Pages

Sunday, 12 November 2017

ISI, Al Qaeda plan to repeat 1990s Kashmir in Assam (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
A WhatsApp message is being circulated, asking for ‘1 crore 21 lakh Muslims to come out on the roads (of Assam) on November 27 (to stop) harassment of (Bangladeshi) Muslims.’ The objective is to stop de-regularisation and possible deportation of several million illegal Bangladeshi migrants. 
 
Pakistan’s ISI, through a “Major Shafiq”, has from February this year tasked its India-based units with ensuring that “Assam 2019 catches fire the way Kashmir did from 1989”. They have begun work on this objective by establishing contact and coordinating strategies with associate groups within the state, especially from Rohingyas and illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam and Bengal. The Myanmar headquarters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which is an affiliate of Al Qaeda, is engaged with the same mission and is active in involving the Rohingya in India, as is the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Arakan (HUJI-K). The plan is to provide recruits for clandestine entry into India from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who will be expected to carry out the actions ordered by the ISI and Al Qaeda in Assam. These measures are designed to (i) create a communal holocaust in parts of Assam that would drive out the majority community from those locations, and (ii) ensure safe zones for Rohingya and other extremists in Bengal. Interestingly, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Amir of Al Qaeda, had specifically mentioned Assam in a 55-minute video released in 2014. This marked the start of their drive to spark extreme radicalisation of significant numbers of people in that state from within the pool of Bangladeshi migrants. Similar radicalisation is being carried out in Bengal as well, a state where Wahhabism in the violently exclusivist form manifested in Kashmir is a developing threat, which seems thus far to have been downplayed by Writers Building. In Myanmar itself, both Ataulla and Abdus Burmi, the Emirs (chiefs) of ARSA and HUJI-K, respectively, have close working links with Pakistan army-linked Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), as well as with elements of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, where its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) is active in assisting extremists, together with other India-based groups and even political parties.
Apart from Myanmar and Bangladesh, another recruitment zone for Rohingya recruits by extremist organisations tasked with later waging non-conventional war in parts of India, is Indonesia, a country that has opened its doors to the Rohingya from Myanmar. Both the United States and the European Union (EU) are urging India to do likewise, even though they themselves have shut the door on such immigrants, despite their chatter about “Rohingya rights”. Interestingly, the Indonesian authorities have been either unable or unwilling to put in check extremist organisations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which is openly calling for armed volunteers to go to armed war against the authorities in Myanmar, so as to carve out an “Islamic Emirate” or Rohingyastan out of substantial parts of that country. In India, both in Bengal and Assam, the Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has been quietly setting up units since 2011, and it has been estimated that well over 18,000 (eighteen thousand) cadres have been recruited out of illegal Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrant pools in these two states.
The Wahhabi International has worked hard at ensuring that the US, the UK, France and other NATO powers support the Rohingya cause. These countries are ignoring the decades of insurgency that Myanmar has endured from separatists. The danger is that such facilitation could ignite waves of fresh recruitment to militant organisations the same way as took place in the 1980s as a consequence of the US empowerment of religious fanatics to battle the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. In their usual thoughtless manner, the larger NATO member-states are willy-nilly at risk of replicating the chaos of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria in Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, through their high-decibel support for those generating religious fervour through selective presentation of the situation facing the Rohingyas. Thus far, India has not (openly at least) warned against such destabilising efforts by the NATO powers to implant fanatics into countries not their own. Such silence in the face of policy errors that could have a grave future impact is reminiscent of the silence of New Delhi at Moscow’s subduing of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and the 1960s, as also the lack of official blowback to the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Since 2015, substantial amounts of cash from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Wahhabi-friendly locations (that include cities in Canada, the UK and Germany) are flowing, mostly through hawala channels, to NGOs in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries to fund marches and protests demanding free entry for the Rohingya into these countries.
OPERATION ASSAM
Operation “Kashmir 1989 in Assam 2019” is assisted by the ease with which the Rohingya, as well as others from Bangladesh can infiltrate the state. Four districts (Dhubri, Cachar, Karimganj and South Salmara) share a border with Bangladesh. Because of delay in fencing the borders of Tripura and Meghalaya, despite a security alert in both locations, these two states have also witnessed a large influx of migrants from Bangladesh, including several Rohingya. Since al-Zawahiri’s call, efforts by Wahhabi organisations to poison the communal atmosphere in parts of eastern India, so that it approximates the situation in Kashmir (where members of a particular community have almost entirely been driven out), have been unceasing. An example is a WhatsApp message asking for “1 crore 21 lakh Muslims to come out on the roads (of Assam) on November 27 (to stop) harassment of (Bangladeshi) Muslims. If we do not unite in time we will all have to die like in Myanmar. Come with your father and mother onto the roads.” The objective of such rants is to stop a planned de-regularisation and possible deportation of several million illegal Bangladeshi migrants. These are at risk of being outed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The call of groups sympathetic to radical elements is to not only allow free migration from Bangladesh into India, but ensure that an estimated six-million-plus illegal migrants now resident in Assam (and countless others in Bengal) be given full rights and papers of Indian citizenship. A few organisations are in the lead in organising such moves. Across the state, inflammatory material is being distributed that warn of an imaginary plan by Central and state authorities to “lynch and murder members of the minority community”.
Fortunately, in India, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are modern and moderate, and therefore refuse to respond to incendiary calls to action by groups that subscribe to the Wahhabi doctrine of exclusivism through violence. Muslims in India are overall wedded to moderate doctrines such as the Barelvi and have not given way to Wahhabism the way it has been the case in Pakistan, and to a lesser extent in Bangladesh and Indonesia as well. However, funding from Wahhabis outside the country has resulted in several theological institutions and educational establishments getting set up in Bengal and Assam, where credulous students sometimes believe in the exclusivist teachings fed to them by teachers with links to extremist ideologies. The good news is that both Bengal and Assam have a tradition of tolerance and mutual respect, hence it is proving to be difficult for the ISI to recruit enough fanatic cadre so as to carry out its plans for eastern India. However, because of the plans put into operation by the ISI, an atmosphere of fear, panic and hatred is being sought to be created by organisations linked to Al Qaeda and its associates (including the ISI, which sheltered Osama bin Laden and still does Ayman al Zawahiri).
Despite the threat of inciting mobs of illegal migrants in their hundreds of thousands, the state government in Assam is on track to carry out a scientific assessment designed to locate illegal migrants, who have bribed or tricked their way (through false and forged papers) into Assam. Although Indian citizens have nothing to fear from the ongoing preparation of a National Register of Citizens in Assam, increasing efforts are being made by the ISI and its auxiliaries that are designed to mislead them into joining agitations sponsored by external interests. The proposed mass manifestation on 27 November is regarded by such entities as a dress rehearsal for launching an operation designed to turn selected parts of Assam in 2019 into what Kashmir was allowed to become from 1989 onwards. Hopefully, the ISI-Al Qaeda operation will end in failure, rather than convert Assam into the cauldron that the Pakistan army made parts of Kashmir for many decades.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

GST is India’s Gandhian Society Tax (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

For those tied to Gandhian economics, progress means spread of austerity through tax disincentives and stifling of efforts at moving up the consumption chain.
 
The 10 November reduction in GST rates of less than 200 items need to be followed by many more changes, not only in rates, but in the very structure of the tax. For its numerous rates and its complexity (which makes compliance difficult at best and impossible in many situations) owe their origins to the economics championed by Mahatma Gandhi, and which has been explained in Sriman Narayan’s book on the subject. The aim of Gandhian economics is to ensure the universalisation of simple lifestyles, with minimal reliance on either modern machinery, consumer items or financial systems. Such simplicity is certainly not what voters expected when they cast their ballots for Narendra Modi in 2014. Of course, there is reason for scepticism at the change in mindset of several traducers of the tax. An example is former MoS (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan, who has pointed to the harmful consequences of global financial predators penetrating India. After silence on the matter while serving under international finance champions Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram, Chavan red-flagged the September 2015 decision by the NDA government to partner with the US-based “Better Than Cash Alliance”, which was followed two months later by a North Block agreement with USAID “to expand digital payments in India”.
Such alignments ignored the fact that less than a tenth of unaccounted wealth in India is in the form of currency. Or that practically none of the plastic card and wallet companies are Indian-owned, so that billions in dividends, royalties and profits flow out of this country every year as a consequence of the monopoly of foreign-owned plastic payment systems in India. In contrast, China has developed domestic substitutes for Visa, Mastercard, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Facebook and other virtual platforms to a level where these are challenging US-based giants even in major markets.
Unlike the dominant narrative in India, currency is not immune from taxation. At several stages of deployment, especially in a condition of high velocity of circulation, taxes get paid out of cash spent. For example, much of the petrol and diesel bought at the pump gets paid for in cash, thereby ensuring a hefty contribution to government revenues. Only those following the barter-based Gandhian economic model believe that cash is so undesirable as to be best abolished through Government Order. Looking at the way GST rates for different commodities have been fixed, it is clear that Gandhian economists were in command of the process. Such minds regard any lifestyle other than basic living as “sinful”, and therefore levied GST of absurdly high levels even on food eaten in air-conditioned comfort. There is a case for high rates on cigarettes and such other severely harmful products, but why penalise the eating of an idli in air-conditioned comfort? How many of those who cooked up this Gandhian version of GST do without air-conditioners themselves?
The purpose of high rates on items of less than subsistence consumption is clearly to keep people in a low-level consumption mode. Should they seek to move upwards, they are punished with high rates. Such consumption-dampening measures impact growth negatively. Given the double digit growth needed for India to escape the unrest and chaos caused by youth unemployment, North Block needs to focus on fiscal and regulatory modes of accelerating growth, rather than remain obsessed with meeting each year’s expenditure through taxation proposals that slow down future growth. India’s monetary and fiscal policy has long been directed towards adding to the profits of the very US and EU-based financial giants that caused the 2008 global financial crash. The RBI’s traditionally high interest rates ensure profits to foreign players through interest arbitrage. Foreign investors are also assisted in picking up Indian assets cheaply as a consequence of US-centric economic policies on domestic entities. Gandhian economics designed to reduce lifestyle levels of citizens combines with Chicago School-model incentives, enriching only investors from hard currency areas. A revolving door of senior monetary, economic and financial policymakers and those employed in foreign financial companies (either directly or through close relatives) has ensured steps designed to penalise domestic entities to empower foreign entities.
It was fortunate for Henry Ford and for the US economy that there were no Gandhian economists in Washington when he launched the Model T, thereby making automobiles affordable to millions more US citizens. In India, the cars would have immediately been classified by our Gandhian GST Council as “luxuries” and subjected to such high rates of taxation that the market would have been unviable for mass production of such cars. Taxing substantial percentages of turnover through high and unstable GST rates is a certain recipe for sluggish growth. Is it the intention of the framers of such tax rates to ensure that as many citizens as possible be prevented from moving into a better life? Why should an improvement in lifestyle result in the items involved attracting high 18% and super-high 28% GST rates? Progress should mean a steady rise in living standards of the citizenry, from low to middle to high. However, for those tied to Gandhian economics, it means the spread of austerity through tax disincentives and the stifling of efforts at moving up the consumption chain. Such a “Gandhian Socialist” mindset may be comfortable with low rates of growth. However, a government elected to office to satisfy the rising aspirations of 1.26 billion citizens, should set its sights on 10%-15% annual growth through policies that encourage rather than dampen upward mobility in lifestyles. Mahatma Gandhi was happy leading a simple life. However, the people of India—most of whom are anyway forced to lead very simple lives, with more to follow as a consequence of the adoption of Gandhian modes of taxation—expect their government to engineer an upward change in their economic circumstances through low tax rates, low regulations and low interest rates. Mahatma Gandhi was unique in his love of poverty. Most of us lack his self-denying nature, and expect those in charge of the economy to understand that, rather than propel us towards a Gandhian lifestyle by growth-dampening tax policies.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Battle over Wahabbism convulses GCC (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat
 
After more than a century of benefitting from support by the Anglo-American powers, Wahabbism is being challenged in a manner not seen even after 9/11. The battle against this school of theology and human behaviour is being led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The young prince has shown that he has nerves of steel, not hesitating to arrest even close relatives, each with billions of dollars in their bank accounts.
There has been much global commentary about the risk that the Saudi Crown Prince is taking by this extreme step. Those “experts”, diplomats and opinion makers in the US and the EU who for decades have lived lavishly on the largesse doled out by those arrested are naturally apoplectic about this bold move, and have forecast disaster for the 32-year old son of King Salman as a consequence of the arrests. In reality, the Crown Prince had no choice but to take strong action against even the cream of Saudi society, for it is these elements who have been funding movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and who have donated hundreds of millions of dollars each to Wahabbi individuals and institutions worldwide.
If Prince Mohammad is to succeed in his mission of switching societal tracks in Saudi Arabia from Wahabbism to the much more modern and moderate practices in the United Arab Emirates, these highly-placed persons are guaranteed to continue to try to block his path. For the future of the globe as well as the Ummah, it is vital that the Crown Prince succeed in his battle against Wahabbism, for otherwise the instability and societal fractures seen in the globe as a consequence of the spread of Wahabbi influence will lead to catastrophe. The only problem is that some reckless individuals within the inner circle of the Donald J Trump administration in Washington are urging Prince Mohammad to make internal reform a lower priority than open conflict with Iran. The Crown Prince will have to choose. He cannot both ensure internal reform on the scale planned by him and at the same time face the fires that even a low intensity conflict with Iran will result in. Of course, the resultant chaos would severely affect oil production in the Middle East, thereby deepening the markets for US crude oil, to the benefit of that country at the expense of the GCC. Now that Washington is not only self-sufficient in oil production but has become a major exporter of petroleum, the downside to the US of turmoil in the Middle East has been much reduced. However, such instability will cause great damage to the economic prospects of countries such as China and India, thereby lowering their ability to compete with US companies Within the GCC, a policy of outright enmity with Teheran would be unpopular in Oman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, each of whom has extensive trade and other linkages with Iran. The Trump administration is creating instability in global markets by making the same error as the Saudis, which is to undertake a two-front battle.
The immediate danger comes from a nuclearizing North Korea, and it is here that attention needs to get focussed in the Pentagon. However, the same geopolitical illiterates who made such a mess of Iraq, Libya and Syria are now seeking to replicate their success by destroying Iran. The problem is that Iran is way more powerful than Iraq, Libya and Syria put together ever were. The country has been hardened by its resistance to decades of effort by the US, the EU and a part of the GCC to destroy the governance system in the country. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Committee (IRGC) is probably the most deadly fighting force in the region, and has lately played a major role in the steady takeover of territories that were seized by Daesh (ISIS) in 2014.
Even without nuclear weapons, the Iranians have sufficient firepower to inflict punitive damage on countries that move against it, including Israel, where Prime Minister Netanyahu is leading the anti-Iran crusade in the Mideast when the attention needs to be on the battle against the Wahabbis. A follower of the tactics of Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu is in daily contact with friends within the Trump administration, goading them on to more and more actions against Iran. Such moves may wound Teheran but will not subdue it, in large part because neither Russia nor China will allow Iran to succumb to its regional enemies. For both countries, Iran is a reliable partner. Similarly for Iraq as well, that has in the past and would in future oppose any moves against Tehran.
In 2003, the George W Bush administration took its attention away from Afghanistan to go after Iraq, and as a consequence the US has in effect lost the war against the Taliban, at least thus far. Should Riyadh and Jerusalem concentrate more on a quixotic campaign against Tehran than on ridding the world of the menace of Wahabbism, that philosophy will gain a second life and indeed emerge stronger Both Qatar as well as Turkey are opposed to the courageous moves against Wahabbis by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Emir of Qatar has made no secret of his backing for the theology, despite his country hosting a US base. As for President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, he is seeking to win back for Turkey the role it had before the 1914-19 war, when it was a Calpihate.
Indeed, Erdogan is acting in a manner suggestive of the past glory of Turkey rather than the present-day reality of its being a middle-rank player in global geopolitics. Such moves are leading to tensions inside Turkey, most acutely with the Kurds, against whom several actions have been carried out, as also against the many followers of Fethullah Gulen in Turkey. Although Prince Mohammad has thus far held his hand so far as Turkey is concerned, he has been instrumental in persuading the UAE to join in the diplomatic isolation of Qatar, a policy that has disconcerted the government of that small but wealthy country that in the past, refused to join the UAE.
However, Egypt under General Al Sissi is giving full backing to the Crown Prince, as is Washington and much of the EU, despite Riyadh’s ill-advised and very costly in human terms war on the Houthis in Yemen. So long as the Crown Prince follows a double track strategy (of warring against both Iran as well as the Wahabbis), the future is uncertain. Hopefully, he will stop trying to overpower Iran and instead focus on internal reform. Should he succeed, the Crown Prince would deserve the gratitude of the world.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and India’s Canutes (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
In a society less Victorian than our own, the two ladies who figure in the book, would have written their own versions of what took place between themselves and the actor.
 
We are not told if it was actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui who lost his nerve or Random House, the publishers of his attempt at an autobiography. Whatever, his book, An Ordinary Life, has been pulled out from bookstores because of the actor’s “Kiss & Tell” approach to some of the women in his life. Not that the publishers can be entirely blamed. Laws in India are more sweeping in their scope than those of other major democracies, thereby making it difficult to evade legal action initiated by anyone either aggrieved or professing to be. Already, a Delhi lawyer has sought to prosecute the romantically active actor on a medley of charges, including—horror of horrors—adultery. This columnist had believed that only the husband was entitled to seek legal recompense in cases of adultery, but it would seem that such a charge can be flung even by an individual whose wife is not the object of the litigation. Add to this the ease of initiating litigation in India. The judicial system, especially once Chief Justice Verma, a quarter-century ago, insulated the institution from both the legislature as well as the executive, has few obvious limits to its discretion and scope. It is therefore clear that Niharika Singh and Sunita Rajwar (who at one time were apparently close friends of the actor from Budhana) have each the ability in our system to tie both Siddiqui as well as Random House in litigation that may go on for decades, India is of course a country where lawyers bequeath cases to more than one generation of their successors before the matter gets disposed of. Near-permanent stays and multiple (and lengthy) adjournments are a staple of litigation in India, where time gets calculated by “yugas”, each spanning several millions of years, so that a delay of several decades in the final disposal of a case is but a millisecond in such a universe. Surprisingly, in other countries, such an attitude to time is frowned upon, which is why so many foreign investors insist on outside adjudication for any dispute. Of course, as Cyrus Mistry demonstrated while he was in charge of the Tata group, even the condition of outside arbitration in a contract need not stand in the way of the matter being heard (and heard and heard and heard) in an Indian court. This means that the party taking recourse to the domestic judicial system can refuse to abide by outside arbitration until this be adjudicated through the elaborate and multi-layered Indian court process, often up to the level of a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India.
India’s Canutes are seeking to stifle expression they deem inconvenient,
King Canute sought to roll the waves of the sea back, and expectedly failed. In similar fashion, through court verdicts and through other means, India’s Canutes are seeking to stifle verbal, cinematic and written expression that they deem inconvenient, unaware that technology is leaping ahead in such a fashion that transparency will soon become inevitable. Unless it be decreed someday that India and its citizens be barred from the internet, a disruptive mode of communication and information dissemination that is constantly fighting back against efforts at control. Should some individual download Siddiqui’s efforts at literature online, it would become accessible to millions within an instant. And if this person is (according to the internet protocol used) operating from Belarus or Panama, rather than from the hyper-regulated territory that comprises the Union of India, getting judicial recourse against him or her would be close to impossible. Both Random House as well as Siddiqui would lose out on the royalties they would have earned, had their nerve held and both the actor and his publisher been ready to face up to the hectoring of television anchors eager for their “villain of the day” in the nightly gladiatorial contests that talk shows are in India. And, of course, face up also to the possibility of jail time, perhaps courtesy a Delhi lawyer, who has made it his mission to go after the actor. But by consigning the book to “raddi”, the lens of public attention has been focused much more strongly on the two ladies aggrieved by Siddiqui’s absence of discretion. Their experiences with him have become public knowledge in a way far more potent than would have been the case had the book come out and within weeks, faded from sight. Coming from a family which includes Aubrey Menen (the author of what was the first book banned in free India), this columnist has refused to take recourse to the law even when the most toxic of calumnies were said and written about him and other loved ones, including his mother. Those credulous enough to believe rubbish are welcome to do so. With technology’s advance, no Canute can any more abolish the swelling tsunami of information, misinformation and disinformation that is being let loose as a consequence of the march of technology.
In a society less Victorian than our own, the two ladies who figure prominently in An Ordinary Life, would have written their own versions of what took place between themselves and the actor, who has now garnered so much attention as a consequence of his book being scrapped. Will it now go online? Will a publisher outside India print perhaps a racier version, now that his pursuers have ruffled actor Siddiqui by their moves? If sold outside India, copies in plenty will find their way back to our country. The response seen to the Siddiqui book illustrates the Victorian attitude, which is “Do what you like, but don’t get found out”. Unfortunately for the bashful, in these days of mobile phones doubling as cameras and recorders, keeping such secrets secret is becoming an impossible errand.

Friday, 3 November 2017

EU fails the Catalan test (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

THE European Union advertises itself to the world as a defender of human rights and as an ethics-based governance structure. In reality, it most resembles a USSR-era Trade Union, with its giant (and very well-paid) bureaucracy, its complex rules and its unwieldy membership. Barring the forced submission of Serbia as well as Ukraine, and the ongoing efforts to ensure the subordination of Russia to EU wishes, overall Europe has been characterised by peace, in large part because of growing prosperity in Western Europe and the desperation of the sclerotic leadership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to avoid any other than a verbal war with the Atlantic Alliance.
The hyper-expensive NATO military alliance was built on the myth that Moscow was on the brink of sending its troops and tanks westwards towards Germany and Austria, and that the Politbureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was constantly looking at sending a rain of nuclear-tipped missiles towards Germany, France and even the US. For the entire period that it has been operational, NATO has served as a comfortable billet for all ranks of the navy, air force and army of its members. Although constantly leaking stories to a complicit media that nuclear war was just days away, each of the senior staff in NATO Headquarters at Brussels knew that the probability that the USSR would attack them was as close to zero as it is asymptotically possible to get.
Fake news about Soviet intentions and a massive conflation of the “Red Threat” caused taxpayers across both sides of the Atlantic to remain quiescent while hundreds of billions of dollars were squandered on what was essentially a Parade Ground military. Aware that NATO member-state citizenry – certainly by the time the 21st century arrived – were growing sceptical of the need to lavish money on the high cost of the upkeep of the most expensive militaries on the globe after the USSR had imploded, the concept of “humanitarian wars”, “anti-dictatorship wars” and “ counter-terrorism” battles was placed at the centre of public discourse.
After the 1991 Desert Storm, when the US armed forces expectedly made mincemeat of Saddam Hussein’s poorly led and equipped forces, the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and its partners took place, and in this campaign as in all others involving attacks on primitive fighting formations, Spain was in the forefront. Iraq was followed by Libya and thereafter Syria, two conflicts that caused the refugee flood into Europe and a ramping up of the terror threat in Europe, an outcome forecast by this columnist in 2011, when this ill-considered series of campaigns was launched by the leaders of France, the UK and the US. Of course, each such campaign was classified as a “humanitarian mission”, despite the immediate loss of thousands of innocent lives and the eventual deaths of several hundred thousand as a consequence of the disruptions caused by NATO’s wars in North Africa and West Asia, each against foes that compare with NATO the way a ramshackle bicycle does with a modern Mercedes Benz.
The Catalan cry for self-determination followed by independence presented a test for the EU. Given the sensible policy of accepting the wishes of the local population and absorbing Catalonia into the Union as a state separate from Spain, very little change would have taken place, except that the taxes collected within the Catalan region would not have been at the disposal of Madrid. As an EU member, Spain through its citizens would have the right of entry, stay and work in Catalonia and vice versa. However, the EU leadership has taken a very narrow, status quo-centric view of the situation, and has in effect shut the door on Catalan entry. In other words, after all the talk of human rights and freedoms, the Catalan people have been ordered by Brussels to submit to the government led by Mariano Rajoy, whose hectoring manner and intimidatory tactics have been met with silence from “human rights warriors” within the EU.
Just as NATO kills of innocent people don’t count as kills but only as “collateral damage”, EU member states have complete license to hold on to regions eager to break away, and will be backed by the other countries no matter how anti-democratic the moves made against those seeking to be free. The next time the EU or any of its numerous representatives lecture others about rights and freedoms, a reference to the way in which the Madrid government has suppressed the autonomy of the Catalans may (although this is doubtful) occasion some shame on the part of those delivering human rights homilies. The Catalan people are now being ruled by the deputy to Rajoy, a politician who has made no secret of her contempt for any notion of self-rule for Catalonia. She can be expected to rule the territory in such a way that the local people will regard Madrid with even more toxicity than presently.
Given such a situation, the manner in which the EU has fallen in line behind the King of Spain and the Prime Minister combined with the festering situation in Catalonia will show to the world their lack of sincerity in the constant chatter about human rights. Throughout Europe, there are groups that are feeling disadvantaged and which are in fact being discriminated against. This is without counting the Roma, who are being treated as fourth-class citizens in the countries in which they are located, again to silence from EU Headquarters. The ideal solution to Catalan discontent would have been for Madrid to agree to a separation, and the incorporation of the new state into the EU. By its obstinacy in ignoring principle for the sake of marching in lockstep behind the King of Spain’s Catalan-phobic reactions, Brussels has failed the Catalan test.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Rahul Gandhi: Past, Present and Future (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
Regulation following regulation, law after law, procedure upon procedure got changed for the worse during the UPA decade, to silence from Past Rahul.
 
After several false alarms, is it possible that this time around also, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will allow her longtime retainer-confidants to yet again delay handing over the formal leadership of the party to AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi? After the 2014 collapse of the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls, it was clearly time for a change in the party leadership. Given that members of the Congress Party are temperamentally unable to coalesce around any individual other than from the Nehru family, it was inevitable that only Rahul could make the cut, given the Vadra factor affecting sister Priyanka. With little more than a year to go before the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul needs to take over before it is too late for him to have a viable chance of setting a course that could enable Congress to challenge and even surprise the BJP. His success as party chief will hinge on whether Future Rahul will be different from Past Rahul. Throughout the ten years of the Manmohan Singh government, in which the remote control was firmly in Sonia Gandhi’s grip, there was little trace of the Present Rahul. If the Congress vice-president had any objections to the many restrictive laws and policies operationalised during 2004-14, he has kept them to himself. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, for instance, increased the powers of his officials to a level that substantially increased chances for the harassment that is the Standard Operating Procedure of corrupt officials . Rahul watched silently even while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh equated through law the bribe giver with the bribe taker, thereby ensuring that nobody, who had been forced to pay a bribe, would ever reveal that transaction. 
In coal, spectrum, petrochemicals and in numerous other fields, official decisions got taken that had no basis in any calculus except that of greed. Favoured businesspersons would buy assets and companies abroad at low prices and later offload them to PSUs at a huge premium. When Pranab Mukherjee was made Finance Minister—possibly because of his world record of imposing a tax rate of 97.25% while serving Indira Gandhi—and expectedly crafted a budget that severely damaged long-term business confidence, Rahul was as silent as when Home Minister Chidambaram introduced the Kafkaesque visa provision that no foreigner could visit India within six months of an earlier visit. Such a prohibition makes as little sense as the present rule for e-visas that only two single entry applications are allowable per person in a single year. Is India so awful that two visits would be the maximum that could be expected?
Regulation following regulation, law after law, procedure upon procedure got changed for the worse during the UPA decade, to silence from Past Rahul, although Present Rahul nowadays condemns similar genuflections to bureaucratic excess, most recently in the matter of how GST has been conceived and implemented. A senior official was fully justified in pointing out that “the present GST is neither good nor simple”. But this is what comes of a process of governance in which only the civil service, and not civil society, is seriously involved in conceiving policies and processes. 
Together with the RBI’s total failure to ensure adequate liquidity when demonetisation was introduced, and the fact that compliance is a nightmare for small and medium GST taxpayers, the possibility of a further erosion in the economy is what opens the possibility of Lok Sabha 2019 repeating 2004.
Once his party was humiliated at the polls and driven out of office, Present Rahul emerged, and this has been a welcome improvement over the past. Present Rahul joined hands with Subramanian Swamy (who is not among Sonia Gandhi’s more ardent admirers) in seeking to do away with another of the many archaic provisions in the law, “Criminal” Defamation. Post-2014, Rahul has talked in favour of lower curbs on the internet, a huge departure from his acquiescence in earlier Chidambaram-Sibal monstrosities such as the revised Information Technology Act, whose provisions have unexpectedly found favour with the present government as well. As indeed have a plethora of other pre-Modi regulations and laws that need to be eliminated if efficiency and growth, not to mention the rights of citizens in a democracy, are to be a part of the Indian experience. Even on matters as toxic to traditionalists as doing away with outdated IPC provisions on same-sex relationship, Present Rahul has taken a stand that reflects the realities of the 21st century and not the 19th clung on to by the UPA. 
On economic policy, Present Rahul has warned against tax terrorism, although he was silent during the period when Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee were handling the Finance portfolio, and raids and prosecutions were common. Not having a direct line to power seems to have made Rahul Gandhi realise that it is India’s hyper-regulated and hyper-expensive governance mechanism that is keeping the people of our country so pathetically poor. But should his party once again get back into the portals of governance, will Present Rahul soon make way for Past Rahul? Will the Chidambarams and the Sibals return to impose their colonial vision on the country, after a hiatus in which both have donned the garb of “minimum government” votaries, or will there be new people chosen? Will Sachin Pilot and Manish Tewari return to their UPA-era aloof mien from their present approachability? Will Rahul Gandhi once more forget that the English language is a boon and not a curse, or that secularism does not mean adherence only to the views of minority fundamentalists and not the moderate majority within the minority? Will he follow Sonia Gandhi in again pushing the majority community back towards second-class status? Or will Future Rahul accept that secularism means equal rights and treatment for all, rather than favoured treatment for some at the expense of the others? What is clear is that if Present Rahul morphs back to Past Rahul in the—still unlikely—eventuality of his party returning to power in 2019, he as Congress president will be attending the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Adityanath in 2024, if not earlier.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Crown Prince seeks to transform KSA (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat
 
THE Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is at the heart of the Arab world, which is why the British Empire worked so hard more than a century ago to wean it away from the control and even the influence of Turkey. That campaign succeeded, in some part because many living inside the vast territory that subsequently formed the modern kingdom regarded the Sufi school favoured by the Turkish Caliphate as being insufficiently religious. Instead, they began to get influenced by the teachings of an 18th century theologian, Abdel Wahab, who condemned the Sufi doctrine and asked for adherence to a much more austere world view and way of life. The Al Sauds formed an alliance with the preacher, thereby gaining legitimacy for themselves as defenders of the true faith throughout the land.
The Al Saud- Abdel Wahab partnership was strongly favoured by the British Empire, which understood the damage that it could do to the hold of Turkey over the Arab peoples that the Caliphate had dominated for so long. After the 1939-45 war between the Axis and the Allies, the US became the dominant power across the globe, overtaking the British Empire, which began its disintegration soon after the South Asian subcontinent broke free of the tutelage of London. This destruction of an empire that earlier had spanned the globe had been predicted by Winston Churchill, who had said that he had not taken over as PM in 1940 in order to “preside over the liquidation of the (British) Empire”. After the defeat of the Conservative Party in the 1945 General Elections in the UK, that task fell to Clement Attlee, who carried out the processes whereby independence was given to India and to the new state of Pakistan.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was named after the ruling family, who ensured that it remained a close ally of both the UK as well as the US so far as foreign relations was concerned. However, within the kingdom, Wahabbism became the norm, and milder versions of theology were not only disfavoured but largely eliminated. So long as followers of Abdel Wahab were convenient for the US and its allies, the policy of the Al Sauds was welcomed and backed in London and Washington. After seeing off Turkish domination, the Al Sauds were at the forefront of the opposition to Arab nationalists such as Ahmed ben Bella and Gamal Abdel Nasser, who were opposed to the policies of the US and the UK the way Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran was before he was removed from power by the CIA. Ultimately, the US-Al Saud alliance prevailed over the Arab nationalists, ensuring that the region remained in alliance with the US and the UK.
Subsequently, Wahabbis were pressed into service against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and assisted by the sclerotic leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, once again the US and its friends prevailed. However, in 2001, a carefully planned attack in New York and Washington was carried out by extremists loyal to Osama bin Laden, and from then onwards, the romance between the Wahabbis and the US-led alliance began to sour in every part of the world except Saudi Arabia and the other Wahabbi-inclined sheikhdom, Qatar. The Arabs are an amazingly talented people, and they saw that the harsh restrictions imposed by Wahabbi doctrine had shrunk domestic science and technology, such that even toothpaste had to be imported from outside. The curricula in schools and colleges within the Gulf Cooperation Council countries placed so much emphasis on theology that the rest of the subjects were touched upon much less than ought to have been the case. Those educated in schools and colleges that followed traditional curricula showed themselves unable to deal with the needs of the modern economy, such that the GCC needs the services of millions of people outside the region in order to run effectively. This has been worrying more than a few thoughtful leaders within the Arab world, and in countries such as Kuwait, several educationists have pressed for changes in curricula and in attitudes that would better fit into the 21st century rather than the 18th. Arab populations are overall as young as those in South Asia, and given the decline in oil prices, it is clear that they need to be equipped to successfully handle the complexities of business, trade and industry within the GCC.
The changes needed to ensure such a transformation have been opposed by the Wahabbi theological establishment in a manner not seen in another theology-heavy country, Iran. Despite the power of the Ayatollahs, especially Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, science and other subjects are taught with substantial finesse in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and other cities in the most consequential Shia-majority country in the world. Enter Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, to whom Iran is the deadliest foe, and to best whom it is needed to modernise Saudi society. But so far as internal policy is concerned, Crown Prince Mohammad has shown himself to be a bold reformer, who for the first time since the kingdom was established, has challenged the Wahabbi establishment and is seeking to ensure that a milder theology more in sync with the needs of modern civilisation becomes norm in Saudi Arabia, the land within which both holy cities of Makkah and Medina are located.
The education of women should be given the same importance in the kingdom as is already the case in Iran. Entering into a war with Iran will prove as self-defeating for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as happened when President Saddam Hussein of Iraq entered the battlefield against Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and the country he dominated. Internal reform is a whole-time process, and the external environment needs to be tranquil for Crown Prince Mohammad’s noble vision of moving his country away from the Wahabbi influence that for so long affected its policies and its institutions. Should the youthful reformer succeed, the Crown Prince will earn a place in history on the same level as his grandfather, Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the founder of the House of Saud.

India and the primacy of Xi Jinping (Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations)

Professor Madhav Das Nalapat sits down with Manjeet Kripalani to discuss the ascendance of Xi Jinping into the pages of the Chinese Constitution and what this new status quo means for India and it's strategic interests.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Gujarat polls will test Modi’s electoral hold (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

NDA needs to ask how many believe that their days have become better since 2014.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was recently adjudged guilty of corrupt practices by the judiciary in his country, and immediately stepped down from office. Since then, Sharif, daughter Maryam and husband Safdar have been found guilty in the Panama Papers case. Interestingly, in India, the same Panama revelations appear to have generated only a much lower degree of official attention (although of course the SIT must, as usual, have had sittings on the matter). Have the prominent names from India that were disclosed in the Panama revelations, been given the benefit of the doubt? This is, after all, a country where Coal Minister Manmohan Singh was declared guiltless by the Central government despite a scam involving the allocation of coalfields that resulted in the loss of billions of dollars to the exchequer. The reasons for which the former Prime Minister (in direct charge of Coal at the time) was found innocent of any involvement in the scam have yet to be explained, despite statements. For this is in the face of statements from some of the officials involved that the former PM was fully in the frame when the impugned decisions regarding allotment of coalfields was taken. But Manmohan Singh is not as charitable towards his successor, as witness the allegation of highway robbery made by him with reference to the 8 November 2016 demonetisation of 86% of the currency in the country. Since then, a resurgent Congress Party has persisted in a barrage of allegations of wrongdoing directed against the NDA II government, and this is expected to mount to a crescendo just before the next Lok Sabha polls. And while it is true that both A. Raja as well as Dayanidhi Maran have as Cabinet Ministers been subjected to court proceedings and worse, these were initiated while Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister.
During the 41 months that the NDA has been in charge, neither the CBI nor the ED nor the DRI or even the Income-Tax Department has prosecuted any UPA-era minister, despite the coalition being described by the BJP throughout 2010-14 as being the most corrupt in the world. 
These days, from within the NDA, much is being made of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul being “out on bail”. What such spokespersons omit to mention is that these proceedings are owed not to anything that the government has done, but to the unconnected actions of Subramanian Swamy. Of course, a different situation prevails where the Ram Janambhoomi is concerned, as both Swamy as well as the Modi government have been working strenuously to ensure that the courts clear the way for a temple to rise on the birthplace of Lord Ram. 
It has been claimed that the election results of the Assembly polls in UP showed that the people of India welcomed demonetisation. So does the poor performance of the NDA in Punjab and Goa show that the reverse is true, or are only UP voters representative of India? Setting aside chatter about EVMs and their vulnerabilities, a more plausible explanation for the BJP’s victory was that the Muslim community got a hyper-optimistic idea of the prospects of the SP-Congress alliance as a consequence of the saturation coverage by the media of Rahul Gandhi teaming up with Akhilesh Yadav, and thereupon switched from the BSP to the SP-Congress alliance. Had they remained with Mayawati, the way it had been predicted before the Rahul-Akhilesh handshake, the outcome of the UP polls would have been very different. Of course, the BJP gained from the perception of UP voters that Narendra Modi would ensure jobs for them, a view that was diluted in its potency in states where there were incumbent governments, as for example Goa and Punjab. Such anti-incumbency being the case, the efficiency with which BJP president Amit Shah has ensured that state after state gets ruled by the BJP, may be a mixed blessing. Should there be “wave” elections, as in the Modi wave of 2014, and simultaneous polls take place to Parliament as well as the state legislatures, it is possible that a single party may dominate the political map of the country during such polls, the way the Congress did until 1967, only to make way for a challenger the next time around. The rate of growth in India during earlier years of all-India domination by a single party was around 2%. Lately, while the number of states and seats controlled by the BJP has been growing, economic growth has slowed down. As for scandals from the past such as Bofors, voters in India are not concerned about the past as much as they are about the present and the future. The question the poll managers of the NDA need to ask is how many voters believe that their days have become better since 2014 or not, for that will decide the 2019 verdict. 
Despite AAP and Congress-led efforts at reducing the esteem voters feel for Prime Minister Modi, he is still far and away the most popular politician in the country. This is the trump card of the BJP, especially in the Gujarat Assembly polls. Should BJP hold on to its majority in that state, it would indicate that voters are still hopeful of the Prime Minister delivering on his promise of more jobs and higher incomes. Had there been double digit growth in the country, Hardik Patel would have got a job through the online job sites that he applied on, and the Patidar stir may have been less consequential for the state. Patel’s arrest made matters worse, with Anandiben Patel doing the young activist the favour of making him a hero. Earlier, Home Minister P. Chidambaram had made Anna Hazare a global celebrity by incarcerating him in 2011. Should Gujarat remain in the BJP column, it would indicate that Modi’s electoral magic is still operative, and that in 2019 as well, the BJP should get the 245-plus seats the party needs to remain in power in an increasingly politically polarised country. Should the Gujarat results prove disappointing for the BJP, it would be a warning by that state’s perceptive voters that in exchange for support, voters expect a very different scale and style of performance from Modi and his ministers during their remaining months in office, than has been the case since 26 May 2014.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Xi Jinping seeks China as global vanguard (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat
 
EARLIER in these columns, it was predicted that President of the PRC and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping was on course to become the Chairperson of the party by 2022, thereby becoming the only second Chinese leader to hold the post once bestowed on Chairman Mao Zedong. This would enable a successor to take over Xi’s current titles that year, while at the same time allowing Xi to retain the primacy he holds within its decision-making structures. Six years ago and thereafter, analysts and scholars across the globe were predicting either that Xi would not reach the top, or once he did, that he was getting weakened. This columnist maintained that on the contrary, Xi was far and away the dominant force within the CCP, and would remain so.
The 19th CCP Party Congress being held in Beijing indicates the correctness of this latter view, which is these days being held across the board rather than in the relatively few locations that was the case in the initial years of Xi’s ascent to the summit of power. Xi Jinping’s strength comes from the fact that he voices the “Idea of China” that is present in the minds of the Han people in a country where they amount to nearly 95% of the population. This is that the time is nearing when the Han will once again be pre-eminent among the world’s populations.
Of course,” Han” is not so much an ethno-based label as it is a cultural group, given the broad range of ethnicities that have come together in China under this definition. The 5000-year old culture of China was not subjected to the centuries-long breakage from the past that was twice caused in India. First by the takeover of the world’s second most populous country by the Mughals and later on, by the British. Both these conquerors imposed their own cultures and mindsets on the land they ruled over, although even during such times the traditional culture of India survived within a majority of the people. What was clear in India, especially after the events of 1947, was the fusion of Vedic, Mughal and British culture into a composite that got formed into the cultural DNA of every single citizen of the Republic of India. Such an evolution of a composite culture was termed as “Indutva” by this columnist in the Times of India in 1995, in contrast to the concept of “Hindutva”, which posits a culture based exclusively on the recorded practices and attitudes of the Vedic period.
The reality is that such exclusivity of culture no longer exists in India, a country where rituals and practices of the people of all faiths incorporate elements followed in each of the three strands of cultural DNA mentioned earlier viz Vedic, Mughal and British. In the past, efforts were made during the Mughal period to incorporate both Vedic and Mughal strands into a harmonious blend, especially by Emperor Akbar and Prince Dara Shikoh. Given that every human being is a child of the same Almighty, efforts at separation of one from another weakens an entire society. Each strand needs to become a part of a composite that in the process becomes stronger than any of its components. In India, people from the south relish the cooking of the north, and vice versa. And although Lord McCauley believed that educating natives in the English language would cement loyalty to the British Empire, the converse took place. The leaders of the movement to free the subcontinent of the British comprised of individuals who spoke the language of the colonial masters fluently. Indeed, the widespread use of English in India has become an advantage for the country within the global marketplace.
Despite politicians educating their own offspring in English, the effort of politicians in India has been to deny knowledge of the English language to the poor in India, perhaps as a way of keeping them in a state of dependence. The Hindi belt states have been those where knowledge of English is among the lowest, but the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has made its teaching compulsory from primary school onwards. In contrast, the Chief Minister of Karnataka (home of India’s Information Technology industry) is working hard to reduce the number of those learning English in his state, and is seeking to force schools to teach in local language, Kannada. Should he succeed, very soon Bangalore (now renamed as Bengalooru) will cease to be a global hub of knowledge industry.
In China, ever since planning began for the Beijing Olympics, the spread of the English language has been given priority, and the aim is to see that hundreds of millions more Chinese are able to read, speak and write in English by 2027 than in India. The concept of a common Han ancestry has served China well, in that it has unified the country to a substantial degree. The speech made by Xi at the start of the 19th CCP Congress was an exposition of the way in which he is seeking to position China as the vanguard of the international order. It is an objective that is breathtaking in its ambition. Xi’s calls for achieving such leadership by the use of “Win Win” techniques such that other countries would find it in their interest to cooperate with China, while those who decline to do so would be at a disadvantage. Just as Mao’s October 1949 speech heralded the fact that China had once again “stood up” after a century of subjugation, Xi Jinping’s October 2017 speech proclaims that China has not only stood up, but will soon stand the tallest within the comity of nations. The world has been put on notice.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Idea of Islamic State gaining even while territory is lost (UPI)

By M D Nalapat

Despite triumphal assertions from capitals such as Baghdad that the Islamic State has been "defeated" in Iraq and Syria, and that its self-professed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is on the run, the organization has in reality mutated into a form that is on the cusp of creating severe security challenges to the major powers, including the United States and India.
In fact, these countries have been given priority in recruitment efforts, in view of their large and technologically educated populations. Embracing a "recruitment lite" model that involves minimum contact and assistance from ISIS Center, the terror organization has made attacks directed against the globe's two largest democracies a priority. IS itself is a mutation of al-Qaida that formed in the aftermath of the 2011 "Arab Spring," when the perception took root within Wahhabi extremist clusters that long-dominant traditional rulership structures in Arab countries were disintegrating, and that this was their opportunity to move toward direct control of populations.
Around $13 billion in cash and weaponry flowed during 2011-13 to those who were described by intelligence agencies within NATO and its allies as "freedom fighters." The bulk of this went to groups that subsequently melded and outed themselves as IS. The assistance given to IS elements ensured the takeover of extensive territories in Iraq and Syria, especially during 2014. To date, these advances have not been fully rolled back, and as a consequence, IS has gained in traction and thereby won over several tens of thousands of committed fighters across the globe, with many more acting as auxiliaries and sympathizers.
Among the reasons for its continuing lethality is the fact that to NATO and its allies, in effect the Shiite alliance (and its Russian partner) is regarded as representing a bigger threat than IS. And to the regional partners of the United States, the Kurds are more worthy of military action than IS.

Toxic 'idea of ISIS'
More than exploding across some regions of Iraq, Syria and pockets in North and other parts of Africa, a worrisome factor is that the "idea of ISIS" is not only still strong, but is gaining in potency across the globe. A cousin of Nazi philosophy, the creed inverts cruelty as virtue and exalts the outing of sadistic tendencies within its followers. The theology of the organization is minimal in a scholastic sense, with the emphasis being on the celebration of grotesque killings and the sanctification of acts of terror.
During 2015-16, the self-willed absence of a knockout blow against IS in the Mideast by the Obama administration led to a spread of the belief among impressionable minds worldwide that the organization is the seat of power of a new "caliph," who will lead the war against the "crusaders." The primary method of indoctrination used by IS is the Internet, especially the "deep web." This still remains an attractive, and largely undisrupted, channel. Video and other radical content may have declined in quantity and frequency, as declared by some IS watchers, but more than numbers, what counts for the organization is the fanaticism and confidence of those still signing up, and this is building up with each terror attack
Al-Qaida used as cannon fodder those individuals with only a rudimentary familiarity with theology, such as the 19 who carried out the 9/11 mass terror attacks on the United States in 2001. However, many of those who have been involved in acts traceable to IS have in the past shown almost no interest in organized religion, and have thereby escaped the radar of security agencies until it was too late. Since mid-2016, when cyber interception of IS websites and chats intensified, the deep web has become the platform of choice for key associates and affiliates, as well as the use of extensively accessed websites, including those of a pornographic nature, where chat traffic easily gets disguised in a flood of "adult" commentary, especially when disguised in language that does not reveal the meaning and intent of the chats and messages sent and received. These are by users who operate from public Internet facilities and are therefore difficult to track down.

Winning recruits
An intelligence community estimate is that only about 300 Indians have shown "active interest" in IS and that even fewer have participated in its campaigns. In the United States, the figure quoted is less than a hundred. However, these are underestimates.
Ominously, IS-al-Qaida's social media campaigns have begun acquiring sophistication. The videos are of better quality and are released more frequently and over a broader geographical area than before. Such programs are winning recruits that are seldom from ultra-religious backgrounds. Indeed, many come from moderate family backgrounds, yet get drawn to IS because of the confidence and simplicity of its message. Also, clever use is made of standard religious concepts to change the import. These include frequent references to:
-- Tawhid, which rejects democracy as it is a "man-made"law.
-- Jihad, defined exclusively as an armed struggle.
-- Taqfir, the call to expel and expose unbelievers.
-- Hijrat, migration in the cause of jihad.
IS began its global campaign of terror four years ago by declaring itself the first truly Islamic country since the medieval age. This assertion added to the belief among impressionable individuals bred on a diet of hatred and contempt for non-Wahhabis that the time had come for volunteers to undertake "hijrat," but not necessarily to IS-controlled territories. This has instead come to mean not physical, but "thought migration" to the concepts and commands of the IS leadership. As a consequence, IS is shifting its focus from concentrations in specific territories to small (sometimes a single individual) groups that are dispersed across the globe and get into a mode of readiness to carry out "lone wolf" (or "wolf pack") attacks in target states.
The process of radicalization across the Internet includes:
(a) Online phishing: identifying those who are repeatedly making comments on violent posts or liking such posts, even though 99 percent of attempts to recruit don't work.
(b) Grooming a selected target via encrypted chat and message apps and through direct contact. Once trust is established, instructions are mostly on apps such as WickR, with messages self-destructing in 1 minute. After trust has begun to be established about bona fides, the recruiter asks the target to produce a video or audio so that he can legitimately claim that the potential terrorist is an IS soldier. Thereafter, orders are given to attack in ways that have now been noted as the signature of IS terror strikes. The actual execution of the attack is usually through knife and vehicle attacks where guns are unavailable. While there is sometimes live streaming of terror attacks on Facebook, Periscope, Twitter, etc, this is often dispensed with by fighters for fear of capture, even though the IS top command favors such methods as a means of demonstrating its continuing lethality. It has even claimed control for the recent Las Vegas shootings, but as yet no data has been released by U.S. authorities about the Internet-surfing habits of the perpetrator or whether he had recently been in locations known to host clusters of IS facilitators and motivators
A study of about 900 IS fighters' data from online social media platforms was carried out six months ago by analysts expert in the Middle East. The "likes" and "mentions" on tweets were tabulated in order to understand the influencers. The most influential of such hidden recruiters of IS were from the online world. The most important such recruiter was an Indian, based in Bangalore. The profile Shami Witness was a major cheerleader at the age of only 20. Seventy percdent of those who went to Syria from all over the world relied on what Shami told them, only because he was continuously tweeting about the latest events. The presence of such individuals is why India needs to keep its resources focused on IS and al-Qaeda.
Interestingly, less than 15 percent of jihadists in India, be they of the SIMI, Indian Mujahideen or other ultra-Wahhabi fronts, were educated in Islamic religious institutions. This trend is similar to that in the rest of the world, where numerous criminals and drug dealers, with zero association to religion, joined IS and overnight became practitioners of terror and its plots, more because they were discards in regular European society and had no hope of resurrection.

How to counter the idea
The idea of the self-declared caliphate, even if IS gets subjugated in the territorial war, can be fought only with a better idea, based on tenets revealed in the Holy Koran. Such a move is of immediate relevance in India, where action needs to be taken before the idea of IS gains in acceptance. Theology as preached by IS essentially posits that a Muslim is not a Muslim if he does not follow the organization's ultra-Wahhabi line. A grounding in the moderate practice of Islam can prevent Muslims from straying to Wahhabism and Salafism. The need is to popularize the true religion (rather than its extreme interpretation) in local languages and not just allow the main vehicle for such dissemination to be Arabic.
IS is conducting propaganda in 11 languages, hence the need to disseminate counter-content in multiple world languages. The fact is that the extremists are winning because of the Obama administration's willful failure to eliminate the territory controlled by IS when it had the chance to. Sufi and moderate tendency continues to remain that of the mainstream in India but these are losing ground in Indonesia and seems to have largely lost the battle to Wahhabi extremism in Pakistan, as also in several radicalized patches in the Middle East and elsewhere. Along with guns, what is needed to be deployed are ideas, and on this front, the Trump administration in the United States still seems to be searching for strategies.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

India at centre of ISIS recruitment drive (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

ISIS has mutated into a form that is on the cusp of creating severe security challenges to the major powers, including India.

Despite triumphal assertions from capitals such as Baghdad that ISIS has been “defeated” in Iraq and Syria, and that its self-professed Caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is on the run, the organisation has, in reality, mutated into a form that is on the cusp of creating severe security challenges to the major powers, including India. In fact, this country has been given priority in recruitment efforts, in view of its (a) history, and (b) its large and technologically educated population. ISIS is a mutation of Al Qaeda and was formed in the aftermath of the 2011 “Arab Spring”, when the perception took root within the Wahhabi extremists that the traditional rulership structures in Arab countries were disintegrating, and that this was their opportunity to move to a higher stage of deadliness. Around $13 billion in cash and weaponry flowed during 2011-13 to those who were described by intelligence agencies within NATO and its allies as “freedom fighters”. The bulk of this went to groups that subsequently melded and outed themselves as ISIS. The assistance given to ISIS elements ensured the takeover of extensive territories in Iraq and Syria, especially during 2014. To date, these advances have not been fully rolled back, and as a consequence, ISIS has gained in traction and thereby won over several tens of thousands of committed fighters across the globe, with many more acting as auxiliaries and sympathisers. Among the reasons for its continuing lethality is the fact that to NATO and its allies, the Shia alliance (and its Russian partner) represents a bigger threat than ISIS, while to the regional partners of the United States, the Kurds are more deserving of attention by local militaries than ISIS. Turkey in particular has routinely assisted Wahhabi terror groups that are battling with US-backed Kurdish militias, thus far to no blowback from Washington.

IDEA OF ISIS

More than exploding across some regions of Iraq, Syria and pockets in North and other parts of Africa, a worrisome factor is that the “Idea of ISIS” is not only still strong, but is gaining in potency across the globe. The theology of the organisation is minimal in a scholastic sense, with the emphasis being on the celebration of cruelty and the sanctification of acts of sadism and terror. During 2015-16, the absence of a knockout blow against ISIS by the Obama administration led to a spread of the belief among impressionable minds worldwide that the organisation is the seat of power of the “Caliph”, who will lead the war against the “Crusaders”. As effective is the fact that the primary method of indoctrination and spread used by ISIS is the internet, especially the “Deep Web”. This still remains an attractive, and largely undisrupted, channel. Video and other radical content may have declined in quantity and frequency, as declared by some ISIS-watchers, but more than numbers, what counts for the organisation is the fanaticism of those still signing up, and this is building up. Al Qaeda used as cannon fodder individuals with some familiarity with theology, such as those who carried out the 9/11 mass terror attacks on the US. However, many of those involved in acts traceable to ISIS have in the past shown almost no interest in organised religion, and have thereby escaped the radar of security agencies until it was too late. Since mid-2016, when cyber interception of ISIS websites and chats intensified, the Deep Web has become the platform of choice for key associates and affiliates, as well as the use of extensively accessed websites, including those of a pornographic nature, where chat traffic could get lost in the flood of “adult” commentary, especially when disguised in language that does not reveal the meaning and intent of the chats and messages sent and received, usually by users who are operating from public internet facilities and are therefore difficult to track down.

MEANWHILE, IN INDIA

Some analysts have been quick to declare that the Idea of ISIS has not really found a platform in India due to the syncretic nature of Indian Islam and the centuries of Sufism that has fashioned the religion in India as an assimilated and subcontinent-centric faith. It has even picked up the concept of caste from Hinduism, with the “Brahmins” being the Syeds and the “Vaishya” being the Ansaris. However, terrorism is never about large numbers, except of victims. It is always the minority amongst the minority that drives recruitment. Since Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister in 2014, there has been a drive to portray not just him, but the entire country as being intolerant and disrespectful of its minorities. In view of the steady expansion of the minority population in India, as compared to its near-elimination in Pakistan, as well as the travails experienced by Hindus in Bangladesh, it is ironic that Dhaka and Islamabad are the two centres from where online rants about “Intolerant India” are most frequent. The expectation is that the spread of such beliefs will facilitate recruitment of gullible individuals into the ISIS network, especially those with a background in technology. ISIS is looking to improve the sophistication of its surveillance, control and destructive methods, and needs high-quality and highly committed brainpower to ensure this, which is again why India has been made a priority. In this country, the continued onslaught of ISI-sponsored (but Hindu-named) elements, inspired acts of violence such as “beef lynchings” etc., continue to feed into the global Hate India campaign of the ISI and its fellow travellers. This campaign is geared towards a widening of sectarian tensions and to instil fear in the minority community. The calculation of such elements is that even if 0.001% of 170 million Muslims in India radicalise to ISIS-Al Qaeda levels, India will have 1,700 recruits to extreme militancy. Given the small size of most of global ISIS cells, this number (once dispersed and organised) would be sufficient to cause more than a hundred thousand deaths through mass terror attacks.

WINNING RECRUITS

An intelligence community estimate is that only about 300 Indians have as yet shown “active interest” in ISIS, and that even fewer have participated in their campaigns. However, this is an underestimate. Ominously, ISIS-Al Qaeda’s social media campaigns have begun acquiring sophistication. The videos are of better quality and are released more frequently and over a broader geographical area than before. Such programs are winning recruits that are seldom from ultra-religious backgrounds. Indeed, many come from moderate family backgrounds, yet get drawn to ISIS because of the confidence and simplicity of its message. Also, clever use is made of standard religious concepts to change the import. These include:

Tawhid: which rejects democracy as it is a “man made” law.

Jihad: defined exclusively as an armed struggle.

Taqfir: the call to expel and expose unbelievers

Hijrat: Migration in the cause of jihad.

ISIS began its global campaign of terror four years ago by declaring itself as the first truly Islamic country since the medieval age. This assertion added to the belief among impressionable individuals bred on a diet of hatred and contempt for non-Wahhabis that the time had come for volunteers to undertake “Hijrat”, but not necessarily to ISIS-controlled territories. This has instead come to mean not physical, but “thought migration” to the concepts and commands of the ISIS leadership. As a consequence, ISIS is shifting its focus from concentrations in specific territories to small (sometimes a single individual) groups that are dispersed across the globe and get into a mode of readiness to carry out “Lone Wolf” (or “Wolf Pack”) attacks in target states.

The process of radicalisation across the internet includes:

(a) Online phishing: identifying those who are repeatedly making comments on violent posts or liking such posts, even though 99% attempts to recruit don’t work.

(b) Grooming a selected target via Telegram and through direct contact. Once trust is established, instructions are mostly on WickR, with messages self-destructing in one minute. Then the recruiter asks the target to produce a video or audio so that he can legitimately claim that the potential terrorist is an ISIS soldier. Thereafter, orders are given to attack in ways that have now been noted as the signature of ISIS terror strikes. The actual execution of the attack is usually through knife and vehicle attacks where guns are unavailable. While there is sometimes live streaming of terror attacks on Facebook, Periscope, Twitter etc., this is often dispensed with by fighters for fear of capture, even though the ISIS top command favours such methods as a means of demonstrating its continuing lethality. It has even claimed control for the recent Las Vegas shootings, but as yet no data has been released by US authorities about the internet surfing habits of the perpetrator or whether he had recently been in locations known to host clusters of ISIS facilitators and motivators.

A study of about 900 ISIS fighters’ data from online social media platforms was carried out six months ago by analysts based in the Middle East. The “likes” and “mentions” on tweets were tabulated in order to understand the influencers. The most influential of such hidden recruiters of ISIS were from the online world. The most important such recruiter was an Indian, based in Bangalore. The profile Shami Witness, was a major cheerleader at the age of only 20 years. 70% of those who went to Syria from all over the world relied on what Shami told them, only because he was continuously tweeting about the latest events. The presence of such individuals is why India needs to keep its resources focused on ISIS and Al Qaeda. Interestingly, less than 15% of jihadists in India, be they of the SIMI, Indian Mujahideen or other ultra-Wahhabi fronts, were educated in Islamic religious institutions. This trend is similar to that in the rest of the world, where numerous criminals and drug dealers, with zero association to religion joined ISIS and overnight became practitioners of terror and its plots, more because they were discards in regular European society and had no hope of resurrection.

HOW TO COUNTER THE IDEA

The idea of the self-declared Caliphate, even if ISIS gets subjugated in the territorial war, can be fought only with a better idea, based on tenets revealed in the Holy Quran. Such a move is of immediate relevance in India, where action needs to be taken before the Idea of ISIS gains in acceptance. Theology as preached by ISIS essentially posits that a Muslim is not a Muslim if he does not follow the organisation’s ultra-Wahhabi line. A grounding in the Indian practice of Islam can prevent Indian Muslims from straying to Wahhabism and Salafism. The need is to popularise the true religion in local languages, including Urdu, and not just allow the main vehicle for such dissemination to be Arabic. ISIS is conducting propaganda in 11 languages, hence the need to disseminate counter-content in Indian languages, so that the Sufi and moderate tendency continues to remain that of the mainstream in India, even while it is losing ground in Indonesia and seems to have largely lost the battle to Wahhabism in Pakistan.