Sunday, 22 May 2016
On 19 May, the Congress Party must have placed the champagne bottles back in the larder, given the scale of its setbacks. Two states that were among the handful that it still ruled, Assam and Kerala, went over to the opposition, while in the case of Tamil Nadu, its addition to the DMK fold was not sufficient to compensate for the hold that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa still has among voters in her state, especially women. Even Pondicherry has been much closer a race than in the past.
Sunday, 15 May 2016
Friday, 13 May 2016
THE past few days have been spent by this columnist in the United States, in Washington DC, the nation’s capital. For at least a generation more, the US will remain the most consequential country in the world. After that, should China remain on a high growth trajectory, Beijing will replace Washington as the leading capital on the globe. And this is a factor that is gnawing at several minds in Washington. If there was only a scatter of negative voices on China twenty years ago, these days such a lack of empathy for the world’s most populous country is widespread within the policy elite. War gaming is almost a daily activity at the Pentagon, and scenarios where the military of China can pose a threat to its US counterpart are getting more frequent by the month.
There is a real fear that, for example, the immense space capabilities of the US military are becoming vulnerable to the Chinese. Senior figures even spoke of Beijing soon using the moon to set up offensive capabilities that could neutralize US assets. Over the past decade, the domestic technological capability of Chinese military has developed at speed, and unlike India, which still needs to import more than 80% of its core defence needs, by now China is more than 80% self sufficient in such systems. In India, there are powerful lobbies that ensure snuffing out of indigenous capabilities. An example is HF-24 Marut, an excellent aircraft that was not allowed to proceed to a Stage II level.
Lobbies working to import the UK’s Jaguar ensured that the HF-24 program was abandoned. Had such anti-national elements not prevailed within the decision making levels of the defence establishment in India, by now India would have been exporting several billions of dollars of military aircraft to friendly countries, the way China is doing despite the fact that twenty years ago, the Chinese were technologically behind India in the aeronautics field. Not just the Marut but a whole range of weapons systems that were designed within the country were either slowed down (through deliberate tweaking of specifications, often several times within a year) or stopped altogether.
A few weeks ago, the High Court in Milan found several employees of an Italian company guilty of having paid bribes to secure an order for twelve aircraft to India for use in the VVIP squadron. The height ceiling requirement was brought down from 18,000 feet to 15,000 feet to ensure that the Italian company (Agusta Westland) got the deal, of course at a bloated price. At that time, an Indian helicopter, Dhruva, was capable of reaching 20,000 feet but was never considered for the order. A VVIP (according to press reports at the time) said that she would not fly in an Indian chopper.
In contrast to India, where foreign items were preferred over domestic substitutes of similar quality, China ensured that its own producers were given priority. Should Beijing continue at the speed it has been moving the past decade, within another ten years, there will be a Chinese civilian aircraft as good as Airbus or Boeing, and almost certainly much cheaper. It is this that is motivating manufacturers in the US and in parts of Europe to look at India as an alternative production platform. Despite its shoddy infrastructure and its nightmarish regulations, the country has thousands of qualified aeronautical engineers. Also, the risk of India copying such products the way some other countries are known for is very low. The relentless pride in country that drives such activity in some other countries such as Japan and China are missing in India.
Of course, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware of this, and unlike his predecessors, is rectifying the situation. However, this is proving to be a slow process. There are hundreds of brilliant young minds in India who come up with major breakthroughs in technology, but few of them are allowed to succeed in an environment where arms lobbyists control the decisions of several policymakers. What takes place is that the frustrated inventor finally migrates to the US or to another foreign country ( a nearby option being Singapore). In the much better ecosystem of those countries, he or she completes work on invention and in time, product returns to India as a foreign (and high priced) import. There are examples where state agencies have forced domestic manufacturers to accept very low and unremunerative prices for items made by them.
The intention is to drive them out of business so that foreign companies and foreign countries retain their monopoly, selling items at prices much above what the destroyed Indian start-up charged. Being practical, Modi has focussed on the option of getting foreign companies to invest in India on the scale that they did in China during the latter part of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Start Up India and Stand Up India are his exhortations, and very slowky, changes are taking place that may make both a reality. As a consequence, the odds are high that over the coming years, a larger and larger share of total US production of military assets will get made in India If China is looked upon as a threat, India is seen as an opportunity.
On the other side, Modi has been seeking to tame those in the bureaucracy who have for decades been blocking closer defence production relations with the US out of fear that this would impact the sales by countries such as France and Russia to India. Unlike during the time of the Cold War, when Delhi was seen as too close to Moscow, these days there is a willingness to work closely even on sensitive matters. Unlike during the 1990s when Bill Clinton was in charge, these days the exceptionalism of a country of 1.26 billion is becoming accepted by the bureaucracy in the US, which is as rigid and impervious to change as its counterparts in India. Prime Minister Modi arrives next month for a summit with President Obama, and during the trip, he will address a Joint Session of the US Congress.
The visit is expected to announce some major initiatives that would highlight the fact that slowly, the US and India are becoming partners in matters of security, the way India and China are coming together in matters of commerce. In both Washington and Delhi, the mood is for a closer relationship, as it seems obvious that such a situation would lower the prospect of any other country going to war with some other countries, especially in East Asia, a zone where it is essential that there be peace.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Sunday, 8 May 2016
The ISIL terrorists, misleadingly calling themselves the representatives of Muslims worldwide, have killed innumerable civilians, beheaded people of various nationalities and raped hundreds of innocent Muslim and non-Muslim girls, especially the Izadi women living in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Noted Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, and the majority of Muslim world leaders, have denounced the felonies of ISIL and made it clear that this faction doesn't have anything to do with Islam and its edicts.
In an interview with Fars News Agency, an Indian economist and author asserted that the ISIL terrorists belong to a Wahhabi lineage and are backed by the powers that propped up Wahhabi ideology since the Soviet war on Afghanistan.
“Since the 1980s, there has developed within the member states of NATO a cult of Wahhabi Jihadism, which has been celebrated ever since such individuals were armed, trained and funded by NATO powers to do battle against the USSR in Afghanistan,” said Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat, the editorial director of The Sunday Guardian newspaper.
“Textbooks inculcating hatred and a predisposition towards violence were designed in US universities to ensure that young minds globally turned towards Wahhabism. Since the 1980s, an estimated $380 billion has been expended by individuals, agencies and countries to build up the Wahhabi international,” he added.
Mr. Nalapat warns that a global coalition, including Iran, should be framed to roll back and eliminate ISIL, otherwise, this terrorist sect has a capacity to expand globally.
“Should a global coalition not get formed against ISIL and other components of the Wahhabi international, a coalition which includes Iran, will this evil spread within populations... The potential of ISIL to spread its cells across entire countries rises with each month that the organization continues to have a safe haven carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria,” he cautioned.
Prof. Madhav Nalapat is a recognized academician in India, and recently attended the International Congress on 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims in Tehran. Aside from his editorial role at The Sunday Guardian, Nalapat is currently the Vice-Chair of Manipal University’s Advanced Research Group. He has been a Professor of Geopolitics and UNESCO Peace Chair at the same university. His writings have appeared on The Pakistan Observer and Organizer. Prof. Nalapat is a distinguished fellow at the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security and comments on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent issues.
Prof. Nalapat shared his views with FNA on the roots of ISIL, its prompt growth in the recent months and the strategies that need to be adopted in dealing with it.
Q: ISIL terrorists, and their ideological mentors, claim to be representing Islam and continually make the assertion that their pseudo-government is an “Islamic Caliphate.” At the same time, all the major Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, and the majority of Muslim world politicians, have condemned ISIL, and called it a deviant current. Has the global public believed the mantra that ISIL is really an Islamic state? What could be done to preclude the reinforcement of this conviction that ISIL carries out actions that are sanctioned by Islam, including the beheading of Christians and raping the women?
A: Unfortunately, several individuals, especially in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have accepted the view that ISIL represents the “conqueror and fighting” phase of Islam, in which the Word of God got disseminated and accepted by vast territories and myriad peoples. Wahhabi thought explicitly posits that an equally sharp acceleration of dissemination of the faith i.e. Wahhabism is feasible, and ISIL is feeding on this thought and this desire. Money comes from those who have in their personal lives been dissolute and believe that they can escape hellfire in the afterlife by helping ISIL – a view intelligently spread by the protagonists of this terrible creed, while recruitment takes place among the young already exposed to Wahhabi ideology, who regard it as feasible to engineer a second “conqueror and fighting” phase of Islam. The only way to prevent this is to return to the true meaning of the Word of God and get accepted the fact that the core qualities of a believer are compassion, mercy and beneficence and not resort to violence and cruelty under any pretext. We must [first] separate the core qualities from the others seeking to ensure that these be universally accepted, excommunicate and not tolerate or pamper Wahhabis as being betrayers of the Word of God and [then] take strong action to eliminate any manifestations of this ideology, by military means wherever needed; otherwise, mere statements against ISIL will not prevent the ideology from spreading.
Q: The data and figures on the foreign fighters that have joined ISIL over the past 3 years are mind-boggling and unthinkable. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on January 29 that as many as 1,200 French citizens, 600 Britons, 250-300 Swedish nationals, 150 Austrians and more than 1,000 Germans have been fighting in the ranks of ISIL. Even the Australian government has reported that 100+ citizens of this Oceanic country have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for the ISIL terrorists. Why have so many Westerners embarked on this risky journey of joining such a ruthless terrorist cult? Some commentators claim that they’re all immigrants and offspring of Muslim families in these countries. Is it really so?
A: A few are from the indigenous population but the overwhelming majority is from the immigrant population. Since the 1980s, there has developed within the member states of NATO a cult of Wahhabi Jihadism, which has been celebrated ever since such individuals were armed, trained and funded by NATO powers to do battle against the USSR in Afghanistan. Certainly the Soviet invasion needed to be reversed, but this job should have been left to Pashtun nationalists, who are religious moderates. Instead, such healthy elements in Afghan society were ignored in favor of Wahhabi fanatics, who were empowered to fight not only the USSR forces but also those Afghans who did not accept their toxic ideology. Textbooks inculcating hatred and a predisposition towards violence were designed in US universities to ensure that young minds globally turned towards Wahhabism. Since the 1980s, an estimated $380 billion has been expended by individuals, agencies and countries to build up the Wahhabi international. It should not therefore be a surprise that many of the youths coming from Muslim countries where this indoctrination took place are turning to ISIL, which is after all from the same ideological matrix as other Wahhabi extremist groups. The USSR having collapsed in 1991, this “demon” has been replaced by the entire non-Wahhabi population of the globe, all of whom are seen as “devils” by Wahhabi ideologists. Even a casual look at Wahhabi literature would demonstrate this fact, hence the need to criminalize Wahhabism worldwide and roll back the Wahhabi international network, including by removing Wahhabi literature from educational curricula.
Q: In one of your pieces, you wrote that 1936-37 was the period when the Nazis could have been overpowered and eliminated efficiently. But the world didn’t take appropriate action, the Nazis rose to prominence and exterminated thousands of people. As you wrote, today is the best time for forming a global coalition against ISIL and defeating it. However, again it seems the international community is not sufficiently determined to fight ISIL and that’s why they’ve been able to grow their power and become stronger. How do you see the whole picture?
A: The Wahhabi international has been active in throwing money at scholars and policy-makers within the NATO bloc, so that they repeat Wahhabi doctrines and seek to discredit those fighting this enemy of civilization. For more than a century, countries in Europe and later North America have assisted Wahhabis, first against the Turkish caliphate – which is why it is ironic that Turkey now has a Wahhabi as head of state, who is systematically destroying the Kemalist base of that country. Later, in the 1950s and the 1960s, they used Wahhabis to wage a “thought battle” against Arab nationalists such as Nasser, who were challenging former European colonial powers unlike Wahhabi establishments, who have always talked tough but acted in a slavish manner towards former colonial powers. In the 1980s, the creed was used to fuel the war against the USSR in Afghanistan. It was only after September 11, 2001 that the NATO bloc understood the danger posed by Wahhabism to themselves, a danger pointed out by me in 1987 and in 1992 in the US, at a period when the Clinton administration was funding and assisting Wahhabis worldwide, especially in Afghanistan.
Even after 9/11, the US and some of its partners focused not on eliminating Wahhabi terror groups in Afghanistan but in removing Saddam Hussein, an enemy of the Wahhabi-influenced [P]GCC regimes, in 2003. In 2011, they sided with the same regimes to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power and life in Libya and are now seeking to repeat that in Syria with President Bashar Assad.
Because of the well-funded influence of Wahhabi doctrines within strategic community in the key NATO allies, they regard the Wahhabi international as a far lesser threat than they do Iran. This is similar to those in France and the UK who saw Hitler under Germany as being a lesser threat than the USSR under Stalin. Such people caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocents because of such an error of perception, and these days, that same blinkered vision is causing the spread of ISIL. Hopefully, sense will dawn before it is too late and a global rather than a limited war against the Wahhabi menace becomes inevitable, in my view by around 2019. This is why I call this the “Rhineland Moment”, the period in 1936 when Hitler could have been humiliated by the French armies and sent off to prison, where his capacity for damage would be much reduced. Instead, he was allowed to once again get away with conquest in 1938 in Czechoslovakia, thereby making the 1939-45 war inevitable.
Should a global coalition not get formed against ISIL and other components of the Wahhabi international, a coalition which includes Iran, will this evil spread within populations. This will be an “atomized” war, in which small groups of individuals such as suicide bombers and suicide automatic weapons carriers create havoc through technology which ensures severe destruction at a relatively low cost, and will take place across the globe, including the heart of the US and Europe. Such a war could ultimately be as destructive to life and property as the conventional wars which took place in the past.
The potential of ISIL to spread its cells across entire countries rises with each month that the organization continues to have a safe haven carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria. My sense is that President Obama realizes this, but not yet his Secretary of State John Kerry, who has lately been seeking to assist ISIL by preventing Moscow from giving President Assad the military means to defeat its gangs, or the UK or French leadership. David Cameron was a principal architect of the Libya disaster, which is the seed from which ISIL has grown, and the man still seems oblivious of reality, living in a Lawrence of Arabia world.
Q: In a meeting at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the former NATO Secretary General and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana suggested that Iran is the only country capable of fighting the ISIL terrorists. There are many others who think likewise. If we accept this premise, then why doesn’t the United States ask for Iran’s help to address the concern of ISIL and eradicate it?
A: My view is that Barack Obama and possibly Angela Merkel understand this, which is why they prevailed over Hollande and others who sought to derail the nuclear agreement with Iran. Hopefully, the next President of the US will be a realist and not a fantasist in the mould of Dick Cheney.
Q: There are worrying reports of some Western and Arab governments still providing ISIL with financial and military aid, even though all of these governments have been trying to absolve themselves of the charge. The Guardian associate editor Seumas Milne has boldly claimed in an editorial that ISIL is a by-product of Western powers’ regional operations, and this sectarian terror group “won’t be defeated by the western states that incubated it in the first place”. Do you agree with this assertion? At any rate, is ISIL going to be beaten while it can sell massive amounts of oil and receive financial and arms assistance?
A: My view is that the US, UK and other NATO allies did not understand the damage which could get caused globally to themselves and to the rest of the world by the Wahhabi international, which is the ideological root of ISIL. Just as a combination of the US, the UK and the USSR defeated Germany in the 1939-45 war, the world needs NATO to ally with India, Iran, Russia and China to wipe out ISIL. Certainly it is correct that NATO cannot do it alone, but its involvement would be crucial in any anti-ISIL coalition.
However, time is running out. The embracing of Wahhabi-supporting regimes by NATO needs to end, and Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia need to be warned that any further assistance to ISIL through giving help to so-called “moderate” fighters who switch to extremist in the battlefield should end. The world is running out of time, as it did during the 1930s in Europe.
Q: A group of right-wing commentators and pundits, including Will McCants, being cited as an authority on ISIL and “militant Islam”, have been striving to forge connections between ISIL and the Islamic theology. They untruthfully claim that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is a descendant of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and is a pure Muslim trying to establish an Islamic state as part of his historic, religious mission. Does it sound feasible?
A: In the past as well, there have been multiple individuals calling Wahhabism the purest form of Islam when in fact it is the opposite. Why take such “experts” seriously? Better to try and deduce philosophical insights from monkeys chattering on treetops.
Friday, 6 May 2016
Whether a politician is amassing wealth or not can often be gauged by the lifestyles of his or her family members. For those with access to the internet, it is no secret that this columnist is not an admirer of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, although he retains an open mind on her son and heir, Rahul Gandhi. The reason for the negativity is twofold: several of the closest political associates of the lady who dominated politics in India till the emergence of Narendra Modi to the centre stage of national politics in 2013 are individuals who may reasonably be termed as “fixers” and “dealers”. Their families have, without exception, progressed at speed up the income ladder, with expensive cars and luxurious residences replacing more modest transport and accommodation. Even in their income tax returns, they have shown incredible skill in increasing their net wealth, often setting up businesses that make huge profits. To cite a particular instance, a minister who was very powerful by being a confidante of the Congress Party leader has an offspring who has made money in incredible amounts.
In the case of Sonia Gandhi, her two sisters live in luxury despite considerable ambiguity about their occupations. India’s incurious media has not regarded it as important to report on the lives and lifestyles of not only Sonia Gandhi’s sisters but the children and other relatives of others who are or were hyper-powerful. For example, it is unknown in India that an individual placed at the core of the security apparatus by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had as foreign citizens his wife and all his children. In the US, there are clear lines drawn between “No Forn” documents and briefings that are off limits to foreign nationals, and others that are allowed to be accessed by foreign nationals.
In the case of India, several key officials have progressed in their careers despite their close family members exchanging their Indian passports for that of a foreign country. Indeed, such a fact is regarded as too trivial to document. Another fact seen as outside the ambit of government is educating children in foreign countries, with few superiors curious about how an officer can educate his or her children abroad at a cost much above his or her salary.
Usually, some unknown institution steps up with a scholarship to the offspring of a senior official, and shuts down soon after the education of the lucky youngster concludes. Snd of course there is the fact that several international financial companies (who make fortunes out of insider information) hire the children of top decision-makers. Interestingly, the head of the Reserve Bank of India retains his lien on the University of Chicago job he temporarily took leave of to become the czar of monetary policy in India, as well as the option to become a US citizen at will. Similar is the case with the head of the erstwhile Planning Commission ( now renamed Niti Aayog) and the Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry, each of whom appear to regard their current jobs as stopgap employment before returning to the US, a prospect they are reported to discuss with friends off and on. In the two years that he has devoted to his current job, Narendra Modi has followed the same example he set in Gujarat, of not making changes in the composition of officials inherited from the previous regime. While overall this is a good idea, yet an exception needs to be made in the case of that small number of officials who were accomplices to corrupt ministers and politicians. Such individuals need to be investigated, and it needs to be ensured that they be removed from sensitive positions that are susceptible to misuse. Such a spring cleaning has yet to take place.
Hence, although corruption in Delhi has been dramatically reduced since Modi took over, the pace of investigation and accountability has been glacial in its pace. A few days ago, a higher court in Italy convicted some individuals of having paid bribes to Indians to purchase some helicopters for the Air Force in its VIP squadron. It would have been a simple matter to track the money flow from Europe to Mauritius to India, but this was apparently not done even after the new government took charge. Contrary to the charges being made by some that such inaction shows the “complicity” of the Modi government in such scams, the fact is that it reveals the opposite.
The Prime Minister has left the bureaucracy alone, and has ensured that his ministers follow the same discipline (of refusing to intervene). However, such a rule needs exceptions, especially in the case of those instances which involve corruption of a level of tens of millions of dollars. In the case of the helicopter deal, several senior officials were involved, and some are still in very high positions.These have clearly used their influence to ensure that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) slept at the wheel. Although two years have gone by since the BJP government took charge, neither the CBI nor the ED have bothered to uncover the money trail. So the public in India is witness to the shameful spectacle of an Italian court convicting Italian bribe-givers, but Indian agencies inactive against the Indian bribe-takers, many of whom have influential friends across the political spectrum.
The Italian court relied on 181 boxes of evidence about the bribes paid by Agusta Westland, the helicopter company, but thus far, no agency from India has shown any interest in examining the data revealed there, even though they relate to bribes paid in India to Indian citizens. Neither has any anti-corruption agency in India sought to assist the Italian court with evidence that was relevant to the case, despite the desirability of doing so Prime Minister Modi will need to revise his Hands Off policy towards the bureaucracy, for in some departments, freedom from political influence is leading to greater misuse of authority. The system of democracy mandates control by elected politicians over unelected officials, and the Prime Minister and his ministers need to exercise that control rather than refrain from it.Of course, concurrently there needs to be much greater transparency in government, so that online tracking takes place of decisions such that laggards get identified.
As also much more accountability. For a start, Modi needs to identify and punish each of those (politicians, officials and military) guilty in the Agusta Westland helicopter scandal, no matter how high the post held or which party the wrongdoer belongs to. Unless he does so, from now onwards, politically it will all be downhill for the BJP.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.