M. D. Nalapat
Manipal, India — Those intent on ensuring that the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is free of the worst sufferers of climate change -- the poorly-heeled participants from the developing world with the exception of a few vetted and sanitized samples -- did well to fix the venue at one of the most expensive cities in the world.Holding COP15 in Copenhagen during the Christmas season was designed to ensure that airfares were high enough to scare away almost all participants from the developing world and that the developed world got a large share -- over 80 percent -- in conference participation, which is their share in global emissions.
Naturally, almost all the designated voices at COP15 are from the developed world including the chairperson, as indeed are the overwhelming majority of those representing non-official groups.
Now that pavements in Copenhagen have been declared off-limits by the local police, and low-cost student and youth accommodation has almost entirely been taken up by visitors from developed countries, those unable to get a European Union visa or afford a two-week stay in an expensive hotel in Copenhagen are sitting at home while decisions that could cost them their lives are being taken up by opaque bodies.
The few from the poorer corners of the world who managed to arrive in the Danish capital have found to their dismay, several of their accreditations cancelled without being assigned any reason. Others have been excluded from access to the high level Plenary Room because such access is arbitrarily cut off once the capacity at the Bella Centre crosses 15,000 observers, or less than even half of the 36,000 accredited participants. Such a cutoff favors those who had the finances to come early to Copenhagen, usually groups that include an army of lobbyists for business purposes intent on harnessing the conference to their advantage.
Interestingly, organizers have told delegates that the prized "Third Level Badges” will be issued to the entire business community to access high-level segments of the conference. Such measures ensure that the rich and the business world hear the major voices of the Conference.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Sunday, 1 November 2009
By Madhav Das Nalapat
November 1, 2009
November 1, 2009
Although there has been some mockery of the Nobel Committee's award of the Peace Prize to US President Barack H Obama, the choice was a recognition of a reality that has been obscured since World War II: which is that the true strength, the power, of the US vests not in its weapons or in its armies, but in the syncretistic values of the American people. Globally, across practically every country, significant elements of the population have adopted culture systems that can be sourced to the US. Even the international link language - English - has altered, becoming much more flexible and accepting of words and even phrases from other languages. While such a transfer took place in the past as well, such a "dilution" of English was seen as a deviation from the "norm”, which was accepted to be the language as spoken by a handful of individuals. In other words, the exception was taken as the standard. Today, it is accepted that this very adaptability of modern English is its greatest strength, and one of the primary reasons why its use is spreading across the world.
What has defined America (as the US is known)? Not its use of atomic bombs in 1945 or the collateral damage caused by bombing Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian hamlets with napalm and Agent Orange in the 1970s. Not the obduracy over retaining the post-1990 UN sanctions in an Iraq where more than six hundred thousand children died because of the shortages caused by them. And finally, not by the criminal greed of a few well-placed individuals, that caused four trillion US dollars of value to disappear, without any penal consequences for those responsible. Nearly $1.3 trillion was lost by investors in the Middle East alone, individuals who had placed their trust in the presumed integrity of US and EU banking and financial institutions. The list is long, but it is not this America that Barack Obama brings to mind.
Rather, it is the America that has ever welcomed innovation and immigration. TheAmerica that freely takes from the rest of the world and melds with its own culture. TheAmerica that has - often through the brainpower of those born elsewhere – given not just the majority of the world's significant scientific and technological breakthroughs, but its music, arts, literature and other aspects of culture. Rather than the Pentagon, it isHollywood that has won the only battle worthwhile in the long term, which is that for hearts and minds. Indeed, the dissonance between US strategy and the military tactics deployed to meet its goals is usually so severe that several operations have the effect of morphine, in that they appear successful in the short run, but create severe problems afterwards.
President Obama has distanced himself sharply from Candidate Obama, including by culling his staff of those who had helped craft his victory in favor of a generous dose of those who served the Clinton presidency. Not surprisingly, several domestic policies being pursued by the new team seem to be warmed-up versions of those sought to be implemented during 1993-2001. In foreign policy as well, although there have been alterations in emphasis, overall the "Obama" policy has hewed very close to the Europeanist vision of Clinton-Gore. In the 1990s, this linking up of US interests with those of the EU led to policies that caused the drift away of Russia. Now, a similar obsession with Europe is leading to stands that could see the drift away from the US of Japan as well as a new (George W. Bush-era) ally, India. Only if President Obama returns to the idealism and values of Candidate Obama will the promise of his election be realized. The Nobel Committee, whether accidentally or not, has provided an encouragement to the charismatic Kenyan-American to return to his ideological roots.
Barack Obama got elected because of the qualities that have underpinned the spread of American soft power worldwide. First is the ready acceptance of the other, and the ability to integrate that "other" into one's own dynamic. Next is the optimism of a people that have overcome civil war, social conflict and much else to become the world's most significant power. Although at no stage has the globe been "unipolar" (and US travails in Vietnam in the 1970s, Lebanon in the 1980s, Somalia in the 1990s and Afghanistan this century illustrates that), Obama's stated acceptance of the limits of the US ability to change dynamics elsewhere indicates a realism that has been absent from US policymaking since the successful conclusion of the 1939-45 war. Should President Obama feel himself able to shed the Clinton policy cloak in which he has wrapped himself since his 2009 inauguration, he has the opportunity to ensure that the influence of the US remains higher than that of its closest challenger, China, for decades to come.
Although Samuel Huntington placed greater emphasis on the "threat" from Islam, the reality is that the Western world faces the greatest threat to its primacy from the Sinic civilization centered within what is now the People’s Republic of China. The Sinic peoples have enjoyed primacy for at least two millennia in the past, and seem set to reclaim that status well before the conclusion of the first half of this century. The question is: Will the rise of China result in a repeat of the previous four centuries of conflict between emerging and emergent powers, or will there be a Win-Win situation? Should the interlinkages between China and the US continue the way they have developed since Mao Zedong tilted to Washington in the 1970s as a counter to Moscow, the relationship between the US and China may develop in almost as close a fashion as that between the US and the EU, provided neither country acts in a manner that severely degrades the strategic security of the other.
Judging by his writings and his campaign speeches, President Obama would like the USto participate in creating an architecture of cooperation in the world, by increasing the benefits of conciliation and cooperation to countries that would otherwise turn hostile. Such a strategy mandates the provision of incentives, including fair treatment of the weaker power rather than a bludgeoning of it to conform to a procrustean bed of perceived US interests. Equally importantly, there needs to be a separate series of policies that would sharply raise the cost of non-compliance. Both the carrot as well as the stick need to be created, as just one without the other will not generate an "equilibrium" situation that would last past the medium term.
President Obama has the opportunity - as the first US Head of State in the 21st century - to set a course for US policy different from that in evidence since 1945, which is a reliance on military and economic muscle to seek "compromises" that are in fact surrenders by the other side. Had there been a willingness to compromise, the world may have been spared conflicts such as the intensification of the Korean war caused by the Allies taking the battle into North Korea, and the takeover of South Vietnam by the North as a consequence of US refusal to accept any other than local proxies as the "legitimate" governments of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Both military stalemate in non-conventional warfare as well as the financial meltdown have led to a mindset within policy circles in the US that may accept this (less than triumphalistic) outcome, the same way as the dislocation of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s created within the Chinese Communist Party a willingness to adopt the major economic reforms proposed by Deng Xiaoping, the true "father" of Modern China. Will he go that way? Will the tactics that he uses be sufficient to ensure the creation of a policy architecture that seeks out Win-Win solutions rather than persist with Zero Sum equations? If such a change does take place, those who are writing off the US may be proved wrong, especially if the PRC avoids falling into the trap of military entanglement that the US has landed itself into so often in the past century.
Indeed, the Obama Moment symbolizes the contribution that the US has made to human history, which is to finally bring to a conclusion six centuries of European primacy in world affairs. The US has emerged as a quadricultural country, getting its vital essence from a fusion of European, Asian, African and South American traditions, in the process creating an amalgam that has been accepted by several in all these four continents. Although as yet most within the US policy establishment continue to see their country as being organically linked only to Europe, such a world view is coming under strain from those with a broader societal perspective. Hence the muted response to the Honduran situation, in place of what earlier would have been complete support to those who overthrew Manuel Zelaya. In Africa, Asia and South America, social transformation is taking place the way it did in Europe during the period when that continent emerged from the "Dark Ages". This evolving dynamic is very friendly to the core US values of adaptability and syncretism. To summarize: the US can remain powerful, if it deploys the power of its culture, its social freedom, its ability to assimilate and its innovation.China can rise in influence, if it continues to shun the path of war, and looks instead for peaceful means of assertion. It is the arts and sciences that best protect US/PRC interests in the coming era, where Asia is becoming as major a geopolitical force as Europeevolved into by the 19th century.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Manipal, India — Those familiar with the situation on the ground in Afghanistan are aware that only around 17 percent of the money spent in that unfortunate country is in the control of President Hamid Karzai’s "free government of independent Afghanistan."
The remaining 83 percent is, directly or via proxies, disbursed in accordance with instructions given by one or the other NATO country, or NATO’s loyal partner, the United Nations, whose hand-picked staff in Afghanistan keeps in close touch with "their" embassies and military establishments.
Local officials are aware of the way in which tenders and requests for supplies have been manipulated to ensure that they are directed toward countries favored by NATO decision-makers rather than the most cost-effective source.
Bloated salaries and allowances, as well as logistics costs similar to the levels of Halliburton – a U.S.-based provider of products and services to the energy industry – form part of the mosaic of reasons why NATO is so loathed by the people it claims to have liberated.
However, not a single international media outlet focuses on the misdirection of resources by NATO, preferring to focus their ire on the measly proportion of total expenditure under Karzai's control, as do notables like Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Manipal, India — More than radical Islam, the threat to the primacy of the West will come from Sinic civilization, centered in the People’s Republic of China. Should China continue to grow at the pace of the last 20 years for the next two decades, by 2015 the backwash created by such progress will pull Japan and South Korea into its gravity field. This will later extend to Siberia and large swathes of Southeast and Central Asia.
As armed conflict would be a lose-lose proposition for all major players, the odds are that such an expansion of geopolitical space will take place peacefully. China’s strategy will be to make cooperation with it attractive while increasing the costs of conflict to Asian countries that may seek to present a challenge, principally India.
Obsessed as Germany is with ensuring the ethnic purity of Europe by blocking immigration even from established, English-speaking democracies outside the West, and France with the preservation of Franco-German primacy in Europe, the European Union is unlikely to adopt the only course that would enable it to retain its edge in the face of rising Sinic power. This is an alliance with India.
Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, with his obsessive focus on Europe and neglect of Asian Russia, has been all but begging France and Germany to admit Moscow into the European Union as an equal of these two states. This course is likely to go the way of Turkey’s application to join the club; in other words, it will end up in the refuse bin. This is likely to push Russia further toward being a partner in the Sinic alliance that will be stitched together by Beijing in a decade.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Manipal, India — The Muslim World League, an organization funded by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, held its third interreligious dialogue in Geneva from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1.
The previous two meetings were held a year ago in Spain and Austria. Of these, the Madrid Conference was distinguished both by its imaginative choice of locale, given the historically troubled history between Spain and the Muslim world, as well as the enthusiastic participation of Spain’s King Juan Carlos himself.
As for Austria, which is the home of Gerald Mader's European Peace University, it is a picturesque location to hold an international meeting – convened to discuss how best to operate in practice the "Initiative of the custodian of the two Holy Mosques (King Abdullah) on interreligious dialogue and its impact on disseminating human values."
In the 18th and 19th centuries, and even in much of the 20th, there was a case for treating Europe as the "Middle Kingdom," the center of the universe. Asians, Africans and South Americans had almost no say in world matters, and exceptions such as Thailand were under the tutelage of one or the other European powers.
Since India won its freedom in 1947 and China began to develop economically in the 1980s, there has been a change in this situation. Global discussions should no longer be confined only to countries within Europe and those housing the European Diaspora.
Saturday, 3 October 2009
Manipal, India — This columnist was among the first outside the United States to cheer on, in February 2008, the ascent of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency. Even if he achieves little else during his term, the election of an African-American by a majority Euro-ethnic electorate will mellow the tension between races in the United States.
It also gives poorer peoples around the globe a confidence that there is nothing intrinsic in themselves that prevents them from reaching the collective levels of achievement of the Euro-ethnics. For this alone Obama has merited the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him.
However, many in the future are likely to judge the soundness of the Nobel Committee's decision by Obama's success or failure in Afghanistan. This is now Obama's war.
In this theater, as yet, change has been absent. An important reason has been the high cost of operations due to the policy of sourcing materiel almost exclusively from the United States and other NATO partners. Such procurement resembles the policies of former U.S. President George W. Bush, who declined to get needed materiel from the most cost-effective sources.
With even the aftershave coming from home, NATO armies have become the most expensive to field in combat. Should NATO ever do battle against an enemy more endowed than the goons that fill the Taliban's ranks, or the debilitated militaries such as those of the late former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the enemy may only need to focus on their supply lines from home to demotivate the NATO troops.
Monday, 28 September 2009
Manipal, India — At precisely the moment that U.S. President Barack Obama is returning to the road travelled by Bill Clinton – trying to "persuade" India that nuclear weapons would make the country less, rather than more, secure – top scientists within the country have stated publicly that India’s 1998 nuclear test was a dud, and that the declared yields were false.
The assertion is not surprising – it dates back to the day of the test – but what is surprising is that this important question remains unresolved 11 years after the event.
The majority view among India's nuclear scientists has always been that the 1998 nuclear test was unsuccessful. Only a single scientist and his superiors in the Prime Minister's Office believed then – and still do – that it was a "great success." Understandably, the Manmohan Singh government is reluctant to conduct a serious peer review, preferring instead to rely on the opinions of a few in-house scientists on a matter critical to national security.
The "success camp," led by that determined scientist, R. Chidambaram, insists that the “yield” – or destructive capacity – was satisfactory. It relies on statements published in journals by the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, which made the bomb, to prove its point.
Its primary source is the internal BARC newsletter, which has no peer review process, is circulated only within the BARC/Department of Atomic Energy family, and has been known to publish practically anything that carries any senior BARC functionary’s name on it. In the case of the 1998 explosion results, the "proof" is the printed view of Chidambaram himself, as then director of BARC.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Manipal, India — If the Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan, the reason lies less in their prowess than the daily errors made by their presumed foes – like NATO, an organization that clearly swears on the altar of “rule by committee.”
From think-tankers and journalists to retired diplomats and serving military personnel, there is an abundant pool of "expertise" in NATO that gets together to form policy. Within each subset the most extreme views prevail, as do such views in the same individual at different points in time.
In times past, those conducting operations in the field would get to decide on tactics rather than be “remote-controlled.” But these days, NATO's field administrators as well as managers need to conform to the dictates of superiors who come to Afghanistan for less than a day at a time and spend most of it in a conference room. In the process, they pull out dozens of individuals from their work, and then most simply gaze out the window while the drone of talk continues.
What is NATO’s objective in Afghanistan? Judging by their tactics, the inference is inescapable that it is primarily to look good to their own people rather than working out an effective response to the Taliban.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Manipal, India — During the 1960s, the United States had a president who did more for the underclass than most of his predecessors put together. Lyndon Johnson introduced healthcare, civil rights and other measures designed to provide a level playing field for people of different classes and colors among the citizenry.
Instead of acclaim, what he got was unpopularity, forcing him to surrender office after just one term. The reason was an unpopular war, fought the wrong way – through the insertion of greater and greater numbers of troops.
U.S. soldiers marauding through their land converted several hundred thousand South Vietnamese into Viet Cong. As a recent editorial on Afghanistan in the New York Times put it, Americans too would be tempted to violence were a strange-looking bunch of aliens to invade and occupy Oregon.
Those who seek conventional military solutions to problems within other countries forget that the world is very different from what it was during the peak years of European colonialism. Then, mass killings were acceptable. But now, were NATO to repeat in Afghanistan the tactics of European colonial powers in South America, Africa and Asia, their own populations would halt such slaughter.
In the age of worldwide cable television, significant "collateral damage" is unacceptable. This is not a situation that would have endeared itself to Winston Churchill, the wartime British prime minister who once favored the bombing of undefended villages in the Middle East, and looked the other way when more than 6 million Indians died in 1944 of starvation in the single British-ruled province of Bengal.
Monday, 7 September 2009
When floods hit the largely Buddhist enclave of Leh in Kashmir recently, the chief minister Omar Abdullah, representatives of state government and the Indian army were out providing relief. Absent, however, was the presence of Kashmiris from the rest of the state, notably the normally vocal Valley Kashmiris, in expressing support for their fellow co-habitants. They seemed unconcerned about the tragedy.
This went by unnoticed by the national and international media. But it was not lost on the majority of Kashmiris, confirming their views that those in charge of the state see themselves as being responsible only to one of the six major groups that form Kashmir: the Valley Sunnis, the Shia, the Buddhists, the Sikhs, the Hindus and the Gujjars. That single-pointed attention has kept wider Kashmiri interests unattended, but kept the Valley of Kashmir in the global spotlight.
Today, Kashmir is very much part of the cauldron that is "Af-Pak", the storm that is raging across the Pashtun belt in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As in Af-Pak, the base for the jihad that is being waged in Kashmir mainly comprises a small fringe of a single community – the Valley Wahabi Sunnis, who are 1 million of the total 6.7 million Kashmiri Muslim population.
In the case of Af-Pak, the indigenous Taliban fighters are almost entirely Pashtun, and from those human pools nurtured by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Saudi Secret Service during the 1980s to fight against the USSR. In the case of Kashmir, those involved in the current intifada are Sunnis - mostly Wahabis - from the Kashmir Valley who have financial and other links with the military in Pakistan and the numerous Wahabi religious trusts and foundations in Saudi Arabia that work at exporting their 300-year old faith across the world.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Manipal, India — During the period when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition was in office, from 1998-2004, India launched several initiatives to enhance links with Taiwan. Air links were expanded and foundations laid for a flow of Indian brainpower to Taiwan and a ramping up of investment into India. Today trade between India and Taiwan is close to US$6 billion, heading for $10 billion within the next year.
However, mainly because of a lack of attention from the Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance government, Taiwanese investment in India, at a little over US$1 billion, is just one-fifth of what it is in much smaller Cambodia and less than 5 percent of investment in Vietnam.
This official neglect of Taiwan is motivated by the hope that kowtowing to China will result in a more accommodating attitude from Beijing on issues such as the border dispute – a proposition that has so far proved false.
It would seem that with Taiwan under the leadership of the Kuomintang, China is unconcerned about links between New Delhi and Taipei, barring the ritual expressions of dismay at India’s rare recognition of Taiwan's potential as a major source of investment.
Taiwanese diplomats unfortunate enough to be posted to New Delhi are subject to restrictions that are absent in the United States, the European Union, and in most of Asia – excluding countries such as Syria, Iran or North Korea. For example, the military attaché at the Taiwan mission in India has been barred by the Sonia-led government from meeting any – repeat any – serving officer in the three armed forces. He can meet only retired personnel, the older the better.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Manipal, India — From 2003 to 2008 – the years when the uncontrolled greed of a handful of speculators was sending the price of commodities to intolerable levels – this columnist was among the few who pointed to such market manipulation as the cause of price fever, rather than "market conditions."
Today it is clear that it was the greed of a few financial institutions and their managers that caused the rise in food prices that killed hundreds of thousands in Asia and Africa from starvation. Super-high food prices sucked the purchasing power out of middle- and low-income consumers by raising the prices of oil and other commodities to levels where continued economic health was unsustainable.
The 2008 market crash caused not a ripple in the consciences of this handful, who continued to award themselves generous bonuses after creating economic disaster. Speculation – forward trading where the speculator need not take delivery of the commodity – caused death and hardship across the world, and it was expected, not least perhaps by U.S. voters, that President Barack Obama would make good on his promise to deal harshly with such economic depredators.
Instead, he handed over the reins of the U.S. Treasury Department to Timothy Geithner, himself a creature of the very system that is causing a second tsunami of high prices and a collapse of consumer demand. Under Geithner, the U.S. taxpayer has underwritten nearly US$2 trillion in write-offs and advances to the very agencies that caused the speculative fever which began in 2003, after the defeat of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Monday, 3 August 2009
Beijing, China — Judging by the boost given to exports from China and the flow of technology to that country from 1993 to 2000, when Bill Clinton was president of the United States, it is small wonder that even low-income ethnic Chinese in San Francisco and New York felt compelled to contribute to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential election campaign.
Although Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, makes the obligatory warm references to the other giant of Asia, India, these seem to be motivated less by conviction than by awareness of the muscular Indian-American lobby in Washington, D.C.
As the junior senator from New York, Clinton led the effort to get India to concede to China a nuclear monopoly in Asia, by giving up its own weapons-development program. She was visibly unhelpful in promoting a policy of closer defense and technology cooperation with India, besides fiercely opposing the India-U.S. nuclear agreement, along with the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.
The Clintons have never hidden their affinity for Europeanist policy wonks such as Strobe Talbott or Richard Holbrook, who regard only the European countries as "natural partners" of the United States. They are, of course, wrong.
The United States is not a European country transplanted in North America, but a quadricontinental power that has elements of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America in its cultural DNA. Indeed, such heterogeneity is the reason why "U.S. culture" – a pair of words that many regard as an oxymoron – has had the same powerful impact on the world as the English language did during the 19th-century heyday of the British Empire.
Monday, 27 July 2009
Manipal, India — Although both of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s victories in the 2004 and 2009 presidential races were courtesy of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the wily Ayatollah may be preparing to remove a head of state that has become an international cartoon and a domestic embarrassment.
Those who have worked closely with Ahmedinejad claim that his decision to appoint the brilliant – if abrasive – Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei as his deputy was cleared informally by the Supreme Leader, as was Mashaei's reference last year to the "Jewish people" as friends of Iran – for which he has been widely criticized.
Indeed, both the Arab and the Persian people have a much better record of treatment of the Jewish minority than states in Europe such as Poland and Germany. Until Khomeinism became the state religion in 1979, Jews had an honored place in Iran and contributed disproportionately to business.
Even Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s first Supreme Leader, forbore from targeting the Jewish people as such, reserving his verbal venom for the state of Israel. Even today, several thousand Iranians belonging to the Jewish faith live in Iran, and apart from the storm trooper brigade represented by organizations such as the Revolutionary Guard, few Iranians look askance at what is an educated and liberal community, proud of their Iranian heritage.
Monday, 13 July 2009
Manipal, India — The Pakistan army, through its spokesperson Athar Abbas, has publicly confirmed that it is in touch with the senior Taliban leadership, including Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden's protector. Abbas has helpfully suggested that the army would be happy to serve as the conduit for negotiations designed to facilitate a cease-fire in Afghanistan.
This cease-fire would give the Taliban unchallenged control over at least one-fifth of Afghanistan, a wedge of territory from which the terror group could send out its agents in preparation for future active hostilities. Thus far, despite the seemingly boundless faith of the Obama administration in the Pakistan army, the U.S. side has not accepted its offer to be a middleman in talks with the Taliban.
Those dealing with Taliban-linked terror groups in South Asia should keep in mind the example of President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Aware that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam invariably called for a cease-fire and negotiations whenever it needed a respite, only to return to the battlefield after replenishing its oxygen, Rajapaksa ignored calls from Britain, India and Norway, among others, to declare an immediate cease-fire. Instead, he stopped the conflict only after the LTTE had been comprehensively defeated after two decades of war.
The Taliban is even more fanatic than the LTTE. Its cadres have zero intention of changing their chemistry to join the flock of Afghani and Pakistani politicians milling around the pickings of office. They seek the re-establishment of a medieval state, and regard terror as a suitable instrument of war.
A cease-fire with them – especially with the still-feared Mullah Omar – would demoralize the Afghan forces battling them alongside NATO forces, and scare more Afghans into acquiescence with their harsh primitivism. In particular, it would deal a blow to the hopes of women in Afghanistan, who dread the return of a misogynistic force that brutalized them at home and elsewhere.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
With the same confidence that allowed the junior senator from Illinois to launch a campaign for the presidency of the United States, Barack Obama has decided to "reset" U.S.-Russian relations, banking on the forward-looking vision he shares with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.
For the U.S. president this has been a high-risk operation, given the undercurrent of suspicion toward Russia within the U.S. strategic community as well as the citizenry. But the benefits are clear. The securing of transit rights through Russian territory and airspace for U.S. military materiel to Afghanistan, as agreed Monday, will reduce Washington's current dependence on Pakistan.
A further warming of ties also may encourage the Moscow-leaning former Afghan Northern Alliance groups to stop sulking and participate in the war against the Taliban. Leaving this struggle to the ethnic Pashtun groups alone would be a mistake that could cost Afghan President Hamid Karzai at least one-fifth -- if not one-third -- of his country. The Taliban has to be rooted out of both Pakistan and Afghanistan if the region is to have a chance at rapid social and economic development.
NATO's substantial outsourcing of Afghan strategy to the Pakistan army has resulted in the neglect of former elements of the Northern Alliance, despite the group's experience in fighting the Taliban. This should be rectified through reconciliation between the former anti-Taliban fighters and NATO, a process that the Obama-Medvedev initiative begun in Moscow on Monday could accelerate.
Monday, 29 June 2009
Manipal, India — Given the many allegations that he endured, as well as the fall in stage appearances in the past few years, pop star Michael Jackson may have been surprised by the emotion caused by his death. Admirers in every continent gave voice to their feelings, making it impossible for traducers to attempt one final stab at Jackson’s reputation.
The legacy of the singer includes a geopolitical factor; he provided the proof that while prejudice may exist on the surface, deeper inside each person is the recognition of a common humanity. He represented the need for unity in a world where communications and travel have melted boundaries.
Many, if not most, of Jackson's mourners were of European ethnicity, the group that has led the world for close to six centuries, till the middle of the last century. This success has created resentment in some other groups, of which pronounced manifestations can be seen in leaders such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The first has bankrupted his country by launching a war that is in significant ways racial; the other seems to be following the same path, though hopefully will reconsider before his country becomes another Zimbabwe.
Both leaders have made an error common in post-colonial societies, which is to ascribe all current ills to the single factor of external rule, avoiding internal factors that may have contributed to social disintegration even before colonization or even facilitated the original takeover of the nation.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Manipal, India — When Iran’s Assembly of Experts chose Ali Khamenei as the country’s Supreme Leader on June 4, 1989, it was because he was seen as a "consensus" man. After a decade under Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader – a title he created to ensure that the clerics would dominate Iran – people were fatigued by the austere leader's style and his air of near infallibility.
The country had been through the cauldron of war with Iraq and was bleeding and in disarray. Earlier, as president of Iran, Khamenei had impressed many with his willingness to consult a wide range of people and to give precedence to the views of experts over those of the more impulsive clerics.
Indeed, he was not even an ayatollah – he was given the title only after Imam Khomeini passed away. Even so, several of the country's grand ayatollahs opposed the move, pointing to Khamenei's lack of significant theological contributions and to the fact that his role had been largely political.
These were ignored by the Assembly of Experts. They needed a Supreme Leader who would allow them the freedom to make the country functional again. In particular, Khomeini’s men rallied behind Khamenei, pointing out that the Imam had himself appointed Khamenei to lead Friday prayers in Tehran toward the second half of 1989.
For nearly a decade the new Supreme Leader kept a low profile, in contrast to his predecessor. He allowed the elected government a genuine say in the administration of Iran, and reined in clerics who were eager to resume the dominance they enjoyed under Grand Ayatollah Khomeini.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Manipal, India - At least 12 Indian students have been attacked in Australia in half that many weeks. This has put at risk not only the country’s multibillion-dollar education industry, but also Australia's image as a tolerant and inclusive country.
The Victorian police have deliberately refrained from releasing details of the attackers, but the odds are that most of the attacks were carried out by youths of Eastern European background. Given the post-war economic chaos and political stunting in these states, the only "distinction" that migrants from such countries have clung to has been their absence of tanned skin.
Many migrants from Eastern Europe to North America and Australia are horrified at the increasing number of immigrants with duskier complexions than theirs. This sentiment was personally witnessed by this columnist during a visit to the United States in 1992, when a group of Eastern European migrants expressed their shock at the number of non-whites admitted to a country they had been taught to regard as a white bastion. These individuals were clear that such migration ought to be banned forthwith.
The same sentiment was expressed this year by those who attacked Indians for being different from Australians. The attackers seemed to be unaware that Australia is almost entirely a country of migrants, albeit mostly from Europe until Fortress White Australia began to be dismantled during the 1980s – almost entirely by white liberals in that country