Sunday 30 June 2013

Mismanagement by team Manmohan stalls economy (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 29th Jun 2013
Illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu
ow that the Indian rupee has crossed the 60-mark to the dollar and thereby become a "senior citizen", it is necessary to focus on just when and why the downslide in performance has taken place. From 2007 onwards, it has been clear that the Indian economy has been retreating towards the "Hindu rate of growth" of below 3% that was the hallmark of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. By the time national elections fall due in mid-2014, an economy that was expected to break into the double digit league of China has instead become a byword for economic mismanagement. Although Team Manmohan blames the global economy, the United States, the weather and any factor other than themselves for the sharp deceleration in growth, it is they and they alone who are responsible for the slide. Not just by what they have done, but even more by what they failed to do. During UPA-I, there were factors which ensured that the economy continued to hum. These were the strong showing of the IT, telecom and construction sectors, and the opening up of the infrastructure sector during 2002-06. Roads, ports, airports, telecom and energy were among the fields thrown open to the private sector, both foreign and domestic. While the NDA had during 1998-2004 made preliminary moves in this direction, especially in the energy sector, it was the UPA which carried the policy forward, in the process attracting substantial interest and participation from major players, each of whom believed that double digit growth was around the corner. Today, when the GDP in China is nearly five times that of India, it is hard to believe that just a few years ago, the two economies were being placed in the same bracket.
The first major misstep in the field of economic policy took place during 2006-09, when the UPA began selling off natural resources to private parties. Petro products, coal and iron ore were earmarked for such a sell-off, and those in the industry soon began to suspect that decisions were being taken on the basis of political rather than economic considerations. Huge volumes of natural resources began to get siphoned off without being reflected in paper records, while many of those to whom these resources were gifted had zero prior knowledge of the fields relevant to utilising them properly. Coal was assumed to be getting parcelled out to those setting up power plants. In reality, very few power plants came up as a result of the allocations made. Instead, those given the bonanza of natural riches at a throwaway price began trading, for example in coal, selling the mines to others or pricing them (and other resources secured from the state) in a monopolistic fashion instead of ensuring that prices for the end-user reflected the low values at which such assets were secured. Huge profits were made by those allotted natural resources, with little of this windfall being shared by the ultimate consumer, who continued to groan under higher and higher prices.
The manner in which the natural wealth of the nation has been handed over to a few well-connected entities has been an important factor hurting the economy as well as the faith that Team Manmohan ran a transparent and fair system. The effects of such allocations on the economy were not obvious in terms of economic performance till around 2009, largely because outsourcing by the IT sector was still buoyant and the service sector had yet to exhibit the ill-effects of the rain of taxation that it began getting subjected to during UPA-I. Housing and construction, followed by other lines of manufacture, however began showing the impact of the dear money policy of the RBI.
If iron ore, coal and other natural resources get arbitrarily allocated to players unable to make the best use of them in the matter of energizing the economy, can telecom be far behind? The sector was among the stars of UPA-I, attracting substantial investment. However, once again the indecipherable (by economic logic) way in which spectrum got allocated created heartburn among those operators who had lost out to the better connected, and it is reported that some of these ensured that the RTI was used in a manner designed to expose the nature of allocations. During both 1992 and 2000, there had been — briefly — a similar outcry about the stock markets, with first Harshad Mehta and later Chetan Parekh as the lead players, but in both cases, the quick setting up of a JPC ensured that public interest died down and the committees produced the usual kind of report, one with no operational significance. Unfortunately for his government, the system of diarchy followed in India since 2004 meant that Manmohan Singh lacked the ability of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee to stanch the bleeding of confidence through political opposition and public exposure. While the drip-drip-drip of RTI-fed revelations on telecom were going on, the PM made it clear that he would in effect hand over policy to the courts, in a context where many cases take decades to get finally resolved. From that time on — the start of 2010 — the perception of a "leadership crisis" began from that period, and intensified the gloom in business circles.
It did not help that the Ministry of Finance behaved as though the British were still in charge, by instituting a tax regime that placed emphasis on higher and more imposts, searches and penalties. New taxes on growth leaders such as services discouraged them from investing in growth. The Central government became one of the least business-friendly setups in Asia, at least to the politically unconnected, in contrast to states such as Gujarat or Tamil Nadu.
From about 2007 onwards, the earlier system of "share and share alike, which had for long been prevalent among business groups, appears to have broken down, with a few operators grabbing as much as they could grasp. Small wonder that their rivals soon discovered in the RTI a mechanism through which they could get just enough information to drag a decision to the courts, and thereby delay it indefinitely. Now that the courts were, in effect, dictating policy, it became clear to business that there was no longer a functioning government in the national capital, in a system where almost all critical decisions were still taken at that level.
A government delivers, and this is what has been absent for six years in India. Because of a hyper-active CBI, roused out of its torpor by any talk-show host on a television channel, combined with the ease and speed with which cases are getting filed in India and people are being sent to jail, it has become a health hazard for a bureaucrat to take any decision. So arrest-prone have the police and the magistracy become that the mighty have now become victims of the very culture they unleashed. A magistrate recently filed FIRs against Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram for the "crime" of "promising Telangana without granting it". Our laws are such that anybody can be sent to jail for any reason, so vast are the powers gifted by the departing British colonial power to its successors, and these days, they are. Hardly a surprise then that businesspersons are relocating abroad in droves, as is their surplus cash. The "Arrest first and justify later Raj" has resulted in inaction becoming the preferred option, for both business as well as the bureaucracy. A change will come only when the Prime Minister takes decisions and enforces them.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Why is Obama protecting Osama's men? (PO)

M D Nalapat
Pakistan Observer, 28 June 2013

Hundreds of millions of people across the world took Barack Hussein Obama's rhetoric at voice value and believed the man when he claimed that he was dedicated to change. Even after he cast aside almost all of those who had helped him come as the lawful occupant of the Oval Office in favour of Clinton-era retreads, there was an expectation that he would trod the path taken by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, not to mention Lyndon Baines Johnson, who ensured that social welfare and equal rights for all ceased to become an aspiration, by making them into law. 

President Obama may still surprise the many who now regard him with disappointment, but the signs are that he has been completely house trained, and will follow to the letter what his minders wish him to. The way in which he has allowed the vicious prosecution of Bradley Manning is a case in point. The armyman was "guilty" - if such be the word - only of uncovering acts of violence against unarmed civilians by criminal elements in the US military. Yet rather than prosecute for murder the pilots responsible for the murders of Iraqi civilians exposed by Manning, it is the whistle-blower who is in jail. 

The fate of Julian Assange, who rendered an international public service by revealing the State Department documents handed over to him is only slightly better, he having been sequestered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a country whose "democratic" government has arranged round-the-clock plainclothes security personnel to grab Assange should he step out of the embassy compound. And now we have the Obama administration going after Edward Snowden in a manner surprising to those who came across the many supportive references to freedom of speech and of the internet in Obama's speeches.

However, all this pales in comparison to the manner in which President Obama is shielding the supporters of Osama bin Laden. When they attacked his residence, US special forces commandos got possession of sackfuls of computer discs as well as documents. They seized two hard drives from the compound. This trove contains information about the many VVIPs across the world who were secretly backing Osama bin Laden, including many who claimed to be the best friends of NATO. Such people needed to be publicly named and shamed,as a warning to others who in future may facilitate terrorists. However, President Obama has clearly taken a decision to keep the entire trove to himself and to his administration and their close allies. 

The reason is obvious. Obama, Cameron and the rest of the NATO alliance intend to use the information not to ensure that justice be done but to blackmail in private those individuals who assisted Osama bin Laden, so that they can achieve some of the tawdry aims of a military alliance which ought to have been disbanded in 1993 but was expanded under Presidents Clinton and (George W) Bush. Thus, the population at large has been denied any but the most limited knowledge of the contents of the material seized from the Bin Laden compound, when a democratic government ought to have followed the rules of transparency in revealing them. Not surprisingly, the so-called "free" media within the NATO bloc has been visibly uncurious about the Bin Laden cache.Clearly, a word from friendly officials in Washington was enough to ensure that editors and publishers kept their journalists away from any questions about the cache.

When he appointed a full-blown Europeanist, Samantha Power, to the post of UN Representative, President Obama signalled his fealty to President Truman's vision of the US and Europe marching in lockstep in an effort to continue to dominate the rest of the globe. It was Truman who swiftly reversed Franklin Roosevelt's policy of seeking engagement with Asia and returned to a policy of backing colonial powers such as France as they used military force to subdue restive populations. In an era when Asia is once again becoming the centre of gravity of global geopolitics, it was expected that Obama would ensure equal treatment of Europrean as well as Asian allies. 

Instead, even after the departure of Hillary Clinton from his team, he has remained committed to the Europeanist policy of the Clintons, seeking to insert NATO all across the world rather than acknowledging the multicultural legacy of his country by forging regional alliances that would remain bilateral rather than have Europe inserted everywhere that the US went. In the War on Terror, President Obama has retained the policy of not trusting non-NATO allies with information, as witness the refusal to allow the Manmohan Singh government to access David Headley,despite (or perhaps because of) the Indian Prime Minister's subservience to the strategic interests of NATO. 

In the implementation of the Bush-Singh nuclear deal, President Obama has walked back from the promise of fullscope cooperation, thereby opening up the possibilty that a future government in Delhi will resume nuclear testing in view of the near-zero benefits that the India-US nuclear deal has brought to the weaker country. Indeed, several more nuclear tests are needed if India is to ensure a credible nuclear deterrent,and it is a travesty of truth to argue that computer models can substitute for this.

Despite President Obama's efforts at ensuring that "lesser breeds" do not gain access to information that in the view of his administration should remain the preserve of the "higher caste" countries of the US, France, the UK and to an extent Germany, enough information has seeped through about the revelations contained within the Osama Bin Laden records,whether these be  electronic,voice or in written form.

Three Heads of Government of countries that are for the record allied with the US are, according to the information collected from the Bin Laden compound, have assisted Al Qaeda with funds and facilitation, despite being aware of the links of those given such help. In a democratic world order,which is what Barack Obama endlessly repeats as his objective, it is the public who have the right to know the facts. 

A lot of documentation about the way in which the USSR functioned became available once the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of the exertions (or lack of them) of Mikhail Gorbachev. Then why is the Obama administration refusing to part with details of what was found in the Bin Laden compound? Who are they protecting, and why? Is it to ensure that the threat of exposure gets used in order to control their actions? If so, it is a cynical ploy with only short-term benefits. Disclosure would be of much greater value not just to the international community (which to BBC and CNN refers to NATO and to Al Jazeera as NATO plus the GCC) but to the people of the US. Hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens across the globe have in their own way participated in the battle against terrorists. They need to be trusted with the facts, rather than denied access to them. 

It is because the Obama administration has followed a policy of North Korea-style secrecy that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden behaved in accordance with the idealism preached by Candidate Obama during his quest for the job he now has. Hopefully, despite the persecution that they are being subjected to,others will follow their example and redeem the reputation of the US from the depths to which Barack Obama's fealty to an exclusivist past  has condemned it. 

In the meantime, more US diplomats may label this columnist with the appellation that was affixed to him in a document revealed by Wikileaks, of being "notorious". It is an honour to be described as such by those to whom the people of any country are regarded as not worthy enough to know the truth.

Friday 28 June 2013

Delhi can't copy Beijing in Central Asia (Global Times)

By M.D. Nalapat

Illustrations: Peter. C. Espina/GT
Illustrations: Peter. C. Espina/GT 

A copy is almost never as good as the original, which is why India's efforts at copying the Chinese trajectory in Central Asia have yielded meager returns.

Though the Indian and Chinese economies were equal in size 30 years ago, since then China has become nearly five times the economic size of India.

Given the dysfunctional nature of the governance system in India and the neglect of indigenous enterprises in favor of foreign investors, the business model of engagement favored by Beijing will not resonate in Central Asia for Delhi.

India's state enterprises in particular are hobbled by ministerial meddling and poor balance sheets. And with a small defense industry, India still has to depend on Russia, France, Israel and the US for more than 80 percent of its core defense needs.

Central Asia has vast petroproduct reserves, as does India. Unfortunately, for decades successive governments in Delhi have concentrated less on local discoveries of oil and gas and more on importing these products.

The severe shortage of foreign exchange, visible in the steady decline in the value of the rupee, is forcing even the foreign-friendly government of India to ramp up local exploration and cut back on imports. This being the case, to expect that India can vie with China as a major buyer of Central Asian natural resources is to be unrealistic.

Even in the matter of purchase of oil and gas fields, the vastly bigger size and access to cheap finance of Chinese companies result in their winning against their Indian rivals on practically every occasion.

Given the high interest rate policy of the Reserve Bank of India and the country's continuing governance deficit, such a situation is unlikely to be reversed for quite some time.

Even should a more efficient government come to office in Delhi, it will take several years before the new setup can eradicate the damage done to the economy by years of mismanagement.

Central Asia is a region which is not only geographically and culturally close to India, but one in which the inherent advantages of India can be brought into play.

Although analysts assume that Pakistan is closer to Central Asia because of the Muslim factor, the reality is that the Islam of Central Asia is much closer to the moderate practices of the religion in India than it is to the rapidly Wahhabizing theology which has been gaining ascendancy in Pakistan. 

It is in the interest of long-term stability in Central Asia that the advance of the Wahhabi faith be reversed in the region.

In such a process, India can play a significant role by encouraging Indian universities to either set up campuses in Central Asia or by students from the region coming to India to study.

If the government of India had devoted itself to the spread of Indian educational units in Central Asia, using even a quarter of the resources it has spent on largely unsuccessful efforts to beat China in getting hold of local resources, by now Delhi's profile in the region would have been much larger.

India has an immense advantage in the huge numbers of English language speakers in the country, and this skill is very much in demand in Central Asia, as are other fields in which India has done well, such as information technology, medicine and engineering.

It's not just the greater prevalence of English plus the existence of a vibrant and moderate Muslim community of 160 million people in India, but popular culture too is a field where Delhi has the advantage over Beijing.

In Afghanistan, Bollywood has helped ensure that the people of that country retain their affection for things Indian, and the same can take place in Central Asia, if there is a greater effort to ensure access to Indian music and movies throughout the region.

This could be buttressed by tourism, encouraging citizens in Asia's third biggest economy to spend their holidays in Central Asia rather than in far more expensive Europe.

More than state-to-state or even company-to-company links, it is people-to-people exchanges that have the potential to make India as big a geopolitical force in Central Asia as its much more prosperous eastern neighbor. 

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Why Assad Must Win (Middle East Institute)

Madhav Das Nalapat

The prism through which an event is viewed affects the understanding of its consequences. The conventional Western assessment of the Syrian conflict, as articulated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Fran├žois Hollande, is of a “dictator” suppressing his own people and being opposed by “freedom fighters”—a view that emerges from the fact that over the four decades that the Assad family has been in charge in Syria, its appreciation of global events has seldom coincided with that of Washington, London, and Paris. Loath to throw out the “dirty bathwater” of assessments made in situations very different from those of the present, the “zero-based budgeting” approach that practical geopolitics demands in the twenty-first century—of grounding conclusions in present-day realities rather than in historical quasi-analogies—is seldom followed by what may, in shorthand, be termed the “NATO bloc,” although the term in actuality refers more to the original members of the alliance rather than to its more recent additions from Eastern Europe.
The context within which the present Syrian conflict is taking place is, for the purposes of what follows, the growth of both Wahhabism since 1979 and the impact on Wahhabism from defeat or victory for NATO and its allies in the Syrian theater. Since the previous century and even during the last quarter of the nineteenth, Wahhabism has been a boon to key European powers, first as a means of separating Arab sympathies from the Ottoman Turks, then distancing these sympathies from the pan-Arab nationalism of Nasserite-Ba`thist ideology, and subsequently enabling the recruitment of tens of thousands of mujahidin to do battle with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Although the events of September 11, 2001 caused a pause in the strategic collaboration between the West and Wahhabism, matters soon reverted to their earlier course. The mendacity and triumphalism with which history is written by NATO-bloc scholars is illustrated by their analyses of the Afghanistan conflict. After the Northern Alliance swept through much of the country during the closing days of 2001 and the first quarter of 2002, they claimed that the alliance had been backed from the start by the West, when the reality is that the elements later comprising the so-called Taliban were the beneficiaries of financial and other support from the United States and its allies, both European as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian, since the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988–89. Such a rewriting of history has resulted in a blindness to the policy errors of the past and to the frequency with which these errors are being repeated in the present.
Wahhabism represents an existential threat not so much to the West as it does to Islam. The reality of that faith is that the word of God is suffused with a description of the almighty as redolent with the qualities of faith, compassion, beneficence and mercy. The holy texts of all major faiths contain references to struggle and to bloodshed, yet Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism are not perceived as aggressive the way Islam has been since the ascendance of Wahhabism and its theological twin, Khomeinism, since 1979, the year when the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took charge of Iran and elements of the al-Saud family began opening their pocketbooks to Wahhabi preachers worldwide to avoid Reza Pahlavi’s fate. Those within the Muslim umma as well as others who have opposed Wahhabism and are dismayed at its portrayal both within the West as well as by its practitioners as a “pure” form of Islam expected that 9/11 would break the link between the Wahhabis and the West. This has not happened. Indeed, the West has once again become the instrument through which Wahhabism in its myriad manifestations has risen to power in countries across the Middle East. In the case of Turkey, the AKP represents a clear break not only with the country’s Kemalist past but its Ottoman roots, backing a theology that may, for want of a better term, be labeled “Wahhabi Lite.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has been skillful in enlisting the backing of his NATO partners in neutralizing the secular Turkish military to the benefit of his avowedly religious party, while the same alliance in Pakistan in effect backs the non-secular Pakistani military in its thus far successful effort to retain its dominance over the elected civilian government.
Since the so-called “Arab Spring” erupted in 2011, Western governments have backed the electoral victories of Wahhabi groups functioning under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood, whether in Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya. In Syria, NATO backs the Muslim Brotherhood in its efforts at wresting control of the country from the Assad dynasty, while for purposes of information warfare within the Middle East, this dynasty has been classified as Shi`a. The reality is more complex. Seven out of ten ministers in Syria are Sunni, as is the spouse of President Bashar Assad. Interestingly, even within the Shi`i community, the Alawites (the sect to which the Assad family originally belonged) are seen as “too Western” in their lifestyles and their beliefs, just as the Druze (another minority in Syria) are not regarded as "proper Muslims” by Wahhabis, despite being Sunni, due to their belief in reincarnation.
Even a cursory reading of the Qur’an shows the remarkable tolerance of its language, as well as the fact that the Day of Judgment is the preserve of the almighty, not that of cabals of maulvis and mullas, the way it is now portrayed during a period when Wahhabism and Khomeinism have superseded classic Islam in much of the umma. Instead of accepting that only on the day of judgment will a reckoning take place between good and evil deeds—characterized and differentiated as such not by the human mind but by the eternal wisdom of the almighty—both Wahhabis as well as Khomeinists take into their own hands the separation of “good” from “evil,” prohibiting and punishing what they believe to be the latter and encouraging those they see as the former.
Given that the almighty is all-powerful, it follows that, for example, if the ingestion of any form of alcohol in any situation were unforgivably sinful, then the very impulse to do so would have been removed from humankind. Certainly human beings have frailties, but the fact is that no human being is even close to the divine in his or her qualities. Hence it is possible to argue that the Wahhabis are wrong to equate character with ritual and with externalities, and that on the day of judgment, those who misuse state power and coercion to inflict their own sartorial and behavioral codes on the rest of the population will be the ones heading toward hellfire. As for those condemned by Wahhabi theology as “sinful,” despite their shortcomings, several may find on the Day of Judgment that the good that they have done has compensated for the effects of “transgressions” in dress and diet that do not in any way harm anyone else, so that their path to heaven is assured. It is fashionable among Western scholars to label Wahhabism as a “pure” form of Islam, whereas in reality the hate, intolerance, and absence of compassion exhibited in its theology and by its practitioners is the opposite of the divine qualities of compassion, mercy and beneficence repeatedly revealed in the Qur’an. While a superficial reading would postulate that Khomeinism is distinct from Wahhabism, at the core the two theologies are similar. Both have contempt for “others” and have an explicit intention to overpower them, as well as hatred toward equal treatment of women and minorities, or indeed, any individual outside their circle of believers. Hence, the halting of the spread of Wahhabism, followed by its rollback and eventual elimination, is vital for the recovery of the great faith revealed to the Prophet 15 centuries ago. Wahhabism and Khomeinism represent not a new golden age of Islam but an effort to plunge the faith into a dark age.
It is in such a context—of the need to halt Wahhabism—that the ongoing conflict in Syria needs to be analyzed. Since the coming to power of Wahhabi Lite and full-blown Wahhabi regimes after the 1980s Afghan conflict, the theology has been almost unstoppable. Wahhabis’ vastly superior organization and access to resources has meant that those Wahhabis who constitute the Muslim Brotherhood took office in Tunisia and Egypt. A decade earlier, the Wahhabi Lite AKP party came to power in Turkey and began the process of reversing not merely the secular legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but the Sufi traditions of the Ottoman Empire. Interestingly, the very NATO that has backed the religiously-inclined military in Pakistan against its more secular civilian counterpart backed Erdogan in neutralizing the influence of the secular Turkish military. The alliance between Wahhabism and the West, which began during the early years of the twentieth century in a common battle against the Ottoman Empire and continued in the 1950s against Arab nationalists and in the 1980s against the Soviet Union, barely paused for breath after 9/11 before being resumed by George W. Bush’s decision to once again rely on the Pakistani army to find a solution to Afghanistan. In the 1980s, had Pashtun nationalists been empowered to do battle with the Soviet Union rather than Wahhabi fanatics from across the globe, many of the security challenges that the world faces today would have been absent. After 9/11, had the United States and its coalition partners continued to rely on anti-Taliban elements in Afghanistan rather than allow the Pakistani army to first protect the militia and later bring it back into a central role, the United States would not be facing defeat in Afghanistan. Whatever apologists may say, the reality is that the Taliban have been resurrected, and by U.S. policy, which to this day sees this band of thugs as part of the solution rather than as a group that will, if encouraged, send Afghanistan into chaos. Coming to 2011, after Egypt it is Libya that has seen a growth in Wahhabi influence. A country where al-Qa`ida was almost totally absent has today become a base for operations of groups that subscribe to the objectives of that fraternity.
By now, the advance of Wahhabism, including in its most violent forms, has become patent, yet even now NATO persists in facilitating the takeover of yet another country in the Middle East by the Wahhabis, whether they call themselves the Muslim Brotherhood or the Nusra Front. Now that the fate of Muammar Qaddafi has influenced Bashar Assad, it is clear that the calls by NATO or the GCC for him and his regime to trust in the benevolence of their tormentors will go unheeded. Unlike Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi, who for some reason did not go all out in repelling enemy forces, the Assad team is likely to use whatever means are at its command, not to save itself but to take down as many regimes as possible with it. The war in Syria has already morphed into a Shi`i-Sunni conflict, except that it is not Shi`i-Sunni but Shi`i-Wahhabi. The overwhelming majority of Syria’s Sunni population are anti-Wahhabi, which is why by default they have clustered around Assad, whose own spouse is a Sunni and who has been running a much more inclusive administration than that of, say, Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq. Of course, it is best not to mention Shi`i-phobic regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Qatar, all of which practice discrimination against the Shi`a, with no protest from their NATO allies. By backing the GCC in its sectarian and ideological war against the (Shi`i-led and anti-monarchy) Ba`th regime in Damascus, NATO is making the same mistake that Ariel Sharon made in 1982, when Israel took sides in a regional civil war. Sharon’s decision to assist the Maronites in their attack on the Shi`a in Lebanon has made Israel the only country in the world to endure Shi`i terror in a context in which the entire globe is facing the menace of Wahhabi terror. NATO’s backing for the GCC in the latter's efforts at toppling yet another anti-monarchy Arab leader will ensure that Shi`i terror hits the rest of the West as well, in addition to states active in the conflict such as Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Should the advice of U.S. Senator John McCain be heeded and NATO intervene even more decisively in the Syrian theater, the bloodletting will rise to proportions not seen in the region for centuries. Just as the conflict between Maronite Christians and Shi`a in Lebanon was not Israel’s war, neither is the war between Wahhabis and the Assad dynasty the West’s war. Should Assad emerge victorious out of the carnage, the resultant shock would serve to halt the onward progression of Wahhabism and have ripple effects most immediately in Turkey and Egypt. The moderate majority of Muslims would then get their chance to displace the Wahhabis who have sought to push them back into medievalism, a chance that has thus far been denied to them because of the facilitation that NATO provides to Wahhabism. This is why Assad must win. Those who argue that Assad’s victory would be a victory for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran fail to understand that the Alawites are as removed from the theology and favored lifestyle of Khamenei as chalk from cheese. The two are in alliance because secular forces in the Middle East are often at the receiving end of the backing given by NATO to Wahhabi-favoring regimes. Over time, it is the moderate societal vision of the grand syncretic and diversity-tolerant version of Islam that must prevail. For that to happen, the Wahhabis must first lose the war in Syria.
This contribution is part of MEI's Middle East-Asia Project (MAP).

Monday 24 June 2013

Afghanistan is all set to descend into chaos (Sunday Guardian)


Muhammad Naeem (L), a spokesman for the Office of the Taliban speaks during the opening of the Taliban Afghanistan Political Office in Doha on Tuesday. REUTERS
S intelligence agencies know an awful lot about the world, but the policy prescriptions being made by them indicate that their understanding of events is significantly unrelated to the levels of information scooped up by the National Security Agency and other monitoring agencies. The defeat of the US and the rest of the coalition in Afghanistan, at the hands of a motley band of ruffians, owes little to the military prowess of the Taliban. Rather, it has been the inevitable result of a series of policy missteps, which have collectively worked to revive the Taliban rather than put it permanently to sleep. The penetration by ultra-Wahhabi elements within the intelligence services of Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has meant that these agencies have often misled the US about that most fundamental of questions: who is a friend, and who the foe? The consequence in Afghanistan has been that many of those Pashtuns identified by the ISI and other "friendly" intelligence services as "moderates" deserving of cash and other assistance have turned out to be Taliban activists.
These have used the money and materiel gifted to them by the US since 2005-07 to regroup and emerge as a potent force against the coalition by 2009. Thanks to the — there is no more accurate word for it — idiocy of US policy in Afghanistan, especially since 2005, the US taxpayer is funding precisely that organisation which he is being drained of money to do battle with. Given the fact that there has been very little turnover in the "Afghan specialists" with US academe, despite almost all of them having been apologists for the Taliban for almost the whole of the 1990s, it is hardly a surprise that US policy has seldom strayed far from the same track that it furrowed during the period when Bill Clinton was President of the US, which was to facilitate the Taliban in its activities.
The decision by Qatar to fund an office of the Taliban in Doha, complete with flag and nameplate, is a step too far.
In 1979, the Al Sauds made the mistake of believing that they could buy the loyalty of extreme clerics, so that these would not turn against them the way the mullahs in Iran turned against Reza Pahlavi during the 1970s. A flood of cash has been given to Wahhabis since then, and this has been the factor behind the worldwide rise of the sect. Entire communities that were once syncretic and tolerant of multiple forms of cultural and social expression got transformed. Although the policy of backing for ultra-Wahhabis seemed to come in handy during the 1980s battle against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan, yet the overall cost of relying on religious extremists rather than secular nationalists in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union has had numerous unforeseen consequences, including the spread of a mindset which led to 9/11, 26/11 and numerous other acts of terror. Over the past decade, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has dialled back from such support to hardline theologies, in the process making Saudi Arabia a far more tolerant and inclusive country than it has been for decades. However, any slack in backing for ultra-Wahhabi groups has — inexplicably — been taken up by Qatar's royal family, who have made Doha the destination of choice for a host of violence-prone groups engaged in acts of war across several countries. During 2011, those from across the world willing to take up arms to do battle with Muammar Gaddafi's emaciated military were feasted and facilitated by Qatar, with those battling Bashar Assad in Syria getting the same treatment.
However, although the Obama administration seems as prone to assisting the Taliban as the Clinton and Bush teams have been, the decision by Qatar to fund an office of the Taliban in Doha, complete with flag and nameplate, is a step too far. The mere presence of Taliban representatives in Doha and their breaking bread with US officials under the benign eye of the Qatar royal family will dampen the morale of those who in Afghanistan are daily battling the Taliban or enduring their oppressive rule. A US President who claims to be a supporter of human rights and gender equality, and who has a Nobel Peace Prize to show for it, was not expected to midwife a process of inserting the Taliban into the governance structure of the country. By its very chemistry, such co-existence is impossible for the Taliban, who will instead sabotage any effort at nation building by the overwhelming majority of Afghans, who are peace-loving. Afghanistan will once again descend into chaos. Thanks to Obama's Stockholm Syndrome, the entire region seems set for a very rocky future.

Sunday 23 June 2013

NDA will provide 100 million new jobs: Narendra Modi (Sunday Guardian)

arendra Modi, BJP's campaign committee chairperson and front-runner for the Prime Minister's post should the NDA win the 2014 general elections, told The Sunday Guardian that the National Democratic Alliance would generate a 100 million extra jobs in five years compared to the 3 million extra jobs created by the UPA in its first six years in power. He pointed out that the NDA had created 60 million jobs during 1998-2004.
The Gujarat Chief Minister said that the "people of India have the drive and ability needed to make our country prosperous, if only they had a government which encouraged them rather than held them back, a government that trusted them rather than subjecting them to restrictions and persecution". He smiled away any discussion about his own prospects for leading such a government, merely saying that "such matters will get decided at the appropriate time, and the decision will be what is best for the alliance and the nation".
Speaking informally to this correspondent on 19 June at his office in the state capital, Modi appeared relaxed and confident. Previous to this discussion, a Muslim family had called on him and spent 30 minutes speaking with the CM. Those close to the CM challenged critics to point out whether there has been any discrimination against officials belonging to the minority community in the state. A key aide said that "by now, it is becoming clear that such charges are intended to create a mood of fear designed to stampede the minorities into voting for those who have let them down for decades". He said that there was no question of Chief Minister Modi adopting a "sectarian" agenda during the ensuing campaign, adding that "we regard and treat people of all faiths as the same and do not discriminate among them the way others do", and that such a policy was needed in order to prevent communal passions from boiling over.
When the discussion continued on the lifestyles of political leaders and their families, Narendra Modi pointed out that his brothers "owned only bicycles rather than SUVs" and said that he was "proud and happy" that they had cheerfully accepted that he as CM could not help them the way some other Central and state leaders had helped their own families in India and abroad. He did not know why the media in India ignored the lifestyles of the close relatives of the powerful. "Let it be said that freedom of speech is important," Modi told this correspondent, adding that he had never tried to clamp down on the numerous hate messages about him on Internet, print and television. "India should lead the world in freedom of speech rather than be having some of the most restrictive information technology laws in the world," he added.
When it was pointed out to him that Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi had referred to the Gujarat CM's caste background, Narendra Modi said that to him, "caste was never a factor". However, he had "no hesitation — and indeed some pride — in revealing that (he) came from the most backward of backward castes", adding that "caste, region and religion should not matter in issues of who is to lead government".
He refused to get drawn into a discussion on the criticism made against him by BJP parliamentary party chairperson L.K. Advani. An aide said that he wished that L.K. Advani had mentioned his objections to the CM first before going public, "but Mr Modi himself spoke in words of regard" for the MP from Gandhinagar.
Although his words were not intended for the record as the meeting was informal, Chief Minister Modi was clear that he would campaign "not on issues of identity but of governance". He saw the last decade as a "wasted" one and said that it was "the duty of all those concerned about the future of the country to work unitedly to ensure that the UPA not return to office a third time". The people "will not forgive those who by their words and deeds help the UPA during the coming elections by dividing opposition votes," he ended.