Saturday 27 July 2019

Wahhabi lobby in U.S. fixed Imran’s meeting with Trump (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Key policymakers say that a small cabal of pro-Pakistan elements still exists within the US Government. This includes US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. They have been suggesting to the White House that ‘the key to Pakistan’s sincere cooperation with the US in Afghanistan is through India being made to make concessions on Kashmir’.

WASHINGTON: Despite advice to the contrary from a few realists within agencies such as the National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department, and analysts in the US Government (USG) who lost their earlier affinity for the Pakistan military as a consequence of the manner in which GHQ Rawalpindi has “repeatedly played the US for a sucker in Afghanistan”, President Donald J. Trump consented to a formal meeting at the White House with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan on 23 July. The meeting took place as a consequence of an intense lobbying effort by the well-funded Wahhabi network in Washington, which roped in a close friend of President Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to lead their successful drive at persuading the President to agree to such a meeting despite the absence of any substantive assistance by Pakistan in reining in the Taliban. Instead, the extremist militia, which once sheltered Osama bin Laden and presently hosts several fighters of ISIS and Al Qaeda, has steadily picked up strength and territory since the Trump administration began to cosy up to GHQ Rawalpindi in mid-2018 in yet another effort at getting assistance from the Pakistan army for ensuring a safe withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. After nearly two decades of promises by successive US Presidents about their “assisting moderates to prevail over extremists” in Afghanistan, the Trump White House now seems prepared to follow the example of President Bill Clinton, who facilitated the growth of the Taliban and its takeover of much of Afghanistan during his 1993-2001 tenure, thereby creating the conditions which resulted in the 9/11 attack in New York and Washington by Al Qaeda during the initial months of the George W. Bush presidency. Given that the Pakistan army has become a proxy of the People’s Liberation Army of China, expecting Prime Minister Imran Khan to assist rather than (as has routinely taken place since 2001) sabotage US efforts at securing Afghanistan from Taliban extremism demonstrates the extent to which policymakers within the Washington Beltway continue to live in a world of Alternate Reality. Additionally, especially since 2007, large clusters of the overwhelmingly Pashtun Taliban have turned against the Punjabi-controlled Pakistan army as a consequence of the effort by the latter to control and dominate the former. Such elements would anyway not heed any commands made by GHQ Rawalpindi, even assuming that these orders were such as would support rather than retard US objectives in Afghanistan.
The Wahhabi lobby in Washington, which remains among the most influential in the city, is funded by those still adhering to this three centuries old ideology in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. Senator Graham has been close to the Wahhabi lobby in Washington for decades, joining hands with it most recently to condemn Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who is the first Al Saud to seek to roll back rather than encourage Wahhabism. Because of its money power, this lobby is also on cordial terms with many others close to President Trump, and who are engaged in business, such as Thomas J. Barack, who has several contacts in the Middle East. For months, President Trump had declined to meet Imran Khan. It was only through the Wahhabi network in Washington that GHQ Rawalpindi was able to bypass normal bureaucratic channels and ensure a meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Khan that has had the effect of angering two US allies, Afghanistan and India. The expectation of the generals is that the suave khaki-chosen Prime Minister of Pakistan will be able to establish a close personal relationship with Trump that could then be leveraged to get financial and other advantages for the Pakistan military
And so, after more than two years of President Trump pointing to the sorry record of the Pakistan army in honouring its commitments, the Wahhabi lobby finally broke through into the White House to try and get Trump’s endorsement for the shopworn formula of making India give concessions to Pakistan in exchange for Pakistan making concessions to the US. Although senior policymakers in the State Department and the National Security Council such as Lisa Curtis and Alice Wells are aware of the risks of the US once again placing its hopes on Pakistan (as was last done by President George W. Bush after 9/11), the reluctance of many domain specialists in the US to work in the Trump administration has resulted in several key slots being filled by relatively junior individuals unfamiliar with the ground realities within the regions they are expected to make policy on. The – it needs to be said, unwise – lack of willingness of many experts to work in the Trump White House and administration can be traced to the incessant negative publicity about the US President in much of the US media, which has led to many within the country ignoring the many achievements of the Trump dispensation, although of course there have been some policy errors as well. In several key agencies, the perceived future toxicity of associating with the Trump administration has resulted in a shortage of suitable first grade individuals to fill critical posts, thereby having them filled with second and third grade talent with minimal experience in the regions that they are assigned to analyse and to visit. Many such picks have been recommended by Senators and other Republican grandees who have the ear of those close to the 45th President of the US, especially his family members, who are active in the inner workings of the administration to a degree not seen since the Kennedy period. The Wahhabi lobby in Washington keeps a comprehensive database of all Trump appointees, and makes sure that those in relevant fields “accidentally” and “purely by coincidence” run into academics, businesspersons and others (who are often under deep cover that showcase a moderate persona that is shed as soon as a safe zone such as one’s house is reached) who are agents of influence of the Wahhabi lobby. These fellow travellers of the Wahhabi International build up relationships with the mostly youthful and unwary agency staffers who are newly recruited. They thereafter ensure that such staffers are made familiar with (and hopefully appreciative of) the thinking of the Wahhabi lobby. Over the past nine months, because President Trump has revealed several times his impatience to “get out of Afghanistan”, such staffers have been turning to the four-decade long GHQ strategy of trying to make the US put pressure on India to make concessions to Pakistan on Kashmir. Officials say that such Wahhabi-influenced advice may have been behind President Trump’s sudden show of eagerness to get involved personally in the Kashmir issue, a move that is diplomatic quicksand in the context of the US desire for a close security and defence partnership with India. As regards Afghanistan, assisting the Taliban to take power the way President Clinton did in the 1990s would destroy what little chances there are for a stable Afghanistan to emerge from the wreckage caused by the actions of Pakistan and the flawed US responses to them.
It is obvious even to those whose powers of comprehension are less than good that China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela and a few other states have formed a close network of countries that oppose US objectives globally. Under President Xi Jinping, China in particular has been building up both its offensive as well as defensive capabilities, often in combination with the Russian Federation. Both Vladimir Putin as well as Xi Jinping consider each to be the other’s closest friend and ally in geo-strategic terms, and their joint effort first at primacy and subsequently dominance is designed to cover not just the Eurasian landmass but Africa and South America as well. Both are also collaborating in gaining primacy over the US in space as well as cyberspace, not to mention the oceans, including undersea. President Xi has focused on technologies of the future such as Artificial Intelligence, aware that the country that leads in such fields will be numero uno globally. Interestingly, Xi Jinping plans to make India his first overseas port of call after the 70th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October. Since the 2018 Wuhan summit, both Xi and Narendra Modi have worked hard to re-calibrate the Sino-Indian relationship away from the tensions of the past. The second “personal diplomacy summit” of two individuals who jointly lead a total of 2.6 billion people is expected to take place on 12 October at Varanasi. In contrast, 2019 is unlikely to see a visit to India by President Donald J. Trump of the US. This may be fortunate, for months will need to go by before the sour taste of his recent gaffe on Kashmir gets forgotten by the Indian public. Senior officials in Washington are privately unhappy that President Trump, acting on the prodding of the Wahhabi lobby and its backers such as Senator Graham, offered himself publicly as a mediator between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, thereby following in the path of individuals such as Harold Wilson, who was politely asked to mind his own business by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The UK Prime Minister had modestly volunteered to take over the role that Jawaharlal Nehru and the rest of the Union Cabinet had handed over to Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1947, that of being the effective overlord of Indian policy on Kashmir. While refusing to go on record, and speaking only on “deep background”, key policymakers warn that a small cabal still exists of pro-Pakistan elements within the US Government (USG). This includes US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and this group has been suggesting to the White House that “the key to Pakistan’s sincere cooperation with the US in Afghanistan is through India being made to make concessions on Kashmir”.
A pro-GHQ Rawalpindi cabal has been active within the Washington Beltway since the 1970s in promoting the interests of the Pakistan military. When Barack Obama took over as the 44th President of the US in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted her hand-picked envoy to South Asia, Richard Holbrooke, to repeat his success in curtailing elements of the Indian nuclear program during his discussions in previous years with successive administrations in Delhi, this time over Kashmir. Ambassador Holbrooke was known for his extensive relationships with the Pakistan military, and for holding the view that “the Kashmir issue had to be solved”, of course on the lines favoured by GHQ. Swift blowback from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ensured that the plan was stillborn. India, especially Kashmir, was removed from the formal writ of Holbrooke, although he continued to meddle in matters relating to the state through his many high-level contacts in the Lutyens Zone. The effort to link Kashmir with the situation in Afghanistan has continued to the present, especially within the National Security Council and the State Department, both of which still contain voices echoing the GHQ argument in favour of a robust US role in ensuring that India make concessions on Kashmir that would put at risk our country’s interests and security. Although in the past, the Pentagon was the most aggressive proponent of a pro-GHQ line, since the experience of the aftermath of 9/11, that ardour has cooled substantially. In the Kashmir-related remarks that he made during his meeting with Imran Khan, Donald Trump fell into the trap laid for him by the Wahhabi lobby. However, senior officials say that the US President has “a very shrewd mind”, and hence that he “rapidly reversed course once it was made clear that the Wahhabi lobby was promoting policies that would damage the long-term US interest in a close and collaborative relationship with India”. It may be remembered that the Wahhabi lobby had in the past motivated Senator Lindsey Graham to seek to get US sanctions instituted against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the bĂȘte-noire of the Wahhabi International, who has had remarkable success in his efforts at ensuring the creation of a modern, moderate Saudi Arabia by 2030. In the recent past, pro-GHQ elements within the Trump administration have been lobbying officials in Delhi to bring the All Parties Hurriyat Conference back into the core of Indian policymaking in Kashmir, despite the (Clinton-created) APHC being apparently directed in its responses by GHQ Rawalpindi. Officials say that it is the pro-Pakistan cabal within USG that had been lobbying President Trump to insert himself in the Kashmir maelstrom on the side of Pakistan, “so that the Pakistan army will begin assisting and stop sabotaging US efforts at dis-engaging from Afghanistan”, a formula tried several times in the past by previous US Presidents without any success in stopping the sabotage of US objectives and boosting of terrorism by the Pakistan military.
It was a surprise to those who have grown to respect Donald Trump to watch as he temporarily joined the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in wanting to force India to make concessions in Kashmir to Pakistan in exchange for the unrealistic hope of GHQ ever making genuine concessions to the US side against the very terror networks it protects. The good news for India is that senior officials claim that Trump has now “fully understood” the game played on him by the pro-GHQ cabal in USG, and has therefore kept silent even via tweets on the Kashmir issue ever since the meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan. Just as the S-400 induction by India would be a deal-breaker in the ongoing efforts at crafting an India-US security alliance, resumption of Clinton-era White House pressure on India to make concessions to GHQ on Kashmir would kill the prospect of any such security alliance, something that the pro-GHQ cabal in USG well understands and seeks. The Wahhabi lobby is aware that such a torpedoing of the proposed India-US partnership in matters of defence and security would be warmly welcomed not just in Rawalpindi but in Beijing and Moscow as well. Those eager for such an outcome are disappointed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not fall into the trap laid for him by Opposition politicians in Parliament. They demanded that Modi condemn Trump’s remarks directly, something that would have damaged the existing warm relationship between President Trump and PM Modi to the detriment of US and Indian interests. As a consequence of the statesmanlike forbearance of Prime Minister Modi, President Trump reciprocated by quietly dropping any talk of mediation between India and Pakistan, to relief from the more experienced and first-class minds dealing with South Asia in agencies such as the State Department, the White House and the NSC. However, the cash-rich Wahhabi lobby in Washington will continue in its mission of promoting the aims of the Pakistan military, the only armed forces in the world that has “jihad” as its official motto, to the detriment of moderate and democratic forces in countries aligned to the US by a common tradition of freedom and democracy.

Rep Omar, Israel has right to exist in peace (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Ilhan Omar was among the principal backers of a resolution, sought to be passed by the US House of Representatives, that would treat Israel like an apartheid state.

NEW YORK: That friends often have the same effect as foes is best represented by US House of Representatives member Ilhan Omar from Minnesota. Both she and her colleague, the more modern Rashida Tlaib, are the first Muslims to get elected to the US Congress. Judging by the way Ms Omar has acted since her election, she at least is on the way to becoming a one-term Representative. When the Al Saud family, historically the biggest backer of the fanatic Wahhabi sect that seeks to take over first the Muslim “Ummah” and later the world, has itself shifted gears and begun a crackdown on such extreme elements and their medieval practices, it is unfortunate that Ms Omar appears to have substantially bought into the Wahhabi creed despite what it has done to Somalia, the country from where she escaped to the US. Ms Omar was among the principal backers of a resolution sought to be passed by the US House of Representatives that—in effect—would treat Israel the way in which much of the world did South Africa in the final decade of apartheid. Interestingly, although Israel was explicitly created in 1948 as a Jewish state, Muslims and Christians in that country have far more rights and freedoms than they do anywhere else in the Middle East. On 23 July, the US House of Representatives voted against the motion to boycott Israel by 398 votes to 7, with 5 other members not registering their views on the subject. Both Ms Omar as well as (to a lesser degree) Ms Tlaib have given a substantial boost to the electoral prospects of President Donald J. Trump in the 2020 polls by the stance they took during the discussion on the boycott motion. Clips from their speeches are certain to be widely disseminated across the US in order to persuade voters that the two—along with a third freshwoman Representative, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, represent the “new” Democratic Party, and that it is therefore wiser to vote for Trump rather than his Democratic Party opponent. The motion the three favoured was in favour of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that aimed to cripple the economy of Israel, thereby punishing all its citizens, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish. Such a move makes as little sense as the measures that President Trump has reinstated against Iran, which will have the effect of increasing support for the mullahs and generating hatred for the US that could result in some citizens of Iran adopting terror tactics against the US in the future. Sanctions that hurt the entire population of a country seldom have the effect of changing the regime in power, as was shown by the cruel sanctions imposed by Bill Clinton on Iraq, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children and to the descent into penury of much of the population of that country. Saddam Hussein and his family—the supposed targets of the Clinton sanctions regime—continued to rule Iraq and enjoy a luxurious lifestyle in the midst of the suffering of the population of a country unfortunate enough to have Saddam as its ruler. Rather than press for sanctions against Israel, Representatives Omar, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez ought to have sponsored a motion to withdraw the self-defeating sanctions on Iran imposed by Trump.
Both in 1948 as well as in 1967, the Jewish population in Israel was content with the territory that they had been controlling at the time. In both 1948 as well as 1967, it was the attack on Israel by neighbouring states that led to the defeat of the attackers and an increase in the territory controlled by the Jewish population. This is a fact that is seldom remembered by those who call for either the complete elimination of the State of Israel or the shrinking of it to a size that would place it at the mercy of its neighbours. Nor do they remember the fact that the Sinai region was handed over back to Egypt in 1979 in exchange for a peace with that country, a peace that was later put at risk by the Hillary Clinton-backed Mohammad Morsi regime, but which has otherwise remained a constant in a region where flux is the norm. Given the serial persecution that the Jewish people have undergone across the centuries, including the murder of much of the followers of the faith by the Hitler regime during 1933-45, they have earned the right to a state of their own, a country where they feel safe from persecution in a context where anti-Jewish sentiment continues to flourish even in Germany, a country that ought to know better. It is a fact that Israel has been settled largely by those who have emigrated from Europe, but so has the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, those screaming “Send them back” at Ilhan Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib at Republican Party rallies ought to instead chant “Let’s ourselves go back!”, for they or their ancestors came to the US from Europe and went in for mass killing of the original American Indian inhabitants of the US. Those crying out “Send them back” slogans seem to be wholly ignorant of their own history, beyond of course lacking other requisites of a civilised mind, and they have damaged the global perception about Donald J. Trump in a manner that should not be lightly regarded by the 45th President of the US. It was a shock to Hillary Clinton to be beaten in 2016 by Trump, and with such political opponents as Ilhan Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, the chances are brightening for a second term in the White House for the New York billionaire.

Friday 26 July 2019

Billionaires blame penniless Mexicans for US ills (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

HALF of the population of the United States detests President Trump while almost the same number adores him. The 45th President of the US is unusually honest for a politician, making no secret of his views, no matter how unpleasant these may be to more than a few. During the 2016 campaign, he repeatedly said that he liked people who had little or no education, as such people would be inclined to vote for him rather than for his opponent. Indeed, the more educated the person, the less likely he is likely to be a supporter of Donald J Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton termed supporters of Trump as “Deplorables”. Her irrepressible opponent seized on the term and began to call himself and his supporters as “deplorables”, revving up their common hatred of Hillary Clinton. For more than six months, the Clinton campaign had silently but energetically sought to boost Trump against his Republican Party opponents, in the belief that he was the easiest Republican nominee to defeat in the polls.
To the dismay of the Clinton machine, Trump turned out to be a formidable opponent, landing several punches to everyone that he received, and connecting with the imagination of tens of millions of voters. Hillary Clinton made the mistake of underestimating Trump, and as several of those who have done business with him in the past can testify, this is a bad mistake. It was not only his father Fred’s wealth but an innate shrewdness and bulldog determination that earned Donald J Trump his 4-year stay in the White House, and which may assure him another four years, if the US economy continues to do better than expected, and the Democratic Party (still influenced if no longer dominated by the Clinton machine) chooses a cautious and “safe” candidate such as Joe Biden over a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren. While he was at his peak during the 2015 struggle for securing the Democratic Party nomination for the presidential contest, during this round, Senator Bernie Sanders seems to have lost some of his appeal, possibly because of the manner in which he joined Barrack Obama in behaving like a cheerleader for the Clintons during much of 2016.
The way in which Bernie Sanders raised the white flag of surrender to Hillary Clinton even after he was cheated of the nomination by a series of dirty tricks by the Clinton-controlled Democratic Party machine, his supporters got dismayed and began to believe that much of his aggression was in words rather than in action. Sanders thought that his forgiving stance would ensure that the “lesser evil” (Hillary Clinton) prevailed over the “greater evil” (Donald Trump). Instead, by strengthening the impression that the Democratic Party was in the pocket of the Clinton machine, Sanders paved the way for Trump to win.
Rather than lead the 2020 field as a candidate of his qualities ought to have, Sanders is behind Joe Biden, the candidate of the Clinton machine, in the opinion polls, and is only a bit ahead of Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose record in fighting the Billionaire Club is as impressive as that of Sanders himself. Another impressive Democratic Party candidate independent of the Billionaire Club is Senator Kamala Harris, who needs to race ahead of the rest of the field during the coming two months if she is to emerge as the presidential or (more likely) the vice-presidential candidate for her party in the 2020 polls. Donald Trump, of course, is a billionaire himself, who makes no secret of his view that billionaires make the best Presidents and Cabinet members, a stance that seems to have resonated with tens of millions of underprivileged voters with European ethnicity who seem to admire billionaires and revel in their being the rulers, despite this small club of hyper-rich individuals ensuring government policies which benefit them at the expense of the rest of the population.
Trump is loyal to the Billionaires Club, which is why he has become a megaphone for the message the latter seek to blare out to the people of the US. This is that the problems being faced by tens of millions of US citizens have been caused not by the predatory greed of the hyper-rich, but by the waves of impoverished Mexicans and other Central Americans trying to enter the US without a visa. Most are family units, often with very young children. What they seek is a job that would enable them to send money to those back home who are destitute. However, the Billionaires Club is relentlessly using the media to portray such intending migrants as a bagful of criminals whose primary purpose is loot, murder and rapine. The hundred million or so US citizens who believe such a nonsensical claim thereby get separated from the fact that toxic policies put in place by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, policies that were only tinkered with and not discarded by Barrack Obama, are what is responsible for the stagnation in incomes of the middle classes and continuing poverty on a scale that is impossible to conceal.
In the capital of the US, pavements of filling up with desperate individuals holding up plastic cups for passers-by to fling a few coins in. More and more of such unfortunates are of European rather than African ethnicity, hence the utility to the Billionaires Club of having a US President who manages to direct public anger at economic woes away from the Billionaire Club to hundreds of thousands of destitute migrants from south of the US, with a few even coming from North Africa and South Asia. President Trump has diverted public anger away from folks like him, the hyper-rich, which is why the Republican National Committee is getting so much more in donations than the Democratic National Committee. Judging by the confusion over policy and personalities in the Democratic Party, the odds are rising that Trump will secure a second term on November 8, 2020. Should that occur, and should Trump continue with Clinton-Bush policies that give a disproportionate quantum of advantage to the Billionaire Club, his second term is likely to be a stormy one, not so much in the US Congress but on the streets.
The substantive divide within the US is not between “white” and “black” or “coloured” US citizens but between the hyper-rich and the next. Despite efforts by the Billionaires Club to ensure that public fury remains diverted from them to the human tragedy at the southern border of the US, a time of reckoning in the shape of an administration that does not just talk about the poor (as Obama did) but which actually does something for the poor (as Franklin D Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson did) will dawn, if not in 2020, then latest by 2024.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Khalilzad selling out Afghanistan to Taliban (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

US Ambassador to Afghanistan is making steady, and deadly, progress in a GHQ inspired crusade to install the Taliban within the Ashraf Ghani government.

 Anybody at the level of high policy would have come across the truism that only a mentally challenged individual would believe that the same thing done the same way over and over again would produce a different result. And yet, Prime Ministers and Presidents choose with metronomic regularity precisely those individuals who have failed multiple times earlier to handle the same tasks. President George W. Bush was a disaster where Afghanistan was concerned, and not just because he was always more interested in taking revenge on Saddam Hussein “for trying to kill Poppy” than in setting right the land of the Taliban. Both he and Dick Cheney accepted the conventional (Pakistan army-centric) wisdom of the CIA and the Pentagon, entrusting the battling of Wahhabi extremist violence to the very institution that was motivating and assisting such violence, GHQ Rawalpindi. From the day the duo rejected A.B. Vajpayee’s offer of assistance in favour of riding on Musharraf’s coattails, the war was lost. The Taliban was revived from near-death by the ISI, which helpfully suggested thousands of “moderate Pashtuns” that the US could fund, choices that accepted without any fact check on whether those being promoted by Musharraf’s men were indeed “moderate”. They were not, they were hardcore Taliban, and the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that went to them ensured that the US and its allies went on the defensive in Afghanistan by 2007.
Among the prime boosters of GHQ Rawalpindi and the “benefits of doing a deal with the Taliban via the medium of the ISI” (as during the 1979-89 Afghan war with the Soviets) was Zalmay Khalilzad, a favourite of the Bush administration and now ensconced as the Oracle on Afghanistan by the White House. Say this for Khalilzad, he is reliably predictable, and has not changed his views since the 1990s on how Washington should manage the situation in Afghanistan. Exactly as he told Bush and Cheney in 2001, he has persuaded John Bolton to get President Trump to send Khalilzad to Kabul as the High Representative of the Unipolar Superpower. In this task, he is making steady—and deadly—progress in a GHQ-inspired crusade to install the Taliban within the core of the Ashraf Ghani government, thereby destroying it from within. In the meantime, the loss of morale and the confusion in policy created by Khalilzad has led to a steady accretion in the extent of land controlled by the Taliban. In these areas, women are once again told to remain at home (or else), while young girls are shooed away from even the most rudimentary of formal education. Law is what a local Taliban mullah defines it to be, while any deviation from Wahhabism is met with torture, if not death. Should this ragtag militia of extremists once again retake Kabul, the “credit” will go to Khalilzad, just as their earlier rise to power in the mid-1990s was in large part because of their Fairy Godmother, Robin Raphel, a favourite of both the Pakistani diplomat Shafqat Kakakhel as well as President W. J. Clinton. Every fresh terror attack by the Taliban morphs into yet another flurry of activity by “Our Zal” to force Ashraf Ghani to accept Taliban representatives in the elected government, rather than show him the folly of asking Trump to continue on the sterile paths of Presidents Clinton and Bush in Afghanistan.
Those who ran US policy towards Afghanistan in the past continue to remain the very domain specialists recruited by the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council to formulate policy on a country wrecked by errors made by the three agencies. Of them, it is only the Pentagon that seems to be coming out of the haze of toxic policy options pushed by Khalilzad and others anchored in the past, who have remained unscathed in their careers despite their policies having ended in disaster. Both the NSC as well as State are foursquare behind “our man Zal” in Afghanistan as he acts as the ventriloquist’s dummy for GHQ Rawalpindi. Distracted as he is with the fallout of the Mueller probe and the upcoming 2020 elections, President Trump has not been able to ensure a new approach that would protect the people of Afghanistan from the Wahhabi fanatics being promoted so obsessively by Khalilzad. The people of Afghanistan are overall moderate, as witnessed by the profusion of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist places of worship even in the Pashtun heartland, structures that were subsequently torn down by Raphel and Khalilzad’s heroes, the Taliban. Toxic policy concocted in Washington by those nostalgic for the Clinton-Bush years has resulted in a betrayal of the people of Afghanistan, especially women, youth and moderate Pashtuns. Unfortunately, probably as a consequence of hints from Washington, the policy of India towards the Taliban has wobbled on occasion. Such equivocation must stop, Ashraf Ghani must by now have understood that Hamid Karzai was correct in his view that following Washington’s dictates would lead to his whole country entering the hell that is Taliban rule. Another Wahhabi state must not be allowed to form in South Asia. Khalilzad may have made a habit of betraying the Afghans, but India needs to stand on the side of the moderate majority in Afghanistan who seek the Rule of Law, rights for all, and equality of treatment for women with men and not this extremist militia. Adopting Khalilzad’s nostrums will only multiply the number of victims of extremism in Afghanistan, a figure that is rising by the day as the US High Representative continues with his leaps into the policy quagmires of the past.

GHQ warns Imran he must pass the ‘Trump test’ (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

After the Balakot strike, GHQ Rawalpindi had warned its nominee Imran Khan that he had failed the ‘Modi test’. He had been unable to influence the Prime Minister of India to make security concessions.

 Washington: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is meeting US President Donald J. Trump on 22 July in an effort to win him over as completely as General Pervez Musharraf succeeded with George W. Bush. Before removing Nawaz Sharif in a judicial coup predicted by this newspaper, the three-star generals at GHQ Rawalpindi and at field commands who are the “competent authority” in Pakistan had wanted a replacement who (in their view) had the public relations skill needed to lull India’s leaders into the same complacency that gave the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Musharraf an opportunity to infiltrate and occupy the Kargil heights by the dawn of 1999 in an effort at retaliation for the surprise occupation of the Siachen glacier by the Indian Army in 1984. While Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had taken seriously Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promises of good behaviour, and had communicated this assessment to Army commanders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to similarly accept Prime Minister Khan’s promises of yet another “new dawn” in relations between Islamabad and Delhi. It was expected by the strategists in GHQ Rawalpindi that such bonhomie between the two Prime Ministers would lead to (1) a lowering of the guard by Indian forces on the border and (2) the effective legitimisation of the veto power of the (President Clinton-created) All Parties Hurriyat Conference in matters of policy pertaining to Kashmir, a power that had informally been ceded to them by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during 2016-18 without visible intervention by the Ministry of Home Affairs or the BJP Deputy Chief Minister in the PDP-led government. It had been expected by the ISI that a “Mehbooba-like situation without Mehbooba” could be ensured in Jammu & Kashmir should Imran Khan convince Modi of his bona fides the way Nawaz Sharif had convinced Vajpayee. However, despite several essentially cosmetic gestures (such as the immediate release of Wing Commander Abhinandan from captivity), PM Modi remained firm on taking a strong stand on the illicit activities of GHQ Rawalpindi in India, going to the unprecedented extent of personally ordering a lightning strike by frontline military aircraft on a terror training camp in Balakot deep inside Pakistan. After the strike, GHQ Rawalpindi warned its nominee Imran Khan that he had failed the “Modi test”. He had been unable to influence the Prime Minister of India to make security concessions. Instead of pandering to the wishes of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference the way Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had, Narendra Modi ordered that its members should be put in jail for anti-national activities. For the first time in the history of the Kashmir valley, the Income-Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate were given freedom to act against “overground” pro-Pakistan groups and individuals, who are suddenly finding themselves being held to account. While as yet responsibility for the decision to permit the BJP in the state to temporarily be the B-team of the PDP has not been fixed, at least in public, Prime Minister Modi has since ensured that the battle against terrorists and separatists in Kashmir is proceeding at a pace unprecedented since the 1990s.
The three major powers that matter the most in GHQ Rawalpindi’s calculus are China, the US and India. In the case of China, relations with Beijing are handled almost exclusively by the men in uniform, rather than the civilian establishment. In the case of the US, the civilian establishment is often made the “face” of GHQ’s views in meetings with agencies, including on occasion the NSC and the Pentagon. This has come about because of the growing disillusionment within the Pentagon about the Pakistan military, which has been exposed multiple times for its two-faced actions. In the case of India, fear of recruitment by R&AW has prevented significant interaction between the Pakistan military and its counterparts in India. The interface is largely conducted by the civilian establishment, where the Pakistan Prime Minister is expected to handle his counterpart in India in such a way as to mask the objectives of the ISI. The effort is to make the Government of India go ahead with “confidence building measures” that in reality only build up the relative strength of pro-Pakistan forces in theatres of asymmetric Indo-Pak conflict in India. Despite repeated efforts at winning the trust of Prime Minister Modi, who is seen as the key to decision making in government, thus far Imran Khan has failed to make a dent in Modi’s armour of doubt concerning Pakistan. During the UPA decade, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was cultivated openly, AICC president Sonia Gandhi was sought to be influenced when senior Congress leaders visited London, Dubai and other locations where “Treffs” (below the radar) meetings could be held with elements of the security establishment in Pakistan and their associates. Family members of the UPA chairperson were also identified for such “accidental” or “personal” meetings designed to ensure a lowering of the guard by our side on the activities of the Pakistan military and its auxiliaries and associates. To dismay from within GHQ Rawalpindi, Imran Khan seems to have failed the “Modi test”, being unable to break through his resolve and establish a zone of trust with the Prime Minister of India. In such a situation, it has become a matter of political survival for Imran Khan to establish in President Trump a level of confidence in the former that would smoothen the way for the White House to facilitate GHQ Rawalpindi strategies for re-establishing suzerainty in Afghanistan through the entry and eventual takeover of the Afghan government by the Taliban.
Separately, Pakistan has joined hands with two other countries to influence public opinion in India as well as create a bureaucratic consensus in the Lutyens Zone against either a de facto or de jure security alliance between India and the US. Such a partnership would be a nightmare to the Pakistan army, as it has the potential to significantly ramp up the defensive and offensive capabilities of the Indian armed forces. A similar effort is ongoing in Washington that is designed to portray the Indian establishment as being “big talkers but not doers” and as “unreliable” security partners. Casting doubt on India’s bona fides and boosting confidence in Pakistan as an ally are the twin objectives sought to be met through Prime Minister Imran Khan in his current US charm offensive. Former relatives of his in the UK have, for reasons of sentiment, been assisting in the “selling” of Imran Khan to influential individuals in New York and Washington. President Trump is in essence being invited to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and simultaneously declare victory by a withdrawal of US forces that would weaken the capacity of Ashraf Ghani to resist the steady takeover of his country by GHQ proxies in the same way as was done during the Clinton presidency.
The coming week will show whether Imran Khan has passed the “Trump test”. Should he fail in his efforts at influencing policy with the US President just as he has had no success with the Prime Minister of India, the odds are high that GHQ Rawalpindi will begin the search for a replacement. Imran Khan’s future is forfeit if he cannot win over Donald Trump to the plan of action favoured by the ISI in Afghanistan. The good news for him is that Washington has repeatedly fallen for similar promises from Islamabad in the past, and that the Trump team contains several individuals who have made a career out of being close to the Pakistan military. The elected regime in Afghanistan will need to wait while its fate is being decided.

Thursday 18 July 2019

President Trump focuses on second term (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

FORMER Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is known in India as the “accidental” Prime Minister. His former Information Advisor, Sanjaya Baru, has written a very readable book called the “Accidental Prime Minister”, which was later made into a Bollywood movie. Baru wanted his boss to take advantage of the immense powers of the Prime Ministership and ensure that it was Manmohan Singh and not Sonia Gandhi who steered the ship of State. However, there was nothing even remotely “accidental” in the decision of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi to select Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, given that her taking over the job would have given the BJP a juicy target to derive political mileage from. Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister believed that as long as a Catholic of European descent led the principal opposition party, the BJP was safe. Genial to friends and unforgiving to enemies, Vajpayee went out of his way to ensure that Sonia Gandhi was protected from the darts thrown in her direction, many from within his own party.
Those who maintained good relations with Sonia Gandhi within the BJP, such as the always charming Arun Jaitley, were promoted while critics such as Govindacharya were marginalized within the BJP. The most persistent critic of Sonia Gandhi, former Harvard professor Subramanian Swamy, was kept out of the BJP by Vajpayee, joining the party only after Narendra Modi emerged as the prime ministerial candidate of the country’s biggest party. However, Vajpayee’s calculations went wrong when his government lost its mandate to a coalition led by Sonia Gandhi in 2004. The defeat came as a surprise to Vajpayee and to his ministers, who did not even remove the computers they had been using while in ministerial office before handing over charge to the nominees of the Congress Party and its allies. Certainly the computers would have yielded a treasure trove of information about the Vajpayee ministry. In contrast, after the Congress Party lost the 2014 parliamentary polls to a supercharged BJP led by Narendra Modi, they were given ten days to “clean up” and to make decisions to the last day in power that would benefit them.
The BJP won the election on May 16 and waited until May 26 before swearing in Narendra Modi in the presence of SAARC leaders, including then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. Up to now, Prime Minister Modi has shown great forbearance where his predecessors are concerned, giving a clean chit to former PM Manmohan Singh (who held charge of the Coal Ministry when several criminal transactions took place that were later punished by the courts. The incoming government took the view that the Prime Minister’s Office under Manmohan Singh was blameless despite several dubious decisions having been cleared during that period. It needs to be said the Manmohan Singh is known to be personally honest, but regarded as having turned a blind eye to wrongdoing sanctioned by Congress Party leaders. The Modi government could have taken the view that Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister was culpable for wrong decisions taken, even though he personally did not derive any pecuniary benefit from such actions.
However, he was excused. In fact, no Minister in the Manmohan Singh government has been sent to jail under Narendra Modi, who has allowed anti-corruption agencies to take their own time investigating some of the many corruption charges that the BJP had levelled against the Manmohan Ministry during the latter’s decade in office. In fact, as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had sent one of his own Cabinet Ministers to prison and was about to send another when he was defeated in 2004. After the new government took office, the jailed minister was released from prison and the minister who was about to enter the portals of prison was given a reprieve from such a fate. Although a former minister, P Chidambaram, is being investigated by the anti-corruption agencies on multiple charges of wrongdoing, he has been granted bail more than two dozen times by the courts, who seem unconvinced by the Government of India’s case against him.President Trump too has shown mercy towards his rival in the 2016 presidential contest, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rejecting the advice of several of his supporters, Trump refused to launch prosecution against Hillary Clinton, not even investigating the funding of the Clinton Foundation or retrieving through data systems the several thousand emails that the former Secretary of State deleted before they could be accessed by investigative agencies. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton has repaid this act of grace of President Trump by unleashing her many supporters on the 45th President of the US. A campaign that can only be described as frenzied erupted in the US the day that the new Head of State vetoed suggestions that the Clintons be formally investigated. That campaign has continued without pause since Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2016 and this is despite the inability of a clearly biased Special Counsel (Robert Mueller) to dig up anything that could criminally compromise Donald J Trump, who seems only to have been further energized by the unprecedented attacks on him.
In a desperate effort to further persecute (if not successful in legally prosecuting) President Trump, a motion has been moved in the House of Representatives to impeach the President. This is unlikely to be adopted, as the majority of even Democratic Party members in the House of Representatives understand that such a process would make Trump even more a hero to nearly half the voters of his country. President Trump is deliberately and conscientiously pursuing a line of action designed to attract his base even as it angers those who would anyway never vote for him. Given the confusion within the Democratic Party, only a war with Iran could derail Trump, and the New York billionaire understands this well.
However, those in the Administration who want war – such as National Security Advisor John Bolton – are ensuring that partners of the US adopt lines of action that are designed to provoke Iran into a reaction that could lead to war. An example was the UK seizing an Iranian oil tanker, an act of folly that would never have taken place had Prime Minister Teresa May not been so completely distracted by her impending exit from office. The war of 1914-1919 began as a consequence of mistakes and accidents. Hopefully, the world will avoid a repeat of the conditions which created such a conflagration. US voters like tough talk but recoil from body bags, something that Trump understands perfectly. Hopefully therefore, the standoff between Washington and Teheran will cool rather than overheat during coming weeks. Such a damping down of tensions would assist President Trump to win a second term in 2020.

Sunday 14 July 2019

Modi’s idea of India replaces Nehru’s construct (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The Nehruvian construct has long lost its popular resonance, support. 

The objective of almost all politicians is simply to win the next election. This was true even of Indira Gandhi, who was described in divinely lyrical terms by A.B. Vajpayee in 1971. In contrast, Jawaharlal Nehru sought to achieve much more than just another term in office. Nehru had been chosen by Mahatma Gandhi for the PM’s job because he would (in the saint’s view) be the leader best able to transform into reality Gandhian precepts. India was indeed transformed during 1947-64, the period when Nehru occupied the Prime Minister’s room in South Block. Central planning and the eclipse of the Indian private sector by state-owned behemoths took place, as did the putting into place of a social policy that aimed to re-assure the biggest minority community through the state, in effect, treating them as the majority and Hindus as the minority. While substantial social changes were introduced by law made applicable by Nehru to the Hindus, the Muslim community was untouched by reformative legislation. Despite having large numbers still in thrall  to the “Two Nation” Partition mindset, which steadily gained ground from the early 1930s despite the efforts of the Mahatma, the Muslim community was left to past practices, many not compatible with the requirements and thought streams of the 20th century. The Nehruvian education system took away the state-funded window for the teaching of the English language to the poor, restricting fluency in that language and its global advantages to the relatively affluent. Science and technology were regarded as best left to state institutions, while foreign policy was transformed as comprehensively as the nation’s economic and social patterns were. Nehru changed India in a way that was gently sought to be altered by the homespun vision of Lal Bahadur Shastri, but whose premature death took away this danger to the Nehruvian construct. Despite some changes at the margin during the periods in office of P.V. Narasimha Rao and A.B. Vajpayee, the Nehruvian construct continued its sway over the “Idea of India”. For Vajpayee himself was far from being a Ram Manohar Lohia, who had little positive to say about Nehru and the changes made in the country by the policies adopted by one of the two most powerful Prime Ministers in free India’s history. The second was not Indira Gandhi, for her period of awesome power (1975-77) was based not on popular consent but on coercion.
Rather, the second mega-powerful PM after Nehru is Narendra Modi, who was not pitchforked into the job by a patron, but who stepped into it (and has retained it) as a consequence of grassroots support. Just as Nehru did, Modi too wishes to fashion a country that would better fit his standards and vision. During the five years of Modi 1.0, this columnist was explicit that a second term for Modi would see immense changes in the country that he for decades travelled and saw the hard way, on foot and by road. The Nehruvian Idea of India is being replaced by the Modivian Idea of India since 2014, and this change is what has accelerated since the verdict of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Given that the Nehruvian construct had long since lost its popular resonance, the battle cry of the opposition that their aim was to retrieve Nehruviana  back into India’s dominant reality was another of their many self-goals in a country hungry for change. In particular, the more Rahul Gandhi clothed himself in the raiments of his great-grandfather and his grandmother rather than as his own self, the less he resonated against a wholly self-made Modi. Unless the economy enters into a tailspin during the next three years, a Modi 3.0 in 2024 will complete a process of change in India that would long outlast the Prime Minister. Among the differences with the past is that Modi has joined hands with the rulers of the UAE and Saudi Arabia to roll back Wahhabism rather than pander to it the way his predecessors did.
That politicians in India understand the paradigm change in India caused by Modi is clear from the flood away from opposition parties to the BJP. Taking the example of Karnataka, it would be difficult to argue that those in charge of either the JD(S) or the Congress Party in the state lack resources. The movement from JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka cannot therefore be explained solely by money, for if so, the resourceful D.K. Shivakumar would have been welcomed by the MLAs staying in a Mumbai hotel rather than get blocked by the police as a consequence of their complaint. The MLAs are shifting along with the tide that is flowing in favour of Narendra Modi and the alternative Idea of India represented by him. All this with an opposition phalanx that remains anchored to the past rather than acknowledging the needs of the future. The challenge to the supremacy of the Prime Minister in India’s political and policy space is from within his government. North Block has historically sought to raise its relative rather than absolute share in the country’s financial resources. This has meant taxes that are both too high as well as susceptible to harassment of the business community by officials. Modi has sought to eliminate business malpractice through administrative action. A less disruptive option would be to ensure that technology becomes pervasive enough to dry up wells of malpractice. For instance, once digital governance spreads across the spectrum of administrative action, and once 5G becomes commonplace in India, the changes that this would introduce would be phenomenal, provided that they are managed not by the state (as during the Nehruvian era), but by the private sector. North Block has to change its ways so as to increase its absolute take in taxes, rather than resort to the high rates and coercive action favoured by Finance Minister Chidambaram to squeeze resources out of private hands so as to feed bloated spending. Should India continue to grow at less than double digits for the next three years, there may indeed be widespread opposition to Modi, not from politicians but from the street. However, should the Prime Minister ensure that his economic ministries implement policies which guarantee a high Modi 2.0 growth rate, Modi 3.0 may break Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 record in Lok Sabha seats in 2024.

Sunday 7 July 2019

Rahul should beware of the ‘Partition Mindset’ (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Pandering to those who misused the name of religion for divisive purposes led to India’s partition. That warning from history ought to be heeded by Congress leaders.

The fissure between Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi ensured the defeat of the Congress Party in 1996 and the emergence of the BJP as the principal national party. There had till then been a psychological barrier against a BJP Prime Minister amongst many voters, but this got removed when President Shankar Dayal Sharma swore in A.B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister, albeit for two weeks. Three years later, the Indian military’s performance at Kargil ensured the victory of Vajpayee. However, he refused to approve a covert operation masterminded by Pramod Mahajan to split the Congress, a show of magnanimity that cost him his chair two years later. In 2014, it was an unequal contest between the unpopularity of Sonia Gandhi and the popularity of Narendra Modi, with Manmohan Singh not even in the political frame. The UPA-era PM ought to have stepped aside soon after his multiple bypass surgery, but he continued in office despite his health not being up to the strain involved in being Prime Minister of a democracy of 1.2 billion citizens. Given his health, it is no wonder that Manmohan Singh’s second innings was a disappointment. Had he left in the glow of the 2009 Lok Sabha triumph caused by his still good name, Manmohan Singh’s place in history would have shone rather than become smudged by scams that he had no power to prevent.
In the case of Rahul Gandhi, despite his refusal to demonstrate his administrative abilities by assuming ministerial office during the UPA period, another opportunity to prove his talents presented itself in 2014. Had Rahul rather than Mallikarjun Kharge taken over as the Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha, it would have been the Nehru scion constantly challenging Prime Minister Modi in the Lok Sabha. Instead, the only challenges Rahul made were in miscellaneous fora across the country, some scarcely worthy of the presence of a genuine national leader. His consistent passing of the baton of responsibility to others weakened the perception that Rahul was the primary challenger to Modi. Had the newly anointed AICC President declared early in 2018 that he was not in the race for the Prime Ministership in 2019, it would have helped Congress’ prospects, given his lack of practical experience in governance. Instead, it was made clear to the voters that Rahul would be PM, were Congress to win enough seats. When it came to choosing between PM Modi and a future PM Rahul, the overwhelming mandate was in favour of the former. Among the consequences of Rahul’s perceived eagerness for the Prime Ministership (not by 2024 it in 2019 itself) was the defeat of the Congress Party at the hands of the BJP in almost all the contests in which they were the principal contenders. Now once again, by resigning from the AICC Presidentship, Rahul Gandhi has added to the BJP’s leadership advantage. It is a commentary on the sentimentalism of many voters in India (especially in the north and the south more than in the east and west of the country) that effectively the most popular substitute for Rahul Gandhi is Priyanka rather than someone outside the Nehru clan.
Despite being reticent during the UPA days, after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi adopted several stances that are in tune with 21st century needs. These included his backing for the de-criminalisation of gay relationships and the need to do away with criminal defamation. Should Rahul campaign for more transparency in government and in the need to legislatively expand personal and civil liberties and nudge the Congress Party to press for such changes in Parliament, he may do more good than he has in his former office. Worryingly, Rahul Gandhi seems to believe that Indira Gandhi’s economics is the way towards the social justice only fast growth can ensure, when the fact is that many of the distortions still present in the system owe their origins to Indiranomics. Rahul needs to  take seriously his own experience in both India and abroad, that show the need for systems that transfer power to the individual rather than to the state, and which expand rather than constrict the boundaries of personal and societal freedoms. Rahul has yet to accept that “Nehruvian secularism” has promoted communalism rather than kept it at bay. He ought to have leapt to the defense of TMC MP Nusrat Jahan when she was attacked by the Wahabbi establishment. As Prime Minister, it was Rajiv Gandhi’s surrender to the Wahabbis over Shah Bano that began his descent into political purgatory. Rahul Gandhi needs to show he is aware of the dangers posed by all—repeat all—forms of religious intolerance.
The India of 2019 calls for backing only those having a modern, moderate mindset. The sooner this gets actioned on, the better for the country. Those genuinely secular need to support Nusrat Jahan in her defense of an India where people are free to express their devotion to the Almighty in varied ways rather than in the restrictive way Zaira Wasim now favours. This despite the fact that Wasim’s movies portrayed her as a young woman of moral courage and self-confidence, qualities unlikely to lead to disappointment in the afterlife. Nusrat’s traducers, who claim to speak on behalf of the Almighty, are themselves guilty of blasphemy, for claiming to know in advance as to who will go to hell and who to heaven in the afterlife. According to them, that of course depends on the food eaten, the rituals followed and the dress worn. Pandering to such individuals, who misused the name of religion to sow division in the 1920s and 1930s, led to the partition of 1947. That warning from history ought to be heeded rather than remain ignored in practice by the Congress Party leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi.

Saturday 6 July 2019

PM Modi will ensure Lutyens Looters get punished (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Those looking towards a financial market in India that rewards not insider traders and ‘fixers’ but the retail investor are hopeful that justice will be done during Modi 2.0.

New Delhi: Unlike during the past, this time around, wrongdoer after wrongdoer is having to come back to India to face justice. Among those soon expected back is Vijay Mallya, “who will have to pay back his dues as well as go to jail for seeking to escape responsibility for so long”, a top official predicted. During Modi 1.0, the Prime Minister had warned “Lutyens Looters” that they would soon be spending sleepless nights. It has taken a while, but at least for some of them, that prediction is coming true. Two recent developments involving a CBI invigorated by new leadership mark a distinct departure from past practice. These are (a) the granting by a Special Court to grant Indrani Mukherjea the status of an “Approver” in the INX matter and (b) persistent CBI pressure on the Ministry of Finance to give approval to the unforgivingly delayed matter of granting approval for the prosecution of four officials who were part of what is known within the bureaucracy as the “PC network” within North and South Block. This very profitable network was formed under a former senior minister in the UPA period who parlayed insider and even strictly confidential knowledge into billions in riches. The INX matter which concerns Mukherjea involves what for new MP Karti Chidambaram (the hugely successful businessman son of the former Union Minister for Finance and later Home) is small change—$1 million—but as per the colonial-era laws still in force, there is scant differentiation between Rs 100,000 and loot of Rs 100,000 crores where legal action is concerned. So far as the request by CBI for sanction to prosecute some senior officials for presumed complicity in the PC network’s many dubious deeds is concerned, from 1947 onwards, a sense of cadre loyalty has ensured that officials belonging to the elite central services almost invariably dismiss as “not proven” even comprehensively documented evidence of graft on the part of their “cadre brothers”, especially if the same happen to be “batchmates”. This presumably explains the tardy manner in which this Chidambaram-linked CBI request for prosecution is being considered in the Ministry of Finance. The argument of those holding back sanction is: once the dam of silence and official inaction breaks, who knows who will get drowned in the flood that may follow. Since Jawaharlal Nehru’s order to drastically reduce the salaries of the higher levels of the bureaucracy (in contrast to Hong Kong, the UK, the US or Singapore, where remuneration levels are much higher), the warning to Nehru of Lee Kuan Yew against his policy of combining low salaries with high discretionary powers has come true. Every schoolchild in India is aware of the manner in which the triumvirate of business, officialdom and politics generate and divide loot on a scale that some estimate matches what the drain from the people was during the colonial period. Once the CVC and the Home Ministry take up with the Finance Ministry the manner in which delay in sanctioning prosecution of the four officials is sabotaging Prime Minister Modi’s efforts at cleaning up the system, it will be difficult for the PC network to sabotage such sanction for much longer.
Illegitimate money flows from India have long been the primary business of a group of insider traders and system manipulators that may be described as operational associates of the PC network. This is the “Mumbai Financial Force”, a small and secretive group within the financial community in the country’s commercial capital. The MFF may more accurately be described as the Mumbai Financial Fraud Force (MFFF). Given the number of senior officials who have derived monetary and other benefits from the PC-linked MFFF, it is small wonder that any infraction of law that comes to light usually gets described and later compounded as a “procedural lapse”. Harshad Mehta’s Narasimha Rao-era formula for rigging the movement of share prices so as to loot the small investor went unobstructed for years, owing to a “procedural lapse”, according to officials. The co-location shenanigans in the National Stock Exchange (NSE) have yet to yield any of the perpetrators before the portals of justice. Indeed, the matter is being treated—not just even but especially by SEBI—as largely a “procedural lapse”. Live data that no exchange should allow to be shared was handed over by the exchange to a private thinktank by an agreement that has yet to excite official notice. Software created from outside the exchange was utilised for algo trading, with the “keys” being made known to a handful of brokers, who therefore made huge amounts of money in trading, all at the cost of the retail investor. A whistle-blower made available to SEBI full details of the actions committed in order to enable a few to profit at the cost of the many, but the then SEBI chief U.K. Sinha seems to have decided that such revelations were unworthy of  significant remedial action. Even when matters involving co-location and dark fibre transactions became too many to ignore, SEBI simply went in for cosmetic steps, even after a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court pointing lapses out. Once again, the Judiciary stepped in where the Executive refused to tread. There have been proven instances where select brokers have submitted multiple applications under a single name to corner the shares offered in an IPO. These shares were then boosted through what the PC network calls “perception management”, before being sold to retail investors, who very soon saw the shares lose value. Data theft does more damage to investor confidence in a modern economy than other forms. Yet repeated data thefts in India have gone unpunished and the evil continues. By contrast, such offenses are subject to severe fines and prosecution in the US, Singapore and the UK.
During the period when Chidambaram was Union Minister for Finance, nationalised banks were made to sell loan assets at throwaway prices to a very few investors. These loans were before long resold to others at a huge profit. Thus far, no forensic audit has been undertaken of such loan asset sales by Public Sector banks during the Chidambaram period. Given the pervasive culture of cadre and batch protection within the elite services, it is no surprise that criminal charges were not filed in the matter despite the wide spread between what the public banks got and what the same loan assets were subsequently sold for by select private financiers, nor was even a criminal investigation initiated. Co-location and dark fibre data leakage that ruined millions of retail investors also was treated not as a criminal but as a “procedural” matter. SEBI seems unaware of the fact that in an age of advanced technology, log sheets that may have been erased by wrongdoers within any exchange can easily be regenerated, so that deleted data gets traced. No such effort has been made in this direction. Those who now head NSE seem as unconcerned about the damaging impact of the co-location scam on the reputation of the exchange as their predecessors.
Among the most successful operations of the PC network was the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX) matter. The then MD of MCX was the classmate of an individual at the heart of the algo transactions, and he was reported to have shared live data with his classmate for the benefit of select clients. Such activity makes nonsense of regulations meant to ensure a clean and transparent exchange. However, so far as official agencies were concerned, the issue was “merely procedural”. A well regarded Chartered Accounant, T.R. Chadha, researched and presented a detailed forensic report on several of the actions that took place in MCX. Thus far, neither the present MCX Chairman or the SEBI Chairman seem in any hurry to take action on the basis of the Chadha report. Meanwhile, the PC network is known by senior officials to be active in an effort to merge NSE with MCX that would create a monolith with a history of not being held suitably accountable for its actions by SEBI, for reasons that await a comprehensive investigation. Such an enquiry needs to include the circumstances where relaxation of rules was serially given to a few favoured players in the darker corners of the share market, by not merely SEBI but the RBI, and why such leniency shown during that period took place. Two senior officials, Ramesh Abhishek and K.P. Krishnan, have been extensively mentioned by whistle blowers as being very close to P. Chidambaram, and of being responsible for several suspicious decisions involving MCX as well as the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL). Both bureaucrats continue to enjoy stellar careers, so it is clear that their seniors do not regard the charges against them as worthy of notice. The two are not alone. There is a network of present and former officials regarded by their peers as having facilitated the operations of the MFFF and the PC network. Only a CBI enquiry into the PC-MFFF nexus would unearth the truth, but those complicit in past scams have sought to create a perception that action against them would spook the share market, when in fact strong action would greatly increase global investor confidence in India. As for SEBI, while it has declared the subsidiaries of some brokerage firms to be “not fit and proper”, the regulator has avoided a similar verdict on the actual brokers involved. Of course, the tradition of subordinates being punished for the crimes committed by their superiors has long been extant in India. In this case, the “punishment” for grave betrayal of investor trust cannot be described as anything other than cosmetic, as indeed have been several other orders that await a comprehensive forensic investigation by a team motivated by Modi 2.0 to rid the regulators of those who are in cahoots with the very wrongdoers they are meant to police.
Those looking towards a financial market in India that rewards not insider traders and “fixers” but the retail investor are hopeful that justice will be done during Modi 2.0. Both during the Narasimha Rao as well as the Vajpayee period, stock market scams that went unaddressed resulted in horrendous losses to small investors, and to the defeat of the Congress and the BJP respectively in the 1996 and 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Prime Minister Modi is known to have studied the legacy of the past carefully, and to have instructed the PMO to ensure a Zero Tolerance doctrine for the many mega financial scams that took place since the UPA came to power. Officials are happy at Indrani Mukherjea turning approver in the INX matter and the moves being made on officials in the Finance Ministry to no longer continue to deny sanction for prosecution of Chidambaram-linked officers. They are confident that the PMO together with Union Home Minister Amit Shah will ensure that the orders passed by Prime Minister Modi to clean the financial regulatory system of crooked elements will soon bear fruit even in the matter of the misdeeds of the hyper powerful PC network. It has been estimated that the loss to the public of lack of sincere regulation has led to more than 71 per cent of the NPAs incurred since 2001 by banks run by the government. Only 29 per cent of NPAs have been caused by genuine borrowers whose failure to pay was based on the market rather than on collusion.