Sunday 29 November 2015

‘Nehruvian secularism’ has fostered a communal divide (Sunday Guardian)

By Madhav Nalapat | 28 November, 2015

There had to be discrimination based on faith, but this was to be done only in the case of the ‘majority’ i.e., Hindu community.
If “secularism” gets used in occasional discourse as a term of abuse, the reason is that it has never been officially practised in India for centuries. Jews and Zoroastrians came to India during what may be described as “Vedic” times, and there is no record of any discrimination against them, rather they were ensured equality of status with other inhabitants of the subcontinent. And from almost the time of the revelations made in the Holy Quran, Muslims came to parts of India and settled down peaceably, unlike the larger groups that came much later and which succeeded in subduing much of the local opposition to their takeover. Given that “secularism” means the equal treatment of all citizens, irrespective of the faith to which any of them owed fealty, this showed that this very concept was implemented in practice by rulers during ancient times. Incidentally, during that period, caste had yet to degenerate into the “madness” flagged by Vivekananda, a ritualistic system, which based itself on birth rather than merit as the source of position and privilege. This post-Vedic and ossified caste system moved away from the earlier practice of each individual entering a caste only by virtue of the work he or she did, rather than from birth. A corollary doctrine was that the caste system, which thus evolved, was “horizontal” in nature rather than the later “vertical” form. In other words, there was equality within society for those of different castes rather than a hierarchy based on birth that so enervated subcontinental society that it succumbed to invaders from outside. Needless to say, neither during the Mughal nor the British period was secularism practised. During rule by the former, those belonging to the invaders’ faith were given preference, while in the latter period, in cities across India, the land and assets of temples which still remained after the depredations of Mughal rule, were seized by the colonial state. Those Hindu places of worship placed in the custody of the state during the time of the British raj remain so to this day, despite the six years when A.B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister of India, and constitute an obvious and massive violation of the core secular principle of equality of treatment of citizens of all faiths.
Indians deserve to benefit from actual secularists.
Mahatma Gandhi regarded Jawaharlal Nehru as his successor, and it must be assumed that the Mahatma, with his immense intellect, must have known precisely what the mindset of Nehru was towards the economy and society. Indeed, the younger person made no secret of either, speechmaking and writing prolifically over the decades that he worked alongside the Mahatma. Hence, it is likely that Gandhiji approved the unique definition of secularism evolved by the individual he bestowed to the nation as the first Prime Minister of post-colonial India. This was that there indeed was discrimination based on faith, but this was done only in the case of the “majority” i.e., the Hindu community. Even those historians in thrall to Nehruism would find it difficult to argue that Hindus oppressed Muslims during Mughal rule and belaboured Christians during the two centuries when the British were in charge of most of the country. This is in contrast to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, who, indeed, suffered gross forms of discrimination during the post-Vedic but pre-Mughal period of this country’s history. However, such lack of Hindu culpability did not prevent Nehru and his successors from maintaining a system whereby Hindus were denied the same right of ownership of their places of worship as was enjoyed by those of other faiths, besides other forms of relative discrimination. The divide between communities caused by Nehruvian policies is what is responsible for the occasionally toxic nature of communal relations across all too many parts of India these days.
True to the tenets of Nehruvian secularism, during the period when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister, the UPA passed legislation such as the Right to Education Act (RTE), which placed the entire onus of providing free education for citizens deemed needy by the state on only those private schools run by Hindus. Those run by those of other faiths were given exemption from such an obligation. This individual knows a Muslim educationist of impeccable secular credentials (and it must be said that such moderation is representative of the overwhelming majority of Muslims, as it is among Hindus, Christians and Sikhs), who converted a school into a “minority” institution to escape the onerous burdens imposed by the RTE. Perpetuation of Nehruvian secularism has driven many citizens to think in a communal way. Of course, such a fault is deemed to be so only in the case of the “majority community”, while those in the minority are considered “secular” even if undilutedly communal in their outlook and activities.
The people of India deserve better. They deserve to benefit from actual secularists, which is a system whereby the state is wholly neutral between different faiths and does not discriminate between them in any form. Only such a system would be true to the syncretic (or “Indutva-vadi”) ethos of India, which is a blend of the Vedic, the Mughal and the Western, with each strand present in the cultural DNA of each citizen of this fortunately moderate country.

Friday 27 November 2015

Russia will retaliate against Turkey (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, November 27, 2015 - The law of unintended consequences can work its way through a host of decisions, and has been visible in several of the geopolitical measures taken during previous years. Bill Clinton as President of the US, ensured strong (if sometimes covert) backing to the Taliban, in line with signature doctrine of western powers that any enemy of an enemy is a friend, including those potentially far more toxic than the immediate threats being encountered, as the Taliban and its later mutations eventually proved to be in comparison with a Soviet Union which had been moribund for over a decade before its 1992 collapse.

Coming to recent events, would Ankara have taken the risk of shooting down a Russian bomber without prior consultations with Washington about such an eventuality, or did Recip Tayyip Erdogan misconstrue stray comments by an influential but non-official interlocutor from St Petersburg when he asked what the nuclear superpower’s approach would be were Turkey to exercise the “right of self defence” and shoot down an intruding Russian military aircraft? Memories bubble up about Ambassador April Glaspie, who responded with less than disapproving remarks when given a hint by Saddam Hussein of his intention to invade Kuwait, possibly deluding the Iraqi dictator into believing that Washington would confine itself to tough words and diplomatic gestures but not gunfire, in the event his troops occupied Kuwait. 

There have been reports swirling around Ankara of a “close personal friend” of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visiting Ankara during the past month and meeting policymakers in that fissile capital. This worthy is supposed to have given the response that while hot words would follow any interdiction of a Russian military jet inside Turkish territory, there would be nothing “hot” i-e of a military nature. Medvedev is known in Paris, Berlin and London to be a “civilised” person in contrast to his present boss, or in other words, an individual amenable to persuasion by friends based in the UK, France and Germany. Did Erdogan read too much into what this presumed “friend of Medvedev” told him about the likely response of Moscow, and did this embolden Turkey’s ruler into taking the reckless course of downing a jet belonging to the military of a nuclear superpower? 

The Russian bomber that - at most – was in Turkish air space for 17 seconds before being shot down was configured in its defensive weaponry to deflect ground attack,and was therefore defenseless against the F-16s sent to bring it down. In case the Turkish military believed that the aircraft was about to bomb Turkey (a belief Hollande, Cameron and Obama evidently share) and therefore needed to be shot down, there is reason to worry about the capacity of that force to differentiate between a substantive threat and a mere affront to the ego of President Erdogan, which is what aircraft represented and which was brought down on presumption that Moscow would respond only by words and symbols rather than in a substantive way.

Apart from the reality of Vladimir Putin being very different in his chemistry from Dmitry Medvedev, there is another reason why Moscow will need to respond in a visible and robust manner to the hostile action by the Turkish air force. Russia depends for its foreign exchange principally on petroproducts, the price of which has fallen to levels not seen after the heady (for the oil industry) days of George W Bush and his numerous price-boosting geopolitical moves. Hence the necessity of ensuring a steady rise in that other foreign exchange earner, weaponry. Should a rickety F-16 be allowed to bring down a Russian military aircraft and the feat go unchallenged, it would be a poor advertisement for advanced Russian military hardware. 

Until some F-16s are brought down in retaliation for the destruction of the Russian bomber, thereby establishing the superiority of Russian systems over that supplied by the US, Moscow’s weapons trade will find itself at a still bigger disadvantage over competition from the US than it presently it, including in the important market of India. There is therefore a strong commercial motive for Russia to double up on its intervention in Syria, an intervention that is helping its defence industry to showcase the efficacy of some of its most advanced products. In seeking to rescue the Turkomans living in the border regions of Turkey and Syria from bombardment by Russia, it is likely that Erdogan has pressed a switch which will intensify such attacks.

There were signs that the Little European lobby represented by Medvedev, who gives the appearance of being ready to accept Russian entry into the EU at a level below that of France and Germany, was gaining traction in efforts at getting the Kremlin to sacrifice Bashar Assad for the sake of western concessions in the economic sphere. However, the Turkish decision to take out a military aircraft belonging to the Russian Federation has had the effect of boosting the influence of the Great Russian lobby that is congregating around Vladimir Putin. This lobby is aware that the sacrifice of Assad would discredit Moscow as a false friend in the few capitals where it has effective primacy over Washington, such as in Teheran. 

To call ISIS a “Sunni” organisation is wrong, for there is nothing of the mainstream Sunni in its activities and personnel. The extreme theology it espouses is alien to the moderate and tolerant spirit of the mainstream Sunni community. Hence it is wrong to believe that Putin’s war on ISIS and other terror groups in Syria will affect the goodwill of Sunnis for Russia. Apart from this, Moscow has gained significant traction within the Shia community worldwide by its attacks on ISIS, which is the precise reason why Obama and Hollande have been insistent that it abandon its independent line and march behind France and the US in their strategy of making the removal of Assad rather than al Baghdadi the priority.

Should NATO decide to stand by Turkey once Russia delivers its retaliatory strikes on Ankara’s military machine, we would be entering a fresh Cuban missile crisis, with the risk of a spill over of conflict into the European theatre real. NATO needs to understand that in Moscow, despite Medvedev, it is Great Russia that is in control and not Little Europe.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Monday 23 November 2015

Sultan Shahin, not Owaisi, represents India’s Muslims (Sunday Guardian)

If portions of Islamic texts talk of war and violence, so do those of other religions.
When the Supreme Court gave its verdict establishing the rights following the divorce of an elderly Muslim woman, Shah Bano, against her ex-husband, most members of her gender within the community rejoiced. After all, as Arif Mohammad Khan pointed out, most males are not merely husbands but fathers of daughters, brothers of sisters and friends and relatives of women, each of whom was deserving of those protections of the law guaranteed by the Constitution of India. A few dissented, seeking to ensure that for the Muslim community, India followed the trajectory of Saudi Arabia, where a woman cannot drive a car on the road or travel freely alone. It was in 1985 a matter of a few lakh rupees to engineer riots and demonstrations on any issue, a situation that has changed only in that these days, the money involved in organising such “manifestations of the public will” adds up not to lakhs but to crores. Unfortunately, the predictable fringe protests which followed the Supreme Court judgement persuaded Rajiv Gandhi to pass a law, which denied Muslim women the post-divorce rights enjoyed by women from other communities. Earlier, in 1971, Indira Gandhi had similarly backtracked on freeing Muslim women from Saudi-style restrictions by ensuring that they were given the same status as their counterparts in Turkey. Still earlier, in 1955, during the drafting of the Hindu Code Bill, Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the advice of B.R. Ambedkar to extend a similar modernising touch to Muslims and Christians, whose personal laws were consequently left untouched.
The consequence of this triple failure by a single family to enact a code sensitive to the changes in society since the medieval era is that Muslim women in India have a much lower level of protection under the laws than even their sisters in post-Zia, indeed, post-Taliban, Pakistan. Muslims belong to a faith that has over a billion followers across the globe, and number 160 million within India, a number hardly of a size which would be in danger of vulnerability. However, in the 1930s, despite having a larger share within the total population within the subcontinent than is the case in 2015, several tens of millions of Muslims belonging to all regions and classes believed M.A. Jinnah’s canard that the community was in danger of their subordination to the British getting exchanged post-Independence to a similar fate under the Hindus. Jinnah’s scare tactics continue in different forms to this day. The Congress party, during 1931-47 failed to counter Muslim League accusations intended to create a siege mentality within the Muslim community. Jinnah’s campaign to vivisect India was given a boost by Mahatma Gandhi expelling from his midst a son who had converted to Islam. Since then, despite democracy and secular values, there have been multiple instances of murder of an individual of Community X by miscreants from Community Y and vice versa, but to conflate this into “proof” that Muslims, who in India form a strong, vibrant and overwhelmingly moderate community, are in imminent danger of death at the hands of frenzied Hindu goons is not simply ridiculous, but irresponsible in the context of the history of the past. 
In reality, the most potent threat to the Muslim community and the primary reason for its relative lack of success in so many areas of endeavour is the fact that many of its young study in schools where the subjects taught exclude those needed to equip them for success in the 21st century. There is indeed room for madrasas, Veda pathsalas and Bible schools, not as replacements for conventional school education, but as add-ons for those seeking an enhanced understanding of the issues taught in such institutions. Wherever Muslims choose (or can afford) high-quality modern education, rather than study whole time in religious schools, they are more frequently than not in the lead in business and the professions. 
If portions of Islamic texts talk of war and violence, so do texts in Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. However, in the latter three faiths, such portions do not in the public mind supercede the other sections the way they have in discussions on Islam, especially in Europe and in North America. The consequence of such selectivity has been that non-Muslim elements in societies everywhere believe that it is individuals of the persuasion of Asaduddin Owaisi rather than Sultan Shahin, of Imam Bukhari rather than the Diwan Saheb of Ajmer Dargah, who most accurately represents the Muslim community. That only the wearer of a burkhas or a man who sports a long beard are taken as “genuine” followers of what in its overall teachings is among the most democratic faiths in the world, with each believer given the right to absorb the Quran’s teachings without the pervasive and sometimes misleading intermediation of the ulema that remains commonplace even in the present. Errors in typecasting of the faith and its followers by the rest of society have led to a gross inflation of the perceived importance of the fringe of that society, whereas among Hindus or Sikhs, similar elements are correctly categorised as fringe rather than mainstream. If Muslim society is undergoing the trauma of some within it getting seduced by Wahhabism, part of the fault rests in the manner in which non-Muslims have dealt with the fringe in the Muslim community as being the only genuine representatives of a community that is as moderate and as modern as are Christians, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs in India. The next time there is a debate on national television or a delegation gets invited for a dialogue with a policymaker, hopefully it will be the Sultan Shahins and the Diwan Sahebs who are given priority over fringe co-religionists, the way it is with all other communities in India.

ISI links bring ISIS threat to India (Sunday Guardian)

By MADHAV NALAPAT | NEW DELHI | 22 November, 2015

Radicalisation of the middle rungs of the Pak agency has created a situation in which ‘linkages have been formed with units of Daesh operating within Europe’.
Counter-terrorism specialists based in West Asia and North Africa claim that units of the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS), also called Daesh, are in “regular contact” with mid-level elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Rawalpindi GHQ, who are unhappy with what they regard as their leadership’s “policy of acquiescence” to US demands. Such a radicalisation of the middle rungs of the ISI has created a situation in which “linkages have been formed with units of Daesh operating within Europe”. In particular, the latter have been given training in communications security and safety by their ISI sympathisers, who “spend weekends and holidays teaching (ISIS elements) the essentials of communications safety”. The ISI officers, aware of the close cooperation between their organisation and the US intelligence complex (specifically the Defense Intelligence Agency and Centcom) “have been careful to avoid getting directly involved in any communication or operation of Daesh cells in Europe”, confining their assistance to training within safe locations in communications, in the identification of safe houses and routes, and to sharing of intelligence on local security agencies. These ultra-Wahhabised ISI officers have been careful “not to meet with any Daesh cell in the US”. However, those in Europe who have been given the benefit of training by what analysts describe as “out of control” officers of the Pakistan armed forces, are, of course, “free to impart such knowledge to cells based in the US”, whose members come to Europe on reconnaissance and training visits.
Experts familiar with ground realities warn that western counter-terrorism agencies, habituated to the formal linkages common in that part of the globe, are “still clueless” about exactly who is or is not a member of Daesh or part of an organisation within that terror constellation. Since early 2014, Daesh, through its sympathisers within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has set up several intermediary organisations, several of whom are off any terror radar, who in their turn have spawned affiliates functioning in plain sight of the authorities. They have become expert in the smooth morphing of supporters from “extremists” to “radicals” to “moderates”, looking for assistance from the US, France and the GCC. In particular, these experts warn that “several field operatives of the secret services of Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been heavily influenced” by the ultra-Wahhabi ideology of Daesh, and have begun recruiting individuals who are secretly affiliated to the constellation of terror groups reporting to the Raqqa HQ. Of course, since the Russian bombing of this town, “most of the leadership elements of ISIS (Daesh) spend several hours each night moving from location to location in two or more groups” to avoid detection by hostile agencies.
The sources talked to say that since August, western agencies have, in effect, “ceased to rely on the security systems of Turkey and the GCC countries and instead rely entirely on their own networks for information” on Daesh. This switch was made “after several false leads were given to them during 2013 and 2014 by regional security agencies” whose cadres have fallen prey to ultra-Wahhabi ideology after 2011, when the smooth takeover of power in Libya by jihadist elements gave rise to a belief among vulnerable (to Daesh indoctrination) sections of the population that this extremist ideology was the wave of the future within the Arab world. However, as yet, “few western agencies are examining the informal links that have developed since 2013 between ISIS and security agencies of countries where ultra-Wahhabism has gained significant traction”, including (in their recital) Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. According to a senior policymaker with two decades of experience as a field operative, ISIS (Daesh) recruits have mastered explosives, communications and logistics “not by being trained by Al Qaeda operatives in the desert, but by training under those within infected security systems who have received training for years by the very countries which are being targeted” (by the terror constellation). Some of those given such training leave the operations modules and remain in safe areas to train more volunteers in such essential skills. According to a source, “mid-level elements in the ISI, who are outside the 24/7 control of top officers, have since end-2014 become an important means of developing attack and survival skills in the growing band of ISIS recruits”.
A former official warned that India was “very much within the target list of ISIS because of the informal and clandestine connections between that terror constellation and ultra-Wahhabist mid-level officers in the ISI”, who are eager to ensure a major strike in India “so as to do further damage to the social and economic fabric of the country”. His former colleagues (who are still in service) said that “it may become necessary for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take personal charge of the defences against ISIS”, including by having the security services and the military “work out swift responses to a possible mass terror attack” by ISIS, rather than “tread the path of previous governments by being slow off the mark, so that the impulse to retaliate gets diminished and ultimately, only symbolic steps (such as Operation Parakram) get taken, as during the A.B. Vajpayee period or follow the Manmohan Singh pattern of foregoing retaliation completely, substituting action with words and diplomatic gestures”. They pointed out that the most important reason why the US was not being subjected to mass terror attacks, unlike Europe “was not because of the so-called influence of the American Way of Life” on putative jihadis, but “fear within terror networks of a repeat of the post-9/11 wholly disproportionate retaliation” for any such strike. Although his critics say that he has been weak on terror, the record will show that President Barack Obama has been as harsh on terror networks as his predecessor George W. Bush, and has thereby succeeded in keeping the US safe thus far during his years in office.
A senior official claimed that “an arms dealer based in London and another who is Mumbai-based have sabotaged efforts at India signing CISMOA, LSA and BECA with the US”, for fear that such a move would “open the gates for the US to become bigger weapon system sellers to India than all the other present suppliers combined”. A junior associate of the officer said that the two arms dealers had “huge influence over four top names” in the UPA and that “even within the NDA, they have decisive influence over two very influential individuals, who have been close to them since 1998-99 and who still meet them frequently in Delhi, Dubai, Singapore and London”. According to them, signing these agreements would “open the door” for Indian retaliation against ISIS in West Asia, should that constellation launch an attack in India because of the instigation of ISI elements.
However, there exists a substantial group of policymakers within North and South Blocks “who are wary of the transformational effect on India-US military ties should CISMOA, LSA and BECA get signed and who prevailed on (former Defence Minister) A.K. Antony to constantly put off a decision on the same”, a situation that does not appear to have changed much since the NDA took office. However, a senior officer pointed out that “Prime Minister Modi does not allow any influence to come between him and national interest”, and hence is optimistic that the PM himself will soon get into “decision mode on what retaliatory action needs to get taken in the case of an ISIS attack on an Indian city”, and what needs to be done in advance to ensure that such a response serves to inflict unbearable pain on the terror network. It needs to be repeated that the closer military to military cooperation between the US and India after the three India-US “foundation agreements” mentioned here are signed, would be a nightmare to General Raheel Sharif.
These sources say that they are “concerned at the underestimation by security agencies of the threat posed by ISIS (Daesh)”, as in their view, the number of ISIS sympathisers is “in the thousands and not the hundreds” in cities across India. However, according to them, “just like the juvenile home authorities, who believe that a dose of de-radicalisation therapy can cure the psychotic impulses of the killer of ‘India’s Daughter’ (and who will be a free man next month), the (security) agencies believe that doses of such psychological counselling will remove the poison from the minds of those believing in ISIS ideology and methods”. A mid-level official pointed out that “terrorists are experts in camouflage”, and therefore releasing known sympathisers of ISIS back into the general population is a mistake, “as such persons could be the nucleus for future modules”. They laugh at suggestions that local police units would keep an eye on such elements after release, pointing out that “there are too many in the lower levels of that service who are amenable to financial or other pressures” that would get them to look the other way. A former official pointed out that “the psychological remedies and mind cures for terrorists that are being recommended to our agencies by their western counterparts have by now proved ineffective in France, Germany and Belgium and have not even been tried in the US”.
These sources warn that the “danger signs of the success of ISI efforts at softening national resilience have multiplied”. They point to the 12,000 strong Kashmiri crowd assembled on 28 October in Budgam to publicly mourn Abu Qasim, an LeT terrorist from Bahawalpur in Pakistan, and say that “this is the first time in more than a decade that pro-Pakistan elements have come out in such force”. Another worrying development for these sources has been the election on 10 November of the killer of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh as Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the highest religious body of the Sikh community, and an inflammatory address by two Jathedars during Diwali, a never before event in the sometimes tortured history of the Punjab. They claim that since 2011, several individuals from the US, Canada and the UK, known to have funded the Khalistan movement during the 1980s, have visited Punjab repeatedly and made contact with elements believed to be vulnerable to their propaganda, and that “several such individuals are regular visitors to VVIP homes during their mischief-making trips” to the border state. They are also concerned about reports that the NSCN(K) is regrouping within Myanmar for fresh strikes, while “the Maoists have been quiet for a long time” and that “such a pause is usually the prelude to a major strike”. They also expressed concern over efforts at creating a distance between communities in India, with a mid-level official pointing out that “in parts, the Hindu-Muslim discourse has become as toxic as was the case in the early part of the 1930s”, when M.A. Jinnah was engaged in building up the Muslim League as a counter to the Congress party. Certainly the lunacy of some ultra-Hindu activists has not helped in stopping such a slippage in relations between two communities whose co-existence is core to the security of India. However, they are optimistic that in Prime Minister Modi, the country has a leader with the will to act against terrorists, rather than just posture or talk the way his predecessors have done, and are hopeful that the PM himself will lead efforts at ensuring that ISIS gets a fitting and debilitating response in their very lair, in case the terror constellation fulfills the wish of elements in the ISI and launches a mass terror attack on India. 
They say that the “bad example” of token or absent retaliation set by Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have “emboldened terror elements throughout the globe”, and it is vital that the next time around, India under Narendra Modi retaliate “in a crushing manner” against the terror groups seeking to weaken the country, including “taking the fight to the territorial heart of the enemy”.

Saturday 21 November 2015

ISIS moves to next stage of toxicity (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, November 20, 2015 - The very analysts and commentators who initially downplayed the significance of Daesh (ISIS) and understimated its capacities are now neatly unanimous in claiming that this month’s terror attacks in Paris were not a sign of strength but of weakness. That Daesh was getting “desperate”, and that therefore, a corner had been turned. Indeed it has, but in a direction the reverse of what these optimists believe. The Paris attacks have shown that Daesh has mutated two years faster than at the least this columnist believed them to be capable, for it had been judged that attacks of the ferocity witnessed in Paris would become feasible only by 2017. The attacks indicate that Daesh has reached the stage of internal self-sufficiency within key countries in Europe which - because of the structure of the EU -effectively means the whole of the continent, except those parts ruled or significantly influenced by Moscow, such as Byelorussia. 

Daesh may now be assumed to have an operationally viable “underground” segment, which in actual terms means an “overground” network of sympathisers and facilitators, most of whom must be taking care to camouflage their affiliation by the adoption of “secular” lifestyles. It would be hilarious, if it were not so horrible, to witness French authorities speak of a 23-year old as the “mastermind” of the Paris attacks. Clearly, there are resident in Paris, perhaps as businesspersons, possibly even in some instances as diplomats, individuals who are by their “open” status paradoxically less subject to surveillance than the “underground” elements, and who consequently form the higher links of the human “carrier pigeon chain” used by Deash High Command to convey its orders regarding operations. Each afflicted country in Europe by now has its own command structure, all of whose members are “open”, and each of whom would in public be spitting abuse at Abubakr al Baghdadi and mouthing the mantras of moderation. Each has a tool kit to carry out operations and a catalogue of possible targets and methods, with the local units being given the right to choose from among the options cleared from the Daesh headquarters, which by now must be mobile in view of the air strakes that have finally been intensified by NATO against Raqqa. 

In these columns, it had been mentioned that information had been given that a missile-based anti-aircraft system had been made over to Daesh volunteers by the military of a NATO power and that this had been used against the Metrojet flight over Sinai. Also, that an onboard bomb would be identified as the source of the disaster, so as to draw attention away from the breach of security and the penetration of some militaries and the civilian establishment by “open” Daesh sympathisers and facilitators that resulted in an advanced missile system getting into the hands of terrorists. Sure enough, this excuse was used, with the terror organisation coming up with an amusing story about a bomb hidden inside a can of beer, so as to inform their cadres that such release of information was only a ruse. It is because NATO does not thus far appear to have concerned itself with the provenance of the cash and weapons used by Daesh and sought to bring to account those in high public office responsible for the flow that Stage 3 has been crossed.

The final point of decision for policymakers within NATO in their operations concerning Daesh, for the GCC rulers will accept the view taken by the alliance which protects them, and hence cannot be held responsible for the final decisions taken on strategy and methods. NATO needs to look at the global canvas rather than at the much narrower canvas of the Middle East in determining its strategy, for by now it is clear that the countries of the Middle East have, most of them, very little luck in finding out which policies help them and which hurt them, with the result that in pursuit of the first objective, often it is the second that results. 

For reasons to do with public opinion, it may be necessary for NATO to draw attention away from their own policy failures and place the blame for Daesh on Nury al Maliki and Bashar Assad (the way the resurgence of the Taliban has been laid at the door of Hamid Karzai), but to work out policy options on the basis of such flawed reasoning could result in drastic geopolitical changes (including the enforcement of quarantine mechanisms) to reverse progression of what is in effect a disease of the international security ecosystem. 

Seeking to get Moscow to discredit itself in the region by abandoning Bashar Assad is a recipe for defeat on the battlefield. The Assad regime is an incompetent and family-based dictatorship and the people of Syria deserve better, but the reality is that it is not an anti-Sunni government. Neither was alMaliki’s, except that he refused to accept the Sunni overlordship that was a feature of Saddamite Iraq. “Justice” to the Sunnis does not mean consigning the Shia to the same inferior position that they hold in countries such as Bahrain. The Transitional Government urged on by Clinton’s successor John Kerry would - on present form – include elements of the “open” Daesh network, which would seek to subvert the system the way Talibal sympathisers in Kabul facilitated and protected that group of insurgents in Afghanistan, especially from 2005 onwards, when NATO marginalized the Northern Alliance in its zeal to “do justice” to the Pashtuns, the same impulse that brought Ashraf Ghani to power.

Will Daesh go in for more terror strikes across Europe, now that its capacity enables such operations, or will it go in for a period of outward inactivity and inner consolidation on the LTTE model in Sri Lanka? The weeks ahead will tell. Whatever, the reality is that the failure to turn back Daesh at the Rhineland and at Czechoslovakia is leading towards Danzig and a prolonged global conflict with a deadly force expert at using its own enemies to become its enablers.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Monday 16 November 2015

PMO needs to ensure fullscope reforms (Sunday Guardian)

In the matter of FDI, the just-announced changes are half-measures, sanctioning a limit of 49% rather than 100%.
First came the inclusion of a substantial contingent from Bihar in the Union Council of Ministers sworn in on 26 May 2014, almost all of whom have been less than stellar in their performance. A similar jumbo group of MPs was inducted from Uttar Pradesh, the neighbouring state, leaving relatively scant representation to the east and south of the country. Next, Home Minister Rajnath Singh (together with several other worthies in his party) led the charge towards fulfilling Ram Manohar Lohia and Karpoori Thakur’s dream of doing away with English in administration, replacing the international link language with Hindi. Hence, measures such as downgrading the weightage given to proficiency in English amongst those seeking to join the Central administrative services. This demand was raised by those who lacked the resources in their youth to study in schools where that language was used in a manner designed to ensure fluency. But instead of seeking to quench the hunger within the Hindi-speaking states for the teaching of English, that language is under attack in a manner reminiscent of the policies pursued in Sri Lanka in the 1950s by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who through his linguistic and educational policies ensured that the divisions within Lankan society crossed safe limits. Next, just before the Bihar Assembly elections got declared, came the announcement of a huge package for the state, together with promises of more, if only Patna was politically in sync with Lutyens’ Delhi. The non-Lutyens segment had of course gone over to the Aam Aadmi Party. The Bihar verdict has shown that voters are indifferent to such efforts at getting their votes. 
That the raising of FDI caps in 15 sectors followed rather than preceded the Bihar results gave credibility — perhaps unfairly — to those who claimed that every move of the new government was motivated by political interests. Whatever, the fact is that in 2014, voters backed not the BJP but Narendra Modi, and they supported not Modi the politician, but Modi the administrator. The Vajpayee-ish (and even, in parts, Manmohan-ish) tint of the team sworn in on 26 May last year surprised those who expected a more Modi-ish ministry. It may be that those who say that there has been substantial change since that date may be right, but that change is invisible to most citizens, who still pay high taxes, still face problems finding work, confront rising prices in a situation of depressed wages, and deal with a bureaucracy as venal and unresponsive to public interest as was the case in the past. Unfortunately, Modi’s exhortation to ensure transparency and efficiency has been ignored by several of those given high positions, with the result that thus far, whether it be the RTI (which remains dominated by the very babudom it was supposed to counteract) or the promotion of free speech and democratic rights, thus far there does not appear to be much difference between the UPA era and the present. Once back from the UK and Turkey, it is vital that Prime Minister Modi ensure that the liberalism, which is a feature of modern life in the Gujarati community, be made the motif of his government. 
Certainly there are weighty arguments on the issue of dress, lifestyle or diet, but these should be decided by free will, as in other democracies, and not through law or administrative fiat. We have become a nation of scofflaws, whose people have less than wholesome respect for the law, precisely because there are far too many of them, and most are colonial in nature and therefore restrictive of rights to a degree permissible only in wartime. 
Because of decades of indoctrination in Nehruvian thinking, the higher reaches of the bureaucracy have become expert in half and in quarter measures that dilute the power of policy initiatives to a degree that renders them valueless. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a 21st century politician, but it is clear that the PMO has yet to prevail over the long-held traits of the bureaucracy. After all, stifling power over decisions and the unreasonable broadening of discretion feed into the psychological underlay of the bureaucracy in India, which continues to see itself as the successor to the British colonial masters. Both bureaucrats as well as their political overseers have retained the British-era system, in which they function in a manner which keeps them separate from the rest of society. They are given privileges which publicly indicate their “Herrenmensch” status on roads, airports and mostly everywhere else in India. Of course, the more the powers and the intrusive nature of rules, the greater the opportunity to collect bribes. Even in the matter of FDI, the just-announced changes are only half-measures, sanctioning a limit of 49% rather than 100% (with a single “Gold Share” in each held by the state in case of selected contingencies). The 49% limit is so that business houses who are patrons of many bureaucrats get approached by foreign companies intending to operate in India. Such genuflection to a few vested interests rather than public interest is at the root of the half and quarter measures getting rolled out. The PMO needs to enforce the will of the PM rather than allow it to get diluted in implementation. The PMO needs to ensure that “half” and “quarter” reforms get replaced by full measures, and that transparency and accountability get enforced across the administrative system. Along with the politicians, it is the failure of officials to finally deliver fullscope change during these 18 months, which is at the root of the BJP’s reverses in Bihar. 

Friday 13 November 2015

Military should work with Suu Kyi (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, November 13, 2015 - Karl Marx wrote that when history repeats itself, the first time is a tragedy and the second time only a farce. 25 years ago, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming majority in the Myanmarese Parliament, only to have the result ignored by the Myanmar military, who placed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, in house arrest and continued to govern the country. 

The law in that country was made by the military rulers which provided that any citizen with a foreign passport or children with a foreign passport would be ineligible to become the Prime Minister, a law clearly designed to prevent Suu Kyi from taking over that post. It is understandable if someone with a foreign passport be deprived of the right to become the Prime Minister, because those holding this most sensitive of posts should be loyal exclusively to the country and to none other. However, it is illogical to extend such a provision to those who are citizens but who have ever been married to non-citizens, or whose children are non-citizens. 

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has proved her loyalty to Myanmar and her love for the country by not leaving it even when her husband (and father of her two children) was dying of disease in the UK. The military government was willing to give her only a one-way ticket, and this was unacceptable to the steely, charismatic, lady. Given her popularity and her dedication, the law restricting her from being sworn in as the PM needs to be done away with, and hopefully this will be on the immediate agenda of the new government, which will undoubtedly be that of the NLD.

Under the Myanmar Constitution, 25% of the seats in the Myanmar Parliament are reserved for the military; and should the generals support a move to do away with the prohibition on Suu Kyi becoming the PM, relations between the two will thaw almost immediately. The Myanmar leader has shown a willingness not to allow the past to affect her approach in the present, and if the hand of friendship extended by such an attitude is reciprocated by the military, much of the stability essential for large-scale international investment will be assured. The biggest beneficiary will be the military, because (a) the armed forces directly and indirectly are in control of the bulk of the organised economy of the country and (b) an expansion of the economy means more funds to pay for a better equipped military. As the trajectory of the Soviet Union has shown, to base a big military on a small economy, will end in disaster. 

Myanmar is on its course to attract upto $ 125 billion in foreign investment over the next three years, provided that there is the political stability possible through a cooperative relationship between the NLD and the armed forces. Such a high level of investment would ensure the ending of poverty in the country within a generation, provided policies that are pro-growth and not pro-crony are taken. The problem in South Asia is that crony capitalism has drained away much of the vitality of private industry. In India for example, the bureaucracy has ensured that its crony capitalist patrons are protected by regulations, including on foreign investment. A foreign company investing in the Defence sector, for example, can have only 49% of the equity in a company. The reason for this is not the protection of the national interest, but an attempt to force an intending investor to agree to a well-connected Indian partner who will retain control. Had there been no cap, few foreigners would have joined such collaboration, especially with inefficient crony capitalists who are expert only at getting concessions from the government at the expense of the national interest. 

As it is, the 49% cap will ensure that almost all serious players will keep out of India, as they have no desire to take the hints thrown in their direction by the bureaucracy to join hands as a minority partner with a crony capitalist. Hopefully, Myanmar will be more rational in its policies towards external investment than India has been. 25 years is a long time, and much has changed during this period. Given the fact that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has demonstrated her hold over the voter so convincingly, and her devotion to the country by opting to remain in house arrest within Myanmar than a comfortable life in another country, it is reasonable to expect that the military in Myanmar will ensure that the space for her and the team led by her is sufficient to ensure effective governance. 

Unless there is effective governance, unless jobs are provided to young people within the country in the hundreds of thousands, unless the tax base increases through economic expansion, there will be the same chaos that was seen in Egypt. While commentators blame the Wahabbization of Egyptian society by Mohammad Morsi as the reason for his downfall, a more potent cause was the impact of his social policies on economic growth. Tourism and the service sector contracted sharply during his brief term in office as President of Egypt, sparking off the unrest that brought him down.

Economic growth is essential for political stability, and the more moderate and inclusive the policies and approach followed, the better the climate for development. Chronic sectarianism and violence are killers of the “feel good” atmosphere vital to the optimism required for people to give their best in their occupations rather than simply while away their time as was the case for two decades in the Soviet Union, until it collapsed. In foreign policy, Myanmar needs to ensure close relations with China, the US-EU and India. The manner in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has comported herself during the decades of house arrest and the trauma she has undergone fighting for democracy give confidence that the NLD will follow such a course. 

President Thein Sein and his followers, although they have lost the election, need to be congratulated for having ushered in democracy into Myanmar. Should the outgoing leadership and the incoming administration adopt a comradely attitude towards each other, the vast potential of the Myanmarese economy will get realised within a decade, especially given the talented population in that country. Ideally, the law should be amended to facilitate Suu Kyi as the President of Myanmar. Closer cooperation rather than friction between the military and the NLD would be the best case scenario for this important regional power.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India. 

Int'l Symposium on Regional Security and Transnational Crime, Taipei

Speech of Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat, UNESCO Peace Chair, Manipal University @ International Symposium on Regional Security and Transnational Crime, Taipei, Taiwan

Sunday 8 November 2015

Dismantle ‘Nehruvian Reality' (Organiser)

The overhang of ‘Nehruvian Realism’ which hangs over Bharat’s foreign and domestic policies needs to be dismantled, and Narendra Modi is well positioned to do that.

Despite the opposition of almost all others in the higher ranks of the Congress Party, Mahatma Gandhi ensured the steady ascent of Jawaharlal Nehru, first as AICC President and later as the first Prime Minister of Bharat because of his individualistic style of functioning. Economic and foreign policy in Bharat became what Nehru thought it should be, policy options that were often unrelated to realities, and which were often self-contradictory. China presents a textbook example of what may be described as policy based on “Nehruvian reality” i.e. reality defined as the subjective and personal view of Jawaharlal Nehru. 

Once the first Prime Minister of Bharat decided to support without reserve Beijing’s move into Tibet, the option of military assistance to the Tibetan resistance by the US, the UK and other powers got eliminated, despite the fact that the 1950 Chinese intervention in the Korean war had made several US generals look at challenging China in Tibet as a counter. Certainly the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) would have been hard pressed to succeed against international forces which included the US and Bharat, especially in view of the fact that the Dalai Lama’s entourage was opposed to the takeover of Tibet by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). However, such plans depended on Bharat joining the alliance against Beijing, and this Jawaharlal Nehru opposed in his policy of total support to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The then Prime Minister of Bharat ignored the fact that: it had not been Mao Zedong but his foe Chiang Kai-shek who had backed Bharateeya Independence throughout the 1939-45 war years, Tibet was the source of much of the river water so essential to life and agriculture in the northern parts of Bharat, the CCP saw Bharat led by Nehru as a rival if not an enemy, and had made this explicit in its policy pronouncements and, siding with China would place Bharat on the opposite side of the US, which consequently would gravitate towards Pakistan, which had cosied up to Washington in contrast to Beijing-leaning Bharat. Even the USSR would have been happy, were Delhi to adopt a policy of distance from Mao Zedong, as the Chinese leader was unpopular in Moscow because of his refusal to accept Moscow as the final arbiter of policy the way other ruling communist parties had. However, Nehruvian reality saw an alignment with Beijing as being more valuable than these considerations, and hence Nehru went full throttle with Mao.

By 1957, the CCP through the PLA was in full control of Tibet, and the option of a military reversal of this situation dwindled to near insignificance. At the same time, it was obvious that tension was high between Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama of Tibet and Mao Zedong. This was the time when border negotiations were proceeding between China and Bharat, with Premier Zhou Enlai bringing proposals to Nehru that overall formalised the status quo. Given the situation at the time, this was an offer which it would have been advantageous to accept, and the Chinese side was therefore taken by surprise at Nehru’s refusal to agree to any settlement other than a Chinese withdrawal from Aksai Chin, the only territory which linked Tibet with Xinjiang at the time. However, ‘Nehruvian reality’ held that it was possible to persuade China to agree to withdraw from Aksai Chin, if only Prime Minister of Bharat held firm on this demand. And later, that giving refuge to the Dalai Lama and - in effect - allowing him to set up a Government in Exile on Bharateeya territory would not prove a provocation too substantial for Mao to ignore. Or later, in 1962, that an army that had taken on the US in Korea would flinch from attacking an Bharateeya army made operationally weak by official parsimony and hostility.

The 1957-59 refusal to agree to the status quo as the basis for a border settlement ignited suspicion in Beijing that Nehru was covertly in league with Washington to plot a future attack on China designed to prise away Xinjiang and Tibet from Beijing’s control. Such a view on Bharateeya intentions was reinforced with the stationing of the Dalai Lama in Bharat and the welcome given to him by Nehru. What happened afterwards in Sino-Bharat relations is well known and hence need not be repeated. Suffice it to say that the latent hostilty between Beijing and Delhi persisted, creating a deadlock in the border negotiations and ensuring that China made Pakistan a nuclear and missile power that had only Bharat as its enemy, the same way as Beijing ensured that North Korea would be a nuclear and missile power that focussed on Japan and South Korea as its immediate enemies. Successive governments in Delhi have refused to deviate from the Nehruvian mould of acting as though the wish were the fact, thereby ensuring that policies grounded in actual conditions continue to be the exception, including with China, a country whose leaders practice Real Politik with a capital ‘R’.

As has been the practice since Nehru, agencies in Bharat have a propensity to look at matters through a prism provided from outside, thereby ensuring that the policy formulated and implemented works to the benefit of external players rather than Bharat. An example is the ‘security’ block on investment and tourist arrivals from the PRC, a policy that meets with approval from countries that themselves lay out the red carpet for Chinese money andvisitors.

Although individuals such as Chandra Shekhar and P V Narasimha Rao were not Nehruvian in their approach to issues, the constraints placed by a Nehru-ised bureaucracy as well as the need to retain the support of the Nehru family (in the shape of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi espectively) weakened their efforts at changing the overall national policy matrix into a post-Nehruvian form. Only with the swearing-in of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister on May 26, 2014 we can say that a post-Nehruvian era has the potential to begin in Bharat. 
On China, the new Prime Minister speedily placed his stamp, rejecting the earlier policy of blocking opportunities from that country because of worries over the threat posed by China. Instead, Modi has backed a policy of taking advantage of the opportunity while dealing with the threat, so that economic development is increased. Of course, much remains to be done to ensure the smooth rollout of this changed policy, as even such innovations as including China in the ‘visa on arrival’ scheme are facing silent slowdowns and outright sabotage by Nehru-ised elements in the bureaucracy. However, it is expected that such roadblocks will get cleared by Prime Minister Modi, as will those standing in the way of Chinese investment in Bharat.

At the same time, Modi has not hesitated to make common cause with countries such as Vietnam, Japan and others who reject China’s bid to claim ownership of the South China Sea on the basis of historical claims. 

China represents a combination of threat and opportunity so far as Bharat is concerned, and the more the opportunity gets actualised, the lower will the threat level move to. Till Prime Minister Modi began his diplomacy towards China, the immense synergies between the two countries have remained largely unutilised. This is changing, and China is on course to become a major international investor in Bharat, besides a source of inbound tourism which could rival that of the NRI annual traffic. The overhang of ‘Nehruvian Realism’ which hangs over Bharat’s foreign and domestic policies needs to be dismantled, and Narendra Modi is well positioned to do that. Indeed, a post-Nehruvian policy towards China could lead to a settlement of the border issue during the period in office of President Xi and Prime Minister Modi, thereby entitltling them to win the title of global peacemakers. It could lead to trade between the two countries crossing the $ 500 billion mark, as also mutual investment. But for this, those elements in China who are hostile towards Bharat will need to be faced by an equally hard-nosed policy from Delhi. 

M D Nalapat (The wrtier is Professor of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University)‘Nehruvian-Reality-.aspx

Chidambaram and Sibal pose as votaries of freedom (Sunday Guardian)

By Madhav Nalapat | 7 November, 2015
Those who perpetuated regressive laws when they were masters of the state have now become lovers of liberty.
During the ten years when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister of India, Palaniappan Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal ensured the passage of a raft of legislation and regulations designed to tighten the control of the state over the citizen. An example was the Information Technology Act 2005, or Chidambaram’s edict of a six-month gap between visas that was tailor made to kill the tourism industry. It was during the “liberal” UPA days that laws relating to sexual harassment got enacted that had zero effect on atrocities against women, but exponentially increased the space available to the police and to others in authority to hound and harass citizens born male. How such regressive behaviour during the UPA years escaped the attention of the many who have in past weeks returned the tokens of their official awards, is a mystery. Intolerance at the hands of the state has long been a fact of life for those not millionaires or officials. Certainly the NDA has yet to succeed in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission of ensuring “Minimum Government” (and thereby maximum governance) in India, which is presumably why even Chidambaram and Sibal can these days profess their faith in freedoms they opposed during their years in ministerial office. It was Chidambaram who was instrumental in getting Anna Hazare arrested, while Sibal enforced a sarkari chokehold over educational institutions while at HRD, to name just two of the unorthodox ways in which both supported freedoms while in power. It was a disappointment to many that the Telecom Ministry under the NDA supported Section 66A in the Supreme Court, only to have it struck down by the court. Or that the government favours such colonial-era restraints on freedom of speech as “criminal defamation”, a concept not found in the legal systems of other major democracies. Thanks to this outdated law, an individual with sufficient resources can file case after case against a publication and its staff, who will need to go through the time-consuming routine of court appearances and the seeking of bail to avoid incarceration for comments which would be deemed anodyne in the United States. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Rs 100 crore damages verdict against a television channel for broadcasting the wrong photograph of a judge for a few minutes (following this up with repeated corrections), much of the media in India has taken the line of least resistance and refused to carry reports about corruption and misfeasance out of fear that the documentary evidence available to the publication may not be enough to survive a charge of criminal defamation, not to mention damages of a punitive nature. Is it better for 99 crooks to escape exposure in order to ensure that a single innocent person be not wrongly portrayed for a temporary period, till the truth of his or her innocence emerges?
As for “hate crimes”, framing fresh laws about this would have as little impact on actual actions as the UPA-tightened laws on rape have. The Home Ministry set a very low bar for success in “hate speech” prosecutions in their affidavit deeming prosecution to be the course to follow in the case of a speech made a decade ago by Subramanian Swamy, and which vanished into oblivion until resurrected by the law officers of the present government. If the words mentioned as spoken by Swamy constitute a prosecutable offence, several thousand politicians in India would face a similar fate, as each of them have made comments far more pungent than what the former Commerce Minister is held to have spoken in the Home Ministry affidavit. There is no doubt that several of the self-declared “swamis” and “sadhvis” elected during the 2014 Modi wave are in need of medical attention. Hopefully, medication will reduce their symptoms. However, better than seeking the incarceration of such individuals would be to pillory them through the media, in view of the fact that barring a small number of crazed fanatics, people in India have contempt for those who throw abuse at citizens of a different faith or caste. The colonial reflex of regarding law (and the harsher this be, the better) as the option of choice for any contingency needs to be removed through the revocation of laws which clearly infringe freedoms central to democracy, such as freedom of dress, diet and lifestyle. 
Together with removing such anachronistic laws as criminal defamation and several of the curbs on freedom of speech introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru to dilute Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India, what is needed is to deepen and broaden the scope of Right to Information (RTI), including by ensuring that a majority of those appointed have their origins outside the civil service. Transparency is essential for good governance, while freedom is at the core of innovation. Prime Minister Modi’s plan to make India a hub of services and manufacturing will succeed only when freedoms are expanded way beyond the colonial confines of the Nehruvian state, and when transparency rather than opacity becomes the norm in the functioning of government. The sooner this is done, the quicker will be the collapse of the present movement against an “intolerance”, which has been present in each year of independence of a country whose people will no longer accept the British-era premise still retained by the civil service, that only the latter know what is good for the country, and the only role of the rest of society is to obey. Only by reversing the damage done by the Manmohan Singh government to individual freedoms will the Narendra Modi government show the incongruity of the campaign against it by those who perpetuated regressive laws so long as they were the masters of the state, but who have become lovers of liberty now that they are out of office.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Was ISIS right about a missile strike? (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

 Was it a bomb or a missile that brought down Kogalymavia 9268 over the Sinai desert on October 31? From the start, there have been determined efforts at floating theories about the crash, including that the tail section could have come apart because of maintenance issues. When it became impossible to deny the reality of the claim by ISIS (Daesh) that it had brought down the aircraft, the explanation given was that there was a bomb on board which exploded after the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, or after a pre-selected ( by the bomber) length of time. 

The pilots of the aircraft sought to reach a higher level soon after they apparently saw trouble ahead, and if there had been an explosive device programmed to go off in flight at cruise, the same would have exploded earlier, leaving the pilots with no time to fly the aircraft higher, from cruise altitude to the 33,500 foot level it had reached before descending to the 28,375 feet it was at when communications with the aircraft or within the vessel ceased. As for a timer-activated bomb, departure schedules from Sharm-al-Sheikh airport are often so erratic that it would have been impossible for a bomber to calculate just when the aircraft would reach its cruise altitude. Another possibility was not even mentioned, that of a suicide bomber on board, because of the fact that the passengers have each been identified as having no possible connection with terrorism, as would have been the case had there been a young Chechen onboard

Was ISIS (Daesh) being accurate when it claimed that the aircraft was brought down by a missile? A rash of reports have come out that such a development would have been impossible at the height at which the aircraft was travelling when it was brought down. The US-made

shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that have been made available to ISIS (Daesh) courtesy the “moderate opposition” has a range of around 24,000 feet at the most, while Russian-built SAMs have a unique “signature” that - according to media reports - was absent from the scene of the destruction of the aircraft. However, what if it was not a SAM but a lorry-mounted anti-aircraft missile of 35,000 feet range of the same type as is being used by NATO forces? Certainly Russian technical assets would have been able to decipher such a signature, although diplomatic considerations may prevent Moscow from making public the news. The NATO alliance would naturally wish to keep secret a situation where a missile once in their armoury was used by a terror group to kill 224 crew and others on a passenger aircraft.

However,a sequence of events has been presented by those with experience in such matters that could explain how and why the aircraft met its end. While those making the assertion testify to its accuracy, it needs to be remembered that in the absence of evidence other than hearsay, the sequence of events narrated can only be regarded as hypothetical. According to these individuals, those in high positions in a member-state of NATO were angered by what they saw as repeated intrusions into their territory by Russian aircraft engaged in bombing ISIS (Daesh) targets in Iraq and Syria. They therefore decided to make available two units of lorry-mounted anti-aircraft missile systems to the “moderate opposition”, so that these could get transported to Syria and used on incoming Russian aircraft engaged in hostile actions against what NATO and its partners define as the “moderate opposition”. 

Unfortunately, the Russian military aircraft were too sophisticated to get taken down by the relatively untrained crew handling the systems they had been presented by a member-state of the NATO alliance. And once a system was used, the provenance would immediately be clear. It was then decided to send one of the systems to the Sinai, to be used against civilian aircraft belonging to the NATO alliance rather than to Russia, as the latter would be certain to respond in a way that the former has yet to do on the ground, content as even the US is to deliver pinpricks rather than jabs to ISIS (Daesh) forces on the ground in Iran and Syria.

The vehicle on which the anti-aircraft system was mounted was driven across Jordan to the Sinai, camouflaged both by the penetration of ISIS-friendly elements within the security agencies of the region as well as the fact that it would be deemed impossible that a terror group rather than a legitimate force would transport such equipment in the open. There are patches of the Sinai where security is low to zero, and once the vehicle reached this section of Egypt, it was taken to a location in the effective control of those in sympathy with the aims of ISIS. Less than a month later, mistaking the Russian aircraft for that belonging to an airline in a NATO member-state, the system was activated. A pilot on board flight 9268 saw the missile coming at his aircraft and sought to avoid it through going to a higher altitude, before deciding to dive in another effort to escape the projectile. The manoeuvre did not help, and the aircraft was hit. Presumably the fact that it was a missile rather than an onboard explosive device would have been clear to those countries proficient in the technical means needed to track and lock on to missile systems. Ordinarily, Moscow would have no interest in keeping secret the reality of an aircraft being hit by a NATO-supplied system, but the country has been undergoing substantial pain as a consequence of US-EU sanctions, so if silence as to cause of the disaster would result in a significant dilution of sanctions, it may be regarded as a price worth paying, especially as the 224 citizens on board the targeted flight are no longer among the living

What is needed is an accounting of the weapons used by ISIS (Daesh) against its foes, including the types and provenance, based on battlefield remnants and spent ammunition. Unless such a flow be checked, as well as the equally toxic flow of cash to the terror group from well-wishers scattered across the region, this cancer will spread to an extent dangerous for the stability of the Middle East. Keeping silent about the truth may serve a short-term,tactical purpose. But in order to beneficially affect the long-term, in order to gain strategically, it may be necessary for truth to be revealed, so that the ugliness visible may be identified and eliminated rather than be allowed to continue by a policy of stealth and secrecy.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.