More en Wed Nov 02 10:30:00 IST 2022 first-iit-campus-outside-india-in-zanzibar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE ISLAND OF ZANZIBAR,</b> known for its spices and azure beaches, has been on the map of Indian, Persian and Arab sailors since first century CE. Zanzibar was a base for voyages between the Middle East, India and Africa. With its historic centre, Stone Town, Zanzibar is best described as an East African coastal trading town, influenced by an eclectic mix of disparate elements of African, Arab, Indian and European cultures. These have truly made it an Indo-Arab-African city that, while embracing the new, subtly mixed it with elements of the old. With its cobbled streets, chaotic traffic, an overhanging smell of spices and sights at every turn, this UNESCO heritage city has a soul of its own. Zanzibari doors are a typical example―decorated with knobs, each with their own style, whether Arab, African or Gujarati.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Originally inhabited by the Bantu speaking people, Zanzibar saw Swahili merchants starting operations as agents for traders from India and the Arab world from ninth century CE. Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s visit in 1498 marked the arrival of European influence. Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese empire in 1503 and remained so for almost two centuries. The Portuguese presence was relatively limited, leaving administration in the hands of pre-existing local leaders and power structures. In 1698, Zanzibar came under the influence of the Sultanate of Oman. The sultans controlled a large portion of the Swahili coast known as Zanj, which included Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1886, European powers, especially Great Britain and Germany, started to move in. The control of Zanzibar passed into the hands of the British empire in 1890. This transfer was formalised by the 1890 Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany recognised the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba as a British protectorate, while Germany got the archipelago of Heligoland, situated in the North Sea. The protectorate was terminated by the United Kingdom in December 1963, making Zanzibar a constitutional monarchy within the commonwealth, under the sultan. Within a month came the Zanzibar Revolution that deposed the sultan. In April 1964, the republic merged with mainland Tanganyika, creating the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar now remains an autonomous region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till the 19th century, Zanzibar was the last outpost of the known world before the vast ‘Terra Incognita’ of Africa started. It, therefore, continued to be the trading post for the riches of Africa–ivory, gold, and more infamously, slaves. The last permanent slave market of East Africa was in Zanzibar, until it was closed in 1873. At the centre of Stone Town stands a church, at the site of the biggest slave market of Zanzibar. The construction of the cathedral was, in fact, intended to mark the end of slavery. The altar is said to be at the exact place where the main “whipping post” of the market used to be. Outside the cathedral is an artwork: life-size statues of slaves bearing original chains―a reminder of the ignominious past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zanzibar is 99 per cent Islamic. Today, there are about 50 Hindu families living there, almost all from Gujarat. The island is home to three temples. The Ram temple established in 1959 is the main one. There is also the Arya Samaj temple established in 1906 and the Shree Kuttchi Swetamber Jain temple, which is said to be the first Jain temple outside India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the main attractions of Zanzibar is the Freddie Mercury House. The parents of the British singer and songwriter―born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town in 1946―were Parsis from Bulsar (now Valsad) in Gujarat. The family had moved there for work; Zanzibar being a British protectorate, Farrokh was born a British Indian subject. When he was eight, Farrokh was sent to study at St. Peter’s School at Panchgani, Maharashtra. It was at St. Peter’s that he began to call himself “Freddie”. In February 1963, he returned to Zanzibar and the family fled to England after the revolution in 1964. In 1970, he formed the Rock band called “Queen” and the rest is history, with him delivering hits such as “We will Rock You”, and recording sales of over 300 million records.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The visit of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Zanzibar in July saw the signing of the MoU for setting up the first IIT outside India. It was signed in the presence of the president of Zanzibar and was welcomed by everyone. The nomination of Preeti Aghalayam, from IIT Madras, as the founding director of IIT Zanzibar also shattered a glass ceiling, as she would be the first ever female director of an IIT. Classes are likely to start by October, and the campus is expected to become the hub for higher education in critical streams of science, engineering and innovation, not just for Tanzania, but for the entire continent of Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The institute, designed to be pan-African in nature, corresponds to the vision laid out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the Ugandan parliament in July 2018, where he outlined 10 principles for India’s engagement with Africa. “We will build as much local capacity and create as much local opportunities as possible,” said Modi. “We will harness India’s experience [to] extend education and health [and] spread digital literacy.” The National Education Policy 2020 facilitated the export of ‘Brand IIT’ outside India and it now offers the potential to extend Indian soft power across Africa, while providing the much-needed capacity building for African countries. Over 25,000 African students study in various universities across India, but this will be first time that an Indian institute will cater to the requirements of Africa on African soil itself, a strong reflection of India’s commitment to the Global South. The setting up of the IIT is truly an ode to the spirit of the sailors and traders who went across the Indian Ocean to trade and spread the warmth of Indian knowledge and culture in that part of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author</b> is joint secretary, ministry of external affairs. Views are personal.</p> Sat Aug 19 11:57:21 IST 2023 pakistan-political-crisis-imran-khan-future-situation-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Pakistan is entering yet another phase of political uncertainty with former prime minister Imran Khan sent to prison and the National Assembly completing its term. Under the advice of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly on August 9. Senator Anwaar-ul-haq Kakar was named as caretaker prime minister on August 12.</p> <p>The Sindh and the Balochistan provincial assemblies were also dissolved. Provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were dissolved by their Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) governments, in January. Elections have not taken place in these two provinces, despite the constitutional requirement to hold elections within 90 days and the directives of the supreme court. Many observers are, therefore, sceptical whether national elections will take place on time or not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next elections will determine the political future of the PTI and its chairman, Imran Khan. Imran was arrested on August 5 after an Islamabad court found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in the Toshakhana (state gifts) case. He was sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of one lakh rupees and has been barred from politics for five years. The court said Imran “cheated while providing information about gifts he obtained from Toshakhana which later proved to be false and inaccurate” and that his “dishonesty has been established beyond doubt”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Asma Shirazi said Imran's political future was on the line after his conviction. “His party has voters and supporters on the ground, but the PTI itself is in disarray as some leaders left after the May 9 attacks (riots by PTI workers targeting government and military establishments following Imran's arrest) and some are in hiding. Imran does not have much trust in his own party and he has kept decision-making to himself while in jail,” said Shirazi. One of Imran's lawyers said on a talk show that decisions taken by the PTI core committee would be communicated to him through his lawyer and would be subject to his approval. “The PTI's future does not look too bright because of technical issues,” said Shirazi. “The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has issues caused by rising inflation, but the PTI is facing its own problems.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Complicating matters further is the decision by the Shehbaz Sharif government to conduct the next general elections on the basis of the 2023 census. Once a census is approved, it is mandatory for the election commission to carry out a delimitation exercise to determine new electoral districts. Shirazi said holding elections under the new census was seen as an excuse to delay the process and that it was unlikely that the polls would take place this year. “From delimitation and other things, it will take a few more months. But it is also important that the next general elections are held before the senate elections in March 2024. How long will the caretaker setup stay is a question that looms large over Pakistan's political horizon, but it is quite clear that we cannot see elections at least till March.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said that normally, new census results would require a constitutional amendment and a delimitation of constituencies. But he said the provincial share of population in the 2023 census was the same as it was in the previous census, so a constitutional amendment was not needed. “My view is that the results of the new census may not require fresh delimitation and therefore no extension in the date of election beyond 90 days be needed. This, however, has to be decided by the election commission and conclusively by the supreme court, if the election commission's decision is challenged,” said Mehboob.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PTI is suspicious about the government's manoeuvres. Farrukh Habib, the party's west Punjab unit president, told THE WEEK that under the constitution, it was mandatory to hold the elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. “Unfortunately, the government did not implement the supreme court’s verdict in this regard when it came to the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. The court had made it clear that it was the election commission’s duty to hold elections, but it failed to do so. And now, in the name of holding elections as per the 2023 census, delaying the elections will be mala fide.” Habib said the issue would go to the supreme court if the elections were delayed. “We will see whether the next chief justice (Qazi Faez Isa) will uphold the constitution and rule of law. Delaying elections has no constitutional basis. It will only lead to more uncertainty and will worsen the economic crisis. The people of Pakistan must be allowed to exercise their right to vote and their mandate should be respected.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Habib also spoke in detail about Imran’s conviction and disqualification. He said the whole process started in April 2022 with the vote of no confidence against him. “There are around 200 cases against Imran. He survived an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last year, but the investigation was sabotaged. His house was attacked by the state. The way the judge sentenced him is for everyone to see—Imran did not get a fair trial. Justice died a silent death during his trial as he was not even allowed to present his witnesses.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Habib said the entire process was “pre-planned” under what Imran calls the “London plan”. PTI supporters say a plan was hatched by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in London to keep Imran out of politics. The party has already challenged Imran's sentence in the Islamabad high court. “Imran will contest the next elections,” said Habib. He highlighted the fact that after Imran's arrest, a relatively unknown candidate from the PTI won a Peshawar local government byelection, and that, too, from a seat the party had lost in the past. “Whoever gets PTI tickets will win the elections. Imran's voters are with him and they stand by his vision and ideology. The commitment of the people of Pakistan to Imran and his commitment to them stand intact.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PML(N), too, said that it wanted elections to be held on time. Senior leader Ahsan Iqbal told THE WEEK that the decision to hold the next general elections under the 2023 census was taken by Imran when he was in power. “The constitution requires new delimitation after a census is notified. The election commission has to give the election schedule. We hope that the elections will be held at the earliest, according to the constitution,” said Iqbal. He said the PML(N) saved the Pakistani economy from bankruptcy and also revived key development projects. “People know that inflation is caused by the conditions of the IMF agreement signed by the PTI government.” He added that Nawaz Sharif would return to Pakistan once the election schedule was announced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shirazi said Nawaz would lead the PML(N)'s campaign. “Nawaz will not return before the announcement of the elections. It may well happen in December once it is clear that elections will be held.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The caretaker government which will run the show till the elections are held cannot conclude new agreements or contracts, but can only exercise its powers related to ongoing projects. Mehboob said the outgoing government had tried to grant much wider powers for the caretaker government by amending the Elections Act, but was forced to abandon the plan following widespread opposition in parliament. “The passed amendment has a narrow scope and the caretaker government will be able to make decisions only in the case of ongoing projects,” he said. “The scope is limited and it will not impact the election in any meaningful way</p> Sat Aug 12 18:13:23 IST 2023 ukraine-peace-talks-in-saudi-arabia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE IS A RAGING</b> debate whether the August 5-6 meeting of national security advisers and top security and foreign policy officials from several countries to discuss a peaceful regulation of the war in Ukraine can be called a peace summit at all, because one of the parties in the war was not present. Russia was not included, and it called the summit “a doomed attempt to woo the global south”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nevertheless, representatives of the 42 countries which gathered in Jeddah discussed peace and only peace, neither military aspects of the war, nor supply of weapons, or sanctions. Prospects of Russia and its problems were not discussed. The discussion was creative, constructive and consensus-oriented around Ukraine, as mentioned by the Ukrainians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ukrainian delegation in Jeddah was led by Andriy Yermak, presidential adviser and head of the president’s office. The delegation included, among others, two deputy heads of office, senior diplomats Andriy Sibyha and Ihor Zhovkva as well as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mykola Tochytskiy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are important takeaways from the meeting, a smooth shift towards the positive since the June 24 meeting in Copenhagen. Although the attempts are nascent, gradually, Ukraine shapes the peace it wants, somewhat similar to its careful and steady military counteroffensive regaining occupied territories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The basis of discussion in Jeddah remained unchanged―it is the 10-point peace formula presented by President Volodymyr Zelensky at the G20 Summit in 2022 in Bali. That, perhaps, is the first and most important point. All other peace proposals, track 1.5 or track 2 initiatives, advanced by other states or groups, therefore, have to fit into this Ukrainian peace formula. Jeddah proved that Copenhagen could not be nipped in the bud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second significant takeaway is that all participating countries without exception spoke in favour of honouring the UN Charter, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. This includes four of the BRICS nations―Brazil, China, India, and South Africa―as well as many other states of Asia, Africa and Latin America. India was represented by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Notably, the level was higher than in Copenhagen, where Sanjay Verma, secretary (west) of the ministry of external affairs took part.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In spite of the fact that many countries are yet to openly condemn Russian aggression and the invasion of Ukraine, all agreed to the withdrawal of Russian forces from the territory of Ukraine and restoration of its internationally recognised borders. This is what the Ukrainians say about the Jeddah summit being a “huge blow to Russia”. Russian plans for peace negotiations, acknowledging the annexed territories, with the Kremlin reiterating that Russia will “keep those regions, which have been included into the constitution of Russia”, thus become a non-starter. Any idea of annexation, or frozen conflict, is overruled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summit’s success is also due to the fact that the philosophy behind the 10-point peace formula champions the cause of global multilateralism, with abundant references to UN resolutions and documents. It starts with issues that affect all countries, all aspects of life, civil or military, and also those issues that are beyond dispute and disagreement―radiation and nuclear safety and food security. Then comes energy security, an important component of climate change, also a global issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moving from the generic to specific, from the fourth to tenth points, we can read about the release of prisoners and deported persons, restoration of territorial integrity, withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities, accountability and restoration of justice, including reparation, ecological safety. The ninth and tenth points deal with preventing escalation and repetition of aggression and confirmation of the end of war by a peace conference and signing of an international agreement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The steps ahead will be on a three-level format: apart from communication at the NSA level, meetings at the ambassadorial level will be held in Kyiv in the parliament within a month or two, where almost 60 ambassadors are expected to take part. Improving the peace formula, not changing it, is the ultimate aim, enriching it with inputs from various countries. The third and highest level will be the convening of a summit on the heads of state level. The agenda for the summit and a possible document to be adopted are being agreed upon now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Working groups on each of the 10 points of the peace plan, to be chaired or co-chaired by interested countries, is also another dimension of the work. Specific countries were not mentioned, although these issues were the focus of more than 30 bilateral meetings that the Ukrainian delegation had in two days in Jeddah. On the table of such meetings are the bilateral security guarantee treaties that Ukraine wants to conclude, contours of which are yet to be defined. In Yermak’s words, “such security guarantees are like anti air missile defense systems against future world wars”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vague and ambiguous as it may seem, the Jeddah summit did not produce any concluding document. Many countries also prefer to be observers and not be bound by obligations. However, in reality, adopting a document just for the sake of it yields no result. In that sense the absence of a document at this stage provides all nations with the maximum level of flexibility and diplomatic leverage to act in their national interest in the future. Who does not know, absence of official documents or use of non-papers are sometimes more important in diplomacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russian aggression has run into the national interests of many countries and has hit hard their national pride. Recently, the world saw how the offer of free grains to African nations by President Vladimir Putin during the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, was politely rejected by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. African nations are wary of the presence of Wagner mercenaries, and the strings of instability of coups on the continent. Smaller states are worried about being annexed by more powerful states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unprecedented diplomatic intensity in all capitals and heightened realisation by all nations of the need for protecting the fundamental principles of interdependence and peaceful coexistence are the results reinforced by Jeddah, which, by the way, is a twin city of Ukraine’s Odessa, where port infrastructure was badly hit by Russian missiles. Yermak remarked that the summit in Jeddah will enter history as a “rehearsal of a future world, which has no place for stone-age aggression”.</p> Sat Aug 12 12:41:47 IST 2023 us-india-bilateral-relations-modi-biden <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jawaharlal Nehru’s name may have been dropped from the Teen Murti House Museum and Library by the Union government, but during his recent visit to the US and Egypt, it was perhaps not easy for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to steer clear of Nehru’s looming presence. Nehru was one of the founders of the Non-Alignment Movement―the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy for decades―along with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. And the legacy still endures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Washington, before the guests at the state dinner hosted in Modi’s honour tasted the marinated millet, the US Marine band played ‘Ae mere watan ke logon’―evoking memories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war when president John F. Kennedy helped India, even without a formal alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the India-US honeymoon under Nehru lasted just a short while, Kennedy became a hero in India as the US shared crucial aerial photographs which were key to India’s war efforts, just like intelligence was shared in 2020 when violence erupted in the Galwan Valley. Kennedy also broke protocol and greeted Nehru in his plane when he arrived for a visit in 1961.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Modi nibbled samosas with Vice President Kamala Harris, the soundtrack had moved to “There’s no mountain high enough... to keep me from getting to you’’, symbolising how far the relationship has come over the years. Modi’s state visit has formalised the possibility of joint defence production between the two countries, taking the partnership to the next level. The comfort level on display was possible because the relationship has been over 30 years in the making, starting with the end of the Cold War and blossoming further with the civil nuclear deal, through the tenures of multiple presidents and prime ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every Indian prime minister and American president has taken our relationship further,’’ said Modi, addressing the joint session of the US Congress. “But our generation has the honour of taking it to greater heights. I agree with President Biden that this is a defining partnership of this century because it serves a larger purpose. Democracy, demography and destiny give us that purpose.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Lal Bahadur Shastri, Charan Singh, V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar―all other Indian prime ministers have visited the US. Seven American presidents―Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump―have visited India. The relationship started to flourish from the time of George H.W. Bush as he presided over the end of the Cold War. Under incumbent President Joe Biden, it has become one of the most important bilateral partnerships for the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The biggest takeaway is that this relationship has become a truly strategic partnership,’’ said Michael Kugelman, Asia Program deputy director at the Washington-based think tank, Wilson Center. “It is not an alliance, but it is not far from one. It is quite clear that the relationship is multifaceted, with many different areas of cooperation, not just security, and plenty of tracks separate from China and even geopolitics. There is a lot of trust and goodwill, a far cry from the difficult days of the 1970s and 1980s. And, long-time sticking points―trade tensions, hesitation about tech transfers, even the Russia issue―are starting to melt away. We are seeing the emergence of a full-fledged long-term partnership, something that certainly will not please Beijing and will ensure enduring China-India tensions.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Modi may enjoy the strategic hug from Biden, despite the unease within the administration over human rights and India’s stand on Russia, the credit for the first step in improving ties goes to P.V. Narasimha Rao. It was Rao who pushed the Indo-US relationship towards the “destiny’’ that Modi refers to. His meeting with Bush Sr on January 31, 1992, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, broke the ice between the two leading democracies. Rao realised that the Cold War was history and the US was the winner. The winds of change were blowing through Gorky Park and the Soviet dream was over. Bush and Rao took the opportunity and started talking, and they did not leave out even the most controversial topic that troubled bilateral relations―India’s nuclear ambitions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao was aware of the allure of the Indian market and signalled that he was liberalising the economy. He lifted the ban on foreign companies setting up shop in India. Rao came calling again two years later. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was in power, but, by then, a bipartisan consensus has started emerging in the US about the need for robust ties with India. “Suddenly, all my cabinet members want to visit India,” Clinton told Rao. When the two met at the Oval Office, there was some tension in the air. Rao reassured Clinton by saying that democracy was the future, which gave India and the US a common ground. He said it could change the world and spur economic growth and cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you look at the Indo-US strategic saga, Rao was the one who broke the ice,’’ said Rakesh Sood, a retired diplomat who saw firsthand the change in bilateral ties over the decades. “In 1992, the dialogue on nuclear issues began at the level of joint secretary, but it went through several ups and downs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But India’s nuclear tests of 1998 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee came as a major roadblock in bilateral ties as the US imposed sanctions against India. Yet, Vajpayee was able to convince the US about ending the freeze and returning to the negotiating table. Sood spoke about how Vajpayee sent his trusted aide Jaswant Singh to talk to deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbot. “Those were some of the most intensive, inclusive and productive talks,’’ he said. “There were 18 rounds of talks in 24 months. It was inconclusive because we signed no agreement, but it was most productive as it changed the perspective on nuclear issues and security between the two countries.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The task was immense. The Pakistani lobby was still very strong in Washington. Talbot himself had made it clear that the sanctions would stay unless India signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Yet, Jaswant prevailed. He made a passionate and convincing defence of India’s nuclear ambitions―peaceful, and very much at the heart of its strategic autonomy―that helped India emerge out of its isolation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 18, 2005, it was clear that India was officially back in Washington’s good books as the two countries reached an agreement on New Delhi separating its civilian and military nuclear facilities and opening up the civilian facilities for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The US, in return, agreed to work for full civil nuclear cooperation with India. The agreement was clinched during an official visit of prime minister Manmohan Singh. “The successful completion of this initiative clears the way for even greater engagement in a number of key areas in which cooperation has previously been limited or non-existent. The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, announced in January 2004, was designed to increase cooperation in civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programmes, high-technology trade and missile defence,’’ read the joint statement by the two sides. Three years later, Manmohan and Bush formally concluded the civil nuclear deal. The prime minister withstood tremendous opposition and even risked his government to clinch the deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilateral partnership has only deepened under Modi, from boosting defence ties to reaping the benefits of the high-technology agreements signed a decade ago. “Bush and Obama pushed for defence ties,’’ said Sood. “But Modi, along with Trump and Biden, has moved it to the strategic sphere.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The relationship seems to be strong and committed despite concerns about democracy in India, aired in private. And it is going from strength to strength, thanks to China’s continuing rise and threatening presence. “The increasing intensity of the China challenge, as perceived by both Washington and New Delhi, has accelerated the growth of US-India security partnership in recent years,’’ said Kugelman. “Both countries have seen their relations with Beijing fall to their lowest levels in decades, and both perceive China as a threat, not just as a mere competitor or rival.”</p> Sat Jul 01 16:54:10 IST 2023 is-us-india-defence-deal-a-failure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2001, the first of the T-90 tanks rumbled along on Indian soil. It was powered by engines made in a tractor plant in Chelyabinsk, in west central Russia, and assembled in a Uralvagonzavod factory. It was bought on condition that the subsequent batches would be mass produced at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Tamil Nadu, under a transfer of technology regime. But, it was not that smooth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the handover began in 2001, the documents were in Russian. They could all be translated into English only by 2007, causing a critical delay in absorbing Russian tank technology. There were murmurs in South Block that it may have been a ploy to delay technology handover, despite the traditionally close relationship with Russia. In some critical T-90 tank assemblies, documents were not transferred till July 2013.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, the Russian-origin fighter aircraft Sukhoi Su-30 first appeared over Indian skies in 2002. Even after more than two decades of being operated by the Indian Air Force and despite being mass produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, there are areas of aero-engine technology Russia has withheld.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a nutshell, in defence deals, the selling nation’s strategic interests rule and there is reluctance to share military know-how with the buying state. That is why the June 22 defence deals between India and the US―in the backdrop of growing bonhomie―have an inevitable business-like ring to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hopes were high in New Delhi of a generous transfer of technology (ToT) because of the US interest to prop up India as a “strategic partner” in the Indo-Pacific to counter China and the fact that the deals were to be wrapped up during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US, which followed US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s June 4-5 India tour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The expectations were on three critical counts. General Electric’s GE F414 engines to power India’s indigenous Tejas Mk2 fighter aircraft; General Atomics MQ-9B Reaper armed drones; and semiconductor manufacture. It was expected that there would be a 100 per cent ToT in GE F414s that would lead to co-development and co-production from India, and substantial transfer of technical know-how for the armed drones and chip making. But, it was not to be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the minute details are being worked out and intense price negotiations are on, it is learnt that the ToT component in the GE F414s would be capped at about 80 per cent, and that there will just be an assembly line and an MRO (maintenance, repair, overhaul) facility for the MQ-9B drones. There will also be an assembly centre and test facility for semiconductors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian officials tried to put up a brave face. An official involved in framing the pact for ToT of GE F414s told THE WEEK that the deal was significant because the US rarely shared so much technology―80 per cent. The deal is valued at more than $1 billion. Another official in the defence ministry’s production wing said no country today would offer total ToT of a key platform, no matter how close the ties were.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The key question, therefore, revolves around the fine print. What kind of technology will be shared and which ones will be off-limits? For instance, will the US transfer aero-engine metallurgical know-how? Metallurgical composition of turbine blades for aero-engines has been a stumbling block to India’s indigenous effort that began in 1986. While unconfirmed reports say that the GE F-414 ToT will cover 11 critical areas including coating for turbine blades, combustor laser drilling technology and fabrication technology, there is nothing about the metallurgical mix.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejas light combat aircraft, the first home-made fighter, was fitted with GE F-404 engines that were bought with no ToT. The F-414 powers the US F-18 Super Hornet fighters―expected to be phased out from 2025 onwards. The most advanced frontline fighter in the US fleet is the Lockheed Martin F-35, fitted with the Pratt and Whitney F-119 engine. While it is being said that India has no requirement for a deep-strike aircraft like the F-35, it or its F-119 engine is yet to be offered to India despite being in use in many countries, including Japan, Korea and Israel. Six countries―Belgium, Poland, Singapore, Finland, Germany and Switzerland―are set to induct it soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The HALE (high altitude long endurance) MQ-9B drones achieved near-legendary status in West Asia and Afghanistan in the 2000s. But, its relevance will be put to test in India. After the border clash with China, the Indian Navy has been operating two MQ-9Bs taken on lease. In the latest deal, India is looking at 15 MQ-9Bs for the Navy and eight each for the Army and the IAF. In the US, there is already talk of phasing out the MQ-9B.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 22, in a briefing at the US department of defence, Pentagon press secretary, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, said the aim was to make India a logistics hub for the US and other partners in the Indo-Pacific region. “And so we intend to support India in the creation of logistics, repair and maintenance infrastructure for aircraft and ships,” he said. However, three foundational India-US deals―the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, signed in 2016; the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement of 2018; and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement of 2020―already bind the two nations in a close military embrace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest deal agrees to carry forward plans to ink a security of supply arrangement and a reciprocal defence procurement agreement―the fourth foundational agreement to underline the major defence partner status given to India in June 2016. These two initiatives seek to ensure uninterrupted supply of military equipment in the event of unanticipated supply chain disruptions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is therefore only fair to ask whether the military hardware and the stated terms and conditions offered are really commensurate with the close bound and warming ties that India and the US are beginning to cherish.</p> Sat Jul 01 16:43:10 IST 2023 yevgeny-prigozhin-wagner-group-mercenary-revolt-against-russian-military <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An attempt by the owner of the private military company Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to march along with his soldiers to Moscow turned out to be unsuccessful, but it greatly undermined the prestige of Russian authorities. The Kremlin already knows how to deal with the so-called “liberal opposition”―mostly intellectuals and young students. But what about the rebellion of 25,000 well-armed criminals and mercenaries with combat experience? It seems that Moscow was not ready for this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first signals of the rebellion, in fact, appeared by the end of 2022, when Prigozhin began to speak critically about the senior command of the Russian armed forces, including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. He said the defence ministry was not providing ammunition to Wagner units in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s critical speeches culminated in a statement on June 23 in which he accused the Russian oligarchs and leaders of the armed forces of corruption, lack of professionalism and unwillingness to stop hostilities in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prigozhin said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “was ready for negotiations” when Putin launched the military operations last year. He also blamed the Russian army for allegedly launching a missile strike on the Wagner units, which led to the death of about 30 fighters. As his troops started moving towards Moscow, he called it a “march of justice” to find out “why the country was in disorder”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rostov-on-Don, the million-plus city that houses the headquarters of Russia’s powerful Southern Military District, fell under Prigozhin’s control in a matter of hours. There were reports that the rebels also took Voronezh, a major logistics hub. Some of them even turned to the secret city of Voronezh-12, where Russia maintains a nuclear-weapon storage facility. Russian fighter jets stopped them from going there, but the rebels shot down some of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Moscow, the authorities ordered a counter-terrorist operation regime. Mayor Sergey Sobyanin asked residents to stay indoors. Military vehicles appeared in the city centre and ordinary policemen were given machine guns. On the federal highways leading to Moscow from the south, checkpoints were hastily set up, while excavators smashed the asphalt, digging anti-tank ditches. Petrol prices went up and so did the cost of flying out to neighbouring countries like Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Employers began instructing their staff to stock up water and other essentials. But it all ended abruptly as the Wagner forces, which were only about 200km from Moscow, stopped their advance and drove back. Prigozhin apparently reached a compromise with the Russian government through Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sudden uprising, however, showed how unstable the situation inside Russia was, even as the war in Ukraine continued unabated. When the war started, there were quite a lot of people who opposed it, but the authorities silenced them with repressive measures. However, by shutting them up, they allowed the emergence of another wing of the disaffected, called “angry patriots.” These are right-wing people who believe that the current Russian Federation is the heir to two empires―the Russian Empire, which collapsed in 1917, and the Soviet Union, which disintegrated in 1991. The Putin administration, which has been using the narrative that Ukraine―at least its eastern part―is an integral part of Russia, has become a hostage of the “angry patriots”. They want the hostilities to be intensified, including tactical nuclear strikes on Kyiv. They also want to keep Russia away from “unfriendly countries” and to subordinate the life of the entire state to one goal―to defeat Ukraine. And then, if necessary, restore by force Moscow’s influence in the Baltic states and other countries of the former Soviet bloc.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems that the authorities do not know what to do with “angry patriots”. While the opponents of the war were defamed as “agents of the accursed west” and “traitors to the motherland”, the same will not work with “angry patriots”. The Kremlin worries that Prigozhin could well become their leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to publicly available information, Prigozhin was convicted twice in his youth―for theft and fraud. He spent several years in prison, after which he started a restaurant business in his native Saint Petersburg. It was in his restaurant that President Putin met with the leaders of France and the United States in the early 2000s. Prigozhin gradually branched out into other areas such as construction, media and trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prigozhin’s main business now seems to be leading the Wagner group, which was launched in 2014 to support Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It soon transformed into a full-fledged mercenary structure, playing an active role in global hotspots like Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic. Throughout 2022, when it became clear that Moscow’s plan to quickly “denazify and demilitarise” Ukraine could not be carried out, Prigozhin reportedly started visiting Russian prisons, recruiting prisoners for Wagner, which by that time had begun operating in eastern Ukraine. In exchange, the prisoners were offered pardon, the possibility of employment after demobilisation and even the possibility of studying in Russia’s leading educational institutions. They were paid about $1,300 a month and in case of fatalities, the families were paid more than $50,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wagner units took part in the most difficult battles, including the one for the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, Prigozhin, in the style of the “angry patriots”, wanted Russia to be made a wartime economy, called for the return of the children of Russian officials and oligarchs from abroad, asked for the borders to be closed and demanded the reinstatement of death penalty. As a result, when Prigozhin launched his rebellion, he was opposed not just by the government, but also by most of the opposition that adheres to liberal views. If the opposition cursed Putin earlier, the president suddenly turned out to be the guarantor of order following Prigozhin’s threat. The only exception, perhaps, was oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who lives in exile and is bitterly anti-Putin. He sought support for Prigozhin in the hope of capitalising on the rebellion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Putin was able to defuse the crisis quickly, the “justice march” showed that the government was unable to respond quickly to a serious threat. It is clear that the Wagner military columns would hardly have been able to enter Moscow unhindered, but an open fight between the Russian army and a private military company on the outskirts of the capital would have caused panic across Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Equally concerning was the reaction of the residents of Rostov-on-Don, who greeted the Wagner mercenaries with flowers, which showed that many Russians sympathised with the “search for justice”. In Russia, the idea of justice has always been extremely popular among common people. The bloody riots of people’s leaders Stenka Razin in the 17th century and Yemelyan Pugachev in the 18th century attracted huge support. In both cases, the authorities had to organise full-fledged army operations to suppress the rebels. This thirst for justice has not disappeared completely. The only difference is that now the rebels have missiles and tanks, and could even appropriate nuclear weapons. Moreover, Russia has a large group of people connected with crime, and many of them are in prison. They consider Prigozhin as one of their own and they understand him quite well. If an opportunity presents itself, they will follow him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The multiple U-turns of the Russian government has, meanwhile, hurt its image. On the afternoon of June 24, Prigozhin and the participants in his march were branded “traitors”. A criminal case was filed against him for inciting rebellion. Putin called Wagner’s actions “treason”, threatening the rebels “inevitable punishment”. But, in the end, there were no traitors. All charges were withdrawn and the criminal case against Prigozhin was closed. It made many Russian citizens unhappy as Wagner had, indeed, tried to start a civil war and betrayed the homeland at a difficult moment, but was quickly forgiven. The Kremlin was forced to compromise as it realised that the niche of the “front-line hero” was empty in today’s Russia. Prigozhin can possibly claim that space as “a tough guy who really fights while the professional military is busy with who knows what”. He has a chance to become a “people’s leader”, albeit with a criminal past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prigozhin is now in Belarus. While some of the group’s fighters are moving there, the rest are either going to serve in the Russian army or end their military careers. Most observers believe that Wagner will return to Africa and the Middle East, where they will continue to perform a variety of tasks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Russia, the authorities have tightened control in order to prevent new rebellions. It can be expected that there will be no new armed uprisings in the near future. However, the questions that Prigozhin raised―about Russia falling short in Ukraine and who is to blame for the problems of its army―remain. And they continue to remain a major headache for Putin.</p> Sat Jul 01 18:14:02 IST 2023 significance-of-pm-modi-s-us-visit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Bidens are known for their carefully planned state dinners. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s dinner in April was a homage to the 70-year-long bilateral relationship. It was marked by references to the special nature of the bond. Cherry blossoms adorned every table, Korean American celebrity chef Edward Lee was roped in to curate the menu, which was finalised after ten rounds of tasting. Yoon’s favourite song from his childhood, “American Pie”, was performed. In a surprise move, the South Korean president crooned the Don McLean song himself. But come June 22, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends his state dinner, the Bidens are expected to top all that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“From my husband, I learned that all politics is personal,” said First Lady Jill Biden at a preview of the Yoon state dinner. It has never been truer for India and the US than it is now. Modi has thrown his weight behind making the bilateral relationship stronger than ever. And Biden has shown that he, too, is clearly committed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deal to jointly produce the GE F414 jet engine in India is likely to be finalised during the visit. Throw in the complete technology transfer, and the package looks complete, as the Americans are fiercely protective of their technology. “It is a visit where the emphasis is on strategy,’’ said foreign affairs expert Rakesh Sood. During Donald Trump’s time, the focus was on much thornier aspects like visa and trade―which are still unresolved―but this time, the key takeaways will be technology and strategy. Driven by the prime minister’s office, rather than the defence ministry, defence cooperation is on top of the agenda. Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan landed in Delhi on June 13 to work out the details under the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET), signalling the importance with which both governments are looking at enhancing defence ties. It will be useful as trade negotiations have not progressed much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Biden administration is believed to have intervened to ensure that India gets access to the jet engine technology, giving Atmanirbhar Bharat the boost it needs. Just ahead of Modi’s visit, the White House offered more: National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called India a vibrant democracy, responding to a question on the issue. “Anybody who happens to go to New Delhi can see that for themselves,” he said. The statement was significant because in February a report by the senate foreign relations committee had commented on the “downward trend of democratic values and institutions” in India. A month later, a state department report said there were significant human rights issues in India. Kirby’s certification was, therefore, essential, as it assures Americans that India remains a member of the global democratic alliance. It was also a message that Biden had Modi’s back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state visit, however, goes beyond boosting Modi’s image even as he becomes the only Indian leader to address the joint session of the US Congress twice. With a combative China and a ‘rogue’ Russia posing a major threat to the liberal, democratic world order, the visit will certainly be viewed through both these prisms. For the US, it is essential that India plays along on both issues so that it can achieve its Indo-Pacific goals, especially reiterating the primacy of the democratic order. It also wants to convince the Global South, where India holds sway, that sitting on the fence on Russia is not a choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does that mean that Delhi has chosen to ignore Moscow? There are signals of a slight recalibration. The Ukraine war has dragged on for more than a year. India has not condemned Russia. But in the past three months, there seems to be a little more empathy towards Ukraine, especially after the visit of Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova. India, however, reportedly rebuffed her attempts to get President Volodymyr Zelensky invited to the G20 summit in September. “It is only for members. We have not reviewed the list, nor has anyone talked to us about it,” said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, however, met Zelensky on the sidelines of the G7 summit last month in Hiroshima. Their picture together spoke a thousand words. India is aware of how sensitive Russia would be and how the move would be interpreted by Moscow. There are other signs, too. The 22nd heads of state summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to be held in Delhi, where Vladimir Putin was expected to be present, is now being held virtually.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Russia, there is growing concern over India’s relationship with the west. “India is indulging multiple partners,’’ said Nandan Unnikrishnan, distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation. “There is a knock on the door. Earlier, the Russians were confident that India would not answer, but now they fear that India may be tempted.” The jet engine deal may not immediately shift India away from Russia, but it could create an ecosystem where Russia ceases to matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Russians, the worry is real. If the joint production of the F414 engines is not sweet enough, the Germans are courting India with a deal for submarines. Earlier this month, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius were in Delhi. Pistorius was hoping to clinch a deal for six submarines. “India is trying very hard to reduce its dependency on Russia,’’ said Pistorius.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What these developments mean for the cooperation India has with Russia―like the S-400 missile system deal―remains to be seen. These are difficult conversations that New Delhi will certainly have with Washington.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What has also helped India inch closer to the US has been the deliverables on terrorism. The labelling of Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar as an international terrorist was one such mission, and the ongoing battle to get Tahawwur Rana extradited is another one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, India’s discourse around terrorism has changed, especially in the context of Pakistan. “With Balakot, India has shown that it can respond,’’ said strategic affairs expert Harsh Pant. “But terrorism is global in nature and institutional mechanisms to deal with it―be it the Financial Action Task Force or the United Nations―need to act. Also, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has, in a way, reduced its reliance on the Pakistan army.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India will be ready to cooperate with the US to form an economic shield against China’s Belt and Road Initiative, it will not be an ally like Australia, Japan and the UK. “India is likely to avoid military participation in coalition operations that may be necessary against China in a contingency, like a war in Taiwan,” said Ashley Tellis, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at a recent webinar. “No matter how deep our partnership gets, there are some thresholds that India is unlikely to cross.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the China question is changing for the United States as well. Washington had requested a meeting between defence chiefs of both countries on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore held earlier this month, but China declined. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Beijing on June 18. The thaw that Biden predicted at the G7 summit may finally come to pass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Americans could try and create some distance between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping,’’ said Sood. India will be happy as it is uncomfortable about the growing Sino-Russian ties. On the other hand, it will have its concerns about a Sino-American reconciliation. As Sood says, “A multipolar world is promiscuous by nature.”</p> Fri Jun 16 17:13:17 IST 2023 india-us-aero-engines-deal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When US President Joe Biden hosts Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington, DC, on June 22, a key item on the table is a deal for the powerful GE F414 engines for the Tejas Mk-2 fighter. The deal is vital because the Indian Air Force is reeling under a critical shortage of fighters. It needs 756 fighters for a possible two-front war scenario as against the 560 aircraft it operates at present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our insistence is on total transfer of technology, so we are working out the details. It is a definitive development and holds a lot of potential for manufacturing an entire range of fighter aircraft,” said an official. The state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will partner US defence major GE in the new deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had pursued the dream of an indigenous aero-engine on an indigenous aircraft since 1986. But the indigenous ‘Kaveri’ engine―despite nine prototypes―could not make the cut even after costing a lot time and money. The first indigenous fighter Tejas, inducted into the IAF in 2016, was, therefore, fitted with a GE F404 engine bought off the shelf. There was no transfer of technology. But in the new deal, only the initial batch of the F414 engines will be supplied by the US, the subsequent batches will be manufactured in India after total tech transfer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deal, however, is a loaded one. There is a strong likelihood that the F414 or its upgraded variants will be locked in as the engine of choice for several other types of fighter aircraft that India plans to produce. In effect, it will tie India to the US in a manner not seen before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 5, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and visiting US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin chalked out a roadmap for bilateral industrial cooperation in defence. “This initiative aims to change the paradigm for cooperation between US and Indian defence sectors, including a set of specific proposals that could provide India access to cutting-edge technologies and support India’s defence modernisation plans,” said a US defence department release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest developments beg a key question―is India replacing the traditionally close relationship with time-tested friend Russia with a closer bonding with the US? Said G. Parthasarathy, strategic analyst and former ambassador, “We have been buying US equipment for long, but this is the first time that we made it very clear to the US that we needed technology transfer.” He said as India felt threatened by China, it was natural that collaboration with the US would increase, as Russia was preoccupied in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Amid warming ties with the US, the relationship with Russia continues. The Russians continue to provide us with huge amounts of oil at very reasonable prices. Both Russia and the US are aware of where we stand. We are not acting against Russian or American interests. We are dealing with an aggressive China,” said Parthasarathy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the world order gradually evolving into a multipolar one from the US-dominated unipolar moment, India’s position calls for prolific multilateral engagement. That is why India is a prominent member of several multilateral groupings from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation―where Russia and China are members―to the US-backed Quad. This has given India a lot of manoeuvrability and strategic depth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Despite unhappiness on the Indian position over Ukraine, the US is going ahead with the aero-engine deal,” said military analyst Lieutenant General Rakesh Sharma (retd). “The US also understands that India does not want to be called a frontline state against China. Yet it wants to help India out and hopes that India becomes some kind of a balancer against China.” Sharma said the US knew that it would take some time for India to come out of dependence on Russia. “If the US is keen to help India despite all these, it shows great pragmatism,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, there is a realisation that the US would not give India cutting-edge weaponry. The F414 is not the most advanced engine. The US frontline fighter F-35 uses the Pratt &amp; Whitney F135 engine. American weapon systems also come with a lot of conditions. Nuclear weapons cannot be fitted on US-supplied platforms nor can they be used in a war against US allies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, the US and the west accept that they need India. “The US is facing a serious economic and military challenge it has never faced before. Just to tackle China, it has collapsed its four strategic zones―West Asia, South Asia, the ASEAN countries and the Pacific―and formed just one blanket strategic zone, the Indo-Pacific. That strategy hinges on two countries―India and Australia―the only countries in the region to slow down the pace of the Chinese challenge,” said Kumar Sanjay Singh, a modern history professor at a Delhi University college. “Because India is lagging far behind China militarily, the US wants to help India. Moreover, with the declining American influence in West Asia and Africa, India is the only stable strategic geography to manage the expanse from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal up to the ASEAN region―the reason why the US has elevated India to the status of a strategic partner. No other non-NATO country has this status,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, India is pivotal for the Russian effort to challenge the dollar’s dominance. Russia also needs India for a number of its strategic and economic goals. While Russia is the prime mover behind the de-dollarisation move, India is considered part of the broader push.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Armed with sufficient reasons, India has in recent years tried to broad-base its sources of weaponry and military equipment. Fighter aircraft engines, helicopters and transport aircraft from the US, air defence systems and aircraft from Russia, military transport aircraft from Spain, fighter aircraft from France and submarine engines from Germany―all these are part of a plan. The central idea is to avoid excessive reliance on one country and make sure that options are always available.</p> Fri Jun 16 17:09:19 IST 2023 the-us-has-learnt-to-live-with-india-s-strategic-autonomy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who would have thought that Narendra Damodardas Modi, who was refused a US visa for 10 years, will hit it off so well with three American presidents with totally different personalities. Barack Obama must have never met a guest who came to a White House dinner, but did not eat; Modi was fasting during the Navratras. Donald Trump had to play second fiddle to the Indian prime minister at the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston. At the G7 summit in Hiroshima last month, Joe Biden joked that he might have to seek Modi’s autograph, given his popularity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has brought about a paradigm shift in India-US relations. For the Obama administration, partnership with Delhi was the most “defining relationship” of the 21st century. Trump changed the nomenclature of Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific and energised the Quad (India, US, Japan and Australia), making India a crucial strategic partner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flurry of visits by senior members of the Biden administration―the commerce and defence secretaries and the national security adviser were in India recently―signals that the president wants Modi’s state visit to be a huge success. Eric Garcetti, the US ambassador to India, stressed the significance of the visit: “There are few relationships in the world that are more vital to the US and India.... India and the US are indispensable partners.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As bilateral ties grow steadily, Modi’s principal secretary P.K. Mishra held discussions with Biden’s chief of staff Jeff Zients, commerce secretary Gina Raimondo and USAID administrator Samantha Power. Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra held separate meetings with assistant secretary of State Victoria Nuland and under secretary for industry, Alan Estevez. And National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called India a vibrant democracy, which has come as music to Indian ears after the state department’s critical report about religious freedom in India. Evidently, both sides want to concentrate on the positives and make Modi’s visit most productive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There exists bipartisan consensus in India and the US on strong bilateral ties; the change of guard in Washington and Delhi does not rock the relationship. Modi, meanwhile, has realised that to fulfill his ambitious domestic development agenda and to make India a $10 trillion economy, the country needs more trade, investment and technology, including AI, from the US. A strong, strategic partnership with the US also opens up many doors; India’s expanding profile in the Quad and the Indo-Pacific and closer ties with US allies such as Japan, South Korea and Australia vindicate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following China’s aggression in Galwan and the continuing terrorist menace from Pakistan, India has realised the significance of close defence and security cooperation with the US, although short of a formal alliance. Overcoming “the hesitation of history”, India signed several key defence agreements with the US, enhancing interoperability of military communications. The US has accorded India major defence partner status and also the strategic trade authorisation status (STA 1). Export of American military hardware worth over $22 billion in the last decade underlines the burgeoning defence ties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US perceives India, the most populous democracy in the world and a formidable military and economic power, as a bulwark against an aggressive and assertive China. Moreover, key concerns like climate change, pandemic and terrorism cannot be addressed without India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and buying Russian oil in unprecedented quantities despite pressure from the US and its allies show India’s strategic autonomy. The US has learnt to live with that. And, no US president can ignore four million rich and influential Americans of Indian origin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author</b> is a retired ambassador and founding president of the Indo-American Friendship Association.</p> Fri Jun 16 17:06:26 IST 2023 tahawwur-rana-extradition-process-boosted-by-modi-s-diplomatic-outreach-efforts <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The bonhomie on display between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and president Barack Obama at the White House in 2014 was among the factors that helped create a roadmap for a deeper strategic partnership between India and the US. A few months after the visit, a phone call from Modi to Obama paved the way for a secret collaboration which would turn out to be crucial in India’s 26/11 investigations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the call, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and then special envoy to West Asia and Af-Pak region in the National Security Council Secretariat Syed Asif Ibrahim went into a huddle and asked Atulchandra Kulkarni, then joint commissioner of police in Mumbai, and Ujjwal Nikam, special public prosecutor in the 26/11 case, to fly to the US. They were asked to meet senior officers of the FBI and the state department to secure the cooperation of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley, who was in American custody. The American sleuths had some tough questions for them. Why did they want Headley’s deposition as he was not present in Pakistan or India at the time of the attacks? If Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist, did not meet Headley, why was his cooperation required?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s diplomatic heft combined with the investigative skills of the duo helped them get Headley to testify before a Mumbai court through video conference. His explosive testimony brought to light the conspiracy hatched by the LeT, with active assistance from some officers of the Pakistan army. “It was because of Headley’s statement that we were able to clinch the role of the Pakistani actors,” Nikam told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Headley also spoke about his key accomplice and friend Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistani-origin Canadian businessman presently serving a jail term in the US for being associated with the banned LeT and his role in plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed. In May, a US court consented to India’s request to extradite Rana, whose jail term ends in 2027.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Modi meets Biden, Rana’s extradition is expected to figure high on the agenda. Incidentally, on the saddle once again is Kulkarni, now additional director general in the National Investigation Agency. The key is a quick extradition because if Rana completes his sentence and returns to Canada, India may have to pursue the matter afresh. There are at least two stages of appeal available to Rana and he is likely to exhaust all his options. On June 2, he filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging the extradition order. It could delay the process by at least a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is working in India’s favour is the diplomatic cooperation offered by the US government, with US legal eagles fighting the case on India’a behalf, which is rare in extradition matters. “We are constantly in touch with our counterparts in the US. The legal collaboration is very effective,’’ said a senior government official. But there are bigger challenges ahead. Rana was not named in the chargesheet filed by the Mumbai Police, but was only an accused in the bigger 26/11 conspiracy. Ramesh Mahale, who was the investigating officer of the case, said there was no evidence against Rana when he investigated the matter. “I did not find any evidence against him till my retirement in June 2013. I don’t know whether my successor was able to collect any evidence,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ball is in the NIA’s court to firm up enough evidence. If the extradition comes through, Rana might spill the beans on key terror conspirators hiding in Pakistan, like LeT patron Hafiz Saeed, the “project manager” of the 26/11 attacks Sajid Mir and LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi among others. The NIA hopes that the extradition process would receive a boost from Modi’s diplomatic outreach efforts in Washington.</p> Fri Jun 16 17:03:04 IST 2023 russia-ukraine-conflict-latest-developments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BACK IN MAY-JUNE 1989, </b>when tanks rolled out on Tiananmen Square to crush the movement of the Chinese youth for political reforms, their hopes for change were high, in view of the normalisation of relations with the Soviet Union during Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit after a freeze of 30 years. But what happened ultimately was quite the opposite. “Let us close the past and open a new future,” Chinese supremo Deng Xiaoping told Gorbachev. The latter agreed, notwithstanding the mounting tension on Tiananmen and in several other cities. Future was opened for the rulers of China and the Soviet Union and later, Russia, without breaking ground for the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That same year, Europe witnessed groundbreaking changes. In the former republics of the Soviet Union and in east Europe, the spirit of citizens’ resilience exposed the futility of totalitarian systems as unsustainable forms of governance, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and also a sea change across eastern Europe. Many leaders could not fathom the depth of the changes. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president Francois Mitterrand were wary of the rise of a unified, strong Germany, a fear that loomed large in Europe after World War II. They tried to convince Gorbachev to react politically against the fall of the Wall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gorbachev had neither the intent nor the capacity to act against the wave of change, hammering the last nail in the coffin of the Brezhnev doctrine, which legitimised interventions in countries where socialist rulers were threatened by mass movements. In fact, the Soviet leadership was quite careful and was against direct intervention in Europe after their bitter taste of the 1968 Prague Spring and especially after their entry into Afghanistan in 1979. Even during the 1980-1981 uprisings in Poland, neither the Soviet Union nor the Warsaw Pact engaged in direct intervention, limiting it to orchestration from a distance, whereby the Poles themselves were handling the situation by imposing martial law. Russia is not so careful today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Envisioning a post-bipolar world after the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to 15 new states, all building their statehood, market economy and multiparty democracy, which was a serious transition from non-state peripheral entities, state-controlled planned economy and single party rule. For the three Baltic States, whose statehood was nullified after their inclusion in the Soviet Union under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the choice of policies in favour of the EU and NATO was clear. For the other 12 republics, building the outer attributes of statehood and market was easier than that of democracy. Crony capitalism and the oligarchic model benefited the few who were owners of resources and power in several of these countries in various forms and degrees. This disenfranchised the middle and educated class in largely electoral democracies, often choosing between the not so good and really bad candidates. Georgia and Kyrgyzstan were swept by revolutions with various outcomes, not always leading to the changes desired by people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukraine still is imperfect in many respects, but it is a hotbed of uprisings and revolutions starting from the 1990s; the 2004 Orange revolution and the 2013 Dignity revolution led to changes in power and policies―it welcomed the EU candidate status, but not NATO membership, although Russia’s complaint against NATO expansion is a key argument today for its aggression. It uses a non-documented conversation Gorbachev had with US secretary of state James Baker before the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the Soviet Union gone, such references do not hold good any more, as each sovereign country decides what to do and when. Why Russia never complained all these decades till 2022, and itself enjoyed a privileged partnership within the NATO-Russia Council: a question not difficult to answer. Ukraine never had such privileges and may still not have in the nearest future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia viewed each Ukrainian uprising with suspicion. The crux of the problem does not lie so much in Ukraine’s possible NATO membership, than in the model of governance, of citizen’s participation, decentralisation and mainly the boldness and resilience of the Ukrainian people, who are an inspiration for the Russian people to challenge their authoritarian system back home. In the skilful Russian narrative, Ukraine became an “anti-Russia”, hence the need for “demilitarisation”: for a country which begs around for weapons. And “denazification”: for a country which is headed by a Jewish president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war resulted in Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine, utter destruction of vast territories, excesses such as mass deportation, torture, murders and disappearance of civilians, which fall under the category of war crimes or crimes against humanity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 6, after Russian forces blew up parts of a dam at the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric plant on the Dnipro River, which is currently occupied by Russia, the chances of peace negotiations are becoming remote. Russians said it was caused by Ukrainian missiles―however, it is seen to have been blown up from the inside. This ecocide and war crime has put 80 settlements and hundreds of thousands of people at risk of flooding. The reservoir was used for providing cooling water for the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, the largest in Europe. Within days, the situation will exacerbate. Crimea will have no water, some territories will be flooded and others will face desertification. Condemnation from the world will flow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of the objectives of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” has been achieved. Ukraine is armed, it has built a network of support of the international community. Russia even lost more. Apart from losing more than two lakh soldiers, it has also lost the respect and status of a big power, its reputation as a predictable neighbour and a reliable partner or supplier of goods because its major productions are under sanctions. Only people with no foresight can think that Russia’s losses are compensated by the territories it is occupying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With regard to China, in the decades after 1989, Russia was indifferent to the plight of the Uyghurs and other government actions inconsistent with the values of entrepreneurship, globalisation and human initiative. Capital and money mattered more, not values. The US was not too critical either. It was assumed that with private ownership and exposure to open societies, values of freedom and democracy will germinate automatically. But if that did not happen in many former republics of the Soviet Union, why will it happen in “one state with two systems” China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Systemic similarity brought Russia and China closer. The beginning of what we see today was planted in 1989, the alignment in Sino-Russian relations, a friendship without limits, unified by their common perception of challenging the west, the US and the democratic world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Chinese envoy went around Europe brokering peace between Ukraine and Russia, death reigned across the skies of Kyiv every night in May, with a total of 198 missiles and drones raining down on people who took refuge in shelters and metro stations, some hiding in the windowless corridors of their apartments. Almost 90 per cent of the missiles and drones were shot down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Missiles from the sky hit the ground reality so hard that only direct witnesses can shape the ultimate political decision. A frozen conflict will be deadly for Ukraine and the rest of the world. What Russia did in Ukraine will set a precedent for China to emulate in Asia. The memory of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum is still fresh, every clause of which was ignored by the parties guaranteeing security to Ukraine, especially Russia, which engaged in armed intervention. Ukraine’s leadership has few choices but to listen to its people, who will not accept any truce at the cost of territories after all that they have gone through. They risk their skies to break ground for new beginnings. The war of nerves and missiles is yet to end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mridula Ghosh,</b> <b>formerly with the UN, is now based in Kyiv, teaching at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and also leads an NGO.</b></p> Sat Jun 10 12:30:32 IST 2023 erdogan-victory-in-turkish-presidential-elections-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>IF IT LOOKS LIKE A</b> duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.” An example of abductive reasoning, it means that if something has all the characteristics which suggest the same thing, it is most probably that thing itself, regardless of what it is called or presented as.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before analysing the possible consequences of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in the presidential elections on May 28, it is important to understand how the Turkish opposition managed to lose the most winnable elections of the last 20 years, despite Turkey being in the middle of a severe economic crisis and with public anger over the government’s response to powerful earthquakes in February that left at least 50,000 people dead. Was the opposition bloc’s candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who has never won a single election against Erdogan, the right candidate?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kilicdaroglu might be the most honest person on earth, with the most robust democratic values and best intentions for his country, but having good intentions is never enough in politics to win a tight election, especially when almost all state resources are used in favour of the candidate who is in power. This was not a fair election at all, as all state resources were used in Erdogan’s favour, but this cannot be an excuse for the opposition’s loss.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, a sprawling system of influence over the mainstream media and the judiciary and the state largesse helped to maintain the Turkish president’s popularity with the voters. But is it enough to explain the failure of the opposition bloc which consisted of a motley alliance of political parties called the Table of Six? The answer is no.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his 13 years of leadership of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition party, Kilicdaroglu has been involved in 10 elections and yet he has never won a single one against Erdogan. On the other hand, there were other names on the table for the opposition, such as Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who is a new face with the CHP and who has beaten Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) twice during the local elections in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Kilicdaroglu insisted that he was the right candidate. And the rest of the leaders of the Table of Six, except Meral Aksener, the leader of the iYi (the Good Party), the second largest party in the National Alliance bloc, also wanted him to be the presidential candidate. What probably worked in Kilicdaroglu’s favour was the fact that he was a more unassuming politician than Imamoglu and compromised a lot of the CHP’s policies to keep the smaller parties within the alliance. Small right-wing parties, which have 1 to 2 per cent of the total votes, managed to win 38 seats in parliament thanks to Kilicdaroglu who favoured them over the CHP’s own candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only Aksener who opposed Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy and supported Imamoglu by stressing constantly that the iYi was in favour of a candidate who had the capacity to win. She even walked away from a leadership meeting in an apparent show of anger immediately after Kilicdaroglu was declared the presidential nominee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, with an ungrounded overconfidence, the opposition bloc believed that no matter what, it would beat Erdogan. According to political lobbies, the opposition leaders were fighting among themselves for seats in a future cabinet. They underestimated Erdogan’s ability to mobilise his voters by using a populist discourse, even if it occasionally included misinformation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, by the time the opposition declared its presidential candidate, it was too late. The announcement came in March, just three months before the elections. That left the opposition leadership with insufficient time for an efficient election strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition alliance’s motto was “returning to the parliamentary system”, which called for abolishing the presidential system introduced by Erdogan. The intent was good, but the opposition leaders missed the fact they first had to win the elections in order to change the system. Moreover, the rhetoric itself did not appeal to the ordinary public as they were struggling with economic difficulties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A series of wrong decisions and outright incompetence cost the opposition its chance to unseat Erdogan. To be more precise, just from the very beginning, Kilicdaroglu looked like a duck, walked like a duck and talked like a duck, but everyone in the opposition chose to believe that he was not a duck. (Before somebody starts a lynching campaign, I am using the word ‘duck’ as a metaphor, I am not calling Kilicdaroglu a ‘duck’.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what now?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Erdogan extends his rule into a third decade, and as the Turkish parliament becomes the most right-wing in history, there will be political, economic and social consequences of these elections. Turkey will be facing a more fragile economy with a higher risk of a slump in the lira. It is not clear whether Erdogan will stick to his low interest rate policy or not, but in any case, the lira might become much weaker against the dollar and euro and high inflation might cause much more economic hardship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pressure on independent media will probably increase, although Erdogan controls nearly 90 per cent of the mainstream media in Turkey. The downturn in democratic values and judicial independence will most probably continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since it was the nationalist wing of the Turkish society which determined the results of this elections, the nationalist tone of the government will also increase, and Erdogan will feel more comfortable carrying his anti-western rhetoric further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another “winner” of this elections is Russian President Vladimir Putin who has cordial ties with Erdogan for many years. Despite mounting pressure on Ankara to help bolster western sanctions against Moscow in the light of the Ukraine crisis, Erdogan said in a recent interview that Turkey had a “special” and growing relationship with Russia. Putin was among the leaders who congratulated Erdogan immediately after the elections, calling him a “dear friend”, according to the Kremlin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to foreign policy, Turkey’s tilt towards Russia, China and the east will continue. The west will have to live with the fact that Turkey, which has the second largest military force in NATO, is ruled by someone who enjoys cordial ties with Putin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Turkey continue to lean towards the east, ties with India will also improve. Turkey has been a firm believer in the expansion of the United Nations Security Council. Recently, Ruchira Kamboj, India’s permanent representative to the UN, called for a “major course correction” in the functioning of the Security Council. She said “India, which was the world’s largest democracy, along with Africa and Latin America, were being kept out of global decision-making”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Turkey and India clearly share the same interests when it comes to reforming the UNSC system and there is a lot of room for cooperation in the international arena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Yezdani is a Turkish journalist who has covered diplomacy and international news for various media outlets including the Associated Press, BBC and CNN.</b></p> Fri Jun 02 16:20:52 IST 2023 challenges-for-erdogan-after-victory-in-turkish-presidential-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With his victory in the presidential elections run off held on May 28, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69, has reinforced his position as the longest-ruling leader of the modern Turkish republic. When his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won its first election in November 2002, Erdogan could not become prime minister. Turkey, back then, had a parliamentary system of government. Erdogan was kept out by a judicial ban imposed on him for using a few lines from a poem by Turkish nationalist Ziya Gokalp at a rally in the city of Siirt six years ago. He chose his trusted lieutenant, Abdullah Gul, as prime minister until the AKP-dominated parliament voted to suspend the ban. Erdogan took over as prime minister on March 15, 2003.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan’s political memories were made of impoverished Turkish villages and cities where he struggled in his childhood and student days. An angry, yet ambitious Erdogan joined student politics in 1976 under his mentor Necmettin Erbakan, the architect of political Islam in modern Turkey. Erdogan’s oratorical and political skills, and his piety helped him rise quickly through the ranks and he became the Islamists’ candidate for the Istanbul mayor elections in 1994. He won and used the opportunity to transform Istanbul into a truly modern city. Erdogan soon became a national icon as his nationalistic speeches buffeted by Islamist narratives appealed to a large section of Turkish voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1997, a court found Erdogan guilty of violating Turkey’s strict secular laws in the Gokalp poem case. He was stripped of mayorship and was jailed for 10 months. Erdogan, however, was able to convert the crisis to his favour, invoking populist and religious sentiments. As his popularity surged, he sought to take over the leadership of the Islamists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan made two major policy shifts in Islamist politics: he asked the Islamists to abandon their long-held anti-European and anti-western mindset and to moderate their principles if they wanted to win power. Finding it difficult to unite multiple Islamist factions, he co-founded the AKP in August 2001, and it made an impressive debut in the 2002 general elections. Erdogan presented himself as a reformer and promised to deliver all necessary measures required to join the European Union. Soon, politicians from across the ideological faultlines started flocking to the AKP. Western newspapers were excited about Erdogan’s campaign as he promised strong relations with the west and also neoliberal reforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To Turkey’s alienated Kurdish population, Erdogan promised a fair deal. The AKP quickly emerged as Turkey’s largest gathering of Islamists, nationalists, secularists, Kurds and minorities who resented the Turkish elite, the corrupt coalition governments and the declining economy. The party won the election with 34 per cent votes as the new social engineering turned out to be extremely successful in gaining the trust of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan gradually won over Turkey’s secular hearts and minds, but was left with one serious detractor, a staunchly Kemalist military that controlled major decision-making positions. For years, Erdogan remained cautious, non-confrontational and development-centric, to secure another term. After the Turkish armed forces issued a warning against AKP’s presidential candidate in 2007, Erdogan decided to conduct early elections and also organised a referendum to seek direct election of the president. He successfully neutralised the military’s objections against the AKP’s presidential candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2010, he conducted another referendum for a slew of reforms required for EU accession, which curtailed the role of the military in most civilian institutions. By that time, he had visited most European capitals and held several rounds of dialogues for accession. Turkey was considered a role model of democracy and Islam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan’s optimism with the west suffered a major setback after the entire Arab world, including Turkey’s immediate neighbour, Syria, fell into social and political chaos following the Arab Spring in 2011. As Syria faced a brutal civil war and armed insurgency, Turkey was left alone to deal with the conflict and the inflow of refugees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan felt cornered as US president Barack Obama backtracked from his Syria policy and the Russian air force started bombing rebel-held areas in Syria. When Turkey shot down a Russian jet for violating Turkish airspace, the western response disappointed Erdogan. Soon, Iranian militias were all over Syria and Iraq, large swathes of territories were taken over by Islamic State, and northern Syria was declared a semi-autonomous territory governed by US-backed Kurdish forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was Erdogan’s first-ever experience with a military conflict at his country’s borders. Most NATO members, meanwhile, disagreed that the creation of a semi-autonomous region on Turkey’s southern border posed a threat to Turkey’s national security. The Eurasianists, who used to be a weak bloc in the Turkish armed forces, proposed to disrupt the creation of a potential Kurdish state on the Syrian border by launching a cross-border operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan was quick to learn the new realities and agreed to re-engage with Russia and Iran to find a deconflict mechanism for Syria. The Astana peace process launched in January 2017 (by Russia and Iran, which supported Syria, and Turkey, which backed the rebels) to end the Syrian conflict became Erdogan’s biggest diplomatic victory. With Russian support, Erdogan launched military operations in Syria, as the Syrian government failed to stop Kurdish rebels from using Syrian soil against Turkey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With these operations, Erdogan became more popular among the Turkish nationalists. In 2018, he changed Turkey into a presidential republic from a parliamentary one, based on a referendum conducted in 2017. Emboldened by his Syria operations, he supported Libya’s UN-recognised government against UAE-backed Libyan factions. In Azerbaijan, too, Turkish drones created new realities. Turkey’s growing defence industry aided Erdogan’s push for defence cooperation with many countries. Erdogan’s policies, however, led to a near total break with the west, stalling EU membership talks and widening the rift with the US, despite Turkey being a NATO member and hosting a base with American nuclear weapons and troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite achieving prominence on the world stage, domestic challenges remain a major concern for Erdogan. On July 15, 2016, he escaped a violent coup attempt by a section of the Turkish military. He responded with a ruthless crackdown against the rebels. To expel loyalists of controversial US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, said to be the coup mastermind, Erdogan used Kemalists, secularists and nationalists as replacements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in 2003, the Kemalist elite in Turkey thought Erdogan would never survive in politics even for a few years, let alone for two decades. However, the “novice on the national stage” has now been “accustomed to proving himself”. Since then, Erdogan has been a great improviser in his style, politics, tactics and strategies. He has been successful in engineering winnable support from all ideological camps in Turkey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His key skill is communication, which he uses to remain relevant, connected and accessible to all sections of the population. For example, he maintains very close and regular interactions with elected village heads who have a great influence on voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If anything should define Erdogan’s ideology, it is the pragmatism that he embraces in every crisis. He shook hands with every leader who once considered him a fierce opponent, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE. At home, too, he readily reaches out to anyone who he thinks can be of benefit to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reviving Turkish economy could be the biggest challenge for Erdogan in his new term. He had relied on upgrading infrastructure in the first decade of his rule and he realised only late that Turkey was going to miss the bus of the fourth industrial revolution, as sectors like information technology, innovation and research and development remained neglected. Turkish graduates are undertrained or underemployed as the job market has shrunken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan has won the elections, but he knows that Turkey’s Gen Z is increasingly frustrated and disenchanted. He has very little time to revive the Turkish economy and meet young Turks’ genuine aspirations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Anas is an Ankara based academician and analyst.</b></p> Fri Jun 02 17:53:09 IST 2023 imran-khan-arrest-army-and-government-against-pti <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 9, as former prime minister Imran Khan was undergoing the biometric registration process at the Islamabad high court, a contingent of Pakistan Rangers in riot control gear swooped down on him. The paramilitary commandos took him away, manhandling those around him. They were acting on the directions of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case, one of the several cases Imran is facing. A day later, an Islamabad court remanded him to NAB custody for eight days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Imran, his wife Bushra Bibi, and other PTI leaders are facing an NAB inquiry related to a settlement between the ousted PTI government and property tycoon Malik Riaz, allegedly causing a loss of £190 million to the national exchequer. According to the NAB, Imran’s government adjusted the amount that was returned by Britain’s National Crime Agency to the Pakistan government as part of a settlement with Riaz. As prime minister, Imran got cabinet approval for the settlement, but kept it confidential. The money was submitted to the supreme court on behalf of Riaz. The Al-Qadir Trust was subsequently given land worth billions to establish a university.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Imran behind bars, it is a battle for survival for him and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Following the former prime minister’s arrest, his party’s top brass, too, was rounded up, turning it into the biggest challenge the PTI has faced since inception. As news about Imran’s arrest spread, PTI activists were out on the streets in several cities, and the protests turned violent quickly. Army establishments were specifically targeted. The corps commander house in Lahore was torched by protesters, who also vandalised the GHQ (General Headquarters) in Rawalpindi. Public property ranging from government schools and offices to Radio Pakistan, too, came under attack. The PTI leadership distanced itself from the violent protests. “Political parties try to keep protests and political movements peaceful. Unfortunately, once violence starts in a political movement, there is no way to stop it or contain it,” said senior leader Fawad Chaudhry. “We tried to control violent protests as much as we could.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, some audio leaks suggest that the top leadership of the PTI may have been complicit. The crackdown on the party is expected to be fierce and the next few days will determine whether it will be able to steer itself through the crisis. In an ominous warning to Imran and the PTI, the Pakistan military said that May 9 would go down in history as a dark chapter. “Soon after Imran’s arrest, there were organised attacks on army properties and installations and anti-army slogans were raised. A power-hungry group wrapped in political garb has done to the country what its enemies had failed to do since its inception,” said a statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing. It called the PTI leaders ‘hypocrites’ for inciting their workers against the armed forces on the one hand, and praising the military on the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior journalist Asma Shirazi said that despite the violence, there was no massive support for Imran, which has bust the myth of his “unprecedented popularity”. She said most people who came out were miscreants who tried to spread terror. “The PTI’s status as a political party is now under question and its popularity has taken a hit. What happened on May 9―the attack on GHQ and the corps commander house in Lahore―will stick to it just like the attack on the supreme court by the PML(N) back in 1997. It will haunt the PTI forever and define its relationship with security institutions.” She said by unleashing the violence, the PTI provided an excuse for the government to avoid any blame that it would have otherwise faced after the arrest. She also questioned the support Imran continued to receive from outside Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are several experts who think that the crackdown against Imran and the PTI went against existing laws. Senior lawyer Faisal Chaudhry told THE WEEK that Imran’s arrest was illegal because under NAB’s amended laws, a call-up notice had to be issued while converting an inquiry into an investigation. It was not followed in Imran’s case. “May 1 is Labour Day. How can the NAB issue a warrant on a holiday? Moreover, Imran was arrested from the premises of the Islamabad high court, violating its sanctity.” Chaudhry said if the NAB wanted to arrest Imran, it should have coordinated with his legal team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior journalist Gharidah Farooqi said the arrest was not completely unexpected. There were a few things that led to the present impasse, especially Imran’s criticism of a very senior military officer for almost a year―he often referred to him as “Dirty Harry”. On the political front, the federal government did not want to hold elections in Punjab on May 14, a date stipulated by the supreme court after Imran challenged the delay in announcing the polls. The Shehbaz Sharif government seems to be sending a message through Imran’s arrest: Punjab elections will be held with the general elections, which are likely in October after the existing national assembly completes its tenure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fawad Chaudhry tried to shift the blame towards the Sharif government for the ongoing crisis. He said the PTI’s bond with the army was quite strong as their voter base included Pakistan’s elite classes. “Army families come to our rallies. It is very unfortunate that despite such historic ties, there are differences between the PTI and the army high command. This is not a good thing and it only benefits the government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chaudhry also expressed concern about Imran’s safety. “We have not been given access to him till now. We don’t know how he is, whether he got medical aid or not. The judge was told that he should come and see him, and that he could not be brought to the court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incarceration could define Imran’s political future as it is not easy to fight a political battle from inside a jail cell. “Imran has not been to jail like this before. This will be a make-or-break moment for him,” said Farooqi. “When he gets bail, we will see how he reacts and what he does.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said the ongoing political drama reminded him of the popular quote, “there’s never a dull moment in Pakistan”. But as the crisis continues to aggravate, he appears worried about the country’s future. “It has crossed the threshold of cheap thrills that we are used to, even by our own standards. It is only a matter of time before the old structures crumble,” said Khokhar. “Will the resulting chaos give birth to a new star or hurl us into the abyss, only time will tell.”</p> Sat May 13 11:55:36 IST 2023 ukraine-contibutions-to-science-and-technology <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AROUND EASTER IN</b> April 2023, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, six-year-old Taras and his mother, Daryna, went to visit his father’s grave, near Hostomel. Taras was holding a small drawing of a big plane, with the words “Mriya never dies” written on them. I joined them. In February 2022, within a few days of Russia’s full-blown invasion against Ukraine, troops were nearing Kyiv. Taras’s father, Yevhen, who worked at the Hostomel airport, succumbed to fatal injuries received during heavy fighting on the outskirts. The world’s largest aircraft, “Mriya”, was housed in Hostomel and it was destroyed in a missile attack. It was symbolic, as <i>mriya</i> in Ukrainian means dream.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Daryna then was in Ternopil in west Ukraine with Taras, and came to know about her husband’s death only weeks later. Shocked and heartbroken, she told Taras that his father was holding the sky up, until it became too heavy for him. Falling, the sky crushed everybody, including “Mriya”. Since then, Taras believes that holding the sky up is the most important thing in this war. It is indeed so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During February and March 2022, “closing the sky” above Ukraine was the most urgent need of the hour. Multiple campaigns led to no result. Ukraine’s allies faltered in becoming a party to the war and opted to give anti-missile systems instead. Colossal damages not only to military, but also civilian infrastructure, innumerable deaths, injuries, displacement and sufferings of people in places distant from the Russian border are all results of massive air raids.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Geography has been utterly unfair, giving Ukraine a belligerent neighbour with endless appetite for incursions, but history has been no fairer. The truth is that Ukrainians always held the sky up, for the former Soviet Union and the world. However, their contributions to Soviet rocket science, missile and space programmes are denied or are attributed to Russia. Worse, Ukraine’s sky is now open, vulnerable. The air defence guys are blessed by all 24x7, people owe peaceful nights and days to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“To hold the sky up” is not intercepting attacking missiles, but something greater and historical for Ukrainians. Records show several pioneers: the first one is Oleksandr Zasyadko of Ukrainian Cossack descent from the Poltava region–whose rockets excelled during the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war. The International Astronomical Union named a moon crater after him. Then there is Yuri Kondratyuk, one of the founders of cosmonautics, paving humanity’s way to the moon. His “Kondratyuk track” made in 1916 was used in the American Apollo lunar programme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And who will deny the leadership of Serhiy Korolyov, from Zhytomyr, Ukraine, director of the Soviet space programme, in launching the first satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, and guiding Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight in 1961, marking the USSR’s first successes? Pavlo Popovich, the fourth human and the first Ukrainian in space, proudly told Nikita Khrushchev in Ukrainian: “I am the first Soviet cosmonaut from Ukraine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these Soviet legacies undeniably owe a big share to Ukraine. Not recognising this is both myopic and colonial. Everything Soviet does not mean Russian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Independent Ukraine could soon catch up. In 1997, thanks to Leonid Kadenyuk, who spent 15 days and 16 hours in space on the US space shuttle Columbia, the flag of Ukraine was raised and the anthem played in space for the first time. From 2006 to 2008, Heidemarie Martha Stefanyshyn-Piper―a NASA astronaut and woman of Ukrainian origin―made five spacewalks totalling 33 hours and 42 minutes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only persons, institutions matter as well. Daryna, herself an aviation engineer, says it is hard to believe that the Ukrainian aerospace industry that started as early as 1954, founding the world’s best companies in Dnipropetrovsk (now Dnipro), has to beg the world today for air defence. Ukrainian giants such as the Yuzhnoye State Design Office and the Yuzhmash Machine-Building Plant (now the Pivdenniy Machine-Building Plant) produced countless ballistic and space rockets, rocket engines, satellites, and world famous Ukraine-designed Zenit and Cyclone booster rockets. Since 1991, over 160 rockets and more than 370 spacecraft were launched with the participation of Ukraine, including Vega and Antares.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukraine is one of the few countries in the world that has a closed rocket production cycle, ranging from rocket fuel to airframes, launch vehicles and spacecraft. No wonder why president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who spoke highly of Ukraine’s rocket and space science contributions, took a trip to these institutions in Dnipro during his state visit in 2005. It is also no surprise that Elon Musk calls Zenit the best launch vehicle in the world after his Falcon. Just before the war in 2022, Space X launched the second-ever Ukrainian satellite, Sich 2.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>War has put Ukraine on the brink, but people who hold up the sky never give up. Pivdenmash aspires to create a floating spaceport in the Kherson region, now partly occupied by Russia. Yuzhnoye’s dream is to set up a permanent base on the moon’s surface. Mriya, the dream, never dies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most aerospace enterprises continue to work and collect aid for the Ukrainians and the army. “With a fast-track entry into the European Union, Ukraine will develop the space industry in a couple of years,” says Daryna. “Let the war end. I need to get a kilo of coffee for the air defence guys, my husband’s friends. They stay awake 24/7 and let us have peaceful nights.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, for Taras, the big news is: Mriya, the largest bird, will be reconstructed. While Russian missiles rain death on Ukrainians, he thinks his deceased dad and others are called by God to help hold up the sky. Bidding me goodbye, he says, “You should love your people, land and the sky more. More than you ever could. Then “Mriya” will never die.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mridula Ghosh formerly with the UN, is now based in Kyiv, teaching at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and also leads an NGO.</b></p> Fri May 12 13:18:48 IST 2023 former-indian-ambassador-to-sudan-deepak-vohra-guest-column <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LIVING IN KHARTOUM</b> can be incredibly frustrating and exciting in equal measure. The facilities are limited, sharia constricts personal freedoms, the people are warm and friendly. I spent five years as India’s ambassador in Sudan, an unpredictable nation, and it was a truly amazing learning experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who are the Sudanese?</b></p> <p>Their identity is still forming through an ongoing historical process of tribal and regional amalgamation; parallel faultlines are just below the surface.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has great brand equity in Sudan. We have given over $1 billion in soft loans for infrastructure projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was posted in Sudan when a peace deal ended Africa’s longest running civil conflict (41 years), and when the African non-Muslim south voted to secede from the Arabised and heavily Islamic north. That conflict was less about religion and ethnicity than about resources and dignity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the war was winding down in the south, an insurrection began in 2003, in Darfur, pitting Arabised Muslims against African Muslims. An exhausted regime outsourced the conflict to a bunch of vicious Arab tribes, collectively known as the Janjaweed (roughly, warrior on a horse). They were authorised to rape, loot, plunder and abduct, and were led by a brute called Hamdan Dagalo, a former cattle herder, who was a darling of the then president. The army in Darfur was commanded by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, now the army chief and president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Janjaweed metamorphosed into what is grandly called the Rapid Support Forces, and became a kind of praetorian guard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2008, Chad-backed rebels attacked Khartoum, the RSF fought them on the streets while the former president cowered in his basement and western diplomats sought refuge in India House.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, long-time dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who became a close friend, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes. Tightening western sanctions since 1993 (when the US declared Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism) ruined the economy, inflation soared, the currency collapsed, agriculture declined, and industry froze. Inspired by the short-lived Arab Spring of 2011, people took to the streets in 2019, wanting the regime to go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upset with the government crackdown on unarmed civilians, and worried about its future repercussions on themselves, dearest friends Dagalo and al-Burhan got together to boot out Bashir and put him in jail, forming a hybrid civilian-military government headed by a civilian prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years later, the PM was kicked out and the two military fellows became the leaders of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So why are they fighting?</b></p> <p>It is about personality and property. al-Burhan tried to marginalise his erstwhile comrade and get sole control of the country’s natural resources like gold and oil, and reneged on his promise to integrate the RSF into the Sudanese military. Furious, Dagalo ordered his storm troopers into the streets of the capital and seized military bases, prompting the latter to use its air force to hit the RSF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two belligerents are very rich and have tens of thousands of fighters, foreign backers, and other resources. Like thousands of others, their families have studied or received medical assistance in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview, Dagalo ranted that al-Burhan was a criminal who wanted to destroy the country and would be brought to justice or “die like any dog”. In fact, Dagalo only appeared on the national political scene four years ago. In that short time, he has drawn the army, and all of Sudan, into an unprecedented confrontation. It is a fight to the finish. Whoever wins will be the next president of Sudan, the loser will be jailed, exiled or killed. Such prolonged conflict has devastated other countries in the Middle East and Africa―from Lebanon and Syria to Libya and Ethiopia and Somalia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the people?</b></p> <p>Since its independence in January 1956, Sudan has seen long periods of military rule punctuated by some democratic interludes during which the politicians fought each other ferociously for power and pelf. Sick of the political shenanigans, Sudanese welcomed the military as a factor for stability. Over the years, the people have learned to live with adversity. There are grassroots networks of citizens in and around Khartoum tirelessly helping those caught in the crossfire. Much of this good work is led by young volunteers operating at local neighbourhood level in thousands of “resistance committees”. They were the backbone of the movement that called for a return to civilian rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian community, mainly Gujaratis, many of whom have been in Sudan for generations, has a similar time-tested mutual support system. They may or may not want to leave their businesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some so-called developed countries have evacuated their diplomats and officials. The UN has issued warnings and appeals that have failed to stop the violence. Sudan’s neighbours―Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, Eritrea and South Sudan―have their own interests. None is a paragon of democracy. Egypt loves the Sudanese military. Saudi Arabia is buddies with the Rapid Support Forces who fought in the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen. Ethiopia wants Sudan to stop challenging the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. Frenemy Chad has asked Sudan to stop meddling in its affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Memories of the 2011 Arab Spring that booted out several dictators haunt the monarchies, and while they do want a peaceful and stable Sudan, they do not want it to be a seductive beacon of democracy in the region. That is the hard reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US has announced another 72-hour ceasefire, but neither side seems to be observing it. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have evacuated their citizens, and some Indian nationals, among others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has already started moving its people who wish to leave out of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, under Operation Kaveri. We have done it in Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Ukraine under the direct supervision of our leaders. Our diplomats will be the last to get out. That is the true strength of Indian diplomacy and our diplomats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Vohra</b> <b>is an Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1973 batch.</b></p> Sat Apr 29 09:09:55 IST 2023 new-york-city-mayor-eric-adams-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the comic book universe, Gotham City and Metropolis are safeguarded by masked superheroes, superpowers, but in real life, New York City, on which these fictional cities are based, is under the charge of its 110th mayor, Eric L. Adams. An unlikely superhero, he has taken on all monsters―be it Covid-19, crime, inequality, financial downturns, racism and other evils that imperil a big city. He has brought New York back from the brink.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adams, 62, has battled adversity; he and five siblings were brought up by a single mother who cleaned homes to make a living. From having battled dyslexia to making it to the dean’s list, Adams has seen both sides of life, and managed to transform outcomes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arrested and beaten as a teenager, he went on to combat injustice by joining the police force and rose to the rank of captain. As a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, he worked on changing the system from within. Adams later became a state senator and was the first person of colour to chair the senate’s homeland security committee. In 2013, he was elected president of the Brooklyn borough, and while working to bring diverse groups together, public policy and good government became his mantra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adams is all about taking creative action to solve problems. When he temporarily went blind in one eye and was told he had type 2 diabetes, he took radical action, transforming his diet and losing 35 pounds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is said that when Adams was growing up in Jamaica, Queens, he would often carry a plastic bag of belongings with him for he never knew if he may be returning to an eviction notice on their home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As mayor-elect, one of his first acts was to nominate five deputy mayors―all of them women, and two of them of Asian heritage (Meera Joshi is his deputy mayor for operations).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Affordable housing is an acute problem in New York City but Adams says he has set “a moonshot goal of building five lakh new homes for New Yorkers over the next decade―and to achieve this goal we must fight for new housing, new zoning, and innovation.” This entails out-of-the-box thinking in converting office space lying vacant after the pandemic into apartments for daily living, keeping the business districts vibrant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Searching for bold and creative ways to solve the problems of a big city seems to be the mantra of Adams. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a name="__DdeLink__23_983420813" id="__DdeLink__23_983420813"></a><b>Q You have often been called the Hindu mayor because of your affinity with all faiths. Good Hindus are supposed to love all religions, all people. Do you believe these are universal ideas, that more people should be adopting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Yes, I believe the universal principle of being kind, of being just, of being benevolent is more than just actually being a loyal worshipper―being a practitioner. That’s why I say the city should be a city where God is present. No matter how you define God, no matter what way―be it the Buddha, through meditation, breathing; or if it’s through Christ, Jehovah, any of the deities that are worshipped in different philosophies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I sit inside a Sikh temple, when I sit inside a synagogue or church or mosque, I still feel that universal principle of kindness, of justice, of caring, of leaving that place of worship and going out and fulfilling our obligation as spiritual beings. We are not human beings in a spiritual place. We are spiritual beings in a human place. And we need to continue to manifest that spirituality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q As a former police officer, one of your campaign plans has been decreasing the crime rate, and that has happened. But while the shootings and homicides have decreased, the assaults and robberies have risen.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> When we came into office, we saw an over proliferation of guns, homicides and shootings. That was our primary focus―to make sure that we put in place the right police personnel to go after those guns. We took and removed over 8,000 guns off the street since I’ve been the mayor. We saw shootings go down, we saw murders go down. But we have also seen something else: we are seeing robberies go down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our subways have become safer because of our subway safety plan. Our customer satisfaction surveys are showing that people are feeling safer on our system. They see the presence of police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We announced recently that we are asking Kia and Hyundai to get a better safety system and we are encouraging people to get their safety system installed in cars. Crime is going down, jobs are coming up and that is what we are committed to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What do you say about New York City’s financial forecast? What is the post-Covid recovery plan being implemented?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> It starts with efficiency. We went to our agencies when I first took office and stated we must do what everyday taxpayers are doing. And make sure we balance the budget of our house, which are our agencies, like everyday taxpayers are balancing the budget of their homes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You know, my mother used to say, this is the amount of money that comes in. This is the rent, and if we are going to spend something over what was taken in, we need to decide what we are going to take off the list. And that’s what we’re telling all our agencies. We did something called the peg program to eliminate the gap, told the agencies to look for efficiencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We did two rounds of that. And we are going to have to do another round because, unexpectedly, we were hit with a $4.2 billion bill from our asylum seekers. That money was not factored into how we’re going to deal with our budget crisis. Add that to the fiscal clip of the money we were receiving from the federal government which is going to run out next year. There is going to be some pain. But we’re not going to do away with services, we’re not going to do layoffs. We’re just going to find those efficiencies within our agencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What else are you implementing for the city?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We are really focusing on continued safety as we cycle out of Covid-19. All of us would admit that it caused serious mental health issues and we must address those issues. The number of suicides among young people has increased; the number of drug overdoses has increased. We’re looking at young people having a particularly hard time post-Covid. But we also want to look at our ageing population. Loneliness is really a part of the social determinants of health, and so we want to make sure we care for our older adults.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our focus is on housing. And so in dealing with our mental health crisis, and continuing to make our city a safe city as we encourage people to come here, and we’re seeing financial success―99 per cent of all jobs we lost pre-pandemic―roughly 9,58,000―are back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are also seeing new companies come here and open shop. JP Morgan is opening a new corporate headquarters. We’re seeing Pfizer, and we’re leaning into biotech on 11th avenue and on first avenue. So there’s real excitement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tourism is up: 56 million tourists―we are predicting 65 million this year, which is a major economic boost for us. People are back on the streets, you’re seeing them back in our restaurants, and Broadway is up and operating. So, we’re excited. Financial recovery is going to be a difficult one but we know we’ve done it before, in 2008. We did it before that in 2001 and we know that this city is resilient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The Indian-American community has been delighted that you are championing the cause of Diwali as a school holiday.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> You know, there are levels to bring in the success of the Diwali holiday home. The first level was to find a date that we could trade off with. And we did that. The chancellor and I, and many others, we all agreed to look at what was called Brooklyn-Queens Day, and trade that off for the Diwali holiday, because there were no more days on the books. The state law requires the department of education to have a certain number of school days, and we had the maximum amount of holidays and days off, but we were able to creatively come up with the trade-off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We presented it to the state lawmakers helped by the amazing work of Jenifer Rajkumar [member, New York state assembly] to move this forward. And now it is up to the state lawmakers to actually vote on the change of moving it from the Brooklyn-Queens Day to a Diwali holiday. We’re hoping they do it this session but is still in negotiation.</p> <p><b>Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> Thu Apr 27 10:46:38 IST 2023 how-uk-is-grappling-with-economic-and-humanitarian-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>OVERCAST SKIES,</b> low temperatures and frequent showers make it feel like the English winter is dragging its feet, refusing to make way for spring. High-street clothing stores sport spring collections in shades of lavender, pastel pink and teal, but on the streets, people are covered in long coats, dark bomber jackets, and woollen caps and scarves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bleak weather somewhat reflects the general mood in the country. Though the coronation of King Charles is less than a month away, there is no festive feel in the air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, politicians and the public are preoccupied with a multitude of challenges, particularly double-digit inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent months, the country has witnessed strikes the likes of which have not been seen in 40 years. Teachers, public transport staff, postal workers, nurses, doctors and border staff, among others, are demanding higher pay and better working conditions. The fallout of Brexit and Covid-19 had hit them hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The economic crisis has also exacerbated two inter-linked problems: homelessness and excessive migration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Official figures released in February showed that homelessness in England had risen by 26 per cent in a year, because of the “spiralling cost-of-living crisis”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, there has been a massive influx of refugees into the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, around 9,000 Afghan refugees are staying in hotels in the country. On March 28, the government announced it would move the refugees into permanent homes on the condition that they accept the first property offered to them. If they did not, they would not be given an alternative. This has led to concerns that a bulk of the refugees, half of them children, will end up homeless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Ukrainians, the UK, in 2022, welcomed more than 1.6 lakh refugees under various schemes that gave them housing in homes and hotels, and allowed them access to schools, health care, social welfare schemes and the right to work, for a stipulated time period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, thousands of UK sponsors agreed to house refugees for a minimum of six months. Now, as their placements end, many face homelessness as they struggle with finding jobs, rising costs, overcrowding and a shortage of rental properties. According to data released in February, more than 1,100 Ukrainian households had become homeless in London alone. On March 12, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK was “spending £5.5 million a day plus on hotels”, referring to the purported lodging costs of asylum seekers, indicating that sustaining these payments was untenable. In recent months, there have been numerous protests and counter-protests outside these lodgings, leading to a growing anti-immigration movement in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding to this is the surge in the number of illegal migrants arriving by boat. These migrants are being blamed for overstretched public services, strained infrastructure, eating into benefits, and for making it harder for Britons to find jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak has made cracking down on illegal migration one of his government’s top priorities, emphasising that it will protect British jobs and the economy, and free up resources for citizens and legal residents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 7, the government announced the Illegal Migration or the ‘Stop the Boats’ bill, which will change the law so that those arriving illegally will be detained and promptly removed either to their home country or to a safe third country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Furthermore, on March 10, Britain and France signed a new deal where the former will fund the latter to deploy hundreds of extra French law enforcement officers along the English Channel coast to stop illegal migration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak’s strong anti-immigration stance has caused a stir, especially as he himself is a son of immigrants. Moreover, the ‘Stop the Boats’ bill has been widely criticised for being cruel, with critics saying it goes against international law and will end up in court if pushed through parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post Brexit, however, the UK is at liberty to frame its own laws and exert greater control over its borders. It can also implement stricter measures to restrict the flow of illegal migrants from EU member states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether or not the bill becomes law remains to be seen, but for the moment, local councils and charities are warning of a looming humanitarian crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 28, 54 charities and organisations signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing Michael Gove, expressing deep concern about the impact of the bill on homelessness and destitution in the UK. “Alarmingly, the Illegal Migration Bill looks set to create an entirely new homeless and precariously housed population, increasing the likeliness of people rough sleeping on our streets and in our communities,” read the letter. It also stated that it would clearly undermine the government’s manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will the upcoming coronation and brighter, warmer days lighten the mood?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 4, the invitation for the coronation was released. To celebrate the new reign, it has a motif of the Green Man, an ancient figure from British folklore, symbolic of spring and a new birth. Britons will be hoping the same applies to their lives, too.</p> Fri Apr 14 13:52:30 IST 2023 donald-trump-indictment-usa-controversy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On December 3, 2019, senator Kamala Harris announced that she was dropping out of the presidential race, conceding that she no longer had a viable path to the White House. The response of Donald Trump, the sitting president and the Republican nominee for reelection, was, as usual, brutal and sarcastic. “Too bad. We will miss you, Kamala,” tweeted Trump. Harris, however, had the last word. “Don’t worry, Mr President,” she replied. “I’ll see you at your trial.” Her barb turned out to be prophetic as Trump was arraigned as a defendant in a Manhattan courthouse on April 4.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last US president before Trump to suffer the ignominy of getting arrested was civil war hero Ulysses S. Grant―for racing his horse-drawn carriage on a busy street in Washington, DC, back in 1872. He was taken to a police station, fined $20 and released. The policeman who arrested Grant was an Afro-American civil war veteran, William H. West. Today, Trump is being prosecuted by Alvin Bragg, the Afro-American district attorney of Manhattan. But unlike Grant, Trump may find it hard to get away easily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Trump turned himself over to authorities in Manhattan, the New York supreme court charged him with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal damaging information during the 2016 presidential elections. The charges essentially centre around his role in paying porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence about an affair she claims she had with him. According to the prosecution, Playboy model Karen McDougal and a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed that he knew about a child the former president had out of wedlock, too, received payments. Daniels was paid $1,30,000 by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while the others were paid $1,50,000 and $30,000, respectively, by the National Enquirer. Bragg said the payments constituted an improper political donation because it benefited Trump so close to the election, breaking New York election laws and federal campaign finance limits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump, who flew in from his Florida mansion for the arrest, pleaded not guilty and was released after the arraignment. He flew back immediately and later told supporters assembled for an “arraignment party” at the gilded ballroom of Mar-a-Lago that his prosecution was an insult to the United States. “They can’t beat us at the ballot box so they try to beat us through the law,” he said. His next hearing is on December 4, about two months before the beginning of the Republican primary season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest scandal involving Trump is likely to have a lasting impact on the American political system. Still, legal experts believe that the hush money scandal is the least of the former president’s concerns. “The charges on which the grand jury indicted Trump are perhaps the least compelling ones against him,” said Shiju M.V., professor of law at Sai University, Chennai. “Trump faces far more serious charges such as trying to subvert the 2020 election results, inciting the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, his handling of presidential records and also multiple counts of business fraud. The Manhattan felony charges are a stretch, and a failed prosecution in New York would allow Trump to play the victim and put other cases in jeopardy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, the possibility of the ongoing case smoothening the way for other prosecutors weighing legal action to proceed against Trump. With the historic taboo of arresting a former president out of the way, they can worry less about the political fallout and focus on the legal merits of their cases. This is especially true about what is happening in Georgia, where Fani Willis, the Fulton county district attorney, is contemplating charging Trump for his alleged interference in the 2020 presidential polls. She recently said her decision was “imminent” and the Manhattan prosecution could convince her about moving forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the legal woes, Trump remains the big winner from the Manhattan arraignment, at least in the short to medium term. Ever since he announced his decision to run for a second term in November, his campaign has been struggling to gain traction. Major networks were not keen on having him, old donors preferred to keep some distance and influential Republicans were busy checking out other potential contenders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The Manhattan indictment has changed all that. “This might seal the deal when it comes to Trump securing the 2024 Republican nomination,” said Thomas J. Whalen, who teaches modern American politics at Boston University. “Trump will portray himself as a political martyr, which will resonate well with the Republican base, whether he is ultimately behind bars or not.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s declared and undeclared challengers including DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Mike Pence are already on the back foot as the arraignment continues to suck the air out of their campaigns. The more the legal drama plays out, the more difficult it will be for them to take their campaigns forward. DeSantis, in fact, tried to make a political play by announcing that as governor, he would not permit Trump’s extradition from Florida, conveying a sense that he was protecting the former president. “In the MAGA world, however, there can just be one alpha dog and so Trump ignored the DeSantis offer and announced his decision to go to Manhattan and get himself arrested,” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Airpower Studies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump is savvy enough to milk the situation as much as possible, relegate his primary challengers to the margins and keep his base fired up. He knows that the US constitution does not bar someone who is indicted or even convicted from contesting presidential elections. Socialist candidate Eugene Debs, for instance, won nearly a million votes in the 1920 elections despite being locked up on sedition charges for opposing World War I.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Trump, the main beneficiary of the ongoing case is, ironically, President Joe Biden. While it may sound contradictory to argue that the case would help them both at the same time, a deeper analysis of the prevailing political situation shows that the sitting president’s reelection prospects will receive a major boost in case Trump ends up the Republican nominee. To begin with, while the sitting president almost always receives his party’s nomination for a second term, Biden’s advanced age and his sagging popularity have remained a headache for his camp and a temptation for potential challengers, especially if the Republican candidate is someone like DeSantis or Haley. But if Trump secures his party’s nomination, Biden will be completely unchallenged. Moreover, a Republican candidate facing multiple legal challenges will be a boon for him. “In 2020, Biden benefited from voters’ exhaustion with the chaos of the Trump administration. The split screen of Biden focused on doing his job well versus Trump and the Republican Party in chaos will only help him,” said Democratic strategist Lis Smith. That scenario will most likely be repeated next year. “Multiple opinion polls show that most Americans approve of his indictment and it is unlikely that moderates and independents, who ultimately determine election results, would vote for a person facing such charges,” said Uma Purushothaman, who teaches American politics at Central University of Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the Manhattan indictment also adds to the growing sociopolitical polarisation in the United States. Trump and the Republican Party have been trying to frame his arraignment as an attack on white America as Bragg is Afro-American. He has also been linked to billionaire donor George Soros, bringing in an anti-Semitic angle. Similarly, Judge Juan Merchán, a first-generation immigrant of Colombian origin who is in charge of the case, is being targeted for his Hispanic heritage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Historically, American presidents have enjoyed protection from indictments and similar judicial troubles even after leaving office. The Manhattan case could increase the possibility of subjecting presidents to frivolous prosecution once they leave office. And the fact that the hush money case is prosecuted by a state attorney and not the federal government sets a new precedent, giving a chance for prosecutors from across the United States to go after a president from a rival party. Biden could be a target as conservative prosecutors like Texas attorney general Ken Paxton explore the possibility of launching a retaliatory legal strike. “Bragg’s move opens up a way for local prosecutors to indict a president once he demits office, but without the guardrails put in place by the federal government,” said Paul. “By opening up the possibility of subjecting the White House to the whims of thousands of politically motivated prosecutors, the ongoing case challenges the will of the Founding Fathers and the spirit of the constitution.”</p> Sat Apr 08 14:45:46 IST 2023 american-economist-jeffrey-d-sachs-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs is one of the most influential voices that predict the end of American hegemony and a unipolar world. A global expert in sustainable development, he is an unabashed critic of the apathy of rich countries, especially the US, in financing solutions for issues like poverty and climate change. Sachs, who has worked as an adviser to presidents of the USSR, Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s and 2000s, is highly critical of the US and NATO positions in the Russia-Ukraine war. In an exclusive interview, he talks about why India and China should come together for a “transformation from a west-led world to a world-led world”. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that India’s G20 presidency gives voice to the global south. Do you think that this meeting will give more attention to the issues faced by the poor and less developed countries?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The whole idea of the G20 is to expand beyond clubs of rich countries like the G7 to a true global society and true global dialogue, and the G20 process began in one form more than 20 years ago. I was one of the early proponents of ‘let’s make sure we have all countries at the table’. So, in the early days, the G7 dominated the process, but the world is changing very fast to a multipolar world in which it is no longer the case that the US and a few other countries dominate the world policy debate or world economy. We are now in a multipolar world and we have four G20s in a row led by important emerging economies: Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa. We need these G20s, and I think India’s [presidency] will be especially important, to make the institutional breakthroughs in global financial architecture and governance architecture. To turn this changing reality into changing way of global shared responsibilities. So, I’m here because of how important it is that India is president of the G20, and proposing exactly this rebalancing of the international governance system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the direction in which the world should move to bridge the global north-global south divide?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We have the technologies, especially digital technologies, that can enable countries that were lagging in economic development to make huge progress. India, of course, is the case in point now. It is the fastest-growing large economy in the world. There is a tremendous uptake of digital infrastructure. Hundreds of millions of people coming into broadband services and the entire population is online in some sense with digital identity and with digital public services. To my mind, this is very good for India’s development and it enables India’s current growth of about 7 per cent per year, which is very good and could accelerate, in fact. We need this kind of pattern in general throughout the developing world. Africa is a good case in point. It is about the same population as India, but it is divided into 55 countries. That is because there were many colonial powers in Africa. They carved up the continent and therefore when independence came that were dozens of independent countries; all of which were too small to achieve development at scale. Finally, the African Union is creating a union, and one point that I have made is that the African Union should become the 21st member of the G20, as a permanent member. Second, India is learning about deploying large-scale digital [technology] on a very rapid basis. I think it can be a roadmap for Africa as well, and also for strong India-Africa diplomacy and trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In 2022, some 50 countries took financial support from the International Monetary Fund. Is this a sign that the global shocks are disproportionately impacting the global south?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have many shocks right now. So, this is a very unsettling time. We have Covid, we have the financial tightening and even a crisis. We have the sanctions regime against Russia. We have the Russia-Ukraine war and we have the US-China tensions. On top of all of that are the long-term deep crises of climate change, environmental degradation and so on. We need to solve some of these intense geopolitical crises, quickly before they overwhelm us in financial, economic and even military terms. Right now, the system is not operating properly. It is, of course, overwhelmed by the crises, so it is not delivering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, even when the countries come to the IMF, well the IMF helps them. But the fact is that it is already too late. It is already being in the emergency room rather than prevention. One of the goals of the G20 needs to be a new financial architecture, which provides a lot more capital to developing countries so that they don’t end up in the IMF emergency room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In 1998, Nirupam Bajpai and you presented a three-pronged approach for an enhanced growth strategy for India―an export-led growth, rural improvement and maintaining macroeconomic stability. After 25 years, how do you assess India’s growth in these three segments?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is achieving huge progress. What we did not know in 1998 was how the digital revolution would support that whole agenda because now with near-universal access to the online ID and bank accounts and public services, the rural areas which were left behind can be fully connected. India is in the process of making significant strides in using digital for health care, education, payments, finance and public services. There is a lot of innovation taking place not only in Indian business operations but in science and technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You recently said that the US’s fear of China is misplaced. China wielding more power is creating tension for India, too. What should be India’s strategy in this changing world scenario?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as important as the US-China dialogue is the India-China dialogue. India and China have both a lot to work out. [There will be] incredible gains if cooperation is achieved. China should seek out India as a partner in building a multipolar world. India and China went through a similar history. Looking back to 1800, both were major economies, not only major civilizations. In the 150 years between 1800 and 1950, both India and China suffered badly. Since the mid-20th century, both are again becoming major global powers, and they are working to create a multipolar world. There is a huge shared interest between India and China in the success of that transformation from a western-led world to a world-led world to a truly multipolar world. So, India and China have a lot to cooperate on and they do cooperate in the BRICS process and other venues. But this border conflict that China instigated is a mistake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you please explain the background of your position on the Russia-Ukraine war?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have argued that this war resulted in part from the idea that NATO would [expand] to Russia’s border. And, I thought that proposal was a terrible mistake when it was first made in 2008. The US and Europe have continued to push that idea even after President Putin said that is a red line for us. We will not and cannot accept NATO on our Ukraine border. So, you have to stop. I think that Russia is correct about that. Prudence would say don’t keep pushing this issue, it will create a wider war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think that point of view is widely understood outside of the western world. India, China, Brazil, South Africa are all saying this war should end through negotiation. This war should respect Russia’s security interests as well as Ukraine’s security interests. This to my mind is the way to end this war. And, I believe that if China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and other countries around the G20 table say clearly “peace, we need peace… we need a negotiated end”, that message can be heard. It is the right message. It is fair. It is practical. It is implementable. It is safe for the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are a proponent of the idea that rich countries should pay their fair share of the costs of climate adjustment. Do you think the rich countries are not doing enough for climate mitigation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rich countries have three kinds of responsibilities. First, for historical emissions. The climate today is deranged and degraded because of the rich countries in the past. So that is a historical responsibility. Then there is an ongoing responsibility. Rich countries emit far more greenhouse gases per capita than poor countries. This is a current issue and the US is still emitting 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person and in India, it is below two tonnes per capita, if I remembered the most recent data correctly. And so, this is a huge gap and that is a general truth that the rich countries still are the major emitters but even within the rich, there is a difference between Europe and the US. The US is a heavy emitter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third responsibility is financial. The current economic system favours the rich over the poor. The rich pay low-interest costs when they borrow, and the poor pay sky-high usury costs. The rich have a responsibility to rectify this situation so that finance works for everybody. That is what the G20’s central mission should be. So, in this sense, if you ask are the rich doing enough, not by a very long distance. They are not respecting their historical responsibility. They are not respecting their current responsibility and they are not solving the financial crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India is also a major emitter, but a developing country. How can we have a balance between our economic growth and our commitment to climate mitigation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s role is basically to develop smartly. So, India is building out electrification. There is a lot more to come. India is going to need a lot more power in the future, but it should be clean power. Even if it weren’t climate, the need to clean up the pollution is extremely urgent. Second, of course, this country gets very hot in the springtime. We are seeing mega heat waves. We are seeing drought conditions. So, India needs to be at the forefront of saying to all of the countries: “You have to do this together. We will do this together with you”. India has proposed a massive transformation of the Indian economy, but it has also said, “Where is the finance? Why are we paying seven or eight per cent interest rates whereas the US and Europe are paying two or three per cent interest rates. We will do our part but we need a system that works.” So, these are the issues that are at the centre of the G20 agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you assess the performance of the Narendra Modi government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a business-directed government. So, this government says we are going to electrify every village in the country. This government says we are going to ensure digital access for everybody. This government thinks in terms of solutions at the scale of 1.4 billion people. And that is what I meant by a business-like government that is thinking at scale, planning at scale and it is happening.</p> Sat Apr 08 12:39:10 IST 2023 israel-ambassador-to-india-naor-gilon-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion was an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and his nonviolent approach to attain freedom. He practised yoga and embraced Gandhian philosophy to the extent possible. Today, Gandhi’s portrait hangs in his bedroom at his home (where he died) in Sde Boker in Israel as his country leaps into the future, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preparing a roadmap for the next 30 years of India-Israel ties. Both countries established full diplomatic relations in 1992, and the friendship has changed into a pragmatic strategic partnership under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK, Israeli ambassador Naor Gilon said that under new minilaterals and trilaterals, both countries are trying to reinvent themselves and rise together by overcoming the paralysed world order. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think political ties between Modi and Netanyahu are at an all-time high? How do their mindsets match?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think it is true. Foreign policy is also very personal. Leaders are usually lonely people. They cannot be friends with too many, because people are looking towards them as leaders. So, they either stick to old friends or the chemistry has to be so strong that they forge new bonds. There are some historic pictures of Modi and Netanyahu standing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017, which speak volumes of their friendship….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both are of the same age and have a right-to-centre ideology. They are practical people who have been leaders for many years…. All these factors make it easy for them to communicate and share a good chemistry. We have upgraded our relationship to a strategic partnership and today we find ourselves working together in every possible field. The intimacy between the two systems is so high that it enables us to work in trust and in a comfortable atmosphere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Besides defence, which of Israel’s strengths can India harness today?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Today, there are 90 unicorns with an international appeal based out of Israel. Creating world-class unicorns in a small market is a huge achievement unique to us. Israel is an expensive country, but we make technology that is worth the price. Since we are not an upscaling country, we do not do business to customer, where the costs are variable. We are like an island, as relations with our neighbours are limited. We believe in exports and follow a business-to-business model, which I think is the strength of Israel that can be tapped into by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ With Netanyahu and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen expected in India this year, what is next on the agenda?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have reached a sweet spot in our relations today as we celebrate 30 years of full diplomatic relations. But the challenge now is to bring more value to the relations in the next 30 years. The world is evolving and so are India and Israel. To think that what we had can sustain us in future would be foolhardy, so we have to be creative and look at fields for future cooperation. We are trying to predict areas where both countries can have a qualitative edge and we are playing to our combined strengths in fields like quantum computers, artificial intelligence and deep tech where there are very few players…. We are also trying to maintain a lot of people-to-people contact because I feel that is the core of the relationship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Bilateral trade has increased and diversified, but there is no Free Trade Agreement (FTA) still. Are you hopeful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Israel’s trade with India has seen a massive jump from around $5 billion in pre-Covid times to over $10 billion today as per the 2022 figures released in India. This is an extraordinary jump, and defence trade isn’t included in it. It is a good opportunity to go for FTA. But I know it is not easy as the market size is different, both countries want conflicting things from each other, but our teams are working together to resolve it. Indian and Israeli teams are in parallel negotiations with other countries as well. But I feel there is hope and if the prime ministers intervene, it will make the working-level focus harder on the practical aspects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The economy minister may visit India this year, even as some more agreements are in the cards. We are in the stages of signing an agreement on increasing the number of structured workers in Israel to take care of their rights and offer incentives. There are more than 20,000 caregivers from India besides construction workers. We are also looking at bolstering ties in the field of education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Adani Group’s acquisition of Haifa port has added a new logistics dimension to the economic partnership. How unique is this partnership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In the last few years, countries have become more aware of their strategic assets and conscious about whom they give its control to. The fact that Adani is holding one of them speaks volumes of the trust between our systems and countries. Haifa port is a tremendous strategic asset and it was deposited in the hands of an Indian company after a full assessment done by the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the biggest Indian investment in Israel so far and I think since Adani won the purchase and paid upfront the entire sum for the winning tender, there have been noises around it. But ports are their bread and butter and they know how to run their business. As far as we are concerned, the Haifa port is not as good as it should have been. And, when it comes to business performance, I believe the Adani group has the capacity, wish and the need to make Haifa the port it should be. More importantly, it is a signal of trust between the two countries that they can deposit in each other’s hands their most sensitive infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India-Russia defence partnership remains strong despite growing ties with Israel. Is there a clash of interest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think Israel is not a competitor to Russian equipment because they sell platforms like ships, planes, aircraft. We are a small country and we see no logic in manufacturing big things. On the other hand, we produce high-end technology to go along with it. For example, a Russian Sukhoi can have the best defences―missiles, radars and other avionics―from Israel. There are countries that build similar systems, but we are agile and practise ingenuity unlike others. So our qualitative edge will stay. Even with Make in India, some countries see [it] as a challenge but I see it as an opportunity….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the normalisation of ties with Arab countries?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Abraham Accords and the I2U2 are game-changers. For many years, many countries, including India, raised the Palestinian issue to say that they would not work with Israel. In fact, India was probably the pioneer, leading the camp here, before the de-hyphenation policy that says that even as the issue of Palestine remains, we have to deal with Israel if it is in our interest and brings benefit to our population. They are not tying the two issues together anymore. It is a pragmatic and smart policy and this approach reflects in the I2U2 where India, the UAE, the United States have joined hands with Israel…. This is a welcome change, especially since the trilateral with the UAE is important because of the strong presence of India in the UAE and the economic potential to go forward by combining government powers with the private sector. In February, a meeting took place in the UAE where the business delegations felt there was a need to implement the project fast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think multilaterals have given way to minilaterals and trilaterals between countries?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The multilaterals are paralysed today. Once you have two strong countries opposing each other in whatever they do, we are back in the Cold War era where it is a zero-sum game. Whatever the United States will say, Russia will oppose and it is a deadlock. Then there is China in the game. Very few multilaterals are working like the conference of the parties on climate change, but mostly things are stuck. Then we have the minilaterals where like-minded states are coming together to work closely like the I2U2, which will benefit citizens, regions and the world by taking up various projects which are also environment-friendly. We are hoping to do more trilaterals with India and other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Israel is one of the three poles of west Asia region. How do you see regional security shaping up today?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Israel is the only country standing up to Iran the most in the region. I think most of the other countries being Sunni majority have a lot of fear about what might happen with growing Shia power as Iran is trying to build itself as a nuclear power. If you see, Iran is there in most places where there is instability, either because they were instrumental in destabilising those regions or their hope is to restablise them on their own terms. They are there in Iraq, Middle East, Syria where they came in strongly; enjoy de facto control in Lebanon by backing the Hezbollah; they are in Yemen with the Houthis and in the Sinai peninsular bordering Egypt. It is the fear of Iran that has also pushed these countries closer to Israel.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are there differences within Israel on the Russia-Ukraine war?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Israel has a very strong diaspora of Jews living in both Ukraine and Russia. Since we are a country of immigrants, we also have many Jews who immigrated to Israel. Anyone who speaks Russian is considered a Russian in Israel, whether he comes from Ukraine, Georgia or Morocco. We have many families in Israel where one is Russian and another Ukranian. It is not an irregular thing because they come from the same region and share the same culture and language. So, yes there are people who think differently about the Russian-Ukraine ordeal. Israel is cautious in its approach because we have our own interests and also the fact that Jews are living in both countries.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russian presence in Syria with the military is important at a time when Israel is trying to prevent Iran from trying to build a stronghold there. We want to deconflict the situation with the help of Russia. Our calculations are wide and we have given a huge amount of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. It has been an important part of our strategy since the beginning when our foreign minister visited Ukraine. We are trying to be open-minded and pragmatic. That is why then prime minister Naftali Bennett tried to moderate in the beginning when there was a wish for it. But what is happening there is very complicated. It is not a simple conflict.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the threat from Iran building its nuclear capability? Are you prepared?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Is anyone ever prepared to have a problem? When any country analyses its military defence strategy with another country, it looks at two things—capability and intention. When we look at Iran, the intention of using nuclear weapons has been stated more than once. Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had said one bomb can wipe out whole of Israel and we understand what kind of bombs he meant. There are many leaders who have spoken similar things a number of times. To add to this, they are enriching uranium to about 84 per cent, which is very close to weapons grade. We have said it more than once that it is unacceptable. We do not want to see a nuclear Iran. Whether there is any hope from the world or we have to take action ourselves is the big question being asked in Israel again and again.</p> Sat Apr 08 13:32:36 IST 2023 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