Muslim community about a historic compromise between the two communities that would pave the way for a grand gesture of reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims at Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi, his party will continue to undershoot its potential as a national party. In any democracy, 98% is way bigger than 2%, and both the Congress Party as well as the BJP need to understand such simple mathematics rather than continue to indulge their respective fringes in a manner that is demonstratively harmful to the future of India.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Pompeo follows Cheney in boosting oil prices (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

MIKE Pompeo, the personal pick of President Donald J Trump to be the US Secretary of State, is proving to be as effective as Vice-President Dick Cheney was in the George W Bush era in boosting oil prices. The global oil demand is still in slow motion as compared to past periods, while “green” technologies for generating power (wind and sun) are steadily becoming competitive with fossil fuels. Simultaneously, shale oil output in North America is rising at speed. Despite all this, economic fundamentals have taken a back seat to geopolitical perceptions in the determination of oil prices, which have reached $ 80 a barrel after a long time when half that would have been the price but for the “booster dose” of geopolitical tension created by Pompeo and his global partners in the effort to create a perception of impending war in the Middle East. $ 80 per barrel is exactly the rate Saudi Arabia needs to balance its budget, and comfortably more than what is needed by Kuwait and other major oil producers.
Of course, such a rise in oil prices will benefit Russia, Iran and Venezuela as well, but sanctions and technology denial led by Washington will continue to reduce their production of the liquid which fuels their economies. Even over a 5-year period, the $ 80 a barrel price will accelerate the ongoing switch to “green” technologies, but that is a long time in the world view of a Cheney or a Pompeo, who are more attuned to a 6-month horizon while deciding policy. While Barack Obama was cautious, sometimes to a fault, Donald Trump is much more secure in his assessment of himself and consequently does not walk away from taking risks that another US President would never have taken. Among the most consequential is the baiting of Iran, which has found that the returns on the nuclear deal between itself and other powers have been derisory, and may become even more so, should President Trump abrogate the Iran deal on May 11, as both he as well as Secretary of State Pompeo give indications of doing. Such a move would terminally weaken the influence over policy of President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates who seek to integrate Tehran into a global order that is still largely led by the US.
Over the past sixteen months, it is clear that Trump is a shrewd bargainer who knows when to retreat and when to advance, so far as his objectives are concerned. The US President is clear-eyed about China being the primary – indeed, the only – competitor to Washington in the global primacy sweepstakes, and has gone much further in nudging that country towards opening its markets to the US than his previous three predecessors combined. At the same time, he has backed away from threatened action whenever it became clear that President Xi Jinping was reaching a red line and would retaliate in force were Trump to go further than he already had. Such a move would impact a major reason for Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, which is that tens of millions of voters saw him as better able to raise economic performance than his Democratic Party competitor. Whether it be Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi or Trump, all three need to show their people that they will be able to assure growth adequate to raise living standards. A full-blown trade war with China would send the US economy to the ICU, and being joined by China and several other countries there would be scant compensation. So while threats of a trade war may be uttered, these are unlikely to be acted upon by Washington.
In much the same way, although Trump will join with Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Jubeir in heaping calumny on Tehran, the US President will be wary of actually beginning a conflict with a country that has over the past decade built up significant capability (albeit recessed) to subvert governance structures throughout the Middle East. Should Saudi Arabia actually succeed in goading its US ally into a major military confrontation with Iran, their response would not only be in the conventional battlefield, but in the Shia-populated pockets of the country. Similar eruptions would take place in Bahrain as well, which is why no other Arab capital barring Riyadh is behaving in a diplomatically aggressive manner towards Tehran.
Both Kuwait and the UAE, for example, are plainly restless at the way in which the joint rhetoric of Pompeo, Al-Jubeir and Netanyahu are shaping up in front of television cameras. They are aware that the most emphatic foe of Iran of the trio, Netanyahu, is playing to a beat different from the largely make-believe warlike sounds made by Pompeo and Al-Jubeir. The Prime Minister of Israel would like to see chaos throughout the Middle East, confident as he is in the ability of his administration to wall off Israel from such turmoil. War between the US and its allies with Iran would create a meltdown throughout the region, except in Israel. Oil prices would climb back to three figures, and the world economy would get into the same danger zone as it entered in 2008 owing to the greed of moneymen within the NATO bloc.
Dick Cheney ensured that the George W Bush administration fashioned policies that oversaw a steep rise in oil prices, to beyond $ 140 a barrel at one stage, before prices fell after it became clear that the incessant talk of war by the Bush administration on Iran was bluff. In 2018, even without a war, tensions created by the tearing up of the Iran nuclear deal by US (a step which would make the deal with the other signatories sharply diminished in value to Tehran) would have effect of pushing up oil prices. This would be bad news for the world economy, and therefore for US and Europe as well. It would affect China, Japan and India particularly hard. But oil-producing states (except those under US-EU sanctions) would enjoy a few years of plenty, and it is clear that Secretary of State Pompeo is aiming for that by his admittedly deft moves on Iran, Venezuela and Russia.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Xi and Modi usher in the Asian Century (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The Wuhan meeting will have generated an unprecedented volume of ‘oxygen’ that will flow downwards to other levels of the policymaking process.

After Wunderkind Macron, it is now the turn of Mutti Merkel to hop across the Atlantic Ocean to persuade President Donald Trump not to move away from the Atlanticist underpinning of US policy since the 1940s. A substantial part of Trump’s political allure stems from his unapologetic showcasing of “White” America as the heartland of the immigrant nation, while his third wife and now First Lady Melania comes from a part of Europe that clings to its European ethnicity in the absence of tangible achievements. Macron and Merkel must be calculating that such sentiment and emotions will ensure that the 45th US President go the way of his predecessors from Franklin Roosevelt onwards and act as though only North America and Europe mattered. Almost all members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, barring a few exceptions such as Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal, subliminally or overtly, buy into this view of geopolitics, although increasingly other lawmakers are beginning to notice that Asia has become more central to US interests than Europe. Or that it is no longer Russia, but China that now poses the most serious risks to US dominance. However, displacing Moscow from its assigned role as the most serious threat to the Atlantic Alliance (and therefore by implication the US as well) would result in the removal of the primary reason for the alliance, which is security. Hence, the clockwork precision with which report after report of Russian “threats” and “excesses” surfaces in an “international” i.e. Atlanticist media that has remained a reliable propagandist for a grouping whose time is long over. Modi and Xi together lead governments that (are presumed to) serve 40% of the population of the globe, yet it was not their unprecedented informal and unstructured time together at Wuhan that gobbled up television talktime in the US and its NATO partners, but the inanities uttered during the Trump-Macron-Merkel meet-up.
The meeting between the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un and the President of the RoK, Moon Jae-in is designed to convince Congressional opinion to block a pre-emptive US strike on North Korea. The DPRK leader’s PR blitzkrieg is designed to ensure that domestic opinion in the US strongly disfavours military intervention in North Korea and thereby ensure that Trump does not use the military option. The images of Kim and his attractive wife and sister are designed to create a perception within mainstream opinion in the US that the North Koreans can be trusted to “act responsibly” with their nuclear capability, i.e. never use it. Pyongyang has seen for itself how lack of support within their respective legislatures made both David Cameron and Barack Obama back away from their announced intention to wage war against Bashar Assad the way they did against Muammar Gaddafi. The two times that President Trump has used the military option in Syria have had derisory results. The second (and hyper-trumpeted) tri-country rain of 105 missiles on three Syrian targets may have killed a few goats tethered in the vicinity, but apart from embedded journalists, no individual believes that any except the most superficial harm was caused to Assad’s capabilities as a consequence of the attack, which was helpfully revealed to be a “one time” shot by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who seems refreshingly impervious to the frequent use of hyperbole by so many policymakers in London, Paris and Washington. According to Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, the attack on Syria was apparently ranked along with Operation Desert Storm in results and intensity, when it was little more than a make-believe use of force against targets that had either been emptied of men and materiel in advance of the strikes or had none of either in the first place. Hopefully, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia will buy more defence equipment from France and the UK post-strike. They would, if the sheikhs ruling the three regard CNN and BBC as purveyors of accurate information on subjects of concern to them, rather than expressions of nostalgia for a world order that has passed.
That the Asian Century has become a reality is visible in the 27/28 April unscripted meeting at Wuhan between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both leaders have defied powerful constituencies in their respective countries to hold an unprecedented summit characterised by a free-flowing dialogue, not just about their two countries or even Asia, but the world, as befits the leaders of countries that within a short time and for a long time thereafter will be the top economic power in the world the other country within the top three in the global table. The next country, Japan, may be feeling a bit neglected these days, but it has only itself to blame. For more than five decades, Tokyo has behaved as though it were a part of Europe situated in Asia, but has lately discovered that such a stance has not led to its acceptance as a quasi-European power by the Europeans themselves, even while post-1945, Japan’s obsession with acting as an ersatz member of the western alliance has distanced it from other countries in Asia. Japan has become something of an outsider in both Europe as well as Asia. Although China under Jiang Zemin sought to follow the Japanese example of being more European than the Europeans, President Xi has done away with such illusions and has worked to make the present century the age when Asia reclaims its space as the keystone of the world order. In India, unlike former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, like Xi, is a believer in an Asian renaissance, and understands that such an outcome would be substantially assisted by a close relationship between Beijing and Delhi. In the past, “carbon dioxide” from the lower levels of officialdom in China and India would move upwards and poison policies affecting the other country, including at the top. The Wuhan meeting will have generated an unprecedented volume of “oxygen” that will flow downwards to other levels of the policymaking process. Within about five to six months, this rejuvenation of a necessary friendship will manifest itself in shifts of approach and changes in policy that will draw on the synergies between Beijing and Delhi, rather than obsess on the differences. History will judge this meeting to have been the most consequential between the leaders of India and China thus far.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Modi, Xi take charge (Gateway House)

The leaders of India and China have decided not to leave the bilateral relationship to bureaucrats or ministers, but instead handle it themselves at the very top. The April 27-28 meeting promises to be a game-changer as Xi Jinping has accepted the need to improve ties with India as a priority. 

Friday, 27 April 2018

‘Atlantic Alliance must lead world: Macron’ (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

EMANUEL Macron planted two pecks on the cheeks of Donald and Melania Trump, and seems later on to have won the hearts of the members of the US Congress by making a speech explicitly repudiating much of what President Trump campaigned – and won – on. He backed multilateralism, the Iran nuclear deal and the need to battle climate change. However, the central thread holding together a miscellany of thoughts was the need for the Atlantic Alliance to continue into the 21st century, in an era when three of the top four economies on the globe will soon be Asian. These are China, the US, India and Japan. The speech the President of France made to the US Congress was in its tone very similar to what a French leader may have said to the same body in the 1950s, which was the need for the US and Europe to act in concert so as to prevent the baton of leadership from passing on to countries outside North America and the European Union. It testifies to the separation from reality of much of the US Congress that they allowed themselves to share in the nostalgia for the past created by Macron in a context where the world had changed, but hardly at all the institutions that were set up by the victorious powers after the 1939-45 war between Germany and the trio of the US, the USSR and the UK.
The World Bank is still invariably headed by a US national and the IMF by a European. It is clear in Paris, Berlin and London that unless Washington continues to frame policy as though the world has not changed much since 1945, their own privileged position in the international order would come under threat from countries that are already much more consequential than them, but yet have to content themselves with the crumbs thrown in their direction at the Bretton Woods conference. The only Asian country that was given anything resembling a fair deal was China, and this was because of the insistence of the US. Aa for India, it was because of the opposition of Winston Churchill that Delhi was kept outside the Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council, but Paris was brought in despite a very limited role in defeating the German armies, several of which spent much of the war comfortably billeted in France, enjoying the many pleasures on offer to them
As the Republican Party candidate for the Presidency, Donald Trump had appeared to have understood the shift in geopolitical relevance from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. However, many of those within his administration and almost all the legislators in his party are still living with the fiction that it is still an Atlanticist world. In his speech to the US Congress, Macron got round after round of applause each time that he backed a policy the opposite of what Trump had proposed. His visit has become part of the Demolish Trump crusade that has been convulsing Washington since November 8, 2016, mainly through subtly casting doubt on the soundness of several of Trump’s policy positions. Both Melania and Donald seem entranced by the relatively youthful President of France, so it remains to be seen whether they will understand the camouflaged manner in which the 45th President of the US is being undermined in the eyes of international community by distinguished visitor.
Coming as she does from a country that is ever mindful of irs European roots, it may be that Macron’s implicit call for the US to work together with the Europeans to fight back modern trends in geopolitical power would have met with her approval. However, what may need to be remembered is the fact that the demonisation of Russia that has been going on unabated for years has at its root not any so-called “threat” from Moscow but the need for the Atlanticists to keep anger against Moscow white hot so as to ensure that the primary focus of US hostility remains Russia. Systematically, through the sanctions regime and by other ways, the US and the EU are trying to ensure that the Russian economy melts down, thereby creating a political avalanche that could bring back a Yeltsin Mark II in place of Vladimir Putin. In such a campaign, the effort is to make Donald Trump collateral damage, because of the former businessman’s appreciation of the need to pivot to Asia and away from Europe
A presumably unintended consequence of the rising frequency of challenges to Russian stability is a rise in closeness between Beijing and Moscow. But for China, the Russian economy may have entered Death Row by now. The two countries have fashioned a strong relationship that has weathered the disapproval of the US and the EU. President Xi Jinping, who has become the most consequential Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, is aware that the Asian Century is needed for the Chinese Dream to come to fruition. He has therefore taken to heart Deng’s warning that a rapprochement between India and China is needed for the Asian Century to flower. A consequence of such a view is the informal summit Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are holding in Wuhan. The two men are in charge of the governments of countries that house 40% of the population of the globe.
Both Xi and Modi have distanced themselves from those in their own entourage who seek to perpetuate tension between Delhi and Beijing. More, much mire than the Macron visit to the US and its revival of nostalgia for the past, it is the Wuhn Summit between Modi and Xi that will enter the history books as a groundbreaking encounter that could reshape geopolitics in the modern world. Including by persuading several in Tehran that entering on the nuclear deal was a mistake, for the reason that Macron will clearly not be satisfied with anything less than an Iran diminished in importance to the level of Bahrain. The French seek to keep the skeleton of the deal alive to keep the Iranians constrained, but are looking to gut it of any facet that would be advantageous to Tehran. The problem facing the President of France and his admirers in Washington is that it is no longer 1948 but 2018.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Modi-Xi talks this week set to be a game changer (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The two-day meeting in China’s Wuhan will be confined to the Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese President.

The top leaders of India and China, which together have a population in excess of 2.6 billion, are to meet this week in Wuhan, a picturesque city in China. The two-day meeting will be confined to the two principals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jinping of China. Both are believers in the 21st century as belonging to Asia, and recognise that for this to occur, the two largest countries on the continent need to act in concert on several matters. Although both sides have routinely described the relationship between Beijing and Delhi in glowing terms, the reality remains that to this day, it is not a normal state-to-state relationship. There are tensions and constraints on both sides that hold back the immense potential for cooperation and mutual benefit. The effort of the two leaders will be to create an atmosphere of conciliation, cooperation and trust that would spread to lower levels, which could then begin to operationalise policies and programmes designed to benefit both countries mutually. “The oxygen of trust can be created through the meeting (of the two leaders), and this improvement in atmosphere will then reach all levels” such that impediments to cooperation get removed on both sides, a senior official revealed. A colleague added that “the meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi indicates that both leaders accept the need for the two countries to evolve understandings and mechanisms to promote harmony”. He added that the “unprecedented bilateral meeting” at Wuhan during this final week of April would be a “game changer” in the relationship between India and China.
Luck has favoured Narendra Modi since 2014, beginning with the way in which the swelling anti-incumbency wave against the UPA worked in his favour electorally. Next followed the collapse of world oil prices, thereby giving the Ministry of Finance a substantial cushion for releasing funds. Despite glitches such as the 2016 demonetisation of 86% of currency and the initial complexity of the GST when first rolled out, the Indian economy has performed better than that of any other large country, including China, and this has given PM Modi both status as well as a platform to enter the top tier of world leaders. This new status was apparent last week in Europe, when the leaders of the Nordic countries met the Prime Minister, followed by bilateral meetings in London and Berlin with Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has, within a short time, built up a close relationship with PM Modi, as has US President Donald Trump. In such a context, Xi Jinping will be looking to Wuhan to further an equally warm relationship with the Prime Minister of India. Despite some carping and negativity from Indian and Chinese media, officials in Beijing acknowledge that India will emerge as the third biggest economy on the planet just a few years after China overtakes the United States as the largest economy on the globe. “Rather than the US and India combining against China (once Beijing overtakes Washington) and increasing instability, it is better for the world and for all three countries that India, China and the US work together for global peace and prosperity”, a senior official pointed out.
Officials in Beijing say that President Xi, unlike predecessors such as Jiang Zemin, “acknowledges India to be a major power” and has, therefore, “instructed his team to give special attention to developing better ties” with India. While the Chinese economy is presently five times bigger than India’s, “this gap will get lower over time”. Hence, “closer economic cooperation between both countries would create a win-win outcome”, an expert close to the policy establishment pointed out. In the context of a spike in trade tensions with the US, and given recent moves by the Trump administration to block business linkages with PRC companies such as Huawei and ZTE, the Indian market has become crucial to the future operations of several Chinese technology companies, who are confident of overcoming competition from the US, Europe and Japan. “The Chinese leadership respects PM Modi for his boldness in taking tough decisions such as demonetisation”, an official claimed, adding that “only strong leaders such as Modi and Xi can take forward the relationship between the two giants of Asia at speed”. Officials point out to the “first time ever cultural welcome” given by Xi to Modi at Xian, where “Chinese traditional culture was on display to the leader of a country with an equally ancient civilisation”.
The two leaders are expected to focus on the big picture, “looking from the high mountain” of long-term historical perspective and overall interests, rather than zeroing in on specific problem areas. “Once the top leaders establish the atmosphere for taking forward the relationship in a smooth and constructive manner, the official machinery can take up the job of ensuring that this happens”, a senior official pointed out, adding that “before the third decade of the 21st century, both India and China need to work together to solve regional and global challenges”. That no advisors and no ministers will be present in the room with Xi and Modi at a summit of the leaders of nearly 40% of the world’s population, indicates the importance both leaders are giving to their own role in improving relations between the two countries. The problem areas are several. There is the question of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There is the effort by elements of the international community to make Dharamsala the permanent home of not just the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet, but the very institution of the Dalai Lama once His Holiness passes, and therefore that of a possible XV Dalai Lama, who is likely to face a challenger based in Tibet. How such matters will get resolved remains to be seen. The view in Beijing is that the importance of India and China working together is so important that “patriotic elements of both countries will succeed in blocking efforts by third countries (such as Pakistan or Japan) to slow down or derail Sino-Indian relations”. Clearly, President Xi and PM Modi are seen as the vanguard of such “patriotic elements”, which is why the Chinese side is looking with unusual anticipation at PM Modi’s arrival at Wuhan in China for an informal and exclusive meeting of two of the world’s top four global leaders (the others being President Trump and President  Putin).

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

#ModiXiSummit: Decoding The Deal Behind Sudden Bonhomie | Face off | CNN-News18

#ModiXiSummit: MEA Sushma Swaraj warns Pakistan on China soil, 'Time to act against terror states,' ahead of Xi-Modi meet, India's big message. Watch Face off with Zakka Jacob. 

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Unite to defend, not deny, freedom of speech (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

India will remain less than a complete democracy until laws such as criminal defamation are removed.

In a city 3,800 kilometres away from Delhi, and where Gmail is very difficult to access, around midnight local time on 16 April, an Apple iPhone showed questions from two publications relating to an item carried in this newspaper. The item was by an exile from Kashmir, Sushil Pandit, who was explicit that it was a fictional account. His literary effort nowhere belittled the act that was described, nor justified it. However, being fiction rather than real life, the scenario presented in the story was different from the J&K police charge-sheet in an incident detailing a pack of animals who allegedly fell upon a little girl, snuffing out her life in a gruesome manner. It is always dismaying to come across accounts testifying to the brutality of men against women, especially those who are just a few years distant from being babies. This work of literature, which was explicit that it was unrelated to any real life incident, was unpleasant to some and offensive to many to read. However, the author nowhere justified the crime described nor sought to pass it off as trivial.
The Sunday Guardian often carries items with which the editorial team disagrees, yet publishes them on the axiom that a publication should not be an echo chamber for its editors. There was a period of over a decade when it was impossible for this columnist to get his writings published in mainstream newspapers. During this period, only two publications showed willingness to publish his work. These were Organiser and Radiance, and to both the present writer will remain grateful. None of those who nowadays speak out in defence of free speech emitted even a disapproving cough in support of a journalist colleague suddenly deprived of outlets to write for, a situation that changed only in 2011, when it became evident that the Manmohan Singh government was on its way out. “Freedom of speech” should not be restricted only to those views which those claiming to be its champions agree with.
Two decades ago, a contrived and hurtful charge was made against this columnist, that he motivated the Chief Minister of a southern state to make some incendiary statements about the chairman of the media company in which he was then working, and with whom he had an excellent rapport. Indeed, the chairman had asked him in 1994 to come to Delhi from Bangalore to (successfully) assist in defeating an attempt by some within the editorial team to empty the newspaper of much of its senior staff. Such assistance was, not surprisingly, looked upon askance by the venerable journalist who was leading the “Quit the Media House” movement, and the chance for revenge came within less than five years, when he was brought back with pomp into the editorial chambers. This “Ghar Wapsi” journalist was a maestro of networking, being as close to the A.B. Vajpayee PMO as he was with 10 Janpath. The venerable journalist’s revenge included the publication in a fortnightly newsmagazine through a friend of his that Yours Truly, helpfully identified as a “disgruntled employee”, was responsible for the statements of a Chief Minister who was known to often not even listen to herself, much less to others, in what she said or did. Seeing that the smear was being expertly spread, and was rapidly being taken as fact even by those who ought to have known better, the offer of one of Asia’s finest universities to create (for the first time in India) a chair in geopolitics was accepted with relief. The university has since proved to be a haven for this columnist, as its top level remains uninfluenced by periodic efforts from politicians and officials to make the institution withdraw its welcome to this columnist.
Over the past few days, ever since Sushil Pandit’s effort at detective fiction got printed in The Sunday Guardian, there has been a barrage of missives to institutions with which this writer is connected, demanding that he be removed. Less than flattering descriptions of him, including as an accessory to hate and other crimes, have been appended to such advice. Fortunately, the youthful Proprietor of The Sunday Guardian did not accept the bait tossed in his direction by so many to dismiss the Editor or the Editorial Director, but instead stood by his team. Messages were even sent to UNESCO in Paris warning that a “neo-Nazi”, no less, was among their Peace Chairs. Similar missives have presumably gone to the Editors Guild and to other entities. Each is welcome to take whatever action they deem proper. This columnist has throughout his career opposed curbs on free speech, which includes speech that is offensive to himself or to others. Those unwilling to accept even a fictional scenario detailing a bestial crime need to consider whether such an approach squares with a commitment to freedom of speech.
India will remain less than a complete democracy until such laws as criminal defamation be removed, Until it ceases to be easy as making mud-pies to drag a person to court to face charges such as those relating to “hate speech”. This columnist has written and spoken against the way in which some youths in JNU were prosecuted. He has written and spoken about the way in which the internet is being sought to be policed, or about the way in which matters such as diet or dress or lifestyle have been sought to be regulated the way they are in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Whether it be the central campaign against the AAP government or measures such as demonetisation, there has been far from an automatic endorsement by this columnist of several of the policies of the present government. Those in power during the UPA years created the very laws that are now getting used against a few of them. Those in the NDA who are adding to rather than eliminating such democracy-diluting laws will soon be at the receiving end of their own legislation and practices. In a context of the Rule of Colonial Law, instead of seeking to muzzle a publication and deny an individual exiled from his home province the right of freedom of speech, those appreciative of the need for free speech in promoting democracy need to unite to ensure that the journalistic profession become much less risky to life and liberty than is the case at present.