Wednesday 26 September 2007

Once again his foes help Ahmedinejad (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has this in common with U.S. President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: he too speaks directly to God. Admirers consider him to be the pilot heralding the imminent return of the Mahdi, the expected Muslim Messiah.

Less undiscerning observers consider the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran to be a buffoon, without any substantive authority inside his own country -- where the key members of the government report directly to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Khamenei -- and with a diminishing support base within his own people, caused by the extreme economic mismanagement of the mullahs.

A country that ought to have enjoyed a prosperous standard of living for its 78 million people has huge pools of extreme poverty, caused by a dysfunctional system reminiscent of India during the three decades from 1955-85 of comprehensive central planning. What passes for private industry in Iran is a collection of enterprises run like feudal fiefs by those close to the supreme leader, or regarded by him as potential troublemakers needing to be pampered out of opposition.

Ahmedinejad himself came to power Iran-style, where the counted ballots threw up -- not entirely coincidentally -- the very result favored by Khamenei, who saw the current Iranian president as a poodle who would not stray from total obedience the way Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani did during his term. Unfortunately for the wily supreme leader, Ahmedinejad began to get delusions of divine greatness within a year, even while proving inept in supervising the system in a manner that would give the people of Iran enough crumbs to remain quiescent.

Monday 24 September 2007

President Hu Shows Who's Boss (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Four years before Chinese President Hu Jintao took over as both head of state and, more importantly in China, head of the Communist Party, this observer of his country had deduced that he was on a steady ascent to full power. Even in 1998 it was clear that the mild-mannered, ever-courteous lifelong Party member was a deadly player on the chessboard of power.

Over the preceding years he had avoided much entanglement with the reigning hierarchies in the only parts of China that President Jiang Zemin was interested in, the high-growth centers along the coast and Beijing. Instead, he used the anti-corruption machinery of the state and Party to prise away those who were less than completely loyal to Deng Xiaoping's personal choice to replace Jiang in 2002.

Barring a handful of provinces, by 1999 Hu had put into position individuals that he could relate to and that were far removed from the glitzy and immensely wealthy Jiang cohort. Over the next couple of years, he interacted extensively with senior military and civilian cadres, almost always leaving the impression of a thoughtful individual whose objective was to ensure the continuation of China's ascent begun under Mao and Deng.

Monday 3 September 2007

Unloosing the Shiite Genie (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat 
Manipal, India — If protecting the homeland is among the primary responsibilities of a government, attempting to change the distribution of power within another country may not always be congruent with such an objective.
Given the state of conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1982, there was a compelling case for the Israel Defense Forces to enter Lebanon and take out Palestinian assets that were being deployed against the stability and survival of the state of Israel. However, there was none for attempting to bolster the position of the Maronite Christians vis-à-vis their Shiite opponents. In particular, the leading Maronite Gemayel family was known for the use of methods that could have been developed in a concentration camp.
Since 1982, the flow of covert and other support to the Gemayels from Israel grew to a level that infuriated the Shiites as well as the family's many Maronite critics. By 1987, an isolated -- indeed hated -- PLO was able to secure the backing of key elements among the Shiite factions in Lebanon, despite being overwhelmingly Sunni.

From that time to the present, Israel has enjoyed the distinction of being the only non-Muslim country targeted by militant Shiites -- a group far more virulent and effective, albeit as yet limited in strength and scope, than even Wahabbi extremists such as members of al-Qaida. Over the past two decades, Israel has concentrated its attention and resources on tackling a foe that went into action as a result of its own intervention policy in Lebanon.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Pakistan Army Versus the State (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — In 1971, following the Indian army's defeat of Pakistan in Bangladesh and the capture of 93,000 prisoners of war, an opportunity was given to the Pakistani politicians to roll back the army's control over civilian life by curbing its powers and making it a professional force. President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto squandered that chance by his cupidity and hunger for absolute power.

Bhutto, who like Pakistan's founder M.A. Jinnah was an alcohol-loving, pork-eating ersatz Muslim, pandered to the religious extremists by imposing the will of the "ulema," or religious establishment, over not only the rest of the "ummah," or Muslims, but of all Pakistani society. During his six years in power, Bhutto crushed modern private industry through extensive nationalization and converted the Pakistan Peoples' Party into a family enterprise, a character the PPP retains to this day.

After Bhutto's hand-picked army chief, Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, took over power and hanged Bhutto in 1977 for one of the numerous murders of his enemies during the previous six years, he completed the jihadisation of the Pakistan army that had begun in 1948 with the extensive intermingling of troops and religious fanatics during the 1947-1949 Kashmir war.

Zia sensibly secured the patronage of the al-Sauds by training the Saudi Arabian army and providing Pakistani guards to secure the safety of the Saudi ruling house during the tumultuous days in 1979 when Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over power in Iran. The al-Sauds have ever since been faithful to the ancient Bedouin custom of gratitude to those that help in times of adversity, giving the Pakistan army massive financial and other backing.