Saturday, 1 February 2020

Xi Jinping bets China’s future on slaying the Devil Virus (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Before Xi Jinping took personal charge of measures to battle the novel coronavirus, official response to the crisis took nearly five weeks to evolve from initial puzzlement to the hypersonic action initiated during January.

Bangkok: The onset of the 2019 n-CoV coronavirus is proving to be the most rigorous test of the leadership capabilities of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping and the team he has assembled and empowered since 2013. Since the days of Chairman Mao, China has never had a leader as powerful and decisive as Xi, but such vast power concentrated in a single individual may sometimes be a mixed blessing, as was the case with Mao. This is because there is likely to be much less of even verbal resistance to any move favoured by the leader, even if several individuals have doubts about its practicality and value. Over the past three years especially, as a consequence of his immensely popular drive against corruption in the CCP, whatever Xi decides that the immense party-government machinery should do gets attempted and usually completed without question. Second thoughts are non-existent unless they come from Xi himself. While the unprecedented response of the authorities to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak from the second half of January 2020 would not have been possible without the domination of the governance mechanism in China by President Xi, it is also true that the five weeks lost since early December 2019 in putting in place comprehensive and nationwide measures against the novel coronavirus 2019-n-CoV epidemic were because the matter was yet to be personally handled by President Xi. Of course, once he took personal charge of the novel coronavirus counter-measures, swift and unprecedented action followed that was designed to create firebreaks against a greater spread of the novel coronavirus. Barring Mao Zedong, none of his predecessors would have been able to implement measures as drastic and dramatic as the quarantining of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, followed by a similar lockdown in other cities. Just as only Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have goaded the bureaucracy in India to drain away 86% of India’s currency stock with almost no notice on 8 November 2016, only President Xi could have enforced such severe restrictions on what is now a total of nearly 90 million individuals. The rollout of such unprecedented measures in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus 2019 n-CoV may turn out to be as consequential for economic growth in China as was India’s 2016 demonetization. Just as the population of India accepted the pain and dislocation caused by the drastic demonetization of their currency because of their faith in Prime Minister Modi’s promise that such immediate sacrifice would generate huge gains in future, overall public confidence in President Xi has resulted in the Chinese people enduring without significant protest the conversion of entire cities into ghost towns devoid of almost all commercial and industrial activity. Of course, just as questions began to be asked by the close of 2017 about whether the 8 November 2016 “currency famine” was worth its touted benefits, voices are likely to be raised in China in the future about whether President Xi’s policy of scorched earth that was adopted by the Chinese authorities—albeit after nearly six weeks of the confirmed appearance of the novel coronavirus—was the best course to follow. A few economists warn that the sequence of measures and responses taken by the Chinese government following the November onset of the earliest traces in Wuhan 2019 novel coronavirus may shave off as much as 2.1% annually of growth of China for 2020-2023. Defenders of the basket of measures adopted by the authorities claim that the alternative would have been mass deaths in China and a global pandemic by mid-February, whereas now they expect the virus to begin declining in spread by the close of March even within China, and be well within controllable limits in the rest of the world because of the Xi restrictions.
Before taking personal charge of measures to battle what Xi has repeatedly termed the “Devil Virus”, official response to the crisis took nearly five weeks to evolve from initial puzzlement to the hypersonic action initiated during January. In fact, doctors who warned in mid-December about the virus and its toxicity were referred to the police as “rumour mongers”. Even after confirmation of test results and spread were communicated to the WHO by China on 31 December 2019, the 1.3 billion people in the country were at first not told. It was only after Xi Jinping’s direct involvement that transparency began to be witnessed in the country. By then, the novel coronavirus had already spread within the country and outside, whereas prompt action by early December could have contained the situation. The delay in reporting to the highest levels and thereby ensuring a proper reaction to 2019 n-CoV was caused by the usual tardiness within the official machinery to disseminate bad news to higher levels. In contrast, good news gets relayed rapidly up the chain of command. The preference of lower level officials being to give “positive” rather than “negative” news to higher-ups, the consequence is that the higher echelons are often slow to know when a crisis occurs. Rather than serving as an independent source of “situation input”, the Communist Party machinery has during the Xi period become inextricably interlinked with the formal government machinery. The result has been that the feedback received by the higher leadership is usually the joint consensus of Party and Government rather than presented separately.
Briefings and information from authorities on the ground indicate that it was sometime in November 2019 that hospitals began to suspect that a new strain of the coronavirus family had manifested itself in Wuhan. Rather than raise the alarm with sufficient velocity, nearly three weeks were spent on further tests and investigations, during the course of which the new coronavirus spread uninterruptedly. Only by the middle of December was there acknowledgment among provincial authorities that a new and potentially deadly coronavirus strain was afflicting Wuhan. A check on the Baidu search engine reveals the very low level of activity concerning searches within China on the novel coronavirus, while the announced figures for patients (including fatalities) were at a level below that which would have been normal for such a virulently infectious strain. Several cases apparently went undetected. After Singapore reported its first suspected case of the Wuhan coronavirus on 5 January 2020, searches on Google rose exponentially, while those on Baidu remained at very low levels, indicating that the public in China was still unaware of the magnitude of the crisis that was confronting them. Figures that were released by concerned officials about victims of the new virus strain in China suddenly tripled on 20 January, indicating that orders from the top had come to ensure a greater level of transparency on the 2019 n-CoV situation. The wake-up call for the global community came when the Chinese leadership ordered the lockdown of Wuhan, which was later extended to several other cities. This unprecedented measure brought home to the world the dangers faced should the novel coronavirus spread. However, the roughly 12,000 reported cases of 2019 n-CoV as on date sits uneasily with the fact that nearly 20 countries in multiple continents have reported novel coronavirus cases, most concerning Chinese visitors. If the figures for such infections outside China are juxtaposed with official figures for those infected with the virus in Hubei province, it would seem that the virus has a particular affinity for frequent flyers. The alternative hypothesis is that the number of those affected within China is substantially higher than the figures made available. As a consequence of the slowness in reporting and the initial downplaying of the figures for those afflicted by 2019 n-CoV (until corrected by orders from General Secretary Xi Jinping), countries receiving visitors from China (including from the focus of the epidemic, Wuhan) were unaware for about five weeks of the need for screening, as were places within China but outside Wuhan. As a consequence, the novel coronavirus spread rather than got contained. Late but perhaps not too late, the city was placed in quarantine on Xi’s orders, thereby ensuring that its spread beyond the boundaries of China remains manageable. Within China, the lost window of opportunity to fence off the virus in a limited area that was caused by the delay in giving full and factual information to the highest levels about 2019 n-CoV has resulted in cases being diagnosed in every province of China. The persisting low level of searches about the novel coronavirus in Baidu until the close of January 2020 is evidence that the initial window of virus suppression was lost. The low level of public awareness as evidenced by the infrequent Baidu searches confirms that.
The R-0 (R-naught) of 2019 n-CoV is 2.9, which indicates that more than half of those infected will need to be quarantined if the spread of the virus is to be halted and reversed. Given that the virus is infective even when there is no fever (the common manner of separating healthy from infected travellers at airports), and some cases may be wholly asymptomatic throughout the duration of the infection in an individual, human-to-human transmission carries a high risk of occurrence. By way of comparison, the R0 of SARS was 2.5. However, the mortality rate from the novel coronavirus is much below that of SARS, with fatalities reaching a peak of 2% of severe cases. Several mild cases have gone undetected, the virus running its course within the body within ten days, often with few or no overt symptoms. The low mortality rate of the novel coronavirus may be the reason why the World Health Organisation (WHO) hesitated for over a month before declaring a 2019 n-CoV global health emergency on 30 January. The WHO has continued its post-2016 practice of excluding Taiwan from its reporting mechanism, despite the island being a mere hundred miles from the Chinese mainland. Were President Xi to take a humanitarian initiative and ask the WHO to include Taiwan within its 2019 n-CoV reporting matrix, that single step would win him substantial goodwill in Taiwan. It is irresponsible on the part of the WHO to continue to exclude Taiwan from its global matrix of measures to contain the spread and toxicity of 2019 n-CoV. Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada have asked the WHO why such a Taiwan exclusion was made that would affect the efficacy of the global campaign to stamp out the virus, but have not received a reply from the Director-General of an international organisation that has done creditable work despite having a budget that is lower than that of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It may be added that the heads of the two biggest democracies in the world, President Donald Trump of the US and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, have yet to comment on the matter. Given the ability of the virus to spread, it would be reasonable to assume that the number of those infected in China alone would rise to around 240,000 by the close of March 2020, although reported figures may be lower in view of the fact that several cases may remain undetected because of the mildness of symptoms. The measures now put in place should be sufficient to ensure that the novel coronavirus outbreak remains largely contained within China, which is good news for the global economy.
The effects of the outbreak on the Chinese economy are expected to begin tapering by March, but weaknesses to commerce and industry caused by the epidemic will linger. Among the more problematic could be the fact that China as an investment destination will be much less attractive to outside capital, given the perception of elevated health risks, views that may linger for at least three years. Another factor is the disruption caused to global supply chains by the closure of manufacturing units in China as a consequence of both quarantine as well as silent panic manifesting itself in most of the citizenry staying indoors. Such a situation is likely to be temporary, and should be over by the close of April 2020. However, added to the disruption already caused by the Trump Trade War on China, investment into the manufacturing sector in China is likely to remain subdued, to the advantage of countries such as Vietnam and possibly India. Given the leadership style of Xi Jinping, which is inspirational in nature as was that of Mao Zedong, it is certain that intense efforts will be launched to revive the economy once the “Devil Virus” is finally sent first to the ICU and then the grave. Organised efforts by the Chinese Communist Party-PRC Government at reviving the “animal spirits” of hundreds of thousands of Chinese entrepreneurs are likely to be accompanied by increased leeway shown to private enterprise, which has long been shackled by the CCP’s preferential treatment to the many dinosaurs owned by the state. The Chinese Central bank may need to forget about pleasing Trump by trying to keep the price of the RMB stable against the US dollar. Small units in particular already face a crisis of working capital, and only the Central bank’s printing press can rescue them from closure. China is likely to follow the example of the US during the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. The Federal Reserve Board has printed money on a scale never even dreamed of before, and has stopped the presses (perhaps temporarily) less than a month ago, after two straight years of trillion dollar expansion of money supply. This has kept US stocks high, so much so that their total value amounts to 150% of the US economy. Should the Chinese economy remain depressed, Europe continue on a reduced growth trajectory and the Middle East remain wracked by US-Iran tensions, the US economy may begin to slide two to three months before the 2020 US Presidential elections, thereby making it possible for a genuine “Contra Trump” candidate (rather than a faux Contra Trump candidate such as Joe Biden) of the calibre and competence of Elizabeth Warren to defeat the 45th President of the US. This would have an immediate impact on US foreign policy. Given that every Democratic Party candidate except Joe Biden favours the shutting down of gas and oil fracking in the continental US, that single step would take away almost half of US output. This would make short-term global oil prices unacceptably volatile in a fragile economic environment unless Venezuela and Iran were allowed to resume normal oil production. This would contrast with the systematic manner in which President George W. Bush and his Republican successor Donald J. Trump have brought oil production in both Iran as well as Venezuela close to zero through overt sanctions and covert sabotage. Despite the Trump-induced near-total loss of output in Venezuela and Iran, the effects of 2019 n-CoV are likely to drag oil prices down to around $50 a barrel. Even this value can only go lower as alternative energy feedstocks gain in cost advantages.
By blockading Wuhan and other cities, the Chinese leadership is likely to be able to contain the effects and spread of the novel coronavirus, and ensure its rollback by April 2020. As US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross truthfully, if somewhat insensitively, said, the pain that China is now experiencing could be converted into gain for much of the rest of the world, provided that the transmission of 2019 n-CoV from China to elsewhere gets reduced within ten days and the spread of the novel coronavirus is slowed down and stopped in China within the next four to five weeks. The month of February 2020 will show if the 2019 n-CoV novel coronavirus outbreak is a painful but temporary distraction to the global economy or a catastrophe.

In India the Supreme Court is supreme (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

In the 21st century, any policy based on religion is an anachronism.

According to the Times of India (30 January), the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) claims that the Supreme Court of India has no authority to rule on whether or not women should be allowed to enter mosques. In their view, “the matter falls squarely in (sic) religious domain”. While the AIMPLB graciously consented to Muslim women entering a mosque to offer prayers, a caveat added was that such visits were not “obligatory”. Such a duty impliedly applies only to men. Further, freedom by women to enter a mosque and pray within its precincts was subject to the private decision of the “muttawali” of each mosque. Should such an individual decide that women should not be permitted to enter, they would be barred from doing so. And because such decisions formed part of the expansive “religious domain”, the AIMPLB was clear that even the Supreme Court of India had no jurisdiction over such a matter. This when in any civilised state, women should have freedoms similar to men, including in the matter of entry into religious places. Stoning to death an adulterer or chopping off the arm of a thief is also considered to form part of the same doctrine that the AIMPLB regards as immune from judicial review or executive action. The AIMPLB does not seem in much of hurry to demand the right of stoning presumed adulterers to death rather than—as is now the law in India—allow them to escape any taint of criminal conduct. Will all the good men (women being absent) of the AIMPLB at some future date demand that Muslims who have indulged in adultery should be stoned to death, or that Muslim thieves should have an arm of theirs sawed off rather than face prosecution? Although the Constitution of India seems to be silent on the matter of carving out an exception in the matter of court proceedings to matters that are defined as religious, in practice, governments beginning with that headed by Jawaharlal Nehru have implemented successive policies that have differentiated between Muslims and Hindus in numerous matters. In the 21st century, any policy based on religion is an anachronism, no matter the community favoured or discriminated against. A growing number of individuals within the modern, moderate majority of the Muslim community silently or otherwise cheered on moves by the Narendra Modi government in matters such as Triple Talaq or Article 370. An atmosphere was being created for the smooth adoption of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), as the fundamentalist fringe was finally ceding leadership of the Muslim discourse to moderate elements for the first time since Mahatma Gandhi made the Congress Party back the Ali brothers in their obsession with reviving a doomed Caliphate in Turkey. Rather than the UCC, what was instead brought forward by the government was the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The messaging of this was so poorly done that the CAA has given a pathway to the Wahhabi fringe to seek to regain control over the Muslim discourse. Someday, the Supreme Court of India may need to decide whether the separation in law of “minority” from “majority” is or is not opposed to the basic structure of the Constitution, which is anchored on the equality of all citizens.
Laws and regulations based on a binary division of the population may have arguably been needed were Partition avoided and therefore policies were needed to ensure that the siren song of the Two Nation theory ceased to hold so many Muslims in thrall. Mahatma Gandhi was seen by Hindus as being the one leader who could defeat the Jinnah-Churchill conspiracy to divide India, but in the end, the Mahatma had to watch helplessly as the subcontinental unity for which he had pledged his very life was shattered. Again and again dividing the population of India into Hindu and Muslim (aka “majority” and “minority”) simply serves to perpetuate the embers of the Two Nation theory that are these days growing in intensity in a manner that is disturbing. Those fringe Hindus and Muslims who regard the two faiths as forming separate populations are once again walking in the path chalked out by M.A. Jinnah and Winston Churchill. Future historians need to analyse why the leaders of a country that witnessed the horrors created by Two Nation edicts (such as Morley-Minto in 1909) persisted even after 15 August 1947 in implementing policies that distinguished between Muslims and Hindus. The Supreme Court of India has taken up the matter of the entry of women into places of worship not just of Muslims but of other communities as well. Should any law—or governmental practice—reflect the toxic Two Nation binary that separates Hindu from Muslim, it would be doing severe damage to the future of a country where communal harmony is essential for future success. Rather than seek to place Muslim women on a different level regarding rights than Muslim men, the scholars of the AIMPLB need to celebrate the fact that tens of millions of Muslim women in India have freed themselves from colonial-era ghettoes of prejudice and live and work happily among those of other faiths. Muslim women in India have become leaders of their nearly 200 million strong community in spreading the benefits of modern education, whereas several men still remain fixated on the concept that the only suitable education for Muslims should be that imparted by religious schools. The Holy Quran enjoins each and every believer to discover and cogitate individually on its divine message, rather than outsource its interpretation to a group of men who regularly commit blasphemy by claiming that they alone know the path that will lead to Paradise in the afterlife. Such a promise is used by them to beguile the unwary into obedience to dictates that are often contrary to the gentle and merciful message of the Holy Quran, which is explicit that the Almighty is the creator of all humanity, and not just those belonging to a single faith. In other words, all human beings are children of the same Almighty and therefore need to be treated as sisters and brothers to each other. The hurt and anger caused within the Muslim community by the exclusionary clauses of the CAA should not be a pathway through which the fundamentalist fringe within the Muslim community retakes the leadership role in public discourse and thereafter in state policy. Both Muslims as well as Hindus should ensure that leadership be firmly in the hands of those who refuse to accept the toxic Morley-Minto-Linlithgow-Churchill-Jinnah edict that Hindus and Muslims form Two Nations. Since Independence, successive governments have allowed too many pre-1947 Two Nation separation walls to continue rather than tear them down, as they ought to have done. The Holy Quran enjoins constant awareness of changing conditions and adjustment to them. In the 21st century, in any religion, giving males the right to enter places of worship while denying the same to females is anachronistic. This is especially so in the Muslim community, where women are leading the way in education and reform.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Time to choose sides in Indo-Pacific Cold War (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

It’s imperative for India to choose either US or Chinese side in matters military.

The Atlantic Alliance became the cornerstone of US foreign policy since 1945, with the consequence that Russia (then the USSR) once again displaced Germany as the prime threat. As a consequence, numerous technology control regimes began to get operational in the US and its allies, focused on denying dual-use technologies to Moscow and its satellites long after Moscow had ceased to be a superpower capital. The December 2018 incarceration in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei boss Ren, indicated that China is finally accepted as having displaced Russia as the primary challenge to US global primacy in technology. Since then, US-led technology denial measures focused on China are increasingly snapping into place. Given the potential of 5G to suck up data through integration into activities related to a variety of human functions, it will not be a surprise if Washington decides within a year to block access to essential inputs to Huawei, in an effort to ensure that the conglomerate goes the way of Japan’s NEC and fades as a global competitor. As a consequence of US sanctions, even Vietnam has carved out its own path in 5G, as have Taiwan and South Korea, while India still relies on foreign systems. The standard assumption of the Indian bureaucracy while deciding policy is that “ceteris paribus” (other things remaining the same) will hold into the future, although in the field of technology, this will no longer be the case. India will need to choose between two rival universes of tech systems rather than be reliant on products from both sides. Given the rising level of disconnect between the US-led tech world and Sino-Russian tech, enterprises such as Taiwan Semiconducter Manufacturing Company (TSMC) will not much longer be able to source technology from the US while mostly selling its production to China. TSMC will need to find new markets and production centres to replace those in China, and in such a situation, India could emerge as an attractive destination provided both the Lutyens policy matrix as well as efficiency in implementation meet 21st century standards. In the matter of 5G, four of the Five Eyes (the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) have already blocked Huawei from advanced telecom infrastructure, thus far the only holdout being the UK, which is in danger of losing its position as one of the Five Eyes unless Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks away from the Conservative government’s earlier welcome to Huawei in the matter of 5G. Just as the expected  decision by the US to majorly sanction Turkey under CAATSA for installing Russian S-400 systems will have a decisive impact on whether India goes ahead with installing S-400 systems, the final decision by the UK on whether or not to include Huawei in its 5G basket is likely to influence decision-makers in the Narendra Modi government. The government is after all working at fashioning a close strategic fit between Delhi and Washington and will be wary of creating severe barriers to such a partnership, especially in technology and defence. Accepting for induction China’s Huawei 5G and Russia’s S-400 systems would in effect result in India’s longstanding policy of the Lutyens version of non-alignment continuing into the indefinite future. The reason for this is that detailed and sensitive adoption of US-linked hi-tech systems will be out of the question once such (admittedly advanced) Sino-Russian technologies become commonplace in India, the way Russian military technologies have been since the 1960s. Indeed, overwhelming reliance on Russia (then the USSR) was a prime factor behind India becoming a leading target of US tech sanctions that began to be scaled back only several decades after they were first introduced, a process begun by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Given the increasing contradictions between the geopolitical ambitions of the Sino-Russian alliance and the longstanding (but now shaky) primacy of the US, India and its neighbourhood will be a major theatre of such rivalry. In particular, both China as well as the US are likely to focus much more than in the past on Sri Lanka and the Maldives, both of which occupy pole position within the Indian Ocean segment of the broader Indo-Pacific. While there has been considerable attention paid to the multiple links between the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka and high officials of the Chinese Communist Party, what has not received much attention is the rising curve of contacts between the US Marine Corps and Sri Lanka. Indeed, the strategically situated island is on the way to become an important port of call for US Navy vessels transiting between East and Southeast Asia and the Middle East and Africa. While going it alone may be the declared preference of policymakers in the Lutyens Zone, the realities of relative capabilities make it imperative for India to choose either the US or the Chinese side in matters military. The choice of defence and security partner will also impact sensitive supply chain decisions, a matter that has long been ignored by policymakers still in thrall to the Nehruvian tradition of non-alignment. This is the policy that the Sino-Russian alliance has been urging India to remain committed to, while the US-led alliance has been urging its reversal. It would make sense for India to go ahead with, for example, the setting up of an “Over the Horizon” (OTH) radar system located in the Andaman Islands, perhaps in the manner of Australia, which already has such a system functioning from its territory. Japan too has technology that would be of immense value to all three powers in protecting the sanctity of sea lanes throughout the Indo-Pacific, a geopolitical construct that places India at a potential advantage but which is anathema to the Sino-Russian alliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to ensure greater synergy between India’s private and public sectors in matters of national defence. Such moves need to factor in the importance of care in choosing technologies that ensure the country’s safety from hostile action. As in the past, this is a world where once again, two separate technological pathways are emerging and competing. The Atlanticist Cold War was between Washington and Moscow, while the Indo-Pacific Cold War is between the US and China. The two sides offer alternative buffets for other powers at the security table, and to continue to follow the a la carte option would be to forgo the many options available at the buffet table. In economic and commercial matters it is still possible to be “non-aligned”, but in matters of technology and defence, such an option is no longer viable. In the Soviet era, “non-alignment” in effect meant alignment with the USSR, just as modern day “non-alignment” will mean the adoption in effect of a policy course that would block any in-depth techno-security partnership with the US and thereby suit the strategic interests of the Sino-Russian global alliance. Both Russia and China wish to see the “non-alignment” of the Atlanticist Cold War period continue to be followed by India even after the start of the Indo-Pacific Cold War.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Trump impeachment designed to protect Hillary Clinton (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The Clinton machine within the Democratic Party has converted the grassroots drive to impeach President Trump into ‘safe’ channels designed to serve the interests of the most powerful political family in the US.

NEW DELHI: Acting on the advice given by close New York-based friends with connections to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Donald J. Trump decided to abandon a move to investigate the flood of contributions received by the Clinton Foundation during the period when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Forensic tracking of the actual sources of much of the funds received would have established their provenance. Much of the money came (through cut-outs) from East Asia and the Middle East, funnelled into the foundation by those with a direct interest in the foreign policy of the United States Government (USG). The link between access to power and moneys received is clear from the fact that the flow of funds dropped once Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, and has become a mere trickle now that Donald J. Trump is President of the US. However, should a Clinton nominee such as former Vice-President Joe Biden get elected as the 46th President of the US in November, the Clinton Foundation will once again move to the top of the fundraising sweepstakes. Those familiar with developments in the US, but wary of the immense reach of the Clinton hyper-power couple within not merely the Democratic Party but the Republican Party establishment, have given details in confidence about the manner in which the Clinton machine within the Democratic Party has converted the grassroots drive to impeach President Trump into “safe” channels designed to serve the interests of what is still the most powerful political family in the US. It is clear that the Ukraine imbroglio is not catching fire in a way that was expected of an attempt as serious as a move to remove a sitting US President. Indeed, there are other grounds that may have found justification within the substantial number of “Never Trumpers” i.e., those who rue every day that Donald Trump remains the US President, including several within the USG who have been put off by Trump’s self-serving and hectoring manner in dealing with issues such as the removal of as outstanding a civil servant as the former envoy to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, or in stopping the pension of Andrew McCabe, the former Deputy Director of the FBI. Such acts of personal spite and vindictiveness have bred an atmosphere inside the Trump administration that resembles that of a medieval court, with priorities one through nine (out of 10) of each high level official being the daily struggle to keep Trump happy.
The fact is that Hunter Biden did get princely sums of money from entities in the very countries that his father (Vice-President Joe Biden) was personally handling on behalf of President Obama. Or that his qualifications for such lucrative posts was non-existent, as seems to have been the case with whatever he was (as distinct from his VVIP father) doing for the companies which paid him immense sums of money. Given the fact that Joe Biden is the preferred choice of Bill and Hillary Clinton to be the next US President, skilful networking has ensured that the activities of Hunter Biden in the foreign companies with which he was associated have not been seriously probed even by Trump-friendly news outlets. Strangely, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a strong backer of President Erdogan of Turkey) seems disinclined to seriously pursue the option of bringing Hunter Biden to testify about his activities before a Senate panel at a time when the Clinton machine saw to it that the younger son of the former Vice-President was kept far away from giving testimony on the floor of the US House of Representatives. The Senate Majority Leader justifies this lack of interest in Hunter Biden as part of an overall policy of dispensing with witnesses altogether as the Senate considers and decides on the Articles of Impeachment handed over to them by the House of Representatives. Such a proceeding would not just be a farcical eyewash, but be shown before voters as being an eyewash, thereby damaging President Trump’s chances of re-election for a fresh four-year term, an essentiality if he and some of his family members are to avoid being prosecuted for a roster of complaints that have been prepared by Democratic Party veterans. Rather than a Clinton-friendly candidate, should a truly independent individual (such as Senators Warren or Sanders) emerge as the Democratic Party nominee in July, and should that candidate go on to defeat Trump, that would not only be bad news for the Trumps but also for the Clintons, for while the Clinton Foundation (and Hunter Biden) would be in clover during a Biden Presidency, a Sanders or a Warren White House would look askance at the many money-making schemes of the Clintons, a level of cupidity that has thus far escaped serious legal and political consequences thanks to the network of the former  Empress of the Beltway, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who still retains substantial influence in the world’s most consequential capital. Indeed, a weakened and vulnerable Donald J. Trump would be preferred by the Clintons to a Warren or a Sanders as the next US President.
Given that the lucrative jobs given to Hunter Biden (apparently for no just cause) were during the time when his father as Vice-President was directly involved with high policy regarding the countries in which the job-giving enterprises were located, there is an arguable case of corruption. Of course, what is questionable is the withholding of assistance to Ukraine after the government there had been directed by Rudy Giuliani to investigate Hunter Biden and to do so publicly but had yet to obey. Seeking to frame any request to a foreign government by the USG to investigate possible wrongdoing by a US citizen as an impeachable offence seems designed to ensure that there will not be any future enquiry via foreign governments into the money flow into the Clinton Foundation during the period when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. In other words, among the grounds for impeachment is the implicit premise that using a foreign government to investigate a US citizen who is in politics is a misdemeanour. As pointed out by Beltway insiders, not only do the terms of the items of impeachment of the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives do Joe Biden a huge favour by casting him as the biggest electoral danger to President Trump, they seek to foreclose any future enquiry by the USG against any politician through the use of a foreign government. This when a foreign government is in several situations the only way in which such an enquiry can succeed in finding out the truth. The flimsy nature of the terms of impeachment where public opinion is concerned ensure a less than blockbuster viewership for the Senate proceedings, unless of course during those moments when Hunter Biden or John Bolton (or both) are allowed to testify. The Clinton machine saw to it that the articles of impeachment drawn up by the House committee focused on the Ukraine saga and nothing other than the Ukraine saga. This when there are other actions of President Trump that are likely to have a grave impact on US security in the years ahead.
Rather than destroy ISIS the way he has been claiming, President Trump has opened a pathway for the terror organisation to regroup. He has done this by abandoning the Kurdish allies of the US military in 2019 and months afterwards, in causing public opinion within the Shia majority in Iraq to turn toxic against US forces in that country by assassinating the commander of the Iraqi Shia militia that has done the most to rid the country of ISIS together with Qassem Soleimani, the killing of whom has almost certainly ensured that Iran will follow the Pakistan and North Korea example in nuclear proliferation, rather than that of Libya and Ukraine. The raising of the red flag atop the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom indicates that the IRGC has entered upon a campaign designed to remove US forces from the Middle East, no matter what the cost in Iranian or other blood. After the treachery shown to the Kurds (who were asked to leave fortified positions soon afterwards occupied by Turkish troops intent on their destruction), it would have to be a very credulous Middle Eastern potentate who has confidence in US pledges. Just as the killing of Gaddafi terminally affected any chances for the voluntary handing over of WMD to the US and its allies by any other power, the killing of Soleimani means that any country hosting US bases will be the direct target of the IRGC, both in conventional as well as in asymmetric terms should the US use such bases to launch attacks on Iran. By his embrace of Erdogan and apparently his interests and values in the Middle East, and by initiating the start of a risky, inevitable and escalatory cycle of violence with Iran, President Trump has placed the interests of the US in far greater jeopardy than by “asking a favour” of the Ukrainians in the matter of the Biden investigation. However, the Kurds count for even less in the minds of US voters than the Ukrainians do, while the effects of the Soleimani strike will become visible only over the coming three years, or well after the 2020 polls. Fortunately for Trump, the choice of the Ukraine saga as the only platform for impeachment is likely to make him seem a victim rather than a perpetrator, and ensure his re-election, especially if his opponent is Joe Biden. After ensuring the victory of Donald J. Trump in 2016, the Clinton machine seems on course to enabling his re-election in 2020. Unless (a) the US economy slows down substantially by the autumn of 2020 and (b) either Warren or Sanders rather than Biden is the Democratic Party challenger to Trump.

Double citizenship the way forward for CAA (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The persecuted may be given Indian passports, retaining their original nationality.

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has long shown that he is a leader unafraid to attempt deep-rooted rather than superficial changes in policy. The problem he is facing is that the implementing machinery for his bold ideas is much the same rusty, creaky, leaky construct that has held back progress in India during each of the decades that our (severely truncated in 1947) country has been independent. In 2016, both North Block as well as Mint Road made the country an international laughing stock by the manner in which they messed up working out the details of Prime Minister Modi’s move to replace Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes with Rs 2,000 notes and new Rs 500 notes. Confidence in the Reserve Bank of India in particular and the banking system generally fell to levels never seen before in this country, and the daily diet of often contradictory regulatory tweaks did not help either financial stability or institutional credibility. Thanks to such missteps, the entire small sector and much of the medium sector (not to mention the farming community) was deprived of liquidity in a destructive fashion, with the consequence that the annual rate of growth has almost halved since 2016, rather than doubled as was expected in an economy led by Narendra Modi. Next came GST, and here the babus who worked out the details of the PM’s necessary idea jacked up rates to unbearable levels in the name of taxing luxury consumption. Having never run a business in their lives, and having spent almost all their adult lives having a retinue of underlings the exchequer paid for, the bureaucrats involved in DeMo lost sight of the fact that “luxury” goods create employment as much as other products do. Sticking to UPA-era policies and regulations which criminalise the wealthy was certain to cause a slowdown in output and investment, and a consequent fall in employment and therefore in consumer demand. All this has happened, and unless the budget that will be presented next week departs radically from the Sonia-Chidambaram model that successive budgets have followed even after the 2014 victory of the BJP, it is unlikely that India will come anywhere near double digit growth during Modi 2.0. There ought to have been at most two rates for GST and these much lower than the present growth-limiting rates of what ought to have been a transformative reform rather than a blight, especially on the service sector. As designed by North Block, GST made compliance a nightmare. Policy designed by, of and for the babus is not what India needs or what supporters of Prime Minister Modi expect.
In defiance of reality, some supporters are doing no favours to the central government by disseminating their own version of what in the Soviet Union of the 1930s was termed “socialist realism”. What this meant was that those who were starving claimed in public that they were plentifully fed. Those who lacked employment said to the world that they were at work every day. In other words, that life was perfect. A disconnect with reality shadows the incessant message that gets blared out by some who believe that by doing so they support the government, but who in reality damages its credibility. Theirs is an effort to ignore the need for changes that will strip away the power and profit that the existing system has given to a few over the decades. At a time when India is becoming younger and more educated, what the Prime Minister needs to do is to rely on the people, and empower them through forcing the immense mass of bureaucracy riding on their backs to jump off. This is a difficult task, even for an administrator as able as Modi, but it must be completed within the term of Modi 2.0. Part of the transformation would be the assigning of policy priorities, as for example to liquidity in the case of demonetization, and ease of compliance in the filing of GST. Had this columnist had his way, the next major step of the Modi government would not have been the CAA but the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code, which would have been welcomed by the 95% of Muslims who are as modern and moderate as 95% of the Hindus are, leaving aside the fanatic fringe in both communities. Steps by the Home Ministry such as treating as terrorists those who kill using the excuse of cow protection would create an atmosphere that would make possible the amicable resolution of not just the Ram Janmabhumi but the Krishna Janmasthan and the Gyan Vapi restoration at Varanasi as well. They need to return to what the three Hindu holy sites were during the time of Emperors Jehangir and Shah Jehan. The pain felt by Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to minority community victims of persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan speaks for their solicitude. However, going ahead with the CAA in a country already bursting with over-population may not generate the public support that some BJP leaders expected. Lack of a communications strategy has resulted in the CAA being misconstrued and misinterpreted in a manner that is injurious to social harmony. An atmosphere made toxic will reduce the outlook for a smooth transition to a Uniform Civil Code and the restoration of the three holy sites of the Hindus to what they were before India endured the Aurangzeb era, the excesses of which ended the Mughal Empire. More than the CAA, it is these two measures that needed to be at the top of the list of government priorities, besides an overhaul of economic management to remove obstacles to growth.
Rather than do the fanatics in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan a favour by opening for them the door to a forced mass migration of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians from those countries to India, what should be done is to introduce Double Citizenship, something that ought to have been done in India in 1947 itself. Victims of persecution could be given an Indian passport while retaining their original nationality, as could others from countries (such as the US and the UK) with substantial populations of Indian origin. Ultimately, CAA-enabled individuals should be assisted to return to their own lands with honour and in safety, with dual citizenship serving as an insurance against fresh repression. Those Muslims who are victims of religious persecution should also be granted the same privilege. After all, Sanatan Dharma regards all faiths as leading to the same divinity. The priority facing the people is the economy, followed by the removal of the historical injustice perpetrated by the tyrant Aurangzeb. Refusal by successive regimes to rectify that injustice is leading to a Hindu community where less than a fraction of 1% were fanatic now having 5% of them as fanatics and counting. Bringing back the three holy sites of the Hindus to their pre-Aurangzeb traditions will ensure that the 5% gets reduced to 0.5% once again, while the smooth rollout of the Uniform Civil Code will weaken the 5% of fanatics among the Muslims who have been given a second wind and a chance to increase their number thanks to the misconceptions being spread about the CAA. Before the storm created by the CAA, the abolition of Triple Talaq and the removal of Article 370 had created a movement for reclaiming Islam in India from the fringe, a necessary step for India’s future as a global superpower. It is time for Prime Minister Modi to free the economy from corrupt babus and introduce dual citizenship (including to religiously persecuted Muslims) as the way towards defusing the efforts of fringe groups to bring back the toxic communal atmosphere last seen during 1936-47.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Iran and the Geopolitics of West Asia (GIR Manipal)

Special Lecture by Prof. M. D. Nalapat during the workshop on "Elements of Academic Writing: Emerging Trends and Probable Themes for Research in Geopolitics, Defence Studies and International Relations" held during 6-9 January 2020, organized by the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Soleimani must be smiling at Trump (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

There is a certain inevitability in the chain reaction caused by Soleimani’s killing.

President Donald J. Trump has based his policy towards Iran on the postulate that an economic strangulation of the country would lead to bloodshed on the streets and a Ceausescu-style meltdown of the clerical regime that has enjoyed full power in Teheran since the fall of President Abolhassan Bani Sadr in 1981. And that sanctions-created economic hardship would lead to the clerical regime following the example of Libya in 2003 of voluntarily giving up its stocks of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), thereby providing the window needed to force through regime change through military means, as took place in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. And that Iran would greet the killing of Commander Soleimani with only a verbal rather than military response. Visitors to Washington will immediately sense the bubble within which strategic thinking takes place in that most consequential of world capitals. The hangover of Churchillian thought, with its suggestion of invincibility for those powers whose ethnic composition is mostly composed of those of European origin, shrouds attempts at analysing real life situations, leading to miscalculations such as President George W. Bush’s appointing a US citizen of European origin (Paul Bremer) as the “Administrator of Iraq” and another individual of Iraqi ethnicity who for all practical purposes thinks, acts and speaks as (other) Americans do as his “Advisor”. The assassination of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani last week was the equivalent of a declaration of war against the clerical regime in Teheran, and there is a certain inevitability in the chain reaction caused by that killing. This action will end either in regime change in Iran or the withdrawal of US combat forces from the Middle East. President Trump has in the past shown a form of brilliance in his climb to the top. However, the fact that he lacks practical field experience outside the boundaries of the continental United States may influence his thinking on strategic issues. The Republican Party appears to have embraced a policy of looking at the European ethnic groups as being at the apex of human endeavour. This may have led to an underestimation of the fact that the pain threshold for the US administration in terms of body bags and asymmetric warfare is much below that which is bearable for the clerical regime in Iran, which has remained stable despite the enormous human and material cost that the Islamic Republic of Iran has endured since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Last week’s hail of missiles from Iran to two military bases in Iraq showed that the taking out of at least 5,000 US service personnel in the Middle East in a single night is well within the capability of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arsenal.
Should the US unleash a military storm on Iran in the shape of retaliatory missiles and air strikes, the IRGC has the means to ensure significant destruction in countries within the Middle East that are hosting US troops. Such an escalation would lead to a meltdown of the global economy that would overshadow the impact of the 2008 financial crash, a crash which would affect the US and Europe substantially, if not as much as the regional Gulf Cooperation Council powers themselves and countries in Asia heavily linked to them economically, such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. It is not clear whether such potential outcomes of kinetic US action against Iran were taken into consideration while the NSC suggested to President Trump the option of taking out the Quds Force Commander. For by doing so the US administration has unwittingly engineered a change in the leadership of the Quds Force that is harmful rather than helpful to stated US objectives in the region. Commander Soleimani had made the elimination of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Wahhabi armed extremist groups his top priority, His successor Esmail Qaani is known to hold the view that Al Qaeda, ISIS and other armed manifestations of Wahhabi extremism are parasites riding on the back of Israel, the US and the UK and will automatically perish once US forces are eliminated from the Middle East. Rather than reduce efforts directed against the presence of US forces in the Middle East, the new Quds Force Commander is likely to intensify moves designed to so raise the cost of hosting US forces by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE that they ensure that US bases within their jurisdictions close down. The crisis created by the admittedly courageous decision of President Trump to end the life of both the Quds Force commander as well as the chief of the most effective anti-ISIS force in Iraq (Kitaib Hezbollah) has led to Teheran warning Riyadh, Doha, Manama and Dubai that their territory will be pounded in case bases within them launch US attacks on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The less than welcoming response even of Saudi Arabia to suggestions expressed on Twitter by Trump that he would order US forces to initiate an all-out offensive against Iran shows that realisation that the clerical regime in Teheran is ready to meet punishment with punishment rather than surrender has sunk home. As already mentioned, the level of punishment that the regime in Iran can absorb is far above that which could be endured by either the NATO allies or their GCC supporters. Given the accretion of trouble that a newly awakened Iranian sense of resistance is likely to cause for US forces in the Middle East, it is doubtful that any NATO power (with the possible exceptions of Turkey and the ever loyal UK) will accept the invitation of President Trump to share the risks that he seems willing to subject US service personnel to in the Middle East. Agreeing to the JCPOA (nuclear deal) was in fact a concession by Iran that held the potential for the eventual ending of the primacy of the clerical regime and its replacement with a political construct of the kind created in 1980 by President Bani Sadr but successfully overturned by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who used the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein as the excuse to entrench the clerical regime in Teheran as the only power centre in the country. President Trump either did not appreciate the concealed clerical regime change aspect of the JCPOA, or believed that less subtle means would lead to clerical regime change at a faster pace in Iran. Judging by the results of the moves initiated by him, it does not seem likely that Trump was right in such an assumption.
For those within the region who believed that it was in their interest to entice and bait President Trump into going to war against Iran, it must be disappointing to see the manner in which he declared a tactical defeat (the launch of Iranian missiles directly at US bases without a response) as a strategic victory. Trump is clearly better aware (post the Iran missile strike) of the consequences of kinetic action against Iran than when he took out Soleimani. This move has led to a situation where US forces will be subjected to a slow but relentless campaign by allies of Iran and by Teheran itself to withdraw from their bases in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and the UAE. Commander Soleimani must be smiling from wherever he is at the moment.

Friday, 10 January 2020

China and India's National Security (GIR Manipal)

Lecture by Prof. M. D. Nalapat at the panel on "Regional Security Issues with a Focus on India’s National Security Challenges" during the workshop on "Elements of Academic Writing: Emerging Trends and Probable Themes for Research in Geopolitics, Defence Studies and International Relations" held during 6-9 January 2020, organized by the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

The bill for property loss must be paid (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Proportionate financial punishment must be carried out in cases of loss of property.

Whether because the colonial structure of governance was retained almost in its entirety after 15 August 1947 or that the Mahatma’s pre-1947 exhortations in civil disobedience have entered into the very marrow of the thought processes of citizens of the Republic of India, there is still a disconnect between public property and the public where much of the population is concerned. Hence the lack of care that is shown to public property, despite it—technically at least—belonging to the people. It is undeniable that the relative few who man the higher rungs of the governance machinery enjoy privileges involving public property that the overwhelming majority of citizens lack. One has only to look at the extra privileges given to VIPs and VVIPs in public (and often private) transport and services, or the speedy takeover post-Independence of luxurious official bungalows in various cities. The luxury bungalows in the capital’s Lutyens Zone need to be auctioned off and their ministerial and official residents shifted to apartment blocks set up for the purpose. Given the poverty of India, those in charge of government or dominating its politics enjoy a lifestyle far in excess of that experienced by their peers in much richer countries such as Singapore or the Netherlands. India’s post-1947 rulers enjoy a lifestyle and privileges in excess of even what British colonial overseers of this country enjoyed. From villas and aircraft at their disposal to never-ending convoys of vehicles or battalions of servile retainers feeding their vanity, our own self-proclaimed followers of Mahatma Gandhi—and their families—lead lives very different from that of the Mahatma and his family. Watching such neo-Maharajas sail past, surrounded by guards and serenaded by flunkeys, citizens may be excused for believing that democracy has not prevented the governors from belonging to an entirely separate planet from the governed. However, now that it is the Tricolour and not the Union Jack that flies above Rashtrapati Bhavan, the high life indulged in by pretend followers of Mahatma Gandhi are not reason enough to destroy property through the carrying out of agitational activity. Those indulging in such activities need to be held to account financially, and there are signs that finally, this may actually be made the norm. Hopefully, there will not be a judicial or other obstacle to efforts being made by the UP government and the Indian Railways to recover at least some of the moneys lost during the CAA agitation as a consequence of deliberate violence against property.
Handheld devices for facial recognition technology need to be distributed for use by those tasked with the protection of law and order so as to identify those guilty of vandalism. Crowd-spotting drones need to be extensively developed and used. Should the perpetrators of violence lack the means to make restitution immediately, a lien needs to be placed on their future income and assets so that the amount due gets paid off over time. Rather than incurring even more public expense through incarceration, what is needed in cases of destruction of property unaccompanied by loss of life is financial restitution. The Indian Railways estimates that the Eastern Railway suffered a loss of $10 million as a consequence of anti-CAA riots, while the damage to the Northeast Frontier Railway was about $1.3 million. Thus far the UP police have yet to give an estimate of the losses that the state has suffered as a consequence of the damage to property caused as a consequence of anti-CAA agitators. It needs to be remembered that private property (such as vehicles or shops) that is damaged should also be compensated from the moneys collected by the authorities from the rioters. Apart from those directly involved in acts of violence to property and the public, those proved through audio and video evidence of having directly instigated the rioters should also be held accountable, and to a greater degree than mere foot soldiers. Proportionate financial punishment needs to get carried out in all cases of loss of property (while loss of life needs to be met by prison, besides financial restitution). In states where the BJP is in opposition and carries out similar acts of vandalism, elements in that party too should be presented with a bill that they need to pay. The BJP leadership needs to move away from its longstanding habit of regarding its own cadres as automatically free from guilt, whether it be in matters of corruption or the causing of loss of property. A party seeking a uniform civil code needs to apply uniform standards to all elements, whether these be rivals or supporters. Those citizens who in India break laws and despoil public property at whim change within hours on landing in countries such as Australia or Singapore, where such behaviour is frowned upon socially and censured, in the latter case, by law. BJP-ruled states have not implemented Nitin Gadkari’s move to make those flouting traffic rules bear a significant rather than derisory cost. This continuing immunity provided to traffic violators does not speak well of a party that claims to be different, but several of whose leaders and cadres continue to follow the same dismal track trod by the political class of the country since India became the first country to free itself of the modern colonial yoke in 1947.
The policy of making those who destroyed public (and private) property pay should initially be implemented in situations where there is clear evidence against specific individuals. As mentioned, methods for collecting such evidence need to be made available not just to regular members of the police force, but to selected members of volunteer groups who work alongside the regular police to ensure that those responsible for violations of the law get identified. Such volunteers should not themselves intervene in situations (save in self-defence or to prevent bodily harm to another), but should confine themselves to collecting proof of wrongdoing of perpetrators of violence. For too long, the destruction of property in the name of freedom to agitate has taken place without any financial blowback. Moves by the Indian Railways and the UP administration to impose costs on genuine—repeat, genuine—depredators need to become the norm, so that a citizen resident in India adopts the same respect for civic behaviour that he or she demonstrates in countries that do not witness the daily paroxysms of violence and destruction that are commonplace in India.

Putin and Xi may gain hugely from Trump’s Iran war (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The US President has gambled on igniting anti-clerical protests in Iran and scaring away the Iranians from a retaliatory response to the Soleimani assassination. Should these calculations fail, US allies in Middle East may dissociate themselves from the war with Iran that Trump has launched.

New Delhi: With his ordering of the killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani by the US military, President Donald J. Trump has embarked on a gamble that those advising him expect will lead to the meltdown of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Given the conventional “escalation dominance” of US forces in the Middle East, the expectation of President Trump is clearly that Iranian forces will either swallow the Soleimani escalation without going in for kinetic armed operations directed against US forces or citizens, restraint borne out of fear of being met by a non-proportionate response by the Pentagon to any such move on Teheran’s part. Either way, the calculation in the White House seems to be that the overwhelming bulk of the population within the Islamic Republic of Iran will shed its fear of the military and its auxiliary forces and move into the streets in large enough numbers to cause a gridlock that would severely limit the scope for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to initiate punishing retaliatory strikes against US assets. The intention behind the ever-increasing sanctions regime put in place by the US against Iran is to drive the population of Iran to desperation and onto the streets, as indeed took place recently after modest hikes in the prices of petroleum were announced. Those demonstrations have convinced those advising President Trump on Iran that “the structure (of power in the Islamic Republic) is so rotten that a hard kick would bring it tumbling down”— the killing of the individual who represents the hard internal and external fist of the clerical regime that has been ruling Iran since the clerically engineered collapse of the Bani Sadr government in 1981. The perception of those advising Trump on Iran (who in chemistry and composition share considerable similarity with those who guided the policy of President George W. Bush towards Iraq during 2001-2009) is that the clerical regime in Iran is by its very nature and composition an unreliable partner for peace, and that the same has to be replaced before a stable settlement between Teheran and Washington is arrived at. Of course, public statements and even the tweets of the 45th President of the US mask this stark view of the Khomeinist regime in Iran. The problem with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) arrived at by the UN Security Council Permanent 5 plus Germany, according to the Trump White House, is that its clauses do not in any way address what in its view is the overriding need for regime change in Teheran. Hence the demand by Washington that Teheran agree to conditions, the acceptance of which would result in a steep fall in respect for the clerical regime, especially among its closest followers. Not surprisingly, the clerical regime has declined to commit suicide, thereby making its annihilation the only option possible for the current US administration to follow. There is, therefore, the logic of regime change in the apparently “reckless and poorly thought” steps being taken by the Pentagon on the instructions of President Trump, who would like to witness the meltdown of the clerical regime in Teheran (together—separately—with the much more consequential outcome of ensuring that China does not overtake the US in either GDP or technological prowess for the foreseeable future). Whatever be the perceived idiosyncrasies of President Trump (such as his apparent subservience to the wishes of Turkey’s Wahhabi Head of State R.T. Erdogan), it must be admitted that the 45th President of the US has not gone the way of Barack Obama in flinching from seeking to change the course of geopolitical currents, whether in the case of China or in Iran. The only forceful external intervention by Obama was in the Arab Spring of 2011, but that was mostly the consequence of the activism of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rather than her nominal boss.
It is not happenstance that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been repeatedly talking of promoting “freedom” and “democracy” in Iran. The expectation is that the clerical regime is so detested by the bulk of the population of that very consequential country that there would be joy and support for the taking out of a ruthless head of a service known to be the enforcer of the clerical order in Iran. That large sections of the Iranian public would head to the barricades to protest against an acceleration towards a conflict with the US. Clearly, there are individuals within Iran who seek the overthrow of the system of governance headed not by President Rouhani but by Ayatollah Khamenei, and it is possible that the intelligence on the whereabouts of Quds Force Commander Soleimani came not from Iraq (as has been assumed) but from within Iran, from those unhappy at the vice-like grip over authority of the IRGC and its commanders. The operation to kill Commander Soleimani seems to have assumed not just the certainty of some retaliation from the side of the clerical regime, but an outpouring of relief at the passage of the combat veteran. This latter event seems not to have occurred, and those mourning Soleimani seem to be in much greater number than those happy at his passing, and who seem to be in no hurry to advertise their joy lest they be sent to Evin prison. The expectation of the White House appears to have been that the spectacular takeout (in full videographic view) of Soleimani would create panic and confusion within the clerical regime. Instead, it has moved swiftly to install a replacement for an individual regarded by some regime change planners in the US as irreplaceable. As has happened with North Korea, the blocking of transparent means of securing funds has led the regime in Teheran to enter channels that are opaque, yet which generate sufficient funds to ensure that core diplomatic and security needs get met. Where the Iranians seem to have erred is in the assumption that President Trump would not risk a kinetic escalation of the conflict between Washington and Teheran by providing a casus belli in the form of the killing of Commander Soleimani. In order to retain its credibility as a deadly fighting force, and therefore the longevity of the clerical regime, the IRGC will need to inflict serious pain on US military and diplomatic assets in the vicinity of the attack that killed the Quds Force supremo.
Unlike the ideologues with which he has surrounded himself, and for whom the destruction of the clerical regime in Teheran is a sacred mission, Donald J. Trump is a pragmatist willing to gamble on methods and outcomes. Hence his signing off on the decision to kill Soleimani. The worry is if the expectation of popular anger in Teheran at the clerical regime does not manifest itself. That would leave the regime free to devise and carry out countermeasures after what in essence is a declaration of war by the White House against Ayatollah Khamenei and his subordinates. Judging by developments in Iraq, it seems likely that the present US administration has ranged itself on the side of members of the Wahhabi and Sunni community in Iraq who are unhappy at the loss of primacy since 2003 to the Shia majority in the country. In Syria from 2011 onwards, Wahhabi elements and a section of the Sunni community were prodded into launching a “freedom struggle” designed to dislodge Bashar Assad. That struggle directly led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and to the exodus of millions to Europe and elsewhere. The entire blame for such happenings has been placed at Assad’s door, for the “crime” of fighting to protect his regime and his life from the same fate as befell Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The worry for countries that are reliant for their petroproduct needs on the Middle East is that the regime change champions around Donald Trump will go the way of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and engineer an armed “freedom struggle” in Iraq against a Shia-majority government that (unsurprisingly) is close to Teheran. The intention behind such a struggle would be to ensure that any alternative regime in Baghdad distance itself from Teheran and move closer towards the Sunni regimes that are close to the US in matters of economics and security. The agitation against the Iraqi regime that is being extensively covered by BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera has created suspicion in the minds of authorities in Baghdad about US-EU intentions, aware as they are of the antipathy that both sides of the Atlantic have towards Shia groups and causes generally. The Sunnis in Iraq (especially the Wahhabi fringe) are eager to assume a leadership position within the Central government in Baghdad, if not the dominance that they had during the period of Saddam Hussein Tikriti. Any effort at reproducing a repeat of the 2011-2018 operations in Syria in Iraq will this time lead to sectarian conflict across the Middle East. However, this would suit the ambitions of Erdogan, who has ensured that Turkey has replaced Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the principal regional backer of the Wahhabi International. The Trump White House seems as unconcerned (or as clueless) about the certainty of such collateral damage should it persist with overt and covert efforts at diluting the power of the Baghdad regime. This time around, given that the clerical regime in Teheran is by now aware that the single-minded focus of the Trump White House is on regime change in Iran, sectarian tensions are likely to flare up in several GCC states, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The IRGC has had decades in which to establish deep-rooted proxies and sleeper cells in the region, and the taking out of Qassem Soleimani has (in their view) proven that a state of formally undeclared war now exists between the Teheran regime and Washington.
Should the US military use bases in Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait or elsewhere in the Middle East to launch strikes against Iran, these would almost certainly result in efforts by the clerical regime in Teheran to undermine such regimes through either sectarian strife or acts of violence. Any intensification of the Syria-model “freedom struggle” against the Iraqi government will come on the heels of similar public manifestations in Lebanon against a government that (as in Iraq) has Hezbollah or its variants as a key component. The support given by Trump to the movements in Lebanon and Iraq against the governments there, together with the kinetic action against Soleimani, indicates that President Trump has decided to go all the way in backing the ongoing struggle against Shia power that is being waged not so much by Sunnis as by the Wahhabi component within that substantial global grouping. Just as President George W. Bush (through his obsessive focus on Saddam Hussein Tikriti) opened the way for Iran to gain Iraq as a primary ally, so also the tactics being followed by Trump are likely to result in a Syria-style civil war in Iraq that will generate tens of thousands of casualties and many more times that number refugees from that country. It is also likely to make the US the second non Muslim-majority country in the world after Israel to be the focus for attack by the terror groups within the Shia Middle Eastern Shia community. Another blowback would be a sharp reduction in stability in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as in Kuwait and Qatar, should those countries continue to permit US forces to conduct offensive operations against Iran and its allies from their territory.
Both Vladimir Putin as well as R.T. Erdogan seem to have captured the respect and imagination of President Trump. The US President has gambled on (a) igniting massive anti-clerical protests in Iran and (b) scaring away the Iranians from a robust retaliatory response to the Soleimani assassination. Should these calculations fail, current US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar may need to dissociate themselves from the war with Iran and its allies that Trump has launched. This would open the door for the Sino-Russian military alliance to move into some of the bases that will need to be vacated by the US in a situation where public anger at Washington’s actions leads to severe risk for US nationals throughout the Middle East. Just as George W. Bush opened the door for Iran in Iraq, President Trump may just have given a pathway for the Sino-Russian alliance to replace the US as the predominant external power in the Middle East. In a context of all-out war between Iran and its allies and the US and its diminishing stock of allies, most Middle Eastern powers would be hesitant to host US forces in a way that they would not be to base forces from Russia (which has already proven its reliability as a friend in Syria) and Moscow’s partner, China. Where India will fit in such changing equations is uncertain.

Monday, 30 December 2019

How can India get PoK back and why it is important (PGurus)

In this must-watch video, Prof M D Nalapat explains why PoK is the last para in the Kashmir chapter.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Ideology, not votes, led Modi and Shah to CAA (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

CAA amid tension-filled period of economic slowdown proves their goodwill.

Judging by the energetic manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have defended the Citizenship Amendment Act, it seems that both feel deeply about the plight of religious minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. So substantial is their concern that they have together pushed through legislation intended to provide smooth and expeditious passage towards citizenship for millions of non-Muslims living in the three self-described “Islamic” countries. In effect, such individuals have been given the “Right of Return” to India as full citizens, much as those belonging to the Jewish faith have the automatic right to become citizens of Israel. This, after all, is a land where a 1971 cut-off point for acceptance of refugees morphs to 2014 and surely will later to an even more distant date. While the CAA is intended to confer fast-track citizenship on those individuals who are persecuted for belonging to minority faiths in the three Muslim-majority countries named, the only proof asked for that they are being persecuted and are not migrating to India for other reasons is their own word. This is in contrast to mostly Muslim asylum seekers in Europe or the US, who have to undergo a lengthy process designed to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that they are indeed being persecuted, and are not simply economic migrants. An exception, of course, was German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to admit an eventual two million such migrants into Germany. Both Prime Minister Modi as well as Home Minister Shah have a suite of IAS, IFS and IPS officers briefing them on various matters, and as in the case of the unanimous approval given within the ranks of high officials to the 2016 demonetisation and the 2017 rollout of the Indian version of GST, it is certain that opinion within this power-packed and talented fraternity must have been unanimously favourable on the immediate ensuring of citizenship to those from the minority communities in the three Muslim-majority countries mentioned. A few within the IFS or IPS may have pointed out that a section of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, both neighbours of India, have been less than friendly to Hindus, Muslims and Christians within these two countries, and that as a consequence, several non-Buddhists in these two countries have already made their way to India, and must be now disappointed that only nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been assured of a citizenship fast track. Maybe an IFS official opined that a legislation explicitly singling out only three Muslim-majority countries by the CAA may create tensions in the relationship between India and not just the three countries enumerated in the legislation but other Muslim-majority states as well, in some of which several million citizens of India have for long found gainful work. Together, the panoply of skills within the IAS, IFS and IPS is enormous, and such matters would almost certainly have been considered and discussed at length before the decision of the PM and the HM to go forward with the CAB (turned CAA) was taken. When then Chief Minister Modi fought his first election (to the state Assembly from Rajkot in 2002), a substantial number of Muslims voted for him and more than a few continued to support him thereafter, despite a barrage of subsequent attacks in the media accusing Modi of being sectarian. His recently passed Triple Talaq law ought to have had a provision leaving it to the spouse as to decide whether or not to send an errant husband to jail, rather than leave such an immense power in the hands of the police. Despite the absence of such a condition, the measure was welcomed by many within the Muslim community. Likewise, the removal of the Two Nation caveat (Article 370) from the statute books ensured that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh finally got treated the same as other states and union territories, rather than remain segregated the way they ware since the senseless ceasefire of 1 January 1949. But for the treachery of the British officers still dominating the Indian Army, the whole of Kashmir would have come under the control of India by the close of 1948, as most recently elucidated by Malhotra and Raza in their book on the subject.
The load placed on a human being that will be borne without complaint is a function of health. The healthier the individual, the greater the load that can cheerfully be borne. In India, only IAS officers are considered by the political class to understand domestic policy, only IPS officers matters of security, and only IFS officers the finer points of foreign policy. This is a tradition that has been continued even by Prime Minister Modi. The IAS, IPS and IAS officials who daily advise the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India must be aware of the fact that tens of millions across the country are feeling the effects of a halving of the annual rate of GDP growth within a little over three years. There is a palpable fear within large swathes of the working population of soon being unemployed. Such fears are rife these days among those who work for enterprises that are being dragged towards closure because of the effects of over-regulation and over-taxation, and this is leading to a sharp fall in consumer spending. Were the economy to have been a bright spot rather than an area of concern, it is likely that the passage of the CAA may not have generated the kind of negative attention that it has among sections of the population. While Muslims are unhappy that their co-religionists in three neighbouring countries seem to have been singled out for exclusion by the enactment, those Hindu, Sikh and Christian citizens who are facing dismal economic headwinds may be pardoned for not feeling the same concern that the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have for those minorities who have been persecuted in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is true that all three CAA target countries have been witnessing a steady shrinking of the proportion of the population that is non-Muslim, a fact ignored thus far by Arundhati Roy. However, it may be a bit fanciful to expect Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, whose economic conditions have worsened in recent years, to welcome as citizens millions who would immediately compete with them for the less than adequate jobs and resources of what is still a poor country. Also, the CAA will encourage Wahhabi fanatics in the three countries named in the legislation to intensify their efforts to expel whatever minorities are left in their respective countries. What would have been better welcomed by existing citizens of India would have been active measures taken by the Modi government to ensure that minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh be treated well, so that most of those who fled to India could return in safety to their own countries. Any spike in migration into a country where there is substantial unemployment and under-employment is unlikely to win votes, at least among those who are in economic distress. Encouragement of immigration into a country is seldom a vote getter, which is why the US and Europe have been so reluctant to open their borders even to the millions of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, despite almost all European and US leaders wearing their fealty to the Christian faith on their sleeves.
Diplomatic blowback by Muslim-majority countries and on the countries in Europe and North America always looking to appear as champions of the Muslims; a sense of being singled out among the overwhelmingly moderate Muslim community in India; worry among Hindus, Christians and Sikhs that new CAA-enabled citizens will take away jobs and benefits from them. The IAS, IFS and IPS officials who together form both the Brains Trust as well as the Implementing Mechanism of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah must have apprised the two most powerful men in India in detail about such realities. The fact that both Modi and Shah nevertheless went ahead with the CAB (later the CAA) in this tension-filled period of economic slowdown indicates that more than votes, what counts for PM Modi and HM Shah is ideology.