Tuesday 28 October 2008

Sarkozy and Brown: We cheated, So Trust Us (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — It must be wonderful to believe that the rest of the world shares one's own self-perceptions of omniscience. Weeks after Western financial institutions and instruments cleaned out thousands of clients in the Middle East, China and Russia, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at last weekend’s Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, offered Asia a simple prescription: Trust us and follow our lead unquestioningly, so that the non-Western part of the world can earn the tag of being "responsible (to the West) stakeholders."

It is unlikely that Asian governments will follow this advice and pour billions of dollars of their capital into two institutions controlled by North America and Europe – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. After the recent banking meltdown in the United States and the European Union, it is not only small children in the rest of the world who can see that the emperor has no clothes.

What has astonished many in Asia is the way in which Western governments are acting as accomplices to what looks like the perfect crime: the stealing of trillions of dollars in value from pockets across the world. This was done not simply by getting the unwary to invest in assets known to be dubious, but by gerrymandering increases in the prices of commodities, notably petroleum, which has gouged economies such as China and India.
This columnist would like to repeat his advice to the oil economies to install gold statues of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in prominent locations, for it is the policy pushed by that distinguished international statesman that caused oil prices to rise far above what market fundamentals dictated.

Monday 13 October 2008

Will NATO surrender to the Taliban? (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — There are indeed parallels between the insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban. Both have brown complexions and prefer to avoid a shave. Both get excitable when challenged, and regard the United States and its military allies as the enemy. However, that is where the similarities stop.

The Iraqi insurgents are overwhelmingly nationalist, usually moderate in their religious views, and have taken to arms to end what they view as a humiliating occupation of their country. In contrast, the Taliban are Wahabbi extremists, who enforce a lifestyle that has nothing in common with the evolving needs of the past 1,000 years. While the Iraqi insurgents are more than 90 percent Sunni Muslims, the Taliban are nearly all Pashtuns, although they have abandoned the moderate ethos and customs of this admirable race in favor of an ultra-Wahabbist lifestyle that places a premium on personal cruelty.

Once General David Petraeus, as U.S. commanding general in Iraq, no longer tried to occupy territory and began a process of handing responsibility to local forces, the anger at the occupation began to dissipate, and so did the ferocity of the attacks on the United States and its allies.

As yet, despite the radicalization caused by the past five years, the insurgents in Iraq are not inclined to impose a Taliban-like state in Iraq. Should U.S. troops withdraw completely within an 18-month timeframe, Sunni Iraq can yet be prevented from going the way of Afghanistan and becoming extremist. Just as the Vietnamese ceased to be a threat to the United States once they got control of their country, so will the Iraqi insurgents, once U.S. and allied troops leave Iraqi territory.

Monday 6 October 2008

Will United States back Kiyani or Zardari? (UPIASIA)

 M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — It is small wonder that Pakistan's army chief, Parvez Ashfaq Kiyani, prefers to dial the number of the ever-obedient (to him) prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, rather than that of the newly elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, who has apparently undergone an epiphany since assuming what is formally the highest office in his country.

Zardari has changed from cue boy of the Inter Services Intelligence – and thus by extension the Pakistan army – to a leader with very different views on the correct path that his country ought to follow. Instead of the endless repetitions of the many "sacred" wars that the military has been touting as justification for taking away one-third of the country's budget – directly and through agencies connected with it – Zardari has given public expression to the view of most of Pakistan's non-Wahabbi majority, that it is time to put aside jihad and concentrate on economic growth.

The reason for such a transformation may lie in the clumsy and continuous efforts of the army brass to prevent the heir to the late Benazir Bhutto’s mantle from assuming any office in "civilian-controlled" Pakistan. Numerous hints, designed to prod Zardari into selecting yet another army pawn as the head of state, failed. So the generals looked toward the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to scupper the move, having given their numerous backers in Washington details about Zardari – details unsuitable for audiences below the age of consent.

None of this seemed to have affected his marriage, however. Interestingly, Benazir Bhutto chose as her consort a man very similar in temperament to her idol, her father Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. Like his future son-in-law, Papa Bhutto was a playboy with a mercurial disposition as well as an exuberant and sometimes extra-rational belief in his own capabilities. Bhutto too spoke in populist language, even while being unstinted in his taste for the good life. And he too saw the army as the single obstacle to his power.