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Saturday, 31 July 2021

Atlantic democracies adopt the Chinese Communist path (The Sunday Guardian)

 

The latest Moral Science teacher was Antony Blinken, who met ‘civil society’ in a country of 1.4 billion people that he paid a fleeting visit to, and quoted from the scripture of democracy and freedom.

Abuse of a politician, in the absence of credible evidence linking him to any wrongdoing, usually has the effect of increasing the sympathy factor that forms a latent part of the psyche of voters. Chief Minister Modi and since 2014 Prime Minister Modi has been called by so many unflattering names that count has long been lost of the number. During the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the heir apparent to the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, converted the repetition of less than complimentary epithets about Narendra Damodardas Modi into an art form. Each such outpouring was accompanied by a satisfied look by him at the retinue that accompanies him everywhere. Without exception, they responded with admiring expressions and smiles of satisfaction at the manner in which the leader from birth of the Congress Party has (in his and in their view) eviscerated the image amongst voters of the Prime Minister. A conclusion that the Lok Sabha polls showed was less than accurate. Self-goals such as denying that the Balakot strike into Pakistan actually happened, or that it was Rahul who was projected by his party (to silence and therefore assumed consent from the rest of the anti-BJP political spectrum) as the opposition alternative to Modi as Prime Minister of India, thereby (once this was achieved) making him become the fourth member of the Nehru family to occupy the South Block chambers of the individual holding the nation’s most consequential post. As had been pointed out by this columnist in 2018 itself, the biggest favour that Rahul Gandhi could have done for the opposition would have been to declare that he was not in the running for the job of PM in 2019 instead of listening to the echo chamber surrounding him and doing the opposite. AICC president Sonia Gandhi (who appears to have an unshakeable faith in Rahul’s ability) may not agree, but even within his echo chamber, the individuals believing that their hero is Prime Ministerial material are either zero or close to that number. Certainly, other important contenders, such as the feisty Mamata Banerjee, the charismatic Akhilesh Yadav or the long-distance runner Arvind Kejriwal, do not believe that the error made in 2019, of projecting Rahul Gandhi as the perceived opposition candidate for the Prime Ministership, should be repeated. They each have a better candidate for that role, although keeping that choice secret for the time being
Countries that bound the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, now the second-most important geopolitical pivot after the Indo-Pacific, delight in giving Moral Science lectures to poorer countries. The latest Moral Science visiting lecturer was US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met seven members representing “civil society” in a country of 1.4 billion people, a substantial sample, it would appear. The moral science teacher quoted (as expected) from the scripture of “democracy” and “freedom”. At the same time, many in the US seem adamantly opposed to giving a fair chance to the over hundred million underprivileged citizens of the US, so that they may fairly compete with those better off. African-Americans and Latinos have long suffered discrimination, and as a consequence have lagged behind groups such as Indian Americans and Jewish Americans in per capita income and in career success. President Biden and Vice-President Harris have done great service to their country by seeking to rectify this to a considerable extent. The last time this was attempted (to partial success) was during the truncated term of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1960s. The problem facing Biden and Harris is that a majority of legislators in the US Congress may still not be in favour of their ambitious but necessary reform package. Rather than try and assist his boss in convincing legislators in the US Congress not to assist through blind opposition to Biden the Sino-Russian alliance effort societally weaken the US, Secretary Blinken seems to have decided to concentrate on giving lectures to India, a country that from the start ensured universal suffrage and affirmative action, unlike his own. Moscow and Beijing must be delighted at the clumsiness shown by Blinken in some of his public interactions in Delhi. As for House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she apparently believes that she alone has the right to choose even the Republican members of a committee that has been set up by her to investigate the murderous 6 January riot at the US Capitol. Had Pelosi accepted the Republican choices offered to her, they would have gone on to make fools of themselves by denying the obvious in hearings, and by seeking to discredit the courageous police personnel who saved the lives of legislators at the expense of their own. Instead, Speaker Pelosi has made the Party of Trump appear as victims and her own as dictatorial. Just as President Macron has in Paris, by seeking to prosecute a cartoonist for somewhat tastelessly caricaturing the French head of state as Adolf Hitler reborn. A smile rather than petty and petulant rage would have assisted Macron to win a second term, but such democratic instincts seem to be eluding the present occupant of the Elysee Palace. As for the UK, in common with many other democracies, the SARS2 outbreak has provided a convenient excuse for Boris Johnson to micro-manage the lives of citizens in a manner unprecedented in Britain since the 1939-45 war.
Looking at the way in which democracy is being practised only in words and often not in practice even in long-established Atlantic alliance democracies, the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party must be delighted at the manner in which the practices they have institutionalised in the PRC since 1949 appear to be catching on across both sides of the Atlantic.

Atlantic democracies adopt the Chinese Communist path

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Xi Jinping’s Af-Pak predicament deepens (The Sunday Guardian)

 

The PLA will increasingly have to bear the burden of ensuring the survival of the Durand Line, and of assisting the military in Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan to maintain control and in the latter case, be assisted in controlling the entire country.

Consequences that are unexpected are not rare in situations where decisive action is taken by a state to enforce its own view of interests on others who may be unwilling to go along with such an exclusivist and usually expansionist view. In 1979, the United States under President Carter began the (eventually successful) process of turning its occupation of Afghanistan into quicksand for the Soviet Union. The 39th President of the United States chose a brilliant strategic mind rather than a denizen of the Washington establishment as his National Security Advisor. The NSA, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was focused on weakening the Soviet Union, and in such a task, had the backing of his boss. The only problem was that in his hurry to secure quick results, rather than launch the process using the “frog in hot water” method, whereby the target takes time to understand the deadly impact of the change in circumstances deliberately (if covertly) created by the rival power, the NSA went in for what he believed (together with the Pentagon and the CIA) would be a quick fix. This was to outsource the operational aspects of the process to the Pakistan military, which was in the process of being converted into a Wahhabi force by Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq. The army thereafter empowered not the overwhelming majority of Pashtuns, who were fiercely nationalist, but the extremist fringe, which placed the dissemination and practice of the Wahhabi variant of an overall moderate and modernising faith as a higher priority than nationalism per se. This was to the liking of Army Headquarters at Rawalpindi, as there was a constant apprehension in them that any boost to Pashtun nationalism may result in the Pashtuns within Pakistan seeking to unify with their kin across the border to create a separate and independent Pashtunistan. This had been the dream of several Pashtun leaders in the past, including Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who during much of his long life (1890-1988) was known as the Frontier Gandhi for his long association with Mahatma Gandhi. Perhaps as a panic reaction to the seizure of power by Imam Khomeini in Iran and the storming of the Mecca mosque by radicals in 1979, the Wahhabi variant everywhere was put on steroids by the backing of the US and its European allies. What needed. to be done was to double down on strengthening the mosern and moderate strain that is at the heart of Islam, rather than the reverse. This “historical blunder” has had severe global consequences. Across the Middle East and elsewhere, including in the Indian subcontinent, the Wahabi variant was generously funded and supported, resulting in the aborting of efforts at ensuring that the Muslim Ummah (or global community) be encouraged to evolve in a modern and moderate manner rather than be sought to get plunged into exclusivism and religious intolerance, neither of which was ever part of the message of the Quran. These teachins were ignored, and new and misleading Wahabi-Khomeinist interpretations were popularised, with effects far beyond Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the Wahabi variant found its champion in Zia-ul-Haq, who as a consequence of his intervention in Afghanistan was forgiven for deposing in 1977. Zia subsequently hanged the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Z.A. Bhutto, in 1979. to silence from West Europe and North America, the presumed bastions of human freedoms.

BIDEN PIVOTS BACK TO EUROPE
Not that the fast-tracking of the Wahhabi variant was the only policy followed by the US that subsequently proved unwise. The US had (especially since the Atlantic Charter was signed by President Roosevelt and a less enthusiastic Prime Minister Churchill in 1941) been welcomed by freedom fighters in Asia as being different from those countries in Europe that had for centuries oppressed countries across the world to enrich themselves. Roosevelt believed in this process, and saw the Charter as a beacon of freedom across the world, while Churchill (determined to hold onto the British Empire after the war with Germany and Japan) regarded the freedoms listed in the document as being valid only for those of European extraction. On the death of Roosevelt in 1945, his successor Harry S. Truman reverted to the policy of standing by the European colonial powers rather than with those fighting for freedom from their colonial oppressors, who had held on to most of their colonies even after the war had ended in victory for the Allies. The impact of this on US goodwill in the colonised countries was immense, and gave an advantage to the Soviet Union (with its ironical championing of the very freedoms that were being denied to Soviet satellites in East Europe) across Asia, Africa and South America. Among the disasters that ensued from backing a colonial power (in this case, France) against a liberation movement in Vietnam, the US entered the Vietnam war on the wrong side, immeasurably strengthening the communist rather than the ideology of democracy within the Vietnamese people, who saw the US as stepping into the shoes of the French in 1955 and therefore needing to be defeated. This finally happened in 1975 at immense human cost. Old habits die hard, and when US President George H.W. Bush invaded Iraq in 1990 and his son followed suit in 2003, both made sure to ensure that Britain was prominent in the allied coalition. The incongruity of claiming to fight for freedom for the Iraqis while having the armed forces of the former colonial power as the primary partner did not strike either father or son, so deeply was the Atlanticist logic of the primacy of European interests over other comers embedded in the strategic culture of the US, something which began to substantively change only during the “pivot to Asia” from Europe of President Barack Obama, especially during his second term. The Europeanist line is witnessing a revival under President Joe Biden, who seems to have forgotten several of the lessons he ought to have picked up during the latter period of the Obama presidency, including on Cuba and Iran.

XI’S GRANDIOSE AMBITION
Unlike Biden, who remains fixated on Europe (excluding the Russian part) rather than on the entirety of the Eurasian landmass, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping is aware that it is the Indo-Pacific and the corresponding Eurasian landmass that will be crucial in determining the outcome of the battle of systems between the US and the PRC. Following in the path of Mao, who saw the PLA as by far the most important instrument of control by the CCP on China, Xi has placed the military at the heart of his drive to achieve pre-eminence within the Indo-Pacific, and the corollary (together with Putin) of achieving the same result within the entire Eurasian landmass. The hostility of the UK, France and Germany in particular to integrating the Russian Federation into the comity of US allies (because of the severe dilution of their primacy that this would result in) has ensured that repeated efforts, first by Gorbachev and later Yeltsin, for Russia to break into the US-led alliance alongside Europe have failed. After having witnessed the sitting President of the US call him a killer in public, it should come as no surprise that the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir V. Putin, has seen no option other than to accept the status of the junior partner in the Sino-Russian alliance that he has fashioned together with Xi Jinping. The consequences of such a close pairing (including, and especially within) the military and security establishment of both countries on the balance of power in Eurasia seem not have been factored in by Biden, Merkel, Macron and Johnson in their geopolitical strategies to the comprehensive extent that they have been taken into account by the CCP General Secretary. Unlike his three immediate predecessors, who kept from openly displaying their Mao-inspired vision of the PRC as the primary geopolitical force in the world , CCP General Secretary Xi has made no secret of this ambition. It has been out in the open since 2013, with those who deny the reality finding fewer and fewer places to hide.

XI’S OVERREACH
Xi has certainly great confidence in his capability of effecting such a tectonic shift in global geopolitics, although not yet sure of exactly how long this will take. This is a switch that he seeks to incorporate into his legacy, which is among the reasons why he has ensured that the two-term limit followed since Jiang Zemin has been discarded. Another is the belief that the CCP contains within its 93 million members none other than himself with the capability of ensuring that Beijing replace Washington as the centrepoint of global influence and authority. Such a belief may be leading the present CCP General Secretary into actions that may have the same consequences for him as a similar overreach accompanied by imperfect tactics led in many instances for the US and some of its allies. The “Arab Spring” of 2011 led to a Wahhabi Winter within the next few years for several of the countries affected by the popular discontent against oppressive regimes and deteriorating economic circumstances, thanks to the way in which a much smaller but better organised force is often able to take control of a popular movement. This was, for example, the case of the Khomeinist takeover of the discontent in Iran against the excesses of the Pahlavis during 1975 to the toppling of the dynasty in 1979, or to the Bolshevik seizure of power in post-Tsarist Russia in 1917. In the linked destinies of Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular, the confidence in his infallibility and in the power of the PRC to ensure that its targets be quickly neutralised, may have created for Xi the same quagmire that Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) General Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev entered into when he ordered Soviet forces to occupy Afghanistan in 1979, finally leading to their withdrawal in defeat in 1989. Xi has taken forward in an unprecedented boosting of (a) the CCP’s reliance on not the people or elected government in Pakistan but the Pakistan military to carry out Beijing’s wishes and (b) following that logic by in effect backing the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. During its own Afghan war, the US outsourced much of it to GHQ Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistan army, and to its proxies. Xi is doing the same now, the difference being that the people of Afghanistan know from 1996 to 2001 what rule by the Taliban means. Whatever the infirmities of the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul (and these are more than a few), the people of Afghanistan, especially women and youth, know that it is preferable to rule by the Taliban. Several of the Afghan army commanders chosen by the US (acting on the recommendation of the Pakistan military) to embed within the Afghan National Army (ANA) gave up without a fight, aware that they (as distinct from most of the men under their command) faced no threat from the takeover of control by the Taliban. This was similar to what took place in Iraq during the period 2013-15, when Iraqi commanders inserted into the armed forces of the government in Baghdad (substantially on the advice of nearby powers who wished at the time to see the fall of the Baghdad government by all available means) by NATO deserted without a fight to ISIS, giving that terrorist entity control of large swathes of Iraq. By 2014, the consequences of some of its personnel choices began to get clearer to the Pentagon, and subsequently, a US bombing campaign ensured that ISIS was reduced in size, finally to insignificance at least in terms of territory. Given the far better appreciation of ground reality within the US military and security establishment than was the case in the past, it seems only a matter of time before President Biden will understand the risks to US security involved in removing not just ground troops (which is a necessary decision) but close air support as well in Afghanistan, which would be a disaster. US air support to an Afghan National Army with its weapons stockpile replenished by the US and also countries that have a significant interest in keeping Afghanistan away from extremist control such as India, would ensure the rollback of the Taliban.

CHINA GAMBLES ITS FUTURE
This would be counter to the calculations of General Secretary Xi, who has placed his entire wager on the takeover of Afghanistan to the Taliban so as to further what he regards as the PRC interest there. It would also run counter to the immense majority of the Afghan population, who loathe a return to Taliban rule. Across those parts of Afghanistan where quislings within the Afghan military surrendered to the Taliban, much of the men under their command have begun using their guns together with the local people in order to resist the Taliban. The 3-month ceasefire so generously offered by the Taliban to the Afghan military is for that exclusivist force to be enabled to devote its full attention towards quelling these local rebellions against the proxies and allies of the Peoples Republic of China and its “all-weather” ally, the Pakistan military (as distinct from the country or its people). Should this offer of a temporary ceasefire be accepted by the Ghani government, it would have the same disastrous consequences as the (Trump-ordered) release by President Ghani of 5,000 Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons has had for security in Afghanistan. The 2020 agreement entered into by the Trump administration at Doha was a disaster for not simply Kabul but Washington as well, and it is a matter of speculation as to why Trump’s Afghan policy has been so completely adopted by President Biden. Across not just the military and the security establishment, awareness is increasing that the Trump-era policy of appeasement of the Taliban was an error of substantial magnitude, and which could lead in brief years to another 9/11 type of attack on the US homeland. Xi has dug himself in too deeply to retreat from the strategy favoured by the Pakistan military, for him to move out from the deepening predicament that this policy is causing for the PRC. Unlike President Biden, who while being obsessed with the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential elections, nevertheless still has the possibility of walking away from further errors, not by bringing in more US forces but by providing close air support, logistics and intelligence to the Afghan National Army. This could be done through Central Asia and possibly through the road and rail link being developed in Chabahar port by the Iran and India. Unlike Trump, who was stubborn in clinging on to even obvious mistakes, Biden has shown a capacity to look at alternative views and to reconsider policy. Such flexibility is in line with the best practices of a genuine democracy, which the US is and looks set to remain. Given such a policy reset, Xi may find that his gamble on relying on the Taliban and its Pakistan army facilitators for carrying forward the PRC agenda of tapping into the natural resources of Afghanistan is likely to fail. While the Ghani government may be outwardly respectful to Xi, its own intelligence service is documenting the manner in which the Pakistan military (with assistance from the PLA) is boosting the capacities of the Taliban against the government in Kabul. Unlike some “experts” including in India and the US, Ghani will be fully aware that the Taliban entering his government in Kabul will be akin to the National Socialists under Hitler entering a “coalition” government in Berlin in 1933. That very soon went the Nazi way, and to the liquidation of alternative political and other forces, and similar will be the fate of groups not part of the Taliban network, were that entity to ever enter the national government in Kabul.

CIVIL WAR IS A REALITY
Even more worrisome for PRC interests will be the fate of a civil war in Afghanistan, a process that is already ongoing, on the domestic situation in Pakistan. The majority of Pashtuns in Pakistan, especially youth and women, are opposed to the outsize influence of extremist clerics under the umbrella of the Pakistan army. A similar situation prevails in those parts of Afghanistan that are presently under the occupation of the Taliban and the Pakistan and other auxiliaries who support them. The majority of Pashtuns wish to be free of the Taliban and the clerics favoured by them, and weapons are already flowing from the country’s porous borders to ensure that they do not get overpowered by a militia backed by Pakistan and China, and which seems to be continuing to get appeased by the Biden administration, at least for now. Both in Pakistan against the control of the Punjabi-dominated and controlled Pakistan military and in Afghanistan against the Taliban and its Sino-Pakistan friends and auxiliaries, unrest is brewing and increasingly breaking out into violent opposition to the Taliban and its favourite clerics. As with the developing revolt againat rule by the ethno-centric generals in Pakistan. The CCP General Secretary already deep into his commitment to the Pakistan military and its Taliban ally in the Af-Pak region. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is meeting with rising resistance along the way from the border of Xinjiang to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan, and this will increase. Neither India nor any other country can control the desire for freedom of the Pashtun people, who for too long have been under the thumb of an ethno-centric military and its superpower ally across both sides of the Durand Line, which Pashtuns point out lapsed in 1992. The PLA will increasingly have to bear the burden of ensuring the survival of the Durand Line, and of assisting the military in Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan to maintain control and in the latter case, be assisted in controlling the entire country. Leonid Brezhnev lasted long enough to understand the folly of his occupation of Afghanistan, and Xi Jinping is slowly having to come to terms with the inevitable consequences of militarily and otherwise taking the side of extremists and exclusivists against the majority of the people in both Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. The bog filled with quicksand has been entered still more deeply by China, and increasingly, there seems no way out to leave the quagmire without a severe loss of face that is politically impossible for General Secretary Xi to countenance. Especially given the trajectory of the manner in which he has consolidated internal power in China and sought to expand PRC control over more land, sea, mindspace and space.

Xi Jinping’s Af-Pak predicament deepens


Monday, 19 July 2021

Roberts Supreme Court wrecking US future (The Sunday Guardian)

 

Unwilling to begin the process of expanding the strength of the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen, Biden is increasingly losing control of the narrative.

Under the US Constitution, the three branches of the state (executive, legislature and judiciary) are to be independent of each other. Under Chief Justice John Roberts and five of the eight others, the US Supreme Court is certainly independent of the executive (led by the President) and also the legislature that has a Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives and a nominal majority in the Senate, if the vote of the Vice-President is added. Judging by some of its recent judgements, including two that place severe restrictions on the right of every citizen of the US to have an equal opportunity to vote, the US SC is on track towards getting the reputation of being the court for the 1% of US citizens who took away almost six trillion dollars as their windfall from the 2020 Trump stimulus that was added on to by President Biden in 2021. Another $4 trillion was taken away by the next 9%. The share of the other 90% was $700 billion. The lower down the income scale statisticians go, the smaller was the gain in absolute terms from a stimulus bill that was proclaimed as being passed to help precisely the 90% and not almost entirely the 10%. $10 trillion is not a trifling amount of disposable wealth, and it is no surprise that at least billions are being spent to ensure that the three branches of government continue with being “Of the 1%, for the 1%, (of course in effect) by the 10%”. The remaining 90% have no say in practice.
When long years are spent at the vortex of power, and if it is a lifetime appointment, individuals such as Supreme Court justices may be forgiven some disconnect from reality. Check with the illustrious Kim dynasty in North Korea or those heads of state and government who have, or are set to have, stints in excess of 15 years at the very apex of power. Those democracies that have a two-term limit on top jobs may usefully expand that to three, as after all the final choice remains with the electorate, but no more. The problem comes when they interpret the Constitution to mean the rubber-stamping of their own views on how society, the polity and the economy should be ordered, even if these are contrary to the needs and preferences of the overwhelming majority of people. The US Supreme Court has not only affirmed the right of states to change voting regulations so as to make it difficult for certain groups and classes to be eligible to vote, but has thrown the cloak of its authority over the amounts of money spent in influencing policymakers and on those making such payments. Together, these two innovations of the John Roberts court make it resemble that presided over by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney during 1836 to 1864. That court affirmed a judgement that those of African descent, even if they have resided in the US for generations, cannot by virtue of skin colour be entitled to citizenship. Some of the judgements of the Roberts Court, especially those relating to transparency in the funding of politicians and special interests, as well as obstacles in the voting process, are approaching the standard set by Taney and his court. Something that John Roberts and the justices who go along with his judicial philosophy, do not appear to have noticed, although history books will. Rather than create a wall protecting the top 1% of US citizens from public scrutiny, had the Roberts court focused on protecting the rights of every citizen (no matter how lacking in income or what her or his skin colour was), it would have protected the future of the US as a democracy rather than weakening that trajectory.
President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Senate majority leader Schumer should place before the US Congress the fiscal and other reform bills that are needed to ensure that those working for a meltdown of the US system of governance and its replacement with chaos and violence. Should the DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) defeat such measures, the 2022 midterm polls are not far away, and the Democratic Party—after ensuring that DINOs fail to get re-nominated to their seats on the Democratic ticket—can go before voters and explain what they had in mind to help them, and why they failed, and why the Democratic majority in the House and Senate need to be expanded if such policies were to get actualised. This would be a better strategy than the present White House strategy of seeking to dissuade Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema in the US Senate from not voting for measures that are certain to boost the chances of the Democratic Party in 2022. So lacklustre has been the Biden Road Show thus far that several Republican Party lawmakers are claiming credit for the very measures that they unanimously voted against without much efforts by the other side in several constituencies to expose this divergence between talk and action. Given the efforts being made by the Sino-Wahhabi and the Sino-Russian alliance working in tandem to widen already existing faultlines in US society through boosting the fringe (on both sides) and shrinking the space occupied by the moderate middle on both sides. In the Republican Party, as the shabby treatment meted out to Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney indicate, the fringe appears to have taken control of the mainstream. The stalling tactics of Sinema and Manchin and their quixotic search for a consensus with the other side may ensure a similar outcome in the Democratic Party, unless President Biden shrugs off his hesitation in confronting the DINOs rather than pandering to them in the manner that he appears to be doing. Unwilling to begin the process of expanding the strength of the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen, Biden is increasingly losing control of the narrative, and that too so early in his presidential term. Had just being a nice guy won the hearts of voters, Hubert Humphrey and Jerry Ford would have won the US Presidential race. Just being “Not Trump” is no longer enough, now that Biden has been elected to a job that can turn into a nightmare in months if the course of action he seeks to follow fails through the US Congress or the Supreme Court.
The US Supreme Court is not helping but hindering efforts to ensure that the polity and society in the US avoid the meltdown that the Sino-Russian alliance seeks for it. Diluting the right to vote for the underprivileged and giving protection to the numerous billionaires eager to continue spending fortunes so as to make the US government and legislature deliver for them (rather than for the ordinary citizen) is a certain way of making tens of millions of those left out to abandon the ballot box and turn instead to the bullet and to violence in their effort to win for themselves rights that ought to be enforced rather than trifled with. Those who are seeking to avoid a repeat in 2024 of the results of the 2020 Presidential election through changing the electoral system so as to make inclusion difficult for easily identifiable groups of citizens are leading the country and the Republican Party to disaster. Abraham Lincoln would not have been happy at the manner in which his party has developed into the Party of Trump. Chief Justice Earl Warren, who presided over the Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969, would have understood the societal consequences of several of the actions of the John Roberts court in a manner that the present Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and at least five of his colleagues seem unable to comprehend.

Roberts Supreme Court wrecking US future

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Afghanistan Crisis Needs Unified Response from Diverse Powers (Chanakya Forum)

It is a mystery as to why Moscow has so stubbornly remained in the minds of policymakers, as part of any solution to the situation in Afghanistan. From the 1970s in particular, the Kremlin was the most significant factor in the lack of success of Afghan moderates, to fashion a democratic state with perhaps a UK-style monarchy, technically at the apex of an elected government.

Repeated interventions by the USSR resulted in the downfall of the moderates and the temporary takeover of Soviet proxies in Kabul. These quislings soon began to fight each other, and the Soviet army was sent into the country to occupy it. This was a move reminiscent of the Czarist period and was resented and resisted by the Afghan people.

The US saw its chance at damaging the USSR and began under President Carter, a strategy of converting Afghanistan into a quagmire for the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, both the Carter and Reagan administrations handed over the keys of the fire brigade to Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq.

Wary that Pashtun nationalists across both sides of the lapsed Durand Line would seek a unified Pashtun state (thereby fulfilling the wishes of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), Zia persuaded the US to instead back Pashtun religious zealots. At the same time, both Carter and Reagan saw Wahhabism, as an effective antidote to the Khomeinism that had begun flowering in Iran in 1979, and prodded Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to empower this variant of a faith, whose fundamental teachings are far removed from fanaticism.

This grievous error by the US followed the playbook of Britain, which had propped up Wahhabism much earlier to create Arab disaffection with the Turkish Caliphate. Rather than curb the impact on the global Shia community of Khomeinist impulses, the sponsored war by Saddam Hussein on Iran made those variant wings, even while the Wahhabi International was empowered by US policy, to become the dominant strand in several locations worldwide.

The roots of 9/11 are in the terms of Carter and Reagan, but the US is not a country that examines its past except through tinted lenses. A substantial section of the polity in the US still believes that slavery was a boon rather than a curse to those enslaved, and blocks teachings that prove the opposite to be true.

Until he abruptly betrayed, first the Kurds to their fate at the hands of neo-Wahhabi Erdogan, and compounded that error by betraying the Afghan people and its government by negotiating a surrender to the Taliban, President Trump had sought to reduce the influence of Wahhabism in the Middle East.

Amazingly, the Biden administration has thus far continued with such disastrous policies, even while it has succumbed to the influence of Wahhabi elements and turned its back on reformist rulers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who had shown commitment in the existential battle being waged in that region between the Wahhabis and those fighting to recover the modernity and moderation, that the holy text on which the Muslim faith is based on explicitly states.

From 1979 onwards, efforts were made to re-interpret the holy text in a Wahhabi direction, an effort that for over a century had the backing of first London and subsequently Washington, as has been pointed out by several in the Middle East, including the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

As for President Biden, he seems finally to have rid himself of at least some of the influence of the Wahhabi lobby while the conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel was ongoing this year, finally bringing himself to call the President of Egypt (who had arranged the cease-fire which ended the conflict, and for which the White House claimed credit). Thus far, he had refused to do so, thanks to the influence of religious supremacists in the US administration, who had looked on Biden as being a gullible tool in their game plan of turning back the counter-Wahhabi tide that is sweeping over so many Muslim-majority countries.

The Wahhabi International holds considerable sway over several leadership elements of both the Republican as well as the Democratic Party, and it is presumably this strand that was responsible for the sell out by President Donald J Trump to first Erdogan and later the Taliban, and the continuation of this disastrous policy by President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

Unless Biden awakens to the security threat to the US through a takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, his tacit “Mission Accomplished” claim of 2021, on ensuring that this tortured country will never again be a threat to the US homeland, will be found to be as hollow as the “Mission Accomplished” boast of President George W Bush in 2003, was shown by subsequent events to be.

Unless President Biden resets US policy on Afghanistan and fast, the error he made may come back to bite him even before the 2024 Presidential elections.

Such a reset needs him to work closely not with Pakistan but with India on Afghanistan, and through India with Iran. The Atlantic Alliance has been brilliant, at following the example set by Winston Churchill, after the 1939-45 war with Germany of writing its own history.

An example is Libya. Looking at texts and commentaries in the US or in the UK and France (the three that ensured the destruction of Libya as a functioning state), it would appear that the entire battle was between a tyrant (Muammar Gaddafi) and his people. Even his death, in which the intelligence services of a NATO member state played the keystone role, has been portrayed as entirely driven and guided by popular anger.

Had the US, France and the UK taken the precaution of reading some of the pamphlets written by several of those they backed with weapons, training and cash to finish off the admitted dictator and eccentric Gaddafi, they may have discovered that the reason for their hatred of Gaddafi was that he was not extreme enough for their tastes and that he was a lackey of the very powers that joined hands to finish him off.

That much is correct, as Gaddafi handed over his WMD stockpile to the members of NATO in 2003, just as Saddam Hussein in Iraq had destroyed (or shifted abroad) his own WMD stockpile in 1991, after the disaster in the subsequent war with the US, caused by his reckless and indefensible occupation in 1990 of his principal benefactor, the State of Kuwait.

Bashar Assad was the last individual to begin a process of destroying his WMD stockpile, beginning with chemical weapons, which soon afterwards appeared in several theatres and gave rise to charges that they were his, when in fact they had been handed over thanks to pressure from Moscow. Fortunately for him, unlike in the case of Libya, neither Russia nor Iran allowed the collapse of his regime and the termination of his life. After these examples, if any country (such as North Korea) hands over its WMD stockpile, to the very powers that have shown a propensity to intensify their attacks, on what they believe to be a defenceless entity, it would be because its entire leadership is ignorant of the history of the past three decades.

By its actions, the US, in particular, has brought down to an asymptote of zero, the chances for any country with significant WMD stockpiles, to hand them over to others unless defeated in war.

If the Taliban is securing additional territory in Afghanistan, through engineering the surrender of Afghan National Army troops, in the manner ISIS took over vast swathes of Iraq in 2014, the reason is lack of confidence in ANA elements about the sincerity of President Biden’s commitment to ensure that its 300,000 soldiers are adequately equipped to defeat Taliban forces. Thus far, they have not been given anywhere close to the equipment they need to fight a force that Biden dismissed as hardly a challenge.

Fortunately for the 46th US President, the White House press corps did not ask why if that were the case, 600,000 US troops and $2 trillion of expenditure, could not in 20 years finish them off. The litany of errors is long, and it is unlikely that any replay of what took place in the Pentagon Papers will ever get done, much though such a study is needed.

The US needs India and needs Iran as well, a country that can be left to India to bring on board. Given the animosity of the Wahhabis to the Shia, it is unlikely that the elected government in Tehran will seriously believe in the protestations of the friendship of GHQ Rawalpindi and the Erdogan administration in Ankara. The problem facing them is the Sino-Wahhabi alliance, and the fact that Washington has by its policy of seeking to strangle the Iranian economy, made that country dependent on China.

Unless there is a return to common sense in Washington, and in its European partners who committed to the JCPOA in 2015, such dependence is unlikely to get reduced to a point, where Tehran is free to act in concert with Delhi and through it with Washington, in ensuring that the elected government in Afghanistan is rescued from the Taliban and the territory captured by that entity begins to be rolled back.

Only Afghan troops are needed in Afghanistan, not US or Indian forces. But Washington needs to keep supply lines flowing and India needs to train the ANA. Much of the training is already imparted in India. The combat training given by NATO forces (which have been defeated by the Taliban), is worse than useless, it is counterproductive.

Unless the US and the EU are willing to fund the government in Kabul enough to ensure its salience, many times that amount will need to get spent in the future, once the Taliban take control as they did in 1996 with the backing of the Clinton administration, presumably influenced by Zalmay Khalilzad, who at that time appears to have been a lobbyist for Union Oil Company of California and Unocal Corporation (Unocal).

Securing Afghanistan from the Taliban is key to ensuring that GHQ Rawalpindi ceases to run the government in Pakistan, but comes under civilian control. If this does not take place (and General Secretary Xi is working assiduously to ensure that it does not), the meltdown of Pakistan will be the next problem the Indo-Pacific alliance will need to deal with.

Before that, they need to ensure that the Afghan people be rescued from falling once again into the darkness of fanaticism. India is essential in this, the US and Iran being the other countries needed. The stakes are global.

It may be noted that the Russian Federation has not been included, in the list of countries between which partnership is essential for success against the return of Afghanistan as a base from which international terror organisations launch attacks, the principal targets remaining the major countries in the Atlantic Alliance.

Owing significantly to policy errors that date back to the Clinton administration and which were continued under successive administrations, Russia under Putin, has gone on to form the Sino-Russian alliance together with Xi. To expect Moscow to play a role helpful, not to its PRC ally, but to the democracies is to continue to function as though the past era were still extant.

Delhi has been slow in grasping this reality and the consequences for India, especially when it is confronting the Sino-Pakistan alliance within the country and on its borders. It is not only Washington that needs to adjust from living in the past to the realities of the present. The same goes for Delhi as well.

The evolution of the situation in Afghanistan will in time convince even the romantics among policymakers in Delhi that tectonic shifts have occurred in global geopolitics, beginning in 1990 and continuing to the present. Unless an understanding of the need to adjust policies to meet the exigencies of the present with solutions, relevant to the contemporary situation dawns soon, the situation in Afghanistan may before long be what it became for the Soviet Union in the 1980s and to the US since 2003, a cauldron of chaos that would pose a danger even to those countries that believe they are far away and therefore safe.

The first step to cure is to diagnose the sources of the disease and devise ways of eliminating them. Within the Indo-Pacific, that role in the case of Afghanistan, falls mostly on President Biden and Prime Minister Modi.


Afghanistan Crisis Needs Unified Response from Diverse Powers 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Comprehensive Indo-Pacific alliance essential to meet 21st century threats (The Sunday Guardian)

 

Is President Biden returning to the path of Bill Clinton by pandering to the GHQ Rawalpindi and the PLA and putting pressure on India to act nice with those responsible for terror and bloodshed in what was the state of Jammu & Kashmir?

New Delhi: The importance given to what is termed the “Gupkar Alliance” in the 24 June 2021 talks held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation in the Union Territories of Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu was an expression of the same Gandhian search for a mutually acceptable solution involving even intransigent sides that has been at the root of the conciliatory gestures made by Modi to elements opposed to him and his policies. Narendra Modi has made no secret of his reverence for the Mahatma, and is always willing to participate in functions abroad where a new statue of the Father of the Nation is being installed as a gesture of friendship to the people of India. It may be worthwhile for him to consider the installation (through private funding) of more statues of freedom warriors from across the world, such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King from the US, Ho Chi Minh from Vietnam and Nelson Mandela from South Africa. India led the rest of the world in the battle against colonial oppression during the previous century, and should now act as the spearhead of freedom and rights for all. The only exceptions are those who propagate and promote violence, and seek through such means to tear societies and even countries apart at the cost of human misery.
US President Bill Clinton was, from 1992 to 1998, a backer of the abortive secession of Jammu & Kashmir from the rest of India, as well as the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, backing his hand-picked Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel as she went about seeking to ensure both tasks. The US diplomat who has earned notoriety for being the Godmother of the Taliban in this role fortunately failed in Kashmir, but tragically for the region and finally the US as well, succeeded in installing the Taliban in Kabul in 1994 with the blessings of the White House and an oil company whose understanding of exactly what they were helping to gain power over Afghanistan did not reach even the kindergarten level. Amazingly, the same individual who was the company’s point person for promoting the Taliban’s interests during that period emerged in 2019 to take on the same role, this time arranging a US surrender to the Taliban in Doha the following year, when Donald J. Trump was still President of the US. Apparently, the capability of the US system to learn from the past has been overrated, given that (together with others such as Dr Anthony Fauci), such Trump-era officials were retained by the 46th President of the US, Joe Biden, in 2021, in tasks where they have substantially harmed US interests in the past.
Given that the Government of India is extremely parsimonious with the information it shares with the public, and that each participant in any meeting retails to others only the version that shows him or her in the best light, understanding what took place behind closed doors during the 24 June meeting on the former J&K is problematic. So far as the inner functioning of a government that requires the popular vote to retain its grip on power is concerned, the same remains in a lead box. Cynics have it that from the time it was brought into force, the Right to Information Act ought to have been called the Right to Withhold Information Act, but this seems an overreaction. The RTI has been better than nothing, although it is in need of improvements that do not seem likely to appear anytime soon. Those who have long ignored the fact that Article 370 was rooted in the false and pernicious Two Nation theory and that Article 35A was an impediment to the development of what was the state of Jammu & Kashmir before trifurcation claim that the 24 June meeting is the precursor to the reinstatement of both, an unlikely possibility. What is more likely is that Prime Minister Modi, with skill and sincerity, clearly explained to the invitees of the meeting what the future trajectory of the three Union Territories will be. This is the generation of double digit growth in an atmosphere free of violence.
Those few families in Kashmir that have risen from moderate circumstances to great wealth during the previous era may not be happy that the people of the new Union Territories are enjoying a period of relative calm despite efforts at bringing back the turbulent past by the Sino-Pakistan alliance. They may want to ensure that at least the Valley of Kashmir (which has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of India) should return to the days when the writ of the CBI, ED, Income-Tax and other agencies involved in the search for illicit incomes effectively did not operate. The rest of the population, including in the Valley, are happy that at least some of the corrupt are finally facing justice, a process that the Jammu, Kashmiri and Ladakhi public is united in asking for it to continue.

CLINTON HOLD ON STATE DEPARTMENT STILL?
Another hypothesis is doing the rounds in the Lutyens Zone, which is that the US State Department is active in secret in efforts at getting individuals associated with the chaos of the 1990s and who nevertheless subsequently remained in top positions to regain their lost prominence. If true, the repetition of the policies of the Clinton presidency by the Biden White House would be music to the Sino-Russian alliance. The GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA alliance regards as a top priority the keeping apart of New Delhi and Washington, as does Moscow. Despite the Pentagon understanding the need to have India firmly in the Quad tent, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ventured into the field of human rights during his only visit to India. Before he lectures the world’s most populous democracy on human rights and values, Secretary Austin needs to examine the record of the US and other militaries of NATO in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq. There are countless more atrocities such as the My Lai massacre and many more Lieutenant Calleys who are yet unpunished. Since Defense Secretary Austin seems so concerned about human rights, finding out those within his own country who are guilty of such crimes against humanity and punishing them should be a priority rather than be ignored as they have been for so long. The manner in which the witch hunt against Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange has been carried out by successive US administrations, an approach that is continuing in the Biden administration, does not indicate that the White House or its Secretaries are in any rush to bring the perpetrators of suspected war crimes by troops within the NATO alliance to justice. Secretary Austin has presumably not read the adage about those in glass houses needing to avoid throwing stones, especially in the direction of a country that is essential to the US for the defence of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

WAHHABI INFLUENCE IN U.S. POLITICS
In case it is a fact that President Biden is returning to the path of Bill Clinton by pandering to the GHQ Rawalpindi and the PLA in putting pressure on India to act nice with those responsible for terror and bloodshed in what was the state of Jammu & Kashmir, it is probably because of his desperation to secure a unanimous vote among 50 Democrats so that amendments to the filibuster and thereafter the Biden Recovery Act can be passed in the US Senate without the savage cuts demanded by the Republican Party. Given that Senator Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his efforts that would harm the interests of the US public in his effort to render the White House ineffective in matters of policy. It must be clear to the DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) within the US Senate that they are in effect sabotaging the prospects of their own party in 2022 by blocking the Voting Rights and Infrastructure legislation. This will cost them their Senate seats when they next face the electorate in their home states, either at the primary stage or in the subsequent election. There is no need for President Biden to pander overmuch to the unreal agenda of the Left DINOs (and the links of at least one with the Wahhabi International and through that association of worthies, to the Chinese Communist Party) or to the Right DINOs who at the moment seem determined to oppose legislation that most of their constituents favour. The best strategy for the US President would be to cease his futile search for a non-existent compromise and present the legislation he has in mind in full. In case this gets defeated, it will be clear to US voters that their only path towards rescue from a parlous economic situation is by ensuring that the Republican Party gets thrashed in the 2022 midterms. Rather than face electoral disaster in 2022 and two lame duck years through excessive legislative compromise that will ultimately end in failure, President Biden will have the wind in his sails after 2022 midterms through voters reacting to those who sabotaged the Voting Rights Act and the Infrastructure Act during the last two years of his term. This is almost always the decider at the polls rather than the first two. As for security in the Indo-Pacific, he needs to stop Secretary Austin and others from making self-goals during foreign visits that serve only the interests of the Sino-Russian (and the linked Sino-Pakistan) alliance not just in the Indo-Pacific, especially in theatres such as Afghanistan. Although Senator Sanders (as well as three out of four in the “Squad”) are motivated by idealism, this may have led them inadvertently to backing organisations linked to the Wahhabi International who press for policies against those who oppose them, such as PM Modi in India, President Al-Sisi in Egypt and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such elements, mostly within the Clinton and Sanders factions, seek accommodation with individuals such as Erdogan, who have trampled on the principles of NATO while still remaining part of an alliance that is opposed to their actual allegiance, which is to the PRC-led bloc that is forming across the world. Among the top priorities of the Wahhabi infiltrators into the Biden administration is to use whatever lever is available to distance Washington from Delhi. In India, they are doing the same, working to widen often imaginary faultlines between the Modi and Biden administrations. The US and India partnering to secure the Indo-Pacific and battling the 21st century threat posed by the Sino-Wahhabi alliance would be a nightmare for Pakistan, China and Russia while being essential for the US and India. The Sino-Russian alliance and its satellite Pakistan gain traction with each policy error made by the major democracies, which unfortunately are too many to recount.

YEARS AHEAD CRUCIAL FOR INDIA
The years before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be crucial to the future of India. On the Info-Pacific, on Kashmir, on the economy, choices need to be taken that place India on the path towards long-term double-digit growth and the resultant societal stability. The Sino-Russian alliance (operating mainly through the Sino-Wahhabi alliance in India) is a formidable and often invisible opponent adept at dressing up policies that are toxic to the 21st century success of India but presented as essential to either adopt or to retain. There can be no compromise on fundamentals, whether on Kashmir or on the Sino-Indian boundary or on the need to recover PoK and Gilgit Baltistan. Nor on the essentiality of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific. Any aggression, kinetic or otherwise, by the Sino-Pakistan alliance and the Sino-Russian alliance needs to be met by an Alliance of Democracies united against the threats posed by countries hostile to the very Idea of India or the US as inclusive and prospering democracies.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Counter to Xi Jinping’s Gamble (Chanakya Forum)

General Secretary Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party of China since 2012, is playing a game of poker with the leaders of the countries that the PRC believes are strategic rivals, principally the US, Japan, the UK and India. The reason why the US has to be brought into a defensive position on China vests in the fact that the country is still the world leader in the fields of technology, soft power, and the economy. In the military sphere, Washington has been tardy in understanding and adjusting to the new variants of war, that are the consequence of the overt weaponisation of China’s capabilities.

Xi has made this shift overt, even though it has been taking place since the early years of the 21st century. There are those who say that this was an error, and that the leader on which he most models himself, Mao Zedong, switched from bitter foe of the Atlantic Alliance into being its most effective partner against the USSR. What has been forgotten in the tumult of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao, in 1966, and the ceaseless verbal and written vitriol that he heaped on the US in particular, is that Mao found a willing partner in President Richard Nixon, the architect of the Cold War 1.0 alliance between Beijing and Washington, against Moscow. Neither Nixon nor his successors, until Barack Obama towards the close of his second term of  Presidential power, understood that the PRC was a much more potent adversary than the long-moribund Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which collapsed during the period in office of CPSU General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev.

This realisation finally provided traction to the Pivot to the East initiated by Obama in the face of opposition from
the (still influential if no longer dominant) Atlanticist school of the US foreign policy establishment. Till then, Europeanists in the Obama administration (led by Hillary Clinton, who has always been a wannabe European) had ensured that the fixation on Moscow, as the top threat to global US interests, remained long after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 had ended Cold War 1.0. They were encouraged in this by Berlin, Paris and London, who feared their loss of influence within the US, if Washington were to accept what had been evident to the Communist Party of China since the close of the 20th century, that a new Cold War, this time between the US and China, was an inevitability, and had begun preparing for it from that period onwards.

Of course, Chinese scholars and spokespersons deny to this day that a new Cold War is taking place, part of the arsenal of bluff that they have mastered in the global game of geopolitical poker between the major powers, and in particular, the two superpowers. During Cold War 1.0, they were the Soviet Union and the US. Now this exclusive list contains only the PRC and the US. India is a potential superpower, and has graduated since the close of the 1990s, to being a great power from a major power, in large part because of the reforms enacted by Narasimha Rao and continued under Vajpayee. However, India is yet to be anywhere near that final step. Mao was able to scrap, in the early 1970s, the matrix of global policy favoured by most of the CCP leaders of the time, which is the reason why he eliminated them through the Cultural Revolution from 1966.

As his new geopolitical strategy emerged almost unopposed, the Cultural Revolution was tapered off and ended by 1976. As for the economic transformation launched by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, this would not have been accepted by the Central Committee, much less the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, had not Mao destroyed the careers and, in many cases, took the lives of almost all of them in the years that the Cultural Revolution was ongoing. A survivor, Deng Xiaoping, who loved playing poker, finished off the remaining traditionalists in the Communist Party of China.

The genial face that Deng presented to Europe and the US, was part of the armoury of bluff used by the expert in poker, to convince them that China would never be a threat in the manner that they regarded the Soviet Union as being. He convinced them that all that the PRC sought was “respect” and “equality”, never hegemony or even primacy.  Even Deng’s response to the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing, failed to make them call the bluff, that the PRC was enroute to becoming a democracy. All that was needed, Chinese interlocuters claimed, was the prosperity essential to make such a system a reality for the Chinese people. In the rush to achieve this goal, Japan and the US in particular joined with Taiwan, in flooding the PRC with technology and investment.

Deng had removed Hu Yaobang from the General Secretaryship in 1987 because he was too accommodating of calls for democracy. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was removed because of his soft stance towards the protestors active in the May-June 1989 tumult in Tiananmen. He found a replacement for Zhao in Jiang Zemin, who had proved that he was as much of a conservative as Deng, in retaining the monopoly of power over China, of the Communist Party, by whatever means necessary was concerned. In the way that Deng succeeded in doing during his global tours, Jiang posed as the affable pro-Western uncle, without in any way diluting his hardline stance within the PRC. Both Deng and Jiang succeeded in convincing the UK (and much of the rest of the world) that their commitment to ‘One Country Two Systems’ for the next fifty years was total.

In 1997, a handover took place at which actual authority was ceded by the UK, with nothing but a commitment in paper and in words, although that proved enough to convince even Margaret Thatcher, about the Chinese leadership’s sincerity. Given that Thatcher was among the many European leaders, who saw Moscow as the permanent threat to Atlanticist interests, the Deng-Jiang promise of democracy in Hong Kong worked superbly.

Once Hong Kong lost its importance to the economy of the PRC, as a consequence by the close of the first decade of the 21st century, of the development of Shenzhen, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the imperative of  retaining until 2047, the quasi-democratic system that was the mode of governance in Hong Kong lessened sharply. This change in the ground situation was not apparent to several millions of Hong Kong residents, who believed in the sanctity of treaties, despite Beijing’s belief that only treaties that met their interests, needed to be respected. The waste paper basket was the receptacle of choice for the rest. If the PRC had not been gifted a permanent seat with veto power at the UNSC (including by errors in Indian diplomacy), its faith in the UNSC as the final court of appeal to humanity would be considerably less than it has been since India (which from the very start of the founding of the PRC pressed for Beijing to join the Permanent Five in the UNSC) succeeded in that mission, with the USSR unwilling to publicise the Beijing-Moscow schism in the communist world by blocking that change. Given that the PRC has veto power over such decisions, any chance of India being accommodated in that list is zero, at least with veto power.

Xi Jinping has been the subject of adverse comment even within China, for the transparent manner in which he has clear made the intent of the Communist Party, to replace the US with Beijing as the primary power in the international order. What may be looked askance could be the rapid manner in which the unveiling of this longstanding policy of the PRC was done once Xi became the CPC General Secretary in 2012.

During the term of Hu Jintao as well, the PRC was clearly embarked on a path, that was no longer focussed on even the G-2 trial balloon floated from Beijing since the time in office of President Clinton, but on being the sole superpower that the US thought had been achieved in 1992 with the fall of the Soviet Union. By the time Xi took charge, this was becoming difficult to conceal. By 2017, it had become impossible.

Most of those who hoped for the change in the Party’s attitude, that had been predicted for decades, became sceptics. The actions of the PRC made that clear in a manner that had no need for elaboration from the General Secretary, whose underlings nevertheless shed much of the reticence shown in the past of mentioning the final objective of global primacy. As a means perhaps of strengthening his emotional hold over the Chinese people, as well as the party he was the leader of, by 2019, Xi Jinping himself made little secret of the Communist Party’s intentions.

That there are still policymakers in the US, EU and even in India who believe that unequal concessions can succeed in buying goodwill and even postponing activity by the PRC that is designed to knock them out of the competitive sweepstakes reflects the triumph of hope over experience. The Indian Army was ordered to withdraw from the Kailash heights, because of the belief that the PLA would respond in a reciprocal manner in Gogra and Hot Springs. They did not and never will unless forced to do so. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar need to identify those in their entourage who were confident the PLA would. Those with such unreal expectations need to be kept far away from locations where they can fashion policy.

A few days ago, Armin Lascet, soon to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany, lisped about needing to win over the hearts and minds of the Communist Party of China’s leadership through a softer approach than that favoured by some of his colleagues. Good luck to him and to Germany.

That Nehru and Indira Gandhi chose the USSR, as the partner of choice rather than the US, may be explained by the reality of Washington having embraced Islamabad, in a manner that left no room for any alliance with India except through surrender to the dictates of GHQ Rawalpindi over Kashmir. The Iron Embrace between GHQ Rawalpindi and the Central Military Commission functioning under Xi Jinping has become so obvious, that those who argue that India anymore has a choice of walking away from the US to China (or to even remaining neutral between them) are living in an alternate reality that can be deadly, if translated into policy. This had been clear from 2013 onwards with the start of the CPEC, but remained unrecognized even to this columnist until well into 2017). The events of 2020 have been such a reality check, that those in India expecting a rapprochement with China in the Xi era, on terms other than surrender, are indulging in wishful thinking.

That SARS2 was created during 2019 in the Wuhan Institute of Virology has finally been acknowledged even by most apologists, who claimed that bats in a cave 1500 kilometres away were responsible. Research has begun to ascertain that the Alpha and Delta variants as well were brought into existence in facilities in the PRC similar to those at WIV. The SARS2 pandemic saw the defeat at the hustings of Donald J Trump, although his successor Joe Biden has not been as credulous as he seemed before taking office. The expectation is that the Delta variant and other weapons of irregular warfare (including economic and societal) by the GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA alliance will see the close of the Modi regime in 2024, if not sooner.

In this matter, while the PRC is working together with the Russian Federation in operations in the US, in India the partner is Pakistan and not Russia. The task given to Russia is to assist in ensuring that a US-India military alliance never takes place, something that the S-400 deal and others seems likely to accomplish. India has to be hollowed out from within, such that the indomitable armed forces and the people of India are not enabled to hold their own and even prevail against those intent on destroying the country’s future. The sooner the US, the EU, Japan, India, the UK, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa and the Philippines understand that Cold War 2.0 is not a myth, spun by the “military-industrial” complex but a fact of existence, the better. Unless they do, Xi Jinping will emerge the victor from the high-stakes poker game that he is conducting with Joe Biden, Narendra Modi and the other leaders of countries, in the direct line of fire of strategic planners in the Central Military Commission in Beijing.

The CMC works for a Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, who has placed the uniformed services at the spearhead of his internal and external policies. The hand that Xi is so transparently playing needs to be called out and soon, and the only way is to understand reality and unite to change that, in the manner that Churchill, Roosevelt (unlike their rivals and predecessors) and Stalin did from 1941 to 1945. The stakes in this game of poker could not be higher. They are the very future of the global order in the rest of this century. Will the Authoritarian states in alliance with the Wahabi International, and the proxies and partners of both, prevail over the democracies or not, is a question that will be answered within brief decades. 

Counter to Xi Jinping’s Gamble

Saturday, 12 June 2021

All Eyes On G7 - What's The Strong Message? (NewsX)


 

Group of Nine wants Chidambaram as 2024 Opposition face for PM (The Sunday Guardian)

 

Despite the charges swirling over him, off and on there has been talk of his becoming a second edition of the Manmohan Singh phenomenon.

 New Delhi: P. Chidambaram, the urbane leader from Tamil Nadu of the Congress Party, has been in the headlines since the 1980s, during his steady rise that began from his stint translating Rajiv Gandhi’s speeches from English to Tamil. Thereafter, he went on to ministerial status in multiple administrations. Thrice Union Minister for Finance, Chidambaram has also been through 106 days of incarceration during NDA II, although the police officials responsible for this later appear to have been sidelined. Both in the INX case and in the Aircel Maxis matter, efforts have been made by his detractors to make him a “state guest” once again, this time for a longer period. Thus far, such efforts do not seem to have gained much traction. Chidambaram has in the meantime emerged as among the most prominent voices in the Opposition, excoriating the Narendra Modi government on its handling of the economy in particular. His relationship with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul appears to continue to be on strong foundations, as does his connect with many of those prominent in the Opposition. It needs to be added that Chidambaram shared a longstanding friendship with some of the top leaders of the BJP, although this list has shrunk, especially since Modi 2.0.

Despite the charges swirling over him and the reality of him not conforming to the backslapping, tactile type of politician in the manner that his party colleague Digvijaya Singh is, off and on there has been talk of his becoming a second edition of the Manmohan Singh phenomenon. The saga of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began in 2004, when the mild-mannered, scholarly economist was pitchforked into the most important job in the country by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Since the debacle of rival political formations at the hands of Modi and the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, there has been a lull in activity seeking to generate a second 2004 upset of a BJP-led government. Since the later months of 2020, the effects on lives and livelihoods caused by SARS2, especially the unexpected second wave in 2021, have lifted the expectations of key elements of the Opposition that a repeat of 2004 in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is indeed possible. They see the key to this as the economy, buffeted as it has been by the turbulence caused by the pandemic.

GLOBAL GROUP BEHIND PLAN

A group of High Net Income individuals based in New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Kuala Lumpur, along with associates in India, has begun work on promoting the prospects of Congress leader P. Chidambaram to emerge in 2023 as the consensus choice of the Opposition for the Prime Ministership in the 2024 polls. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party he leads, the BJP, continue to maintain a commanding national lead over any challenger in the electoral ring, this group (which may be termed the  Group of Nine, signifying the number of its key members) believes that the economic and societal shocks caused by the SARS2 pandemic on India will continue for two years more, if not more. In other words, that absence of significant recovery from the income and job losses caused by the pandemic will remain into the period just before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. This, they believe, will have a significant impact on PM Modi’s USP, which is that he is far and away the best hope for economic progress in India. The BJP has based its majority primarily on its electoral clout in the Hindi belt. The calculation of the Group of Nine is that the BJP will suffer major declines in the Hindi belt before 2024, falls caused by job and income losses that will override the party’s appeal on other issues. The economic and societal consequences of SARS2 would, in their view, cause a snowballing effect on national politics, leading to the assembling (by the close of 2023) and the formation after the 2024 polls of a coalition government led by Opposition parties.

That the economy has been the focus of several opposition attacks on the BJP has been evident since the close of 2017, with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi being the most vociferous. While there seemed to be a substantial impact of the economic factor in 2018 on BJP fortunes, as seen in the byelection results of that year, the Balakot strike in February 2019 and the announcement that Rahul Gandhi would be the Congress candidate for the Prime Ministership gave sufficient oxygen to the BJP to enable that party to secure an even bigger Lok Sabha majority than in 2014. In the public mind, images of Balakot and the belief that Narendra Modi was a far more reliable pair of hands at the helm of the nation than Rahul Gandhi swung the tide in favour of the BJP. Next time around, given that the economic situation in 2020-21 is far worse than it was in 2018-19 (and it is expected by Modi’s detractors that this situation will continue), they believe that a similar turnaround in the public mood through the factor of emotion in favour of the BJP is unlikely.

THE CALCULATIONS MADE BY GROUP

The Group of Nine regards it as mandatory that an individual gets anointed in 2023 itself as a safe pair of hands, and who would therefore be the consensus choice of the Opposition for the Prime Ministership. Given the hold that the party retains despite its reverses, they believe that (1) the Congress must lead such a coalition at the national level, and (2) the candidate for the Prime Ministership must not be from the Nehru family. The Group of Nine believes that the Congress Party leadership as an entirety understands the risk in once again promoting Rahul Gandhi as the party’s face in the 2024 polls. In their view, the best option would be to showcase three-time Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram as the Prime Ministerial face of the Congress Party and work to get him accepted so as to form a joint opposition front to take on the BJP.

Apart from what may be their personal connect with Chidambaram or some of those close to him, this calculation is based on:

(a) Chidambaram not being a threat to any regional leader, including Stalin in Tamil Nadu, given his hands-off approach towards the building up of the backslapping camaraderie required for the purpose.

(b) The South is likely to be an important determinant in which combination next gets a Lok Sabha majority in what is expected to be a close contest in 2024. Hence the need to choose a leader from that region, especially in a context where the BJP has been gaining ground in each of the southern states, to the shock of those who have long dismissed the party as a “Hindi-belt” outfit. It may be pointed out that Hindi-speaking states are very accepting and moderate in their approach to other languages, with several Hindi-speaking citizens eager for example to learn English, a language that successive governments have since 1947 effectively kept out of the reach of the poor and those in rural areas. Bollywood has disseminated a knowledge and love of Hindi in a manner far more effective than numerous attempts by successive Central governments to spread Hindi among states speaking other languages, through making it obligatory in schools and in other ways. While Chidambaram makes no secret of his lack of skill in speaking Hindi, he has for decades worked smoothly with Hindi-belt politicians, unlike other leaders from Tamil Nadu.

(c) The economy looms large in the public mind as a consequences of SARS2 ravaging tens of millions of individuals. In the view of the Group of Nine, Chidambaram is the politician best placed in the Opposition space to campaign on what they expect will be an economy still feeling the aftershocks of the pandemic. His party has made him the spokesman for talking about the economic effects of the pandemic (which the Congress Party places entirely on the shoulders of PM Modi), and his barbs at the Central government have increased over the years. At the same time, they believe that neither Mamata Banerjee nor Arvind Kejriwal carries the potential public benefit of the experience of Chidambaram in handling economic matters. This is so despite the skills exhibited by them in besting the BJP electorally in their home states.

(d) Chidambaram has built extensive linkages within SE Asia, China, the US and Europe thanks to his tenure as Finance Minister, and these are to be showcased to offer an alternative to Modi, a leader who has not been seriously challenged since 2013. Whether in London, Hong Kong, Singapore or Dubai, Chidambaram has an extensive network of friends and contacts. As indeed is the case in the bureaucracy as well, and not just among retired officials. Such contacts can be used to present the narrative of him as a viable alternative to Prime Minister Modi in a way that others in the opposition space may not be able to.

CHIDAMBARAM PUSHED ‘HINDU TERROR’ SMEAR

The Group of Nine is aware of other charges hurled at Chidambaram. These include the fact that the chimera of “Hindu terror” was artificially created during his 2008-13 tenure as the Union Home Minister. The excuse they offer is that he was made to do this by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The latter is reported as being on record that “Hindu radicals are a bigger threat than LeT”. The leakage of his conversation and the comparison made in it with US ambassador Timothy Roemer has yet to be contradicted by Rahul Gandhi. That ministers had to bend to the will of the “High Command” or lose their jobs was no secret, and it is such a defence that supporters of the “Chidambaram for PM” move aim to use when he comes under attack for highlighting the concept of “Hindu terror”. A month after Rahul Gandhi’s comments to Roemer, in August 2010, at a conference of police officials, Home Minister Chidambaram claimed that “Hindu terrorists” were behind many of the bomb blasts taking place at the time. Both former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Under-Secretary R.V.S. Mani have spoken of how “the focus of Chidambaram during his tenure as Home Minister was to strengthen the non-existent Hindu terror threat by any means possible”. Those behind the smear on a community in excess of a billion people worked overtime to churn out variants of the “Hindu terror” disinformation virus, but the spread of the virus within the general population was almost non-existent, to the disappointment of its originators. A counter that is being put up by backers of Chidambaram is to point out that both G.K. Pillai as well as R.V.S. Mani have been ignored by the present government, even though several officials known to be close to the UPA have been given attractive postings since 2014. If what R.V.S. Mani and G.K. Pillai said about the then Home Minister had been correct, the Group of Nine argues, surely the present government, no friend of the Congress Party First Family or Chidambaram, would have recognized them better for speaking out in the manner they did.

ACTION ABSENT ON KEY ALLEGATIONS

Another set of charges relate to allegations of financial impropriety by Chidambaram while he served as the Finance Minister during the two terms of the UPA. The claim of his detractors is that there are a collection of bankers, security market analysts, officials and corporates said to be closely associated with Chidambaram who protected his interests. Details of such a hypothesis have been provided in “Market Mafia”, a book by business journalist Palak Shah. This outlines a chain of market manipulations that the author claims took place in plain sight of regulatory agencies. Another set of revelations has come from a book by the globally renowned team of Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu, “Absolute Power”, which is mainly about the National Stock Exchange. This has long been alleged to have had the patronage of the UPA-era Finance Minister. It has been claimed that his decisions and even live broadcast of parliamentary speeches during market hours had an immediate impact on the market, from which several lost while a few gained. The Colo (co-location) imbroglio has been cited in theirs and in several other reports. The Dalal-Basu book has been having record sales. The Group of Nine however points out that, as with Palak Shah’s book, no significant action on the part of the government seems to have been initiated on the basis of the conclusions of Dalal, Basu and Shah. According to the Group of Nine, given the public reputation for integrity of the Modi government, such lack of governmental follow-up will be a sign to the voters that the charges made in the two books and in multiple other reports are not accepted as actionable by the official machinery.

MARKET MELTDOWN SOUGHT BEFORE POLLS

Sources known to be credible have warned that the “market mafia” is looking to engineer a stock exchange meltdown close to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Their intention is to blight the chances of a hat-trick by Prime Minister Modi through his winning the 2024 elections. Should such a stock exchange crisis occur in the manner of the earlier Rao-era Harshad Mehta or Vajpayee-era LIC imbroglios, Chidambaram’s voter appeal as a crisis manager would rise. Such a development would be ironic in the eyes of those who believe those close to the former Finance Minister are at the heart of much of the market manipulations. The Group of Nine points to the fact that both the governments that were in office during the Harshad Mehta and LIC scams got defeated in the subsequent Lok Sabha polls. This is the “hat-trick” that they are planning to achieve in 2024, given the electoral importance of the tens of millions of retail investors in both urban as well as in rural areas, not to mention deposits in various non-banking finance companies, which too would be affected as a consequence of stock market manipulations caused by insufficient accountability and oversight.

The Group of Nine points out that the charges made of facilitating insider trades by Chidambaram while he was Finance Minister would have been extensively investigated by investigative and regulatory agencies since 2014. In case conclusive evidence had been found against Chidambaram and others named in accounts such as those presented in the books mentioned earlier, those guilty would have been proceeded against in view of PM Modi’s policy of Zero Tolerance for corruption, especially at the higher levels. Neither SEBI nor the RBI nor North Block has, it is pointed out, thus far found that the charges made against Chidambaram and others presumed to be connected to him warrant more than relatively small fines and penalties on a few who have been discovered as being involved. If the charges were truly as significant as detractors of Chidambaram claim, by now several existing and retired top officials would be facing prosecution as a consequence of action by the Government of India, they point out. The Group of Nine points to the fact that several of the office-holders repeatedly named by detractors of Chidambaram have not only been retained but promoted. This, in their view, carries its own message to voters as to the truth or otherwise of such charges. Prime Minister Modi is known for his attention to detail and his administrative skills, not to mention commitment towards establishing a corruption-free governance system.

ECONOMY AS OPPOSITION FOCUS

“Dilli door ast”, as are the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Whether Sonia Gandhi or powerful state leaders such as Stalin, Mamata or Kejriwal would accept Chidambaram as the Prime Ministerial face of the Opposition remains unproven. The Group of Nine acknowledges this, but say that they will press ahead with their mission of positioning P. Chidambaram as the Prime Ministerial face of the opposition in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. He can then go head to head against the formidable appeal of Narendra Modi as an administrator and manager of the economy. What is clear is that planning for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls has begun in earnest in more than one location, and in more than one country. And that as of now, the odds-on favourite to win a hat-trick in 2024 remains PM Modi.