Sunday 30 October 2016

Supreme Court is right on bank NPAs (Sunday Guardian)

Banks in India have historically kept details of loans secret from the public. This has been justified on numerous grounds, including that of “privacy”. While such considerations may be understandable in a social situation involving private individuals above the age of consent, they are not so in cases where those who borrow hundreds and thousands of crores.

Not only has secrecy over loan details been ineffective in curbing the volume of loans gone bad, the covering up of such data has actually contributed to mammoth leaps in the quantum of irrecoverable bank debt. Indira Gandhi took over the biggest private banks in India in order to ensure that the poor were given access to bank finance. Presumably, a definition of “poverty” covering those with wealth in excess of tens and even hundreds of crores of rupees, for it is these who have most benefited from such banks. And why should we be surprised, when it is known that in the recent past, several at the top of these ill-run behemoths were chosen only after making a visit to Chennai to be interviewed by an individual whose parent enjoyed a position of significant responsibility within the then government?

The list of bureaucrats who danced the bhangra at the bidding of this individual and his parent is long, but helping hands ensured that they have not had their subsequent careers blighted. Were banks to reveal the names of directors who during the past ten years orally or in writing recommended the giving of loans to select individuals, such interested pleadings may become less endemic than they have been within the banking system. Any oral recommendation of a loan by a bank director ought to be recorded in writing by the officer to whom the request was made, and this should be made public on an RTI request. Only those involved in assisting the dodgy or speaking up for defaulters would oppose banking transparency. Sadly, the Reserve Bank of India has thus far condoned such practices, despite their being responsible for a flood of loans given to those who from the start were determined not to repay such moneys. Such defaulters need to be separated from those who have landed into repayment difficulties because of business conditions. Which is why there is significance in the Supreme Court’s query as to why the names are still kept secret of those owing more than Rs 500 crore each to banks in India. Especially when, according to Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, restructured loans alone amount to a million crore rupees, a sum which clearly shows the toxic consequences of banking secrecy as practised in India.

Especially in institutions controlled by the state, there ought to be transparency as to the repayment status of big loans given. In view of the fact that giving any sort of information to the public is anathema to the colonial system of government inherited from this country’s pre-1947 past, a halfway measure would be to disclose loans that are over Rs 100 crore and which are more than three years overdue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a believer in transparency and accountability, needs to ensure that such a change in banking procedure get carried out at the earliest, as doing so may dampen some of the lobbying and bribery that are prevalent in the banking sector so as to secure loans to the undeserving.

The Supreme Court may perhaps consider setting an example in this regard, by ordering that proceedings in courts be recorded on video and audio and made accessible to those filing a valid application in public interest under RTI. Ideally, every court proceeding should be live streamed via the internet, so that proceedings within these abodes of justice become available to members of the public. The development of technology would in the next few years anyway make such transparency inevitable, as it would enable the video and audio recording of court proceedings through cellphones by those present. Trust in that noblest of institutions, the judiciary, will only increase once proceedings in every court be made accessible to the public, save a few exceptional cases where special circumstances such as grave threats to national security or protection of minors may be in play. The arguments used against such openness in courtrooms are the same as were deployed when the demand for telecasting sittings of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were made. There has been no observable calamity since such a measure was carried out, and there will be none should a similar trust in the maturity of the public get extended to the legal system. In the effort to ensure 21st century rather than 19th century standards for India, the Supreme Court and the High Courts need to play a key role, and ensuring full transparency in proceedings would be a welcome component of such a process. In the case of the banks, hopefully the government will not wait for the Supreme Court to order the release of information about big borrowers, but will go ahead with such steps itself. The ever present cloak of secrecy that officialdom in India delights in wearing to mask its actions and processes has resulted in India having an administrative system so dysfunctional that honest and capable citizens of India do well everywhere in the world except in their own country.

Justifications for opacity have been discredited by the level of fraud in the banking system, especially as shown in the quantum of “non-performing assets”. Not only within the banking system, but equally in the matter of taxes paid, there needs to be visibility to the public, as is the rule in Norway, where all tax returns are shown online. Certainly there are negatives in every measure, but when these get overwhelmed by the positives, they need to be enforced. The limited extent of negatives in transparency is far below the positive effects of such exposure. It is time for RBI Governor Urjit Patel to mandate the end of the colonial-era regime of banking secrecy at least where bad loans are concerned.

Friday 28 October 2016

Will US voters ensure ‘Clinton’s War’? (Pakistan Observer)

AN overpowering desire for revenge often leads to catastrophe for the individual seeking retribution. Judging by the almost frantic manner in which he sought to launch a war against Saddam Hussein, it was obvious that President George W Bush was eager to show that he was, after all, a loyal son to “Pappy” George H W Bush. The dictator of Iraq had sought to assassinate Bush Senior, and needed to be taught a lesson, in the style of both the Pashtuns as well as Texans, neither of whom evidently forget a slight. It has been said of many politicians that they forget in a few seconds any favour done to them, while remembering a slight for decades.
George W Bush is clearly such an individual, and past experience indicates that both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald John Trump share this trait with the US President who began a war in Iraq in 2003 which continues to drain his country’s finances and stain its reputation to this day. The difference is that Trump is open about his peeves, whereas Hillary Clinton conceals her anger, at least in public. Presidential debates in the US are intended to give voters a close look at the main candidates, but in the case of the Democratic Party nominee, it was clear that she was sticking to a well rehearsed script, with even her sallies (such as the “Russian puppet” charge against Trump seemingly coming out of a playbook scripted by her formidable team, which includes a hyper efficient Indo-Pakistani of established personal loyalty and grace under pressure, Huma Abedin.
Turning to the Republican nominee, Donald Trump was clearly ad libbing during the three debates, coming across as himself to his cost against a poised Clinton, who seems on course to win the race on November 8, if most polls are accurate and Wikileaks does not release data so damming that voters will get repelled from an individual who has been in public life for more than three decades. Although the US and the UK ceaselessly lecture poorer countries on the importance of democratic traditions and practices ( a view with which this columnist fully agrees), the manner in which Ecuador has been arm twisted to deprive Julian Assange of access to the internet is a disgrace. That a country whose people gave themselves the Magna Carta a millennium ago has been silent about such a deprivation of the human rights of Assange indicates once again the selectivity apparent in homilies on human rights and freedoms of Washington and London.
Clearly, the Obama administration does not want to see any more email clusters get released, and is hoping for silence or at the least incoherence from Wikileaks now that its “brain” has been separated from the “body” through denial of internet access till the US elections conclude. Should Hillary Clinton get elected, it is likely that Ecuador will get “persuaded” to expel Assange from the premises of its embassy in London, thereafter giving an opportunity to deport him to Sweden to face trial brought about by two women who each seem to have been physically powerless to give the physically unimpressive Wikileaks founder the beating he deserved, were their charge of assault against him correct. Somehow their story seems as difficult to believe as that of some of Donald Trump’s accusers, who came out with their versions exactly when he was doing well in the campaign. Many of these accusers have paraded “oral witnesses” to whom they claim they told their story at the time such activity occurred.
The fact is that such “witnesses” can be tutored as completely as the “victims”, unless there be emails and other evidence showing that such a transmission of information actually took place during the times mentioned. Of course, even emails can be created that are fake, or (as has happened in the case of Hillary Clinton) disappear. This columnist has been correct in every political forecast since 1984, and if Donald Trump loses in the polls, this perfect record will get smudged. However, more than such professional pride in a record of forecasting outcomes, what is worrisome is the fact that Hillary Clinton seems to be moving in lockstep with Ankara, Doha,Riyadh, London and Paris on what needs to be done in Syria. This country is no Libya, and any effort to effect such measures as a No Fly zone will result in an immediate confrontation with Moscow, for whom the Baathist regime in Syria is non-negotiable. US,UK and French aircraft will not have the easy time that they did in Iraq and Libya, but will instead meet with resistance that would include the routine downing of aircraft, thereby creating a ladder of escalation which could have a spillover impact on Europe.
During the past year, the Obama administration seems to have returned to the sway of the Clintons insofar as several of its policies have been concerned, and in recent weeks, large tranches of weapons have gone to groups “vetted” by regional intelligence agencies that are riddled with sympathisers of Daesh. That organisation has been given a lifeline by the hatred of Washington, London, Ankara and some other capitals towards Bashar Assad, who in practice is seen as much more of a potent threat than Abubakr al Baghdadi despite being secular and running a government in which nearly 80% of the top functionaries are Sunni, as indeed is his loyal wife, who declined to listen to NATO and run away, leaving her husband to the same sort of wolves as enabled Hillary Clinton to exult “he died” on news of killing of Muammar Kaddafi. Clinton is cocooned within a foreign policy establishment that is nervous about scale of its past errors being exposed, and is consequently doubling down on very policies that are resulting in slow collapse of US global primacy at hands of China and its partner, Russia.
In contrast, Donald Trump has zero baggage from the past, and is much more likely to make the fresh start that Washington needs if it is to continue to be the most consequential power on the globe. The people of the US may not know it, but they be voting on November 8 for “Clinton’s War” on Syria, a conflict likely to be even more incendiary of geopolitical stability as George W Bush’s 2003 war on Iraq.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Don’t rescue ISIS in Mosul and Aleppo, Mr Kerry (Sunday Guardian)

John Kerry seems to have come to life only when ISIS came under attack.
In the case of the major NATO powers, the "definitive" account of the conflicts they have been involved in have almost all been written by themselves. Small wonder that defeats get obscured and the blame for setbacks almost invariably gets placed on others. Afghanistan in 2001 is an example. Although 86% of the "assistance" given to the Afghan authorities gets spent on the salary and logistics of "support staff" sourced from within the military alliance, while the bulk of decisions get taken by them, blame for the chaos and maladministration in Kabul is placed at the door of the Afghan government. During the 1990s, Bill Clinton sought to emasculate rather than arm the Northern Alliance, yet soon after the post 9/11 war started, opeds and books appeared in profusion, detailing imaginary "US assistance to the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban", which incidentally was a militia that was nurtured under the supervision of the Clinton administration. Subsequently, once the Northern Alliance had won the ground war (with decisive help from US and allied air power), its formations were constantly downgraded and replaced by cohorts composed of Pashtun irregulars recommended by the Pakistan army, who, not surprisingly, later turned out to be elements of the Taliban wearing a different label. In Kunduz and elsewhere, the US facilitated the escape of leadership elements of Al Qaeda, while in subsequent years, money and weapons were lavished on "moderate warlords", most of whom reverted back to their Taliban avatar by 2006.
The Taliban was and remains a loathsome band of thugs, a fact which makes it all the more reprehensible that Washington, London, Berlin and Paris have, over the past decade, expended so much effort in seeking to integrate it within the Afghan government. Should Ashraf Ghani succumb to such demands, his country would lurch even deeper into hell. The only objective of the Taliban within the Government of Afghanistan would be to sabotage and subvert it, besides seeking to impose laws and lifestyles alien to those other than the perverted. It was expected that after 9/11, the folly of relying on GHQ Rawalpindi to battle terrorists would have been obvious to the White House. Clearly not for George W. Bush, who went back to the Pakistan army in his bungled battle against the Taliban, a battle that has been lost despite the expenditure of $700 billion on its prosecution, substantially because of Dick Cheney's fetish that—unlike in Vietnam—even the toothpaste and soap used by the US military would be sourced from the US, never mind the added cost.

However, the Taliban is merely a regional threat, while ISIS is a global problem, which is why it is worrying that the current postures and moves of the US and its partners are designed to allow ISIS to escape and fight another day, just as the Taliban were systematically enabled to do during 2001-05. Few western analysts ask why the Turkish military faces almost no resistance from ISIS as it preens before Jarabulus and Dabiq, in contrast to the resistance of the terror group against the Iraqi army and its allies. The reason is that the Turkish army is rescuing rather than destroying ISIS cadres, by giving them an escape route through a change in label. At an appropriate time, the fighters preserved by Turkey will be let loose by the commanders of ISIS on targets that include the credulous allies of Ankara. It is clear why Erdogan wants his troops to march into Mosul. It is to protect the extremist fighters there so that someday, they could be set loose against the Shia, Christian and Kurdish militias that are his actual target. Under the guise of protecting Turkish democracy from another coup, Erdogan is ridding the military of its secular elements.

There was scarcely any protest when ISIS reigned almost unchallenged by the US and its surrogates in Aleppo and in Mosul. In the Syrian city, the organisation systematically killed Shia, Druze, Christians, Alawites and moderate Sunnis, and enslaved their women. There was nary a peep from the cacophonous crowd of "human rights warriors" who are now so alarmed that the surviving fathers, brothers and sons of these women may wreak vengeance on the monsters who killed and abused at will in Aleppo and in Mosul. The governments of Iraq, Syria and Russia are being badgered into ensuring safe passage for such depredators and their families, for these are about the only individuals that have been allowed by ISIS to flee from locations still controlled by that organisation, so that they can fight another day. In fact, the only reason why the US has suddenly become more active in Mosul and other locations after more than a year of relative inactivity is the worry that Baghdad was about to pivot to Moscow for military assistance because of disgust at the tardiness of Washington. The manner in which the Obama administration has allowed regional powers such as Turkey and Qatar to indirectly assist ISIS represents a policy misstep on the scale of those made by Bush-Cheney in Afghanistan.

John Kerry seems to have come to life only when ISIS came under attack in Aleppo and Mosul. In Dabiq, he has ignored the fact that ISIS elements apparently switched sides to morph into the Turkish-protected "moderate opposition", which is why that country's military got almost zero opposition from the terror organisation in its mock advances. Donald Trump is correct when he warns that the forces actually fighting the terror organisation need to work together, exactly as took place against Adolf Hitler during the 1939-45 war. If the hysteria being witnessed within NATO at the impending loss of ISIS-held Mosul and Aleppo to anti-Daesh fighters had been replicated in a NATO assault on that scourge in previous years, by now ISIS would have been a memory rather than a threat that may last a generation to finally eliminate because of errors made since 2012 by Kerry's team.

Friday 21 October 2016

OBOR’s own ‘software’ for better ties (Pakistan Observer)

FROM the start, this columnist has predicted that President of the Peoples Republic of China and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xi Jinping will emerge the winner against his domestic detractors. The odds are high that Xi will be given a Standing Committee and a Central Committee of his choice exactly a year later, when the CCP meets to decide on such matters, and from then onwards, he will be able to spend the remainder of his two 5-year terms fulfilling his goals for China, which is to make the country overtake US not only as an economic but as a technological superpower.

Hopefully, this will be done the way that has been traditional in Chinese statecraft, as a series of "Win-Win" solutions rather than as a chain of "Zero Sum" outcomes of the kind favoured by European colonialists in previous centuries. The latter certainly enriched themselves, but at the expense of all the lands they occupied and the people indigenous to those territories. By the close of the 19th century, the Eurasian landmass had been unified as a consequence of the colonial policies of European powers, with almost the whole of Asia coming under the control of states in Europe. Had the latter adopted a "Win Win" policy rather than seek subjugation and exploration the way they did, the colonial powers of Europe would themselves have been better off.

Britain, for example, throttled to death much of industry in the Indian subcontinent, replacing such manufactures with produce from the UK. Indeed, given its huge population and rates of economic growth, China is positioned to become the new centre of gravity of the Eurasian landmass, and this is sought to be achieved by the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, which is the most ambitious plan seen in China since the Great Wall was built two thousand years ago. Xi Jinping intends to link Europe and Asia together through a network of roads and railway lines that would shorten spaces and allow seamless transfer of commodities across the frontiers of vast Eurasian landmass.

Once OBOR gets completed, the resting construct would represent a paradigm shift in global geopolitics, pulling the global centre of gravity away from Washington to Beijing, in line with expectations of growth trajectories. The centrifugal pull of OBOR will increase as more of the project gets implemented, thereby leaving those countries not participating on the side. In South Asia, it is certain that most SAARC countries will sign on to OBOR because of the perceived benefits that the project will bring, thereby putting pressure on holdouts It would be a boost for OBOR were India to come aboard, because of the country's huge reserves of manpower and its economic and technological potential. However, such a situation would occur only after relations between India and China move from the low level trajectory that they have been circling in for several decades.

A breakthrough was possible towards the close of the 1980s because of the rapport established between Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping of China and Prime Minister Rajiv Ratan Birjees Gandhi of India. However, the initial momentum was not followed up ad quickly got dissipated. The better personal chemistry between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping gives promise of a rising of the trajectory of the relationship, although as yet the signs are few of this happening. However, should the relationship improve, it is likely that India would enter into the OBOR project, including possibly through a China India Economic Corridor that would cut through both countries and terminate at Kochi. Such a construct would cut through what is termed the "Red Corridor", the locations were there still exist clusters of ultra-left guerrillas, and such development within the affected regions would sharply reduce the intensity of such manifestations there.

It would be among the ironies of history that a project conceived by a successor to Mao Zedong would have a dampening effect on the activities of groups that largely style themselves as "Maoist" (or as members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Through India, OBOR would pass through Myanmar into Malaysia and Singapore, besides tributaries reaching into Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Overall, the scheme would boost connectivity significantly and make the transport of many items easier and cheaper, thereby expanding markets and consumer demand across a region which in coming decades will overtake Europe in economic prowess To the west of India, OBOR would traverse parts of Pakistan, Central Asia, Russia and hereafter enter Europe. Eventually, the network would also serve to improve the quality of human flows across frontiers.

In the "Zero Sum" days of European colonialism, there were no visas to block movement across boundaries. It is expected that such anachronisms would cease when the Win-Win period of mutual cooperation characterised by OBOR becomes a reality across two continents that would get unified by this project initiated by Xi Jinping. However, roads and railways are not enough. There needs to be seamless movement across boundaries for those who are productive, and for this to take place, relations between different states needs to be cordial. Both Canada as well as Mexico have contributed greatly to US development and vice versa.

However, such synergy would have been lost had the relationship between Ottawa and Washington or between Mexico City and the capital of the US been troubled. For OBOR to reach its desired potential, the countries participating in it need to ensure that their differences be dealt with in a manner that avoids conflict. Mutual behaviour needs to be respectful of each other's security concerns. That is the challenge posed by the grand vision of OBOR : linking states together into a friendly and collaborative association that would ensure smooth development across the Eurasian landmass. OBOR is the "hardware". The "software" of close ties needs to be created along with the roads and railways of Xi Jinping's hyper-project.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Xi must open OBOR to BRICS (Sunday Guardian)

India needs to be at the core of the creation of One Belt One Road (OBOR).
India's community of strategic analysts is dominated by those nurtured in think-tanks and universities in the US and the UK. Unsurprisingly, although often dressed up differently from presentations made "back home", the policy conclusions they reach are similar to those urged on India by external think-tanks. Across the decades, those who form part of "Lutyens Delhi" have woven close links with institutions in the US and the UK. Small wonder that in committees, placements and commissions, those with a trans-Atlantic patina get preferred over homegrown products, although far fewer in number than those who have spent their working lives in the colonial governance system of India. An example of such inbreeding is the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), which got freshly constituted a few weeks ago. Rather than have within the NSAB those who could be expected to have views different from those already ensconced in the national security silos of the government, the new NSAB follows the Lutyens' format of being headed by a former official, and this time around, having even less representation from those who have not had the privilege of drawing a government salary throughout their working lives than was the case with previous incarnations. A Brahma Chellaney, a Bharat Karnad or Ajai Shukla may not facilitate cosy exchanges of largely similar views, and certainly they lack the diplomatic skills of a Raja Mohan or a Raja Menon, but precisely for that reason, such contrarians need to be represented in bodies involved in policy formulation, so that these do not become echo chambers reflecting back the very voices (and views) of those they are presumed to advise by giving alternative policy prescriptions. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, over the course of his first term, ensured a paradigm shift in the way governance was carried out in Gujarat, and it is hoped by his admirers that a similar transformation will take place at the Central level before the close of Modi's Prime Ministerial term in 2019.
Among those within our strategic community who are into "home-grown" solutions, there are several who believe that India must follow the dictum of Rabindranath Tagore's "Ekla Chalo Re", by walking alone. Others seek a closer alignment with either the US or China, and some with Russia. The reality is that India is big enough and its needs complex enough to justify a close embrace of all three of these present and future superpowers. Hence, the need for the docking of one set of interests with the US as well as others with China. Stability in the Indo-Pacific will get enhanced with increasing military collaboration between Washington and New Delhi. Of course, while having the same core objectives (such as preventing terror groups based on religious extremism to proliferate, or allowing a single power to dominate the Eurasian landmass), it will become necessary for India to adopt methods and form partnerships that are sometimes very different from those favoured by the US. In Syria, for example, rather than link with a "moderate opposition" that in reality comprises entirely of either Al Qaeda or Kurdish fighters, the only effective fighting machine against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria is the military led by Bashar Assad, who (being an Alawite) is being sought to be replaced by regional powers that have within them deep and sometimes decisive pockets of Wahhabi influence masquerading as Sunni opinion. The US strategic establishment cannot bring itself to admit that it has been wrong for decades, and hence continues to pursue failed policies. The strategic ends of the US and India may converge, but the means used to achieve them need to diverge, sometimes substantially.

And what of China? Those who argue for a Cold War between Delhi and Beijing are in danger of missing out on opportunity in a manner similar to what took place in many of the decades of the previous century, when strategic relations between Delhi and Washington were in many particulars frosty in a context where better ties with the US were essential for economic health. This was understood by the then Chinese leadership, who cast aside dogma to embrace Washington, thereby beginning the spurt in growth that has made 2016 China five times the economic size of India. In the present, good economic and commercial relations with Beijing are vital to ensure double digit growth of the Indian economy. If we leave aside the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is unviable both commercially as well as from a security perspective, the rest of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative proposed by Xi Jinping is as visionary now as the Roman canals or the Great Wall of China were in their time. OBOR has the potential to link Europe and Asia together in a manner less one-sided than what took place during the centuries of European colonialisation of Asia. Rather than stand aloof from it, India needs to be at the core of its creation. If China has $24 billion of investment opportunity in Bangladesh, then there is at least $124 billion of even better investment opportunities in India, and this is what both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi need to actualise. A way of doing that would be to open OBOR to BRICS, thereby giving commercial entities within other BRICS countries privileged access to the gargantuan project. 

India in particular has several firms that could play an effective and relatively inexpensive (as compared to entities in developed countries) role in ensuring that OBOR becomes a success. Indeed, there ought to be an India China Economic Corridor (ICEC), a construct that would make much more geopolitical and financial sense than the CPEC, which seems to have been decided upon by the Chinese out of sentiment rather than logic. Ultimately, the terror of unemployment and the pain of poverty are worse than any dart thrown at civilised people by forces such as ISIS. Both unemployment and poverty can be reduced significantly, were Xi Jinping to ensure that his history-altering project be flung open for privileged participation by China's other BRICS partners. 

ISIS leaders look to Pakistan for refuge (Sunday Guardian)

Several serving and retired Pakistan army officers are in West Asia, training the fighters of ISIS and other like-minded organisations.
More than 300 serving officers of the Pakistan army and over 2,000 retired officers have in the past been, or are in, West Asia, "training fighters of ISIS and other like-minded organisations" in their war against the governments of Iraq and Syria, claim analysts working exclusively on tracking that particular complex of terror organisations. They say that "elements (of the Pakistan army) are taking leave and going under assumed identities to Iraq and Syria to conduct such training". In the past, such activities also took place in Jordan, Turkey and Qatar, but over the past year, Amman, Doha and Ankara have become wary of groups of fighters, who, for long, were using their territories for training and recuperation. Training is given "in the handling of communications equipment, interception of signals and the handling of explosives". The analysts spoken to claim that "more than money, it is ideological fervour that is motivating such Pakistani volunteers" and that assistance to ISIS is taking place "despite opposition from a few senior officers in the military", who, however, have so far declined to punish the volunteers (training ISIS, Al Nusra and other such groups) "for fear of sparking a revolt in their ranks, where hundreds of officers and tens of thousands of other ranks are sympathetic to ISIS". Hence, it has not been a surprise that almost all recent attacks by ISIS-affiliated "lone wolves" have had a Pakistan connection. An example is the recent terror attack in New York and New Jersey during the week after the anniversary of 9/11. Oddly, the United Nations Security Council has yet to take up and get implemented India's two decades-old proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, although it is hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi will be able to get the UN leadership to agree to ratify this essential legal move in the battle against terror. 

Despite efforts by the Barack Obama administration and its regional allies to slow down the Syria-Iran-Russia advance against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the takeover of Aleppo by the troika is calculated to take place by mid-November. Alarmed at the advance of the Iraqi army and the irregulars backing its thrust into Mosul, President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is "seeking a Jarabalus" in Mosul. In that Syrian town, ISIS fighters switched their label to become "moderate opposition fighters" and are now protected by the Turkish army. In that garb, they expect to recuperate from recent losses and get back into the battlefield against the US and its European allies, the way the Taliban did in Afghanistan just two years after getting rescued by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wing of the Pakistan army in Kunduz and other locations in 2001. Over the past five months, and now in his final days in office, President Obama has once again handed over the keys of foreign policy to Hillary Clinton, who through Secretary of State John Kerry is following a policy of seeing the Damascus-Moscow-Tehran combination as a bigger immediate threat to US than ISIS and other jihadi groups operating in the region. This is despite the spread of these organisations into Europe and North America. Preparatory to a US military challenge to Moscow and Tehran in Syria, following an expected victory by the Democratic Party nominee in the 8 November 2016 Presidential elections, a demonisation of Russia and of Vladimir Putin has begun through the media. The expectation is that as President, Hillary Clinton will be able to get even a Republican-controlled House of Representatives as well as the US Senate on her side, should there be actual combat on a limited scale between the US and Russian militaries in a regional theatre that has witnessed bloodshed on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War. Such a conflict between Russia and the US could escalate in such a manner as to provide an escape hatch for elements of the ISIS leadership, which is facing the loss of territorial outposts in Iraq and Syria because of Iran, Syria, Iraq and Russia together with a strong and largely separate showing by the Kurds, despite the relative lack of assistance given to these fighters by the Obama administration, which is very respectful of the views of Doha, Riyadh and Ankara in such matters. 

However, those tracking the activities of ISIS in Iraq and Syria say that the organisation is still nervous of a "November Upset" in the US elections that would bring Donald J. Trump into the White House. The Republican Party nominee has publicly endorsed a strategy of going along with Iran and Syria to battle ISIS. Taking a view from history, those such as John Kerry who see the troika fighting ISIS as the primary foe, may be compared to British and French leaders in the 1930s who saw Adolf Hitler as a lesser evil than Joseph Stalin, while Trump may be compared to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who from the start of his tenure in office saw Hitler as the main foe and was willing to ally with (and assist) Moscow in its battle against Nazified Berlin. Contrary to the views expressed in US media, it is Trump and not Clinton that ISIS and Al Nusra fear, given the Republican nominee's persistence in placing ISIS at the core of US security threats, rather than Moscow and Tehran, the way the Clinton team does. Trump has also distanced himself from the soft line of both the Bush and Obama administrations on Pakistan, with "action" thus far against that country's terror factories being largely limited to words designed to soothe policymakers in Delhi and excite the media in India into reporting that Washington has finally "gone against" Islamabad.

Washington's longstanding softness towards Pakistan is despite the fact that numerous terror groups are based in Pakistan and have the protection of the Pakistan army. These include Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehreek-e-Jafferia, Al Qaeda, Siphah-e-Sahaba, Al Badr, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi and the Jamaat Al Fuqra. National Security Advisor of Pakistan, Sartaz Aziz has himself admitted that terrorists (mainly from Afghanistan) "by 2007-08 had covered most of the tribal areas. They killed the tribal leaders, then they started establishing their communications networks, IED factories, suicide training centres." According to Aziz, during the past 15 years, Pakistan has lost more than $100 billion as well as the lives of over 10,000 security personnel. However, the fact is that not just the civilian leadership of Pakistan but the military as well, which is unable to act against such activities in an all out manner, because of the fact that since 1979, "mujahids" were openly trained in Pakistan for the Afghanistan and later the India theatre. From 1989 onwards, the cadre which later became known as the Taliban, began to get trained by the ISI in camps in Pakistan, mainly in the North West Frontier Province as well as in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Given the toxicity associated with ISIS, in a (for that organisation) worst case scenario for it, such as the wresting from it of Mosul, Aleppo and afterwards Raqa, it is likely that a "Turkish solution" will be found for its dilemma, in that much of its cadre would, for the record, switch their allegiance to the so-called "moderate fighting forces" that in reality are (besides the Kurds) little other than ISIS and Al Nusra elements in disguise. Analysts warn than elements in the Pakistan army, who subscribe to the ideology of ISIS, are "busy locating places in Pakistan that can be used to shelter leadership elements of ISIS", the way Osama bin Laden was protected by the military in Pakistan since his escape from Afghanistan after 9/11 and his execution by US SEALS in 2011. "Already about 26 leadership elements of ISIS have been identified and steps are under way to get them to Pakistan through the Afghan border", an analyst revealed, warning that India needs to "prepare for this new threat, as it is certain that the Pakistan military will make operations against India the condition for sheltering elements of the ISIS leadership" in Pakistan.

Friday 14 October 2016

Paul Ryan pivots towards Hillary (Pakistan Observer)

THAT the 2016 Presidential elections in the US will have immense consequences for that country is clear. Although Democratic Party nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton is close to Wall Street and to such lobbies as the Big Pharma industry, her hold over the rank and file is too shaky to permit her to replicate Bill Clinton's open embrace of Wall Street (for example, by repealing Glass-Steagal and by converting US embassies abroad into Chambers of Commerce lobbying units). For what is most precious to her, political survival, she will have to often tack leftwards if elected President on November 8, including in the matter of appointments.

Winning control of the White House through the success of the chosen Republican Party nominee (Donald John Trump) ought to be a priority for the party leadership in particular. Hence it was a surprise when a heavy blow was dealt to Republican nominee Donald John Trump by the senior most political official of his own party, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan. The Speaker publicly washed his hands off Trump, in effect conceding the election to Hillary Clinton. This embrace of a Clinton White House by Ryan replaced mention of Bill Clinton's indiscretions and email exchanges from Team Hillary that showed the nominee to in effect be a Republican in Democratic Party garb. The Ryan defection from the Trump camp to what is effectively the Clinton camp will have at least a 3% impact in voting behaviour, thereby making the task of securing victory much more difficult for Trump. Speaker Ryan was being disingenuous when he asked his party cadres to pivot from the Presidential to lower rung campaigns, such as those for US Senate and House of Representatives. The politician is experienced enough to know that the public separation of House Speaker from his own party nominee would lead to confusion across entire list of Republican Party candidates, and yet he went ahead.

Of course, earlier the entire George H W Bush family, including former President George W Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, publicly opposed Trump and walked across to the Clinton tent. Numerous other Republican office-holders did the same in a carefully choreographed way designed to show that Donald Trump was being abandoned by his own party Conversations with leadership elements within the United States Republican Party (GOP) show a consensus that "Establishment Republicans" close to the financial, oil and pharma industries secured and leaked the videotape of Donald John Trump making racy comments about women to a co-passenger on a bus in 2005. Their expectation was that the release would so shame Trump that he would quit from the Presidential race, thereby leaving the path clear for the candidate they secretly back, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who herself is close to Wall Street as well as to the pharma industry, although not as much so to the oil industry, whose Patron Saint in US politics still George H W Bush and his family. It was a disaster for oilmen in Houston that Jeb Bush failed to qualify in the Republican Party primaries despite hundreds of millions of dollars getting spent promoting his candidacy. Just as in India, where there is growing public anger at the cosy club of political leaders cutting across party lines who enrich and protect each other, within the US, "establishment" politicians are loathed in a manner more profound than at any time since the 18th century. It was just such a public mood that fuelled the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, although the Vermont Senator deflated himself by refusing to "take the fight to the Convention" the way he had sworn to his supporters. Far from such a challenge, Sanders very soon became another of the several dozen Clinton surrogates, singing his erstwhile rival's praises with such verve that his supporters were left cringing and ashamed.

However, there is method in the Sanders "surrender", for should Hillary Clinton get elected, the Vermont Senator is likely to push her hard towards policies other than those that have made the Clintons multi-millionaires despite having come from humble roots. The sincerity of Sanders towards his socialist ideology cannot be doubted. However, more and more emails are being released that show that Hillary Clinton is not at all sincere about implementing the policies she claims to support on the stump. The emails also show that only the gargantuan Clinton machine ensured that Hillary Clinton got anointed as her party's nominee despite low levels of grassroots support The power of Wall Street can be gauged by the fawning manner in which much of the "free" US media have backed Hillary Clinton.

CNN, for example, has run days of programming on the Trump "groping" tape, with its anchors letting go of horrified exclamations every few minutes. If the moral outrage of the channel's anchors and correspondents at what were standard locker room boasts by Trump is real, it is clear that CNN is recruiting its staff from nunneries, as anchor after anchor swore on camera that he or she had never come across any of the admittedly tawdry epithets mouthed in private by Donald Trump in 2005. The channel also went to extreme lengths to concoct alibis for Hillary Clinton by pointing to technicalities and ignoring substantive points in the several tranches of leaked emails, which included references to mutual consultations between the Clinton campaign and the US Justice Department. This columnist was probably the first (in third week of May 2015,before Trump announced his candidacy, followed by a July 2015 column on the subject in this newspaper) to predict a Trump win, a forecast that he still stands by.

Hillary Clinton has been in politics too long to offer change, which is why Barack Hussein Obama defeated her in the Democratic Party primaries in 2008 and why Donald Trump (who is clearly neither a politician or a diplomat) is likely to prevail over her next month, despite the numerous darts that the Clinton machine has aimed at the construction magnate, including from within his own party. The months ahead will show that Paul Ryan's meteoric career has been damaged beyond repair by his pivot towards Hillary Clinton. Whether he wins or loses, most of the Republican Party base will not forgive Ryan his "betrayal" of the candidate who was chosen over his rivals by the grassroots base of the party during the past year.

Sunday 9 October 2016

The sado-masochism of Lutyens Delhi (Sunday Guardian)

Lutyens Delhi is sadistic towards Indians, masochistic while bargaining with foes.

When the United Nations Organisation (UNO) was set up in 1945, much of the world was still in a state of formal servitude to European powers. Indeed, the 1939-45 war had come about after Adolf Hitler sought to do unto other Europeans what several within that continent had done to hundreds of millions in other continents: keep them in slavery. He has been celebrated as a tribune of freedom from oppression, but up to his final days in office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) and beyond, Winston Spencer Churchill was opposed to the grant of even a diluted list of freedoms to the people of India, regarding them as racial inferiors in even a worse way than Hitler and his followers in Germany considered the populations of Poland, France, Norway, although in Russia the German psychotic who sought to exterminate one of the globe's most gifted communities behaved in much the same way as those from Europe who had earlier colonised the Americas. The Atlantic Declaration of Roosevelt and Churchill was made applicable only to Hitler's victims in Europe and not to anybody else. Given such a context, it was no surprise that the UNO was conceived of as an organisation where genuine democracy was largely absent. The most representative body, the General Assembly (UNGA), was almost from the start reduced to the role of a talking shop, while actual authority got vested in the UN Security Council (UNSC), and within that, with the five Permanent Members (or P5). These would have been India, the US, the UK, Russia and France had Jawaharlal Nehru responded to suggestions from both Moscow and Washington that he concur in moves to replace the KMT-led Republic of China with the Republic of India.

Strangely, the intensity of Nehru's demand that the fifth permanent seat in the 15-member UNSC migrate from the KMT-led Republic of China to the Peoples Republic of China did not abate even after the 1962 border conflict with that country. This effort to displace the KMT in favour of the CCP came despite Generalissimo Chiang having fought openly for the independence of India during meetings with Churchill.

Such generosity to outside powers at the expense of India was also visible in the hasty Indian ceasefire declared after 1947-48 attack on Kashmir by Pakistan. Indeed, when the then East Punjab shut off the Indus waters to Pakistan and practically brought that country to its knees, PM Nehru chastised the state and ordered the resumption of Indus waters to Pakistan despite the war that was being waged by that country on India. Later, he masterminded the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, which was not made more balanced even after the subsequent military operations launched against this country by its neighbour to the west in 1965, 1971 and 1999. This was a case of turning not only a cheek to the aggressor but the entire body, behaviour that Lutyens Delhi has converted into an art form, even while it ruthlessly restricts the rights and freedoms of the citizens of India.

The Indus Waters Treaty is only part of a lengthy list of similar one-sided agreements, with some others being the 1972 Shimla Accord, the 1992 Rupee-Rouble pact and India's shoddy WTO negotiations, each of which are textbook examples of how the interests of our country have been cast aside in favour of countries that have made a career out of seeking to do India harm.

Lutyens Delhi is sadistic towards the people of India and masochistic while interacting with its enemies, who get rewarded in proportion to the degree to which pain gets inflicted by them on India. Hence the delirious (and subsequently hugely expensive) welcome to the very Bill Clinton, who as President harried India to surrender its small nuclear deterrent and hand Kashmir over to the Wahhabi army of Pakistan. Or the gift of a fee of millions of dollars to a Robert Blackwill, who (despite knowing that any prospect of nuclear war was nonsense and that all the A.B. Vajpayee government was doing in Operation Parakram was posturing in order to impress voters at home) sparked off a global panic about an "imminent" nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Blackwill ordered several tens of thousands of US citizens to flee this country immediately, damping for a decade at least any possibility of India attracting as much external investment as China. Or the welcome greeting Henry Kissinger on his visits to India, despite that gentleman being significantly responsible for his President Nixon having ordered the genocide of Bangladeshis, Cambodians, Vietnamese and Laotians, for which he was subsequently rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. And although the sums involved are not publicly known, given Kissinger's affinity towards hard cash, it is certain that the man has made money out of India as well, although not to the Croesean scale of his operations in China.

Given the sado-masochistic miasma of Lutyens Delhi, it is hardly surprising that it genuflects so obsequiously and so often before the UNSC, a body in which it is not a Permanent Member despite being the home of a sixth of the globe's population.

The UNSC has repeatedly short-changed India, which is why the Narendra Modi government should demand that the UN change its statutes such that a majority in the UNGA should ratify each UNSC decision for the latter to be made effective, while a two-thirds negative vote in the UNGA should suffice for overriding a P-5 veto. In an age when even television stations based out of that haven of liberty, Qatar, talk endlessly of democracy, it is time for the UN to show that it supports the concept not simply verbally, but in practice, by making the UNGA rather than the UNSC the final determinant of policy within the United Nations Organisation.

Friday 7 October 2016

EU sanctions on Russia must be vetoed (Pakistan Observer)

That the battle for the Secretary-Generalship of the United Nations was between two small European countries, Bulgaria and Portugal, shows the reality. Which is that the UN is in effect a diplomatic auxiliary of the NATO powers, usually doing their bidding although occasionally blocked by a veto from Moscow or – more rarely – Beijing. The institution with the most clout in the UN system is the Security Council, and within this organisation, only the P5 or Permanent Five ( the US, the UK, France, Russia and China) matter. The other ten are without a veto, and usually ensure that their votes go in the direction of one of the P5. Three of the P 5 are members of NATO, and this has emboldened the organisation to conduct wars in countries that are known not to pose a military challenge.

NATO has steered away from offensive operations against any country that is not a failed or failing state, and which has a military that can inflict significant casualties on the alliance, whose primary military motto is the safety of its men and women in what gets described in the media as "combat operations", but which are usually duck shoots, as for example against Saddam Hussein in 2003 or Muammar Kaddafy in 2011. After the disastrous consequences of the US-UK occupation of Iraq following the 2003 war, it was expected that those capitals would be more careful in future. However, goaded by Nicholas Sarkozy, both David Cameron as well as Hillary Clinton began the dismemberment of Libya. Why Hillary Clinton rather than her nominal boss Barack Obama? Because the US President, especially in his first term, filled the administration with retreads from the Clinton era, individuals who looked for guidance to Bill and Hillary rather than to Barack.

In the final months of the Obama administration, the US President appears to have returned to the initial years by conceding primacy to the Clintons, especially in foreign policy. Secretary of State John Kerry has been auditioning for an extension of his term in office after January 20,2017 by planting reports that he had the same view as Hillary Clinton, that the air force and ground troops of Syria's Bashar Assad should be targetted by the US military. This despite the warning given to Washington nearly three years ago, that Moscow would respond to such attacks with force. Fortunately, now that Hillary Clinton was no longer heading the State Department. Barack Obama ignored the "Bomb Third Worlders to Dust" votaries still left in his team, such as UN envoy Samantha Power, and refused to permit a disastrous escalation of conflict with Russia in Syria, a stance he has maintained to the present. Those who argue that it was Obama's refusal to take "decisive" ie armed action in Syria during 2012-13 was what led to the present meltdown of the country and to the sprouting of ISIS are talking nonsense and know it.

The fact is that it was the flood of weapons, cash and training given to supposed "moderate opposition" fighters which began the descent into hellfire of that country, just as it was weaponry supplied by NATO and its allies to anti-Kaddafy fighters in Libya which ensured the birth of ISIS (Daesh) and later, its takeover of large tracts of land and urban habitations in Iraq and Syria. It needs to be added that thus far,NATO has been unable to dislodge the forces loyal to Abubakr al Baghdadi from either Raqqa or Mosul, although in the latter city, it is the very Iraqi forces starved of equipment by Washington who are on the cusp of victory thanks to public revulsion at the way in which Daesh has instituted a barbarian and wholly un-Islamic form of rule in the territories it controls.

Should Hillary Clinton become President of the United States, conflict would intensify in the Middle East, given her adherence to the Samantha Power doctrine of force as the best persuader. Despite a sluggish global economy, this may lead to a rise in oil prices, which may benefit companies headquartered in Houston and other oil metropolises. Small wonder that the entire Bush family is going to vote en bloc for Hillary Clinton in the November 8 polls, disregarding their own party's standard bearer, Donald John Trump. The Bush-Cheney-Power-Clinton doctrine of war, war and more war resulted in a huge spike in the price of oil and other commodities, creating billionaires out of several commodity traders who were mere millionaires before the bombs began to fall. Small wonder that Wall Street is showering Hillary with cash, and to sweeten the pot, her most dedicated backer on stump is Bernie Sanders, the self-declared scourge of Big Finance. An entire panoply of backers has banded together to boost Clinton's chances of victiry, including the overwhelming majority of media outlets in US, few of whom even pretend to be objective, while some (such as CNN) exult in role of cheerleaders to Democratic Party candidate.

Hardly surprising, as in the past, CNN enthusiastically backed Paul Bremer and his comic book antics in Iraq as well as the takeout of Muammar Kaddafy even as the channel has been pressing the case for direct US military intervention in Syria by enforcing a No Fly Zone that in effect would be a Rest & Recreation areas fir Daesh and other such groups involved in regional battlefields. Besides war, another way in which Houston and its allies seek to boost oil and other commodity prices is by ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Aware that a cooling down of EU=Russia tensions would result in a boost in Russian oil production and sales and a consequent decline in prices, those in Washington who are beholden to Wall Street (while declaiming against it in public) are working to ensure that the European Union extend its sanctions on Russia beyond January 31,2017 deadline. Given geopolitical situation as well as the crisis facing the international economy, it makes zero sense except to Wall Street speculators to extend sanctions against Moscow. The fact is that those calling for an amicable dialogue between Moscow and the EU are correct, unlike the interests who demand that Russia concede all the points demanded of them by NATO before such a discussion ensues.

The EU operates on the basis of consensus and every member will have to approve the extension of sanctions on Russia. Those countries with a financial interest in greater tensions (leading to a bulge in weapons sales) or which have significant speculator communities working in their midst ( the US, UK, Germany and France being examples) will want the sanctions to continue. Hopefully, one or more of the EU member-states will find the decency and the pragmatism needed to veto an extension of sanctions, so that the world avoids what at present appears to be a path towards armed conflict between Russia and NATO in the Middle East.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Four ministers key to Modi’s success (Sunday Guardian)

It is for the team handpicked by Narendra Modi to ensure such an overall performance that the BJP again crosses the safety line of 230 Lok Sabha seats.
The only election which counts across India will take place in 2019, when the next Lok Sabha polls get held. Should the BJP tally fall below 200 seats, the chances are slim that a member of that party would be the Prime Minister, for most other parties are wary of the BJP settling into the slot vacated in 1989 by the Congress Party, of being seen by voters as the natural party of governance. Sometimes voters seek to administer a slap to the party in power rather than turf it out of office, and are surprised when the latter takes place, which appears to have been the situation after the 1977 Janata Party sweep across North India. To the credit of Morarji Desai, he refused to join in the efforts of followers of Ram Manohar Lohia to banish English from administration and education. Had he done so, India would have been a pygmy in the knowledge economy rather than an aspiring giant. And although the southern states rebuffed his party at the polls, including in Assembly polls held subsequent to the 1977 victory, Desai not only ensured a high degree of representation to officers from the South within the higher echelons of his government, but sought as well to bring in outside talent in several ministries. In 1947, Mahatma Gandhi ought to have ensured that B. R. Ambedkar rather than Jawaharlal Nehru be the first Prime Minister of post-colonial India. Had Ambedkar been in charge during the 1950s, India would have been different, and not at all in an unpleasant way. 
In both the case of Nehru and Desai, national leaders from the “higher” echelons of the caste system chose their “superiors” in the caste hierarchy as Prime Ministers, rather than others considered “lower down”, a process that got reversed with the almost unanimous selection of Narendra Modi as the effective leader of the BJP in 2013, a process in which the much-derided “Brahminical” RSS in fact nudged the BJP to choose as its Prime Ministerial candidate an individual who came from a humble background and was proud of that fact. After his anointment, Modi could have chosen whomsoever he liked as parliamentary candidates and later as ministers, but instead opted for consensus and continuity and tacked close to the party line in both instances, choosing mostly those who had been active in politics for decades and, in the higher echelons of his team, those who had served in the A.B. Vajpayee Council of Ministers. It is now for this team—handpicked by Narendra Modi—to ensure an overall performance such that the BJP as a party again crosses the safety line of 230 Lok Sabha seats and preferably once again breaches the 272-mark. In such a test, the ministries that will play the most significant part are Home, Defence, Finance and HRD. 
The Defence Ministry needs to plan for wars of the future rather than the battles of the past, and this can only be through an emphasis on (a) cyber capabilities, (b) drone technology, (c) tactical nuclear weapons and (d) accurate and multirole missile systems.
Instead of continuing with the embrace by the Manmohan Singh government of stifling regulations and restrictive laws that give unlimited discretion to the authorities to intimidate citizens with threats of expropriation and arrest, the Ministry of Home Affairs needs to ensure that a climate gets created in which the rights of citizens in matters of dress, diet, lifestyle and belief are protected. In this context, the Bihar High Court has shown its commitment to the 21st century by striking down Nitish Kumar’s prohibition law. As for freedom of speech, India remains the only major democracy where the exercise of that may lead to a longish jail sentence because of the colonial era law of “criminal” defamation. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will in future give decisions that stand by an expansion of the freedoms essential if India is to evolve into a global knowledge superpower, something impossible unless the chokehold of the UGC gets removed from our universities by the HRD Ministry. As for the Defence Ministry, it needs to plan for wars of the future rather than the battles of the past, and this can only be through an emphasis on (a) cyber capabilities, (b) drone technology, (c) tactical nuclear weapons and (d) accurate and multirole missile systems. The Finance Ministry needs to move away from regarding itself as simply collecting cash for paying the salaries of government officials and transform itself into an engine of growth. Whether it be the Patel or the Maratha agitation, or the coming Ahom and Reddy storm, the foundation for each is youth unemployment. The lack of sufficient additional jobs is creating a bomb primed to explode before the 2019 polls, and the Finance Ministry needs to act on the principle that lower tax rates and gentler methods of compliance lead to higher collections, in contrast to the piffling amounts collected during the external and internal black money mop-up drives.
It will be Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar and Prakash Javadekar who will be responsible for the ruling party’s seat tally in the next Lok Sabha. 

PM Modi scripts an Army reset (Sunday Guardian)

"GHQ Rawalpindi was informed that there was a party at the Uri Brigade Headquarters on the day of the attack and that consequently, security would be more relaxed’, in view of the high spirits common on such occasions. Who informed GHQ Rawalpindi of the party, if indeed such celebrations took place?"

The removal of the Uri Brigade Commander is the start of a new accountability drive led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior officials say. They add that the cross-LoC post-Uri operation was from start to finish “a PM Modi initiative”. Highly placed sources confirm that the Prime Minister was emphatic from the start of the crisis that he was “not in the same pacifist mould of some of his predecessors”, and that on his watch, the Indian armed forces would need to react in a manner such that GHQ Rawalpindi finally begins to pay a steeper and steeper price for its terror operations against India. The decade when Manmohan Singh was in charge of governance was “a disaster for military preparedness in India, a fact known to the Pakistan army”, which consequently sought to unsettle the Narendra Modi government with an unprecedented series of cross-border strikes across the Line of Control as well as Punjab, 23 in total since 26 May 2014, which have involved attacks on security forces. In the process, more than 60 suicide bombers from GHQ Rawalpindi’s kamikaze squad have been sent to hell, with a further 98 despatched in a similar direction through interdiction on the LoC. This is not counting the 14 suicide bombers killed during two attacks on Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. All this has taken place in the shadow of a very public outreach by Modi to his counterpart in Islamabad, Nawaz Sharif, who it is well known has less power over the Pakistan army than the donkeys used by that country for the transport of equipment and supplies along the Karakoram route.

High-level sources expect Prime Minister Modi to “enforce accountability on the highest echelons of the military” for the fact that fully 15 of the 23 security installations whose perimeter and sometimes inner line defences were breached, were managed by the Indian Army. What is termed as “Modi Luck” played a major role in ensuring that casualties and damage on the Indian side were small in almost all these security breaches. However, thus far the Manmohan Singh policy of refusing to enforce accountability on the top brass of the military had been largely continued by the present government “and this has now been replaced with a (Modivian) insistence on accountability and punishment”, a senior official opined. He claimed that “credible reports existed that GHQ Rawalpindi was informed that there was a celebratory party at the Uri Brigade Headquarters on the day of the attack and that consequently, security would be more relaxed”, in view of the high spirits common on such occasions.

Who informed GHQ Rawalpindi of the party, if indeed such celebrations took place? There is also a report that “the brigadier in charge of the post was a golf aficionado who spent much time on his favourite game and to whom tending the golf course was a priority”. It is expected that “in place of the cover ups which took place after the Kargil infiltration and occupation and subsequent lapses in security, this time around there will be an intensive investigation into not just Uri but Pathankot as well”. Another official warned that “any slackness in bringing those responsible for security lapses to account would facilitate a fresh incursion by GHQ’s kamikaze squads. “There has to be 100% prevention of enemy breach of security at important military infrastructure, and the repeated attacks show that such a situation has yet to be ensured”, a top official warned, adding that “as yet, action on few of the recommendations made by the Lt-Gen Philip Campose April 2016 report on security in military installations have been initiated, leave alone completed”.

Under Manmohan Singh, the ratio of revenue expenditure to capital expenditure in the armed forces has risen to 5:1 in the Army, as against 1:1 in the Navy and 2:1 in the Air Force. All three are below desirable norms for the respective services in any calculation of military “tooth to tail” efficiency. During the UPA period, the War Wastage Reserve in the advent of all out conflict fell to less than ten days, as against a desirable level of 40 days, while the quantum of ammunition inducted was less than a fifth of what would be needed in order for full combat readiness. Matters have, however, improved significantly after Manohar Parrikar took over as a whole-time Defence Minister, despite the Raksha Mantri’s Antony-style weekend forays to his home state. “However, as yet the top brass has resisted the drive for greater accountability in their ranks, having gotten used to the laxity of the Manmohan period”, an official revealed.

Among the many issues unaddressed by Manmohan Singh was the fact that the orange stock and butt of the INSAS rifle make it easy to spot by terrorists armed by GHQ Rawalpindi with night vision goggles. Also as yet, the need for 200,000 more 7.62mm assault rifles has not been met, while in sectors of possible future action such as the Northeast, even sand bags are in short supply, not to mention body armour, air defence systems, night vision equipment, artillery and ammunition. Bureaucratic objections by babus, who cannot recognise a rifle from a golf club, have stalled the induction of critically needed equipment such as 4,000 light machine guns and 40,000 carbines. Manmohan Singh left office leaving behind an Army with a shortage of 31,000 soldiers and 9,000 officers, and a sniper force of only 3,000, a third of what is needed. Apart from the fact that not even a single new artillery gun has been inducted since 1987, the crucial Arjun Mk-II tank program is lagging dangerously behind schedule, as are other DRDO procurement programs because of laggard implementation and superfluous changes in specifications masterminded by those secretly in the pay of international arms cartels. Even an item as needed for combat as bulletproof jackets have been pending procurement since 2008, with less than 50,000 available against a need of 400,000, while A.K. Antony’s much touted 17 Mountain Strike Corps remains a dream, rather than an operationally significant reality.

As for the Air Force, the Rafale has had a chequered record in Libya, although the IAF version is considered better, while the Navy needs many more platforms than it has at present. Given the complete support that the Pakistan army is getting from its Chinese counterpart, senior officials expect that PM Modi will follow up his bold decision on Uri by enforcing accountability mechanisms and procurement systems that ensure that the military in India is made fully capable of “offensive defense” in case of need.