Sunday, 30 August 2015
Friday, 28 August 2015
M D Nalapat
- The first Trans-Himalaya Development Forum (THDF) was held in the picturesque town of Mangshi in the Yunnan province of China on August 25 and 26, with scholars and experts from nine countries participating. These were India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Maldives, and the discussions focussed on ways of boosting the economic synergy between these countries, so as to lead to a higher overall growth rate for a region which has a population of 3 billion and a combined GDP more than that of the US. The conference was organized by the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in collaboration with the Government of Dehong-Jingpo prefecture. This is a part of China where 48% of the population belong to ethnic minorities, each speaking their own language and having a distinct culture and tradition from the Han majority. Although there have been phases in the 65-year history of China as a Peoples Republic where local cultures were frowned upon by Communist Party officials, the period since 1983 has seen a relaxation in such measures.
Connectivity is central to economic transformation. The effect of internet communications has been to create a web of linkages conducive to increased participation in growth activities. In India, because of online booking of tickets, corruption in the sale of railway tickets has come down substantially, and the same is happening in other sectors going online, such as the issue of visas and passports. However, while the information superhighway has reached almost every part of the globe, physical infrastructure has lagged behind, with the result that several regions are not able to leverage the advantages that their populations can bring, were there better road, rail and air connectivity. China has moved ahead at a very high rate of speed in improving physical infrastructure, and this experience would be useful to its neighbors, were it to be reproduced in countries with far lower levels of infrastructure.
The recent setting up of an investment bank by the BRICS powers ( which should be expanded to BRIICS, so as to include Indonesia) provides a vehicle for funding such ventures. Together, India and China have the strengths to ensure fast and effective development of infrastructure across the trans-Himalayan region, and the conference represents a first step in such a process of cooperation between them as well as the other countries involved in the initiative. Fortunately, discussions at the meeting took place in an atmosphere free opt geopolitical tensions, with the Indian and Pakistani delegations having a cordial exchange of views. While the suggestions diverged on occasion,. there was a substantial amount of commonality between them, reflecting the fact that poverty is the most deadly foe confronting the two subcontinental neighbours.
President Xi Jinping’s concept of “One Belt One Road” is a bold plan, and to succeed, needs to be seen as an entity rather than regarded as two separate segments, one in the west and the other in the east. There has to be an integration of west and east, and for this to happen, there needs to be seamless connectivity across both sides. Thus, Pakistan would gain access through India for its land trade with Bangladesh and ASEAN, while India would gain access to Afghanistan and Central Asia for its commodity exports and imports from these important locations. Certainly there are questions of sovereignty still to get decided, but the fact is that access is at the core of such discussions, and if access gets given, talks about more difficult problems will take place in a more cordial and cooperative atmosphere. President Xi’s “One Belt One Road” is in truth “One Belt and One Road”, and needs to be implemented in a comprehensive and cooperative way for the countries of the region and beyond to gain the benefits possible from the plan.
Interestingly, both the Indian and Pakistani delegations were broadly supportive of the suggestion for access through each country for the other. Such a move would be a game changer, creating jn the process several hundreds of thousands of new jobs in both India and Pakistan that are linked to trade and commerce with each other and through each other, rather than - as now - through trading ports such as Dubai. It was pointed out that after decades of differences of view, India and Bangladesh have agreed to use each other’s territory to ferry trade and people across each other country’s territory. Should a similar situation take place between Pakistan and India, both countries may be able to cool down the superheated rhetoric which often takes centre stage while discussions on mutual ties take place in each other’s country. The Trans-Himalaya Development Forum saw some very clear exposition of different points of view by the Indian and the Pakistani participants, but in an atmosphere of calm and friendliness. Alka Acharya from India began the dialogue on the question of Indian access to Central Asia and Afghanistan through Pakistan, a stance which found understanding among others.
Water was an important focus, with Khalid Rehman of the Pakistan Institute of Policy Studies raising the matter initially, and being followed by this columnist, who pointed to the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan as a possible model for a water treaty between China and the lower riparian states, so that tensions related to the sharing of water would be reduced in future. Overall, the breadth and depth of the connectivity suggested in the “One Belt One Road” initiative has transformational potential, provided it is imll; emanated in a manner that is deemed to be equitable to all participating countries. For too long, arguments on geopolitics has held up trade and commerce in the Himalayan region, and this approach needs to get replaced by a series of measures that recognize the fact that cooperation for economic development is force multiplier for stability in the region.
The expectation is that the suggestions made during the August 24-25 conference will be communicated to the governments involved, such that cooperation rather than conflict, And that the focus changes not on differences over geopolitics but on the need to expand the boundaries of growth. The internet has shown how boundaries have become less and less of an obstacle in the crafting of ties between the different countries of the globe. In present, links are getting established both west and east of the region,such as that between India and Myanmar and between China and Pakistan. Truly can it be said of the countries in the region that economic imperatives are driving forward the agenda of connectivity that was the subject of discussion at Mangshi.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Sunday, 23 August 2015
Friday, 21 August 2015
Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
Friday, August 21, 2015 - In warfare, what counts is less territory than minds. Capturing land without winning the loyalty of those resident in that area would be of little value, as was clear in Iraq after the 2003 defeat of Saddam Hussein’s conventional forces by the US. Almost every tenet of psychological operations was trampled underfoot by the George W Bush administration, which could not understand the pride of the people of Iraq, a land that has a recorded history of more than three thousand years. The people of Iraq are enthusiasts of argument, and it is not uncommon to see them debate issues with each other in a very loud voice. Unfortunately for them, this aspect of Iraqi behaviour was not communicated to the 20-year olds in the US army who were in charge of security in Baghdad and other locations.
Some of the armed groups that have emerged in what is termed the Middle East owe the bulk of their recruitment to resentment at such disregard for life, although these cannot be compared to Daesh (ISIS) or Al Qaeda, which owe their origins to a sense of mission, however twisted the objectives of such an endeavour be Interestingly, some scholars seek to distinguish between Al Qaeda and Daesh , and even to claim that the former can be used to defeat the latter. It is true that in a formal way, ultimately Daesh - the way it is progressing in the permissive climate created by the US and its European and regional allies - will subsume Al Qaeda. The overwhelming majority of adherents of the latter will desert Al-Qaeda and head for Daesh. Indeed, the danger posed by the new organisation is far greater than that which had been present when earlier variants of this school of extremism flourished.
While the Taliban were the least likely to attract adherents from outside a defined geographical and societal pool, what was termed Al Qaeda had more pulling power, and used social media much more expertly than Mullah Omar’s men. However, the latest version (which has morphed from the earlier variant) is potent enough to attract individuals from across the globe, including those with less than an elementary grounding in theology. Daesh can proliferate in cities across the globe, including in the most developed corners, and with minimal contact and ideological reinforcement, would be able to create cells which would operate as a complete unit, choosing from a basket of tasks from suicide bombing to bombing to seeking to join battle units in Syria and Iraq.
Just as the AK-47 was deadly in its simplicity and its deadly effect, Daesh is the most potent threat to confront the globe since Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Unlike that country, which fought a conventional war, Daesh would fight a war that was atomised, that was separated into small actions, such as the bombing in Bangkok, which appears to be its handiwork. The only remedy would be todeprive the organisation of the territory which gives it legitimacy, the way Afghanistan conferred status on Al Qaeda from 1996 to 2001.
Sheikh Zayed, the titular head of the UAE has shown the way in ensuring that modernity and moderation prevail over extremism and exclusivism. After all, as has been made clear in the past, the mind is the battlefield. In this context, it was of relevance to note that the United Arab Emirates has sanctioned the setting up of a Hindu temple in that country. It needs to be remembered that every human being is a child of the Almighty, and therefore we are brothers and sisters of each other, no matter what belief systems we hold to.
The fact of every person in every part of the globe being brought to life under the wisdom and control of the Almighty is clear, and hence the reason why those who accept the mercy, compassion and beneficience repeatedly taught in the Word of God will show those qualities to other human beings. To do otherwise would be to go contrary to the foundational message revealed fifteen centuries ago. The people of the GCC, in common with Arab people everywhere, are tolerant and friendly, and have shown this by welcoming into their lands tens of millions from other countries, including those who profess a faith different from the regional norm.
There are Christian churches in the GCC countries, as also Sikh gurudwaras, and these will be joined by a Hindu temple. By this single action, Sheikh Zayed has shown the falsity of the claims made by Islamophobes, that adherents of the faith are intolerant. Across India, those who thought that such a gesture was impossible in that part of the world are now re-evaluating their impressions, and this can be expected to have a very beneficial effect on relations between Hindus and Muslims in India.
The GCC and South Asia form a synergistic alliance, for the countries within both regions have multiple strengths, the impact of which could be magnified several times were they to cooperate. After 34 years of neglect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first PM to visit the UAE, a country far more important than many of the countries which Prime Ministers in India visit frequently.
Hopefully, he will visit the GCC several times each year, for the Council is crucial to the success of his Make in India policy. Having lost trillions of dollars in the 2008 financial crash caused by Wall Street greed, and at risk of losing an equal sum because of the turmoil besieging the euro, India offers an investment opportunity with significant long-term potential. Prime Minister Modi has already cut through the knot of commercial links with China by overriding the security agencies and granting e-visas to Chinese nationals. He has also welcomed investment from China, in contrast to Manmohan Singh, who never failed to look to Europe and the US for guidance in the making of policy. Both East Asia (Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan) and West Asia (the GCC) are on course to become the biggest investors in India, with promise of overtaking the US and EU by a significant margin, and this has been factored in by Prime Minister Modi in his outreach to both regions.
Meanwhile, those who used to go about complaining about the “narrow mindedness” of the GCC Sheikhs where it came to freedom of religion have been silenced by the noble gesture of Sheikh Zayed, of allowing a Hindu temple in his land, under the same sky and close to the same seas and breathing the same air which has been created by the Almighty for all living creations.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Saturday, 15 August 2015
Friday, 14 August 2015
Saturday, 8 August 2015
Friday, 7 August 2015
M D NalapatFriday, August 07, 2015 - The digital world is presumed to be free, or at the least much more independent than either print or broadcast media. In India, however, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad seems intent on ensuring state control over the internet, despite protestations to the contrary.The latest move is to use his powers to set up a “Morality Police” on the lines of the Saudi Arabian Muttawa or what was in vogue in Afghanistan. During this entire period, the Taliban were welcome guests in Washington and in capitals such as London, where high officials would set apart large chunks of time for them, besides on occasion ensuring funding and logistics for their activities.
Now the world’s largest democracy is in the process of establishing its own “morality police”, with the call for an “anti-pornography Ombudsman” who would scan internet sites and those active on them to identify “wrong-doers”. Amazingly, the inspiration for such a move has - according to the government - come from H L Dattu, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, an institution which is supposed to protect freedoms rather than restrict them even further in a country weighed down by a colonial-era legal system. Thanks to such regressive laws, there is no lack of laws for punishing those found guilty by India’s version of the Muttawa. The Information Technology Act is grotesquely vast in its scope and in its penal provisions, despite the removal (through a Supreme Court order of Section 66A,which gave license for any policeman to arrest any individual found surfing the internet on mere suspicion).
On August 2,the Department of Telecom (which has been responsible for the slow strangulation of the information technology industry in India since its inception) blocked 857 sites on the grounds that they were “pornographic”. Several of the sites contained no porn at all, while most would be classified as “vanilla” in the context of global standards. The reason given for blocking the sites is that they offend “morality” and “decency”, terms so subjective and so diffuse as to lack any meaning except as a means towards censorship and harassment. This action, which has made the Department of Telecom even more of a laughing stock than it has been over the years, was apparently sparked off by a “fighter against pornography”.
Kamlesh Vaswani, who wanted each of the several million porn sites available worldwide to be banned in India. The only way to achieve such a goal would be to ban internet usage in India, a country with low coverage relative to population size and excruciatingly slow speeds, as it is a simple matter to gain access to blocked sites through proxy servers. Mr Vaswani is apparently a saint who wishes the 1.26 billion people of India to follow his ascetic example, and wishes such a transformation to take place through the bludgeon of law. Minister Prasad clearly is on his side rather than backing the internet freedom needed for the country to modernise itself.
In the 1990s,the growth of software companies such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro gave promise of India becoming the location of choice for future challengers of Microsoft or Google. Instead, the country has become a wasteland thanks to a torrent of legislation since 2000 designed to enhance the power of the authorities in order to favour specific entities. Indeed, the fall in prospects for India to evolve into the leader in internet-related businesses began when the Vajpayee government appointed a minister for the industry. This individual, Pramod Mahajan, was known as a political operator rather a visionary, and his focus was on seeing how the software industry could benefit the political class and its friends.
In 2005, the legal duo of Palaniappan Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal sharply increased the applicability of the 2000 Information Technology Act, and from then onwards, the journey has been downhill. To operate on the internet is a hazardous task in India, so easy is it to arrest individuals under the many draconian provisions of the Information Technology Act. Unfortunately, rather than remove such impediments to India becoming a Knowledge Economy, the BJP government has continued the Sibal-Chidambaram laws, as indeed it has with other colonial-era laws which ought to have been placed in the dustbin on August 15,1947 itself, when the Union Jack was replaced with the Tricolour over the Viceragal Palace. Of course, because he was begged by Jawaharlal Nehru to stay on in the country’s highest office together with his wife Edwina, Lord Louis Mountbatten continued as its occupant as a symbol of the lack of confidence of India’s leaders in themselves, a view vindicated by subsequent events. There is Divine Law and there is human law, and it is wrong to utilise the latter to enforce the former. Indeed, it is useless trying to do so. Enforcing Prohibition for example only gives rise to smuggled liquor, not to mention bootleg versions that kill. Certainly such deeds as child molestation are horribly evil and sites dealing with them should be discouraged. Those using proxy servers to access such sites should be identified and tracked, lest they harm children. However, it is foolish to try and block other sites, for where will such a crusade for Victorian morality (and hypocrisy) stop? Will the government now ban visitors from going to locations such as Khajuraho, where some of statues are explicit in what is being done?
PM Modi won international support as a 21st century leader. Some of his ministers are instead seeking to keep India in the 19th century, opposing even necessary moves such as removal of the criminalisation sections of the colonial-era defamation laws. It is time that the 21st century Narendra Modi stood up before his agenda for change gets subverted by some of his less than stellar choices for key positions. Only the Almighty can control human morality, not laws passed by mere mortals, and the use of human law to regulate conduct should apply only in exceptional situations such as murder or physical violence. Seeking to convert a country into a nation of saints is an act of folly that even donkeys would stay away from, but not it seems some of the ministers in the central govt, who are proving an embarassment to PM Modi and his mission of change.