Sunday 27 March 2016

‘Midnight knocks’ cannot end poverty in India (Sunday Guardian)

By M.D. Nalapat | 26 March, 2016
India needs a pragmatic policy matrix, not measures driven by the TRP cycle.
Those who argue in favour of hyper-expensive welfare schemes designed to provide some income to the underprivileged are correct in pointing out that the super rich take away a much bigger share of national resources. Among HNIs, the offenders are those who make billions by getting public sector banks to loan them huge amounts of money, and thereafter use the services of financial consultants to siphon the cash away towards locales where money hoards can easily disappear. Instances are many in which such a game plan has been resorted to multiple times, each time passing off a Ponzi scheme as genuine business, which ends deliberately in the collapse of the sacrificial goat of a company and the accumulation of more “non-performing assets” (NPAs) in the balance sheets of banks. Often, such depredators relocate to countries where they are safe from authorities in India. Should the DRI or the ED quiz the financial advisors of such runaways, they would soon be able to learn how and where taxpayer money has disappeared to. However, these “legitimate” experts in money laundering usually have as their closest friends those high up in the political and bureaucratic system, a factor which has protected these “financial advisors” from the investigating agencies. These have become expert in catching a few smaller fish every now and again to keep television anchors busy, while the sharks remain unmolested.
However, the fact is that those who take bank loans with the intention of not repaying them but siphoning off much of the amount are an easily identifiable handful. The majority of entrepreneurs are honest, although many are facing ruin because of the sluggish business environment caused by high taxes and interest rates and an exceptionally high degree of discretion in the hands of officials, not all of whom are honest. As a consequence, such innocent businesspersons too run up NPAs. Unlike what is the practice in India of erasing the distinction between crookedness and bad luck, the “Ponzi minority” alone ought to be punished. If India has not so far been able to replicate the double digit growth rates that post-Deng China has enjoyed for a generation, the reason is that the bureaucracy has acted as though the minority of crooks is representative of the majority of businesspersons. Just as “hard” drugs (such as heroin and cocaine) need to be given police attention, rather than “soft” (i.e., marijuana), the ED, DRI and other agencies need to focus on the few Ponzi scamsters to ensure that the moneys get returned, in some cases in exchange for freedom from prison. At the cost of being politically incorrect, let it be repeated that a businessman in jail does little substantive good to the hundreds of millions of the poor than an individual who pays back to the exchequer the bulk of what he in effect stole from the banking system. Attention needs to be on those who, (a) have clearly acted in a Ponzi mode, and who have (b) major bank loans outstanding that co-exist with records of extensive overseas and domestic assets.
It was Industry Minister Narasimha Rao who kick-started reform in India in 1992, by freeing much of industry from the licence raj, and it is expected that much more reform along the same lines will be accomplished by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he gets into his stride in Year 3 and Year 4 of his term. In contrast, Finance Minister Manmohan Singh was responsible (through a tax and duty structure that penalised domestic industry and gave an unbeatable advantage to imports) for the early smothering of the computer hardware industry in India. As a consequence, this country spends more on importing computer and related equipment than it does on buying oil and gas. However, because the government left them alone for a while, the IT software industry developed, as did telecom. From 16 million telephones a generation ago, this country now has nearly 900 million phone connections, landline and mobile, even in locations where there is no electricity or infrastructure. From a base of zero, there are now more than 300,000 telecom towers, although double that is needed for universal and high quality coverage.
Narendra Modi is right. Digital India is the only way India can ensure that its billion-plus people secure jobs and an income adequate to live a dignified life. But for this to succeed, there is need to avoid policy errors as levying tax on a buyer (Vodafone) or blocking major overseas investors (such as the Malaysian top executives of Aircel Maxis) from ever coming back to India. Those politicians and officials who connived at Aircel Maxis chicanery need to be sent jail, and the businesspersons concerned be made to pay up the money lost through official corruption. Such recompense, rather than be subjected to warrants that are unenforceable, are the way forward. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s equating of the bribe giver and the bribe taker was wrong. The former should be given a pass in exchange for making up the loss to the exchequer and providing evidence against the politicians and officials who took bribes and other favours from them. Within India, the people of Gujarat are known for their pragmatism. In the witch-hunting culture that the nation is witnessing since the 2010 Commonwealth Games scandal (where again none of the truly big depredators appear to have been netted), it is such pragmatism—which focuses on concrete results rather than televised symbolism—that India needs. Only such a pragmatic policy matrix rather than measures driven by the TRP cycle will ensure that India’s entrepreneurs generate the tens of millions of new jobs needed to protect India from a desi version of the Arab Spring rather than remain paralysed by fear of a midnight knock. 

Friday 25 March 2016

Three musketeers & Brussels blasts (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
The March 22, 2016 terror attack in Brussels was a tragedy foretold in these columns, when – following the Cameron-Clinton-Sarkozy intervention in Libya, it was pointed out that the intervention would generate a swelling flow of refugees into Europe as well as a secure base from where attacks on European Union members could get launched by terror groups. The problem with what is referred to in narcissistic terms as “The West” is that the countries belonging to this group consider themselves to be the only repositories of wisdom and look down with derision at assessments coming from “underdeveloped” locales, unless they be from individuals who have spent years in academic locales within the “western world” and who have therefore become an echo chamber for the views fashionable there, in the process shutting out any consideration of the realities of life in the locations they analyse.

“Western” scholars know a dizzying amount of detail, such as fluency in languages of different regions, but without understanding much of the emphases and uses of irony used by native speakers of such languages, with the result that nuances essential to understanding “deep meaning”( i.e. meaning beyond simple strings of words ) in what gets said or sometimes written in such target countries. In the case of Libya and later Syria, it is obvious that strategic planners in the US, the UK and France failed to conduct an exhaustive study of the prolific writings of those who opposed Muammar Kaddafy and Bashar Assad.

Had they done so, it would have been clear that it was not an attachment to Westminister-style democracy that impelled them to oppose the two authoritarians but a conviction that both were enemies of the fanatic Wahabbi faith that the extremists of Daesh or Al Qaeda profess. The consequence of such neglect of the intellectual roots of opposition to the regimes in Tripoli and Damascua was the Cameron-Clinton-Sarkozy policy of joining hands with Ankara, Doha and Riyadh in funding, training and equipping such anti-Kaddafy and anti-Assad fanatics to do battle on the model of 1980s Afghanistan.
When David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Nicholas Sarkozy watch on their television screens images of the dead and wounded in the Brussels attacks, it is unlikely that they will make the connection between this and their own actions beginning early 2011 onwards. “Western” politicians, officials and academics live in a bubble created entirely out of their own perceptions of the truth, and it is a bubble where the blame for disasters always rests elsewhere. The consequences of the actions taken by chancelleries in the major NATO powers are fobbed off to the natives. An example is mass killing of children, old and the diseased in Iraq caused by the sanctions imposed by President William Jefferson Clinton on Iraq in the 1990s, measures that were designed not simply to constrict the military led by Saddam Hussein but to inflict such misery on people of Iraq that they would turn on their dictatorial government.

Predictable, they instead saw the major powers in NATO as the guilty party, and this drove several to join fighting groups active against US forces in Iraq, as well as Al Qaeda offshoots that were active in global terror operations. Will Madeleine Albright acknowledge the role the sanctions so ruthlessly enforced by her on Iraq have played in creating the conditions for the mindsets of terror to flourish in Iraq and subsequently other locations where the military-oriented interventionist policies of David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Nicholas Sarkozy (as well as the successors of the latter duo) took place. Instead, the narrative heard in think tanks and official chambers in Washington, London or Paris is that Nazi-style organisations such as Daesh are the consequences of the very authoritarians in the Middle East who have for decades been in reality the death target of such outfits.

It is, however, not intellectual dishonesty that leads to such absurd conclusions but a suspension of belief in the truth and an almost subconscious embrace of a manufactured version of events in which truth gets garbled into conclusions that are removed from reality. Even two years after the toxic effects of their intervention have become too widespread to ignore, the John Kerrys and the Francois Hollandes still call for fresh doses of Cameron-Clinton-Sarkozy policy of going in locations where angels forbear to enter, despite clear evidence of the security risks of such policies to their own countries.

Astonishingly, as yet very few in France, the UK and the US accept that the terror attacks which are spreading like a rash across western Europe are the consequence of the policies followed by the Three Musketeers. Apart from the fact that Hillary Clinton may become the next President of the US and Sarkozy that of France, while Cameron remains Head of Government in the UK, what is disquieting is that the three apparently believe the fiction that they mouth. Such as that the carnage now being caused in Syria is the direct consequence of Barack Obama’s “timidity” in not recreating a Libyan-style intervention in Syria in 2012.

The reality is that an offer was made in that year for a peace agreement very similar to what is being discussed in Geneva these days, but this was shot down by France, the UK and US, who believed that Assad was about to fold. Today, there is no way the Geneva talks can succeed. The country is already fractured and cannot be put together again. What will emerge is a Kurdish state, a residual state controlled by Bashar Assad for the duration, and a sliver of territory that will in effect be a failed state let kept going for reasons of preetige and ego by some regional capitals.

Should the Assad regime have been taken down in 2012,by now not 40% but 80% of the Syrian population would have been refugees. It is mendacious of Hillary Clinton and other fantasists to suggest otherwise. However, given the poor level of understanding in modern Europe and North America of the chemistry and mechanics of the Middle East, wisdom is unlikely to dawn before the Daesh virus metastises to a level that will make bombings such as what took place in Brussels a part of everyday life in first Europe and afte rwards, the US.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Modi’s governance makeover is real (Sunday Guardian)

Despite naysayers, the next two years will show transformation due to his governance.
Despite the less than adulatory commentary in the media about the overall performance of his government, Narendra Modi’s government is miles different from that of his predecessor. However, whether intentionally or accidently, the transmission of information about the changes being effected by the chaiwalla-turned-pracharak from Gujarat has gotten refracted through perception prisms that shrink the actual gains, much as trick mirrors convert tall people into short. An error was the initial economic survey of the new government, which gave an upbeat report card on the performance of the last government. This was clearly because both were written by the same set of bureaucrats, who naturally did not want to admit that the measures they adopted during the last six “disaster years” of the UPA drove the economy very close to what had been the case in 1991 when P.V. Narasimha Rao took over the job presently being held by Modi.
Certainly, fiscal and monetary policy needs to better serve the indispensable objective of generating enough additional jobs each year in India to prevent an “Arab Spring” (i.e., a descent into populist chaos) taking place in cities across India even before the next Lok Sabha elections fall due in 2019.
North Block babus have long been conditioned to view each budget in single year terms, rather than design tax structures that may suffer a notional loss in revenue over the first year or two, but which would subsequently more than compensate through higher growth. Lower taxes, gentler compliance, and the CBI desisting from arrogating to itself the role of an Anna Hazare-style all-powerful Lokayukta of the banking system would improve investor confidence sufficient to make companies sitting on huge piles of cash spend once again, besides sending share prices higher so that any dilution of equity by the state would garner much higher returns than taxes lost for a short while by lower rates. Had the Black Money Bill, for example, adopted lower tax rates and penalties, it would have raked in many times more than the revenue it has. In the case of direct taxes, a penalty of 300% will usually result in the bankruptcy of an individual or a company.
Destroying a company, as took place in the case of Nokia in Tamil Nadu, or sending a businessperson to prison, helps the people not at all.
What does, would be an injection of money through disclosure made easier by a climate of trust and lesser penalties.
Those who have watched the manner in which Narendra Modi ensured steady growth and stability in Gujarat will be hoping that the Prime Minister moves ahead with speed on doing away with irksome administrative procedures, whose sole function is to generate bribes for corrupt officers. They will be looking to a chopping off of the thicket of colonial laws (including several introduced since 1947) that are each suffused with colonial contempt and mistrust of the citizen. When a citizen comes face to face with an official, the silent message too often conveyed in the latter’s manner is that the citizen is either a fool or a knave, and therefore undeserving of discretion and consideration. Each layer of anti-corruption legislation and consequent agencies has generated more, not less, graft, and such filth will get reduced only when procedures get introduced that are fair and transparent. Unless a process generates product, unless systems generate an outcome of value to the people, they are useless. In India, many, if not most, processes block product and outcomes rather than facilitate them, and voters are looking to Modi to examine and implement ways by which the present colonial system of governance gets replaced by a 21st century construct that recognises the right of individuals to freedoms and autonomy of action that are commonplace in many of the countries the Prime Minister has visited over the past year.
India is also expecting a foreign policy attuned to the need of the country for growth and security than an adherence to cosmic principles that deflect attention away from the former two objectives. In this context, the Prime Minister appears to be fine-tuning a balance between the two largest economies on the globe, the US and China. In the case of the first, Delhi needs to make Washington its primary partner in matters of security, and a good start would be to sign the three Defense Foundation Agreements that have been delayed for far too long by bureaucrats and politicians seeking to atone for sending sons and daughters to the US by deciding against necessary linkages with that country in specific fields. Where China is concerned, that country has the potential over the next five years of emerging as the largest investor in this country, both through FDI as well as by providing our corporates with loans. Certainly, Beijing will look askance on a close security relationship between the US and India, but just as India’s unease has not prevented China from continuing to shower Pakistan with sensitive technologies, nor should its displeasure stop India from closer military to military ties with the US. When ISIS attacks India, this country will need to respond via attacks on locations controlled by it, and in such circumstances, entering into mutually beneficial pacts with the US would greatly increase this country’s options for retaliation. At the same time, earlier barriers on Chinese investment and tourism into India need to be dismantled so as to transfer jobs to India rather than keep them overseas.
Despite the naysayers and the admirers-turned-critics of the Prime Minister, it would be safe to predict that the next two years will make obvious the transformation which the unique governance style of Modi is making in our country, a change that will become obvious by the time he enters into his mega electoral test in 2019, even if his party loses every state election till then. What counts most of all to take transformation forward is victory in the Lok Sabha polls.

‘Pak GHQ plans betrayal on Pathankot planners’ (Sunday Guardian)

By MADHAV NALAPAT | NEW DELHI | 19 March, 2016

Sources say that ISI has recommended that six or seven individuals identified by the agency as Indian agents be sent, rather than those actually guilty.
Officials outside India, who are involved in counter-terror operations, warn that GHQ Rawalpindi is planning a “betrayal” on the issue of sending the actual planners of the 2 January 2016 Pathankot terror strike to India. They claim that the ISI has recommended that six or seven individuals identified by the agency as agents of India be sent, rather than those actually guilty, thereby daring authorities in India to put these innocents on trial and execute them on the charge of being perpetrators of the terror attack on the airbase in which six of the attackers lost their lives.
Such a betrayal would occasion no surprise among those who have tracked the operations of GHQ Rawalpindi for three decades. Although officials remain silent over the fatalities caused by the Pakistan army GHQ covert war on India, which began in the 1980s, those familiar with the situation say that “an estimate of 200,000 killed in acts of terrorism, insurgency and hate crimes fomented in this country from across the border would be accurate”. Trackers of terror say that the Pakistan army, despite periodic words of reassurance designed to soothe Washington, has “not slackened its activities in India and is, on the contrary, reinforcing them for a big push during the next two years”. Meanwhile, Delhi has continued with the three-decade-long policy of pointing out to the Pakistan establishment the misdeeds of GHQ, especially its covert operational wing, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
In the 1980s, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent multiple overt and secret missions to Pakistan with evidence of GHQ’s activities in the Punjab. Such information included lists of individuals known to be funding, training and equipping those engaged in the Khalistan terror insurgency. Each was met by a denial or a “we will get back to you” response. Finally, after it became clear that Pakistan would do nothing besides a few anodyne statements and vague commitments that were ignored in practice, a decision was taken by Rajiv Gandhi to brief important world capitals about such activities—but in the midst of the Afghanistan conflict, when Washington, Beijing, Riyadh and London were assisting religious extremists to battle the Soviet Union, these entreaties went unanswered in practice.
Instead of assistance to quell such actions, increased pressure was brought on India by the US and its allies not to intensify, but stop necessary police and army operations against Pakistan-trained irregulars in the Punjab. By the close of the 1980s, when it became clear that Moscow was soon going to pull out of Kabul, GHQ Rawalpindi began a programme of training youth from the Kashmir Valley in armed combat and terror operations, and in creating a climate of intolerance against the Hindu minority in the Valley. Those involved in operations during that period say that there was almost “zero interest” in Delhi at devising ways of preventing Kashmir from going the Punjab way, especially after V.P. Singh took over as Prime Minister on 2 December 1989. Counter-measures against GHQ became reinforced only after the coming to office of the Narasimha Rao government in 1991.
Once the ISI’s Kashmir front became fully operational by 1993, once again the Government of India busied itself sending huge volumes of information to Pakistan, the US, the UK, China and other countries about what was taking place in the state. By 1991, when the Narasimha Rao government took office, as many as 1,200 Kashmiri youths had been trained in terror and mayhem in camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a number which ballooned to 6,000 by 1995. Indian agencies dutifully compiled lists of those trained by the Pakistan army, again to no avail.
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel implemented the Clinton administration game plan of forcing India to concede the Kashmir Valley to Pakistan, or at the least to cease defensive operations against the armed groups operating there. Unsurprisingly, not a single Pakistan-trained terrorist was handed over despite conclusive evidence of their location and previous terror activities in India. Although the Indian Army has been accused by pro-Islamabad and pro-Wahhabi groups worldwide of being solely responsible for the 96,000 deaths in Kashmir during the armed phase of the conflict, in reality, almost all the killings were done by terror groups so as to intimidate and overawe the local population, much of whom remained wedded to Kashmiriyat and who, therefore, refused to join actively in the armed struggle. Earlier in the Punjab as well the overwhelming majority of the Sikh population showed their loyalty to India by rejecting calls by Pakistan-based groups to participate in the conflict on the Khalistan side. Ultimately, the courageous Sikh soldiers in the armed forces and dedicated Sikh policemen were the decisive force in ensuring that the effort by GHQ to separate the Punjab from India failed.
Incidentally, apart from the Kashmir cauldron peaking, 1993 was also the year when a home-grown operator, Dawood Ibrahim, perpetrated the killings of dozens of individuals in Mumbai. Despite UN and US designations as an “international terrorist”, despite dossiers regularly presented to authorities across the globe, Dawood Ibrahim is leading the comfortable life of a multi-millionaire, and is unlikely to be voluntarily surrendered by Islamabad to India. Indeed, the authorities in Delhi were unable to persuade or pressure Pakistan to release even a single D-Company, Hizbul Mujahideen, Kashmiri or Khalistani terrorist from Pakistan. Instead, the flow was in the reverse direction, as with Masood Azhar being released and sent to Pakistan after the 1999 Kathmandu hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft. Azhar repaid the favour done by the A.B. Vajpayee government by forming the Jaish-e-Muhammad and perpetrating the 2001 attack on Parliament, thereby sparking off a fresh round of effort to get him to India, with no success thus far. In 2008, after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, agencies in India launched an international manhunt for Hafiz Saeed. The hunt was carried out through Track 1 and Track 2 dialogues, dossiers, diplomatic missions and much else, and again came out with a zero score. After the 2016 attack at Pathankot, once again a renewed effort has begun by authorities in India to get back Masood Azhar.
Hopefully, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get back the individual whom Prime Minister Vajpayee freed.
Officials tracking Pakistan say that authorities in that country, who are involved in terror operations in India, “intensify Track 2 diplomacy, as well as pump additional funds to select NGOs to divert attention away from Pakistan to internal issues in India”. This took place despite multiple efforts by Delhi to regularise the relationship between the two countries. According to international experts, such indifference on the part of the military establishment in Pakistan to rolling back terror operations in India are continuing despite the efforts of the Narendra Modi government to create a climate of peace and trust with India’s troublesome neighbour to its west. This sincerity was shown, for example, by the Bangkok talks of 6 December 2015, in which National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval led the Indian side. On 25 December last year, Prime Minister Modi surprised the world by calling on his counterpart in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, at Lahore. Modi ignored warnings by his security team and decided to take a risk for peace by going impromptu to a country whose military was in continuous conflict with India since the time when India (and Pakistan) became free countries. However, in a message to both Modi as well as Nawaz Sharif, within a week of the history-making visit, Pathankot happened. Fortunately, the multiple killings planned by controllers in Pakistan failed to take place, because of the gallantry of the men in uniform.
It was pointed out by officials that the much heralded gesture by Islamabad of “warning” India that 10 terrorists have sneaked into the county is an “empty gesture”, which will enable Pakistan to deflect blame for a future attack by saying “we told you so”. Stopping such terrorists in Pakistan before they enter India to strike would be a much more genuine show of good faith, but this GHQ is unwilling to do. All that it is ready to give are cosmetic gestures, they point out, adding that such empty actions are enough for those still having illusions that the Pakistan army has walked away from its efforts at Balkanizing and bleeding India.
These international experts say that as a further gesture of goodwill to the Pakistan side, it is understood that the involvement of GHQ Pakistan in the Dina Nagar attack in Gurdaspur and the arrest of LeT operative Naved were not followed by India asking Pakistan to allow an investigating team (for these two incidents) from India to visit Pakistan on the lines of the Pakistan team that is coming to India—including to the Pathankot airbase—to investigate this year’s terror attack on the base, when the actual investigation needs to be focused on Pakistan, the country where the terrorists involved were trained.
Dossiers of these attacks were provided to the Pakistan NSA, who feigned ignorance of both on the usual model of Deny, Deny, Deny. Security experts point out that conventionally, “the police and other agencies where the attack took place should play the lead role in investigations, and not the country of origin of the attackers”. They point out that “had the Pathankot precedent been followed after the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the Saudis would have been tasked with leading the investigation, instead of being a primary target of enquiry by the victim country”, i.e. the US.
Prime Minister Modi has been a special focus of GHQ, which is worried about the success of the PM’s global outreach and his measures to place the economy of India into double digit growth mode. Consequently, no fewer than 50 suicide bombers have been deployed in attacks that have taken place on Indian diplomatic and security interests since 26 May 2014, including 17 attacks on BSF, CRPF, Army, Air Force and diplomatic missions, even forgetting the multiple smaller attacks that took place in Kashmir during the same period. In the attacks on the Indian consulates in Afghanistan, nearly 20 suicide bombers were used, apart from three dozen in other major attacks within this country itself. Now that Pakistan has been presented with evidence by not just India, but the US as well, Islamabad has admitted that some of the terrorists came from their side, and have registered some cases, even arresting five operatives.
Interestingly, in the Pathankot FIR, the only name mentioned is that of NSA Ajit Doval, whom the Pakistan side wishes to summon as a witness in the trials involving Pathankot. Should the courts in that country issue summons and the Indian NSA—who is globally accepted as an authority on Pakistan—not respond, that could be used to free the guilty.  Instead of the NSA, an investigating team from India needs to be given permission to visit Bahawalpur and other locations in Pakistan where Masood Azhar is known to be based. The Modi government can be expected to insist on such reciprocal visits, in exchange for allowing a team from Pakistan to come to India and visit even sensitive installations.
The experts and officials spoken to are pessimistic that there will be “any” change in the approach of Islamabad, “as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has no influence over the military”, the organisation responsible for the India-directed terror factories in Pakistan. They are looking to PM Modi to ensure that Indian agencies be given the robust access to logistics hubs and establishments in Pakistan of the extremist groups as a reciprocal gesture for the unprecedented move by the Government of India to host a team of “investigators” from Pakistan, which is supposed to investigate the Pathankot attack, despite almost all the evidence of planning and directing the attack being on the other side of the border. However, those familiar with the working of the security establishment under Narendra Modi say that the Prime Minister and NSA Ajit Doval are “fully in the loop on the machinations of the ISI” and “are devising measures to ensure that such stratagems fail”.

Saturday 19 March 2016

World needs a ‘Global Century’ (Pakistan Observer)

In the United States, there are many who believe that the 21st century should also be that of their country, the way the post-1945 world was till the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. Strategic thinkers spend countless hours of effort on devising ways of ensuring that Washington retain not simply its primacy but its dominance over world affairs. The fact that Hollywood has for long been the celluloid medium of choice for elites and the middle class across the globe has made the task of retaining US status as the prime power easier, as has the reality that the dollar is still the reserve currency of the world, with most international transactions taking place in that currency. This has enabled the US to use the money of savers in other countries to fund its lavish ways.

For a time, the Euro emerged as a challenger, but the strains within the European Union are these days becoming less possible to conceal, and hence the dilution of the “Europe Premium”, which lingered on across the globe more than a century after the 1914-1919 war which first weakened the relative position of that continent. Had the Chinese economy been as fast-growing as it had been till the send term of Premier Wen Jiabao, the Yuan ( RMB) would have emerged as a competitor to the dollar, but these days, the economy of China is slowing down, while its structural problems remain significant and difficult to resolve. However, the RMB has been placed inside the IMF basket of key currencies, a long-deserved move up the global currency ladder.

Whether for individuals or for countries, excessive ego and pride creates situations where action becomes rash and counter-productive. While the 2001 attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan was justified (although later tweaks in policy were less so), the invasion of Iraq by George W Bush in 2003 should have been followed almost immediately after the victory of US forces against the ramshackle military commanded by Saddam Hussein by a withdrawal from the country, leaving the people of Iraq free to fashion their own destiny. Instead, a semi-colonial administration was established under Paul Bremer, who knew less about Iraq than most schoolchildren.

The postwar disaster of US policy in Iraq was followed later by adventures elsewhere, the overall effect of which has been to weaken the US and the global economy and to lead the the conclusion by President Obama that his country could not alone impose its will over others, but needed to be more circumspect in geopolitical matters, a course that was the reverse of the muscular “intervene at all costs” policy of Senator John McCain. Since 2008 it became clear that US dominance was past. For at least the past two years, it has been obvious that the era of US primacy itself is coming to a close. Across the globe, players are active that are not in thrall to Washington, the most visible being Russia and its intervention in Syria. This columnist believes that Putin’s intervention was needed. A victory over Bashar Assad of the so-called “moderate opposition” would have led to the entire country being a safe haven for terrorists, rather than just the third of the country that is ruled by extremists now. The good news for the US is that it is still far and away the most advanced of the scientific and technological powers, and its economy is still the largest, at least a decade ahead of China, the challenger.

However, clearly the 21st century will no longer be American Century. Given the chaos of Iraq and the Wall Street meltdown, there has not even been an American Decade thus far during this period. Such a vacuum has given rise to calls for an Asian Century, with this continent taking over from where first Europe and later North America left off. However, despite its overall economic performance, the continent of Asia is riddled with countries that have lower than even moderate standards of human rights and freedoms. Even in India, the world’s most populous democracy, there are repeated legal assaults on freedom of speech, and to jail a citizen has remained as easy a task post-1947 as it was during the period when the Union Jack was fluttering above the Viceregal Palace in Delhi.

In many countries, there are restrictions of dress and diet, while overall, opportunities for advancement are much fewer for the economically disadvantaged than they are for the tiny fraction of the population which forms the elite. Public schooling and health is still in miserable shape, while there are hundreds of millions of desperately poor people in Asia, almost as much as in the rest of the world combined. In terms of intellectual attainmnts and technology, Asia still lags behind Europe and North America.

Whether it be the UK or other major economies in Europe, these have lost out by their obsessive focus on Europeans only as desirable migrants. A software engineer from Hyderabad would have contributed much more to an economy than a immigrant from some of the rural parts of Rumania, yet it is the latter that wins the right to enter and to work inside the UK, France or Germany. Unlike the EU, the US has been more open to immigration from Asia, and this has been to its benefit, no matter what Donald Trump may say. As for Asia,most countries in the world’s largest continent have extensive trade and other linkages with faraway countries, which is as it should be in this age of instant communication.

Hence, rather than an American Century getting replaced by an Asian Century, what makes more sense is to aim at a Global Century, when each part of the globe will be able to activate the synergies it has with each of the other parts. Those continents that sought to create barriers around themselves, such as Europe, will lose ground against those open to the entire world. This truth mandates the need for the 21st to be a Global Century.

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

Sunday 13 March 2016

Mr Jaitley, enforce mergers to repay debt (Sunday Guardian)

By M.D. Nalapat | 13 March, 2016
If Vijay Mallya furnishes proof of VVIP mischief, he merits leniency.
To trap the big fish rather than minnows, India needs a more liberal application of US-style laws that provide for immunity to suspects of a crime, provided they come up with incriminating evidence about bigger accomplices. As much as the businesspersons involved, toxicity is generated by high-level politicians and officials, who connive at fraud and who share in the loot of public institutions. If more such accomplices in high positions get outed, the faster will be this country’s trajectory towards a transparent and ethical system of governance. In the case of an individual who has been in the news these days, Vijay Mallya, the former boss of UB is known to be a perfect host. Those ministers, ex-ministers, officials and former officials, who have been his guests in any of the idyllic residences he (directly or otherwise) owns, return with smiles on their faces caused by Mallya’s exquisite hospitality and charm. After such an experience, who can blame them for signing cheques worth thousands of crores of rupees to fund shaky enterprises, especially if the money is not theirs but the taxpayer’s? India is presumed to have an independent media, which is why it is a surprise that thus far there have been no reports giving a comprehensive list of the political and official notables who have been regulars at the court of the King of Good Times.
Now that Vijay Mallya is in London, a city that has as much respect for billionaires as Zurich, he can stay put and look after the foreign businesses in his control, including many in the UK. He could exchange his India passport for that of one of the many countries that offer citizenship for the right price. An absent Mallya will be missed in India, but as most of his friends are frequent flyers, they will continue to have the opportunity of attending the get-togethers that he will continue to host abroad. Should he surprise his critics and return to India, he should reveal the identities of those who helped persuade the banking system to wear the garb of Santa Claus. If he furnishes proof of VVIP mischief, Vijay Mallya merits leniency, as would Lalit Modi, should the IPL founder agree to tell all. These individuals have already done what damage they could. Should they now atone by helping clean up the resultant debris by providing proof of the illicit help given by VVIP accomplices, it may even make sense to give them immunity on the US model.
Simply sending a businessperson to jail will not fill the gap in bank funds caused by his activities. Take the case of Subrata Roy, now entering his third year in prison. It may perhaps be easier for the former tycoon to come up with the moneys demanded of him should he operate out of prison, a location less than ideal in which to hammer out a satisfactory business deal. Of course, such a release seems unlikely, for India is a country in thrall to colonial values, and where prison is the default option to a huge number of transgressions, real or imagined. Except to members of the Communist parties of India, who in India at least are steadfast in standing by the doctrines which resulted in the collapse of the USSR, sending a businessperson to prison seems of less value to the country than getting back the moneys lost. Hence the focus needs to be on innovative ways in which such a recovery of moneys can take place. Recently, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs ordered the forcible merger of a spot exchange (NSEL) with a cash-rich company (FTIL), on the grounds that both were managed by the same individual. Interestingly, while this individual was—understandably—hit with the full rigor of the law following a meltdown in the spot exchange founded by him, none of the brokers and defaulters involved in suspect transactions seems to have been troubled by SEBI or other agencies. Surely a single individual could not have committed such mischief by himself. So why no action has been taken against any of the others involved in the meltdown of that particular exchange remains a mystery. Two months from now, the brokers suspected of having sold defective products to investors to make a killing will be able to erase evidence of those transactions under the Three Year Rule for keeping such records. Should SEBI permit this rather than undertake in time a comprehensive forensic audit of the suspect transactions in the now defunct spot exchange, the CBI will need to ask why. With its innovative decision on NSEL-FTIL, a novel precedent (of forced merger of two companies) has been set by the Corporate Affairs Ministry. A social activist, Madhu Kishwar, has suggested that the same route be followed in the case of Kingfisher Airlines through a merger of that entity with United Breweries. Indeed, such a coming together of the two would ensure that the airline revives. The merger precedent should be repeated in the case of UB and Kingfisher to save an airline that had a level of passenger comfort that was better than most competitors. Not just in the case of Kingfisher, but in other cases of loan default with commercial banks that involve financial recklessness rather than simply caused by adverse market conditions, similar mergers should be enforced on the NSEL-FTIL model so as to reduce NPAs without burdening the exchequer. Even if the profit-making units were technically foreign-owned, laws in India could be tweaked to get them merged with units run by the same managements as have wilfully defaulted on domestic bank loans.
Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Arun Jaitley needs to expand the precedent set by his ministry in the case of the spot exchange company by ordering a similar merger of other units responsible for bank defaults to others linked to those who for too long have used the banking system in India as a personal piggybank. This, rather than further burdening the taxpayer, should be the way the Narendra Modi government nurses the banking system back to health through significant reductions in the NPAs now filling bank ledgers.

Saturday 12 March 2016

After Syria, Putin may replace Obama in Iraq (Pakistan Observer)

WHAT a difference a single squadron of military aircraft makes if they are properly deployed. With just this force, Russia has managed to reverse the tide of victories that came the way of ISIS for nearly two years. In contrast, for close to two years the US and some of its allies were indulging in a game of shadow boxing with ISIS, landing a few light punches but refusing to deliver a knockout blow. The reason for this gentle treatment of a deadly foe is the fallacy which has been peddled by US and other think-tanks still fixated on a 1980s world, which is that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are different organisations and that ISIS is not a major threat. Instead, that it is a localised problem that can be eliminated after other strategic and tactical objectives have been fulfilled, such as the removal of President Bashar Assad of Syria.

In fact, ISIS is a huge threat, because of its ability to spread across multiple countries in different continents at the same time. This, plus the ability of this organisation to form itself into small uncoordinated groups, has made ISIS a grave threat that needs to be eliminated before it spreads across so many populations that removal of the virus will take decades. Because it is obvious and demonstrable that individuals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait have been ensuring a generous supply of cash to anti-Assad fighters in Syria, to admit that there is no dividing line between the “moderate opposition” and Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Al Nusra would be to fuel public anger at home at way in which Washington, London and Paris are assisting those who are certain to come after these capitals once their objective of regime replacement in Damascus is achieved.

Despite, or perhaps because of the torrent of news and information that he or she is bombarded with daily, a voter in a major NATO member-state has been conditioned to look for the most consistent and loudly ubiquitous line, which is almost always that favoured by the strategic establishments of these countries. Amazing as it sounds, among those living in the US who have heard about a country named Syria, most believe that Bashar Assad and ISIS are allies rather than mortal foes of each other, just as they swallowed the falsehood that Saddam Hussein was the principal patron of Al-Qaeda rather than its bitterest foe in the Arab world. Christiane Amanpour of CNN and other such “government-issue journalists” in BBC, Al-Jazeera and elsewhere constantly repeat the fiction that Bashar Assad is responsible for all – or almost all – the deaths that have taken place in Syria because of the war that has consumed the country for five years.

Why the silence by NATO at the regional situation post Arab Spring (which itself was a movement fuelled by policies and programmes sponsored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton)? Was the extermination of Christians in Syria (and in Iraq) over the past three years ignored by NATO because the Christian church in Syria is Orthodox rather than linked in theology and ritual to churches in major NATO states? To the present, Christians (and Yazidis, and Shia, and non-Wahabbi Sunnis) continue to be persecuted and murdered in areas occupied by “moderate opposition”, even while all such endangered categories are safe in territory controlled by Assad and his military, which is under daily attack by US and its allies through same lavishly funded “moderate opposition.”

Not having a complex of think-tanks funded out of moneys received from the GCC, Russia has refused to abide by the imaginary distinction between “extremist” and “moderate” opposition forces, a division that any individual with experience in those combat zones will testify is illusory. Although the US flailed against ISIS and Al Nusra for two years, it could do very little damage. It was only when Russia entered the war against the extremists that they were placed on the defensive, and began retreating from the lands conquered by them earlier, mostly through the “Afghan” expedient of paying off rival commanders so that they would abandon the fight and concede a walkover, the way so many cities in Iraq fell to the extremists. Despite its limited financial ability and the much smaller size of its military assets in the region, Moscow has reversed the tide of battle.

Of course, those relying on media in NATO member-states will not know this, for almost always the reverses of ISIS and Al Nusra are ascribed to US and allied military strikes rather than to actions carried out by the two most effective combatants against ISIS, Russia and Iran. However, within the region, the fact that NATO’s war on ISIS has been largely a flop show and that it is Russia and Iran than have turned situation around has been well known. The consequence is that throughout Arab world, those sections of population that detest and fear ISIS, Al Nusra and such other parts of the same ectoplasm regard Vladimir Putin as a hero and Obama as a failure.

Had Vladimir Putin not intervened militarily against ISIS and its cousins, Damascus and not Raqqa would have been the headquarters of Al Baghdadi’s men. Across the border, the success of Putin is generating a gust of discontent at the way in which the half-hearted tactics of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Francois Hollande are preventing the takeover of the vast swathes of territory in Iraq that have fallen under the control of fanatics. Should the present desultory campaign in Iraq continue, within six months it is likely that even Haider Al Abadi, who is as obedient to his NATO “friends” now as he was to Saddam Hussein two decades back, may decide that enough is enough, and that President Putin needs to be invited to send another squadron, this time to Iraq.

Once that switch in alliances takes place, it will not be long before other governments in the Middle East consider Russia a more reliable ally than the capitals that jettisoned decades-long allies on a whim since the Facebook-fuelled “Arab Spring” struck. By the time he leaves the White House next January, there may be very little US leverage left in the Middle East, a lack of credibility caused by a lack of will on the part of Barack Obama in using the massively available US military resources in the region to not simply harry ISIS but exterminate the organisation in the style of Vladimir Putin.

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

Sunday 6 March 2016

The Bharat and India Two-Nation theory (Sunday Guardian)

By M.D. Nalapat | 5 March, 2016

‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ are not different, for both seek personal freedom and an end to the bullying control of government over too many aspects of their life.
Whether it be Jyoti Basu or Mulayam Singh Yadav, both ensured that their offspring became fluent in English even while both snuffed out opportunities for the poor to study a language that is a means towards economic opportunities across the globe. Unlike their language, there is much that is toxic in the legacy left behind by the British, such as centuries-old laws and administrative practices which constrict rather than empower the people. However, while these have been preserved and indeed added on to since 1947, there has been unceasing effort to do away with modern practices and outlook on the grounds that there is a Two Nation theory similar to that popularised by M.A. Jinnah in the 1930s. This is that there is “India” and there is “Bharat”, and that the twain can never co-exist. This is as fantastical as the notion that Indian culture is “Brahminic” rather than universal, and hence that much of the country’s ancient traditions in music, dance and even philosophy have a caste bias. 
The subliminal message of such falsehood is that almost all castes barring the Brahmin ought to stay far away from such cultural offerings. For long, such insidious efforts at separating Indian from Indian worked, creating the havoc of Partition and later, caste and communal violence. Fortunately, this effort to distance the overwhelming majority of Indians from their own culture and their own commonality is faltering. Today, exquisite performances in Bharatanatyam, for example, are performed by artistes who are Christian or Muslim or from the many societal divisions within the Hindu community. 
India’s culture—and indeed a language as perfect in its grammar and civilised expression as Sanskrit—is shared and owned by all the Indic peoples, irrespective of region, faith and other segmentation, as the many Muslims who are fluent in Sanskrit can testify.
India, i.e. Bharat is a single nation, whose people will no longer submit to being denied the freedoms and opportunities that exist in other parts of the globe. 
If “India” refers to urban and “Bharat” to rural, it needs to be remembered that three-fourths of the present population working in the farm sector will need to relocate to other work, most in the cities. Or that both cities and villages depend on each other for services and markets. If it is a question of values, then “Bharat” and “India” cannot be very different, for both seek personal freedom and an end to the bullying control of government over too many aspects of their life. While the bureaucracy may seek to fight this trend, each effort on their part to tighten the screws will be resisted or ignored, as is increasingly taking place now. “Minimum government” is an inevitability in the changing chemistry of the population of India. However, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts, too much of his party seems to be as enamoured of the colonial state as the Nehrus have been, and show this by their frequent recourse to state agencies and authority in situations where the state ought never to intervene.
The way in which some elements within the ruling party are seeking to intimidate Vice-Chancellors into administrative action against campus rivals has harmed not just the ABVP but the BJP. The recent use of the Delhi police in JNU has made a hero out of Kanhaiya Kumar, just as similar action by the Gujarat police did in the case of Hardik Patel. The police are a surgical instrument, to be used only when all other options have proven to be ineffective. Unfortunately, in an increasing number of situations, an indulgent Ministry of Home Affairs is allowing the use of the police and other coercive agencies from the very start of a divergence between the approach of those in power and those who are the target of their fury. 
Ironically, in situations where the police need to be effectively used, they are rendered ineffective through ordering them not to resort to firing, teargas and even lathis, when all three are called for, as when externally-led elements in Haryana infiltrated a caste-based agitation and burnt railway stations, shops and houses, and even sabotaged water supply to the national capital, without the police giving the masterminds of such anti-national actions any trouble at all.
India, i.e. Bharat is a single nation, whose people will no longer submit to being denied the freedoms and opportunities that exist in other parts of the globe. Rather than evolve another variant of the Two Nation Theory and again seek to distance citizen from citizen, let those in power remember that the use of state agencies—except where essential, such as in enforcing accountability on those who have looted hundreds of crores of rupees—will boomerang. 
And let those outside the portals of power not forget that the chaos in the street and violence in the bylanes fomented by some of them will affect their own lives and those of their children far more than it will those comfortably ensconced, at least till 2019, in the fortresses of official privilege.

Saturday 5 March 2016

Is Bernie Sanders a ‘rubber lion’? (Pakistan Observer)

SUPER Tuesday was a disappointment for Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking to wrest the Democratic Party nomination in the November US Presidential elections from a formidable opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The lady has a well-funded campaign and has several times over past years shown her ruthlessness and determination to achieve personal objectives. It is difficult, for example, to forget the exultation in her voice and on her face when informed of the way in which Libyan leader Muammar Kadhafi was butchered by a mob that included Special Forces from a key EU member-state. The bloodied, tortured visage of the man who had ruled his country for three decades was not enough to generate a twinge of shock in Hillary Clinton. She had wanted Kadhafi to die, now he was dead, and she was delighted.

During the ongoing campaign for her party’s nomination — a contest she lost to Barack Obama in 2008 – Hillary has been reticent in the number of ways she has attacked Senator Sanders, mainly mocking him for being a “single issue” candidate, that of opposing Wall Street. And certainly the Senator’s repeated references to Wall Street (whose toxicity is more known within college campuses than on the streets where voters live) have given the Clinton campaign a handle to belittle the program of their opponent, ignoring the fact that Sanders has a comprehensive economic plan. Of course, that plan would severely curb the power of the ultra rich donors to the Clinton campaign, which is why they are in a generous mood so that Hillary and not Sanders emerges as the Democratic Party nominee.

Had he chosen to, there are multiple ways in which Senator Sanders could have damaged Hillary Clinton. An example is the fact that as Secretary of State, she used unsecured email servers to send and receive sensitive messages relating to US policy. Several of these were sent through the Clinton Foundation servers. Now, the Foundation has multiple foreign donors, several of whose policies conflict with the interests of the people of the US. By sending emails on sensitive matters through these servers, Hillary Clinton potentially allowed such donors – through Clinton Foundation staff — access to top secret US policy positions, a factor that would have gladdened them sufficiently to make even more generous donations to the Foundation than they have. This is a clear conflict of interest as Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea are in effect employees of the Foundation (besides controlling the entity). Hillary Clinton ought to have given it a wide berth rather than allow it potential access to emails sent by her in the line of duty as Secretary of State of the United States. Had Bernie Sanders pointed this out, he may have secured far more votes in the Democratic primary elections than he has thus far.

However, inexplicably, he has dismissed the email controversy as of no consequence. Why he has handed over to his rival such an advantage is not explained, except by the inference that Senator Sanders is less a Dooer than a Talker. That while he gives speech after speech on the need to rein in the few who by their greed are destroying the US middle class and sending tens of millions in that country into poverty, all this is only talk. The mild way in which he has gone about challenging Hillary Clinton has given rise to the suspicion among his backers that Bernie Sanders is a “rubber lion”, and that despite the fiery talk, he is harmless to his foes.

A few days ago, Bernie Sanders secured an important endorsement. This was Tulsi Gabbard, the personable US House of Representatives member from Hawaii, who is the only believer of the ancient faith of Sanatan Dharma in the US Congress. According to Sanatan Dharma, there may be several paths, but the destination is the same, and all such paths lead to salvation. This is opposed to faiths that offer a unique path to salvation and make clear that no other way is permissible. Tulsi Gabbard is of South Pacific islander ethnicity, and in a context where non-white voters are overwhelmingly favouring Hillary Clinton, this fact could be used with advantage by Sanders.

As President of the US, Bill Clinton was responsible for many of the policies that have in later years proved to be a disaster. This includes the free pass he gave to uncontrolled greed in Wall Street, leading to the 2008 financial collapse under President George W Bush, who continued several of Clinton’s policies towards Wall Street. Bill Clinton was also responsible for measures which led to a huge increase in the prison population of the US, with a disproportionate number of inmates being from the African American community. However, despite all this, African Americans are flocking to the Clinton standard on a scale that, in the view of some observers, resembles the Indentured Labour groups of the past. A President Sanders is likely to do far more for African.

Americans (a talented community that has been repeatedly short changed in their own country) than another President Clinton, but because of the “rubber lion” approach of Senator Sanders towards Hillary Clinton, this fact is unknown to the electorate, which is being fed on a daily basis by slogans designed by highly paid executives in the Clinton campaign, of which there is no shortage Bernie Sanders could point to the fact that it was Bill Clinton who assisted the Taliban to come to power in Afghanistan, or who ensured through his policies that China rose to the level of a serious challenger of US primacy in Asia. He could point to the chain of disasters that have been the outcome of decisions taken by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, including in Egypt, Libya and Syria, where the stand taken by the Democratic Party front runner has been the same as that of key donors to the Clinton Foundation.

Senator Sanders could have dusted off and highlighted the years of work he put in as a young campaigner for racial justice in the US while Hillary Clinton was flirting with rightwing groups and causes. Thus far, he has done very little to illustrate the chasm between himself and Hillary Clinton, which is why Democratic Party voters need to be forgiven for believing that Hillary better represents them than Bernie Sanders. The US Senator from Vermont has very little time left to convert himself from a “rubber lion” into the real thing, and unless he does so, by next month it may all be over for his campaign. The causes that Senator Sanders has for so long championed in a selfless manner deserve a better, a more pugnacious, fight than what is being offered during the Democratic Party primaries by Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton.

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