More en Wed Nov 02 10:30:00 IST 2022 india-australia-relations-after-the-economic-cooperation-and-trade-agreement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SECRET OF LOVE,</b> according to the pop diva Cher in her ‘Shoop Shoop Song’, is “in his kiss”. But in the diplomatic world, it is the playlist. At the banquet for Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Delhi, in the midst of the background score of the Mahatma’s favourite bhajan ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’, were two songs from the Aussie pop bands The Triffids and The Go-Betweens. Their biggest hits―unsurprisingly, both heartbreak songs―were strummed for a blossoming romance between India and Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Albanese, it was personal. The Triffids features on the top of his playlist. He played ‘Wide Open Road’―the song chosen for the banquet―on loop as a young man as he drove with his girlfriend to Perth to watch the band perform. Two and a half months after the Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement between India and Australia came into force on December 29, Albanese flew to India to convey his commitment to the deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trade is certainly a game-changer. While the strategic shift towards the Indo-Pacific was visible in the past few years, the trade agreement has set the tone for a deeper commitment. Albanese’s three-day visit was very much a display of his intentions and of how important India has become―he played Holi, visited IIT Delhi and travelled to Mumbai with 25 CEOs to attend the first India-Australia CEO conference. At a function in Mumbai, Australian minister for trade and tourism Don Farrell said that $2.5 billion worth of trade benefitted from the lower tariffs under the ECTA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ECTA―which had been through nine rounds of negotiations and was almost abandoned midway―has now become a symbol of what is possible in the relationship. It gives Australia the much desired access to the Indian market and a first-mover advantage over the much-hyped-but-yet-to-be-signed US-India and UK-India trade deals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Touted as a win-win, the ECTA ensures duty-free access for Indian goods in some 6,000 sectors, including textiles, leather, furniture, jewellery and machinery, to the Australian market. In return, India has opened up its markets for critical minerals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, lentils, seafood, sheep meat, horticulture and wine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trade between India and Australia in 2021 was at $34.3 billion. It is estimated to go up to $50 billion in five years. The Global Trade Research Initiative, a think tank, says it may even go up to $70 billion. “The ECTA has probably given a psychological boost for businesses that thought India was a hard market to crack,” said Navdeep Singh Suri, former Indian ambassador to Australia. The agreement was negotiated soon after India walked out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership because of China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Albanese’s visit was also symbolic of the people-to-people connection. The Aussies clearly want closer bonds and the ECTA opens up new avenues for Indians. Australia will welcome 1,800 new Indian chefs and yoga instructors and also grant Indian students work opportunities after their education. The next step will be the mobility agreement. The mutual recognition of Australian and Indian education qualifications will be a game-changer. Indian students contributed $6.4 billion to the Australian economy in 2019, the biggest after China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The relationship has come a long way. “Australia will not be at the periphery of our vision, but at the centre of our thoughts,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi while visiting Down Under in 2014. He had to wait for the last leg of his second term for that to bear fruit. The economic benefits―very much a Modi plank for a reach out―has only emerged, and become an imperative for Australia after the pandemic. The reason? China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Of course, there is a layer of strategic convergence,” said Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation. Australia has been in a bitter battle with China over trade in the past two and a half years. The bitterness began with Australia raising concerns over the Chinese telecom giant Huawei and introducing foreign interference laws to counter it. The spat turned into full-scale battle when in 2020 Australia asked for an investigation to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and China chose to flex its muscles. It slapped high tariffs on coal, barley, lobsters and wine imported from Australia. The impact has been devastating. The Chinese market for Aussie wines accounted for $1.3 billion before the tariffs; it fell to $12.4 million after, according to a Wine Australia report. Australia has taken China to the WTO for the tariffs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deepening of Australia’s military engagement with India, too, points to how determined Australia is to move away from China. This year, the Malabar exercise―so far held without the Aussies―will be hosted by them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the Australians were willing to accept the ECTA, which has kept out their biggest exports like diary and walnuts, shows how desperately they want to move away from China. “The perception is that the deal is in favour of India,” said Pant. “It points to how Australia is looking at geopolitical considerations. For India, it will be time to step up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The signing of the agreement is crucial for India, too. It broke the jinx and has sent signals to the rest of the world that there is a lot to be gained. But more importantly, there is also the message that was wrapped by in the 50-point joint statement by the two leaders―very much a vision for the relationship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are challenges ahead. “There is still work to be done,” said Suri. India is hoping that more than trade, there will be Australian investment in India. “The superannuation schemes in Australia are conservative,” he said. “There is a push-and-pull factor to deepen our engagement, we will have to do a decent marketing job.”</p> Sat Mar 18 18:56:29 IST 2023 chair-of-the-advisory-board-to-the-centre-for-australia-india-relations-swati-dave-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SWATI DAVE</b> has an important role to play in fostering closer relations between Australia and India as the inaugural chair of the advisory board to the Centre for Australia-India Relations. The centre aims to help create a better climate for closer business and cultural ties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She speaks about her priorities in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ This has been one of the longest trade negotiations, but finally the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement came into being in December 29, 2022. Apparently, there is already some development on the ground.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It is policy question and a negotiation that happens government-to-government, and I can’t speak on that. But we have to recognise that, in between that period, there was Covid. There [has been] a shift in how the environment has become, and all the different things that have happened around the world have made it an imperative for these things to be formalised. At the CEO forum, Minister Piyush Goyal said that once they decided, it was the fastest free trade agreement ever delivered on both sides. It is quite significant. It is the first one of its kind. You’re already seeing that there is a great desire on both sides to drive momentum and to drive results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The India Economic Report, which was the basis for greater engagement, refers to how Australians see India as a hard market for business.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> For a long time, Australia has invested in a relationship with China. I suspect similar views would have been expressed at that time that it would be a hard market. But when you focus on something, and you make it a priority, you work your way through those things. So, I think, yes, there is a challenge. But the role of the centre is really to try and break down what that is. With all relationships, you have to start with a level of understanding, a level of trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the signing of the ECTA generated interest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Certainly. One of my colleagues at the CEO forum said that there has been a noticeable uplift in interest and flows since December 29. There has been momentum. It is a wonderful indication.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How important is the diaspora in pushing the India-Australia relationship?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is critically important. The diaspora is aspirational, they are ambitious, they are vibrant. They want to make things happen. Their impact in the community is to be applauded, because it is through those connections that they are making people better understand what India is. We need to leverage that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The proposed mobility agreement would have the largest shakeup that the Australians have seen in the labour market.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> A big pain point for my father when he migrated was not having his qualifications recognised. Having that mutual recognition [signed by the leaders] is a game-changer. It allows people to be more productive, much faster. Visa changes, ability for students to work, all of these things are going to add to it, because we will attract a lot of students. How do we make it easier for them once they come into the country? How do we make it easier for them to work? All of these things will add to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is also a concern about Australia on students facing racism.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The government is very mindful. They are very sensitive to that. There has been a lot of addressing of those issues by the government over time. I think it was a moment in time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Both the prime ministers have talked about resilient global supply chains. How will ECTA as well as a comprehensive agreement deal push business?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is not a matter of pushing businesses. Businesses are aware of what's happening geopolitically. It is more about what governments say. If I step back and think in terms of a business person, and look at the markets you operate in, you would want to make sure they are diverse; you cannot put all your eggs in one basket. Covid-19 has taught businesses how true that is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Dairy, which is widely exported along with walnut, has been omitted.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This discussion will continue but, ultimately, they will negotiate. The intent is there to ensure both parties get something that they are both comfortable with.</p> Tue Mar 21 14:50:50 IST 2023 india-s-role-in-russia-ukraine-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The past 12 months have been tough for Indian diplomats as they tried to hold what has become the preferred pose for the Narendra Modi government on Ukraine: strategic autonomy. The steadiness shown by the South Block in dealing with the war, which completed a year on February 24, has really tested its core strength. India has performed well and it hopes to use this diplomatic flexibility in its role as president of the G20.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think India has been successful,’’ said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. Russia has not lost what it calls a ‘special military operation’; Ukraine is yet to win its ‘war of independence’. Despite the odds, India has managed to pull off its mission impossible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a year of balances. “We have satisfied both sides. The Russians, in fact, are more than satisfied. It was evident from President Vladimir Putin’s gesture of meeting with our National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in Moscow,’’ said Sibal. The meeting, breaking established protocol, was significant in its messaging. “The US had framed the issue as a moral one and suggested that we would be on the wrong side of history. But the discourse has changed. The meeting between American NSA Jake Sullivan and Doval illustrates that point and the need to take forward the engagement,’’ said Sibal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ukraine crisis has come at a time when India is hoping to shape the global conversation with its G20 presidency and cement Modi’s image as a world leader. “In recent years we have seen how trade, connectivity, debt, resources and even tourism have become points of political pressure. The Ukraine conflict has widened the scope of political leveraging,” said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. A few months ago at IIM Calcutta, he emphasised India’s neutral stand and said the country had the ability and the responsibility to shape the global landscape and speak on behalf of the Global South.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India faced relentless pressure at every diplomatic interaction with the west. It was felt the most in the India-US relationship. A year ago, the US said India’s refusal to condemn Russia was “deeply disappointing”. The Ukraine crisis formed the backdrop of the virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Modi. Biden said the Quad (comprising India, Australia, Japan and the US) was extremely strong about dealing with Putin’s aggression, except for India’s “shaky response”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Before the pandemic, strengthening our relations with Europe was a priority. But the conflict dovetailed Europe with NATO and the US,” said former ambassador Gurjit Singh. “We chose the middle ground to create space for engagement. We led by example for the Global South with our position and our voting in the UN.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The steadily rising import of Russian oil has been a particularly sore issue. Oleksandr Merezhko, who heads the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has called for secondary sanctions against countries like China and India for “financing the Russian military machine”. In October 2022, Russia, for the first time, became India’s top oil supplier, going past Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It now accounts for 28 per cent of all oil imported by India. “We owe a moral duty to our consumers.... India will respond according to its supreme national interest,’’ said Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, in an interview. Jaishankar, too, chided the west for asking India to stop buying Russian oil on moral grounds. He said that despite the sanctions, Europe was yet to cut off Russian energy supplies completely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going beyond just importing oil for domestic needs, India has emerged as a conduit for shipping Russian oil to other markets. With new western sanctions coming into effect from March 5, India will become an even more important link in the chain. Interestingly, India sent 89,000 bpd (barrels per day) of gasoline and diesel to the US in January. And the US, it seems, has finally started understanding New Delhi’s compulsions. “I want to be clear that we are not looking to sanction India, and our partnership is one of our most consequential relationships,” said Karen Donfried, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government has used this issue as an agenda against the west to bolster its image both domestically and internationally. “The Global South does not want to choose between the US, which would lead to hegemony, and Russia, because the US still has the ability to hurt you. It is happy for India to be the leader,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the South Block has managed to turn the tide of the conversation is certainly a win for the government. “India has managed to navigate treacherous waters,’’ said Unnikrishnan. “It has retained its status as the bride that everyone wants to woo. The US needs India against China, China does not want it in the US camp and Russia needs it for legitimacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has chosen to keep its engagement with Russia and Ukraine almost on an even keel. While Modi spoke to Putin seven times last year, there have been multiple phone calls with President Volodymyr Zelensky, too. There is speculation about Modi playing mediator between Moscow and Kyiv. India, in fact, played a key role in mollifying Russia after it threatened to walk away from a grain deal with Ukraine last November.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been careful not to alienate Russia on global platforms. It worked with host Indonesia to soften the language of the joint statement at the 2022 G20 summit, keeping in mind Russian sensitivities. It chose to stay away from the Munich Security Conference this year. “We did not want to be seen on the same stage where Russia would be pilloried,’’ said Gurjit Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India expects full attendance and no controversies at this year’s G20 summit which it will be hosting. “What we can expect is a statement that will highlight the agenda of the Global South. This is where India’s voice will add vigour. It will be Nehruvian in the sense that Nehru punched above his weight,” said Unnikrishnan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may not be an easy task as the war in Ukraine is only likely to intensify. But, for now, India can feel justifiably proud of its strategic autonomy and diplomatic heft and the way it has handled the crisis.</p> Sat Feb 25 15:29:06 IST 2023 how-will-the-russia-ukraine-war-end-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While US President Joe Biden was on his way to Kyiv on February 20, Russia test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile called Sarmat, nicknamed Satan by the west. The launch appears to have failed, but it made life hell for Biden’s security planners. A day later, Russia announced that it was withdrawing from the New Start, the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the US. As the Ukraine crisis enters its second year, it has become clear that Russia and the west are gearing up for a war of attrition, with the end nowhere in sight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By choosing to visit Kyiv days before the first anniversary of the war, Biden has made his involvement personal, and raised the political stakes. The joint appearance with President Zelensky looked like the informal launch of his reelection campaign. For a president saddled with poor approval ratings and a foreign policy nightmare like the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was a bold political manoeuvre. And it means that the war is not likely to end soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Western aid is flowing into Ukraine, although Zelensky complains that it is woefully inadequate. Of $40 billion Ukraine received last year, the US alone contributed $30 billion. In a departure from the past policy, Biden also agreed to supply Abrams tanks, nudging German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to send his Leopard tanks as well. Yet, given the calibrated nature of the assistance, the move is unlikely to aid a Ukrainian surge, but will prolong the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the west is clearly not on the same page regarding the endgame. While the US, the UK, the Baltic states and Poland are keen on dealing Russia a fatal blow, traditional continental powers like Germany, France and Italy have their reservations. French President Emmanuel Macron recently said he was against humiliating Putin and that he did not see an alternative to him. The continental powers favour a more nuanced way to end the war, offering Putin an honourable exit. Their economies are comparatively more integrated with Russia’s and they still wish to factor in Moscow’s vast energy resources. They are also concerned about the war spreading beyond the borders of Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A similar divide is visible globally as well. Major non-western powers such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa have refused to criticise Russia and have helped Putin beat the sanctions. The rerouting of Russian hydrocarbons from Europe to Asia has kept energy prices high, helping Putin run his war machine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, a war of attrition suits Putin as well. Russia will hold presidential elections next year and anything short of a complete withdrawal from Ukrainian territories can be sold to the public as an achievement. With the west supporting Ukraine with money and arms, Putin is unlikely to go for a large scale war. Instead, he might focus on fierce, limited campaigns, causing maximum devastation to Ukrainian infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zelensky has already announced that he will not stop until Ukraine takes back all its territory, including Crimea. Last November, he told a Czech television channel that he would vacation in Crimea after the war. Any sort of climbdown, including a negotiated settlement, would be political suicide for him. After all, the Ukrainians had voted out six presidents in their 30 years of independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Ukraine turning into a pawn in the geopolitical proxy war between Russia and the west, more deaths and devastation can be expected. As the war remains limited within the borders of Ukraine, a negotiated settlement does not seem to be on the mind of anyone, including the United Nations.</p> Sat Feb 25 15:27:01 IST 2023 the-fight-of-ukranians-to-take-their-country-back <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In August 2022, I was travelling by an overnight train from the west Ukrainian city of Lviv to capital Kyiv. Co-passengers with small children, returning from refuge in Europe, showed photos of their destroyed homes in Bucha near Kyiv. Their resolve to return and rebuild their homes and lives struck me. In the morning, the lady conductor offered me coffee. I asked her, “Shall I manage? The train is about to reach.” She calmly said, “We must have time for everything in life now. Never worry.” Amazing realisation! Yes, I do manage everything. Being in Kyiv under constant threat of missile attacks, like millions of others in Ukraine, my life is used to this coexistence of outer war and inner peace. As I write these lines, there is an air raid alert in Kyiv. I move to a safer place, quietly writing my humble thoughts to you. Dear reader, life goes on in this large country of 40 million people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And what can be more surreal and splendid at this midday hour, February 20, 2023, than watching US President Joe Biden walking in Kyiv, meeting the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? Nine years ago, on this day in 2014, more than 100 peaceful protesters were shot to death in the central Maidan in Kyiv in front of my eyes. The same day the world saw the covert entry of the Russian military without insignia into Crimea and later into Donbas. The war started then in 2014, many say. In 2022, before Russia’s all-out invasion, most countries warned, Kyiv will fall within a week. Today, Kyiv and Ukraine are alive and kicking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukraine and its people have shaken the foundations of big power complicity in making shady deals, and appealed for global action. Most of the big powers shook off their inertia and are slowly on track. They hesitate provoking Russia of course, but they realise that the mistake of another Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed Ukraine territorial integrity in exchange for all its nuclear weapons, cannot be repeated. It will be catastrophic for global security. For most of the Global South, Russian expansionist designs are far less understood. The reasons are, among others, their policy hangover identifying Russia with the former Soviet Union, as a supporter of anti-colonialism as well as the Russo-centric approach of academics in these countries viewing the post-Soviet space through Russian narratives alone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over decades, I realised these as an Indian who knows both Russian and Ukrainian. As one of those, who has never left Ukraine since last February, I wonder why this noise about one year of a war which is basically as old as history. Imperial Russia had no scruples in its expansion, like most of the other European colonisers. The latter went to faraway lands, distant from their own. Russian colonialism in Ukraine was not racial, it was social, assimilative, denying the roots of identity, language and culture to the colonised, mentioning Ukraine as “Little Russia” (Malorossiya). The Soviet era carefully masked this Tsarist era Russian chauvinism under “internationalisation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ukrainian language has been and is a special target: the 1622 ban on Ukrainian church texts, the 1720 Decree of Peter I to prohibit publishing books in Ukrainian, the Valuev Circular of 1863 and the Ems Ukaz of 1876 denying the existence of Ukrainian language are among the few documentary evidences that resonate with today. Ukrainian speakers are being tortured in occupied Crimea, Mariupol and other parts of Ukraine and Ukrainian books and libraries are being burned. Ukrainians are jailed for what they are today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All Ukrainians are bilingual and now they speak many European languages. There are many who know Sanskrit and Hindi as well. I wish Indian scholars and experts will learn Ukrainian and fill up the lacuna of their knowledge someday by reading original texts. And they would know that Pavlo Ritter translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, that Rabindranath Tagore is revered by hundreds of poets and his works are translated into Ukrainian, that the famous Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka wrote The Forest Song getting inspired by the hymns of Rig Veda she read in German and French translations. Interestingly, Ukrainian dissident Viacheslav Chornovil was arrested by the KGB when a Russian language copy of Tagore’s essay, “Nationalism”, was found in his bag. Yevhen Hrytsiak, who practised yoga in the Gulag and led the first non-violent Norilsk uprising, translated Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi into Ukrainian. There is deep respect for Mahatma Gandhi in Ukraine and the Crimean Tatar movement always followed the peaceful path; the Mahatma inspired its leaders like Mustafa Dzhemilev. Such stories are in plenty―unknown and less known. Let us come back to the war today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The day Vladimir Putin launched his latest attack on Ukraine―February 24, 2022―changed our lives. For everyone in Ukraine, no matter what nationality, there was life before and then there is this life―after February 24. Witnessing the war, contained within one country after World War II, is a challenging experience for most people. Thousands of Ukrainians took up arms against this existential threat to their homeland. Whenever possible, the fighters read books, talk to their families, and even take part in video roundtables from their hideouts, of course when the command permits. Many of my friends are on the frontline; their motivation and patriotism unparalleled. My heart bleeds whenever I bid farewell to them. I pray for their safe return. These “satyagrahis” who had to take up arms represent a peaceful nation, which, without ever conquering or colonising anyone, is today most unfairly branded by Russian propaganda as “Nazi”. Recognising its contribution to fight Nazism and, therefore, even as part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became one of the founders of the United Nations. Today, the struggle of the Ukrainians is to reveal the brutal, expansionist, genocidal intent of Russia to destroy Ukraine, under the garb of “special military operation”, a term familiar for KGB style operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the civilian front, there is another satyagraha. Ukrainian society and its people resemble a virtuoso orchestra, resiliently catching every note, rhythm and moving like an uninterrupted clock: doctors, teachers, public transport drivers, cleaners, sellers and traders―all work. I continue teaching my courses on diplomacy as usual in the university. The regular academic year 2022 ended and a new one began, degrees were awarded, exams undertaken. Volunteers have no age, you see nonagenarian people helping, sending supplies to the war front; young children doing their bit to raise funds. I don’t hear either quarrel or laughter; people are focused, reserved and concentrated. Even children are aware of the air raid alerts and know the brutalities of war. Perhaps, most people derive their strength from history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each Ukrainian today fights for the truth, for their identity. India’s careful stand raises many eyebrows. An appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, signed by 279 Ukrainian Indologists from various fields, requests India’s proactive role. Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Merezhko expressed pain and called for secondary sanctions on India, which was heavily criticised by the Indian media. The truth is India’s soft power and humanistic ideals are on spiritually higher levels than billions spent and earned in trade or military hardware. One year into this brutal war, these appeals are but signals to uplift and strengthen that image. People-to-people contacts matter most.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The air raid alert ended. I come out and finish writing. In this coexistence of outer war and inner peace, I hope this satyagraha wins and the war ends soon. I see a new Ukraine being born. To be part of it is my honour, just as I saw the birth of a new Eastern Europe, when the Berlin wall fell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>The author is an academic and heads an NGO based in Kyiv. She was formerly with the UN.</b></p> Mon Feb 27 14:54:30 IST 2023 ukranian-photographer-serhii-korovayny-war-photographs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For me, being a war photographer is no longer an adventure, but a regular job. It has been a year since Russia invaded Ukraine and there is now a sort of fatigue compared with the fervour we felt at the beginning of the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I grew up in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Some of my fondest childhood memories include going to school and playing football. Later, I moved to Kyiv. Whenever I would return to my home town, my mom would bake a pie and we would have a meal as a family. I miss all that. I also miss Crimea, a beautiful place where I made some wonderful memories. It has beautiful mountain ranges and it is close to the sea. You could go on a hike, swim in the sea and eat fruit around a campfire. All that is gone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the war, Ukraine was just like any other European country. It was developing rapidly. A lot of new businesses were coming up―restaurants, cafes, malls, local brands and much more. Foreigners had started discovering Ukraine. Nothing much is left now. It would be wonderful just to go back to our normal, boring lives, and not worry about air raid sirens, death and destruction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war has lasted longer than expected and that is because our enemy is bigger than us―bigger, not stronger. So, the story continues. Last year was successful. It was a long year, but we had some victories. We were able to defend northern Ukraine and liberate Kharkiv and Kherson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have suffered some big losses and might lose even more territory, but we are going to regain those territories piece by piece, with the help of our friends. So this year looks like a continuation of 2022. While I am not a military expert, I am sure more weapons will definitely help us. We need more tanks and jets. Our women, too, are fighting the Russians. Many of them are serving as paramedics and as journalists, disregarding personal safety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What I really miss now is the freedom to live without the lingering tension. I wish to see my family, I have not seen them in two years. My wife and I eagerly await victory so that we can travel to Donetsk. We long for a proper vacation. It would be really nice to be able to travel to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia is an empire, similar to the British empire of the past. It just wants to expand its territory. We, in Ukraine, want to live our life our way, and not be a part of Russia. What the Russians have been doing is very cruel. They even destroyed our power infrastructure, crippling our electricity supply. It is a form of terrorism against civilians, an attempt to make us negotiate. We, however, have adapted to face the challenge. We bought generators and power banks and did everything possible to survive the crisis and defeat the crude attempts to crush our morale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are fighting back. I have seen cameramen working on projects, making documentaries and films about the war. You would get to see street art, especially with patriotic themes, in all our cities. Another form of resistance is listening to music, especially Ukrainian songs about war, military and victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being a part of the European Union is the next step for our country. It will help us develop economically, socially and culturally. It would also be a great thing to be protected by a force like NATO. But the war will have to end before that can happen. While I was not a supporter of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and did not vote for him, he has proven to be an able leader. I am glad to have him as our president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Korovayny is an editorial and portrait photographer based in Kyiv.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Sumitra Nair</b></p> Sat Feb 25 15:20:35 IST 2023 russian-presidential-envoy-to-afghanistan-zamir-kabulov-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ZAMIR KABULOV</b> is Russia’s top diplomat in Afghanistan. He served as Russian ambassador to Kabul from 2004 to 2009 and is now President Putin’s special representative in Kabul. With extensive experience in the region, he is at the heart of the Kremlin’s attempts for peace in the region. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Kabulov says the west is trying to foment trouble in Afghanistan and that India has a key role to play in bringing peace to the country. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What role do you think India can play to resolve the Afghan crisis?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>India is a strong regional actor with security interests in the region, so it can and should play a major role, along with Russia, China and other neighbours of Afghanistan. We believe that outsiders―Americans and Europeans―cannot play a role, because Afghanistan, for them, is a remote idea. But we all care. In that sense, India should play a big role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We did our best to build formats. Of course, we already have the Moscow format for all neighbours and relevant states of the region. In order to build a so-called regional approach, we want to build a core format, like a G5 with India, Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia. We believe that it can be an engine for not only building regional consensus, but also for doing something in order to implement this consensus and let the current rulers of Afghanistan know that they should listen to us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not going to interfere. But what they are doing will not only damage them, it will also damage us, in terms of terrorism, drugs etc. We believe that India can play a role and we are ready to cooperate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India firmly believes that the Taliban is a Pakistan creation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is a wrong perception. If you watch carefully what is going on between the Taliban and Pakistan, you will see that although Pakistan has the most influence on the Taliban, Islamabad cannot manipulate it. That is why it is up to us to not exclude Pakistan. We should include Pakistan, because Pakistan suffers as well. Pakistan has a civil society and if terrorism flourishes in Afghanistan, it is dangerous for that civil society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India believes that Pakistan is pursuing the strategic depth policy in Afghanistan. Do you think that can be overcome?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I hope that it could be overcome, because these suspicions, as we put it, are mutual. Pakistan, too, is strongly opposed to including India in the process. States should overcome thinking in the sense of national interests alone. We are just appealing to common sense. It is up to both Delhi and Islamabad to have enough common sense to do something to overcome the suspicions, although we know it is very difficult because of the mutual history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ China is another major actor. Suspicions between India and China, too, are quite high.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We are working on that as well. I can share with you that when we suggested this idea of building a five-member format as a core of regional efforts, China supported it. But since China has its so-called “all-weather” relations with Pakistan, it said, ‘We agree India is very much important and it should be with us. But at least, persuade Pakistan’. This indicates that China understands the importance of being there, and the importance of cooperation between China and India for regional stability and security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There have been attacks on Chinese interests in Afghanistan and China wants to pull out its investments.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We always knew that it is risky to run businesses in Afghanistan. That is why you cannot see many Russian companies operating there. Chinese businesses tried their best. It is in the interest of Afghanistan to develop those copper fields in eastern Afghanistan and some other projects. China is being attacked because there are many actors and terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan. The west, by the way, like India, is not very happy with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. While India just criticises it, there are people in the west who are trying to undermine it by manipulating terrorist groups inside Afghanistan against China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who are you referring to?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Anglo-Saxons. I am not shy about calling a spade a spade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you look at the existing security concerns in Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is, unfortunately, business as usual. But at this particular time, we are really concerned about the socio-economic situation, which will easily be combined with other challenges like terrorism and drugs. It is a real concern for us. We care about ordinary Afghans as they suffer the most. We, of course, try not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. But we cannot hide our disillusionment with how the Taliban is handling the situation. It did a great job by kicking out the Americans and all puppet governments. But it has not learned how to run a government. The Taliban has reiterated many times that it has learned its lessons and will not repeat past mistakes. But now we can see the same picture, which is, of course, a pity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taliban cannot understand very simple things sometimes, especially when there are no challenges to its power. I mean serious challengers who can dislodge it. It does not mean that such challenges will not come. It will not be someone from the outside. But it will be a normal reaction of the Afghan people because it will be very difficult for them to survive under the circumstances. The Taliban, like the earlier puppet governments, is lucky to have such people like the Afghans who can survive with just a piece of bread and water. But enough is enough. It cannot go on like this. We are trying our best to soften this pressure on the Afghan people by developing business with Afghanistan and sending humanitarian relief and we are going to continue doing that. But the Taliban should take institutional steps to improve the situation or at least to open a way for such improvement, which we cannot see at the moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Taliban so far has failed to alter its behaviour despite various formats of talks.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There is diplomacy and a way of persuading. If the Taliban does not buy it, there is another element which is much stronger than diplomacy: it is life. Life will make the Taliban change. But, for that, it will have to start suffering by itself. Not the Afghan people. The Taliban will have to understand that it is going to lose what it has.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your views on the Taliban’s notorious decision to keep women out of educational institutions and workplaces?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The latest step by Taliban authorities to deprive women to go to universities is senseless. I cannot understand it. I want to talk to the Taliban leadership and share our dismay and disappointment.</p> Sat Feb 11 11:51:38 IST 2023 death-of-russian-tourists-in-odisha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After the kidnapping of two Italian tourists by Maoists in Kandhamal district a decade ago, Odisha is once again in the international spotlight, following the suspicious deaths of three Russians within a fortnight. The first two deaths were reported from the border district of Rayagada in the last week of December. Pavel Antov―a businessman and lawmaker, and a bitter critic of President Vladimir Putin―died after allegedly falling from his hotel’s third floor on Christmas eve. His friend Vladimir Bydanov was found dead barely 48 hours before that in the hotel room they shared in Rayagada. On January 3, the body of Sergy Miyalkov, a marine engineer employed by an Indian company, was found on board a cargo ship at Paradip port’s anchorage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Antov, 65, and Bydanov, 61, arrived in Delhi on December 18. They reached Bhubaneswar the next day with two more Russians, Natalia Pansasenko and her husband, Mikhail Turov. The group was accompanied by their guide, Jitendra Singh. They first visited Daringbadi, a hill station in Kandhamal district, and reached Rayagada on December 21, where they checked in at hotel Sai International.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To accommodate the growing inflow of foreign tourists, nearly 40 hotels have come up in Rayagada, catering to various budget categories. The town is the headquarters of Rayagada district in southern Odisha, on the border with Andhra Pradesh. The district has a majority tribal population and is home to Dangaria Kandha, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG), which lives on the Niyamgiri hills spread across Rayagada and the neighbouring Kalahandi district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 40km from Rayagada town is Chatikona, where a tribal market assembles every Wednesday. It attracts a large number of Dangaria Kandhas. Foreign tourists, too, frequent the market from November to February as they are no longer allowed to go up the hill after the kidnapping of the Italian tourists. Rajesh Patnaik, a senior journalist from Rayagada, said around 200 tourists from North America, Australia, the UK and Russia come and live in Rayagada during the winter to experience the tribal lifestyle. District tourist officer Subodh Chhatriya said foreign tourists were interested in exploring the life of PVTGs like the Dangarias and they frequent the specific route from Kandhamal to Koraput via Rayagada.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Antov and his friends checked in at the hotel on December 21, they were given three rooms. It was Antov’s birthday and he shared a room with Bydanov. The group was supposed to travel to Koraput the next day, but Singh said the plans got cancelled as Bydanov was found unconscious in his room. “We rushed him to the hospital where he was declared dead,” said Singh. It was suspected that he suffered a cardiac arrest. Aurobind Sahu, owner of the hotel, said the Russians were to vacate the hotel that day. “But things turned topsy-turvy because of the unfortunate incident,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bydanov’s postmortem report said there was around 100ml of liquor in his stomach and that the body smelled of ganja and opium. Singh said Bydanov, who had been taking medicines for some heart ailment, was drinking from the time he landed in Odisha. On 21st night, he was heard arguing with Antov and the duo had an altercation in their room, according to the hotel staff. Local police found the room in a mess. The floor was littered with food, empty liquor bottles and broken plates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After preliminary investigations ruled out any foul play, Bydanov’s body was cremated on December 24 at the local crematorium. Antov performed the last rites after receiving the necessary clearance from the Bydanov family in Russia, which came through the consulate in Kolkata. After Bydanov’s death, Antov moved to another room. He returned to the hotel after the cremation in an agitated mood. Around 7:30pm, he was found in a pool of blood in a nearby construction site on the hotel premises. He was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Antov’s postmortem examination was held on December 25 and he was cremated next to Bydanov’s final resting place. The cremation was performed after getting the approval of his daughter through the consulate. The postmortem report said there was “rupture of the left lung, liver and spleen leading to haemorrhage and death”. The death was subsequently deemed “accidental”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of the high-profile stature of the victims, especially Antov, and the controversy over the deaths of several Putin critics over the past few years, the Odisha Police has assigned the investigation to its crime branch. It is also being monitored by the Intelligence Bureau and the ministry of external affairs. The Russian embassy is also being kept in the loop. Sunil Kumar Bansal, director general of Odisha Police, said prima facie, no foul play was detected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The report of the mysterious death was picked by western media, which quickly linked Antov’s death to his opposition to Putin’s policies and the Russian war in Ukraine. They also highlighted how several Russians who had failed to align themselves to Moscow’s line on the war―which will complete a year next month―had died mysteriously. Antov, a millionaire sausage tycoon and a regional MP from the central Vladimir oblast, was in the news last year following his criticism of the war. He was, however, forced to withdraw his comments, possibly after facing pressure from the authorities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mysterious deaths of the Russians seem to be snowballing into a political controversy as well. The Congress has been critical about the manner in which the investigation is being conducted. Former MP Manish Tewari said the decision to cremate the bodies was suspicious, especially since the victims were Christians. “Hercule Poirot says burnt bodies tell no tales,” tweeted Tewari, referring to the famous fictional detective created by Agatha Christie. Denis Alipov, the Russian ambassador to India, was quick to respond, taking Tewari on and complimenting the police. “It would be useful for some Hercule Poirot lovers to learn that cremation in Russia is as customary as burial. Idleness is the root of all evil,” tweeted Alipov. Meanwhile, Congress MP from Koraput, Saptagiri Ulaka, who hails from Rayagada, said he would raise the issue in Parliament as he felt the incident had implications for national security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Odisha crime branch clarified that they got in touch with Bydanov’s son and Antov’s daughter through the Russian consulate in Kolkata and found out that cremation was not uncommon in Russia. “Antov’s daughter, Anna, said her grandmother, too, was cremated a few years ago,” said a crime branch official. “She did not object to her father’s cremation as the practice is common in Russia.” She had also given her written consent for the cremation. Officials enquired why Antov’s family chose not to take his body back to Russia and found that he had been staying alone after divorcing his second wife. Other family members, too, did not show any interest in taking his body back. Bydanov’s son, too, sent his consent for his father’s cremation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Negligence shown in preserving evidence adds to the headache of the investigating agencies as critics point towards multiple lapses in the postmortem examination and initial investigation. While the hotel staff told the police that Antov appeared to be heavily drunk and could not walk properly after returning to the hotel from Bydanov’s cremation, the autopsy report is silent on the presence of alcohol in his blood. Even more crucially, while Bydanov’s viscera samples were preserved for further tests, similar procedure was not followed in Anton’s case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Samples of liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidney are sent for forensic examination when investigators or doctors feel that the cause of death is not clear from the postmortem examination. “Antov had multiple injury marks over his body, which may be the result of his fall from a height. Besides, the police did not specifically ask for sending his viscera samples,” said a doctor from the forensic team. Lalmohan Routray, chief medical officer of Rayagada, confirmed that only Bydanov’s viscera had been preserved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts have questioned the negligence shown by the investigating authorities. Former Odisha DGP B.B. Mishra said viscera samples should have been kept for further examination. He was also critical of the fact that Antov’s postmortem examination was not videographed or photographed, although the procedure was followed in the case of Bydanov. A doctor at the Rayagada government hospital said the police did not ask the medical team to record the autopsy or to preserve viscera samples. “Videography and visceral sample preservation were done in the case of Bydanov’s postmortem examination following specific instructions from the Rayagada police,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As many as 17 prominent Russians who were critical of the Kremlin’s policies reportedly met with fatal accidents in the past one year. With three suspicious deaths of Russian citizens happening in a fortnight, the Odisha Police have their task cut out.</p> Sat Jan 07 16:04:16 IST 2023 covid-restrictions-human-rights-protests-in-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Teng Biao was born in the small village of Xiaochengzi in northeast China, where he lived a frugal life―financially and intellectually―until he joined Peking University in Beijing at the age of 18. The university threw open before him new avenues and ideas and he was fascinated by the concepts of human rights and liberal democracy. Teng was excited to read books that spoke unabashedly about ideas which were alien to him during his growing up years under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teng joined Peking University in 1991, two years after the Tiananmen Square protests. That summer witnessed a series of geopolitical upheavals which altered the existing global order beyond recognition. The fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its east European satellites brought a surge of democratic spirit to large swathes of Asia and Europe. Although the CCP stood unwaveringly firm, the global churn saw the rise of human rights activism in China as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In the early 2000s, I was one of the initial promoters of the humanitarian movement in China. It was called the Rights Defence Movement, which succeeded the Xidan Democracy Wall movement of the late 1970s and the Tiananmen Democracy movement in 1989, in which Chinese citizens asserted their constitutional rights through legal means,’’ said Teng. “Finally, my passport was seized. I was kidnapped and tortured thrice―in 2007, 2011 and 2012.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teng was banned from teaching at the Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law and was disbarred from practising as a lawyer as well. He left China via Hong Kong in 2014 when he got an invitation from the Harvard Law School. He made the United States his base so that he could work closely with human rights activists across the world, especially within China. “After I came to the US, I kept regular contact with Chinese lawyers and activists. They have definitely grown in number, but their activities are closely monitored by the authorities. They even face imprisonment sometimes, so it is not possible for them to organise influential activities like the ongoing protests in China,’’ said Teng.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teng is one of the leaders of human rights movement in China, a tough task as the CCP continues to exercise near total control over the destiny of the Chinese people. Yet, the recent outbreak of protests in multiple cities where people could be seen shouting slogans about freedom has come as a clear break from the past. University campuses across the country have become the nerve centres of such protests, which have been triggered largely by the pent up anger against the stringent zero-Covid policy. People are clearly fed up with rigorous medical tests, isolated life and lonely deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fresh wave of protests has transcended continental and oceanic boundaries and has struck a chord with young people across the world, especially the Chinese diaspora. The Tiananmen protests were limited to China as the news did not spread far and wide in the absence of the internet. But now, the young and open-minded students, academics and pro-democracy citizens have acquired the technical skill-sets needed to break open the great firewall of China to look beyond and participate in activities happening around the world through social media and internet platforms. China’s market economy is marching ahead and so are opportunities for events, travel and social mobilisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activists in China are joined by large sections of the Chinese diaspora living in the US, Europe, Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region. They are inspired by the fact that those living inside China are raising their voice. Interestingly, they were challenged in some places by pro-CCP protesters, but they were much smaller in number. According to rough estimates, around 25 protest events have been held so far in the US alone, in major cities and universities in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the protests in China are mainly against Covid restrictions, demonstrations in the US target President Xi Jinping and the CCP. The protesters, both within and outside China, have been closely following Xi’s ascendency to absolute power, as he won a third term as China’s supreme leader at the 20th National Congress of the CCP which concluded on October 22. They were hoping that Xi would offer a gift after the party congress by lifting Covid-related restrictions. But on November 11, China’s National Health Commission released a list of 20 measures to optimise epidemic prevention, leading to widespread disappointment and frustration as it implied continued restrictions. It created discontent as people started writing open letters and began holding demonstrations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tipping point was perhaps the fire that broke out in an apartment block in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, the province which is home to the repressed Uyghur ethnic minority. As Covid restrictions delayed rescue operations, at least ten people lost their lives. Protests soon broke out in many parts of China, including in Shanghai where a police crackdown led to further escalation. Tashken Davlet, outreach specialist of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) based in Washington, DC, said the excessive lockdown under the zero-Covid policy had made the Chinese people miserable. “Hearing the CCP’s discriminatory treatment of Uyghurs has made overseas Uyghurs worry that the lockdown will become a new apparatus of genocide, a new way to murder them en masse by starvation,” Davlet said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Xi’s challenges are even beyond Urumqi. In the last one month alone, there has been labour unrest in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou―the location of the world’s largest iPhone plant―while mass protests were reported from Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Wuhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, scepticism that despite the intensity and the widespread nature of the protests, they may fizzle out after a while, especially after some restrictions are lifted. “When I heard about student protests at Tiananmen 33 years ago, I thought China would change,” said Tashi Tsering, executive director of the Human Rights Network for Tibet and Taiwan. “I was beaten up and jailed. But the CCP has only become stronger.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The activists, however, have not given up hope. “I have seen the violent nature of the regime, and the mockery against the Hong Kong democracy movement by many Chinese people,’’ said Terence Law, former vice president of the students’ union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Yet, as a human being, it is hard to remain silent while watching people stand up for freedom and fight against tyranny, ignoring concerns about their safety.’’</p> Sat Dec 10 18:33:05 IST 2022 recent-protests-in-china-rare-defeat-for-xi-jinping <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN 1988,</b> before the protests and massacre at Tiananmen Square, I had organised direct elections to the students' union at Tsinghua University. I was a student of physics at Tsinghua, which is also the alma mater of President Xi Jinping and former president Hu Jintao. As a student leader, when I organised elections, I noticed that it motivated many youngsters who participated with great excitement. A year later, when Hu Yaobang, the pro-reform general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, died, I was one of the first ones to place a wreath in his honour. And it got reported in a national newspaper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was excited. For the first time, I realised that our actions can have a profound impact. The protests precipitated by his death, which happened against the backdrop of economic challenges and social change in post-Mao China, were spontaneous. There was no organisation to lead the protests. I became a leader by default as no one wanted to be seen as sticking their neck out at that time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was 21, full of hope and courage, and I overcame my fear to face the consequences. I was the last one to leave Tiananmen Square when the tanks started rolling in. I stood 20 feet from the tanks, shouting slogans of freedom. Since we were at the centre of the protests, we knew how many people had been killed at Tiananmen, trying to form a human wall to save us. We later found bodies of children as young as nine and even elderly men and women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was put on a most wanted list. When I was arrested, I was sent to a high security prison meant for government officials, as ordinary prisons were full. After a year in jail, I was sent to Yangyuan, a poor and isolated rural county in Hebei province, to be reeducated. I was excluded from the normal career path for physics students from a top university. Having been born in a peasant family to illiterate parents, I felt I had let my mother down by not being able to pay back her love and sacrifices. I was the hope of her life, a star student always. But I became a political prisoner and changed the course of my life for a bigger change for China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, I have tears in my eyes watching young girls and boys holding up blank sheets of paper at Tsinghua and other top universities to express their anger―a rare outpouring of public dissent that has drawn millions of students and ordinary citizens towards demanding freedom and democracy once again. I am proud of them and I wish I could do more. I worry for those who are being put in jails to quell the protests and I demand the CCP disclose their whereabouts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirty-three years ago, I was just like them. But today, these children are continuing our unfinished agenda out of a sense of honour and duty and their love for the people who died due to the zero Covid policy and the fire in Urumqi. What is important is the awakening of the young people who are spontaneous like the 1989 protesters. They have gone through fear and taken action that will go down in history as a unique awakening of the youth who refuse to be brainwashed as slaves to Xi Jinping. Because of Covid restrictions, more and more Chinese people are realising that the country needs freedom from Xi’s dictatorship if they want to avoid a similar situation in future. That is why the young people have a sense of urgency. While there may be no immediate impact of the protests on the political system, anyone with reflective thinking will know how amazing this wave of protest is where the people are picking up the torch for others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After I moved to the United States, I started working to support the prisoners in China. Most are forgotten in public memory, but they are the great heroes of China, just like the students and citizens who have been protesting, who possess the real spirit and strength of China that will usher in a positive change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a rare defeat for Xi as it is the first time he has relaxed the restrictive Covid measures. Paranoid about losing control, he is arresting most protesters. Further mistakes will become the source for more protests. Protests have spread far and wide. New York City has seen the largest such crowd since 1989, while Chinese missions across multiple countries have witnessed demonstrations by young people who are carrying forward the legacy of Tiananmen with the motto, “It is my duty”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Zhou was among the most wanted student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As told to Namrata Biji Ahuja.</b></p> Sat Dec 10 18:29:41 IST 2022 political-crisis-in-pakistan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON NOVEMBER 3,</b> Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan survived an assassination attempt in Wazirabad, Punjab. The former prime minister was leading a long march to Islamabad, demanding early elections. Khan named three people as conspirators: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah (both from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) and a senior intelligence agency official, Major General Faisal Naseer. Sharif dismissed Khan’s allegations and requested the chief justice of Pakistan to form a full court commission to investigate the attack. The Inter-Services Public Relations, too, rejected the “baseless and irresponsible allegations…against the institution and particularly a senior army officer”. It took four days to register an FIR in Punjab, a province ruled by the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid e Azam (PML-Q), its ally. The PTI rejected the FIR that named only the assailant caught on site, saying it does not believe that it was the work of a lone shooter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the successful vote of no-confidence against his government in the National Assembly this April, Khan continues to be very popular. His party won most of the by-elections held across the country. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, who was on the container with Khan when he was shot at, told THE WEEK that had the assassination taken place, the ensuing chaos would have weakened Pakistan. There are two realities in Pakistan whether one likes it or not, he said. “One is the military and [two] Imran Khan. Both of them are national forces,” said Chaudhry. “There is a perception now that the military is trying to ‘limit’Khan. This has created chaos in Pakistan’s politics now. It is a huge problem and needs to be resolved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All eyes, no wonder, are on the appointment of the new army chief, due later this month. While he is not sure how that will impact Pakistan’s politics, Chaudhry did say that “the present character of the military certainly needs to change”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar said that the attack on Khan was too serious to be ignored and called for a thorough, independent investigation. “The attack has already increased political temperature, polarisation, tensions and instability,” he said. “Ignoring it means more of all this for Pakistan.” However, it would not result in early elections, he said. What might happen sooner than planned is the appointment of the new army chief. “This indeed is a measure of the fragility of civilian and democratic structures that the nation is on tenterhooks because of one senior appointment outside Islamabad,” he said. “At least, this is the perception. Incentives for the government to announce the new appointment sooner than planned are likely to increase.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would the attack have any impact on the coalition government, which includes the PPP? Babar said that Khan had upped the ante particularly after addressing a formal letter to the president, asking him to rein in state agencies and security organisations. “A formal communication by an ex-PM to a sitting president has implications,” he said. “The Pakistan Democratic Movement [the coalition government] will have to develop a calibrated narrative to counter it. However, the government [being] under pressure on this score doesn’t mean it is under threat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif condemned the attack on Khan and said it was “deplorable”. Asif told THE WEEK that this sort of trend in our politics will lead us nowhere. “It will bring disastrous results,” he said. On the political impact of this attack, Asif said that if it was done to trigger some sort of reaction, that has not happened. “Imran Khan has a large following and those followers are definitely disturbed and people like us are also disturbed because of this trend―the trend of extremist politics and preaching extremism, calling for violence. This sort of trend creates imbalances in society and creates uncertainty and chaos, which is very unfortunate. It is the responsibility of the politicians to reverse this trend so that such incidents do not happen in the future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the Shehbaz Sharif government is against early polls, the current political instability is unsustainable, said senior journalist Amir Zia. A practical way out of the crisis, he suggested, was to install a caretaker government that can hold fresh elections by March or April 2023. “If by holding polls a few months earlier, Pakistan can end the crisis, it will be a good bargain for all,” he said. “With the change of command in the military leadership later this month, there will be an opportunity to find a middle ground.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Zia, the “new Army chief would be distancing himself from General [Qamar Javed] Bajwa’s policies, which his critics say has made Pakistan’s most powerful institution unnecessarily controversial”. “The army needs to stick to its traditional role, including carrying the cross of the anti-corruption narrative,” he said. “Ensuring fair elections and even-handed accountability would help restore the army’s image. This institution must not be seen as the sponsor and protector of the corrupt.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early polls are highly unlikely, said journalist Rabeea Khan. “At least not in the near future as Khan has been asking for,” she said. She cited a few reasons―one being the government not wanting to look weak by giving in to Khan’s demands. “The current government has been in power for almost six months and, during this time, it has taken some tough economic decisions, which are believed to be unpopular,” she said. “The major one being reviving the International Monetary Fund programme, which comes with harsh conditions. Therefore, now there is a strong consensus that the government should take enough time to revive the economy and regain the confidence of its supporters before going for general elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another reason Rabeea cited was that the real motive of Khan was to influence the November appointment of the new army chief. “Whatever pressure he is able to build through his long march or after his attack is primarily to tilt things in his favour regarding the November appointment, and not exactly for an early election,” she said. Moreover, Pakistan does not have the capacity or resources to hold elections following the devastation caused by the flash floods, said Rabeea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan has been in a continuous grip of political crises for the last several months, observed former senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar. “This crises has led to a deteriorating economy and has made the life of the common man difficult,” he said. “In this polarised environment, one can only hope that all stakeholders sit together and find ways not only to resolve the current crisis but ensure that something like this does not repeat itself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Khokhar wondered why an army chief’s appointment should hold the whole country hostage, journalist Zebunnisa Burki said that it all comes down to one question: who will be the next army chief? Will it be General Bajwa again (with an extension)? Or, will it be someone of his choice or Nawaz Sharif’s? “Does the PDM government even have a say in the matter, given the crises it is staring at ever since it took power,” asked Burki. “There is also the constant presence of an agitational Imran who seems to forever go from strength to strength despite any and all setbacks. There are open murmurs that Imran’s popularity can (it has already done so in some instances) easily break the PML-N’s Punjab stronghold. The costs of the vote of no-confidence just seem far too great for the current coalition government―unless the [army chief’s] appointment goes in a direction Imran would not wish.”</p> Fri Nov 11 17:59:50 IST 2022 britain-pm-rishi-sunak-economic-and-political-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. Rishi Sunak lost to early bird Liz Truss in the September Tory race to become party leader and British prime minister. But in the second race to the top to replace her, Sunak became the clever mouse that got the cheese―the tempting, to-die-for trophy that British politicians covet. He became the 57th prime minister of the United Kingdom, with much broader party and public support than his predecessor. “Grown-ups have returned to the table,” said Tory MP Alicia Kearns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak is sharp, but he also got lucky. Truss created history, of the wrong kind. Scandalously imploding in 44 days to crash as Britain’s shortest serving prime minister, she torched the economy as she flamed out. Sunak created history―of the right kind. At 42, he is the youngest prime minister in more than 200 years; the first Indian-origin and Hindu to attain the post. He became an MP only seven years ago. Seven weeks ago, his party members defeated him. Now he makes a stunning comeback. His opponents bow out of the race and the crowning glory is not his election, but coronation as prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Sunak can hardly savour the immensity of his coronation. His cheese is full of holes. In fact, the biggest is called the “black hole” of Britain’s finances, with a £40 billion gap in government finances alone. Truss inherited an economic crisis, which she rashly aggravated into a catastrophe in a fortnight. In her reckless push to “stimulate” growth by cutting taxes for the rich and borrowing money, she dragged Britain to the cliff of defaults, bankruptcies and negative growth. Her popularity ratings followed suit, plummeting to minus 70 per cent. Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith, a prominent backer of former prime minister Boris Johnson and Truss said, “No more messing around, it is time to get on with governing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easy to say, hard to do. Sunak stares into an economic abyss: a 1990s’ style recession, inflation rising to a painful 14 per cent―highest in four decades―and pound depreciation that makes imports costly. The average mortgage rate, which was 4.74 per cent before ‘Trussonomics’, rose to 7.32 per cent, jeopardising the homes of millions of Britons. Sunak had repeatedly warned about this during his campaign run against Truss two months ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I told you so” is grimly satisfying, but it is not policy. Now Sunak must clean up the mess. He has the skills, brains, fortitude and perseverance to do it. Fortune can continue to favour him, and he can emerge successful and unscathed. But it is a tough task. As finance minister Jeremy Hunt admitted, “the financial problems are eye-watering”. To balance the books, Sunak’s government must impose austerity, hike taxes and reduce public expenditure on health care, education, defence and pensions. This is tough to do at any time. Now, as Britain reels under the worst cost of living crisis in living memory, it is a “profound economic crisis”, said Sunak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Frustrated by rising costs, stagnating pay and lower purchasing power, workers vow to intensify their strikes through this winter, when energy costs are expected to rise further. Teachers, nurses, rail and postal workers all threaten to walk out. Conceding their demands burns a bigger financial hole. In the Margaret Thatcher tradition, Sunak’s Conservative Party prefers to crush unions rather than negotiate. But any attempt to outlaw strikes or ignore the strikers risks prolonging industrial action, alienating voters and bringing Britain to a standstill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punitive action against workers will give more oxygen to the surging Labour Party. ‘Trussonomics’ gifted the opposition party with an unprecedented 36 per cent lead over the Tories. For this reason, Labour and other political parties are clamouring for fresh elections―constitutionally not needed for another two years. Sunak vetoes fresh elections. Even without polls, public alienation will be politically disastrous for him. Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said, “Rishi Sunak has no mandate and no idea what working people need.” Labour attacks Sunak for his elitist “solutions” as finance minister, such as subsidising people to dine in restaurants during Covid when vaccines were nowhere in sight, his “partygate” fine during lockdown and wife’s non-domicile status to avoid taxes, which she renounced after the scandal erupted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak’s rich boy image is a drawback. But as with every Tory prime minister, Sunak’s real Achilles heel is his own party. A vast majority of Tory MPs support him, for now. If the temperature of public unrest rises even a few degrees, this majority will evaporate. The Tory party is a poisoned chalice brimming with venomous factionalism, intrigues and rivalries. An uncivil war seethes. Sunak is determined to rule judiciously and “fix” problems. His enemies are equally determined to fix him. Tory MP Christopher Chope said the party was ungovernable. “We are going to have continuing rebellions as we try to change policies,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most reptilian is the Tory Brexiteer faction that owes allegiance to Johnson and engineered Truss’s victory in the first race. But early bird Truss left behind more than a can of worms. In popular British imagination, these Brexiteers are now labelled the “free-marketeer jihadists”. Their ultra-radical, pro-rich economic policies plunged Britain into turmoil and terminated Truss. They loathe Sunak, branding him “backstabber” for engineering Johnson’s downfall. His resignation as finance minister protesting his boss’s misdeeds contributed to the Johnson government’s collapse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Circumstances enabled Sunak to beat the Brexiteers―their undoing was of their own doing. These Brexiteers have now retreated to sulk, skulk and lick their wounds. But they will return and strike at an opportune moment. Anticipating this, Sunak told his MPs, “Unite or die”. Sunak was not threatening to destroy them. He was implying that his fractious party risked becoming ridiculous and irrelevant, doomed to die out like dinosaurs. Three prime ministers in seven weeks is farcical. The Tories have 357 MPs―an 80-seat majority―that voters could vaporise in the next elections. It is doubtful if the message reached the intended targets. The Brexiteer-buccaneers inhabit a bygone world anyway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Britain is being clobbered by their quixotic Brexit gamble. Covid and the Ukraine war that blew up energy prices have hurt the British economy severely. Britain has fared worse than other comparable European countries buffeted by these same headwinds. The mantra finally rings in Britain: “It is Brexit, stupid.” Brexit has failed to deliver the economic windfall peddled by the Johnson brigade. Recent statistics are damning. Brexit has shaved 4 per cent off Britain’s GDP. British economy was 90 per cent of the German economy in 2016. Now it has shrunk to 70 per cent. Britain’s acute shortage of skilled workers is blamed on Brexit barriers. Trade has tumbled. “Sunak will end Britain’s political nervous breakdown and improve ties with the European Union. If he really wants to grow the British economy, he needs a free trade deal with the EU,” said EU affairs expert Jonathan Charles. Analysts see Sunak as a pragmatic internationalist who will strive to repair relations and restore Britain’s global reputation. The quip is, “Even this is outsourced to an Indian.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian-origin Britons, like Indians, are thrilled by Sunak’s meteoric rise. Filled with pride at his achievement, they burst crackers and stormed pubs. But the reality is that their life and fortunes are not comparable with Sunak’s, just as those are not with any elite white boy’s. As prime minister, Sunak governs Britain not with India or Indians in mind. If anything, realpolitik demands he shows no softness or favours. This fact explains why African-Americans were so disappointed with Barack Obama. People had unrealistic expectations while Obama made realistic assessments of his limitations and risks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak has studied the risks, limitations and problems lying ahead. Britain’s politics, economics and social matrix are a minefield. During his two-year stint as finance minister, Sunak managed the Covid crisis with social and salary protections. He now plans to implement the 2019 Tory election manifesto: improving health, education and environment and “levelling” up poorer British regions. Johnson won that election spectacularly, but did little to implement the pledges. The financial crisis is severe, but Sunak could conjure creative, modern “fixes”. To succeed as prime minister, Sunak must neutralise the personal hatreds and ideological fixations among the Tories and nudge the party to rediscover its fabled “pragmatism”. For all its flaws, the Conservative Party has also been a bold, pioneering “broad church” that accommodates diversity. It was the first party to have a Jewish PM, a woman PM and now an Indian-origin PM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak’s story is the stuff of legends. In mythology, the humble mouse symbolises intelligence, perseverance, adaptability and resourcefulness. It can fend for itself and survive even in the harshest conditions. Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexity of listening, watching and sniffing for distant predators, it does the opposite―focusing on the immediate. Tell-tale signs nearby warn him of dangers afar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak treads in a treacherous environment of prowling enemies and harsh economic conditions. But silver linings glimmer. Most people see the foolish hollowness of Johnson’s “cakeism”―you can have your cake and eat it, too, and then Truss’s “fantasy economics”. People now want governance to be less theatre and more carpentry―doing the nuts and bolts of economic repair. Many conservatives understand that they have one remaining chance of reversing their own and the country’s fading fortunes. It is the last brown hope. Sunak’s biggest asset is his awareness that his coronation comes with a crown of thorns.</p> Sat Oct 29 19:27:35 IST 2022 rishi-sunak-political-and-economic-capabilities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is interesting how we take the success of every desi bachcha in the world as our personal success. And we take their narrative into our hearts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is almost like every Indian belongs to a large global family, bound by invisible strings. Sometimes even if the strings originated from the pre-partition era, we can tug at them. And so when a few months ago, both Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other―forcing Boris Johnson to resign―someone pointed out the irony: one Indian and one Pakistani bringing down the British prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as conspiracy theories go, that was an interesting moment of speculation and now, of course, as a novelist I can appreciate the magical realism behind the appointment of the first UK prime minister of Indian origin in the 75th year of India’s partition and independence. What a wonderful postcolonial fantasy!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, even though I am the chair of the trust that set up the world’s first and only Partition Museum in Amritsar and is now setting up the second one in Delhi, I have to admit that these are just amazing coincidences with which history is replete. Sunak has risen to the top in British politics not because his grandfather is from Gujranwala―which is now in Pakistan―but because of his very capable handling of the economy, and the manner in which he was able to infuse confidence in his fellow parliamentarians during the very difficult time of Covid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And is the UK “ready for Rishi”? (That was one of the slogans which was used to propel him to power). Yes, we are. Across the board, in the UK, I have not heard of any comment on his ethnicity that would worry us as “people of colour”. Let us not forget that “white” is also a colour and, therefore, it is only a matter of time before even our language will become colour blind and we will stop referring to those who do not look like the majority in the UK as “Black” or “Asian”. And they will all be simply, as Rishi already is, British. He will normalise being a “Black Asian” face of Britain. He also cannot, as prime minister, represent only “India”, as he also has to represent all Asians and all non-Asians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was he meant for greater heights and did his parents know he would be prime minister one day? My brief meeting with Usha Sunak reminded me very much of the down-to-earth women who have become legendary in migration stories. These are women who have brought up families and run businesses in a UK which, previously, was never very welcoming to migrants. All of us have had our share of being called “Paki” and many have undergone worse racist treatment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usha and her husband, Dr Yashvir Sunak, however, made their children stoic, and prepared them to live not as a minority in a ghetto but as a proud part of the community, and the country they were all contributing towards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rishi was sent to the elite Winchester College where he was able to connect with those who dot the ruling class (a bit like the Doon School was, once upon a time). It reminded me of Kate Middleton’s story, who also came from a middle class family and met her prince within an elite educational institution. Rishi’s later meeting with Akshata Murty at Stanford has also become the stuff of legend. He wooed and married her and yes, she is now an essential part of his success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the query whether this is sweet revenge for India―and whether we are somehow subjugating the British with a prime minister of Indian origin―is a pure postcolonial fantasy. Britain is a diverse country and has many members of parliament, not only from the UK, but also from many erstwhile colonies. When my husband entered parliament more than 30 years ago, the colonial hangover was still very strong for his relatives to be impressed that “white” people were being respectful. But not now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also we must remember that unlike the colonial exploitation that was inflicted on the Indians in very different circumstances, the UK is a very modern egalitarian democracy and Rishi is only there as long as he delivers the goods. And right now he has inherited a country fraught with problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has only two years before the next general election, maybe less, to not only undo much of the economic damage inflicted by the Covid years and ‘Trussonomics’, but at the same time to ensure that he is loved by the British people. Unlike the colonial dictators who ruled India, he cannot subject the UK to suffering as the British will not elect his party if there is a misstep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is then certainly a sweet post-partition, postcolonial fantasy. And that is all there is to it. While in the past Britain had bled India dry, the reality is that in this reversal of fortunes in which Rishi is in charge of the UK, he will need to ensure that the king gets to keep the Koh-i-Noor. In case you thought he was going to suddenly charge into the Tower of London and return it, remember he is a very “British” prime minister, even though he looks just like us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Kishwar Desai</b> is an award-winning author, whose latest book,</i> The Longest Kiss: The Life and Times of Devika Rani, <i>has just won the national award for the best book on Indian cinema.</i></p> Sat Oct 29 19:31:08 IST 2022 india-uk-fta-trade-agreement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rishi Sunak has made history by becoming the first person of colour to become British prime minister. The biggest challenge for him, however, will not be history, as the UK faces a looming economic crisis made worse by the Ukraine war. In his first speech after taking charge, Sunak warned that difficult decisions would soon follow. Sunak needs to ensure that the upcoming winter does not turn out to be a winter of discontent for the British public and the Conservative Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conservatives remain a much divided house. And Sunak will have to rally the rank and file to prove that he is the right person to lead the party into the next general elections. Along with economy, foreign policy, too, will be a major challenge. In a phone call with US President Joe Biden, which was dominated by the Ukraine war, Sunak stressed the importance of working together with Washington to enhance stability across the world. He also reiterated Anglo-American support for the people of Ukraine. On China, too, Sunak is unlikely to deviate from existing policy. The readout of his phone call with Biden said the two leaders agreed to “address the challenges posed by China”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has embraced Sunak with great warmth. And ties with India could prove to be a major opportunity as well as challenge for Sunak, who was called “the living bridge of UK Indians” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking at the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) diaspora event in August, Sunak said that he wanted to make it easy for British students to travel to India and for British and Indian companies to work together. “It is not just a one-way relationship, it is a two-way relationship, and that is the type of change I want to bring to that relationship,” said Sunak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest challenge for Sunak is to bring the Free Trade Agreement back on track. The signing of the agreement has already missed the Diwali deadline announced by former prime minister Boris Johnson. Liz Truss, too, was committed to wrap up the deal, at least by Christmas. It is now up to Sunak to deliver it. “Concluding the FTA will signal that Britain is open for business,’’ said Harsh Pant, vice president-studies and foreign policy, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Britain, which is facing a tough economic environment, the FTA will be an important step ahead. It was never going to be easy to begin with. But Sunak will find it even more difficult, especially with the concerns raised by Home Secretary Suella Braverman about increased immigration. Braverman said the largest group of people who overstayed their visas in the UK were Indians. “I have concerns about having an open border migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” said Braverman. “We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her remarks certainly did not go down well with India. “By raising the issue, Braverman has linked migration to the FTA. Sunak will have to tackle it head on,’’ said Pant. “Everyone will measure the package against this. It will be a tough choice. The economist in him will want to push hard but as a politician he will have to balance this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FTA has the potential to double India-UK bilateral trade by 2030 from the existing £25.7 billion. It could give a major push to the services trade between the two countries, which accounts for 60 per cent of overall annual bilateral trade. Under the FTA, India will be focusing on the services industry, which is why easier visa regimes for professionals is a high priority. Some of the sectors which are expected to benefit from the agreement include information and communications technology, digital services, textiles, pharma, health care and food and beverages. The UK is one of the largest markets for Indian IT services. India is also hoping for concessions on textiles and leather goods. Britain, meanwhile, wants lower tariffs on automobiles and whiskey. Currently, a bottle of Scotch attracts 150 per cent tariff. The Scotch Whiskey Association believes once the tariffs are slashed, exports to India could rise by £1 billion over five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is also eyeing some geopolitical benefits from the FTA. After walking out of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), India needs access to newer markets. The FTA with the UK will also give a fillip to its free trade talks with the European Union, which have been stalled for some time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Sunak, a successful FTA with India will be a major political and economic success as the UK tries to find its way in a chaotic post-Brexit world. He has promised to “build an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit, where businesses invest, innovate and create jobs”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems it is up to Sunak to make history once again.</p> Sat Oct 29 19:33:31 IST 2022 xi-jinping-china-third-term <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev went to Peking on an official visit in July-August 1958, chairman Mao Zedong chose an unusual venue for one of their meetings―his private swimming pool. “You look after Europe, and leave Asia to us,” Mao told Khrushchev. The Soviet leader, however, was not impressed. “No one has authorised us to look after Europe,” he replied. “Who authorised you to take care of Asia?” The encounter between the two communist leaders, described in A Diplomat’s Diary: The Tantalising Triangle-China, India and USA by T.N. Kaul, turned out to be prophetic as the Soviet empire collapsed three decades later. Khrushchev was a failure in the pool, but Mao was a proficient swimmer―he once swam across the mighty Yangtze. And President Xi Jinping is turning out to be a worthy successor to Mao.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi is on the cusp of asserting his ‘core’ lineage―only Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin enjoy the status so far―at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) being held in Beijing from October 16 to 22. The stage is already set with the factional balance in the politburo tilting in Xi’s favour. Members not loyal enough were purged over the last five years, dismantling the ‘one party, two factions’ mechanism introduced to make the system more democratic. With his loyalists dominating the party congress, the composition of the seven-member politburo standing committee will primarily be decided by Xi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The injection of young blood is expected to gain priority, from the top echelons down to the composition of the new central committee. For a country which has an ageing population and significant economic challenges, Xi’s attempts at consolidation of power for stability have become attractive and even necessary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi is both radical and nationalist in his ideology, a departure from the policies perfected by both Mao and Deng. Mao’s communist ideology might have shaped his initial years because of the Cultural Revolution, but he has mixed it with modern-day hypernationalism. On the other hand, Deng’s idea “to get rich is glorious’’ and his experiment with liberalising the economy is not Xi’s prescription for improving the economic status of the people. Xi has re-asserted state control over the economy and has plans to reduce the dependance on the dollar to ensure greater financial self-reliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A month ago, before the party congress began, Xi gave a speech that was published in the CCP’s Seeking Truth magazine, where he cautioned the party against going the Soviet way. It meant that Xi wanted complete control over the party dispensation and the military,” said M.V. Rappai, China analyst at the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi. “The message was clear. Xi was going to choose party men and soldiers who were loyal to him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The battle within has been won. By October 24, the party congress will put its final seal of approval for an unprecedented third term for Xi―a departure from the three-decade tradition of limiting presidency to two five-year terms. After new amendments formalise his status as ‘core’ of the party leadership in the next few days, all eyes are now on Xi’s inner circle. Key changes are likely to occur in the CCP top brass with the retirement of important leaders. Li Keqiang, 67, is likely to retire from the post of premier in March. His power was visibly diminished under Xi; even his reforms-oriented approach did not seem to align fully with Xi’s vision. He may, however, get reappointed as chairman of the parliament that will allow him to remain in the politburo standing committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two other members of the standing committee, first vice premier Han Zheng and vice premier Liu He―a close confidant of Xi―are also due for retirement having crossed the age of 68. Li Zhanshu (72), the oldest member of the standing committee, is also expected to step down. Most Xi acolytes are expected to be promoted. Top aide Ding Xuexiang (60), Chongqing party chief Chen Min’er (62), the party’s no 2 propaganda official Li Shulei (58) and top security official Wang Xiaohong (65) figure on this list. Foreign Minister Wang Yi (69), too, is expected to be promoted as the incumbent foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi (72) is due to retire. After the politburo, changes are likely in the central military commission, the top CCP organisation that oversees the armed forces and the military policy. Xi has always drawn his power from the military; he became CMC chairman even before he became president and he has focused heavily on military reforms over the past ten years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, within China, Xi’s ideology has emerged as the priority solution to steer the country through its economic and security concerns. China, however, will continue to face formidable challenges in foreign policy and military superiority, especially from the United States and Russia, in its attempts to transform itself into a full-fledged superpower. The immediate military challenge for China during Xi’s third term will be to keep the pressure up on two fronts―the unification of Taiwan and the attempts to create prolonged stress on the Line of Actual Control with India, especially at a time when US-China relations have sunk to their lowest levels. These factors will determine whether Xi will be more ambitious and assertive on the international stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“While there is not a specific mention of India, Xi’s speech [at the party congress] alludes to security several times, about safeguarding China’s core interests and the PLA modernisation. It suggests that the outcome can impinge on India’s interests as well,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of China studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “Xi’s assertion that ‘zero Covid’ policy is needed to save lives means that border controls will not be relaxed anytime soon, resulting in hardship to Indian students and businesses. Despite the recent limited progress on visas, thousands are affected by China’s Covid policies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda (retd), former northern Army commander, said New Delhi had not forgotten the experience of the Galwan valley clashes and would have to adopt a cautious approach before celebrating the disengagement between the militaries in the Gogra-Hot Springs area of eastern Ladakh. “In Demchok and Depsang, patrolling by Indian troops has been denied so far. These areas are critical and any dilution can delay a resolution,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deliberations at the party congress are critical to the future of Taiwan as well. “There is definitely a hardening of position around Taiwan. Xi has reiterated his stance about the use of force to unite Taiwan with the mainland, which cannot be ruled out in his third term,’’ said Rup Narayan Das, senior fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The mayoral elections in Taiwan are scheduled for November 26 and it will be held along with a referendum to reduce the age limit for voting from 20 to 18. “The proposal, if passed, will bring more young voters who are inclined toward democracy, which will disturb China. We cannot rule out more military drills,” he said. Tien-sze Fang, deputy director at the Centre for India Studies at the National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, said the immediate challenge to Taiwan was huge as the US had its own interests in mind. “The US wants to maintain strategic ambiguity to maximise its interests,’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is growing unease in the Indo-Pacific region as the great jamboree unfolds in China. As Xi begins his third term, cyber intelligence teams are already witnessing an increase in Chinese tactics of psychological and informational warfare to win a war without fighting.</p> Fri Oct 21 18:01:53 IST 2022 meeting-xi-jinping-father-xi-zhongxun <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Xi Jinping is unlike any other princeling I knew in China. He was born in Beijing but he grew up in the countryside where he got brainwashed by Mao Zedong’s ideology. Today, he is the only second generation princeling who can be called a modern day Red Guard. It is the biggest qualification that sets him apart and could help him get a third term, if not life term, as president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the time I spent in China, I discovered that the princelings were brainwashed by the official line. I was there along with my father, Gyalo Thondup, who was the Dalai Lama’s first personal representative. From 1980 to 1993, I followed my father to China. It was during those visits that we got acquainted with Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun. He was a politburo member and one of the leading officials who interacted with the Dalai Lama when he visited Beijing in 1954 to meet Mao. Xi Zhongxun was a reformer who realised that China had committed a lot of mistakes in Tibet. The Dalai Lama got along very well with him and even gifted him a Rolex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember the time when Xi Zhongxun invited us for dinner. When we met him, he told us that they had arranged a trip to our homeland. “Where is our homeland?” we asked him. Xi Zhongxun replied that since we were born in Qinghai, we were being sent there. My father got very irritated and said, “But you promised us that you would send us to Tibet.” Xi Zhongxun, however, said it was not possible to guarantee our security there. My father told him that we were not interested in visiting Qinghai and that we were discontinuing the dialogue. He also announced that we would be returning to India the very next day. Xi Zhongxun was perplexed and promised that we would be allowed to visit Tibet the next time. But my father told him that the Chinese were not sincere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to our departure for India, I arranged to meet some Tibetans who had come to Beijing for a visit and gave them 10,000 photos of the Dalai Lama to be distributed in Tibet. So my father and I managed to outsmart our minders. But can anyone outsmart the modern day Red Guard? It seems like a tough job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my conversations with many second-generation princelings in and out of China, I have been told that Xi Jinping has only a basic education. His mindset is completely influenced by his idol Mao and his strategy is to get rid of all competition by using anti-corruption laws and the ruse of national security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party progresses, Xi Jinping is preparing for a third term at the helm. An important aspect of his last two terms has been the expansion of the concept of national security. He has turned national security into a key paradigm that permeates all aspects of governance. His quest for a comprehensive national security framework has resulted in a state of hyper-vigilance with wide-reaching impact on state-society relations, China’s economic growth model and the manner in which the leadership enforces its interests abroad. This “securitisation of everything” extends beyond Xi Jinping’s tenure and will continue to define China’s domestic and international behaviour until there is a substantial ideological shift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is the son of Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother and his former personal representative to China.</b></p> Fri Oct 21 17:57:28 IST 2022 how-indian-americans-are-fighting-hate-crimes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Stand-up comic Ritu Chandra cannot forget the ferocity of the attack, even after a year. Chandra and a friend were walking her dog at Columbia Park in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey—as she had done for the past 14 years—when an older white woman charged at them, shouting obscenities. “She just screamed at us,’’ said Chandra, recollecting the incident that happened on July 17, 2021. She had the presence of mind to whip her phone out and record the attack. The now viral video shows the woman shouting, “You f**king c***k bi**h’’ and trying to grab something out of her pocket. It shows a glimpse of the increasing vitriol directed at Asian Americans across the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) at the University of California, San Bernardino, shows a 339 per cent increase in anti-Asian crime last year compared with the year before. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles have seen a sharp spike. “It is definitely real and rising,’’ said Kani Ilangovan, who leads Make Us Visible NJ, a group fighting for the stories of Asian Americans to be included in the school curriculum. “In New Jersey, hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed by over 80 per cent during the pandemic. According to Stop AAPI Hate (a non-profit organisation which tracks hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), one in three AAPI parents report that their child experienced a hate incident at school in the past year,’’ said Ilangovan. The most visible hate crime happened on March 16, 2021, when a gunman shot and killed eight people in Atlanta. Six of the victims were Asian women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Joe Biden has expressed concern about the rise in hate crimes. Last year, he signed bipartisan legislation targeting hate crime, especially against Asian Americans. “Hate has no place in America,’’ he tweeted, signing off on the bill. Biden hosted a summit at the White House against hate crimes on September 15, bringing together local leaders, experts and survivors. “It is so important that we keep hollering,’’ he said. “It is so important for people to know that is not who we are.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been a steady rise of hate crime against Asians from the time the pandemic started. A 124 per cent jump in hate crimes were reported in 2020 compared with 2019, according to the CSHE report. New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are the leading offenders. The situation is not much different in other cities as well. Lakhwant Singh was attacked viciously by a customer in his store in Lakewood, Colorado, in April 2020. Eric Breemen walked into the store, damaged several items and told Singh and his wife “go back to your country’’. Singh went outside to take a picture of his licence plate and Breeman rammed his car into him, throwing him across the parking lot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In March 2020, the Chinese for Affirmative Action, the AAPI Equity Alliance and the San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies department launched the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center. In the first week itself, it got 600 reports. Within a month, the number went up to 1,500. A report released two years later, which documented 11,500 incidents, makes for grim reading.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This number is just the tip of the iceberg,’’ said the report. The nationally representative report found that one in five Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders experienced a hate incident in 2020 or 2021. The most vulnerable groups are women and children. In 2021, the Stop AAPI Hate clocked 4,533 incidents till June. Nearly two-thirds were instances of verbal harassment. And there seems to be no let up even as life returns to pre-pandemic normalcy. Four Indian American women were racially abused by a Mexican-American woman, Esmeralda Upton, in Dallas, on August 24. “I hate you f**king Indians,” said Upton, who asked the four Indian Americans to go back to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have experienced racism before,’’ said Chandra. “But it was quieter.’’ She spoke of a time when she went to check out an apartment, but was politely told that it had been taken. The next day, Chandra asked a white friend of hers to show interest in the apartment, and she found out that the reason she did not get the apartment was that she was brown. “After Donald Trump became president, there were no consequences [for racist behaviour]. People felt empowered to use racial slurs,” said Chandra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, in the post-Trump, post-truth pandemic era, the situation remains grim. “There definitely has been a surge of xenophobia and discrimination that has targeted Asian Americans, driven at least in part by pandemic-fuelled racism,’’ said Sim J. Singh Attariwala, senior manager of policy and advocacy at the Sikh Coalition, a community-based organisation. “It is difficult to say how much of that includes or drives anti-Sikh hate, but we know from the data gathered by the FBI that anti-Sikh hate crimes are generally on the rise as well, and that Sikhs are consistently among the top five most targeted religious groups.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But just documenting hate crimes is not enough. The road to justice, or even acknowledgement, is not easy. Lakhwant chose to contact the Sikh Coalition to pursue his case, and hate crime was added to the charges against Breeman. For Chandra, it was different. The incident might have been pursued by the police as a hate crime, but the local prosecutor chose to ignore the charge, saying “it was not the right racial slur’’ to make the case. “It is like saying she was a dumb racist,’’ said Chandra, “as if that made it less of a violation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandra is still trying to live with the lack of justice. “I feel I am being treated unfairly,’’ she said. “I have been told that this country is about equality. When you find out that you have been disregarded, it is infuriating. I knew I was going to fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She, however, is not alone. The rise of hate crimes against Asians has shown the victims that resistance is not only about fighting for stricter laws or action, but also about ensuring that their stories are told. Make Us Visible NJ aims to do just that. Founded in January 2021, Make Us Visible, which began as a collaboration of two parents and a teacher, intends to go beyond documenting hate crimes. It strives to find a way to counter hate crimes by focusing on inclusion rather than on differences.&nbsp;The group has successfully lobbied for the passage of the AAPI Curriculum Bill which mandates that NJ students in grades K-12 will learn AAPI history and contributions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was born here,’’ said Ilangovan. “This is my homeland. It is really heartbreaking that there are some people who have been here for five generations, but are still treated as foreigners because of how they look. I want my children to feel safe in this country. This is their home.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first step is to ensure that their contributions do not remain invisible. “This project shows our belonging,’’ said Ilangovan. “There are so many civil rights successes that are from Asian Americans. The ability of girls to play sports in school, the labour rights movement, civil rights and so many different things Asian Americans fought for. But people don’t know these things.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In New Jersey, where hate crimes have been rising steadily for the past three years, it is all the more important as the demographics are changing. The recent census showed that 11 per cent of the population in the state is now Asian American. In Jersey City, the number is even higher at 28 per cent. The only way the next generation will be able to fight hate crime is if they find themselves represented in their books. “In my own school district, majority students are a minority,” said Sima Kumar, an educator with Make Us Visible NJ. “The demography of students is changing and the curriculum needs to keep up with these changes to reflect the experiences of students of colour.’’</p> Thu Oct 20 22:56:36 IST 2022 pakistan-might-already-have-pressed-button-for-self-destruction-general-jj-singh-retd <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In its chequered history, Pakistan has endured turbulent times, and today it faces some of its biggest challenges: governance of a nation comprising five disparate entities—Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, Pashtunistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)—the extremist monster created by it in the 1970s and 1980s, political instability and, to top it all, a collapsing economy. In desperation, Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had in July personally appealed to the US to release $1.7 billion, to help Pakistan’s bailout accord with the International Monetary Fund. Though it is learnt that the US has once again helped Pakistan, it must be understood that such benevolence comes at a huge cost. Even its closest ally, China, is no longer ready to give Islamabad interest-free financial packages.</p> <p>Discussing India-Pakistan relations and Pakistan’s obsession with the ‘core issue of Kashmir’ in 2007 with Stephen Cohen, a renowned scholar and Pakistan expert, I commented that ‘the uncontrolled activities of jihadi organisations all over Pakistan, particularly in the Af-Pak border region, had made it the fountainhead of Islamic extremism and terror’. The disastrous consequences of lack of governance, tottering economy, inherent societal schisms and deep-rooted contradictions cannot be wished away. A nuclear-capable Pakistan, which is at war internally and wrestling to remain afloat, has become a concern for the security not only of South Asia, but also the whole world.</p> <p>During the Kargil war, Pakistan initially trotted out the narrative that the fighting was being carried out by ‘Kashmiri freedom fighters’ and the mujahideen, and that their army had nothing to do with it. This was disproved within a few days when the search of the dead bodies of the intruders clad in black kurta-pyjamas provided incontrovertible evidence such as their military identity cards, diaries, photographs and personal documents. Even till the end of Pervez Musharraf’s misadventure, we did not find any of those mujahideen. Subsequently, Osama bin Laden was discovered and killed in his hideaway in close proximity of the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, Abbottabad. All along, the Pakistani establishment claimed not to know about his whereabouts. Brilliantly summed up by well-known Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida, “If we didn’t know [Osama was in Abbottabad], we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state.”</p> <p>Pakistanis cannot continue to play this double game any longer if they want to avoid being ostracised by the world. Interestingly, the Taliban have claimed that the Pakistanis ‘feed them with one hand and kill them with the other’. This attribute has once again been demonstrated in the hunting down of Ayman al-Zawahiri, a top-level Al Qaeda leader and a key planner of the 9/11 terror attacks.</p> <p>The people of Pakistan are at a crossroads. They have to decide whether they wish to be a moderate and progressive Islamic nation living in peace with their neighbours under a democratically elected government and not a puppet regime under the shadow of the deep state. Furthermore, they need to take control of their destiny and not allow it to be at the mercy of the army, the Taliban of Pakistan or Afghanistan variety, or Al Qaeda and other obscurantist elements. Apparently, the army has come to the conclusion that governing Pakistan and sorting out the mess are beyond its capability, although it is unlikely that the generals would let the civilian government decide on security matters and the Kashmir policy.</p> <p>For people of our generation who had to abandon our land, homes and properties in erstwhile Punjab, Sind or east Bengal of undivided Hindustan, there is a deep-seated and heartfelt yearning to visit the birthplace of our ancestors, feel its soil and partake the daana–paani (food and water). Freedom of travel and greater people-to-people interaction and an increase of economic ties and trade just as one finds in Europe today is an ardent desire and dream for all of us in South Asia. For this scenario to become reality, the onus now lies squarely on the leadership and power elites of all nations concerned, but primarily with those of Pakistan.</p> <p>On the positive side, one can sense certain signs of change in Pakistan, such as the questioning of the army and the establishment (<i>hukumraan</i>), although muted at present, as to where their nation is headed. The people are confused and restive at the same time. A Pakistani passport holder often has to endure a stricter scrutiny before his entry into western countries. Pakistan must acknowledge the fact that a rapidly rising India is in a different league altogether. The Indian tricolour was willingly carried by students of Pakistan and other countries to get out of Ukraine. In the UK and many other countries, Pakistani restaurateurs prominently display ‘Indian names and cuisine’ on their billboards because of the advantages that accrue by being associated with brand India and its rich cultural heritage.</p> <p>An accurate observation made by Lieutenant General Gul Hassan Khan (retd), the sixth and last commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army, in his autobiography, <i>Memoirs</i>, “I am not clear in my own mind in which direction Pakistan is heading. The sooner those at the helm of affairs realise this lack of direction, the less misfortune we are likely to encounter in the future.” Unfortunately, this sane advice given almost three decades ago seems to have fallen on deaf ears.</p> <p>It is very likely that despite the wishes of the US, China, India or the rest of the world to see a stable and prosperous Pakistan, it might still implode. In fact, I went to the extent of telling Cohen that the button for self-destruction might have already been pressed. The onus of saving their country now rests with the people of Pakistan who need to snap the already-lit fuse before it reaches the detonator, and arrest the downward slide of their nation into chaos and destruction.</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">The writer is former chief of the Army staff.</b><br> </p> Sun Sep 25 13:44:55 IST 2022 under-the-ideologically-tenacious-liz-truss-britain-could-shift-to-a-hard-right-agenda <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So, Liz Truss it is. Britain’s new prime minister is Margaret Thatcher 2.0. That is not necessarily a compliment nor good news for 99.9 per cent of Britons. The 0.1 per cent of hard-right “selectors” who chose Truss to lead the Conservative Party and thus succeed Boris Johnson find her bracing. But the rest of Britain is bracing for tough times, if not disaster. Says political commentator Peter Oborne, “Liz Truss is terrifically out of depth. She is a dangerous joke.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is easy to mock Truss, but she could do more damage to Britain than Johnson ever did because of her “ideological, pro-rich, evidence-free policies”, says author and social democrat Polly Toynbee. A Truss aide quipped off the record, “What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and Liz Truss? A Rottweiler eventually lets go.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truss is fabled for flip-flopping and dumping policies when they do not suit her. But she is ideologically tenacious on the hard-right agenda—lowering taxes, reducing benefits, removing “green” levies, increasing military expenditure and more privatisation and deregulation. In her victory speech, Truss said, “I campaigned as a conservative and I will govern as a conservative.” These policies are not merely controversial and divisive, but destructive, as she inherits a Britain reeling under the multiple monster storms of recession, inflation, climate change, bankruptcies, shortages, strikes and cost of living crises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Household incomes have registered their steepest fall in generations—inflation at 10.1 per cent is the highest in 40 years and is set to rise to 13 per cent by year end, according to the Bank of England. The 80 per cent rise in energy prices will soon inflate bills to around Rs4 lakh per annum, plunging two-thirds of Britain into “energy poverty” and taking winter heating from an abject necessity to a luxury of the rich. Says Juliet Sanders of Feeding Families charity, “People cannot afford to warm up, let alone cook.” Food banks are doling out meal packs of breadcrumbs and chickpeas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cutting welfare benefits has been compared to throwing grenades into poor households. For six million people who depend on handouts for survival, this could be the “eat or heat winter”. Old ghosts of the elderly freezing in unheated homes are exhumed once again. Political analyst Owen Jones says Truss “puts hard-right ideology above lives”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Truss was voted to victory by her tiny ideology-driven base, her rise to prime ministership is legal, in accordance with Tory laws. But her legitimacy is doubtful because she did not even get a majority from her own MPs, let alone the country’s. She was the poor third choice of Tory parliamentarians whose favourite was rival candidate Rishi Sunak. However, the Tory “selectorate”—an influential, affluent, narrow base of 1,41,725, mostly English, middle-aged, male Brexiteers—has the disproportionate power to select their leader and Truss won with 81,326 votes. Says The Guardian’s associate editor Martin Kettle, “Truss will be a prime minister imposed from outside parliament. This has not happened in Britain’s parliamentary system since the unreformed era when monarchs still chose their first ministers, about 200 years ago. It will have political, and arguably also constitutional, implications.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truss dashed hopes of metamorphosing from a partisan campaigner for “Little England” to an inclusive prime minister of the United Kingdom. She announced her priority: tax cuts and higher spending to find a way out of recession. Truss does not explain how tax cuts and higher military budget allow this. The only route available is to borrow more money, which has been deemed reckless by experts. Public debt is now at 96 per cent of the GDP, the highest in 60 years. Economists fear that rising interest rates will make Britain’s swelling public debt unsustainable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truss is the trusted Tory trophy girl. But she is also a prisoner of the Brexiteers. Doggedly delivering on their agenda could take Britain on a confrontational path, domestically and internationally. Lowering taxes—which, according to many estimates, can cost more than £50 billion a year—is a red rag. Her insurance rate cut gives the poor £7.66 annually, while the rich pockets £1,801. Shrinking the National Health Service when seven million people are wait-listed for hospital treatment is a public nightmare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A group of 40 organisations warned that Truss’s policies would damage public health, workers’ rights, food safety, welfare standards, consumer protection and the environment. “Strong protections and rules are part of Britain’s success story. They are the invisible framework that keep our society running,” says Emma Rose, director of Unchecked, one of the organisations that issued the warning. Britain’s left-right divide becomes a chasm as unions regard Truss's policies as “the old Tory campaign of privatising and transferring wealth from taxpayers to shareholders.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Britain’s summer of discontent saw endless strikes by port, rail, telecom and postal workers who demanded higher wages to cope with higher food and fuel prices. Heathrow airport was in perpetual chaos as no-show airline staff and aircraft stranded thousands of passengers. Dustbins overflowed, and so did sewage. Francis O' Grady, general secretary of the British Trade Union Congress, said that due to inflation, workers lost £20,000 annually. “The workers are striking. They are saying enough is enough,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summer of discontent can deteriorate into a winter of disorder. More strikes are planned unless Truss compromises. Labour unrest is reaching the ugly proportions of the inflation-ridden 1970s and 1980s. Truss’s idol, Margaret Thatcher, crushed striking workers back then, cementing her “Iron Lady” nickname. She literally starved the miners into submission, refusing to compromise as they protested for a year without pay. Finally, they returned to work without a settlement. But that was then. Now, Truss must tackle several worsening domestic crises, simultaneously and quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many Tories, however, remain hopeful. “Liz Truss is a strong character, and I think that is what we need to take our country forward,&quot; says party MP Penny Mordaunt, who was an initial frontrunner in the PM race. But taking judicious steps to solve these problems could invite Tory backbench revolts that had periodically paralysed prime ministers like David Cameron and Theresa May.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On foreign policy, Truss will be provocative and hawkish. She is likely to be hostile to Russia and suspicious of China. She risks triggering trade wars with the European Union by violating the Northern Ireland treaty that enshrines borderless trade between Britain and Ireland. That would only deepen Britain’s coming recession. But she promotes trade with commonwealth nations. Britain proudly proclaims a “special relationship” with the United States. Yet, Truss’s cocky attitude to the US seems to be, as pop star Janet Jackson sings, “What have you done for me lately?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This conceit is a colonial hangover that Brexiteers wear like a halo. They still inhabit the Churchillian panorama of world stages, British values and global roles. Broadcaster Simon Jenkins says Truss “uses the same language of strutting interventionism… funding her imperial outreach by starving her welfare state to gouge £10 billion for defence—justifiable by no knowable threat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts fear the unmanageable and worsening domestic situation will force Truss to call an early election. The math-loving gambler thinks she could win a clear mandate and transform herself into a real Maggie Thatcher, an authentic upgrade from her current photo-op, photoshop version. But as the wizard of Oz says, “Not so fast, not so fast, my dear”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Making Truss prime minister was a tactical move by the Brexiteers. Their true love remains Johnson. If she does not deliver on their demands, Brexiteers could mercilessly topple her and re-install their idol. Several Tory MPs are suffering from “assassins’ remorse” for ousting Johnson in the wake of his untenable string of scandals. Polls affirm that the former prime minister remains the most popular Tory vote-getter. And the BBB (Bring Back Boris) campaign has already begun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People are relieved that the Sunak–Truss cringe contest for leadership is over. Their campaign, dubbed “the season of dark arts”, was widely seen as childish and churlish, petty and poisonous. Towards the end, party chiefs cancelled their TV debates. Former cabinet minister David Davis said this was “the dirtiest campaign” he had ever seen. Truss won, but without the landslide she expected. The hatchet is anything but buried as dark arts quiver in a season of darkness caused by blackouts. With daggers drawn, assassins prowl in parks and parliament, in private chambers and cupboards—Truss allegedly has a few skeletons, including some juicy tricks and trysts. Johnson’s parting words to Truss were, “Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror.” That is where the backstabbers lurk. He knows. So does May. So did Thatcher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After she made it on to the final ballot of the PM race, Truss tweeted that she would “hit the ground from day one”, carelessly omitting the word “running”. Critics call it a Freudian slip suggesting a crash-landing in office. But that is also what happens when you keep looking at the rear-view mirror. The misery of all Tory prime ministers has been their backstabbing backbenchers, not the voters or opposition parties. Truss’s story is unlikely to be any different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A YouGov poll reveals only 12 per cent of Britons expect Truss to be a good prime minister. She begins her tenure the way Maggie Thatcher ended hers—unpopular in her own party and in the rest of the country. An old saying goes, disasters come in threes. For Britain, there was Brexit, then the pandemic and....</p> <p>But she should be given the benefit of the doubt. At least for now.</p> Sat Sep 10 16:07:41 IST 2022 taiwan-strait-tensions-civilians-in-taiwan-learning-self-defence-guerrilla-warfare <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KINMEN, A GROUP</b> of islands governed by Taiwan, and Xiamen, a port city in China, are barely 15km apart. These two critical frontiers are the first to feel the impact of cross-strait tensions. It has been no different this time. In the last one month, armies of both countries have propped up their artillery guns, stocked up ammunition and readied defence deployments and positions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The small islets which make up the Republic of China (Taiwan) have witnessed numerous drone “incursions” since August 4 that have kept both the military and the civilians on their toes. Chinese drones have been spotted over the waters surrounding Kinmen, Matsu, Dongyin and several other islets. In response, Taiwan is bolstering its defences on the outlying islands, in addition to making preparations on the main island.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 1, the Kinmen defence command spotted a drone in restricted air space just after midday. It was given a warning and when this was disregarded, it was shot down—a first during the ongoing tensions. This action demonstrated the seriousness with which Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is treating the continued violations of the Taiwan Strait’s median line and Taiwanese airspace by an aggressive China. The People’s Liberation Army did not claim the fallen drone. In fact, the PLA ignored the incident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taiwanese see the presence of unidentified civilian drones over the islets as part of China’s grey-zone tactics. In grey-zone warfare, the aggressor stops short of an actual war, but comes menacingly close, trying to exhaust the opponent by keeping them in a state of high alertness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 4, Taiwanese troops found Chinese tea eggs (popular snacks made by slightly cracking a boiled egg and boiling it again in tea and sauce/spices) on a beach in Lieyu. The food package is suspected to have been brought by another Chinese drone; the incident was attributed to cross-strait social media fights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taiwan’s National Security Council, which advises the president on major national security policy decisions, is planning to tweak its defence policies to handle new-age threats. The existing policies take into account aircraft and missiles, but not drones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Archipelagos like Kinmen and Matsu have long been governed by Taiwan. Kinmen, also called the golden gate of Taiwan, faced the brunt of the PLA’s ferocity when Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan with his forces in 1949. They managed to prevent the PLA from taking control of the island, which is of strategic importance today. “Kinmen also faced heavy shelling in 1958 when China launched a large-scale artillery attack, but with its strong fortresses and positions, it reported few casualties,” said Shen Ming-shih, acting deputy CEO of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, Taiwan. He added that the US had also provided large artillery guns and ammunition then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the face of a possible Chinese attack, the defence deployment and positions of Kinmen and Matsu are very strong, said Shen. However, he added that after cross-strait tensions eased in 1991, deployment and defence positions in Kinmen and Matsu were scaled down and some places were even opened to tourists. Kinmen has a large, hillside, indoor space—Chintien hall—where troops can be sheltered without being spotted by China. “The command post and barracks at Kinmen were underground bunkers,” said Shen. “However, because of the changed situation, barracks were made over ground and troops would move underground only during an emergency.” Now, the Taiwanese military is considering refurbishing its positions in the outlying islands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both China and Taiwan are keen to avoid an escalation and understand the importance of the golden gate. Kinmen is the gateway for people travelling to Xiamen and enjoys deep economic, cultural and social ties with the mainland. When Tsai was the chair of the Mainland Affairs Committee after the Democratic Progressive Party came to power in 2000, she established the mini three links (mail, transportation and trading) between the outlying islands and China. Direct, cross-strait flights started a few years later. Shen said the mini three links were suspended because of Covid-19. “But, they hold the promise to resume in the future and will be useful for businessmen and tourists,” said Shen. The ruling DPP and the opposition Kuomintang, which holds sway in some of the islets, both appreciate the need to restore normalcy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chen Kuan-ting, CEO of the Taiwan NextGen Foundation, said that like many mature economies, Taiwan, too, has its share of opportunities and challenges as it attracts tourists and investments from all over the world. “The problem we are facing today is from China, but we can overcome these challenges by getting closer to our allies like the US, Japan and India, and ensure that our security is guarded collectively.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Taiwan is also preparing its 20-million-plus civilian population to guard their country. Puma Shen, chairperson of DoubleThink Labs, which is battling Chinese disinformation campaigns, has taken the lead in training civilians in self-defence and guerrilla warfare. “We started training civilians in self-defence last year because of rising military tensions with China. Even though our country will not initiate a war, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves,” Puma told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, military training is not a new experience for the islanders. Taiwan has followed a policy of conscription for all males above 18; they learn basic defence skills for a year. The policy is now proving useful. “There is much enthusiasm to join the self-defence course,” said Puma. “Slowly, we are planning online classes as well to cover the entire population. We are holding basic courses and advanced ones. We have already trained our population in disaster control measures.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also emphasis in Taiwan on creating civilian cyber armies to aid its already strong cyber defence army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Beijing’s grey-zone warfare continues, the need of the hour for Taipei is greater collaboration with friendly countries.</p> Sat Sep 10 15:57:08 IST 2022 taiwans-democracy-can-be-a-viable-model-for-china-kuomintang-leader-chih-yung-ho <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE KUOMINTANG,</b> the founding party of Taiwan and the island’s largest opposition party, is performing a delicate balancing act. Even as Taiwan encounters a major national security crisis, the Kuomintang tries to keep both China and the US happy at the same time. While China fired missiles and performed aggressive military manoeuvres in the Taiwan Strait after the visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Kuomintang vice chairman Andrew Hsia flew to China, much to the displeasure of President Tsai Ing-wen. Speaking exclusively with THE WEEK, Chih-Yung Ho, deputy director of the Kuomintang’s department of culture and communication, conceded that within his party there were different perspectives about Taiwan’s political future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Kuomintang looks like an ageing party with an old perspective.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Kuomintang traces its establishment to the Revive China Society overseas in 1894 supported by young revolutionaries. So, of course, we are a century-old political party. In the modern age, we hope to attract young people by convincing them that we are a moderate, professional and responsible force. On national identity, I believe that the Kuomintang should remain loyal to our history. Based on history and international law, Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to the Republic of China (ROC). Since the times of the late Ming and Ching (Qing) dynasties, Taiwan has been an ethnic Chinese society, and more than 95 per cent of our population today are Han Chinese. While we inherit pluralistic western, Japanese, indigenous, and even southeast Asian influences, Chinese language and culture predominate. Chinese culture is Taiwan’s valuable legacy and heritage. We have a responsibility to preserve our Chinese culture in Taiwan, but also let it evolve and flourish with modern, creative Taiwanese characteristics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Kuomintang has reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. We urge authorities in Beijing to recognise the fact that Taiwan exists, and cease its coercive tactics so that cross-strait relations can move forward. We believe that international friends like Speaker Nancy Pelosi have a right to visit Taiwan. But both sides of the Taiwan Strait and international stakeholders like the United States should exercise restraint, so that we can avoid misjudgment from unnecessarily escalating tensions. As cross-strait tensions rise, Taiwan should stress that while it does not seek war, it is not afraid of defending its sovereignty. During times of peace, we should strengthen our military preparation so that we can safeguard the security and well-being of our people in the times of crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the Kuomintang support Taiwan’s unification with China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are diverse perspectives within the Kuomintang about Taiwan’s political future. Basically, the party is opposed to Taiwan’s independence and the “one country, two systems” formula proposed by Beijing. Our position is grounded in the ROC constitution and the party charter. In the interest of cross-strait peace and stability, we should maintain the status quo for now. But ideally we want Taiwan and mainland China to be peacefully reunified under a democratic political system, or at least develop peaceful relations. The 1.4 billion compatriots on the Chinese mainland should also enjoy a way of life based upon freedom, democracy and equitable distribution of wealth. We believe that Taiwan’s democracy can serve as a viable political model for the entire Chinese nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ President Tsai Ing-wen completes her term in 2024. How do you see the next presidential elections? Do you expect greater Chinese interference?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Chairman Eric Chu has pledged that the Kuomintang, after being out of power for eight years, will nominate the strongest candidate to run in the 2024 elections. We are working hard to democratise and modernise our party so that it can attract younger voters. We hope that in 2024, the people of Taiwan will give the Kuomintang an opportunity to move Taiwan forward. We are a sovereign state and we are proud that Taiwan is the first and only Chinese democracy in history. While we expect tighter policies and retaliatory measures against Taiwan, we call upon mainland China to respect the will and opinion of our people.</p> Sun Sep 11 11:36:34 IST 2022 amid-gathering-war-clouds-taiwanese-say-they-prefer-democracy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Taipei is usually peaceful. Only an occasional horn or siren cuts through the gentle winds in the capital of Taiwan. Recently, though, something happened in the high skies and the deep blue ocean around it that has caught the attention of the militaries of several countries. On August 2, US House speaker Nancy Pelosi landed on the island and brought with her a political storm. Despite stern warnings by China, Pelosi flew in and met President Tsai Ing-wen. As soon as she left, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) fired multiple ballistic missiles, reportedly 16 of them, into the waters surrounding Taiwan as part of a series of military drills. Taiwan said 11 missiles were fired, Japan observed nine. Japan said five of the missiles landed in its exclusive economic zone, which has contiguous waters with Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the bigger question being asked by the militaries is: Were there more missiles and, if so, where did they go?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Either the radar systems missed them or they were untraceable. The latter possibility is a matter of concern in missile warfare. A third possibility is that a few missiles failed immediately after China launched them. The discrepancy in the numbers can be a worry—especially for China—at a time when Russian missiles in Ukraine failed to hit targets and even malfunctioned, making the US sit up and take notice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a scenario Xi Jinping would not want repeated after the Pelosi visit. Speculation is already on, and militaries of other countries are also talking about it in closed circles. Officially, there is no word from Taiwan, Japan or China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Unlike 26 years ago, when the Taiwan Strait missile crisis happened, we are watching China closely this time. If some of the missiles are missed, whether it is one or four is not the point. The fact is there is some trouble, which means that even if a fraction of their missile launch failed, it puts a big question mark on the PLA’s capability,” said Dr Ying-Yu Lin, assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He claimed that the PLA’s capabilities were definitely not enough to engage in a full-blown military escalation on the Taiwan Strait. It is clear by now that Taiwan is not alone; friendly countries like the US can assist it in various forms, not just militarily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Therefore, China’s military exercises are a giveaway of their capabilities this time, which shows that only numbers do not matter,” said Ying-Yu. “You can fly as many missiles in different directions, north or south. What matters is the strategy that demonstrates the actual military capability of any force. If this was a joint exercise of the PLA forces, the strategy was missing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the only reason the Taiwanese do not seem afraid of China, despite the looming threat of war. Another reason, a more pleasant one, is their opinion polls. Several institutions, including some international ones, regularly conduct surveys on current happenings and even ask the Taiwanese people their take on the government’s decisions. Around two dozen such public polls are published frequently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the questions in two recent surveys—World Values Survey (foreign) and Asian Barometer Survey (Taiwanese)—was whether democracy was suitable for the country. Almost 90 per cent agreed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The citizens participate eagerly in these surveys, and the findings are quoted in classrooms and conferences, and within military circles. The common man also takes cues from these polls to make up his mind about where he fits in with the China discussions and within the political spectrum of Taiwan. The two major parties are the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, with a green flag, and the Kuomintang, with a blue flag. Red is not an option in Taiwan. In fact, this reporter saw just one Chinese flag in Taipei.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi Jinping might be the all-powerful leader in China, but when it comes to Taiwan—about 160km east of mainland China—his image apparently does not evoke the same reverence or fear. The latest political trends in Taiwan (what we call “waves” in India) do not bode well for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the realtime opinion polls are conducted using landlines because mobile phones can be hacked. Different pollsters call Taiwanese households randomly, and most people do not hang up. They participate and are excited to see the results later. Slowly, some pollsters are moving to mobile devices, as many young people do not have landlines. This is likely to be a challenge for cyber defence teams in future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the latest polls, there is one on Pelosi. In the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation survey, 53 per cent respondents welcomed her visit to Taiwan; 24 per cent did not. Also, 78 per cent said they were not afraid of Chinese drills; 17 per cent were. Political expert Fu-Kuo Liu agreed that most people welcomed Pelosi’s visit, but said that opinion polls were just for reference. “They are not to be taken too seriously as very few are conducted inside universities and are apolitical,” said Fu-Kou, who is executive director of the Taiwan Center for Security Studies. “So, if we see different public polls, the outcomes are different as they are indirectly supported by political parties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other polls conducted at different times have shown that only a small percentage of the population was leaning towards unification with China. More than 50 per cent chose “status quo”, followed by those who wanted independence. The results keep varying, but the sentiment on the streets is largely pro-status quo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not just a statement on Xi’s diminishing influence on Taiwanese society; it is also reflective of the popularity of President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party, which supports status quo. “President Tsai continues to insist that democracy is the way of life for people in Taiwan,” said Dr I Chung Lai, president of Prospect Foundation, a think tank based in Taiwan. “She emphasises Taiwanese nationalism. Within DPP, a section may feel that she rarely projects it as a driving force to resist China, but the fact remains that she openly supports democracy and that is something the people like.”</p> Sat Aug 27 12:43:32 IST 2022 exclusive-democratic-forces-need-to-join-hands-against-china-says-taiwan-leader <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In March 2014, hundreds of student activists in Taipei marched to Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, and occupied it. They were protesting the Koumintang government’s decision to ratify the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China, aimed at bringing Taiwan and mainland China economically closer. The protests, christened the Sunflower Student movement, attracted global attention and inspired activists in China’s special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau who were fighting against human rights violations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lin Fei-fan was one of the founders of the Sunflower movement. In 2019, he joined the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has been ruling Taiwan since 2016. Lin, 34, is one of seven Taiwanese officials and activists who were recently banned by China from entering Hong Kong, Macao and mainland China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lin says the Sunflower movement saved the island from falling into “the China orbit”. According to him, the expansionist designs of China are not limited to invading Taiwan. “A global threat is evident if you look at China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or its debt diplomacy in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, or its suppression of human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Time has come for all democratic forces to join hands,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ From a cross-strait trade agreement to cross-strait missiles, Taiwan has come a long way in eight years.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Sunflower movement happened when most people were concerned about Taiwan’s relationship with China. The previous government had signed over 20 different agreements with China, and one of the biggest ones was the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. The strategy was to sign a broad range of trade agreements with the government led by the Communist Party of China, followed by a common agreement on commodities, and then initiate a political dialogue for eventual unification.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Koumintang-Beijing agenda was not going in the right direction, and would have been difficult to reverse. The island would have fallen into the China orbit. So we started organising protests, and occupied the parliament for 24 days. Half a million people joined the demonstrations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the status of those 20 agreements?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Some of those agreements still have legal status in Taiwan. But after the DPP came to power in 2016, some of them are not being effectively implemented because of lack of cooperation from China. Example: the judicial cooperation agreement that allows cooperation in criminal extradition matters. We saw that ordinary Taiwanese people visiting China for work were being accused of seditionist activities. They were not being sent back or deported to Taiwan. A stark example is Lee Ming-che, who disappeared in 2017 while on a visit to China and was charged with subversion of state power. He was released only this May, after spending five years in a Chinese prison.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is Taiwan’s judiciary facing any threat from China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ China is using judicial tools as new weapons to interrupt the Taiwanese judiciary. This is creating a lot of legal problems. For example, when Taiwanese criminals break laws in southeast Asian countries, some of them are sent to China instead of Taiwan. China is utilising this as an opportunity to have a long-arm control over judicial jurisdiction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is Taiwan’s policy towards China today?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The policy of President Tsai Ing-wen is clear, and was outlined by her in the “four commitments” speech during the National Day in 2021. The four commitments are: we must commit to a free and democratic constitutional system; we must insist that the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China not be subordinate to each other; we must resist annexation or encroachment upon our sovereignty; and we must commit that the future of the Republic of China (Taiwan) must be decided in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about economic integration with China? Most Taiwanese businesses are connected to mainland China.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The situation is different from what it was decades ago. Maybe a decade ago, many people upheld hopes in the Chinese economy, and they thought economic integration was important and that it was the way to develop the Taiwanese economy. In their view, the Chinese market had created an opportunity. But today, the situation is different, and many investors and companies are moving out of China in search of better markets. Moreover, US-China hostilities have escalated this trend of Taiwanese companies moving out of China, especially in the last two years of the pandemic. These companies and businesses are looking at opportunities in southeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific and Europe. So the trend has changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Don’t you think that the military threat over Taiwan will have a negative impact on Taiwan’s growth?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If you look at history, whenever China posed a military threat to Taiwan, the outcome has always been opposite to China’s expectations. During the first Taiwan Strait missile crisis in 1996, China wanted to intimidate the Taiwanese [and prevent them from] voting for president Lee Teng-hui. This was the year direct voting for presidency was implemented. The outcome [of China’s efforts] was that Lee won a thumping majority and more than 70 per cent of the people came out to vote. The people did not feel scared; they came together in solidarity, showing the will to defeat China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same is happening today, as the youth are attending parties and people are carrying on with their normal lives, [ignoring] fighter jets and threats of invasion. At the same time, the government is preparing to face the threats, reforming its defence systems, and mobilising citizens to prepare for any eventuality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is Taiwan getting enough international support?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Many countries, including the US, are showing solidarity. US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and dignitaries of other friendly countries have come to Taiwan to show support. So, even if China is trying to cut off our diplomatic allies, the will of the people and those who defend democracy get stronger. We hope more countries would extend military or diplomatic support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think of India’s relations with Taiwan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think we have much room for improvement and cooperation. We are trying to develop deeper cooperation in education and cultural ties, but there is great scope for improving economic relations. When I visited New Delhi in April, I heard that only 100 Taiwanese are there in Delhi, which is nothing compared with the Taiwanese presence in southeast Asian countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are facing sanctions by China. Does it affect you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not have family in China or Hong Kong, so it does not affect me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your movement in Taiwan has inspired protests in Hong Kong.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Today, the situation in Hong Kong is sad, as the new head of government is purely a puppet of Beijing. People I know in Hong Kong are either in jail or have fled to countries such as the UK and Taiwan. I feel Beijing will keep suppressing Hong Kong and pursue different agendas, like setting up a new education system where the national identity of China is being pushed as part of the Communist Party of China’s interpretation of history. It is not a good development. The world must realise that the expansionist designs of China are not limited to Taiwan…. All democratic forces need to join hands, and countries like India should think about how to increase cooperation.</p> Sat Aug 27 12:38:00 IST 2022 china-became-aggressive-powerful-under-xi-mumin-chen-taiwanese-diplomat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Mumin Chen, the deputy representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in Delhi and professor of international politics at National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, was the first Taiwanese national to visit Tawang, when he travelled to the border district in Arunachal Pradesh in 2012. It took him three years to get the clearance and the visit was for academic purposes. But it was of great importance for Chen as Tawang is a symbol of the victory of democracy over Chinese aggression. At the moment, his countrymen are experiencing the wrath of the dragon, after the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island nation. He is worried that it would get worse, citing how Russia attacked Ukraine when everyone thought it would not.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Chen feels that the time is ripe for India to strengthen its ties with Taiwan and isolate China militarily and economically. “Many Taiwanese companies are pulling out of China. These companies need an alternative market and manufacturing base, and India can be the ideal destination,”he said in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How are people in Taiwan viewing Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The majority in Taiwan welcome her visit. The visit shows America’s support to Taiwan. It is hugely symbolic of the courage and strength shown by two women world leaders, Pelosi and Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen (the first female president of Taiwan), who are not talking of war games, but about upholding democratic rights and working together for the prosperity of people. Pelosi’s visit to the National Human Rights Museum in Taipei, which is a symbol of Taiwan’s democratic transition, followed by her meetings with prominent human rights advocates, who were once imprisoned in China, displayed her country’s commitment to upholding human rights and democratic values. I have seen mixed reactions in the Indian media and abroad; some welcomed her visit while others said it was not appropriate. But it is the most important message not just to China but to the world that human values and democracy can never be crushed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. With China flexing its military muscle around Taiwan, is the country in imminent danger?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Before Russia attacked Ukraine, did anyone predict it? Everyone said Russia won’t do it. But Russian President Vladimir Putin did it. So whether China will attack our island is something we cannot say because we don’t know what is on Xi Jinping’s mind. No one could guess what was on Putin’s mind, either. He must have his own reasons though some may want to look at it from a geopolitical perspective. The reasons are best known to the leaders who take that decision. I think the same logic applies to the current situation in Taiwan. Xi could be a rational person or not. Who knows! But one thing is clear that if there is escalation of tension or launching an invasion of another country, it will make him a criminal of history. If the Chinese government really cares for the people of Taiwan, then Xi should act more rationally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. There are reports that China wants to complete “re-unification”with Taiwan by 2040.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Firstly, the truth is the People’s Republic of China (PRC) never ruled Taiwan. In fact, it did not even exist in 1945 when the World War II ended and Taiwan was placed under governance of the Republic of China. The PRC was established four years later on October 1, 1949. So there is no reason for them to say that Taiwan is part of China. It is a joke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even common people in Taiwan, who do not have interest in politics, are feeling disgusted at what China is doing today. They have no connection with the PRC and are proud Taiwanese citizens. If the Chinese care about the people of Taiwan, then they should do good towards them. Any so-called unification, even between two individuals can happen through friendship, mutual respect and appeasement, and never through violence and threat. Here are two separate nations. But eventually we will have to wait and watch what Xi is thinking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Taiwan has a huge business presence in China.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Over the past few decades, Taiwanese companies have invested more than $200 billion in China, which is understandable due to geographic proximity and use of the same language. We all had the perception that China will change one day and with time the society will become more plural, liberal and democratic. When I was a scholar in China in 2001, everyone felt that way. But after 2012, since Xi assumed office, China has not only become powerful but also very aggressive. Now many Taiwanese companies are pulling out of China. The business environment is getting worse, the labour cost is high and the Chinese government is forcing Taiwanese companies to show their loyalty to China by respecting the One China policy and so on. Therefore, more and more companies want to pull out. They not only need an alternative market but a manufacturing base as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Do you think India can capitalise on this opportunity to provide a base to Taiwanese companies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Even though India is an ideal destination, many Taiwanese companies go to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and even Bangladesh. India must realise that its competition is not with China but with countries like Vietnam that provide an attractive business environment to Taiwanese companies. Earlier India was not very attractive for Taiwanese business or tourists because of the lack of understanding of people and culture and society. For example, there were stereotypes of high crime rates and crimes against women that deterred the Taiwanese coming in. It has definitely improved a lot today, but there is scope for more bilateral cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. In which areas can India and Taiwan increase cooperation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Most of Taiwan’s trade, tourism and bilateral cooperation is with neighbouring countries like Japan and Korea and ASEAN countries, and also China. Before Covid, every year around 30,000 people from Taiwan came to India and few hundreds from India visited Taiwan. These figures are invisible compared with the nearly one lakh Indians going to Singapore every month. If we look at bilateral trade, India-Taiwan trade is pegged at around $7 billion, which is a drop in the ocean compared with Taiwan’s trade with China ($120 billion). These figures are insignificant and invisible when we look at India as one of the biggest markets with a full potential and a young population. Taiwan sees India as a rising economic power after China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How significant are Taiwan’s ties with India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. India-Taiwan relations started in 1995, when the Indian government established substantial relations with Taiwan. It has been 27 years and it is working well. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in New Delhi is our only diplomatic mission in south Asia. We don’t have offices in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. So the diplomatic mission in Delhi is critical for us. With Taiwan playing a bigger economic and technological role on the global stage, a lot of progress has been made in increasing trade, people-to-people contact and signing several MoUs. However, there is still a lot of scope for improvement on all these fronts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Is China’s control over Buddhism impacting Taiwan as well?</b></p> <p>A. Buddhism in China is fast disappearing because of political control. In Taiwan, 40 per cent are Buddhists, 40 per cent are Taoists and rest belong to other faiths. So we have a substantial population of Buddhists who belong to different sects. It is true that we are different from Tibetan Buddhists and follow practices of Chinese Buddhists. But after China’s control over the religion, Buddhism in China is fading away and today Taiwan is the only country in east Asia where Buddhism is prospering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s role becomes very important here since 40 per cent of all tourists from Taiwan are Buddhist pilgrims who see India as the seat of the origin of Buddhism. They visit Bodh Gaya, Dharamsala and monasteries across Ladakh and even south India. The younger generation of Taiwanese are interested in visiting India and since the topography, weather and even food habits of people in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram are quite similar to ours, India will do well to promote tourism in a bigger way. With Ladakh being given a Union territory status, it has become easier for foreign tourists to go there. I think for any country to assert its territorial integrity and boundaries, the best way is to allow foreign tourists to visit those places.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:54:14 IST 2022 how-aragalaya-is-helping-heal-wounds-of-sri-lankas-civil-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Angelo Kulasuriya was an angry man in 2010. Now he is furious, but also oddly elated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 38-year-old was a police inspector in Colombo from 2005 to 2010, when the civil war was at its peak and the writ of the Rajapaksas—president Mahinda and defence secretary Gotabaya—ran throughout Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas had come to power riding on the anger of people like Angelo, who had for long wanted the decades-long insurgency to end. The Rajapaksas were finally stamping it out, and Angelo thought highly of their determined efforts to unite the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came rumours of human rights violations during the war. Angelo’s sense of unease grew, and in 2010, when the rumours became widespread allegations, he quit his job. He remained, though, a fanboy of the Rajapaksas. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, he voted for the Gotabaya-Mahinda campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, though, Angelo sees the Rajapaksas in a starkly different light. “Now I regret voting for them,” he said. “The problem is not Gotabaya, but the decisions he made as president that ruined the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When THE WEEK met him, Angelo was on a podium in front of the presidential secretariat in Colombo, delivering an impassioned speech to a crowd of anti-government protesters. “Go home, Gota,” he shouted, and the crowd repeated the slogan, waving the lion flag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gota has gone, of course. He was forced to step down as president on July 14, months after mass protests broke out against his government. Called the Aragalaya movement (aragalaya means struggle in Sinhalese), the widespread agitation forced Gotabaya to flee to the Maldives, and later to Singapore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahinda, too, resigned as prime minister. The other prominent Rajapakasas in the Gotabaya government—brothers Basil and Chamal, and Mahinda’s son Namal—have all quit. The Rajapaksas no longer wield any influence in governance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 21, Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party was elected as the new president. A long-time rival of the Rajapaksas, Wickremesinghe will lead an all-party government that will serve the remainder of Gotabaya’s term, which ends in November 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after taking charge, Wickremesinghe cracked down on protesters at Gota Go Gama, the makeshift village in Colombo were they were camping. Many of them were injured during the crackdown, which had rival politicians accusing Wickremesinghe of being iron-fisted. “Wickremesinghe is no different from the Rajapaksas,” said Kasun Gunatilake, a protester. “He is a friend who has come to save them. The Rajapaksas will not be prosecuted for their wrongdoings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Aragalaya movement, which has already brought about a sea change in politics, may have only just begun. “We are a bunch of peaceful protesters, looking to change the governing system in Sri Lanka,” said Angelo. “Yes, we made Gota go. We are now fighting the system, not the rulers. There should be a systemic change, so that our country belongs to every citizen—be it Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it happened, it was farmers who sowed the seeds of the Aragalaya movement last year. They were protesting Gotabaya’s ban on chemical fertilisers to promote organic farming, which had led to a steep fall in production and revenues. Around the same time, Tamil activists and politicians had taken out a rally from Pottuvil in the east to Polikandy in the north. The two agitations were the first signs that Gotabaya was not the able administrator that he was believed to be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In late February, supermarket shelves began running out of essential items. By early March, people were waiting in long queues to buy food and fuel. Power cuts began in late March, and school exams were cancelled because paper was on short supply. As disruptions began affecting livelihoods, people gradually began hitting the streets. Groups were formed and random demonstrations were held. As Gotabaya refused to step down and the government continued to mishandle the economic crisis, the groups coalesced to form the Aragalaya movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[The movement has] close to 50 organisations,” said Chameera Dedduwage, a digital marketing strategist who joined the protests in March. “Meeting were held regularly to make decisions, structure the protests, and give direction to Aragalaya. The core committee has around 100 people from different sections of society.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Galle Face, a seaside locality in Colombo, became a centre of protests. People from all walks of life—teachers, students, artists, lawyers, retired government employees and police personnel—began coming together. A silent vigil was held on March 1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Social media helped accelerate the churn. In April, a group of likeminded netizens came together to organise protest gatherings. One of them, a law student called Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratna, called for a demonstration on March 28 in front of the Velum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre, a performing arts hub in Colombo. “Those who don’t protest are not patriotic,” he wrote on Facebook.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The response was overwhelming. Around 400 people turned up in front of the theatre. Two days later, the group joined a bigger demonstration in front of Gotabaya’s private residence at Mirihana. Gotabaya was forced to vacate his home that day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The social media group, christened Black Caps by a lecturer called Hemapriya Kaviratna, soon became a major force in the larger Aragalaya movement. “We never had an organisation until April 9,” said Buddhi, who is now a Black Caps spokesperson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A turning point in the movement came on April 9, when a million protesters from across the country marched to Galle Face. Black Caps had urged people to gather in Colombo and stay put until Gotabaya resigned. “This worked and Gota Go Gama came into existence,” said Buddhi. Tents were erected at Galle Face Green, an iconic seaside field in Colombo, and protesters began gathering at the makeshift village. Gota Go Gama also became a venue to celebrate Easter, and Tamil and Sinhala New Year’s Day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several coordination groups were soon formed—for arranging meetings, ensuring food and water supply, keeping records, taking care of logistics, and liaising with the media. “Our survival was the synergy to work. This made people stay back at Gota Go Gama,” said Chameera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Artiste Asanga Saya Kara set up an open air theatre. More than 2,000 artistes—actors, puppeteers, writers, drummers, dancers and camerapersons—began taking part in the events. A group of theatre artistes wrapped themselves in large fertiliser bags and marched silently through Colombo, symbolising how the ban on fertilisers affected farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Filmmaker King Ratnam, who made Sri Lanka’s first Tamil film, held story sessions that made the Sinhalese understand the pain of minority communities. The positive response to the sessions made an increasing number of Tamils join Gota Go Gama. “We are apolitical. We are not linked to any political party,” said Peter Dialmeida, a theatre artiste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Religious groups also became part of the village. Fr Amila Jeewantha Peiris, a 45-year-old Catholic priest who had been working to improve the lives of plantation workers in Sabaragamuva province, came to Gota Go Gama and began an interfaith campaign to attract various religious communities to take part in the protests.“My people were dying of hunger. They were becoming the poorest of the poor. This prompted me to give a structural change to Aragalaya,” Jeewantha said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jeewantha received help from Koswatte Mahanama Thero, a Buddhist monk of the monastic order Amarapura Nikaya, who told conservative Sinhala Buddhists that protesting for their rights was not wrong. Hundreds of Buddhist monks heeded his call.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But why would a Buddhist monk oppose the Rajapaksas, who were staunch Buddhists themselves? “They don’t live by the precepts of Buddhism,” said Thero. “They stole public wealth. They are liars. Stealing and lying are against the principles of Buddhism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>University students played a key role in synergising the movement’s various strands. “The youth are the most affected people in Sri Lanka,” said Lahiru Weerasekara of the Youth for Change movement. “We don’t have jobs, and our schools and colleges are closed. Our education is hanging in the balance. We can only raise our voice through protests.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Aragalaya movement has succeeded in ousting the Rajapaksas from power, but perhaps its greatest success has been in giving the Sinhalese a sense of the Tamil pain. Once, during a protest gathering, a government helicopter flew threateningly low over Gota Go Gama. The huge uproar it caused was followed by a sombre realisation. “That,” said Budhi, “is when we understood, and talked among ourselves, about how our fellow citizens in the north would have suffered.”</p> Sat Jul 30 13:13:53 IST 2022 what-ranil-wickremesinghe-needs-to-do <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SCENE WAS STRANGE.</b> There were long queues on both sides of Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, a usually bustling street close to the heart of Colombo, but oddly quiet now. On one side of the mawatha (which means street in Sinhalese) were hundreds of two-wheelers and luxury cars, parked bumper to bumper. On the other side was an equally long queue of autorickshaws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lines barely moved. Men in khaki, some of them resting on the doorsteps of a swanky bungalow, kept watch. “That one is mine,” said Dinouk Liyanage, an autorickshaw driver. “I have been here for two days to fill it up with petrol.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the long wait, Liyanage will get only 10 litres of petrol. “There is rationing,” he explained. “We don’t have sufficient fuel.” Ten litres will barely last two days, he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The long queues showed how acute the fuel shortage in Sri Lanka was. With no end in sight even after four months, the shortage is crippling the lives of the elite as well as the everyman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Liyanage said his expenses have tripled, while his income has plunged. “I used to earn LKR 50,000 a month, and spend only LKR 40,000. I have now pawned all my wife’s jewellery. But there seems to be no way out,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He could as well have been describing the state of the economy. Ninety-five per cent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are reeling under an economic crisis, and the prolonged food, fuel and electricity shortages it has caused. Schools and colleges are shut; offices are plagued by power cuts; newspapers have ceased printing for want of ink and newsprint; and inadequate medical supplies have forced hospitals to postpone surgeries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worse, there still seems to be no way out of the mess. The Sri Lankan rupee has plummeted to LKR355 against the US dollar, from around LKR190 a year ago. Large industries like textile, tea and tourism have suffered, leading to a jobs crisis. Fallout of policy missteps like the fertiliser ban and tax cuts, and factors like the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, have aggravated the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government itself is impoverished. Sri Lanka had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 101 per cent in 2020, making its debt service payments (as a ratio to its paltry revenues) one of the highest in the world. “We have been living on borrowings,” said Ahilan Kadirgamar, political economist and senior lecturer at University of Jaffna. According to him, the crisis had been building up for the past five decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anura Kulasekara would agree. A taxi driver who has fallen on hard times, Kulasekara has been making ends meet by selling samosas to anti-government protesters in Colombo. He remembers his father telling him how he survived a similar situation in the 1970s, when prime minister Sirimao Bandaranaike’s import restrictions plunged the country into a prolonged economic and political crisis. Bandaranaike, whose motto “Produce or Perish” was intended to make the country economically self-sufficient, failed so miserably that she lost the 1977 elections by a landslide. It was J.R. Jayawardene, the United National Party (UNP) leader who succeeded her, who rescued the economy and set it on a new path by opening up markets and attracting foreign investments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five decades of change, however, seems to have come full circle. Sri Lanka is in the throes of a deeper crisis, and Kulasekara is worse off than his father was in the 1970s. As fate would have it, the man chosen to lead the country out of the mess, President Ranil Wickeremesinghe, is Jayawardene’s nephew.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Wickremesinghe is a neoliberal like is uncle Jayewardene was. He is pragmatic,” said Umesh Moramudali, senior lecturer of economics at the University of Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickremesinghe, 73, has taken over from Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to resign as president and flee the country after mass protests erupted in April. Gotabaya and his predecessor, his brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, were right-wing nationalists who were ideologically opposed to the liberal-conservative UNP, but they had largely stuck to Jayawardene’s economic path when they were in power. Critics say it was their stress on debt-powered welfarism and rapid infrastructure growth that led to the current crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Patronage politics and resistance to privatisation was their policy,” said Sritharan Sivagnanam, Jaffna MP. “Mahinda, during his first term, said no to every multilateral loan that came his way, and chose only bilateral loans. This has led to the huge debt burden.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As president, Wickremesinghe has to lead an all-party government that faces the daunting task of resolving the debt crisis and restoring stability. A shrewd politician, he has largely kept Gotabaya’s cabinet intact, even as he chose longtime friend Dinesh Gunawardena as prime minister. “Our differences are over. We have to work together now,” he told the cabinet soon after taking charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickremesinghe can be at the helm for the rest of Gotabaya’s term, which ends in November 2024. It is a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for a leader who polled just around 30,000 votes in the 2019 parliamentary elections. His UNP had drawn a blank in 2019—its worst poll performance in history—and Wickremesinghe himself had to resort to the nomination route to become MP. The crisis, strangely, has revived the five-time prime minister’s flagging career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ranil Wickremesinghe is finally where he wanted to be,” said an MP of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya. The SJB is an offshoot of the UNP, and it is led by former opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, who currently commands much of the support base that the UNP once had.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a president vested with executive powers, Wickremesinghe has moved fast to consolidate his position. Within hours of taking oath, he managed to not just regain the UNP’s lost political ground, but also crush the anti-government protests. He has also revived his support base, caused rifts within the SJB, and is looking to catch the sizeable voter base of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the party of the Rajapaksas. Having taken control of the finance and defence portfolios, Wickremesinghe is now in a much powerful position than the Rajapaksas, or even Jayawardene, ever were.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenge would be to preserve that power. With elections due in two years, Wickremesinghe will have to assuage public anger and find quick fixes to economic troubles. A recent World Bank report said Sri Lanka has more than five lakh new poor, and that seven of every 10 people in the country are forced to skip a meal every day. Inflation has skyrocketed—from 29.8 per cent in May to 54 per cent in June—and is set worsen if the new government fails to take immediate action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government needs to shore up revenues, but it faces several handicaps. The tourism industry, which accounted for more than 12 per cent of the GDP before the pandemic, and was a significant source of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, is in a shambles. The agriculture sector, which took a big beating because of Gotabaya’s misguided focus on organic farming, is just limping back to normal. It will take some time for Sri Lanka to reclaim its position as a rice exporter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a very long path [to recovery],” said Kopalapillai Amirthalingam, professor of economics at the University of Colombo. “Unless we restructure our debt, we may not be able to overcome the crisis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation calls for hard reforms—consolidating revenues, implementing hard-nosed monetary and fiscal policies, and remoulding the stagnant public sector. “Continuing some of the current policies, which have an anti-export bias, will have a serious impact on exports,” said K. Don Vimanga, policy analyst at Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based think tank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hard decisions need to be taken on the tax front as well. Economists say indirect taxes levied on goods and services benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. “The government imposing indirect taxes on food items, as a percentage of expenditure, hits the poor harder. Sri Lanka’s tax ratio is wrong; it enforces too many indirect taxes,” said Prof Rohan Samarajiva, chairman of the think-tank LIRNEasia in Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Moramudali, the government needs to increase revenue from direct taxes. “As the first step to get out of the crisis, the tax system should be simplified,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It means Sri Lanka needs a government that is both determined and diplomatic. As a politician of the old order who knows the nitty-gritty of parliamentary politics, Wickremesinghe could just be the right man for the job. Also, the UNP is a centre-right party that is a constituent of the International Democrat Union, an active coalition of prominent conservative political parties in more than 65 countries, including in the UK, Canada, France and Germany. This, and the fact that Wickremesinghe has his own channels to reach out to the west and Japan, could be of great help in restructuring Sri Lanka’s foreign debt. Also, from 2015 to 2019, when he was prime minister, Wickremesinghe had worked well with China, which has become a major lender to Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first priority on the debt front would be to obtain a bailout package from the International Monetary Front. IMF packages often come with strings attached, though. Sri Lanka could be in a spot if it is asked to restructure all its external debts—including the bilateral deals struck by the Rajapaksas. The share of Chinese loans in external debt, for instance, could be higher than what the Sri Lankan government acknowledges. Renegotiating such loans can pose political problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, with Wickremesinghe firmly in control, the talks with IMF would gain momentum. “We have presented our revised economic programme to the IMF,” Nandalal Weerasinghe, governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka told THE WEEK. “We could have reached a staff-level agreement, but that did not happen as we did not have a stable administration. Such an agreement depends on the new government’s approach and its policies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central bank has set a target of five months to come out of the immediate crisis, provided that Wickremesinghe ensures political stability. “We have a clear programme for economic recovery,” said Weerasinghe. “I am sure Sri Lanka can come out of the crisis in the next five months if there is a stable administration.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Wickremesinghe leads an all-party government, political stability would depend a great deal on how strong the opposition is. Premadasa had tried and failed to become president soon after the Gotabaya government imploded, but he now has a significant role to play as the voice of angry protesters. In the absence of a broad consensus on the governance programme, Premadasa will have to raise his voice when needed, and Wickremesinghe would do well to heed his rival’s protests, so that the new arrangement can work well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Restoring political stability could be harder than fixing the economy. “The road to recovery is very hard,” said Kathirgamar. “It might take five to eight years for us to come out of the crisis.”</p> Sat Jul 30 13:07:07 IST 2022 how-modi-and-abe-advanced-india-japan-ties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Though India and Japan are both Asian countries, the customs and practices are very different, as is the case between almost all Asian countries. To add to the complex equation, Japan had a severely negative reaction to India’s nuclear tests in 1998.</p> <p>Abe-<i>san</i> assumed office as prime minister, for the first time, in 2006. The same year, prime minister Manmohan Singh reached out to ask whether the Ananta Aspen Centre could take an initiative with Japan, as was done with the US in 2002. A track II strategic dialogue to build bilateral trust.</p> <p>The road to Japan was difficult. Hence, through Washington, DC, the idea of a trilateral strategic dialogue—US-Japan-India—was conceived with the leadership of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Japan responded positively and the first trilateral meeting was held at CSIS, Washington, DC. This was done with the blessings of prime minister Abe.</p> <p>This trilateral initiative worked well. Meetings were held in Tokyo with the outstanding Japanese leader Kasai-<i>san</i> (Yoshiyuki Kasai, who was chairman of Central Japan Railway Company) hosting and co-chairing. From the beginning of the process, Kasai-<i>san</i> established a system of a joint group calling on the prime minister of Japan after our meeting so that an immediate report could be given.</p> <p>Over the years, most of the meetings were with Abe, since he had four terms as prime minister. Once, however, there was a short-lived DPJ (opposition party) government with a prime minister who was opposed to the US. When we met that prime minister, the Indian team became the spokespersons for the group and the Americans were largely silent.</p> <p>The trust between India and Japan grew steadily and the mix of persons in the dialogue—academics, corporate, media, retired diplomats and armed service officers—ensured that this off-the-record process included a cross-section of senior representatives from each country.</p> <p>We covered a variety of subjects. Economics, energy, security, defence, nuclear and maritime, to mention a few. The Japanese were initially reluctant to discuss defence and security but, gradually, accepted. Again, there was tacit support from prime minister Abe.</p> <p>From 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has played a major role in strengthening ties with Japan. He had visited Japan as chief minister of Gujarat. Modi built relationships with the leadership and valued the importance of Japan.</p> <p>In September 2014, when he visited Japan, for the first time as prime minister, the Indo-Japan strategic dialogue meeting was also held in Tokyo. The visit was an outstanding success and, apart from the impact he made with the Japanese side, he addressed the Indian diaspora, too.</p> <p>During that visit, prime minister Abe hosted a banquet for Modi, where the Indian team at the strategic dialogue were present. During the banquet, the Indian team leader escorted the heads of the two Japanese bullet train companies and introduced them to Modi.</p> <p>The India-Japan relationship has come far and these two prime ministers made it their priority to deepen, broaden and strengthen the relationship and friendship. There are multiple initiatives between India and Japan, thanks to their joint leadership.</p> <p>Abe-<i>san</i>’s tragic death is a deeply sad event, but the foundation and the structure he has put in place, with Modi, will carry on.</p> <p><b>The writer is former director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry.</b></p> Sun Jul 17 17:52:25 IST 2022 people-came-in-by-themselves-we-only-educated-them-sri-lanka-protest-coordinator <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During Easter this year, Sri Lankan playwright, theatre director and screenwriter Ruwanthie de Chickera received a call from a priest: “How would it be if a priest could wash a protester’s feet?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though not religious, Ruwanthie found the idea brilliant: a nod to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper. It resonated with the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ruwanthie practises the ‘devising’method of theatre-making, which involves creative collaboration with and improvisation by the performing ensemble. Yet, she is unable to believe how things unfolded in Sr Lanka in the past four months. What began as a number of small street protests of three or four people against the Sri Lankan government blew up into a movement that came to be known as Aragalaya (struggle).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the protest began on April 9 at the Galle Face Green, close to the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo, Ruwanthie, 46, met people from various walks of life, including many from her own fraternity whom she had not met in her 20-year-long career in theatre. And even those she had met earlier, she had never talked politics with them; Gota Go Gama (protest site) changed all that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A group of artists sat together to discuss what we can do to inject courage and inspiration into the movement,”she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 9, protesters stormed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and, on July 13, he fled the country. The storming was unexpected; the expectation was that 10,000 people to show up at the protest site. &quot;People came in by themselves,”says Ruwanthie. “GotaGoGama only created the opportunity.”</p> <p>Edited excerpts from an interview:&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why do you think the Aragalaya movement began?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Each decade, since independence, politicians in power have got worse.&nbsp;The lowest point was when the Rajapaksas came to power. There was deterioration in human rights, in accountability…. The Rajapaksas wanted to rule like kings, and democracy meant nothing to them. They were not interested in institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015, a national government came in, but it did not take any action against the Rajapaksas. Rain Wikremesinghe was then prime minister. The Easter bombing attacks of 2019 seemed contrived, and then extremely quickly the Rajapaksas returned to power.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Covid-19 had not happened, they would have not been exposed; they would have continued to steal. It was only three or four weeks ago that the food crisis committee in Sri Lanka met for the first time in the last one and a half years. The reason was that the government was not admitting that there was a crisis. This is what happens when you have an all powerful president. Basically, ineffective governance was the reason for the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How was the movement organised?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The Aragalaya movement started on its own, because people were fed up. There is no organising to it. It is like how drops of water come together and suddenly make a river. It was people who started protesting as the food and fuel crisis began. This was happening for more than a month or so. This went unnoticed.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But when the power cuts happened, people reached the president’s [private residence] in Mirihana. But even then he did not realise. He sent the military, put curfew. The military attacked the protesters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily, social media brought out all this against the president. He declared emergency, which angered the people further. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the fantastic legal guardians of Sri Lanka, got the curfew revoked.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The [watershed] moment was when he [tried] to stifle the protest, [and] everybody just turned up at Galle Face. That was on April 9. Nobody expected such a massive outpouring. It happened very organically. Ours is a country which doesn’t have a very strong protest culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People stayed on in Gall Face after April 9. At night, they put up tents. The next morning, someone put up a board, saying Gota Go Gama (gama means village). This was very inspiring, as till then the protest was held together by just the slogan ‘Go Home Gota’. So when this idea came up, people just flocked to it. They started a library, people parliament, medical centre, school, LGBTQ tent—partly in rejection of the system, the government and the Rajapaksas, but also&nbsp;to create a parallel Sri Lanka that we wanted to live in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, on May 9, there was the attack on the protesters. It raised the stakes. It made things very dangerous, created a lot of conflict and, from May 9 to July 9, there was a steady decline in the number of people coming to the protest. Ranil Wickremesinghe came in and propped up a dying government. Otherwise there was a possibility that these guys would have been out two months earlier. Ranil had lots of supporters, a lot of business community supporters, and he has a different way of politics—he is seen as a neo-liberalist.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You are seen as one of the key persons in Aragalaya. How did that happen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. It was a people’s movement. There are no leaders. It is a decentralised movement and that is the power and the beauty of it. It is only based on consensus and the country’s welfare. Even when the speaker of the parliament asked 20 people from Aragalaya to come for a meeting with parliament, people said we are not going, because nobody is leading this. There are no key persons. But there are thousands of people working wholeheartedly and passionately. I am one of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How did the July 9 incident come about?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. We did not know that was going to happen. I estimated about 10,000 people would come. We did not expect this big a crowd. But we worked very hard to tell people about their rights. We did not have money to organise buses. People came in by themselves. They walked for miles. Some for days. GotaGoGama only gave them the opportunity and the space to protest.</p> Tue Jul 19 15:30:25 IST 2022 sri-lankan-govt-targets-families-of-victims-of-enforced-disappearance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>TEARS STREAM DOWN</b> the face of Kokilavani Kathirkamanathan, 52, as she walks into the one-room office of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Kilinochchi, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. She looks disconsolately at the long banner placed in the room with photographs of those who went missing after the civil war ended in 2009. Kokilavani is accompanied by her neighbour Kalavathy Krishnankutty, who distributes vibhuti (sacred ash) to the other women gathered in the room. Kokilavani, Kalavathy and others continue to wait for their sons and daughters who were either forcibly taken away by the Sri Lankan army or voluntarily surrendered after the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Now the Sinhala youth are protesting in Colombo and the police and the army are silent. But whenever we protest for our missing children, we are harassed,” said Kokilavani. Sitting next to her is Thanapackiam Sadhananthan, whose son, Sivakumar, surrendered to the army. “He was just 20 and the army promised that he would be let off after an inquiry,” said the 64-year-old. “Anyhow, imagine the plight of the mothers who handed over their daughters to the army. In my case, it is my son who is missing,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sivakumar, who was working as a salesman in a textile shop, joined the LTTE towards the end of the war. Those days, the LTTE used to forcibly conscript one person from each Tamil family. “I went to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office in Colombo and to the Vavuniya army camp looking for my son. If he comes back, he will take care of his sister,” she said. Thanapackiam’s daughter became mentally ill after the family’s efforts to get Sivakumar back failed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kokilavani handed over her son, Kowrishankar, to the army at the Omanthai camp in Vavuniya, a day after the war got over. “I have not heard a word about him since then,” said Kokilavani. Kalavathy, who lived in Tamil Nadu as a refugee till 2004, returned to Sri Lanka only to be with her son, Sukumaran, who had joined the LTTE. “He had lost his leg, fighting the army. I came back and got him married. When the war ended, I handed over Sukumaran and his wife, Karunadevi, to the army. I thought they would be released after inquiry,” said Kalavathy. “I returned to my motherland to live with my children. But the war tore apart our lives once again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka has one of the world’s highest number of enforced disappearances. According to Amnesty International, nearly a lakh people have been reported missing since the 1980s. The numbers went up drastically towards the end of the civil war, with at least 40,000 people going missing. And the cases continue to pile up, even now. Manikkam Jeyakumar, who served as development officer at the Kopai divisional secretariat in Jaffna, went missing last September. He once headed the financial division of the LTTE’s political wing. A few days later, his body was found floating in a well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the missing people, however, are not LTTE fighters or sympathisers. Colombo-based cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda went missing after leaving the premises of Lanka E-news, a news website based in Colombo. His wife, Sandhya, fears that he is unlikely to return. “Not a single day has passed without me thinking of Prageeth,” said Sandhya, pointing to the powerful political cartoons hanging in their house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 17, 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met with Hanaa Singer, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka, to discuss the disappearances. A statement released by the president’s office after the meeting said the missing persons were no longer alive: “Most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcibly conscripted. The families of the missing attest to it. However, they do not know what has become of them and so they claim them to be missing.” It came as rude shock for tens of thousands of people who were hoping that their sons and daughters were still alive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I don’t believe that my son is dead,” said 69-year-old Leela Devi Ananda Natarajah from Kodikamam near Jaffna. Her son, Anurajah, who was with the communications division of the Sea Tigers, was forced to surrender to the army on May 15, 2009, two days before the end of the war. Leela Devi, who served in the Sri Lankan government’s labour department, searched for him in many places, including the Vavuniya camp. “I even went to the sixth floor prison at the CID office in Colombo.” But she never got any news about her son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amnesty International’s Thyagi Ruwanpathirana said the missing people were victims of enforced disappearance, unlawful killings and other crimes under international law. “Under the Gotabaya government, the rights situation has declined alarmingly, with several civilians, human rights defenders, minorities and journalists facing harassment and structural abuse,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya said his government would issue death certificates to the missing persons. Their families were reportedly offered LKR one lakh as compensation. But the decision was met with widespread disapproval. “Is my son worth just one lakh rupees? Who wants this money? The army promised that he would be sent back after inquiry. Did I give away my son for this money and a death certificate?” asked Ranjana Prabhakaran from Mullaitivu district. Her son, Sugeharan, was taken away in 2009. “Once in 2014, officers from the Terrorist Information Department came calling for me, saying that my son was in Colombo. I was summoned to Kilinochchi for an inquiry. But nothing happened after that,” said Ranjana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amnesty International said families of those who participated in demonstrations seeking justice for their loved ones were facing harassment, torture and repeated interrogation. “Their protests are photographed and recorded, and they are harassed with repeated phone calls and incessant questioning,” said an Amnesty report. “The authorities now seek pre-emptive court orders against key activists who demand truth and justice for those who have disappeared.”</p> Sat Jun 18 15:42:36 IST 2022 counterpunch-diplomacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE IS A</b> straight-talking toughness in the way India is expressing itself these days on the world stage. Call it self-confidence or swagger, it is a discernible characteristic of Indian diplomacy in the Narendra Modi era. India is displaying strategic clarity in defining its national interests, articulating what it thinks in unambiguous language, and pushing back without mincing words when its choices and stances are subjected to attacks in international forums.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leading this assertive transformation is External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who, while defending India’s domestic and foreign policies, has shown the mirror to foreign critics. When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, in April, “we’re monitoring some recent concerning developments in India, including a rise in human rights abuses,” Jaishankar retorted: “We also take views on other people’s human rights situation, including that of the United States.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding that this particular issue was not central to the overall India-US strategic partnership, he explained that vested “interests, lobbies and vote banks” in America were driving a propaganda to smear India’s reputation. On an earlier occasion, he pointed to “liberal fundamentalism”, “prejudice and ideology” as the root causes of the anti-India campaign in the western media and said India’s “reputation is not decided by a newspaper in New York”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When some western research institutions downgraded “the quality of democracy” in India, Jaishankar called them “self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval, is not willing to play the game they want to be played.” Pointing to the irony of US-based think-tanks berating India’s alleged intolerance and autocracy, he quipped that “nobody questions our election. Can you say that in those countries?” The reference was to Donald Trump’s refusal to accept Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020, and Jaishankar was conveying that India was not willing to be lectured and hectored by hypocrites.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaishankar has also done some epic takedowns of European sceptics who tried to embarrass him over India’s alleged complicity in enabling President Vladimir Putin’s war machine in Ukraine. On being asked why India was buying oil from Russia despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, he matter-of-factly reminded his interrogator that “our purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.” At a high-profile forum in Slovakia in June, he challenged the moderator with an objective reality check and counter-questioned: “Is buying Russian gas (by Europe) not funding the war? It’s only Indian money and oil coming to India that funds it, but not the gas coming to Europe?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a well-honed method in Jaishankar’s counterattacks. He first disagrees with the basic premise of prickly questions, turns the tables by citing empirical facts and asking the critics to introspect about the policies of their own countries, and then delivers the coup de grâce by hinting at a well-oiled conspiracy by partisan transnational forces who lack democratic credentials but want to dictate how the world’s largest democracy, India, should behave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This counterpunch diplomacy is different from how Indian politicians and diplomats of the Cold War era fought fire with fire. The diatribes hurled during the Indira Gandhi regime, for example, alienated the west and cost India access to western markets and technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What Jaishankar is doing is more realpolitik-based and is aimed at sowing doubt about hate-filled lobbies that control intellectual discourse in the west. In the era of social media and ‘infowar’, India cannot remain a mute bystander as invectives are hurled at it using flimsy evidence or selective interpretations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While engaging in international verbal duels, Jaishankar is careful not to antagonise the governments, corporations or the people with whom India has built deep bonds of trust, trade, technology and defence cooperation. The attempt is to isolate the critics in these countries as biased, uninformed and motivated persons or institutions, while not upsetting India’s broader strategic partnerships with these nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A similar tactical public diplomacy is evident in the way India has handled Muslim-majority countries. When they objected to derogatory remarks made by a BJP spokesperson and another functionary against the Prophet, India conveyed regrets and distanced itself from the remarks. But allegations of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about “systematic harassment of minorities in India” were refuted as “motivated, misleading and mischievous comments.” It was a dualistic firefighting strategy meant to preserve India’s key strategic partnerships in West Asia, while attempting to discredit exaggerated accounts of India’s flaws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s counterpunch diplomacy is unlike the crude, over-the-top belligerence of China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats. Its combative style of public diplomacy is based on logical reasoning, factual narratives, and politely but firmly unmasking the double standards of the western liberal commentariat or of Islamists based in countries like Turkey and Malaysia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chinese strategists envy that India enjoys a ‘favourable international strategic environment’ compared with China, because western powers see in India a lynchpin for mobilising ‘international anti-China forces’. India’s so-called image problem has not hindered the enhancement of its strategic appeal and attraction in the west as a whole.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Jaishankar is giving it back forcefully when India is wrongfully portrayed in order to demonstrate that a rising power takes no nonsense and will not quietly allow ideologically misleading narratives to go unanswered. India’s soft power is at stake and hence the decision to go on a counteroffensive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The information and broadcasting ministry is also getting into the act with a proposed new TV channel, Doordarshan International, which will present an intelligent and strategically sharp Indian perspective on ongoing international developments to world audiences. Much work lies ahead in countering negative stereotypes and patronising swipes aimed at India from foreign quarters. But Jaishankar’s sophisticated and hard-hitting ripostes have announced the arrival of a ‘new India’ that does not fear the consequences of standing up and speaking up for its bottom lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sreeram Chaulia is professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs</b></p> Sun Jun 12 11:17:17 IST 2022 years-after-civil-war-tamils-and-muslims-in-sri-lanka-still-fear-persecution <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SELVANAYAGAM NESAN, 37,</b> lay speechless for six days in a Colombo hospital. “I [was made to] drink Harpic kept for cleaning toilets. I could not withstand the physical torture,” he says. He says he was hung upside down, and was asked to sign a confession that he was linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 13 years after the Sri Lankan civil war, many Tamils in the country’s north and east still fear persecution. The government has used the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), 1979, to arrest what it calls dissidents and has allegedly tortured them into submission. Under the PTA, any “suspect” can be arrested without warrant for “unlawful activities” and placed in detention without being produced before a judge for 18 months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We do not have the right to even organise a remembrance event every May 17 to pay homage to our loved ones,” says Lavakumar Lavan, a friend of Nesan who held a Mullivaikkal memorial event in Batticaloa in the east in May 2020. The Terrorist Investigation Division allegedly abused him physically and verbally. Every May 17, Sri Lankan Tamils remember those who perished in the final battle, fought in the northeastern village of Mullivaikkal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nesan, Lavakumar and their friends Arumugam Gnanasekaran, Alagarathinam Krishnan and Singarathinam Sathiarasan were released last week as the charges against them could not be proved. All of them spent more than 18 months in prison. “We are used to this torture. We will certainly do it (organise the event) this year, too,” says Lavan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are Tamils. No one protested for us when our women were tortured and physically abused,” says Leela Devi, whose son Anurajh surrendered to the army in 2009. She lives in Kodaigamam near Jaffna. “No one hit the streets to say that torture was against the law. The Sinhalese celebrated. I remember the day when the Sinhalese shared their traditional kiri bath (rice cake) to celebrate victory in the war. I cried for the Tamils. They are protesting because they are hungry. Not for rights.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 2020 report by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka found that 84 per cent of PTA prisoners were tortured after arrest and they are regularly held for up to 10 years without trial. The Sri Lankan government has been accused of using the “draconian” law to stifle criticism. “The detention order can be renewed for a further 90 days and continue to be renewed for up to 18 months,” says Ambika Satkunanathan, a human rights lawyer and former head of the human rights commission. She has written several research papers on the “abusive” PTA. “The Sri Lankan authorities have acknowledged the inherently abusive character of the PTA but have failed to repeal it as promised,” she says. “The last government proposed its own legislation to replace the law, but failed to [do so].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She recalls meeting a motorcycle dealer during one of her visits to the Boossa detention centre in the south. “He was arbitrarily detained,” she says. “By the time he proved himself innocent and came out, his business had fallen apart.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Murugaiah Komahan, who was arrested under the PTA for his alleged links with the rebels in 2010, has started working for PTA detainees. His Voice of the Voiceless, in northern Jaffna, gives them legal help. “The confession statement [in such cases] is in Sinhala,” he says. “The detainee will be physically tortured and made to sign it.” Most of the detainees end up signing it even though they do not know Sinhala. “The police tried to force me to sign a confession,” he says. “When I refused, I was severely beaten. An officer even threatened to shoot me. When I complained to a judge about being tortured, I was beaten even more.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Komahan fasted for nine days in jail to protest his arrest. In 2016, he was freed for lack of evidence. But, even now, he is under constant surveillance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Joseph Freeda, who lives on Komahan’s office premises, it is not as bad as it was in 2009. However, the fear is still alive. Her husband, Vincent Florence Joseph, was an English teacher and a translator with the LTTE; he surrendered in 2009. He was released a few years later, but was arrested again during the pandemic. Freeda says Vincent had been tortured in jail. He was released soon after, but died of a heart attack. Freeda is alone now; her daughter, Nishani, who was part of the LTTE, disappeared before the end of the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Komahan’s friend Robert (name changed) does not want to talk about those dark days. He and his wife spent 23 years in jail under PTA. “We were tortured, beaten and harassed. I was in the Colombo prison during the war,” he says. He was first sentenced to 17 years, during which time there was no inquiry or leave. “The judge told me that I will be released if I spend 10 more years in prison. I signed the document because I did not know Sinhala,” says Robert. He eventually got out after six more years (taking away the leave, an inmate has to spend eight months in jail for a one-year sentence).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At Mullaitivu in the north, Ganesan Chithra Saraswathi, 58, is waiting for her son Dharshan to be released from jail. “I do not know for what he was arrested,” she says. “But I want him to come back soon to take care of his younger brother. I know my son was physically harassed.” Every month, she goes to see him at the Vavuniya court in the Northern Province when he is produced before the magistrate. The authorities had picked him up as he was with the LTTE during the last phase of the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muslims in the country have also allegedly been targeted, especially after the 2019 Easter bombings, which killed more than 250 people. Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent human rights lawyer who had appeared in court against former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was jailed on charges of hate speech and spent 22 months in jail. He was released on bail this February as the charges against him could not be proved. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Hizbullah had got a call saying that he has contracted the disease; he was asked to stay at home till the health authorities arrived. Hours later, Criminal Investigation Department officials reached his home and cuffed him for his association with Mohamed Ibrahim, the father of the Easter bombers. Hizbullah’s pregnant wife, Maram Khalifa, had to open his office room and get the files connected to the cases he was representing in court for Ibrahim. After hours of interrogation, even though they reportedly found no evidence, the officials arrested Hizbullah under the PTA. When no proof was found of his connection to the bombings, there came another case—a school supported by Save the Pearls, a charity he and Ibrahim were part of, was accused of preaching “extremism” and providing children “weapons training”. Again, the authorities could not establish any links, and, after international intervention, Hizbullah was let out on bail. “I was falsely implicated in a case that was in no way linked to me, because I appeared as a lawyer... against Mahinda Rajapaksa,” says Hizbullah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Human rights activists and Muslim leaders point to Hizbullah’s arrest as an example of how the Rajapaksas have used the PTA to silence critics and gain political control of the Muslims and the Tamils.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lankan government apparently does not have comprehensive data on the number of PTA detainees. “It may be anywhere between 100 and 400,” says Satkunanathan. “At least 100 Tamils and 300 Muslims would be in prison under PTA.”</p> Fri May 06 16:55:00 IST 2022 fleeing-lanka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At Pesalai, a fishing village in Sri Lanka’s Mannar district, 59-year-old Sebamalai Cruz and his wife, Sebamalai Anthonika, are mending fishing nets. Waves lash the shore as Anthonika tells Cruz about the long queue at Sathosa, the government’s concessionary retail chain. “How can we live here without food and fuel? How will we support our grandchildren?” she asks, staring at the sea. “Wait,” replies Cruz, “there will be a way out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Anthonika is not convinced. She talks about an officer of the Sri Lankan navy who recently asked her if the family was planning to leave for India as refugees. “I told him that I don’t mind doing so even if we get arrested and are sent to prison,” Anthonika tells THE WEEK. “Everything is expensive here. There is no diesel for our boats to go to sea.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sri Lankan navy has set up checkpoints along the Mannar coast to keep tabs on boats putting out to sea. “They are watching us 24x7,” says Jascintha Cruz, Anthonika’s 51-year-old neighbour who is also struggling to make ends meet. “The cost of one kilo sugar is LKR 190 now. I used to have tea every morning. First, I stopped buying milk powder, as it became expensive. Now, sugar is also expensive. So I have black tea without sugar. With the ever-increasing prices, the day I stop having tea altogether does not seem very far.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is the way out? “What else, we should go to India,” says Jascintha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Standing next to her is 35-year old Ruby Raghunathan, who is worried about her two daughters. “The new academic year will begin soon,” says Ruby. “My daughters had not been going to school because of the pandemic. Who will help us during these trying times? We don’t even have a friendly government that cares for people like us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few kilometres away, Nisanthini, 41, and her 13-year old daughter are making their way home with a bag of rice from Sathosa. “It was a five-hour wait in the queue,” says Nisanthini, who is worried that the ration will last only a week. “We want to go to India. But [President] Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s army and navy will not allow us to go.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the early 1980s, when Sri Lanka began to witness conflicts between security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Mannar district has been a strategic point for those looking to migrate to India. The distance between Mannar and Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu is 12 nautical miles (around 27km). A boat journey across the Gulf of Mannar, which is separated from the Palk Strait by a strip of low islands called Adam’s Bridge, takes around two hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fisherfolk dominate the coastal villages in Mannar district. At least 60 per cent of the families in the district were once refugees in India. “I came back in 2012,” says Roshan, a fisherman in Thalaimannar, who was in a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu for 12 years. Roshan had vowed never to go to India again, but the situation in his village is worsening. “We don’t have diesel for our fishing boats,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a week since he ventured out to sea. “We have been facing problems because of the huge trawlers used by the Tamil Nadu fishermen. Now, with the diesel shortage, our lives are doomed,” he says.</p> <p>Roshan and his friends in Thalaimannar, however, have no plans to go to India. “The revenue from fishing in the Northern Province alone is enough for taking care of the Tamils in the north,” he says. “We don’t need the support of the government; we just need diesel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not many people share the view, though. Siana Ranjan of Thalaimannar says people were running out of options. “We had pledged all the gold we had to feed our families during the pandemic,” she says. “Now there is inflation, and there are no jobs. What do you think we can do? India is the only way out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siana feels that only India can save them if the grim situation persists. “[Tamil Nadu] Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has promised to help us,” says Siana. “If he sends help, we would stay back here. Otherwise, we have to seek refuge in Tamil Nadu.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the economic crisis is deepening, people in Mannar and parts of Northern and Eastern Provinces have not hit the streets in protest. They are not holding demonstrations, raising slogans and waving placards like the Sinhalese in the south. They are focused on wanting to find a better place to live a peaceful life; a place where they can get three square meals a day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sri Lankan navy, however, is keeping an eagle eye on them. Intelligence reports in India estimate that at least 2,000 people Sri Lanka are waiting to enter India illegally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While people in the north and the east have to risk lives to reach India, upper middle-class families in Colombo are increasingly applying for visas to leave the country. The departure section at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo has been busy of late. Flights to Chennai, Frankfurt, Singapore and Paris have been flying full in the past few days, thanks to Sri Lankan nationals who can afford to stay away from the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Sinhalese couple that this writer met on the flight out of Colombo said they would be in Chennai on a tourist visa for at least a month. “We are not sure how things would change,” said Dinouk Wellikumbara, the husband. “But we can’t live in Colombo.”</p> Sun May 01 13:35:48 IST 2022 gotabaya-becomes-most-unpopular-president-in-sri-lankas-history <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE ROAD LEADING</b> to the Amma Maniyo temple from the grand Ruwanweli Maha Seya stupa in Anuradhapura, built by the legendary Sinhala king Dutugamunu, is mostly quiet these days. Anuradhapura, the ancient Buddhist capital of the island nation, holds special significance for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. After the landslide win in the 2019 polls, Gotabaya took oath as president at the stupa, in the presence of Buddhist clergy from across the country. His address to the nation was laced with references to a militarised vision for Sri Lanka’s future, rooted firmly in the Sinhala Buddhist ideology. He made it clear to all that he was voted to power by the Sinhalas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three years later, as Sri Lanka totters down the path of economic collapse, the Sinhalas seem to have abandoned Gotabaya. Historically, protests against the Rajapaksas, especially Gotabaya and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajpaksa, were spearheaded by the country’s Tamil and Muslim minorities. But this time, a majority of the Sinhalas, too, have turned against the government. Not even Gotabaya’s trusted soothsayer, Gnana Akka, who advises him on key issues, including the Covid-19 lockdowns, could predict such a rapid reversal of fortunes. There are hardly any visitors at the Maniyo temple and the Ruwanweli stupa these days, thanks to the economic crisis caused by Gotabaya’s harebrained policies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Down south in the capital city of Colombo, the situation is even worse. A tented village called Go Gota Gama has come up outside the presidential secretariat where protesters have been camping to put pressure on Gotabaya to resign. The country is caught in a spiralling debt crisis and has exhausted its foreign exchange reserves. The situation is so precarious that foreign tourists are advised by flight attendants to retain their currency exchange receipts till they return. All national banks have been rated negative by global rating agencies. “The people are angry. The government is totally responsible for this,” said former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who heads the United National Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis in its history, with food and fuel shortage crippling everyday life. The anti-government protests which began in March continues unabated. Initially, the protests were limited to Colombo, but after the police shot and killed a protester named Chaminda Lakshan at Rambukkana, about 100km from the capital, demonstrations have spread across the country. Plantation workers from Kandy, farmers from Polonnaruwa, tea estate workers from Nuwara Eliya and Tamils from the north and the east have joined hands against the Rajapaksas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the Sinhala-Tamil new year, which is the major festival in Sri Lanka, saw huge protests. The Rajapaksas used to send text messages to mark the occasion in the past, but they remained silent this time, as they knew that it would only anger people further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most Sri Lankans feel that a change in leadership is the only way to resolve the crisis. “For the first time, the Sinhalas are questioning 74 years of the Sinhala leadership system. The Tamils have said for the last 74 years that this system is a failure,” said Jaffna MP G. Ponnambalam. “It is an exclusivist system that sidelines people and creates enemies within the state. It is time the Sinhala people realised that their leaders would never tell them the truth. Federalism has nothing to do with separation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Feeling the heat, Gotabaya dropped his brothers, Chamal and Basil, and his nephew, Namal, from the cabinet. Basil, who was one of the most powerful Rajapaksas, has been made voiceless, both in the government and in the family. And the disquiet is apparent within the ranks of the government as well. Minister of Mass Media Nalaka Godahewa, who used to be a staunch Rajapaksa loyalist, has called for removing Mahinda from the post of prime minister. “The government has lost its credibility,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protesters, too, are not impressed with the cabinet reshuffle, although all 26 members except the prime minister resigned last month. They want Gotabaya and Mahinda to go. Critics of the government were appalled by the initial reluctance of the government to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before the crisis became worse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya, a former soldier, has proved to be an inept administrator. Most of his advisers are retired army officers who always try to find military solutions to administrative problems. Moreover, Gotabaya has never been a charismatic leader like Mahinda, who has been the face of the Sri Lanka Podujana Party, or a shrewd strategist, like Basil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Key members of the influential Buddhist clergy, who once stood solidly with the Rajapaksas, too, have switched sides. They are present in large numbers at the Go Gota Gama protest site. In the staunchly pro-Buddhist towns in southern Sri Lanka, which used to cheer when Tamils and Muslims were targeted, there are now waves of protests against the Rajapaksa regime. With the Rajapaksas becoming increasingly unpopular, the opposition is trying to get the 20th amendment to the constitution scrapped in an attempt to curtail the unbridled powers of the executive presidency. But the efforts have so far been unsuccessful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the growing political unrest and financial crisis, the Rajapaksas are not yet willing to cede control. While Chamal, Basil and Namal have been ousted, there are no signs of the two big brothers—Gotabaya and Mahinda—stepping down. Mahinda, in fact, said he would remain at the helm even if the cabinet was restructured or the executive presidency was dismantled. “What is the use of interim governments when people with varying policies cannot see eye to eye? If there is need for an interim government, it should happen only under my leadership,” said Mahinda, who knows that with a two-thirds majority in the parliament and the opposition in disarray, it may not be easy to dislodge the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya led by Sajith Premadasa lost the initiative as it was late in bringing a no-confidence motion against the government. But again, the motion may not have been successful because of the lack of numbers. Premadasa also knows that it may not be possible for any single politician to lead Sri Lanka out of the ongoing crisis. “What Sri Lanka is witnessing is pauperisation. The implosion that we are seeing now is the accumulated social anger getting blown up, finally. The opposition and the dissenters in the ruling alliance are finding it hard to find a legal way out to break the political stalemate,” said political scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda, however, said that those who were protesting against the government had voted against the Rajapaksas in the presidential and parliamentary polls. “This government got 69 lakh votes. Those people are still for the government,” said Devananda. He said trade liberalisation, ethnic war and the loans taken for development were the major reasons behind the crisis. “I am part of the cabinet. This government under the Rajapaksas is handling the crisis very well, like it handled the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devananda’s explanation may not satisfy the protesters, as they wait for new finance minister Ali Sabry to get the IMF to agree to a bailout package. Sabry, who once served as Gotabaya’s personal lawyer, is in the US, holding negotiations with the IMF. “It is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Sabry. “There are going to be painful years ahead.”</p> Sun May 01 13:14:22 IST 2022 in-pictures-a-tour-of-go-gota-gama-home-to-anti-government-protests-in-colombo <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The behaviour of motorists in Sri Lanka is completely different from what it is in India. Sri Lankans follow traffic rules, do not honk unnecessarily and instances of road rage are rare. In Colombo, adding to the peace and quiet of the city is its exceptional cleanliness. The streets are tidy, there is no litter and open spaces like the Galle Face are carpeted with lawns. Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhalese citizens, used to credit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the beautification of Colombo—a task he executed a few years ago as secretary of urban development in his brother Mahinda’s government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately for the Rajapaksas, a wind of change is blowing across SriLanka. The tranquil beachfronts are being shaken by the deafening honking as Sri Lankans pour out their ire against Gotabaya for “ruining the country’s economy with his wrong policies”. They also blame the Rajapaksa clan for “its nepotism and corruption”. A protest site outside the president’s office has grown from being the venue for occasional street-side agitations to a tented village called Go Gota Gama (gama means village in Sinhala language). Protesters take pictures at the village and upload those on social media with the hashtag #gogotahome, persuading more urban Sri Lankans to join them in a bid to pressure the president to resign. The village now looks like a mix of the farmers’ protest site on the Singhu border in Delhi and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in New York.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Protests in Colombo have been peaceful so far. That is probably because the protesters are mostly university students, lawyers, artists, religious leaders, academics and NGO activists. But elsewhere in the country, there have been instances of impulsive protesters clashing with police, leading to reprisals including shooting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A group of youngsters have been sitting by the barricades outside the gates of the president’s secretariat for the past 12 days, calling for Gotabaya’s resignation. Another group collects water bottles and food from those who are willing to donate. Some people have set up tea shops, and bring buns and rolls from their homes to feed the protesters. Moreover, there is a sense of unity in the village. Sri Lankans belonging to different ethnic and religious groups—Sinhalas, Tamils, Muslims and Christians—chant in unison, “Diyo diyo salli diyo (give our money back)” and “Go Gota Go”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the slogans have created the mood of a carnival. “Kaputu kak kak kak”, a line from an old Sinhala film song, has been modified to mock former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa for a remark on garbage dumping at Seeduwa, a suburb of Negombo city, near the Colombo airport. He said in an interview that the garbage would attract kaputas (crows), which would affect aircraft take offs and landings. Basil’s critics say that although he is an American citizen, his English is not good. Although he gave the interview in English, he used the word kaputa, instead of crow, resulting in much ridicule. “Kaputu kak kak kak, Basil, Basil, Basil,” goes the parody. Those who drive past the village would honk to the rhythm of the song, while children blow toy horns. There are men dressed as crows. And there are puppeteers, folk artists, theatre groups and music bands, who perform with a common aim—to eject Gotabaya from the president’s post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pro-Rajapaksa camp initially said the protest movement was nothing more than a “beach party”, where people pitched tents and had fun. But as the protesters continue to remain entrenched, the government is clearly rattled. In a knee-jerk reaction, it even banned toy horns. The protesters are also careful about maintaing the solemn nature of the protests. When a group of transgender people gathered outside the president’s office with a huge Go Gota Home sign and started dancing to the beat of drums, protest organisers tried stopping them, saying it was a serious protest, and not a fun gathering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like the weather in Colombo, the mood at the protest village, too, seems to change ever so quickly.</p> Sun Apr 24 10:19:56 IST 2022 early-elections-will-be-the-key-to-imran-khan-political-survival <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON APRIL 7,</b> the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that the ruling by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly to dismiss the no-confidence motion against the prime minister was “contrary to the constitution”. So it overturned the ruling. In a landmark 5-0 verdict, the court restored the National Assembly and ordered the vote on the motion to be held on April 9. Imran Khan was finally voted out after a day marked by fiery speeches, spirited debates on the alleged ‘foreign conspiracy’, the resignation of the speaker of the National Assembly and the decision by the supreme court and the Islamabad high court to open their doors at midnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was elected prime minister on April 11. With Khan out of power, it will be interesting to see what his political strategy is going to be in the days to come. Heeding his call to protest against the “imported government”, thousands of his supporters took to the streets in several cities. Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), also announced en masse resignations from the National Assembly, which some analysts see as a strategy to force early elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Television journalist Shahzad Iqbal said that after being ousted from the prime minister’s post, Khan has hit his sweet spot, which is the opposition chair. “In the past, he has proved to be successful in narrative-building politics, be it against drones, rigging or corruption. He is very much on the same path again,” said Iqbal. “The narrative he is building now is that a nexus between a foreign power (the US) and the opposition led to his ouster. His party members and supporters are openly chanting slogans, Jo America ka yaar hai, woh gaddaar hai (Those who are America’s friends are traitors).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan has realised that his political survival depends on early elections. “He knows that he has lost the support of the west, the establishment, bureaucracy, media, lawyer forums and civil society. Therefore, he sees no point in doing conventional politics. He thinks his only hope is his popularity,” said Iqbal. The response he is receiving from public gatherings, and the poor credibility of the mainstream parties in the new government, have further emboldened him. “There is no doubt that Khan has re-energised his support base, but the absence of the establishment’s backing and the mismatch between his promises and his performance will make it difficult for Khan to rise again to the throne this soon,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior journalist Arifa Noor said Khan was counting on creating pressure on the streets to force elections. “He is confident of his popular support and the inability of an unwieldy coalition to last for long. He also realises that there are some differences in opinion within the military ranks which could add to the pressure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Shehbaz, meanwhile, the first couple of months would be crucial as he tries to chart a different course from the Khan government. “Should Shehbaz fail to do so, especially regarding the economy, it would provide Khan all the talking points he needs to corral support and build himself back up as the frontrunner in the next elections,” said political analyst Benazir Shah. “Also, poor performance by Shehbaz could lead to the electables (politicians with their own support base) and smaller political parties, which are standing by his side now, jumping ship.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan will work to energise his cadres and also to add to his support base. The successful protest demonstrations organised by his supporters show that he has managed to get his core support back, riding on the narrative that he was forced out of power through an international conspiracy. “He will, however, struggle to get the support of the neutral voters this time because of his government’s poor performance for the past three and a half years,” said television anchor Adil Shahzeb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lack of support from the army will prove to be another major handicap. Senior journalist Ajmal Jami said Khan’s core support would not be enough to get him back to power. “Khan might get people out on the streets with his anti-American narrative, but, historically, it has never worked in Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest electoral province. He might get simple majority in his stronghold, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a few seats in Karachi, but that will not be enough for his party to return to power in Islamabad,” said Shahzeb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan seems to have convinced his supporters that his political opponents are traitors conspiring with Americans to oust him. He has also unleashed anti-establishment sentiment among his supporters who now openly resent the army for remaining ‘neutral’ while Khan was being toppled, according to Jami. “Khan’s anti-US mantra might get him public support, but it will also become a binding force for the new coalition government,” said Jami. “How long will he be able to sustain this pressure and how long can Shehbaz respond to it through better governance and economic policies will be the most important thing to watch out for in the days to come.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sarfraz is a Lahore-based journalist.</b></p> Sat Apr 16 12:41:28 IST 2022 emmanuel-macron-has-edge-against-marine-le-pen-in-french-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A few days before the first round of the French presidential elections on April 10, liberal newspaper Le Monde published a cartoon showing President Emmanuel Macron on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Macron was shown turning away from the crowd at an election rally and saying: “Vladimir, I am just finishing with this chore and I will call you back.” As he faces a stiff challenge in the April 24 runoff with far right leader Marine Le Pen in a repeat of the 2017 contest, Macron seems to have realised that his preoccupation with foreign policy and absence from the campaign scene was a major error in judgment. An opinion poll taken on April 10 puts Le Pen at 49 per cent against Macron’s 51 per cent, well within the margin of error.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Macron, who ran as an upstart disruptor in 2017, had been acting like an aloof establishmentarian till the first round of elections. He announced his candidacy only on March 2, just a day before the deadline, and refused to attend a campaign rally till April 2. He shunned debates with other candidates. On March 14, when he took part in a television programme, his team ensured that all of them were interviewed separately. Macron’s strategy was to present himself as being above the rest of the crowd. “His choice to remain as head of state till the end prevented him from becoming a real candidate,” said Vincent Martigny, who teaches political science at the University of Nice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, however, it did not matter much, at least in the first round. Macron topped the race with 27.8 per cent, compared with 24 per cent in 2017. Le Pen finished second with 23.1 and the far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came third with 22 per cent. But the comfortable lead he enjoyed in the first round may not be enough for Macron as the runoff will also be a referendum of his performance as president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his five years in the Élysée Palace, Macron largely followed a top-down style. His controversial pension reform was forced through the parliament without a vote, although it was abandoned later because of the pandemic. One reason behind such autocratic decision-making is the total decimation of the traditional party structure in France, triggered largely by Macron’s victory in 2017. Macron presented himself as an alternative to both centre right and centre left voters. It led to the collapse of the socialists and the conservatives, the two major political groups that ruled France since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Macron took over the centre, poached leaders from the two traditional parties and launched a political movement of his own, called La République En Marche (The Republic On the Move). There are not many charismatic leaders in the party, and there is not much internal democracy. People hardly even know Prime Minister Jean Castex, as all authority is concentrated in the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notwithstanding his aloofness and the dictatorial style of functioning, Macron’s supporters have been hoping that his handling of the economy and foreign policy would help him win another term. His foreign policy was headlined by a stronger Europe, effective multilateralism on global issues and France’s growing role as a balancing power in crisis zones. Macron also widened the scope of French involvement in Africa by going beyond Francophone Africa, even as he retained the traditional French presence in the Sahel. He tried to engage with Russia and China, and despite falling out with Joe Biden over the formation of the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) alliance, ties with the US have been largely robust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Macron, France did well economically, registering the strongest growth in 50 years and performing better than other major European economies, despite the ravages of the pandemic. But his decision to lower taxes for businesses and ease labour laws have been unpopular. An increase in the price of diesel in 2018 gradually morphed into the ‘Yellow Vest protests’ which showed the growing disconnect between the poor and the governing elites in Paris. Macron, however, survived the crisis riding on the overall strength of the economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war and the sanctions on Russia have caused a sharp spike in inflation. Food prices went up by 4.5 per cent in March, while energy prices grew by 29 per cent. The crisis gave Le Pen an unexpected opening. She roundly criticised Macron for his inability to rein in Putin and for the impact the sanctions were having on ordinary people. “Cutting off Russian energy would be a tragedy for French families,” said Le Pen. “My priority is to defend the purchasing power of French families.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, after far right pundit Éric Zemmour announced his decision to join the presidential race, most observers were prepared to write Le Pen’s political obituary. There were op-eds which concluded that Zemmour would supplant her as the far right’s choice. As Le Pen looked tired, spent and devoid of ideas, Zemmour ran an energetic campaign, warning about the “great displacement”—a wave of immigrants replacing the native French—turning France into a Muslim-majority country. Even Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal joined him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, by March, things started turning around for Le Pen as the Zemmour campaign unravelled. Zemmour’s extreme rhetoric on issues such as Islam, immigration and crime helped Le Pen project a moderate, measured and calm image. Though she was a major Putin supporter and received financial assistance from Russia, Le Pen was quick to denounce the invasion and to welcome Ukrainian refugees, unlike Zemmour, who dithered for a week. It marked a revival of her fortunes as she took back the mantle of the far right. Going into the second round of presidential polls, she appears less radical and more pragmatic, although her agenda does not differ much from that of Zemmour’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Le Pen’s strategy to improve her image, however, was not sudden or drastic. She has been doing that ever since she took over the National Front, founded in the 1970s by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a veteran of the Algerian War. In an effort to detoxify the party, she even expelled her father, condemning his racist views and anti-Semitic rhetoric.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After losing to Macron in the 2017 elections, she renamed the party the National Rally, and tweaked its agenda by abandoning ideas that worried centrist voters. She dropped the demand for reinstating death penalty and for France to leave the European Union. She has even taken up causes dear to the left such as hikes in pensions and welfare payments, lowering the retirement age, opposition to privatisation of public services and trade protectionism to defend French interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she runs a tight race against Macron, Le Pen has indicated that if she is elected president, she would form a national unity government and would appoint ministers from across the political spectrum, including the left and right, ostensibly with an eye on centrist voters who still remain suspicious about her.</p> <p>On the personal front, too, Le Pen has attempted an image makeover. When her niece defected to the Zemmour camp, she did not appear bitter or resentful. She said she had brought her up like a daughter and the decision was extremely painful. She tactfully avoided mentioning that they differed ideologically and that Maréchal, once touted as her successor, was increasingly sidelined in the party. Once on the campaign trail in Dunkirk, she posed for a selfie with a Muslim teenager wearing a headscarf, despite her opposition to donning headscarf in public places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She opened up about her private life, revealing that she no longer has a boyfriend and that she would live alone in the presidential palace with her cats, if she won the polls. Le Pen owns six cats and recently got a diploma to become a registered cat breeder. She made peace with her mother with whom she was not on talking terms for 15 years. Even as she put up a softened image, Le Pen has been campaigning hard, especially across provincial France. As inflation has hit the working class badly, her focus is on issues affecting their purchasing power and the rising cost of living.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the race has tightened significantly, Macron still retains the edge. But winning over the support of the far left would be the key. As the first round results clearly indicate, France remains divided into three blocs—the centre dominated by Macron, the far right under Le Pen and the far left led by Mélenchon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With not much to gain from the grand old parties, Macron will have to look at the anti-NATO, anti-EU, protectionist Mélenchon for support. While Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo and Republican Valérie Pécresse professed support for Macron, Mélenchon has, so far, refused to endorse the president. While he clearly asked his supporters to avoid Le Pen at any cost, in the absence of a positive endorsement for Macron, many of his supporters could abstain on April 24. “Macron needs to convince voters that voting for him is not only in order to avoid Le Pen becoming president, but that he will, if reelected, listen to those who reject some of his planned reforms, especially that of raising retirement age,” said Jean-Yves Camus, associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris. “Macron also needs to avoid being seen as too arrogant.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Camus said Le Pen should focus on her credibility. “For that she needs to do better in her debate with Macron on April 20, than she did in 2017. She will also stress the fact that she is the only one who can oust Macron,” said Camus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Le Pen, meanwhile, continues to woo the Mélenchon cohort assiduously, even as she keeps her base happy by promising a referendum on immigration, an amendment to the constitution to give native French people priority in welfare benefits, housing, jobs and health care and a ban on the Muslim headscarf from public places. Winning over the mainstream voters, therefore, could prove to be a challenge for her, despite her image makeover. After all, as Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times pointed out, while speaking on her diploma on cat breeding, she told Le Monde that she loved studying their “genetic characteristics to allow for the perfection of the race”. It may not be a comforting thought for the moderate voters as they wait for April 24.</p> Wed Apr 20 20:05:11 IST 2022 diplomats-from-various-camps-fly-into-delhi-to-discuss-russia-ukraine-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Creme diplomat is the hottest item on New Delhi’s summer menu. With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and a world order on the churn, diplomats from across the world, and more significantly, from across various camps, have been heading towards India, keeping officials of the ministry of external affairs, who had got used to virtual meets, on their toes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the last few days, India has hosted two heads of government (Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba), five foreign ministers (Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, UK’s Liz Truss, China’s Wang Yi, Greece’s Nikos Dendias and Mexico’s Marcelo Casaubon), two national security advisers (Germany’s Jens Plotner and the Dutch Geoffery Van Leeuwen), and a deputy NSA, Daleep Singh from the US. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit was cancelled because he got Covid; his defence minister’s visit, too, was rescheduled because of security incidents in Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India also held two important trade meets with the UAE and Australia virtually, the former taking forward a landmark trade pact and the latter inking the Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement (ECTA). The phone lines are busy, as key officials of various countries reach out to their Indian counterparts. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called up External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar a day before Lavrov’s visit. Meanwhile, the French navy engaged with the Indian Navy in the Varuna exercise in the Arabian Sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russia-Ukraine conflict is the number one agenda at most of these interactions, either directly or indirectly. Only Nepal’s Deuba focussed almost exclusively on bilateral relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the India-Japan summit, Kishida mentioned Ukraine, while India kept away from the subject. India and Japan are partners in many economic projects, including development in the northeast, the bullet train and smart city projects. The Japanese side told media persons that Ukraine dominated the conversation for nearly 95 of the 110 minutes that the two prime ministers were together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Japan used diplomatic language to tell India to switch over from the Russian side to the US-led one. Truss and Singh used firmer language. Truss, while noting that she would not tell India what to do, kept the emphasis of her remarks on the Russian aggression, helping Ukraine and how the UK planned to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. She conveyed the “importance of democracies working closer together to deter aggressors, reduce vulnerability to coercion and strengthen global security”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh was blunter in telling India that the next time China invaded India, Russia would not come to India’s aid. India largely ignored Singh’s comment, but Truss found herself in an embarrassing face-off with Jaishankar at an event, where he actually called out the west on its duplicity, noting how their energy imports from Russia actually increased in March, even as they went blue in the face talking about sanctions. Truss saved face by saying that strengthening the relationship with India had become more important than it has ever been precisely because we are living in a more insecure world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truss’s visit coincided with Lavrov’s and the difference in their receptions was telling. While she was received as per standard protocol, he had a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, Lavrov is the only visiting dignitary (apart from the government heads, Kishida and Deuba) with whom Modi held a meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US President Joe Biden recently commented that India’s position [on the conflict] has been “shaky”. However, Jaishankar had earlier told Parliament that India’s position was “steadfast and consistent”, calling for an urgent cessation of violence and noting that dialogue and diplomacy was the way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While at the various fora of the United Nations, India has shown its neutrality, by abstaining on a number of resolutions on the conflict, it has not buckled to any pressure to join the sanctions against Russia, which has offered oil to India at discounted rates, even assuring last mile security for the import. Jaishankar noted that India’s traditional suppliers are the Middle East, but if the west has issues, why has it upped imports of Russian oil?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pictures are telling. Jaishankar and Truss shake hands literally at an arm’s length from each other, Lavrov and Jaishankar’s handshake is closer and firmer. Images of Modi and Lavrov are even more congenial. And Wang Yi and Jaishankar’s picture together is the most telling, they do not even shake hands, preferring to fold their hands in a namaste pose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The west is finding India’s friendship with Russia very testing, and is fast losing patience. It cannot speak down to India like it can to some other nations, or use threats like withholding aid. In another era, perhaps it could have been more directly critical of India’s independent foreign policy. In these times, however, the situation is complex. Before Russia’s actions, America’s rival—and threat—number one was China. Economically, it still is. America’s new thrust in foreign policy—renaming Asia Pacific and Indo Pacific, and wooing India into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—is with an eye on China. Directly alienating India, therefore, comes with complications it would rather do without.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s position, incidentally, is not too different from most Asian nations, except American allies Japan and South Korea. The Middle East countries have refused to lower their oil prices to unsettle Russia. And all would rather not get roped into someone else’s war. Israel, while siding with the US on facilitating execution of the sanctions, and voting on the US side at UN resolutions, too, has deep ties with Russia that it does not want to jeopardise. As Jaishankar noted, the situation in Afghanistan impacted the region directly, Ukraine has not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the Quad nations, Australia so far has shown the most understanding and patience with India’s position. Could that be because the free trade agreement was in the last stages of being put together? The two nations signed the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) on April 2, a huge development in the bilateral relation. A ministry official said it was on the lines of the one India signed with the UAE some years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “This agreement opens a big door into the world’s fastest growing major economy .... by unlocking a huge market of around 1.4 billion consumers in India, we are strengthening the economy and growing jobs right here at home.” Clearly, national interest is foremost. The deal was inked a day after Lavrov’s visit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in March, a UK cross-party 10 member delegation’s scheduled visit to India was cancelled without either side giving a reason. Observers on both side attributed it to differences over Ukraine. Post Brexit, the UK is forging a trade pact with India; the third level of talks is scheduled this month. It is reported that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson might visit India this month. Truss has taken back a measure of India’s attitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India’s present position is not too different from its traditional one in international conflicts (it abstained from the US-led UNSC vote in 2011 on a no fly zone over Libya), the difference this time is India’s firm assertion of its position. It is guided by its security and national interests, no doubt, and that is what the official line is. However, this is also payback time for the many occasions when Russia had India’s back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US factored in India’s closeness to Russia when it reached out with new military pacts and other deals of friendship. It knew it could only push India so much, and not more on certain issues. Russia remained tolerant when India forged a new friendship with the US, and though disapproving of the Indo Pacific, it maintained that it understood India’s position on the topic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov, while in Delhi during the Raisina Dialogue in 2019, lashed out at the “exclusivity” of the Indo Pacific concept, and said the onus was on India to convince Russia otherwise. The ongoing conflict is the moment when India has proven that in action, refusing to isolate Russia diplomatically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only a year ago that India reeled under the massive Delta wave crisis and Modi reached out to the world for help. Russia was among the first to send relief material including 20 oxygen producing units, largely without overt publicity. UK, France and Germany were quick to respond, too. America’s knee-jerk reaction, however, was to hold onto its cache of raw material for vaccines, a move that drew criticism from its own officials. Though the US sent oodles of air and aid in the days and weeks that followed, Biden’s initial dithering will always be remembered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, meanwhile, finds itself on the Russian camp more by default than design. While India may choose to ignore Singh’s comment, deep down, the Russia-China closeness is being closely watched. China and Russia share a longer border, the two nations are part of many groupings, in many of which India is also present—Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS and the Russia-China-India group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wang’s visit across South Asia recently was to reassess ties in this part of the world, which is in its own flux, thanks to the Afghanistan situation. This being the year of China’s presidency of BRICS, he is also laying the ground for a probable Modi visit, in case the summit is physical. India, however, made it clear that it is not business as usual with China as long as the border situation remains unresolved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Across the world, nations are finding different ways to deal with an assertive India, and woo it to their side. So far, India has managed this delicate diplomatic dance with its posture firm and head high. As the manoeuvres get more complicated, will India be able to choreograph its way through with the same elan?</p> Thu Apr 07 17:54:26 IST 2022 sri-lanka-needs-sweeping-reforms-and-imf-bailout-to-survive-ongoing-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 31, massive protests broke out in Colombo, with people laying siege to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private house in the capital’s Mirihana district. The Jubilee Post junction, which was beautified and renovated to ensure a smooth commute for the president between his home and office, turned into the main protest spot. The next day, the government declared a public emergency. It, however, failed to deter people from intensifying their protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the economic situation continues to deteriorate, cracks have emerged in the ruling coalition. Gotabaya dropped his brother Basil, who was the finance minister, from the cabinet. Basil was spearheading the government’s attempts to borrow from countries such as India and China, and also from international lending institutions. Ali Sabry, who replaced Basil, quit within two hours of taking oath as minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka, which was all set to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for getting its debts restructured, is now caught in a disastrous tailspin. “Our foreign reserves were plundered and we no longer have money for imports. This is caused by the adamant behaviour of the government, including the Central Bank governor. The crisis is happening only because of our wrong choices and poor policy-making,” said Umesh Moramudali, an economist at the University of Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the resignation of all 26 cabinet ministers except Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Central Bank governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, considered close to the Rajapaksas, too, stepped down. The quick resignations of key financial policy-makers and the continuing political turmoil seem to have further complicated Sri Lanka’s negotiations with international financial institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While there are huge public protests against the government, the Rajapaksas appear to be firm about staying on. On April 6, as the parliament met for the second consecutive day to debate the ongoing crisis, chief government whip Johnston Fernando told the house that Gotabaya would not resign under any circumstances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Gotabaya’s determination to continue has further angered the people and the opposition. “There is no vision or policy. This is a social catastrophe,” said opposition leader Sajith Premadasa. “People lack bare essentials. They have lost their livelihoods. We, in the opposition, believe that we possess the requisite acumen to deal with this terrible crisis. Everyone will have to swallow the bitter pill. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, if we follow innovative solutions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Premadasa, who heads the Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, has refused to join the “unity government” called by Gotabaya on April 4. “We will not take part in any administration when this set of people remain. People want them to go. Being a responsible opposition, we will not deceive our people. The ruling party is corrupt and is full of malpractices,” said Premadasa. The opposition and the Tamil parties also demand the scrapping of the 20th amendment of the constitution, which gives the president absolute executive power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2020 parliament elections, the Rajapaksas had won a two-thirds majority, a first in Sri Lankan history. With Gotabaya as president and Mahinda as prime minister, it was perhaps the strongest government ever, giving people hope. “But the government failed miserably to deliver,” said Jagath Wickramanayake, a Colombo-based lawyer. He said the only solution to the ongoing crisis was Gotabaya’s resignation and the abolition of the 20th amendment. “We should go back to the 19th amendment which curtails the powers of the president to some extent,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Gotabaya continues to act like the all-powerful executive presidents in the past like J.R. Jayewardene, political observers foresee a power shift. “As the president refuses to step down, there is the possibility of a minority government,” said political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajapaksas have already lost their majority in the parliament, with many of their allies declaring themselves as independents. As many as 30 members belonging to different parties of the ruling coalition have announced their decision to stay independent. Another 12 lawmakers from Mahinda’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, too, have followed suit. Former president Maithiripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party has also chosen to quit the ruling alliance, undermining the government’s stability. “If the government cannot furnish the numbers, a proposal will be made to call for a debate on who should be the new prime minister,” said Kalansooriya. But the Rajapaksas are unlikely to give in without a fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tamil parties in the parliament, meanwhile, have adopted a wait-and-watch policy. “The US is trying to reduce India’s influence in Sri Lanka. The geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific could influence the situation in our country. Our priority, however, remains a permanent solution for the Tamils,” said Jaffna MP Sivagnanam Siritharan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The beleaguered Gotabaya government is now seeking help from all possible quarters. After securing loans and credit lines from India and China, it has approached Bangladesh for financial support. With the IMF taking its time to respond to Sri Lanka’s pleas, the country is getting increasingly worried about repaying debts worth $4 billion which are due this year, including an international sovereign bond of $1 billion maturing in July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Central Bank governor W.A. Wijewardena, however, said financial help from countries like India and China was just short-term trade credit, which would not help Sri Lanka find a solution to the economic crisis. “The credit we got from India is worth less than a month’s import requirement,” he said. The help from the IMF, in this context, would be more crucial. He said a new loan from the international agency might help ease the situation as it allowed the Central Bank to manage its balance of payments. But it will work only in the long term, while Sri Lanka desperately requires short term solutions as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One important reform the IMF has suggested in the past is to allow the Central Bank to function independently under a law enacted by parliament. But the bill was shelved when Gotabaya took over. Wijewardena said such a law would ensure the independence of the Central Bank. “By this way, it can provide productive and constructive advice to the government,” he said. The IMF also wants Sri Lanka to reconsider its existing economic and financial policies, right from the disastrous tax cuts to the decision to ban chemical fertilisers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Central Bank, meanwhile, has got a new governor—Nandalal Weerasinghe, a former deputy governor of the bank. He was also an alternate executive director of IMF, and Sri Lankan officials believe that he is the best man to negotiate a favourable deal. Weerasinghe, who is currently in Australia, said he would return on April 7. “But I have already started work,” he said. “My primary intention is to have discussions with the IMF and to appoint advisors for debt restructuring as a priority.”</p> Thu Apr 07 17:48:36 IST 2022 the-sri-lanka-crisis-has-indian-coast-guard-on-high-alert <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MARCH 21,</b> Mary Clary boarded a boat from Kokupadaiyan near Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka to Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram district. The 23-year-old made the perilous crossing with her husband and their newborn child. Mary knew the dangers involved in crossing the Palk Strait, but she was more worried about her child starving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My only thought was to flee hunger and feed my baby,” Mary told reporters as she landed in Dhanushkodi on March 22, after being rescued by the Indian Coast Guard. Mary, her husband, Gajendran, and the baby are now lodged in the Mandapam transit camp, an exclusive settlement for Sri Lankan refugees near the temple town of Rameshwaram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s acute economic crisis has led to a new wave of refugees fleeing the country to find food and livelihoods. Tired of waiting in long queues for rations, Mary and 15 other Sri Lankan Tamils became the first group to flee to India. “We were dropped off in an island; we did not know the place,” said Diuri, a 28-year-old refugee. “Finally, we were rescued by the Coast Guard. I am glad we could reach here alive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A second group of refugees—10 people belonging to two families—landed in Dhanushkodi the same day. They were from Vavuniya, in northern Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardly 30km from Sri Lanka, the coastline of Dhanushkodi has always been within the reach of distressed Sri Lankan Tamils. People have fled ethnic conflicts and economic crises in Sri Lanka to land in Dhanushkodi, live in camps there and, if they are lucky, migrate to Europe. Sivasankanthathai, a refugee from Vavuniya, said thousands of people were waiting to flee to India. “[We only want to] live a life free from hunger,” she said. “We don’t know how else to survive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Sri Lanka has the Indian Coast Guard on high alert. Intelligence officers in Tamil Nadu say they are expecting at least 2,000 refugees in the next few weeks, if the situation in Sri Lanka does not improve. According to the refugees who have reached Dhanushkodi, at least 400 families in Sri Lanka’s northern regions like Mannar, Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee are waiting to cross.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We can’t live there anymore,” said Sivasankanthathai. “We boarded the boat knowing that we would either reach India or perish in the sea. We were marooned for a whole day, unsure whether we would ever reach land. Finally, we reached Dhanushkodi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to officials in Sri Lanka, those waiting to flee the country are mostly refugees who had returned after the end of the civil war in 2009. “Most of them were once refugees in India and came back in 2016-2017,” said an official in Jaffna. This time, though, the Indian Coast Guard is expecting the Sinhalese refugees, too, based on intelligence reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka first came to Dhanushkodi in the early 1980s, when the island nation was facing its first-ever economic crisis, forcing even the Sinhalese to flee. A few families landed in Tamil Nadu and then migrated to Bodh Gaya in Bihar and to other Buddhist pilgrim spots in India. They returned to Sri Lanka when the situation improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was after 1983, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began to lead the insurgency, that the influx of Sri Lankan refugees to India grew. As per records of the Tamil Nadu government, at least 1.34 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils fled to India between 1983 and 1987. In 1990 alone, around 1.22 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils landed in Dhanushkodi. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination in May 1991 changed India’s attitude to Sri Lankan refugees, though. Between 1991 and 1995, around 55,000 refugees were sent back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1995, when the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka plumbed new depths, the flow of refugees increased again. Crowded boats from the island nation continued to reach Indian shores throughout the 2000s, and 108 refugee camps were set up across Tamil Nadu. The influx touched a new high during the last phase of the war in 2008, pushing the total number of refugees who had crossed the Palk Strait since 1983 to 3.04 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 11,283 refugees returned to Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2012, after the war ended. Nearly 1.01 lakh refugees still live in Tamil Nadu. Among them, as many as 58,822 Sri Lankan Tamils—or 19,000 families—live in the 108 refugee camps in the state, while 34,087 people live outside the camps and are registered with the local police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 16 refugees who recently landed in Dhanushkodi, at least four people had earlier lived in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu and returned to Sri Lanka in 2017-18. “My mother lives in a refugee camp in Gudiyatham (in Vellore district),” said Diuri. Her hope, she said, was that she would be able to live with her mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, if refugees fleeing the war were given asylum earlier, Diuri and others have been detained now for attempting to illegally enter India. In the absence of laws concerning refugees in India, some of them have been booked under the Passports Act and the Foreigners Act. They cannot be given asylum or granted refugee status, apparently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is the first time in decades that refugees have come during an economic crisis,” Jacintha Lazarus, the Tamil Nadu government’s commissioner of rehabilitation and welfare of non-resident Tamils, told THE WEEK. “There is no refugee law in place in India. The rule position is that when they come because of armed conflict, they can be detained as illegal migrants. But we decide on a case-to-case basis. But for an economic crisis, that [provision] is not there. So we are waiting for the Union government to tell us what to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 23, a day after the new group of refugees arrived, the adults among them were remanded to 15-day judicial custody in Puzhal Central Jail in the outskirts of Chennai. Two children were allowed to stay with their mothers in the prison. Diuri’s nine-year-old daughter, Esther, was sent to live with her mother at Gudiyatham.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Life is better here,” said Sothilingam, who came to the Mandapam camp in 2006. “I don’t want to go back to Sri Lanka. My children are studying here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sothilingam, who hails from Vavuniya, works as a labourer in Rameshwaram. He still remembers the horrors of the last phase of the war. “One of our neighbours was sexually harassed by the Sri Lankan army,” he said. “We could not help her, even though we were next door. As there were women in my family, too, we decided to flee the country. Life is peaceful here, but we are not happy since we are not in our homeland.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Welfare schemes announced by successive Tamil Nadu governments have benefited most refugees in the Mandapam camp. Apart from rice distributed free of cost, each refugee family gets Rs1,000 as monthly assistance. The DMK government has promised to build 3,510 houses and renovate 7,469 houses for them. It has also vowed to provide assistance for children who are seeking higher education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The inmates of the camp have come to the help of the new refugees, supplying them with essential items. A friend of Sothilingam who did not want to reveal his identity said the situation was dire. “There is famine in our homeland,” he said. “How can people live there?”</p> Sat Apr 02 12:31:05 IST 2022 seeking-reparations-from-british-royals-no-longer-a-fringe-demand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As royals go, the duke and duchess of Cambridge are near perfect. Good-looking, assured and alluringly attired, they waft through crowds with an easy charm, leaving a warm, fuzzy feeling behind. But their visit to the Caribbean nations came a cropper. Not because their winsome smiles lacked any lustre or their practised concern any of its solicitousness, but simply because they came up against the harsh reckoning of history. Angry protests, centred around painful memories of colonial repression and the slave trade, followed Prince William and Kate Middleton from Belize to Jamaica to the Bahamas. Avoidable public diplomacy gaffes made matters worse: the duchess shaking hands with Jamaican children through a wire fence and the royal couple, dressed in white, inspecting a military parade from an open-top Land Rover, only served to evoke images of racial discrimination and imperial arrogance. The tour, intended to bolster support for the British royals in their former colonies in the queen’s platinum jubilee year, ended up as a PR disaster. The result: an even bigger question mark now hovers over the future relationship of the Caribbean nations with the Crown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protests could not have been a total surprise. The ancestors of the royal family, including Elizabeth I and Charles II, are seen as direct beneficiaries of the flourishing slave trade that took 12 million Africans in chains to the Americas; six lakh slaves ended up in the sugar plantations of Jamaica alone. Two centuries of this free slave labour, followed by indentured labour from India, helped Britain build and modernise its economy. Demands for an apology for historical wrongs and reparations for the atrocities committed have become louder. Added to this is the spreading Republicanism in the region; Barbados removed the queen as its head of state last year. Now, as Prince William listened impassively, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that his country, too, was “moving on”; the scene seems set for Jamaica to follow Barbados, and that may trigger a domino effect. Those planning the visit seemed to have ignored, or underestimated, all this as well as the sharp focus that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to bear on racial oppression; their naïve hope may have been that despite the ominous signs, Britain’s perceived superiority and royal charm would carry the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Responding to the protests, Prince William did bite the bullet and express “profound sorrow” for “abhorrent” slavery during a dinner speech in Jamaica, following on his father’s earlier statement in Barbados that the “atrocity of slavery… stains our history”. From the point of view of the victims, these statements fall short of an outright apology and only serve to fuel further anger. Indians are familiar with this refusal to simply say sorry: our calls for an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre have been similarly parried with linguistic guile, the last example of which was Theresa May’s expression of “deep regret” over the heinous 1919 massacre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An apology, some believe, would provide a legal basis to the moral case for reparations. In any case, reparations are no longer a fringe demand. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has formally put forward a ten-point plan to European countries seeking reparations; 100 prominent Jamaicans have demanded reparations in an open letter to the monarchy, and one Jamaican lawmaker has calculated $10 billion as the asking price. But reparations go beyond money alone; they require compensation for mass murder, untold suffering and the total loss of spiritual, intellectual and cultural heritage. Those opposing reparations term them as unrealistic; the crimes committed by past generations, it is argued, cannot be paid for by present ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what gives the demand an undeniable edge is that reparations have been paid in the past—only not to the enslaved, but to the slave-owners. Revolutionary Haiti overthrew slavery in 1804 and had to pay nearly 8,000 French slave-owners some 150 million francs plus loan interests over 122 years as compensation for the loss of their “property”. The British government paid an equivalent of 300 billion (2018 value) to former slave owners as compensation after abolishing slavery in 1834; the last payment was made as recently as 2015. At the height of the Civil War, the US government paid slave-owners $300 for each freed slave; payments of similar reparations to slave-owners appear in the records of several European and Latin American nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this adds up to a few hard facts, which can be examined after the bruised royal egos have been salved: the world is changing and nostalgia for a lost empire is no longer good currency; the dead past can still return to haunt our present; wounds have to be cauterised or they continue to fester. And the ship that helped Britannia rule the waves has long since sailed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is former high commissioner to the Court of St James’s and former ambassador to the United States.</b></p> Sat Apr 02 12:01:25 IST 2022 the-dilemma-of-mbbs-students-from-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE FIRST PARAGRAPH</b> of a 2014 research paper—‘Rehabilitation and Compensation of Migrants after Partition’—explains how displaced students and trainees were rehabilitated in India after the partition. Seating capacity in institutions was expanded, double shifts were introduced and new colleges were erected. “Students from colleges and technical institutions were offered loans, scholarships, and “exemption from the payment of fees was also sanctioned for the purchase of books, etc,” says the study published in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary and Scientific Emerging Research. The highest loans were offered to medical students: Rs100 a month, in addition to tuition fees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Himanshu Shukla, a fourth-year student of Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University in Ukraine, dramatically invokes the story of this rehabilitation to drive home his helplessness. “Even though the government had less money then, overnight colleges were created for students who ran away from places like Lahore,” says Shukla, on phone from his home in Lucknow. He returned to India on March 6 after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Shukla’s Ukrainian friends helped him reach the Romanian border. He is trying to gather his scattered friends in Delhi so that they can start offline classes in coaching centres to align their lessons with the Indian medical curriculum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our college in Ukraine says they are hoping to rebuild airports by September. Maybe, we can go back in six months,” says Shukla, sounding confused and hopeful at the same time. He wants to be prepared to stay on in India, but is unsure how the compensatory funds and facilities provided by the Indian government might help his long-term career prospects. “They cannot expect us to do a mandatory seven years of rural service to get a seat in a government college,” says Shukla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As academicians, medical bodies and government stakeholders mull ways to accommodate the thousands of medical students who fled war-torn Ukraine, students and parents are familiarising themselves with the rules and conditions that govern medical education in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>WhatsApp groups like “Ukraine Parents Only” are abuzz with anticipation as updates come in about how Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee might induct students in different medical colleges in West Bengal, followed by tweets by Rajya Sabha members urging the government to act immediately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the students who spoke to THE WEEK are not hopeful of returning to Ukraine. They say online classes are a joke. “Online classes will help generate more money for the beleaguered Ukrainian government, because colleges can show they have completed the semester—even if by remote learning,” says the Delhi-based Siddharth Saini, a fourth-year student from Vinnytsia National Pirogov Medical University. “You think our sleepless teachers, who react fearfully to bombs and sirens in the middle of classes, can teach anything at this point?” He adds that the Indian regulatory body for medical professionals, the National Medical Council (NMC), does not even recognise medical courses conducted online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, as a respite, final year students have been spared Krok 2—a mandatory state licensing examination in Ukraine without which they cannot get their degrees. The NMC has also allowed final-year foreign medical students to complete their internships in India. This applies to those whose studies have been disrupted due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. But this can only be done after the candidates clear the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE), which has often been accused of lacking transparency and, hence, being difficult to crack. FMGE is set to be replaced by a National Exit Test (NExT) for all final year MBBS students irrespective of whether they studied in India or abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if new rules are promulgated to ensure absorption of students from Ukraine in public and private medical colleges in India, the complications will arise in implementing a sense of “equivalency”, says Gajraj Singh Yadav, assistant professor of biochemistry at Raipur Institute of Medical Sciences. His son Aryan Raj is a second-year student at Uzhhorod Medical University in Ukraine. “Indian medical colleges have a curriculum of four-and-a-half years. In Ukraine, it is almost six years. For example, anatomy and physiology courses are completed [in India] in the first year itself. In Ukraine, anatomy classes continue till the third semester. NMC will have to come up with ways to level such differences,” says Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Advocate Rana Sandeep Bussa and others have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court praying for admission and continuation of studies for Ukraine returnees. At this point, he is most concerned about getting the courts to institute a commission to look at innovative ‘educational rehabilitation’programmes for these students. Especially for those who are in the first five years of the course. “The problem of equivalency can be solved with programmes that can run for three months or so. Later, students can be integrated in such a way that they get to catch up in a shift-like system followed by factories or companies. These double-shift classes are important because colleges are bound to say that they don’t have seats or infrastructure or staff. But these are extraordinary circumstances and rules are always amended in light of events like an act of God or war,” says Bussa, reminding that the United Nations has designated September 9 as International Day to Protect Education from Attack and that India is a signatory to this charter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bussa contends that absorbing displaced Indian medical students from foreign countries will help improve the doctor-population ratio in the country. However, Dr Ravi Wankhedkar, treasurer of the World Medical Association and former president of the IMA, points out there is no shortage of doctors in the country as per WHO norms. “However, there is a mismatch between urban and rural areas and between some states. Southern states have a ratio three to four times the World Health Organization norm. It is due to blatant privatisation of medical education that leads to higher costs and further increases in the urban-rural divide as the rich who can afford the high cost are concentrated in urban areas. Those urban students who become doctors from private colleges never go to rural areas. And, government or the community should not expect service from students who pay Rs1 crore for MBBS and Rs3 crore for MD/MS,” says Wankhedkar, adding that absorption of Ukraine-returned students will do nothing to improve any rural-urban divide which is a result of bad governance and a system which perpetuates exploitative private players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 2019, almost all students who joined universities outside India had qualified for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Undergraduate) or NEET, the all-India pre-medical entrance test for MBBS degrees. Even so, many could not apply for seats in private medical colleges due to prohibitive costs ranging from Rs70 lakh to Rs1.5 crore. Often, snide remarks are hurled at students who chose medical universities in eastern Europe, saying that they are incompetent and do not have good NEET scores. But several high scorers in NEET, with marks ranging between 400 and 500 out of 720, have been forced to leave India because of a shortage of seats in government colleges and unrealistic costs in the private ones. Wankhedkar says there is still time to wait and watch even as wide-ranging consultations take place to find immediate solutions for rehabilitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The rule in India says that one has to complete MBBS in ten years, so there is no harm in waiting for a few months to see how the situation settles in Ukraine. Poland is offering to accommodate students with the same fee structure. The bottom line is there is no hurry,” says Wankhedkar.</p> Sat Apr 02 11:43:31 IST 2022 if-the-past-is-a-guide-imran-khan-fall-is-imminent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Rehman is a senior Pakistani journalist and former Lahore resident editor of the Dawn</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THREE YEARS</b> and eight months into power, Prime Minister Imran Khan is forced to get his hands dirty to avert the toppling of his government. A veteran of 26 years in politics, he had earlier used powerful backers to do the dirty work. One of these tasks was in July 2018: Delivering the right number of lawmakers necessary for Khan’s election as prime minister. They achieved it in the face of adversity, namely Mian Nawaz Sharif. But now, Khan, the chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is desperately seeking the support of these legislators to stay in the saddle. If the past is a guide, his fall is imminent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan’s battle has been one of survival from day one—despite all these references to him being consistently on the same page as the king-making army chief. Even now, the impetus for the opposition’s thrust against the PTI government is linked directly with an extension of tenure for current Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aam aadmi’s feed of this story has been played out in the all-important Punjab province. It is the same Punjab that catapulted Khan to the top in a pulsating finish against the once invincible Sharifs. It is the politicians from various “ignored” corners of the same province—who now figure prominently in the list of the original 14 dissidents—who have shaken the Insafian edifice of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These dissidents say they have turned against the government in Islamabad as their conscience has awoken. But in reality, they have been there for long, poised to advance on Khan’s uneasiness, if not from the outset. Khan’s men have encouraged the people to confront these “traitors”; there have already been a few demonstrations outside the houses of these renegades. Alternatively, the PTI is also trying to defeat the revolt legally, but it is the thinly-veiled provocations asking the public to go after the dissidents which capture the essence of the party’s politics. Khan has made no attempts at any time during his 44-month-long rule to hide his contempt and hatred for his political opponents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His ferocious attacks on the very parliament which he was and still is a part of, and which of course made him the prime minister, were staggering. He had declared the parliamentary opposition as a band of thieves to the applause of his supporters in the house—which included some new names, but mainly elements who had switched parties for a chance at power under Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was a dangerous course where a treasury bench permanently behaved like an opposition, or in the fashion of a revolutionary outfit that had won freedom for people from usurpers but did not know how to come out of the “movement” mode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar observations had earlier been issued about the Asif Ali Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but this was not at all the reason why many advised the PTI to explore an alliance with the Zardari brand. It was the visible strength of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) that encouraged a partnership between the PPP and the PTI. The possibility of any kind of coalition between the experienced and “dirty” Zardari and the untested and “clean” Khan were dashed early given the righteous tone adopted by the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan had repeatedly attempted—but failed—to create political splits in the PPP-ruled Sindh. Just as he was up against a new phenomenon in Punjab, where large numbers stayed with the Sharifs and their model of development. The PTI apparently found it impossible to make inroads into the widespread PML(N) territory in Punjab. Instead, it placed all its faith on a breakup of its largest opponent in the province—and in the rumours about a feud brewing inside the Sharif family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It panned out beautifully for the clever Sharifs. The “feud”, as it was mistakenly described, provided the family with two distinct prongs. One flank is led by Nawaz Sharif and his “pretty” daughter Maryam Nawaz. The other, moderate, side to the PML(N) had the redoubtable Shehbaz Sharif leading the reconciliatory initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was this reconciliatory core of Shehbaz that later on was visible in getting parties such as the PPP, the PML(N) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam together in Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Inevitably, the PPP left the alliance as Rehman and the more radical sections within PDM tried to carve something revolutionary out of the situation—that necessitated a confrontation with the army and endangered PPP’s government in Sindh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current calls for a political gherao of Khan from all sides are based in the opposition’s fears that the PTI might be able to achieve in the remaining part of its five-year term what it has not been able to accomplish in the preceding years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan has put a lot of emphasis on the accountability of the rulers of the past. But the PML(N) and the PPP leaders have escaped rather unscathed so far. The fear was that Mr Clean was about to put his foot on the accelerator as a means to contain the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Letting loose the accountability juggernaut in the rival’s camp was all the more necessary because of a lack of any significant points scored by Khan’s men in power—most notably in Punjab, where Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has failed to deliver. When the crunch came, as expected, a large number of treasury bench lawmakers rebelling against Khan happened to be Buzdar’s neighbours from around Dera Ghazi Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a talk that Khan could save himself by sacrificing Buzdar, but maybe the time for that has already gone. The embattled prime minister is now trying to prove his all-rounder capabilities by trying as many options to stay in power as are suggested to him. The skipper may pretend not to see what is staring him in the face, leaving even more complex questions in the air—like who could replace him? Shehbaz Sharif clearly understands the challenge when he talks about some kind of coalition to replace Khan. Zardari would agree.</p> Thu Mar 31 13:07:30 IST 2022 five-lakh-cyberwarriors-are-fighting-russia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not just boots and missiles that Russia is using to inflict damage in Ukraine, but also bots and malware. The invasion has developed into a first-of-its-kind hybrid war as Russia has stepped up cyberattacks, which it had started as far back as 2014. Now, telecommunications networks in Ukraine have crashed and lights are off in several cities. Victor Zhora, deputy chairman, State Service of Special Communications, Ukraine, spoke exclusively to THE WEEK from Kyiv. He said cyberwarfare was in full swing and added that cooperation was the need of the hour as there is no country that can fight cyberattacks by itself. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Cyberwarfare had begun even before the invasion. How did it play out?</b></p> <p>In 2014, during the election campaign in Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity, hackers sponsored by Russia attacked the election system. The annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of the region was supported by a series of cyberattacks.</p> <p>So, from attacks on the election process, misinformation campaigns, the cyberattack on the power grid in 2015 and the most disruptive cyberattack in June 2017 to a number of other major cyberattacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, there has been continuous cyberaggression against Ukraine. It intensified significantly at the beginning of the year and continued till the largest attack in the middle of February. In our opinion, it was a cyber reconnaissance which preceded the conventional war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There are reports of submarine cables and satellites being damaged. What is the scale of the damage?</b></p> <p>Of course, the latest attacks have caused damage to our information systems. The attacks in the middle of February caused outages in some financial and banking services. Now they are trying to deface websites; websites of local state administrations and media resources have been defaced. These are not as disruptive as we expected. But, the situation is dangerous and we are aware of potential risks. Because we are also witnessing physical attacks on IT infrastructure, which is resulting in disruption of fibre optic cables and broadcast facilities with shelling on our TV towers and missile bombing on IT infrastructure. The focus on disruption of communication and critical infrastructure is rather dangerous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why has Russia not been successful in causing major disruption and damage?</b></p> <p>Firstly, Russia has been busy protecting itself from attacks on its own infrastructure. So it has been focused on defence, not offence. Secondly, they don't need to hide the attacks on critical infrastructure anymore. They can now attack with missiles or troops. Thirdly, I feel their capacity and potential is limited now. Prior to the war, they had a lot of time and financial resources to prepare cyberattacks and even hire professionals against Ukraine, but now they are not able to organise it quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of support is Ukraine getting from NATO, EU and global intelligence agencies?</b></p> <p>We have been getting support for a long time because of a number of cybersecurity projects undertaken by us and we had the opportunity to strengthen it and provide cyber resilience to other countries to raise cyber-workforces. Our resilience today can be explained by the effort taken earlier.</p> <p>In the current situation, we are constantly getting support from foreign partners, commercial companies and government agencies but we are focusing on handling cyberprotection ourselves because of current conditions; we cannot host any foreign expert at present. Also, these are completely new conditions where cyber and conventional operations have been combined and it is a new experience for the world. Previous plans and scenarios are not applicable. The global community should learn from our experience and develop a new plan for cyberprotection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the strength of Ukraine's cyber army?</b></p> <p>The army of cyberwarriors is around half a million (five lakh) and I can divide them into three groups. The first group is a volunteer community which is united into an IT Army. They provide cyber resilience and can provide some offensive operations. But, it is not coordinated by the government. We are concentrating on cyberprotection of Ukraine's infrastructure. The second group consists of dozens of teams of cybersecurity professionals who help government structures to resist cyberaggression. The third is the activist community around the globe that helps Ukraine resist attacks and they are solely responsible for their actions. But in our opinion, any help that can weaken the aggressor is important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Which sectors have been badly hit in the cyberattacks?</b></p> <p>One of the main focuses of the attacks is telecom. They want to destroy communication; telecom infrastructure is being attacked both with technology and physically. The shelling disrupted the internet, but this was quickly and heroically restored by the staff of telecom operators. The attackers are trying to penetrate internal segments of IT systems, but they have been unsuccessful so far. They succeeded in some disinformation messages. The number of attacks is not decreasing. There</p> <p>is continuous activity from their side, but not so successful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why do you think cyberattacks have not spilled outside Ukraine targeting western countries?<br> <br> </b>During the war, especially cyber warfare, we received intelligence from foreign agencies to get ready and we had started preparing against potential dedicated attacks on some segments of the economy. We saw that they tried to attack the energy sector, government services, financial and telecom infrastructure as well.</p> <p>But in my opinion, some special measures taken by our government and State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection in building capacity for cyber security, domestic cyber force and cooperation with foreign partners backed by a new state policy on cyber protection resulted in the understanding that we are stronger than previous times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you see the cyber war continuing for long?<br> <br> </b>We believe they will continue attacking Ukraine as well as other countries. Since they have no limits to using their conventional components, scaling war crimes, shelling residential quarters, maternity hospitals and kindergarten schools, I believe they will use every kind of cyber weapon to attack Ukraine and other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How far is the road to victory for Ukraine?<br> </b>We will return to our peaceful time. It is more military, but it depends on two factors. How soon the Russian war criminals and leaders of the country understand that this absolutely unbelievable aggression against Ukraine will bring nothing to Russian federation. They should stop attacking civilians and killing our people. Russian citizens should understand that they should stop their leaders because Russia will not stop with Ukraine and can resort to attacking other countries. Secondly, it is up to the unity of nations and all the civilised world to resist and provide adequate response to these aggressive actions of the Russian federation as it can potentially result in World War III with a nuclear component to it. We should stop this immediately.<br> <br> </p> <p><b>What is your expectation from the global community, including India?</b></p> <p>We have got signals from the Joe Biden administration and global IT providers who are helping us pro bono and offering their help to Ukrainian companies and the government. I believe many global leaders have asked their companies and community to be prepared to counter any aggression.</p> <p>India is the second largest country in the world with high proficiency in information technology and cybersecurity. We should be united against cyberaggression and war crimes and violation of international agreements. There is no country that can be protected by itself. And Ukraine will appreciate cooperation in the times to come, after our victory, once the aggressor has stopped its aggression.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:48:18 IST 2022 it-is-impossible-to-conquer-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the Russian attack on Ukraine?</b><br> <br> For the first time since World War II, we are seeing a dangerous situation in Europe. It is an open war—whether Moscow calls it a special operation or war. A lot of people have been killed or wounded; millions have left Ukraine as refugees, mostly women and children.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Russia has security concerns about NATO expansion.</b><br> <br> Putin says it is a concern for Russia, that they feel endangered by the steps of NATO and the military activity on the borders of Russia. But, Ukraine is no danger for Russia. Putin is accusing the west—that NATO may install military equipment, especially the most modern, and rockets which are only a few minutes away from Moscow. It is one of the explanations. In my opinion, this is all about Putin’s dream to restore a Soviet empire. He considers the [breakup of the USSR] as their biggest loss after WWII. In 2014, he captured part of Ukrainian territory—Crimea. Now, he has declared two Ukrainian territories as independent soil.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Ukraine plus NATO is the real concern for Russia.</b><br> <br> Becoming a member of NATO is a very long way off. More difficult than becoming a member of the EU. Poland took over 10 years—we had to change 30,000 laws to adapt to the standards of the EU. It was an enormous task. Ukraine is in a much worse position than Poland was decades ago. You cannot be a member of NATO if you are in quarrel with your neighbour over Crimea.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ But isn't NATO indirectly at war with Russia, with Ukraine as the battlefield?</b><br> <br> No. NATO leaders like Joe Biden, Boris Johnson or Emmanuel Macron have made it clear. NATO is NATO. It will defend every inch of the territories of its members. Ukraine is not part of NATO. No NATO troops are there on Ukrainian soil; there is no no-fly zone over Ukraine.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ The arms are from NATO.</b><br> <br> Of course, that is another story. We remember well 2014—the takeover of Crimea by Russians. Look, after they became independent [of the USSR], Ukraine absolutely forgot the army or the needs of an army. They even transferred from Ukrainian soil their nuclear arms. They thought... their borders will be stable and untouchable. But Russia altered its position, saying that NATO was going to Eastern Europe.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ How real is the threat to the Baltic States, or to countries like Poland?</b><br> <br> It is a certain danger. Somehow, Russia’s present policy is not understandable. Many experts are struggling to understand the reasons (triggering) Putin. It is absolutely impossible to conquer Ukraine, or to install a puppet regime. They may try, but only after killing a lot many people. You cannot conquer Ukraine; you cannot govern through a puppet government.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ But Putin may try the same with others, including Poland.</b><br> <br> Perhaps not. First of all, it was a very strong declaration from the part of the US that the NATO will defend its members as per Article V.<br> <br> When it comes to Poland, we need to look at history. We were conquered by Russians and Germans. Poland was divided for 130 years under the rule of Russia, Prussia and the Austrian Empire. So, we feel the danger. That is why we pressed so hard after independence in 1989, to join NATO or the EU. We are lucky that we succeeded; Ukraine didn't.<br> <br> In the beginning, they (Ukraine) stressed the need to be closer to the western institutions. Unfortunately due to, let’s say, the political system they had adopted—oligarchy—they were not able to fulfil the demands of the west on political, economic, or legal demands for partnership with western Europe.<br> <br> It was also not the will of the people [at that time]. Because when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, NATO was enemy number one. It was repeated millions of times in the mass media all over Soviet Russia for decades. So, in the back of the people's minds, NATO was something bad.<br> <br> In the case of a threat from Putin, the west may try to provide Ukrainians with armaments, money, with different forms of assistance—except troops. We (Poland) have over 10,000 American soldiers on our soil, the same number in the Baltic States. Now, more are coming. So it true—what Biden said—we will defend every inch of NATO soil. Of course, we feel the danger, because we know the Russians.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Looking at the issues from the perspective of Ukrainians, they are continuously being denied a credible government.</b><br> <br> Before the takeover of Crimea [by Russia], it was very strange. The government was very weak. There were a lot of pro-Russian factions. Of course, they are a considerable part of society, the Russian-speakers. It is a fact especially in eastern Ukraine. But the unfriendly act of grabbing their territory came as a shock to most of them. Then they tried to change almost everything. Earlier they surrendered to Russians—even a part of the military leadership in Ukraine changed sides. They said: ‘We are Russians; I am taking my rank of admiral or general in the Russian army instead of the Ukrainian army and so on.’<br> <br> To rebuild the army was really difficult. But they succeeded. They had the support from the western countries, but not that openly. Nevertheless, they were able to rebuild the heart of the army. That is why they are showing extreme courage now, defending their homeland.<br> <br> It is the change in the minds of the people. Ukrainians are fighting for their homeland for the first time in their history. They feel they have to defend their homeland.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Is the morale of the Russian forces getting affected?</b><br> <br> There is an enormous gap between Russia and Ukraine. Yet, the Russians are losing ground. The united stance of the rest of Europe, plus the US and Canada, too, was unexpected. I cannot remember such an almost unanimous stand against Russia, which has a lot of supporters in western Europe. Russia is delivering to most of Europe's oil and gas. It is a problem now. You may blacklist Russia, but look at a country like Bulgaria - a member of NATO and EU. Without the gas from Russia, they can't survive. &nbsp;<br> <br> But, Russia will pay a heavy price. They didn't imagine this. Iran collapsed after financial sanctions. I think it will be the same with Russia.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Has Russia reached a point of no return, but unable to advance?</b><br> <br> We have to look at the history of Russia. It happened with leaders in the czarist period. They were crazy enough to start the war with dreams to conquer half of the world or the continent and they were removed by internal powers. In this case, not for now. Because Putin has been ruling Russia for 22 years and he has eliminated practically all possible enemies in the inner circle. The question is how in his mind he is able to judge the situation in a rational sense. If you are governing such a country with nuclear potential, for 22 years and everyone around you is declaring how fantastic you are, how clever you are and your decisions are perfect, something may change in your mind, in your mentality.<br> <br> Russians will probably be there in Ukraine for some time. Silent and secret diplomacy is working. Not only the US, NATO, Ukraine and Russia, there is the China factor also. A larger conflict is against China's will. Their aim is to be number one in the next 20 years. They will try to restrain the Russians. Officially, China is supporting Russia with one hand, on the other hand Chinese banks are refusing loans to Russian businessmen. China will try to stop [the conflict] or offer mediation.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ What kind of a solution is possible in your view?</b><br> <br> Putin is frowned upon, but as a leader of such a potent country, he needs to save face. Otherwise he will be removed by his own people. [Perhaps they can agree to] Ukraine not becoming a part of NATO against some guarantees of security. But still there are two regions which were declared as independent from Ukraine plus Crimea. What to do with this is the greatest problem.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Can European countries do without Russian support and energy?</b><br> <br> It is possible but it will take time and time is crucial. For Ukraine, and Europe as well. Because, we need other sources of gas delivery. Oil is less important than gas. Perhaps, Iran could be a source. You know they are close to an agreement with Iran. I also heard about the possibility of withdrawal of sanctions against Venezuela.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Are financial sanctions a deterrent to Russia?</b><br> <br> In a modern financial system, it consists of millions and millions of operations. Without internet access in the proper way, without proper communication you are absolutely lost.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Meanwhile, you are saddled with the problem of refugees.</b><br> <br> Luckily, we are not alone. It is the decision of the EU to assist countries which are confronting the massive influx from Ukraine. It requires billions of euros. You have America and other countries which will be sharing this expense. We (Poland) are in a peculiar situation, because our economy cannot exist without Ukrainians. We had, before the war started, over a million-and-half Ukrainian workers. Ours is an economy of demand. We are looking for people to fill the empty places. That is why somehow this refugee crisis is a gift from God already.<br> <br> If you are reading Polish newspapers you may see tens of thousands of offers for jobs for Ukrainian refugees. The government made a law which gives refugees a status which is similar to the Poles in a number of areas—like access to schools, to doctors and other services. Moreover, everyone who is hosting refugees will be paid an amount of 40 Polish zloty per day for one Ukrainian. So, it is about 1,200 Polish zloty monthly.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ So, you are saying that Poland will be able to accommodate any number of Ukrainians?</b><br> <br> Not all. But at least (five lakh to seven lakh) is possible. And the rest will be moved to other European countries.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think other countries will also open their borders?</b><br> <br> Yes, absolutely. See, the EU is ageing because of a lack of children. That is why Germans accepted so many refugees from the Middle East in 2015, because they needed people to work. Germany needed up to (three lakh) people. And there are differences between someone from deep inside Africa and someone from Ukraine.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ There are already complaints of discrimination and racism?</b><br> <br> There is this popular image of Muslim terrorists killing and bombing. It is there in my country as well. Contrary to it, Ukrainians are Europeans from eastern side.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ So, you are justifying discrimination in the name of religion?</b><br> <br> I cannot say it is specifically religion, because, in Europe, we have Muslims as well. In western European countries, there are over 25 million Muslims - in France, Germany and in UK.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ You said no to migrants in 2015.</b><br> <br> Yes, we said NO in Poland, but Germany did accept them. But, in Poland, it was not from the perspective of terrorism or religion. It was a question of political differences inside the country. Populist parties succeeded in convincing most of the people that refugees [from Middle East] are terrorists. It was political and not religious. Poland, like most normal European countries, is hospitable to foreigners. But, to my astonishment, there is an anti-migrants orientation; a political orientation. Of course, I am rejecting it, but it is a fact. Contrary to the Germans.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ You mean the rightist propaganda succeeded?</b><br> <br> Yes. Let's say, at times, rightist becomes quite normal. It is not a question of religion. First, it is a lack of understanding. We are living in a conservative environment - mostly Catholic people. As I remember, the Polish church was absolutely favourable to accepting refugees from Syria during the civil war. The church said we have 13,000 parishes in Poland, so let's accept one family of refugees. One family per parish of a few thousand is nothing, but the government rejected it.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ But now, they are adopting the same formula?</b><br> <br> Yes, perhaps the war is at our door now. It is not far away in the Middle East or Africa, which is away from our imagination. Now, we are seeing women and children crying, their losses and bombardment at our gates. Acceptance is absolutely overwhelming and all political parties are unanimous in this respect.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:46:41 IST 2022 india-should-not-be-neutral <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Most refugees from Ukraine are coming to Poland, particularly Warsaw. How will you handle them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The situation is very serious. Almost a million people have crossed the Ukraine-Poland border; (three lakh) in Warsaw alone. The population of my city has risen by 15 per cent. We are doing whatever we can, but we are slowly becoming overwhelmed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are worried about attacks in west Ukraine. We feel secure because we are a part of NATO. But, it makes us apprehensive when the targets are 20km from our border.</p> <p><b>Q/Do you fear an attack on Poland?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I do not think Vladimir Putin would be so crazy as to attack the whole trans-Atlantic alliance. But, of course, we cannot exclude any provocation or accidents.</p> <p><b>Q/How do you view NATO’s response?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The response of the UN, the EU, NATO and the western world was quite tough and quick. I do not think Putin expected that. The whole of the western world is helping Ukraine with weapons; some countries are giving offensive weapons. Two or three weeks ago, this could not have been imagined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, we need to be careful because we do not want this to escalate into a Third World War. So, it is difficult to draw the line on what we need to do or on what would actually invite more aggression from Putin. For the first time, the western world is going after Russian oligarchs; tough sanctions have been imposed.</p> <p><b>Q/Are financial sanctions strong deterrents?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They are. Putin never expected them to be so strong. The effects are slowly becoming serious for the Russian economy and the people. Hopefully it would mean that the support for this invasion will be<br> lesser and lesser.</p> <p><b>Q/How do you view Putin as a leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/He is a war criminal now. He was a despot who tried to destabilise Europe. Look at what he is doing in Syria. He should be brought to justice.</p> <p><b>Q/What about the stand taken by India and China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I do not think anyone should take a neutral position when there is an attack by a despot against the country that did nothing to provoke such a despot. When we see hospitals being bombed and children being killed, there should be a uniform, united response. That is what one expects. India and China should have sided with the resolution in the UNSC and in the UN. What is the purpose of the UN, if not for preventing war? We can see this is not a small military operation; this is a full-scale war.</p> <p><b>Q/So many days into the operation, Russia has still not taken Kyiv.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is absolutely clear that Putin has been wrong on many counts. He thought the Ukrainian resistance would be much weaker, and that the Ukranian society would be divided. He has completely miscalculated [the situation]. That is why it is taking so long and I hope Putin will pay a price for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if he takes Kyiv, hopefully not, it will be very difficult for him to hold on to it. We see the spirit of the Ukrainian people and even if he takes half of Ukraine, the war will rage on, like the war raged on in Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I hope Putin will realise that he is losing and that he has to withdraw his troops. If he tries to occupy, he will pay a bigger price.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:44:07 IST 2022 the-russians-have-goofed-up-while-the-ukrainians-are-giving-their-best-shot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SUNDAY, MARCH 13,</b> Vladimir Putin’s top aide and chief of Russia’s National Guard, General Viktor Zolotov, made a candid confession at a church service led by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church: “Yes, not everything is going as fast as we would like.” The general was referring to the war in Ukraine, the awesome march of Russian arms, which Putin likes to call a ‘special military operation’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The western media grabbed it as the first admission by a Russian security czar about the slowness of the operation. They were wrong. The Russian high command had been indicating it in several of their daily briefings. On March 10, the day on which the forces captured Maryanovka, Lazarevka and Lesnoe, defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov admitted: “The march is progressing at about 10km a day.” In the days that followed, the war machine ground down to even 6km a day, though by March 14 it picked up speed upto 10km and, on some fronts, even 14km.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The snail’s pace of the march, already three weeks old and weary, has baffled military observers. “This has not been the operational philosophy of the Russian army,” said an intelligence analyst in Warsaw. “Wherever they have gone in, they had gone for surprise and speed.” Indian generals, too—who contrast the slow march with the Indian Army’s race into East Pakistan culminating in the capture of Dacca in 13 days—are surprised. Their initial assessment was that “perhaps in order to save civilian casualties, Russia’s approach is slow,” said Lt Gen Mohinder Puri, who commanded a division in the Kargil war. Konashenkov’s daily briefings have been indicating the same—that the Russians have been holding fire to save civilians. Every day he has been giving out details of the humanitarian corridors that had been offered, but often blocked because of alleged Ukrainian intransigence. On March 10, “We allowed ten corridors from Kiev, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol, through the territories controlled by the Kiev authorities to Poland, Moldova and Romania,” said Konashenkov. “We also proposed one corridor from each city to the Russian Federation, too. But the Ukrainian side agreed on only two—on Kiev and Mariupol directions, and not a single corridor to the Russian Federation.” Such procedural problems are not the only issues that are delaying capture of Kyiv. “Definitely, the Russians have miscalculated the resistance from Ukraine,” said Puri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The weapons supplied by NATO and Americans are also adding up,” added Lt Gen D.S. Hooda, former northern army commander who masterminded the surgical strike on Pakistan. Seventeen thousand anti-tank weapons from NATO, which is huge, and probably five times the inventory held by the Indian army. A closer look reveals that it is neither the Ukrainian resistance nor the Russians’ concern for human lives that is slowing down the march. It is poor logistics, bad battle management, wrong use of force and, worst of all, miserable tactics. Apparently, someone up there in the general staff in Moscow, the guys who plan and organise operations, has goofed up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results are for all to see. Going even by Konashenkov’s claims, and despite the western TV images of rockets firing and falling on buildings that had been homes and hospitals, the Russians have destroyed very few hard targets. “In every war, you first take out the enemy’s command and control centres, missile batteries, armour and gun concentrations, ammunition depots, radars, airfields, bridges, rail and road hubs so as to cripple the enemy and immobilise him,” explained a three-star general in the Indian army. “Such initial neutralisation is done mostly from the air these days. In the digital era, you also launch a cyber attack to cripple the enemy’s command and communication network, apart from his economy. This yields military dividends and political scoring points—you kill few people, yet achieve your goal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surprisingly, despite Russia’s famous—or notorious—capability to hack into any server in the world, allegedly including the US electoral system, the Russians have done little. Ukraine’s cyber and communication systems are working, after a few hiccups in the initial days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going by the pattern of most invading armies, observers had expected Russia to establish air superiority in the first 48 to 72 hours. However, apart from launching missiles at airfields, the Russians did little to cripple the Ukrainian air force. Three weeks into the war, Ukrainian radars, anti-aircraft missiles and guns are alive and shooting.The first signs of major air activity appeared well after two weeks of the war. On the morning of March 15, Konashenkov claimed that Russia had shot down 16 air targets including a Su-24, a Su-25 and a Mi-8 helicopter, plus hitting four anti-aircraft missile systems, and three hangars containing four Su-25 assault aircraft, and a few helicopters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a sorrier story on the ground. With all its might and fury, the Russians have achieved little in terms of neutralising (military euphemism for destroying) the enemy’s military targets in three weeks—just 1,300 tanks and armoured combat vehicles, 124 rocket launcher systems, 470 artillery guns, 145 UAVs, and about a thousand military vehicles, as on March 15—going by the official version given by General Konashenkov.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poor battle management and poor logistics have been glaring from the start. The Russians launched their ground offensive on four prongs—the main thrust towards Kyiv from the west, with support from the Chernihiv and Sumy axes from the northeast and east; another towards Kharkiv using 23 combat groups, a third towards Mariupol; and yet another thrust towards Kherson and further westward by three combat groups drawn from 7th Airborne Division. The fourth thrust, by three combat groups of the elite airborne division, was repulsed in the early stage of operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surprisingly, unlike the Indian army that was told to “leave the highways” which may be defended by the enemy, and “take the byways” towards Dacca, the Russians rode their tanks straight down the highways, as if they were on a holiday. “Apparently, they can’t leave the highways because the snow that is melting now in spring would have made the earth slushy, making it impossible for the tanks to move,” pointed out Lt Gen C.A. Krishnan, former deputy chief of Indian Army. Contrast that with Gen Sam Manekshaw’s far-sighted refusal to launch operations till the monsoon-soaked Bengal countryside had dried up by winter. And this was the army that had defeated the grand armies of Napoleon and Hitler by simply bogging them down in snow and slush!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Failure to change tactics and targets has been glaring. After two weeks of slow progress and mounting losses, and having failed to take Kyiv, or even Mariupol which had seemed easy picking, the Russians appear to be opting for siege warfare—cutting supplies to the cities and forcing the defenders to surrender or starve to death. There were reports about frontline battle groups having run out of fuel and food, indicating poor logistics planning. “We hear that the tankers from the rear could not reach the frontline to refuel battle tanks stuck on the highways,” said an analyst in Warsaw. “This wouldn’t have happened if they had opted for a broader front, instead of driving down the highways.” The logistics is reported to have improved after the first week. Two supply convoys are reported to have reached the Kyiv front. Rail deliveries from Russia have improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In employment of force, too, the Russians have goofed up. “Russian generals may be battle-scarred veterans, but they are known to employ conscripts in the frontline,” said Lt Gen Philip Campose, former vice-chief of Indian Army. Worse still, there are reports, based on statements by captured Russian troops, that the troops had been told they were being sent for an exercise in Ukraine. They came to know they were in battle only after the first ambushes happened. Battle management has been found wanting. “Every army goes to battle hoping for the best but prepared for the worst,” said Campose. “But here there is no sign of the Russians having prepared for anything more than just walking in and capturing the towns.” The forces seem to be at a loss as to what to do now, except keep on pounding.Three weeks into the war, the military assessment is that the focus has been compressed to two areas of operations—one in the north and the other in the south. Faced with their own logistics problems around Kyiv in the north, more than enemy resistance, the Russians are currently committing more troops and firepower. “But that could also be only a threatening gesture so as to unnerve the defenders,” said an officer. “We don’t believe that they would reduce Kyiv to pulp.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The offensive in the south appears to be more successful. The supply line from Crimea is running well; the Russians may soon capture Mariupol and Kharkiv and go for Odesa, the prized Black Sea port. But the big question is: when will the higher prized Kyiv fall?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or would it prove to be a repeat of that gruesome end that visited another invading army a century-and-a-half ago in next-door Crimea, where Lord Cardigan’s Light Brigade charged up to find “cannon to the right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon in front of them, volleying and thundering.” Let us not forget, it was poor generalship that sent the six hundred riding “into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Pradip R. Sagar</b></p> Mon Mar 21 12:45:24 IST 2022 decoding-putin-mind-as-he-relentlessly-targets-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the second week of February, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz—two western leaders with a reasonably comfortable working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin—were in Moscow. Both, however, failed to dissuade Putin from escalating the threat against Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What really made news after the two visits was the six-metre long, gold-plated table used for the meetings. Putin apparently wanted Macron and Scholz to do a Covid test, but both were in no mood to leave their DNA samples with the Russians. So, Putin brought out one of the longest tables in the Kremlin, to keep the two Europeans at a safe distance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in August 2020, however, when the whole world was shut down because of the pandemic, Putin happily came out of his bio-bubble to receive one of his closest friends—Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian politician from Ukraine, his wife, Oksana, and their daughter Daria, who is also his godchild. The much publicised meeting with the Medvedchuks was Putin’s first public appearance after the pandemic started, and he posed for photos without a mask. Ukraine holds a very special place in Putin’s heart. For him, it is not a separate country, but a part of Russia itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE POLITICS OF HISTORY</b></p> <p>Putin explained his Ukraine obsession last year with a 7,000-word essay titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” He claimed Russians and Ukrainians were “one people belonging to the eastern Slavic stock”, sharing the Ukrainian capital Kyiv as the mother of all Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot live without each other,” wrote Putin. “Ukraine has been part of the single nation called Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe, formed by Great Russia, Little Russia (Ukraine) and White Russia (Belarus). The three are inseparable with a single history, tradition, language and church. Ukraine’s trajectory away from Russia was orchestrated by agents of the west, observed Putin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The obsession, however, is not just for historical reasons. A recent report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said while the historical claims about Ukraine were slightly far-fetched, the country possessed immense strategic value. “Ukraine is essential to Russian security for its size and population, its position between Russia and other major European powers and its role as the centrepiece of the imperial Russian and Soviet economies,” said the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin is mindful of the fact that it was the withdrawal of Ukraine that hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which he said was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. The Russian leadership—including the new republic’s first president, Boris Yeltsin—was hopeful of some sort of a union with Belarus and Ukraine. But at a hastily arranged meeting hosted by Belarus president Stanislav Shushkevich on December 8, 1991, Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk told Yeltsin that his country was walking out, signing the Soviet Union’s death warrant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, Ukraine turned into a key element of state policy. In the 2004 Ukrainian elections, he actively supported the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. The other leading candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who had very clear western leanings, was poisoned by dioxin, a highly toxic chemical. Yushchenko survived with expert medical support, but was left with large abscesses and ugly boils on his face. Against all odds, Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych, and in the five years he was in power, he took Ukraine closer to the west, dealing Putin a major blow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April 2008, after NATO announced at its Bucharest summit that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join the alliance, Putin was livid. “George, you have to understand that Ukraine is not even a country,” he warned US president George W. Bush.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few weeks after Bucharest, Putin’s troops attacked and defeated Georgia in a short war, after Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili attempted to take control of the pro-Russian South Ossetia. Putin did not spare Ukraine as well, after Yanukovych (who won the 2010 elections) was ousted in a revolt caused by his refusal to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union. Russia annexed Crimea in April 2014 and aided pro-Russian separatists to take control of the eastern Donbas region, consisting of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While dealing with Ukraine, Putin is more tsar than commissar. He appears to be modelling himself after Alexander III, a reactionary tsar who reigned from 1881 to 1894, said Igor Torbakov, senior fellow at Uppsala University, Sweden. Alexander was not reluctant to use force to Russify Crimea. The Soviets, on the other hand, wanted only political control, and transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. They also gave the country voting rights in the UN. No wonder Putin pointedly ignored the centennial of the 1917 Russian Revolution, but made a quick trip to Crimea to unveil a monument to Alexander. “Under this tsar, Russia’s influence and authority in the world was achieved not by yielding, but by a fair and unwavering firmness,” said Putin during the unveiling ceremony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ordinary Ukrainians, meanwhile, seem to be paying the price for Putin’s unwavering firmness. Kateryna Zavalna, a 25-year-old accountant from Kharkiv which is close to the Russian border, said Putin was planning to rebuild the Russian empire. “And we are suffering in the process. If the war starts, we will be among the first to be attacked,” said Zavalna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>REDRAWING THE EUROPEAN SECURITY MAP</b></p> <p>Putin, who began his career as a KGB agent trained in the rigid Soviet school of thought, firmly believes in the primacy of Russia in the European theatre. There is no doubt in his mind that Russia, which brought Nazi Germany to its knees in World War II by sacrificing millions of its citizens, deserves to be a key pillar of the European security architecture. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Russia was elbowed out and NATO became the key player in defining the contours of European security. The process was gradual, but painful, as an omnipotent America brushed away feeble protests by Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin and imposed its will on Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the fall of the Berlin Wall, US secretary of state James Baker flew to Moscow in February 1990 and asked Gorbachev to withdraw the 2.5 lakh-strong Soviet military contingent from East Germany. In return, he promised that NATO would not shift “even an inch eastward”. Although the fine print of the withdrawal agreement omitted the promise—Baker himself claimed several years later that he was making a hypothetical bargain—Gorbachev acquiesced, as his country badly needed the $9 billion offered by Germany.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few years later, US president Bill Clinton tempted Yeltsin with investments worth $4 billion and a membership in the G-7 to secure his approval for NATO’s expansion. Since then, 14 countries in eastern Europe have joined NATO, robbing Russia of its strategic depth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout the 1990s, Yeltsin was a regular visitor at the White House. Yeltsin, a compulsive drinker, was once so inebriated that he stepped out onto Pennsylvania Avenue in the middle of the night in his underwear, to get a pizza. The incident led to much mirth in the White House corridors, but the pain and shame it caused in Moscow was unfathomable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The humiliation was complete in 1999, when NATO conducted a 78-day-long bombing mission in Kosovo without UN authorisation and completely ignoring Russian objections. As a member of Yeltsin’s core group, Putin had a ringside view of most of those crises and humiliations, which played a key role in shaping his attitude towards global politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 5, 1997, George Kennan, arguably the most famous Russian expert in US history, wrote in The New York Times that NATO’s expansion would be America’s most fateful foreign policy error in the entire post-Cold-War era. A decade later, US ambassador to Russia William Burns, who is now CIA director, said offering Ukraine NATO membership could present Russia with a crisis on its border in which it would be forced to intervene. Both proved eerily prescient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Putin knows that imperial Russia was successful in halting Napoleon’s march in 1812 and the Soviet Union could survive the German assault in 1941 because of its strategic depth. It is critical because the vast Russian landmass lacks natural geographic barriers like oceans, rivers, or mountains,” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies. “Rolling back NATO’s influence in the Russian neighbourhood is a key aspect of reordering European security, and history and geography tell Putin that Ukraine is the right place to start. The recent pro-western geopolitical manoeuvres by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has given Putin a welcome ruse to deploy nearly 1.9 lakh soldiers on the border.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin was miffed by Zelenskyy’s decision to invite NATO forces for joint exercises and to deepen military cooperation. He was also alarmed by Ukraine’s purchase of the powerful Bayraktar drones from Turkey, which ensured the defeat of Russian ally Armenia in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With tensions running high, Putin has presented a set of demands before the US. He wants a guarantee that Ukraine would never be a part of NATO and that the transatlantic alliance would stop all its expansion plans. He wants troops and weapons to be removed from countries that joined NATO after 1997 (meaning the entire eastern Europe) and also from areas where they could threaten Russia. Putin has also called for banning intermediate-range missiles and nuclear weapons in Europe. In response, the US said it would not abandon NATO’s “open-door”policy, but offered to evaluate Russian worries pragmatically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US President Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of Putin—he once publicly called the Russian president a killer—and has warned repeatedly that a major invasion was imminent. After several such warnings by Biden and several senior members of his administration, Zelenskyy himself asked Biden to “calm down”, complaining that he was creating unnecessary panic. Many Ukranians, too, seem to agree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thamarai Pandian, who heads a pharmaceutical company in Kyiv, said it was the American deep state that seems eager to start another war after the US exit from Afghanistan. “Moreover, with his daily alarmist warnings, Biden has managed to brush aside frightening Covid statistics and also reports about the deepening partisan divide within the US,” said Pandian, a Ukraine resident for nearly three decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TIMING IS EVERYTHING</b></p> <p>The manner in which Putin has timed the escalation is also significant. Despite a slew of geopolitical victories in the past couple of years, Putin’s popularity was affected by his inept handling of the pandemic and his violent crackdown against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. His popularity rating fell to its lowest level in over two decades as the president isolated himself in a bio-bubble and delegated responsibilities to regional governors. Acting tough on Ukraine is one of the easiest options for Putin to shore up his sagging ratings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another key factor that Putin has not missed is the ongoing churn in the existing global order. “He is unhappy about Russia getting side-lined and China becoming America’s predominant geopolitical rival, along with the Indo-Pacific turning into the primary theatre of global politics. The powerplay in Ukraine is Putin’s way of attracting America’s attention,” said Paul. “Putin has also cemented an alliance of convenience with China, which will come in handy in case of western sanctions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Putin remains wary of China. “He knows that China wants this war,” said Sanjeev Bhagat, the Kyiv-based director of a major pharmaceutical company. “It will give China access to the vast energy and land resources of Russia as it becomes weaker because of harsh sanctions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin, meanwhile, senses an apparent US weakness compared with a rising China. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the civil war within the Democratic party, the bruising duel with the Republicans and the continuing perils of the pandemic have weakened Biden. His ratings are now below even Donald Trump’s numbers at a comparable point in his presidency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europe, too, has an unsettled look. Macron is preparing for elections; Scholz is trying to fill the outsized shoes of Angela Merkel; the scandal-tainted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is struggling for political survival and Turkey is going through a crippling economic crisis. Europe also depends a lot on Russia for its energy needs. The Nord Stream II pipeline will add to this dependency and will take Ukraine out of the equation as a transit country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin has had a couple of good years as far as relations with Russia’s neighbours are concerned. Georgia has been tamed, it even jailed former president Saakashvili, one of Putin’s bitter rivals, who has been serving as head of Ukraine’s Executive Reform Committee. In Kazakhstan, Moscow stepped in to quell anti-government protests. Armenia, which was trying to plot an independent foreign policy, saw most of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory under its control for three decades, being taken over by Azerbaijan under Putin’s tacit nod. In Belarus, wily autocrat Aleksandr Lukashenko, whose occasional overtures towards the west had angered Putin in the past, is back in the Russian camp after getting rattled by protests against his government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rising oil prices have strengthened Putin’s hands further. The price at which Russia could balance its budget is around $40 a barrel. Crude prices crossed $90 a barrel in January for the first time in seven years. With the rising energy prices, Putin has built a war chest of $620 billion in foreign reserves, giving him the liberty of modernising his armed forces, performing extensive military exercises, developing new weapon systems, rewarding his allies, diversifying his investments and, of course, preparing for a war in his backyard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE ENDGAME</b></p> <p>Putin hopes to bring America to the negotiating table, launching the groundwork for possible nuclear weapons’ treaties and getting Biden to convince Zelenskyy about implementing the Minsk II accords, but on Russia’s terms. On February 19, Putin oversaw testing of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles, intended as a message to Biden and Zelenskyy. Two days later, he recognised the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk and ordered Russian troops to move into the two provinces. In an emotional speech, Putin even blamed Soviet stalwarts Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev for gifting Russian territories to Ukraine, and indicated that he might take action beyond just recognising the rebel republics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Minsk accord, signed in February 2015, calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from Donetsk and Luhansk. It also calls for more autonomy for the two regions and also for conducting elections there. Russia wants political reforms first, as it would give Donetsk and Luhansk veto power in Ukraine’s relations with NATO. The Zelenskyy government, however, wants to take control of the region before starting the political process. Russia’s recognition of the region’s independence and sending in troops have put more pressure on Zelenskyy. The US, meanwhile, criticised the Kremlin’s recognition of the two regions and announced that sanctions would follow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For Ukraine, the future of Donetsk and Luhansk is quite a painful issue,” said Viktoriia Ivanchenko, an analyst from Donetsk, who is with the Russian Foreign Trade Academy. “Donetsk used to be one of the leading and richest regions in Ukraine. But after being a conflict zone for more than seven years, things have changed and people are leaving the region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Putin ordering his troops into the breakaway republics, Ukrainians fear the worst. “There are several scenarios of possible military action, including a full-scale invasion,” said Oleksandr Sakharenko, a public affairs expert from Kyiv. “After Donetsk and Luhansk, the city of Mariupol is under the biggest threat. Also, the large cities of Kharkiv in the northeast, Dnipro in the centre and Odessa in the south are possible targets. In the worst-case scenario, Kyiv, too, may be attacked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, he became the first leader since Stalin to expand Russia’s territory. Some of the skills he picked up when he was with a street gang in the 1960s Leningrad seem to be helping Putin even now. Back then, a short and skinny Putin somehow managed to outpunch markedly heftier opponents. “The Leningrad street taught me a rule: if a fight is inevitable, you have to throw the first punch,”said Putin. His policy on Ukraine seems to be modelled on that lesson, and the response from the west could make or mar his legacy and Europe’s destiny.</p> Sun Feb 27 11:40:29 IST 2022 volodymyr-zelenskyy-the-comic-turned-president-who-is-leading-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On October 16, 2015,</b> a sitcom named Servant of the People premiered on the Ukrainian channel 1+1. The show featured the story of a school teacher who would accidentally become the president of Ukraine, after a viral video—filmed by one of his students—showed him ranting against corruption in the country. Actor-comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy played the lead in this hit show, and that was his stepping stone to active politics and power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 31, 2018, Zelenskyy declared his candidacy against president Petro Poroshenko, who was battling anti-incumbency and corruption allegations. Zelenskyy, who had a sizable social media following, launched an anti-corruption campaign which got him votes in the presidential elections. And, on May 20, 2019, Zelenskyy became the sixth president of Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born into a Jewish family on January 25, 1978, in Kryvyi Rih—a central Ukraine city—Zelenskyy spent four years of his childhood in Mongolia, where his parents were employed. Later, the family returned to Kryvyi Rih.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1995, at the age of 17, he entered the Kyiv National Economic University to study law. The same year, he joined a local theatre club. Later he started performing with the university’s KVN (a popular Russian comedy franchise) team. Later he became actor, scriptwriter and producer with the comedy group Kvartal 95, named after a neighbourhood in Kryvyi Rih. His big break came when Kvartal 95 entered KVN’s major league.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1998 to 2003, the team performed in the major league and toured many former Soviet republics. In 2003, Zelenskyy created a production house, Studio Kvartal 95, which became one of the most successful entertainment studios in Ukraine. In the same year, he married Olena Kiyashko, who had been his schoolmate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zelenskyy worked mainly in Russian language TV shows. In 2014, when the Ukrainian ministry of culture moved to ban Russian artists, Zelenskyy came out strongly against it. Interestingly, a group of Russian politicians and artists launched a campaign to ban his works in Russia. The group was irked by media reports that said that Zelenskyy had made a hefty donation for the Ukrainian army’s operation against Russia-backed separatists in Donbas in 2014-2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of his jokes, especially those featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin, had landed him in the soup. In 2019, Russian broadcaster TNT abruptly stopped airing Servant of the People, after the first three episodes. This happened after TNT was ridiculed for censoring Zelenskyy’s joke that made references to a vulgar anti-Putin chant: “Putin Huylo”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As tensions with Russia heightened, Zelenskyy’s approval ratings slumped, and some of his “jokes” created chaos. On February 14, he made a sarcastic comment that Russia would attack Ukraine on February 16—taking a dig at other countries predicting the date of the Russian invasion. His spokesperson later clarified that it was a joke, but the comment spooked the markets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his presidential campaign days, a reporter asked Zelenskyy how he would deal with Putin. He reportedly replied: “I would speak to him at eye level.” It was a jab at Putin being at least three inches shorter than Poroshenko. But now, Ukrainians expect him to do just that.</p> Thu Feb 24 17:54:35 IST 2022 sergei-lavrov-putin-sharp-tongued-negotiator <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Russian Foreign</b> Minister Sergei Lavrov is stubborn when it comes to defending Russia’s national interests and his “smoking rights”. As permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, Lavrov said “no” to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s efforts to ban smoking at the UN headquarters in New York. He added that Annan “does not own this building”. After becoming the Russian foreign minister in 2004, Lavrov had said “no” to the west’s plans on different occasions at the UN. And hence, the nickname: “Mr Nyet (Mr No)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov was born on March 21, 1950, in Moscow. His mother worked in the Soviet ministry of foreign trade. His father was an Armenian, but Lavrov never used his father’s surname—Kalantaryan—or learned Armenian. He is, however, fluent in five languages—English, Sinhalese, Dhivehi, French and Russian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a 2019 interview, Lavrov said that his original plan was to join an engineering physics institute. But his mother pointed him to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). On a Russian talk show, Lavrov revealed that he had wanted to study French and Arabic at MGIMO, but his name appeared on the list for Sinhalese. During his student years, Lavrov wrote the anthem for the elite institute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He graduated in 1972 and was soon posted to the embassy in Sri Lanka. In 1976, he returned to Moscow, to the foreign ministry’s department of international economic organisations. In 1981, he went to New York as senior adviser to the Soviet mission at the UN. He returned to Moscow in 1988 as deputy head of the department of international economic relations. Lavrov remained at the foreign ministry when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, he went back to New York as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN. He remained there for a decade and returned in 2004 as foreign minister in Vladimir Putin’s cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov is a fan of cigars, Scotch whisky and Italian suits. His hobbies include white-water rafting, playing the guitar and writing songs and poetry. Over the last 17 years, Lavrov has steered Russia’s diplomatic relations. And, he has successfully put Russia back at the high table of international decision-making. Russia watchers say that Lavrov is not just an executor of policies dictated to him by the Kremlin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 14, he urged Putin to allow more time to solve the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy. But a week later, Putin escalated the situation by recognising the independence of Ukraine’s separatist regions. Diplomacy, however, remains the best option to prevent a disastrous war in the region and beyond—and Lavrov’s role is going to be crucial.</p> Thu Feb 24 17:51:12 IST 2022 antony-blinken-america-top-negotiator-enjoys-a-tight-bond-with-biden <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>THE NEGOTIATORS</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Antony J. Blinken</b> is someone who has the ear of US President Joe Biden. As the US secretary of state, he constantly interacts with presidents, prime ministers and monarchs. Over his three decades of public service, Blinken has served three US presidents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, unlike many others in power positions, Blinken is not a distant figure living in an ivory tower, seen and heard only at official gatherings. He is winsomely human, right from his shock of hair with a dusting of grey to the missing “h” in Anthony to the fact that he is known to many simply as Tony. In his official Twitter account, he disarmingly describes himself as “Husband, dad, (very) amateur guitarist, and the 71st Secretary of State serving under the leadership of @POTUSBiden”. The “amateur guitarist” has released two songs on Spotify under the name ‘Ablinken’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Public service runs in his family—Blinken’s father, Donald M. Blinken, was the US ambassador to Hungary and his uncle Alan Blinken was the US ambassador to Belgium. His public service began at the state department in 1993, as a special assistant in what was then called the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blinken’s professional relationship with Biden started in 2002, when he began his six-year stint as Democratic staff director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Later, in the Barack Obama administration, he served as national security adviser to then-vice president Biden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He met his future wife, Evan Ryan, in 1995 at the White House. He was a speechwriter on the National Security Council; she was a scheduler for first lady Hillary Clinton. Hillary was a guest at the Blinken-Ryan wedding in 2002, and Blinken gave a toast thanking the 40 million Americans who voted for Bill Clinton, because the election led to the marriage. Ryan is now the White House cabinet secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blinken’s stepfather, Samuel Pisar—a Holocaust survivor and noted lawyer—was an adviser to president John F. Kennedy. Pisar’s parents and younger sister Frieda died in the Holocaust; he was the only survivor of the 900 children of his Polish school. Blinken spoke about Pisar’s experiences in his Senate confirmation hearing. Blinken himself has experienced many different surroundings. As a six-year-old, he moved to Paris with his mother, Judith, and Pisar. And, that is how he became fluent in French.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later he moved back to the US, graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude and earned a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School. Before joining government service, Blinken was an attorney in New York and Paris. In 2017, he co-founded WestExec Advisors—a consulting firm focused on geopolitics and national security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over three decades and three presidential administrations, Blinken has helped shape American foreign policy. There are big challenges in front of him, but Blinken is someone who has the potential to rise to the occasion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist.</b></p> Thu Feb 24 17:47:50 IST 2022