More en Thu Oct 28 16:49:03 IST 2021 early-elections-will-be-the-key-to-imran-khan-political-survival <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON APRIL 7,</b> the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that the ruling by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly to dismiss the no-confidence motion against the prime minister was “contrary to the constitution”. So it overturned the ruling. In a landmark 5-0 verdict, the court restored the National Assembly and ordered the vote on the motion to be held on April 9. Imran Khan was finally voted out after a day marked by fiery speeches, spirited debates on the alleged ‘foreign conspiracy’, the resignation of the speaker of the National Assembly and the decision by the supreme court and the Islamabad high court to open their doors at midnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was elected prime minister on April 11. With Khan out of power, it will be interesting to see what his political strategy is going to be in the days to come. Heeding his call to protest against the “imported government”, thousands of his supporters took to the streets in several cities. Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), also announced en masse resignations from the National Assembly, which some analysts see as a strategy to force early elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Television journalist Shahzad Iqbal said that after being ousted from the prime minister’s post, Khan has hit his sweet spot, which is the opposition chair. “In the past, he has proved to be successful in narrative-building politics, be it against drones, rigging or corruption. He is very much on the same path again,” said Iqbal. “The narrative he is building now is that a nexus between a foreign power (the US) and the opposition led to his ouster. His party members and supporters are openly chanting slogans, Jo America ka yaar hai, woh gaddaar hai (Those who are America’s friends are traitors).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan has realised that his political survival depends on early elections. “He knows that he has lost the support of the west, the establishment, bureaucracy, media, lawyer forums and civil society. Therefore, he sees no point in doing conventional politics. He thinks his only hope is his popularity,” said Iqbal. The response he is receiving from public gatherings, and the poor credibility of the mainstream parties in the new government, have further emboldened him. “There is no doubt that Khan has re-energised his support base, but the absence of the establishment’s backing and the mismatch between his promises and his performance will make it difficult for Khan to rise again to the throne this soon,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior journalist Arifa Noor said Khan was counting on creating pressure on the streets to force elections. “He is confident of his popular support and the inability of an unwieldy coalition to last for long. He also realises that there are some differences in opinion within the military ranks which could add to the pressure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Shehbaz, meanwhile, the first couple of months would be crucial as he tries to chart a different course from the Khan government. “Should Shehbaz fail to do so, especially regarding the economy, it would provide Khan all the talking points he needs to corral support and build himself back up as the frontrunner in the next elections,” said political analyst Benazir Shah. “Also, poor performance by Shehbaz could lead to the electables (politicians with their own support base) and smaller political parties, which are standing by his side now, jumping ship.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan will work to energise his cadres and also to add to his support base. The successful protest demonstrations organised by his supporters show that he has managed to get his core support back, riding on the narrative that he was forced out of power through an international conspiracy. “He will, however, struggle to get the support of the neutral voters this time because of his government’s poor performance for the past three and a half years,” said television anchor Adil Shahzeb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lack of support from the army will prove to be another major handicap. Senior journalist Ajmal Jami said Khan’s core support would not be enough to get him back to power. “Khan might get people out on the streets with his anti-American narrative, but, historically, it has never worked in Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest electoral province. He might get simple majority in his stronghold, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a few seats in Karachi, but that will not be enough for his party to return to power in Islamabad,” said Shahzeb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan seems to have convinced his supporters that his political opponents are traitors conspiring with Americans to oust him. He has also unleashed anti-establishment sentiment among his supporters who now openly resent the army for remaining ‘neutral’ while Khan was being toppled, according to Jami. “Khan’s anti-US mantra might get him public support, but it will also become a binding force for the new coalition government,” said Jami. “How long will he be able to sustain this pressure and how long can Shehbaz respond to it through better governance and economic policies will be the most important thing to watch out for in the days to come.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sarfraz is a Lahore-based journalist.</b></p> Sat Apr 16 12:41:28 IST 2022 emmanuel-macron-has-edge-against-marine-le-pen-in-french-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A few days before the first round of the French presidential elections on April 10, liberal newspaper Le Monde published a cartoon showing President Emmanuel Macron on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Macron was shown turning away from the crowd at an election rally and saying: “Vladimir, I am just finishing with this chore and I will call you back.” As he faces a stiff challenge in the April 24 runoff with far right leader Marine Le Pen in a repeat of the 2017 contest, Macron seems to have realised that his preoccupation with foreign policy and absence from the campaign scene was a major error in judgment. An opinion poll taken on April 10 puts Le Pen at 49 per cent against Macron’s 51 per cent, well within the margin of error.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Macron, who ran as an upstart disruptor in 2017, had been acting like an aloof establishmentarian till the first round of elections. He announced his candidacy only on March 2, just a day before the deadline, and refused to attend a campaign rally till April 2. He shunned debates with other candidates. On March 14, when he took part in a television programme, his team ensured that all of them were interviewed separately. Macron’s strategy was to present himself as being above the rest of the crowd. “His choice to remain as head of state till the end prevented him from becoming a real candidate,” said Vincent Martigny, who teaches political science at the University of Nice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, however, it did not matter much, at least in the first round. Macron topped the race with 27.8 per cent, compared with 24 per cent in 2017. Le Pen finished second with 23.1 and the far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came third with 22 per cent. But the comfortable lead he enjoyed in the first round may not be enough for Macron as the runoff will also be a referendum of his performance as president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his five years in the Élysée Palace, Macron largely followed a top-down style. His controversial pension reform was forced through the parliament without a vote, although it was abandoned later because of the pandemic. One reason behind such autocratic decision-making is the total decimation of the traditional party structure in France, triggered largely by Macron’s victory in 2017. Macron presented himself as an alternative to both centre right and centre left voters. It led to the collapse of the socialists and the conservatives, the two major political groups that ruled France since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Macron took over the centre, poached leaders from the two traditional parties and launched a political movement of his own, called La République En Marche (The Republic On the Move). There are not many charismatic leaders in the party, and there is not much internal democracy. People hardly even know Prime Minister Jean Castex, as all authority is concentrated in the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notwithstanding his aloofness and the dictatorial style of functioning, Macron’s supporters have been hoping that his handling of the economy and foreign policy would help him win another term. His foreign policy was headlined by a stronger Europe, effective multilateralism on global issues and France’s growing role as a balancing power in crisis zones. Macron also widened the scope of French involvement in Africa by going beyond Francophone Africa, even as he retained the traditional French presence in the Sahel. He tried to engage with Russia and China, and despite falling out with Joe Biden over the formation of the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) alliance, ties with the US have been largely robust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Macron, France did well economically, registering the strongest growth in 50 years and performing better than other major European economies, despite the ravages of the pandemic. But his decision to lower taxes for businesses and ease labour laws have been unpopular. An increase in the price of diesel in 2018 gradually morphed into the ‘Yellow Vest protests’ which showed the growing disconnect between the poor and the governing elites in Paris. Macron, however, survived the crisis riding on the overall strength of the economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war and the sanctions on Russia have caused a sharp spike in inflation. Food prices went up by 4.5 per cent in March, while energy prices grew by 29 per cent. The crisis gave Le Pen an unexpected opening. She roundly criticised Macron for his inability to rein in Putin and for the impact the sanctions were having on ordinary people. “Cutting off Russian energy would be a tragedy for French families,” said Le Pen. “My priority is to defend the purchasing power of French families.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, after far right pundit Éric Zemmour announced his decision to join the presidential race, most observers were prepared to write Le Pen’s political obituary. There were op-eds which concluded that Zemmour would supplant her as the far right’s choice. As Le Pen looked tired, spent and devoid of ideas, Zemmour ran an energetic campaign, warning about the “great displacement”—a wave of immigrants replacing the native French—turning France into a Muslim-majority country. Even Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal joined him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, by March, things started turning around for Le Pen as the Zemmour campaign unravelled. Zemmour’s extreme rhetoric on issues such as Islam, immigration and crime helped Le Pen project a moderate, measured and calm image. Though she was a major Putin supporter and received financial assistance from Russia, Le Pen was quick to denounce the invasion and to welcome Ukrainian refugees, unlike Zemmour, who dithered for a week. It marked a revival of her fortunes as she took back the mantle of the far right. Going into the second round of presidential polls, she appears less radical and more pragmatic, although her agenda does not differ much from that of Zemmour’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Le Pen’s strategy to improve her image, however, was not sudden or drastic. She has been doing that ever since she took over the National Front, founded in the 1970s by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a veteran of the Algerian War. In an effort to detoxify the party, she even expelled her father, condemning his racist views and anti-Semitic rhetoric.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After losing to Macron in the 2017 elections, she renamed the party the National Rally, and tweaked its agenda by abandoning ideas that worried centrist voters. She dropped the demand for reinstating death penalty and for France to leave the European Union. She has even taken up causes dear to the left such as hikes in pensions and welfare payments, lowering the retirement age, opposition to privatisation of public services and trade protectionism to defend French interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she runs a tight race against Macron, Le Pen has indicated that if she is elected president, she would form a national unity government and would appoint ministers from across the political spectrum, including the left and right, ostensibly with an eye on centrist voters who still remain suspicious about her.</p> <p>On the personal front, too, Le Pen has attempted an image makeover. When her niece defected to the Zemmour camp, she did not appear bitter or resentful. She said she had brought her up like a daughter and the decision was extremely painful. She tactfully avoided mentioning that they differed ideologically and that Maréchal, once touted as her successor, was increasingly sidelined in the party. Once on the campaign trail in Dunkirk, she posed for a selfie with a Muslim teenager wearing a headscarf, despite her opposition to donning headscarf in public places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She opened up about her private life, revealing that she no longer has a boyfriend and that she would live alone in the presidential palace with her cats, if she won the polls. Le Pen owns six cats and recently got a diploma to become a registered cat breeder. She made peace with her mother with whom she was not on talking terms for 15 years. Even as she put up a softened image, Le Pen has been campaigning hard, especially across provincial France. As inflation has hit the working class badly, her focus is on issues affecting their purchasing power and the rising cost of living.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the race has tightened significantly, Macron still retains the edge. But winning over the support of the far left would be the key. As the first round results clearly indicate, France remains divided into three blocs—the centre dominated by Macron, the far right under Le Pen and the far left led by Mélenchon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With not much to gain from the grand old parties, Macron will have to look at the anti-NATO, anti-EU, protectionist Mélenchon for support. While Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo and Republican Valérie Pécresse professed support for Macron, Mélenchon has, so far, refused to endorse the president. While he clearly asked his supporters to avoid Le Pen at any cost, in the absence of a positive endorsement for Macron, many of his supporters could abstain on April 24. “Macron needs to convince voters that voting for him is not only in order to avoid Le Pen becoming president, but that he will, if reelected, listen to those who reject some of his planned reforms, especially that of raising retirement age,” said Jean-Yves Camus, associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris. “Macron also needs to avoid being seen as too arrogant.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Camus said Le Pen should focus on her credibility. “For that she needs to do better in her debate with Macron on April 20, than she did in 2017. She will also stress the fact that she is the only one who can oust Macron,” said Camus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Le Pen, meanwhile, continues to woo the Mélenchon cohort assiduously, even as she keeps her base happy by promising a referendum on immigration, an amendment to the constitution to give native French people priority in welfare benefits, housing, jobs and health care and a ban on the Muslim headscarf from public places. Winning over the mainstream voters, therefore, could prove to be a challenge for her, despite her image makeover. After all, as Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times pointed out, while speaking on her diploma on cat breeding, she told Le Monde that she loved studying their “genetic characteristics to allow for the perfection of the race”. It may not be a comforting thought for the moderate voters as they wait for April 24.</p> Sun Apr 17 08:32:47 IST 2022 diplomats-from-various-camps-fly-into-delhi-to-discuss-russia-ukraine-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Creme diplomat is the hottest item on New Delhi’s summer menu. With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and a world order on the churn, diplomats from across the world, and more significantly, from across various camps, have been heading towards India, keeping officials of the ministry of external affairs, who had got used to virtual meets, on their toes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the last few days, India has hosted two heads of government (Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba), five foreign ministers (Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, UK’s Liz Truss, China’s Wang Yi, Greece’s Nikos Dendias and Mexico’s Marcelo Casaubon), two national security advisers (Germany’s Jens Plotner and the Dutch Geoffery Van Leeuwen), and a deputy NSA, Daleep Singh from the US. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit was cancelled because he got Covid; his defence minister’s visit, too, was rescheduled because of security incidents in Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India also held two important trade meets with the UAE and Australia virtually, the former taking forward a landmark trade pact and the latter inking the Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement (ECTA). The phone lines are busy, as key officials of various countries reach out to their Indian counterparts. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called up External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar a day before Lavrov’s visit. Meanwhile, the French navy engaged with the Indian Navy in the Varuna exercise in the Arabian Sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russia-Ukraine conflict is the number one agenda at most of these interactions, either directly or indirectly. Only Nepal’s Deuba focussed almost exclusively on bilateral relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the India-Japan summit, Kishida mentioned Ukraine, while India kept away from the subject. India and Japan are partners in many economic projects, including development in the northeast, the bullet train and smart city projects. The Japanese side told media persons that Ukraine dominated the conversation for nearly 95 of the 110 minutes that the two prime ministers were together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Japan used diplomatic language to tell India to switch over from the Russian side to the US-led one. Truss and Singh used firmer language. Truss, while noting that she would not tell India what to do, kept the emphasis of her remarks on the Russian aggression, helping Ukraine and how the UK planned to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. She conveyed the “importance of democracies working closer together to deter aggressors, reduce vulnerability to coercion and strengthen global security”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh was blunter in telling India that the next time China invaded India, Russia would not come to India’s aid. India largely ignored Singh’s comment, but Truss found herself in an embarrassing face-off with Jaishankar at an event, where he actually called out the west on its duplicity, noting how their energy imports from Russia actually increased in March, even as they went blue in the face talking about sanctions. Truss saved face by saying that strengthening the relationship with India had become more important than it has ever been precisely because we are living in a more insecure world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truss’s visit coincided with Lavrov’s and the difference in their receptions was telling. While she was received as per standard protocol, he had a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, Lavrov is the only visiting dignitary (apart from the government heads, Kishida and Deuba) with whom Modi held a meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US President Joe Biden recently commented that India’s position [on the conflict] has been “shaky”. However, Jaishankar had earlier told Parliament that India’s position was “steadfast and consistent”, calling for an urgent cessation of violence and noting that dialogue and diplomacy was the way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While at the various fora of the United Nations, India has shown its neutrality, by abstaining on a number of resolutions on the conflict, it has not buckled to any pressure to join the sanctions against Russia, which has offered oil to India at discounted rates, even assuring last mile security for the import. Jaishankar noted that India’s traditional suppliers are the Middle East, but if the west has issues, why has it upped imports of Russian oil?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pictures are telling. Jaishankar and Truss shake hands literally at an arm’s length from each other, Lavrov and Jaishankar’s handshake is closer and firmer. Images of Modi and Lavrov are even more congenial. And Wang Yi and Jaishankar’s picture together is the most telling, they do not even shake hands, preferring to fold their hands in a namaste pose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The west is finding India’s friendship with Russia very testing, and is fast losing patience. It cannot speak down to India like it can to some other nations, or use threats like withholding aid. In another era, perhaps it could have been more directly critical of India’s independent foreign policy. In these times, however, the situation is complex. Before Russia’s actions, America’s rival—and threat—number one was China. Economically, it still is. America’s new thrust in foreign policy—renaming Asia Pacific and Indo Pacific, and wooing India into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—is with an eye on China. Directly alienating India, therefore, comes with complications it would rather do without.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s position, incidentally, is not too different from most Asian nations, except American allies Japan and South Korea. The Middle East countries have refused to lower their oil prices to unsettle Russia. And all would rather not get roped into someone else’s war. Israel, while siding with the US on facilitating execution of the sanctions, and voting on the US side at UN resolutions, too, has deep ties with Russia that it does not want to jeopardise. As Jaishankar noted, the situation in Afghanistan impacted the region directly, Ukraine has not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the Quad nations, Australia so far has shown the most understanding and patience with India’s position. Could that be because the free trade agreement was in the last stages of being put together? The two nations signed the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) on April 2, a huge development in the bilateral relation. A ministry official said it was on the lines of the one India signed with the UAE some years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “This agreement opens a big door into the world’s fastest growing major economy .... by unlocking a huge market of around 1.4 billion consumers in India, we are strengthening the economy and growing jobs right here at home.” Clearly, national interest is foremost. The deal was inked a day after Lavrov’s visit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in March, a UK cross-party 10 member delegation’s scheduled visit to India was cancelled without either side giving a reason. Observers on both side attributed it to differences over Ukraine. Post Brexit, the UK is forging a trade pact with India; the third level of talks is scheduled this month. It is reported that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson might visit India this month. Truss has taken back a measure of India’s attitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India’s present position is not too different from its traditional one in international conflicts (it abstained from the US-led UNSC vote in 2011 on a no fly zone over Libya), the difference this time is India’s firm assertion of its position. It is guided by its security and national interests, no doubt, and that is what the official line is. However, this is also payback time for the many occasions when Russia had India’s back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US factored in India’s closeness to Russia when it reached out with new military pacts and other deals of friendship. It knew it could only push India so much, and not more on certain issues. Russia remained tolerant when India forged a new friendship with the US, and though disapproving of the Indo Pacific, it maintained that it understood India’s position on the topic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov, while in Delhi during the Raisina Dialogue in 2019, lashed out at the “exclusivity” of the Indo Pacific concept, and said the onus was on India to convince Russia otherwise. The ongoing conflict is the moment when India has proven that in action, refusing to isolate Russia diplomatically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only a year ago that India reeled under the massive Delta wave crisis and Modi reached out to the world for help. Russia was among the first to send relief material including 20 oxygen producing units, largely without overt publicity. UK, France and Germany were quick to respond, too. America’s knee-jerk reaction, however, was to hold onto its cache of raw material for vaccines, a move that drew criticism from its own officials. Though the US sent oodles of air and aid in the days and weeks that followed, Biden’s initial dithering will always be remembered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, meanwhile, finds itself on the Russian camp more by default than design. While India may choose to ignore Singh’s comment, deep down, the Russia-China closeness is being closely watched. China and Russia share a longer border, the two nations are part of many groupings, in many of which India is also present—Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS and the Russia-China-India group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wang’s visit across South Asia recently was to reassess ties in this part of the world, which is in its own flux, thanks to the Afghanistan situation. This being the year of China’s presidency of BRICS, he is also laying the ground for a probable Modi visit, in case the summit is physical. India, however, made it clear that it is not business as usual with China as long as the border situation remains unresolved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Across the world, nations are finding different ways to deal with an assertive India, and woo it to their side. So far, India has managed this delicate diplomatic dance with its posture firm and head high. As the manoeuvres get more complicated, will India be able to choreograph its way through with the same elan?</p> Thu Apr 07 17:54:26 IST 2022 sri-lanka-needs-sweeping-reforms-and-imf-bailout-to-survive-ongoing-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 31, massive protests broke out in Colombo, with people laying siege to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private house in the capital’s Mirihana district. The Jubilee Post junction, which was beautified and renovated to ensure a smooth commute for the president between his home and office, turned into the main protest spot. The next day, the government declared a public emergency. It, however, failed to deter people from intensifying their protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the economic situation continues to deteriorate, cracks have emerged in the ruling coalition. Gotabaya dropped his brother Basil, who was the finance minister, from the cabinet. Basil was spearheading the government’s attempts to borrow from countries such as India and China, and also from international lending institutions. Ali Sabry, who replaced Basil, quit within two hours of taking oath as minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka, which was all set to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for getting its debts restructured, is now caught in a disastrous tailspin. “Our foreign reserves were plundered and we no longer have money for imports. This is caused by the adamant behaviour of the government, including the Central Bank governor. The crisis is happening only because of our wrong choices and poor policy-making,” said Umesh Moramudali, an economist at the University of Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the resignation of all 26 cabinet ministers except Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Central Bank governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, considered close to the Rajapaksas, too, stepped down. The quick resignations of key financial policy-makers and the continuing political turmoil seem to have further complicated Sri Lanka’s negotiations with international financial institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While there are huge public protests against the government, the Rajapaksas appear to be firm about staying on. On April 6, as the parliament met for the second consecutive day to debate the ongoing crisis, chief government whip Johnston Fernando told the house that Gotabaya would not resign under any circumstances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Gotabaya’s determination to continue has further angered the people and the opposition. “There is no vision or policy. This is a social catastrophe,” said opposition leader Sajith Premadasa. “People lack bare essentials. They have lost their livelihoods. We, in the opposition, believe that we possess the requisite acumen to deal with this terrible crisis. Everyone will have to swallow the bitter pill. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, if we follow innovative solutions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Premadasa, who heads the Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, has refused to join the “unity government” called by Gotabaya on April 4. “We will not take part in any administration when this set of people remain. People want them to go. Being a responsible opposition, we will not deceive our people. The ruling party is corrupt and is full of malpractices,” said Premadasa. The opposition and the Tamil parties also demand the scrapping of the 20th amendment of the constitution, which gives the president absolute executive power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2020 parliament elections, the Rajapaksas had won a two-thirds majority, a first in Sri Lankan history. With Gotabaya as president and Mahinda as prime minister, it was perhaps the strongest government ever, giving people hope. “But the government failed miserably to deliver,” said Jagath Wickramanayake, a Colombo-based lawyer. He said the only solution to the ongoing crisis was Gotabaya’s resignation and the abolition of the 20th amendment. “We should go back to the 19th amendment which curtails the powers of the president to some extent,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Gotabaya continues to act like the all-powerful executive presidents in the past like J.R. Jayewardene, political observers foresee a power shift. “As the president refuses to step down, there is the possibility of a minority government,” said political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajapaksas have already lost their majority in the parliament, with many of their allies declaring themselves as independents. As many as 30 members belonging to different parties of the ruling coalition have announced their decision to stay independent. Another 12 lawmakers from Mahinda’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, too, have followed suit. Former president Maithiripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party has also chosen to quit the ruling alliance, undermining the government’s stability. “If the government cannot furnish the numbers, a proposal will be made to call for a debate on who should be the new prime minister,” said Kalansooriya. But the Rajapaksas are unlikely to give in without a fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tamil parties in the parliament, meanwhile, have adopted a wait-and-watch policy. “The US is trying to reduce India’s influence in Sri Lanka. The geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific could influence the situation in our country. Our priority, however, remains a permanent solution for the Tamils,” said Jaffna MP Sivagnanam Siritharan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The beleaguered Gotabaya government is now seeking help from all possible quarters. After securing loans and credit lines from India and China, it has approached Bangladesh for financial support. With the IMF taking its time to respond to Sri Lanka’s pleas, the country is getting increasingly worried about repaying debts worth $4 billion which are due this year, including an international sovereign bond of $1 billion maturing in July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Central Bank governor W.A. Wijewardena, however, said financial help from countries like India and China was just short-term trade credit, which would not help Sri Lanka find a solution to the economic crisis. “The credit we got from India is worth less than a month’s import requirement,” he said. The help from the IMF, in this context, would be more crucial. He said a new loan from the international agency might help ease the situation as it allowed the Central Bank to manage its balance of payments. But it will work only in the long term, while Sri Lanka desperately requires short term solutions as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One important reform the IMF has suggested in the past is to allow the Central Bank to function independently under a law enacted by parliament. But the bill was shelved when Gotabaya took over. Wijewardena said such a law would ensure the independence of the Central Bank. “By this way, it can provide productive and constructive advice to the government,” he said. The IMF also wants Sri Lanka to reconsider its existing economic and financial policies, right from the disastrous tax cuts to the decision to ban chemical fertilisers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Central Bank, meanwhile, has got a new governor—Nandalal Weerasinghe, a former deputy governor of the bank. He was also an alternate executive director of IMF, and Sri Lankan officials believe that he is the best man to negotiate a favourable deal. Weerasinghe, who is currently in Australia, said he would return on April 7. “But I have already started work,” he said. “My primary intention is to have discussions with the IMF and to appoint advisors for debt restructuring as a priority.”</p> Thu Apr 07 17:48:36 IST 2022 the-sri-lanka-crisis-has-indian-coast-guard-on-high-alert <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MARCH 21,</b> Mary Clary boarded a boat from Kokupadaiyan near Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka to Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram district. The 23-year-old made the perilous crossing with her husband and their newborn child. Mary knew the dangers involved in crossing the Palk Strait, but she was more worried about her child starving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My only thought was to flee hunger and feed my baby,” Mary told reporters as she landed in Dhanushkodi on March 22, after being rescued by the Indian Coast Guard. Mary, her husband, Gajendran, and the baby are now lodged in the Mandapam transit camp, an exclusive settlement for Sri Lankan refugees near the temple town of Rameshwaram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s acute economic crisis has led to a new wave of refugees fleeing the country to find food and livelihoods. Tired of waiting in long queues for rations, Mary and 15 other Sri Lankan Tamils became the first group to flee to India. “We were dropped off in an island; we did not know the place,” said Diuri, a 28-year-old refugee. “Finally, we were rescued by the Coast Guard. I am glad we could reach here alive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A second group of refugees—10 people belonging to two families—landed in Dhanushkodi the same day. They were from Vavuniya, in northern Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardly 30km from Sri Lanka, the coastline of Dhanushkodi has always been within the reach of distressed Sri Lankan Tamils. People have fled ethnic conflicts and economic crises in Sri Lanka to land in Dhanushkodi, live in camps there and, if they are lucky, migrate to Europe. Sivasankanthathai, a refugee from Vavuniya, said thousands of people were waiting to flee to India. “[We only want to] live a life free from hunger,” she said. “We don’t know how else to survive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Sri Lanka has the Indian Coast Guard on high alert. Intelligence officers in Tamil Nadu say they are expecting at least 2,000 refugees in the next few weeks, if the situation in Sri Lanka does not improve. According to the refugees who have reached Dhanushkodi, at least 400 families in Sri Lanka’s northern regions like Mannar, Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee are waiting to cross.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We can’t live there anymore,” said Sivasankanthathai. “We boarded the boat knowing that we would either reach India or perish in the sea. We were marooned for a whole day, unsure whether we would ever reach land. Finally, we reached Dhanushkodi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to officials in Sri Lanka, those waiting to flee the country are mostly refugees who had returned after the end of the civil war in 2009. “Most of them were once refugees in India and came back in 2016-2017,” said an official in Jaffna. This time, though, the Indian Coast Guard is expecting the Sinhalese refugees, too, based on intelligence reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka first came to Dhanushkodi in the early 1980s, when the island nation was facing its first-ever economic crisis, forcing even the Sinhalese to flee. A few families landed in Tamil Nadu and then migrated to Bodh Gaya in Bihar and to other Buddhist pilgrim spots in India. They returned to Sri Lanka when the situation improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was after 1983, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began to lead the insurgency, that the influx of Sri Lankan refugees to India grew. As per records of the Tamil Nadu government, at least 1.34 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils fled to India between 1983 and 1987. In 1990 alone, around 1.22 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils landed in Dhanushkodi. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination in May 1991 changed India’s attitude to Sri Lankan refugees, though. Between 1991 and 1995, around 55,000 refugees were sent back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1995, when the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka plumbed new depths, the flow of refugees increased again. Crowded boats from the island nation continued to reach Indian shores throughout the 2000s, and 108 refugee camps were set up across Tamil Nadu. The influx touched a new high during the last phase of the war in 2008, pushing the total number of refugees who had crossed the Palk Strait since 1983 to 3.04 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 11,283 refugees returned to Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2012, after the war ended. Nearly 1.01 lakh refugees still live in Tamil Nadu. Among them, as many as 58,822 Sri Lankan Tamils—or 19,000 families—live in the 108 refugee camps in the state, while 34,087 people live outside the camps and are registered with the local police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 16 refugees who recently landed in Dhanushkodi, at least four people had earlier lived in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu and returned to Sri Lanka in 2017-18. “My mother lives in a refugee camp in Gudiyatham (in Vellore district),” said Diuri. Her hope, she said, was that she would be able to live with her mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, if refugees fleeing the war were given asylum earlier, Diuri and others have been detained now for attempting to illegally enter India. In the absence of laws concerning refugees in India, some of them have been booked under the Passports Act and the Foreigners Act. They cannot be given asylum or granted refugee status, apparently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is the first time in decades that refugees have come during an economic crisis,” Jacintha Lazarus, the Tamil Nadu government’s commissioner of rehabilitation and welfare of non-resident Tamils, told THE WEEK. “There is no refugee law in place in India. The rule position is that when they come because of armed conflict, they can be detained as illegal migrants. But we decide on a case-to-case basis. But for an economic crisis, that [provision] is not there. So we are waiting for the Union government to tell us what to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 23, a day after the new group of refugees arrived, the adults among them were remanded to 15-day judicial custody in Puzhal Central Jail in the outskirts of Chennai. Two children were allowed to stay with their mothers in the prison. Diuri’s nine-year-old daughter, Esther, was sent to live with her mother at Gudiyatham.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Life is better here,” said Sothilingam, who came to the Mandapam camp in 2006. “I don’t want to go back to Sri Lanka. My children are studying here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sothilingam, who hails from Vavuniya, works as a labourer in Rameshwaram. He still remembers the horrors of the last phase of the war. “One of our neighbours was sexually harassed by the Sri Lankan army,” he said. “We could not help her, even though we were next door. As there were women in my family, too, we decided to flee the country. Life is peaceful here, but we are not happy since we are not in our homeland.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Welfare schemes announced by successive Tamil Nadu governments have benefited most refugees in the Mandapam camp. Apart from rice distributed free of cost, each refugee family gets Rs1,000 as monthly assistance. The DMK government has promised to build 3,510 houses and renovate 7,469 houses for them. It has also vowed to provide assistance for children who are seeking higher education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The inmates of the camp have come to the help of the new refugees, supplying them with essential items. A friend of Sothilingam who did not want to reveal his identity said the situation was dire. “There is famine in our homeland,” he said. “How can people live there?”</p> Sat Apr 02 12:31:05 IST 2022 seeking-reparations-from-british-royals-no-longer-a-fringe-demand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As royals go, the duke and duchess of Cambridge are near perfect. Good-looking, assured and alluringly attired, they waft through crowds with an easy charm, leaving a warm, fuzzy feeling behind. But their visit to the Caribbean nations came a cropper. Not because their winsome smiles lacked any lustre or their practised concern any of its solicitousness, but simply because they came up against the harsh reckoning of history. Angry protests, centred around painful memories of colonial repression and the slave trade, followed Prince William and Kate Middleton from Belize to Jamaica to the Bahamas. Avoidable public diplomacy gaffes made matters worse: the duchess shaking hands with Jamaican children through a wire fence and the royal couple, dressed in white, inspecting a military parade from an open-top Land Rover, only served to evoke images of racial discrimination and imperial arrogance. The tour, intended to bolster support for the British royals in their former colonies in the queen’s platinum jubilee year, ended up as a PR disaster. The result: an even bigger question mark now hovers over the future relationship of the Caribbean nations with the Crown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protests could not have been a total surprise. The ancestors of the royal family, including Elizabeth I and Charles II, are seen as direct beneficiaries of the flourishing slave trade that took 12 million Africans in chains to the Americas; six lakh slaves ended up in the sugar plantations of Jamaica alone. Two centuries of this free slave labour, followed by indentured labour from India, helped Britain build and modernise its economy. Demands for an apology for historical wrongs and reparations for the atrocities committed have become louder. Added to this is the spreading Republicanism in the region; Barbados removed the queen as its head of state last year. Now, as Prince William listened impassively, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that his country, too, was “moving on”; the scene seems set for Jamaica to follow Barbados, and that may trigger a domino effect. Those planning the visit seemed to have ignored, or underestimated, all this as well as the sharp focus that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to bear on racial oppression; their naïve hope may have been that despite the ominous signs, Britain’s perceived superiority and royal charm would carry the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Responding to the protests, Prince William did bite the bullet and express “profound sorrow” for “abhorrent” slavery during a dinner speech in Jamaica, following on his father’s earlier statement in Barbados that the “atrocity of slavery… stains our history”. From the point of view of the victims, these statements fall short of an outright apology and only serve to fuel further anger. Indians are familiar with this refusal to simply say sorry: our calls for an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre have been similarly parried with linguistic guile, the last example of which was Theresa May’s expression of “deep regret” over the heinous 1919 massacre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An apology, some believe, would provide a legal basis to the moral case for reparations. In any case, reparations are no longer a fringe demand. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has formally put forward a ten-point plan to European countries seeking reparations; 100 prominent Jamaicans have demanded reparations in an open letter to the monarchy, and one Jamaican lawmaker has calculated $10 billion as the asking price. But reparations go beyond money alone; they require compensation for mass murder, untold suffering and the total loss of spiritual, intellectual and cultural heritage. Those opposing reparations term them as unrealistic; the crimes committed by past generations, it is argued, cannot be paid for by present ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what gives the demand an undeniable edge is that reparations have been paid in the past—only not to the enslaved, but to the slave-owners. Revolutionary Haiti overthrew slavery in 1804 and had to pay nearly 8,000 French slave-owners some 150 million francs plus loan interests over 122 years as compensation for the loss of their “property”. The British government paid an equivalent of 300 billion (2018 value) to former slave owners as compensation after abolishing slavery in 1834; the last payment was made as recently as 2015. At the height of the Civil War, the US government paid slave-owners $300 for each freed slave; payments of similar reparations to slave-owners appear in the records of several European and Latin American nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this adds up to a few hard facts, which can be examined after the bruised royal egos have been salved: the world is changing and nostalgia for a lost empire is no longer good currency; the dead past can still return to haunt our present; wounds have to be cauterised or they continue to fester. And the ship that helped Britannia rule the waves has long since sailed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is former high commissioner to the Court of St James’s and former ambassador to the United States.</b></p> Sat Apr 02 12:01:25 IST 2022 the-dilemma-of-mbbs-students-from-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE FIRST PARAGRAPH</b> of a 2014 research paper—‘Rehabilitation and Compensation of Migrants after Partition’—explains how displaced students and trainees were rehabilitated in India after the partition. Seating capacity in institutions was expanded, double shifts were introduced and new colleges were erected. “Students from colleges and technical institutions were offered loans, scholarships, and “exemption from the payment of fees was also sanctioned for the purchase of books, etc,” says the study published in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary and Scientific Emerging Research. The highest loans were offered to medical students: Rs100 a month, in addition to tuition fees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Himanshu Shukla, a fourth-year student of Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University in Ukraine, dramatically invokes the story of this rehabilitation to drive home his helplessness. “Even though the government had less money then, overnight colleges were created for students who ran away from places like Lahore,” says Shukla, on phone from his home in Lucknow. He returned to India on March 6 after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Shukla’s Ukrainian friends helped him reach the Romanian border. He is trying to gather his scattered friends in Delhi so that they can start offline classes in coaching centres to align their lessons with the Indian medical curriculum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our college in Ukraine says they are hoping to rebuild airports by September. Maybe, we can go back in six months,” says Shukla, sounding confused and hopeful at the same time. He wants to be prepared to stay on in India, but is unsure how the compensatory funds and facilities provided by the Indian government might help his long-term career prospects. “They cannot expect us to do a mandatory seven years of rural service to get a seat in a government college,” says Shukla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As academicians, medical bodies and government stakeholders mull ways to accommodate the thousands of medical students who fled war-torn Ukraine, students and parents are familiarising themselves with the rules and conditions that govern medical education in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>WhatsApp groups like “Ukraine Parents Only” are abuzz with anticipation as updates come in about how Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee might induct students in different medical colleges in West Bengal, followed by tweets by Rajya Sabha members urging the government to act immediately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the students who spoke to THE WEEK are not hopeful of returning to Ukraine. They say online classes are a joke. “Online classes will help generate more money for the beleaguered Ukrainian government, because colleges can show they have completed the semester—even if by remote learning,” says the Delhi-based Siddharth Saini, a fourth-year student from Vinnytsia National Pirogov Medical University. “You think our sleepless teachers, who react fearfully to bombs and sirens in the middle of classes, can teach anything at this point?” He adds that the Indian regulatory body for medical professionals, the National Medical Council (NMC), does not even recognise medical courses conducted online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, as a respite, final year students have been spared Krok 2—a mandatory state licensing examination in Ukraine without which they cannot get their degrees. The NMC has also allowed final-year foreign medical students to complete their internships in India. This applies to those whose studies have been disrupted due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. But this can only be done after the candidates clear the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE), which has often been accused of lacking transparency and, hence, being difficult to crack. FMGE is set to be replaced by a National Exit Test (NExT) for all final year MBBS students irrespective of whether they studied in India or abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if new rules are promulgated to ensure absorption of students from Ukraine in public and private medical colleges in India, the complications will arise in implementing a sense of “equivalency”, says Gajraj Singh Yadav, assistant professor of biochemistry at Raipur Institute of Medical Sciences. His son Aryan Raj is a second-year student at Uzhhorod Medical University in Ukraine. “Indian medical colleges have a curriculum of four-and-a-half years. In Ukraine, it is almost six years. For example, anatomy and physiology courses are completed [in India] in the first year itself. In Ukraine, anatomy classes continue till the third semester. NMC will have to come up with ways to level such differences,” says Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Advocate Rana Sandeep Bussa and others have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court praying for admission and continuation of studies for Ukraine returnees. At this point, he is most concerned about getting the courts to institute a commission to look at innovative ‘educational rehabilitation’programmes for these students. Especially for those who are in the first five years of the course. “The problem of equivalency can be solved with programmes that can run for three months or so. Later, students can be integrated in such a way that they get to catch up in a shift-like system followed by factories or companies. These double-shift classes are important because colleges are bound to say that they don’t have seats or infrastructure or staff. But these are extraordinary circumstances and rules are always amended in light of events like an act of God or war,” says Bussa, reminding that the United Nations has designated September 9 as International Day to Protect Education from Attack and that India is a signatory to this charter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bussa contends that absorbing displaced Indian medical students from foreign countries will help improve the doctor-population ratio in the country. However, Dr Ravi Wankhedkar, treasurer of the World Medical Association and former president of the IMA, points out there is no shortage of doctors in the country as per WHO norms. “However, there is a mismatch between urban and rural areas and between some states. Southern states have a ratio three to four times the World Health Organization norm. It is due to blatant privatisation of medical education that leads to higher costs and further increases in the urban-rural divide as the rich who can afford the high cost are concentrated in urban areas. Those urban students who become doctors from private colleges never go to rural areas. And, government or the community should not expect service from students who pay Rs1 crore for MBBS and Rs3 crore for MD/MS,” says Wankhedkar, adding that absorption of Ukraine-returned students will do nothing to improve any rural-urban divide which is a result of bad governance and a system which perpetuates exploitative private players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 2019, almost all students who joined universities outside India had qualified for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Undergraduate) or NEET, the all-India pre-medical entrance test for MBBS degrees. Even so, many could not apply for seats in private medical colleges due to prohibitive costs ranging from Rs70 lakh to Rs1.5 crore. Often, snide remarks are hurled at students who chose medical universities in eastern Europe, saying that they are incompetent and do not have good NEET scores. But several high scorers in NEET, with marks ranging between 400 and 500 out of 720, have been forced to leave India because of a shortage of seats in government colleges and unrealistic costs in the private ones. Wankhedkar says there is still time to wait and watch even as wide-ranging consultations take place to find immediate solutions for rehabilitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The rule in India says that one has to complete MBBS in ten years, so there is no harm in waiting for a few months to see how the situation settles in Ukraine. Poland is offering to accommodate students with the same fee structure. The bottom line is there is no hurry,” says Wankhedkar.</p> Sat Apr 02 11:43:31 IST 2022 if-the-past-is-a-guide-imran-khan-fall-is-imminent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Rehman is a senior Pakistani journalist and former Lahore resident editor of the Dawn</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THREE YEARS</b> and eight months into power, Prime Minister Imran Khan is forced to get his hands dirty to avert the toppling of his government. A veteran of 26 years in politics, he had earlier used powerful backers to do the dirty work. One of these tasks was in July 2018: Delivering the right number of lawmakers necessary for Khan’s election as prime minister. They achieved it in the face of adversity, namely Mian Nawaz Sharif. But now, Khan, the chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is desperately seeking the support of these legislators to stay in the saddle. If the past is a guide, his fall is imminent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan’s battle has been one of survival from day one—despite all these references to him being consistently on the same page as the king-making army chief. Even now, the impetus for the opposition’s thrust against the PTI government is linked directly with an extension of tenure for current Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aam aadmi’s feed of this story has been played out in the all-important Punjab province. It is the same Punjab that catapulted Khan to the top in a pulsating finish against the once invincible Sharifs. It is the politicians from various “ignored” corners of the same province—who now figure prominently in the list of the original 14 dissidents—who have shaken the Insafian edifice of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These dissidents say they have turned against the government in Islamabad as their conscience has awoken. But in reality, they have been there for long, poised to advance on Khan’s uneasiness, if not from the outset. Khan’s men have encouraged the people to confront these “traitors”; there have already been a few demonstrations outside the houses of these renegades. Alternatively, the PTI is also trying to defeat the revolt legally, but it is the thinly-veiled provocations asking the public to go after the dissidents which capture the essence of the party’s politics. Khan has made no attempts at any time during his 44-month-long rule to hide his contempt and hatred for his political opponents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His ferocious attacks on the very parliament which he was and still is a part of, and which of course made him the prime minister, were staggering. He had declared the parliamentary opposition as a band of thieves to the applause of his supporters in the house—which included some new names, but mainly elements who had switched parties for a chance at power under Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was a dangerous course where a treasury bench permanently behaved like an opposition, or in the fashion of a revolutionary outfit that had won freedom for people from usurpers but did not know how to come out of the “movement” mode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar observations had earlier been issued about the Asif Ali Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but this was not at all the reason why many advised the PTI to explore an alliance with the Zardari brand. It was the visible strength of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) that encouraged a partnership between the PPP and the PTI. The possibility of any kind of coalition between the experienced and “dirty” Zardari and the untested and “clean” Khan were dashed early given the righteous tone adopted by the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan had repeatedly attempted—but failed—to create political splits in the PPP-ruled Sindh. Just as he was up against a new phenomenon in Punjab, where large numbers stayed with the Sharifs and their model of development. The PTI apparently found it impossible to make inroads into the widespread PML(N) territory in Punjab. Instead, it placed all its faith on a breakup of its largest opponent in the province—and in the rumours about a feud brewing inside the Sharif family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It panned out beautifully for the clever Sharifs. The “feud”, as it was mistakenly described, provided the family with two distinct prongs. One flank is led by Nawaz Sharif and his “pretty” daughter Maryam Nawaz. The other, moderate, side to the PML(N) had the redoubtable Shehbaz Sharif leading the reconciliatory initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was this reconciliatory core of Shehbaz that later on was visible in getting parties such as the PPP, the PML(N) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam together in Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Inevitably, the PPP left the alliance as Rehman and the more radical sections within PDM tried to carve something revolutionary out of the situation—that necessitated a confrontation with the army and endangered PPP’s government in Sindh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current calls for a political gherao of Khan from all sides are based in the opposition’s fears that the PTI might be able to achieve in the remaining part of its five-year term what it has not been able to accomplish in the preceding years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan has put a lot of emphasis on the accountability of the rulers of the past. But the PML(N) and the PPP leaders have escaped rather unscathed so far. The fear was that Mr Clean was about to put his foot on the accelerator as a means to contain the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Letting loose the accountability juggernaut in the rival’s camp was all the more necessary because of a lack of any significant points scored by Khan’s men in power—most notably in Punjab, where Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has failed to deliver. When the crunch came, as expected, a large number of treasury bench lawmakers rebelling against Khan happened to be Buzdar’s neighbours from around Dera Ghazi Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a talk that Khan could save himself by sacrificing Buzdar, but maybe the time for that has already gone. The embattled prime minister is now trying to prove his all-rounder capabilities by trying as many options to stay in power as are suggested to him. The skipper may pretend not to see what is staring him in the face, leaving even more complex questions in the air—like who could replace him? Shehbaz Sharif clearly understands the challenge when he talks about some kind of coalition to replace Khan. Zardari would agree.</p> Thu Mar 31 13:07:30 IST 2022 five-lakh-cyberwarriors-are-fighting-russia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not just boots and missiles that Russia is using to inflict damage in Ukraine, but also bots and malware. The invasion has developed into a first-of-its-kind hybrid war as Russia has stepped up cyberattacks, which it had started as far back as 2014. Now, telecommunications networks in Ukraine have crashed and lights are off in several cities. Victor Zhora, deputy chairman, State Service of Special Communications, Ukraine, spoke exclusively to THE WEEK from Kyiv. He said cyberwarfare was in full swing and added that cooperation was the need of the hour as there is no country that can fight cyberattacks by itself. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Cyberwarfare had begun even before the invasion. How did it play out?</b></p> <p>In 2014, during the election campaign in Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity, hackers sponsored by Russia attacked the election system. The annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of the region was supported by a series of cyberattacks.</p> <p>So, from attacks on the election process, misinformation campaigns, the cyberattack on the power grid in 2015 and the most disruptive cyberattack in June 2017 to a number of other major cyberattacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, there has been continuous cyberaggression against Ukraine. It intensified significantly at the beginning of the year and continued till the largest attack in the middle of February. In our opinion, it was a cyber reconnaissance which preceded the conventional war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There are reports of submarine cables and satellites being damaged. What is the scale of the damage?</b></p> <p>Of course, the latest attacks have caused damage to our information systems. The attacks in the middle of February caused outages in some financial and banking services. Now they are trying to deface websites; websites of local state administrations and media resources have been defaced. These are not as disruptive as we expected. But, the situation is dangerous and we are aware of potential risks. Because we are also witnessing physical attacks on IT infrastructure, which is resulting in disruption of fibre optic cables and broadcast facilities with shelling on our TV towers and missile bombing on IT infrastructure. The focus on disruption of communication and critical infrastructure is rather dangerous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why has Russia not been successful in causing major disruption and damage?</b></p> <p>Firstly, Russia has been busy protecting itself from attacks on its own infrastructure. So it has been focused on defence, not offence. Secondly, they don't need to hide the attacks on critical infrastructure anymore. They can now attack with missiles or troops. Thirdly, I feel their capacity and potential is limited now. Prior to the war, they had a lot of time and financial resources to prepare cyberattacks and even hire professionals against Ukraine, but now they are not able to organise it quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of support is Ukraine getting from NATO, EU and global intelligence agencies?</b></p> <p>We have been getting support for a long time because of a number of cybersecurity projects undertaken by us and we had the opportunity to strengthen it and provide cyber resilience to other countries to raise cyber-workforces. Our resilience today can be explained by the effort taken earlier.</p> <p>In the current situation, we are constantly getting support from foreign partners, commercial companies and government agencies but we are focusing on handling cyberprotection ourselves because of current conditions; we cannot host any foreign expert at present. Also, these are completely new conditions where cyber and conventional operations have been combined and it is a new experience for the world. Previous plans and scenarios are not applicable. The global community should learn from our experience and develop a new plan for cyberprotection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the strength of Ukraine's cyber army?</b></p> <p>The army of cyberwarriors is around half a million (five lakh) and I can divide them into three groups. The first group is a volunteer community which is united into an IT Army. They provide cyber resilience and can provide some offensive operations. But, it is not coordinated by the government. We are concentrating on cyberprotection of Ukraine's infrastructure. The second group consists of dozens of teams of cybersecurity professionals who help government structures to resist cyberaggression. The third is the activist community around the globe that helps Ukraine resist attacks and they are solely responsible for their actions. But in our opinion, any help that can weaken the aggressor is important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Which sectors have been badly hit in the cyberattacks?</b></p> <p>One of the main focuses of the attacks is telecom. They want to destroy communication; telecom infrastructure is being attacked both with technology and physically. The shelling disrupted the internet, but this was quickly and heroically restored by the staff of telecom operators. The attackers are trying to penetrate internal segments of IT systems, but they have been unsuccessful so far. They succeeded in some disinformation messages. The number of attacks is not decreasing. There</p> <p>is continuous activity from their side, but not so successful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why do you think cyberattacks have not spilled outside Ukraine targeting western countries?<br> <br> </b>During the war, especially cyber warfare, we received intelligence from foreign agencies to get ready and we had started preparing against potential dedicated attacks on some segments of the economy. We saw that they tried to attack the energy sector, government services, financial and telecom infrastructure as well.</p> <p>But in my opinion, some special measures taken by our government and State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection in building capacity for cyber security, domestic cyber force and cooperation with foreign partners backed by a new state policy on cyber protection resulted in the understanding that we are stronger than previous times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you see the cyber war continuing for long?<br> <br> </b>We believe they will continue attacking Ukraine as well as other countries. Since they have no limits to using their conventional components, scaling war crimes, shelling residential quarters, maternity hospitals and kindergarten schools, I believe they will use every kind of cyber weapon to attack Ukraine and other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How far is the road to victory for Ukraine?<br> </b>We will return to our peaceful time. It is more military, but it depends on two factors. How soon the Russian war criminals and leaders of the country understand that this absolutely unbelievable aggression against Ukraine will bring nothing to Russian federation. They should stop attacking civilians and killing our people. Russian citizens should understand that they should stop their leaders because Russia will not stop with Ukraine and can resort to attacking other countries. Secondly, it is up to the unity of nations and all the civilised world to resist and provide adequate response to these aggressive actions of the Russian federation as it can potentially result in World War III with a nuclear component to it. We should stop this immediately.<br> <br> </p> <p><b>What is your expectation from the global community, including India?</b></p> <p>We have got signals from the Joe Biden administration and global IT providers who are helping us pro bono and offering their help to Ukrainian companies and the government. I believe many global leaders have asked their companies and community to be prepared to counter any aggression.</p> <p>India is the second largest country in the world with high proficiency in information technology and cybersecurity. We should be united against cyberaggression and war crimes and violation of international agreements. There is no country that can be protected by itself. And Ukraine will appreciate cooperation in the times to come, after our victory, once the aggressor has stopped its aggression.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:48:18 IST 2022 it-is-impossible-to-conquer-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the Russian attack on Ukraine?</b><br> <br> For the first time since World War II, we are seeing a dangerous situation in Europe. It is an open war—whether Moscow calls it a special operation or war. A lot of people have been killed or wounded; millions have left Ukraine as refugees, mostly women and children.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Russia has security concerns about NATO expansion.</b><br> <br> Putin says it is a concern for Russia, that they feel endangered by the steps of NATO and the military activity on the borders of Russia. But, Ukraine is no danger for Russia. Putin is accusing the west—that NATO may install military equipment, especially the most modern, and rockets which are only a few minutes away from Moscow. It is one of the explanations. In my opinion, this is all about Putin’s dream to restore a Soviet empire. He considers the [breakup of the USSR] as their biggest loss after WWII. In 2014, he captured part of Ukrainian territory—Crimea. Now, he has declared two Ukrainian territories as independent soil.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Ukraine plus NATO is the real concern for Russia.</b><br> <br> Becoming a member of NATO is a very long way off. More difficult than becoming a member of the EU. Poland took over 10 years—we had to change 30,000 laws to adapt to the standards of the EU. It was an enormous task. Ukraine is in a much worse position than Poland was decades ago. You cannot be a member of NATO if you are in quarrel with your neighbour over Crimea.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ But isn't NATO indirectly at war with Russia, with Ukraine as the battlefield?</b><br> <br> No. NATO leaders like Joe Biden, Boris Johnson or Emmanuel Macron have made it clear. NATO is NATO. It will defend every inch of the territories of its members. Ukraine is not part of NATO. No NATO troops are there on Ukrainian soil; there is no no-fly zone over Ukraine.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ The arms are from NATO.</b><br> <br> Of course, that is another story. We remember well 2014—the takeover of Crimea by Russians. Look, after they became independent [of the USSR], Ukraine absolutely forgot the army or the needs of an army. They even transferred from Ukrainian soil their nuclear arms. They thought... their borders will be stable and untouchable. But Russia altered its position, saying that NATO was going to Eastern Europe.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ How real is the threat to the Baltic States, or to countries like Poland?</b><br> <br> It is a certain danger. Somehow, Russia’s present policy is not understandable. Many experts are struggling to understand the reasons (triggering) Putin. It is absolutely impossible to conquer Ukraine, or to install a puppet regime. They may try, but only after killing a lot many people. You cannot conquer Ukraine; you cannot govern through a puppet government.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ But Putin may try the same with others, including Poland.</b><br> <br> Perhaps not. First of all, it was a very strong declaration from the part of the US that the NATO will defend its members as per Article V.<br> <br> When it comes to Poland, we need to look at history. We were conquered by Russians and Germans. Poland was divided for 130 years under the rule of Russia, Prussia and the Austrian Empire. So, we feel the danger. That is why we pressed so hard after independence in 1989, to join NATO or the EU. We are lucky that we succeeded; Ukraine didn't.<br> <br> In the beginning, they (Ukraine) stressed the need to be closer to the western institutions. Unfortunately due to, let’s say, the political system they had adopted—oligarchy—they were not able to fulfil the demands of the west on political, economic, or legal demands for partnership with western Europe.<br> <br> It was also not the will of the people [at that time]. Because when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, NATO was enemy number one. It was repeated millions of times in the mass media all over Soviet Russia for decades. So, in the back of the people's minds, NATO was something bad.<br> <br> In the case of a threat from Putin, the west may try to provide Ukrainians with armaments, money, with different forms of assistance—except troops. We (Poland) have over 10,000 American soldiers on our soil, the same number in the Baltic States. Now, more are coming. So it true—what Biden said—we will defend every inch of NATO soil. Of course, we feel the danger, because we know the Russians.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Looking at the issues from the perspective of Ukrainians, they are continuously being denied a credible government.</b><br> <br> Before the takeover of Crimea [by Russia], it was very strange. The government was very weak. There were a lot of pro-Russian factions. Of course, they are a considerable part of society, the Russian-speakers. It is a fact especially in eastern Ukraine. But the unfriendly act of grabbing their territory came as a shock to most of them. Then they tried to change almost everything. Earlier they surrendered to Russians—even a part of the military leadership in Ukraine changed sides. They said: ‘We are Russians; I am taking my rank of admiral or general in the Russian army instead of the Ukrainian army and so on.’<br> <br> To rebuild the army was really difficult. But they succeeded. They had the support from the western countries, but not that openly. Nevertheless, they were able to rebuild the heart of the army. That is why they are showing extreme courage now, defending their homeland.<br> <br> It is the change in the minds of the people. Ukrainians are fighting for their homeland for the first time in their history. They feel they have to defend their homeland.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Is the morale of the Russian forces getting affected?</b><br> <br> There is an enormous gap between Russia and Ukraine. Yet, the Russians are losing ground. The united stance of the rest of Europe, plus the US and Canada, too, was unexpected. I cannot remember such an almost unanimous stand against Russia, which has a lot of supporters in western Europe. Russia is delivering to most of Europe's oil and gas. It is a problem now. You may blacklist Russia, but look at a country like Bulgaria - a member of NATO and EU. Without the gas from Russia, they can't survive. &nbsp;<br> <br> But, Russia will pay a heavy price. They didn't imagine this. Iran collapsed after financial sanctions. I think it will be the same with Russia.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Has Russia reached a point of no return, but unable to advance?</b><br> <br> We have to look at the history of Russia. It happened with leaders in the czarist period. They were crazy enough to start the war with dreams to conquer half of the world or the continent and they were removed by internal powers. In this case, not for now. Because Putin has been ruling Russia for 22 years and he has eliminated practically all possible enemies in the inner circle. The question is how in his mind he is able to judge the situation in a rational sense. If you are governing such a country with nuclear potential, for 22 years and everyone around you is declaring how fantastic you are, how clever you are and your decisions are perfect, something may change in your mind, in your mentality.<br> <br> Russians will probably be there in Ukraine for some time. Silent and secret diplomacy is working. Not only the US, NATO, Ukraine and Russia, there is the China factor also. A larger conflict is against China's will. Their aim is to be number one in the next 20 years. They will try to restrain the Russians. Officially, China is supporting Russia with one hand, on the other hand Chinese banks are refusing loans to Russian businessmen. China will try to stop [the conflict] or offer mediation.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ What kind of a solution is possible in your view?</b><br> <br> Putin is frowned upon, but as a leader of such a potent country, he needs to save face. Otherwise he will be removed by his own people. [Perhaps they can agree to] Ukraine not becoming a part of NATO against some guarantees of security. But still there are two regions which were declared as independent from Ukraine plus Crimea. What to do with this is the greatest problem.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Can European countries do without Russian support and energy?</b><br> <br> It is possible but it will take time and time is crucial. For Ukraine, and Europe as well. Because, we need other sources of gas delivery. Oil is less important than gas. Perhaps, Iran could be a source. You know they are close to an agreement with Iran. I also heard about the possibility of withdrawal of sanctions against Venezuela.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Are financial sanctions a deterrent to Russia?</b><br> <br> In a modern financial system, it consists of millions and millions of operations. Without internet access in the proper way, without proper communication you are absolutely lost.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Meanwhile, you are saddled with the problem of refugees.</b><br> <br> Luckily, we are not alone. It is the decision of the EU to assist countries which are confronting the massive influx from Ukraine. It requires billions of euros. You have America and other countries which will be sharing this expense. We (Poland) are in a peculiar situation, because our economy cannot exist without Ukrainians. We had, before the war started, over a million-and-half Ukrainian workers. Ours is an economy of demand. We are looking for people to fill the empty places. That is why somehow this refugee crisis is a gift from God already.<br> <br> If you are reading Polish newspapers you may see tens of thousands of offers for jobs for Ukrainian refugees. The government made a law which gives refugees a status which is similar to the Poles in a number of areas—like access to schools, to doctors and other services. Moreover, everyone who is hosting refugees will be paid an amount of 40 Polish zloty per day for one Ukrainian. So, it is about 1,200 Polish zloty monthly.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ So, you are saying that Poland will be able to accommodate any number of Ukrainians?</b><br> <br> Not all. But at least (five lakh to seven lakh) is possible. And the rest will be moved to other European countries.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think other countries will also open their borders?</b><br> <br> Yes, absolutely. See, the EU is ageing because of a lack of children. That is why Germans accepted so many refugees from the Middle East in 2015, because they needed people to work. Germany needed up to (three lakh) people. And there are differences between someone from deep inside Africa and someone from Ukraine.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ There are already complaints of discrimination and racism?</b><br> <br> There is this popular image of Muslim terrorists killing and bombing. It is there in my country as well. Contrary to it, Ukrainians are Europeans from eastern side.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ So, you are justifying discrimination in the name of religion?</b><br> <br> I cannot say it is specifically religion, because, in Europe, we have Muslims as well. In western European countries, there are over 25 million Muslims - in France, Germany and in UK.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ You said no to migrants in 2015.</b><br> <br> Yes, we said NO in Poland, but Germany did accept them. But, in Poland, it was not from the perspective of terrorism or religion. It was a question of political differences inside the country. Populist parties succeeded in convincing most of the people that refugees [from Middle East] are terrorists. It was political and not religious. Poland, like most normal European countries, is hospitable to foreigners. But, to my astonishment, there is an anti-migrants orientation; a political orientation. Of course, I am rejecting it, but it is a fact. Contrary to the Germans.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ You mean the rightist propaganda succeeded?</b><br> <br> Yes. Let's say, at times, rightist becomes quite normal. It is not a question of religion. First, it is a lack of understanding. We are living in a conservative environment - mostly Catholic people. As I remember, the Polish church was absolutely favourable to accepting refugees from Syria during the civil war. The church said we have 13,000 parishes in Poland, so let's accept one family of refugees. One family per parish of a few thousand is nothing, but the government rejected it.<br> </p> <p><b>Q/ But now, they are adopting the same formula?</b><br> <br> Yes, perhaps the war is at our door now. It is not far away in the Middle East or Africa, which is away from our imagination. Now, we are seeing women and children crying, their losses and bombardment at our gates. Acceptance is absolutely overwhelming and all political parties are unanimous in this respect.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:46:41 IST 2022 india-should-not-be-neutral <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Most refugees from Ukraine are coming to Poland, particularly Warsaw. How will you handle them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The situation is very serious. Almost a million people have crossed the Ukraine-Poland border; (three lakh) in Warsaw alone. The population of my city has risen by 15 per cent. We are doing whatever we can, but we are slowly becoming overwhelmed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are worried about attacks in west Ukraine. We feel secure because we are a part of NATO. But, it makes us apprehensive when the targets are 20km from our border.</p> <p><b>Q/Do you fear an attack on Poland?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I do not think Vladimir Putin would be so crazy as to attack the whole trans-Atlantic alliance. But, of course, we cannot exclude any provocation or accidents.</p> <p><b>Q/How do you view NATO’s response?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The response of the UN, the EU, NATO and the western world was quite tough and quick. I do not think Putin expected that. The whole of the western world is helping Ukraine with weapons; some countries are giving offensive weapons. Two or three weeks ago, this could not have been imagined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, we need to be careful because we do not want this to escalate into a Third World War. So, it is difficult to draw the line on what we need to do or on what would actually invite more aggression from Putin. For the first time, the western world is going after Russian oligarchs; tough sanctions have been imposed.</p> <p><b>Q/Are financial sanctions strong deterrents?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They are. Putin never expected them to be so strong. The effects are slowly becoming serious for the Russian economy and the people. Hopefully it would mean that the support for this invasion will be<br> lesser and lesser.</p> <p><b>Q/How do you view Putin as a leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/He is a war criminal now. He was a despot who tried to destabilise Europe. Look at what he is doing in Syria. He should be brought to justice.</p> <p><b>Q/What about the stand taken by India and China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I do not think anyone should take a neutral position when there is an attack by a despot against the country that did nothing to provoke such a despot. When we see hospitals being bombed and children being killed, there should be a uniform, united response. That is what one expects. India and China should have sided with the resolution in the UNSC and in the UN. What is the purpose of the UN, if not for preventing war? We can see this is not a small military operation; this is a full-scale war.</p> <p><b>Q/So many days into the operation, Russia has still not taken Kyiv.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is absolutely clear that Putin has been wrong on many counts. He thought the Ukrainian resistance would be much weaker, and that the Ukranian society would be divided. He has completely miscalculated [the situation]. That is why it is taking so long and I hope Putin will pay a price for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if he takes Kyiv, hopefully not, it will be very difficult for him to hold on to it. We see the spirit of the Ukrainian people and even if he takes half of Ukraine, the war will rage on, like the war raged on in Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I hope Putin will realise that he is losing and that he has to withdraw his troops. If he tries to occupy, he will pay a bigger price.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:44:07 IST 2022 the-russians-have-goofed-up-while-the-ukrainians-are-giving-their-best-shot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SUNDAY, MARCH 13,</b> Vladimir Putin’s top aide and chief of Russia’s National Guard, General Viktor Zolotov, made a candid confession at a church service led by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church: “Yes, not everything is going as fast as we would like.” The general was referring to the war in Ukraine, the awesome march of Russian arms, which Putin likes to call a ‘special military operation’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The western media grabbed it as the first admission by a Russian security czar about the slowness of the operation. They were wrong. The Russian high command had been indicating it in several of their daily briefings. On March 10, the day on which the forces captured Maryanovka, Lazarevka and Lesnoe, defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov admitted: “The march is progressing at about 10km a day.” In the days that followed, the war machine ground down to even 6km a day, though by March 14 it picked up speed upto 10km and, on some fronts, even 14km.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The snail’s pace of the march, already three weeks old and weary, has baffled military observers. “This has not been the operational philosophy of the Russian army,” said an intelligence analyst in Warsaw. “Wherever they have gone in, they had gone for surprise and speed.” Indian generals, too—who contrast the slow march with the Indian Army’s race into East Pakistan culminating in the capture of Dacca in 13 days—are surprised. Their initial assessment was that “perhaps in order to save civilian casualties, Russia’s approach is slow,” said Lt Gen Mohinder Puri, who commanded a division in the Kargil war. Konashenkov’s daily briefings have been indicating the same—that the Russians have been holding fire to save civilians. Every day he has been giving out details of the humanitarian corridors that had been offered, but often blocked because of alleged Ukrainian intransigence. On March 10, “We allowed ten corridors from Kiev, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol, through the territories controlled by the Kiev authorities to Poland, Moldova and Romania,” said Konashenkov. “We also proposed one corridor from each city to the Russian Federation, too. But the Ukrainian side agreed on only two—on Kiev and Mariupol directions, and not a single corridor to the Russian Federation.” Such procedural problems are not the only issues that are delaying capture of Kyiv. “Definitely, the Russians have miscalculated the resistance from Ukraine,” said Puri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The weapons supplied by NATO and Americans are also adding up,” added Lt Gen D.S. Hooda, former northern army commander who masterminded the surgical strike on Pakistan. Seventeen thousand anti-tank weapons from NATO, which is huge, and probably five times the inventory held by the Indian army. A closer look reveals that it is neither the Ukrainian resistance nor the Russians’ concern for human lives that is slowing down the march. It is poor logistics, bad battle management, wrong use of force and, worst of all, miserable tactics. Apparently, someone up there in the general staff in Moscow, the guys who plan and organise operations, has goofed up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results are for all to see. Going even by Konashenkov’s claims, and despite the western TV images of rockets firing and falling on buildings that had been homes and hospitals, the Russians have destroyed very few hard targets. “In every war, you first take out the enemy’s command and control centres, missile batteries, armour and gun concentrations, ammunition depots, radars, airfields, bridges, rail and road hubs so as to cripple the enemy and immobilise him,” explained a three-star general in the Indian army. “Such initial neutralisation is done mostly from the air these days. In the digital era, you also launch a cyber attack to cripple the enemy’s command and communication network, apart from his economy. This yields military dividends and political scoring points—you kill few people, yet achieve your goal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surprisingly, despite Russia’s famous—or notorious—capability to hack into any server in the world, allegedly including the US electoral system, the Russians have done little. Ukraine’s cyber and communication systems are working, after a few hiccups in the initial days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going by the pattern of most invading armies, observers had expected Russia to establish air superiority in the first 48 to 72 hours. However, apart from launching missiles at airfields, the Russians did little to cripple the Ukrainian air force. Three weeks into the war, Ukrainian radars, anti-aircraft missiles and guns are alive and shooting.The first signs of major air activity appeared well after two weeks of the war. On the morning of March 15, Konashenkov claimed that Russia had shot down 16 air targets including a Su-24, a Su-25 and a Mi-8 helicopter, plus hitting four anti-aircraft missile systems, and three hangars containing four Su-25 assault aircraft, and a few helicopters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a sorrier story on the ground. With all its might and fury, the Russians have achieved little in terms of neutralising (military euphemism for destroying) the enemy’s military targets in three weeks—just 1,300 tanks and armoured combat vehicles, 124 rocket launcher systems, 470 artillery guns, 145 UAVs, and about a thousand military vehicles, as on March 15—going by the official version given by General Konashenkov.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poor battle management and poor logistics have been glaring from the start. The Russians launched their ground offensive on four prongs—the main thrust towards Kyiv from the west, with support from the Chernihiv and Sumy axes from the northeast and east; another towards Kharkiv using 23 combat groups, a third towards Mariupol; and yet another thrust towards Kherson and further westward by three combat groups drawn from 7th Airborne Division. The fourth thrust, by three combat groups of the elite airborne division, was repulsed in the early stage of operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surprisingly, unlike the Indian army that was told to “leave the highways” which may be defended by the enemy, and “take the byways” towards Dacca, the Russians rode their tanks straight down the highways, as if they were on a holiday. “Apparently, they can’t leave the highways because the snow that is melting now in spring would have made the earth slushy, making it impossible for the tanks to move,” pointed out Lt Gen C.A. Krishnan, former deputy chief of Indian Army. Contrast that with Gen Sam Manekshaw’s far-sighted refusal to launch operations till the monsoon-soaked Bengal countryside had dried up by winter. And this was the army that had defeated the grand armies of Napoleon and Hitler by simply bogging them down in snow and slush!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Failure to change tactics and targets has been glaring. After two weeks of slow progress and mounting losses, and having failed to take Kyiv, or even Mariupol which had seemed easy picking, the Russians appear to be opting for siege warfare—cutting supplies to the cities and forcing the defenders to surrender or starve to death. There were reports about frontline battle groups having run out of fuel and food, indicating poor logistics planning. “We hear that the tankers from the rear could not reach the frontline to refuel battle tanks stuck on the highways,” said an analyst in Warsaw. “This wouldn’t have happened if they had opted for a broader front, instead of driving down the highways.” The logistics is reported to have improved after the first week. Two supply convoys are reported to have reached the Kyiv front. Rail deliveries from Russia have improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In employment of force, too, the Russians have goofed up. “Russian generals may be battle-scarred veterans, but they are known to employ conscripts in the frontline,” said Lt Gen Philip Campose, former vice-chief of Indian Army. Worse still, there are reports, based on statements by captured Russian troops, that the troops had been told they were being sent for an exercise in Ukraine. They came to know they were in battle only after the first ambushes happened. Battle management has been found wanting. “Every army goes to battle hoping for the best but prepared for the worst,” said Campose. “But here there is no sign of the Russians having prepared for anything more than just walking in and capturing the towns.” The forces seem to be at a loss as to what to do now, except keep on pounding.Three weeks into the war, the military assessment is that the focus has been compressed to two areas of operations—one in the north and the other in the south. Faced with their own logistics problems around Kyiv in the north, more than enemy resistance, the Russians are currently committing more troops and firepower. “But that could also be only a threatening gesture so as to unnerve the defenders,” said an officer. “We don’t believe that they would reduce Kyiv to pulp.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The offensive in the south appears to be more successful. The supply line from Crimea is running well; the Russians may soon capture Mariupol and Kharkiv and go for Odesa, the prized Black Sea port. But the big question is: when will the higher prized Kyiv fall?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or would it prove to be a repeat of that gruesome end that visited another invading army a century-and-a-half ago in next-door Crimea, where Lord Cardigan’s Light Brigade charged up to find “cannon to the right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon in front of them, volleying and thundering.” Let us not forget, it was poor generalship that sent the six hundred riding “into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Pradip R. Sagar</b></p> Mon Mar 21 12:45:24 IST 2022 decoding-putin-mind-as-he-relentlessly-targets-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the second week of February, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz—two western leaders with a reasonably comfortable working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin—were in Moscow. Both, however, failed to dissuade Putin from escalating the threat against Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What really made news after the two visits was the six-metre long, gold-plated table used for the meetings. Putin apparently wanted Macron and Scholz to do a Covid test, but both were in no mood to leave their DNA samples with the Russians. So, Putin brought out one of the longest tables in the Kremlin, to keep the two Europeans at a safe distance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in August 2020, however, when the whole world was shut down because of the pandemic, Putin happily came out of his bio-bubble to receive one of his closest friends—Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian politician from Ukraine, his wife, Oksana, and their daughter Daria, who is also his godchild. The much publicised meeting with the Medvedchuks was Putin’s first public appearance after the pandemic started, and he posed for photos without a mask. Ukraine holds a very special place in Putin’s heart. For him, it is not a separate country, but a part of Russia itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE POLITICS OF HISTORY</b></p> <p>Putin explained his Ukraine obsession last year with a 7,000-word essay titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” He claimed Russians and Ukrainians were “one people belonging to the eastern Slavic stock”, sharing the Ukrainian capital Kyiv as the mother of all Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot live without each other,” wrote Putin. “Ukraine has been part of the single nation called Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe, formed by Great Russia, Little Russia (Ukraine) and White Russia (Belarus). The three are inseparable with a single history, tradition, language and church. Ukraine’s trajectory away from Russia was orchestrated by agents of the west, observed Putin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The obsession, however, is not just for historical reasons. A recent report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said while the historical claims about Ukraine were slightly far-fetched, the country possessed immense strategic value. “Ukraine is essential to Russian security for its size and population, its position between Russia and other major European powers and its role as the centrepiece of the imperial Russian and Soviet economies,” said the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin is mindful of the fact that it was the withdrawal of Ukraine that hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which he said was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. The Russian leadership—including the new republic’s first president, Boris Yeltsin—was hopeful of some sort of a union with Belarus and Ukraine. But at a hastily arranged meeting hosted by Belarus president Stanislav Shushkevich on December 8, 1991, Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk told Yeltsin that his country was walking out, signing the Soviet Union’s death warrant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, Ukraine turned into a key element of state policy. In the 2004 Ukrainian elections, he actively supported the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. The other leading candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who had very clear western leanings, was poisoned by dioxin, a highly toxic chemical. Yushchenko survived with expert medical support, but was left with large abscesses and ugly boils on his face. Against all odds, Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych, and in the five years he was in power, he took Ukraine closer to the west, dealing Putin a major blow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April 2008, after NATO announced at its Bucharest summit that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join the alliance, Putin was livid. “George, you have to understand that Ukraine is not even a country,” he warned US president George W. Bush.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few weeks after Bucharest, Putin’s troops attacked and defeated Georgia in a short war, after Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili attempted to take control of the pro-Russian South Ossetia. Putin did not spare Ukraine as well, after Yanukovych (who won the 2010 elections) was ousted in a revolt caused by his refusal to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union. Russia annexed Crimea in April 2014 and aided pro-Russian separatists to take control of the eastern Donbas region, consisting of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While dealing with Ukraine, Putin is more tsar than commissar. He appears to be modelling himself after Alexander III, a reactionary tsar who reigned from 1881 to 1894, said Igor Torbakov, senior fellow at Uppsala University, Sweden. Alexander was not reluctant to use force to Russify Crimea. The Soviets, on the other hand, wanted only political control, and transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. They also gave the country voting rights in the UN. No wonder Putin pointedly ignored the centennial of the 1917 Russian Revolution, but made a quick trip to Crimea to unveil a monument to Alexander. “Under this tsar, Russia’s influence and authority in the world was achieved not by yielding, but by a fair and unwavering firmness,” said Putin during the unveiling ceremony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ordinary Ukrainians, meanwhile, seem to be paying the price for Putin’s unwavering firmness. Kateryna Zavalna, a 25-year-old accountant from Kharkiv which is close to the Russian border, said Putin was planning to rebuild the Russian empire. “And we are suffering in the process. If the war starts, we will be among the first to be attacked,” said Zavalna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>REDRAWING THE EUROPEAN SECURITY MAP</b></p> <p>Putin, who began his career as a KGB agent trained in the rigid Soviet school of thought, firmly believes in the primacy of Russia in the European theatre. There is no doubt in his mind that Russia, which brought Nazi Germany to its knees in World War II by sacrificing millions of its citizens, deserves to be a key pillar of the European security architecture. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Russia was elbowed out and NATO became the key player in defining the contours of European security. The process was gradual, but painful, as an omnipotent America brushed away feeble protests by Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin and imposed its will on Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the fall of the Berlin Wall, US secretary of state James Baker flew to Moscow in February 1990 and asked Gorbachev to withdraw the 2.5 lakh-strong Soviet military contingent from East Germany. In return, he promised that NATO would not shift “even an inch eastward”. Although the fine print of the withdrawal agreement omitted the promise—Baker himself claimed several years later that he was making a hypothetical bargain—Gorbachev acquiesced, as his country badly needed the $9 billion offered by Germany.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few years later, US president Bill Clinton tempted Yeltsin with investments worth $4 billion and a membership in the G-7 to secure his approval for NATO’s expansion. Since then, 14 countries in eastern Europe have joined NATO, robbing Russia of its strategic depth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout the 1990s, Yeltsin was a regular visitor at the White House. Yeltsin, a compulsive drinker, was once so inebriated that he stepped out onto Pennsylvania Avenue in the middle of the night in his underwear, to get a pizza. The incident led to much mirth in the White House corridors, but the pain and shame it caused in Moscow was unfathomable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The humiliation was complete in 1999, when NATO conducted a 78-day-long bombing mission in Kosovo without UN authorisation and completely ignoring Russian objections. As a member of Yeltsin’s core group, Putin had a ringside view of most of those crises and humiliations, which played a key role in shaping his attitude towards global politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 5, 1997, George Kennan, arguably the most famous Russian expert in US history, wrote in The New York Times that NATO’s expansion would be America’s most fateful foreign policy error in the entire post-Cold-War era. A decade later, US ambassador to Russia William Burns, who is now CIA director, said offering Ukraine NATO membership could present Russia with a crisis on its border in which it would be forced to intervene. Both proved eerily prescient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Putin knows that imperial Russia was successful in halting Napoleon’s march in 1812 and the Soviet Union could survive the German assault in 1941 because of its strategic depth. It is critical because the vast Russian landmass lacks natural geographic barriers like oceans, rivers, or mountains,” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies. “Rolling back NATO’s influence in the Russian neighbourhood is a key aspect of reordering European security, and history and geography tell Putin that Ukraine is the right place to start. The recent pro-western geopolitical manoeuvres by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has given Putin a welcome ruse to deploy nearly 1.9 lakh soldiers on the border.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin was miffed by Zelenskyy’s decision to invite NATO forces for joint exercises and to deepen military cooperation. He was also alarmed by Ukraine’s purchase of the powerful Bayraktar drones from Turkey, which ensured the defeat of Russian ally Armenia in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With tensions running high, Putin has presented a set of demands before the US. He wants a guarantee that Ukraine would never be a part of NATO and that the transatlantic alliance would stop all its expansion plans. He wants troops and weapons to be removed from countries that joined NATO after 1997 (meaning the entire eastern Europe) and also from areas where they could threaten Russia. Putin has also called for banning intermediate-range missiles and nuclear weapons in Europe. In response, the US said it would not abandon NATO’s “open-door”policy, but offered to evaluate Russian worries pragmatically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US President Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of Putin—he once publicly called the Russian president a killer—and has warned repeatedly that a major invasion was imminent. After several such warnings by Biden and several senior members of his administration, Zelenskyy himself asked Biden to “calm down”, complaining that he was creating unnecessary panic. Many Ukranians, too, seem to agree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thamarai Pandian, who heads a pharmaceutical company in Kyiv, said it was the American deep state that seems eager to start another war after the US exit from Afghanistan. “Moreover, with his daily alarmist warnings, Biden has managed to brush aside frightening Covid statistics and also reports about the deepening partisan divide within the US,” said Pandian, a Ukraine resident for nearly three decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TIMING IS EVERYTHING</b></p> <p>The manner in which Putin has timed the escalation is also significant. Despite a slew of geopolitical victories in the past couple of years, Putin’s popularity was affected by his inept handling of the pandemic and his violent crackdown against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. His popularity rating fell to its lowest level in over two decades as the president isolated himself in a bio-bubble and delegated responsibilities to regional governors. Acting tough on Ukraine is one of the easiest options for Putin to shore up his sagging ratings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another key factor that Putin has not missed is the ongoing churn in the existing global order. “He is unhappy about Russia getting side-lined and China becoming America’s predominant geopolitical rival, along with the Indo-Pacific turning into the primary theatre of global politics. The powerplay in Ukraine is Putin’s way of attracting America’s attention,” said Paul. “Putin has also cemented an alliance of convenience with China, which will come in handy in case of western sanctions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Putin remains wary of China. “He knows that China wants this war,” said Sanjeev Bhagat, the Kyiv-based director of a major pharmaceutical company. “It will give China access to the vast energy and land resources of Russia as it becomes weaker because of harsh sanctions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin, meanwhile, senses an apparent US weakness compared with a rising China. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the civil war within the Democratic party, the bruising duel with the Republicans and the continuing perils of the pandemic have weakened Biden. His ratings are now below even Donald Trump’s numbers at a comparable point in his presidency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europe, too, has an unsettled look. Macron is preparing for elections; Scholz is trying to fill the outsized shoes of Angela Merkel; the scandal-tainted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is struggling for political survival and Turkey is going through a crippling economic crisis. Europe also depends a lot on Russia for its energy needs. The Nord Stream II pipeline will add to this dependency and will take Ukraine out of the equation as a transit country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin has had a couple of good years as far as relations with Russia’s neighbours are concerned. Georgia has been tamed, it even jailed former president Saakashvili, one of Putin’s bitter rivals, who has been serving as head of Ukraine’s Executive Reform Committee. In Kazakhstan, Moscow stepped in to quell anti-government protests. Armenia, which was trying to plot an independent foreign policy, saw most of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory under its control for three decades, being taken over by Azerbaijan under Putin’s tacit nod. In Belarus, wily autocrat Aleksandr Lukashenko, whose occasional overtures towards the west had angered Putin in the past, is back in the Russian camp after getting rattled by protests against his government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rising oil prices have strengthened Putin’s hands further. The price at which Russia could balance its budget is around $40 a barrel. Crude prices crossed $90 a barrel in January for the first time in seven years. With the rising energy prices, Putin has built a war chest of $620 billion in foreign reserves, giving him the liberty of modernising his armed forces, performing extensive military exercises, developing new weapon systems, rewarding his allies, diversifying his investments and, of course, preparing for a war in his backyard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE ENDGAME</b></p> <p>Putin hopes to bring America to the negotiating table, launching the groundwork for possible nuclear weapons’ treaties and getting Biden to convince Zelenskyy about implementing the Minsk II accords, but on Russia’s terms. On February 19, Putin oversaw testing of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles, intended as a message to Biden and Zelenskyy. Two days later, he recognised the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk and ordered Russian troops to move into the two provinces. In an emotional speech, Putin even blamed Soviet stalwarts Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev for gifting Russian territories to Ukraine, and indicated that he might take action beyond just recognising the rebel republics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Minsk accord, signed in February 2015, calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from Donetsk and Luhansk. It also calls for more autonomy for the two regions and also for conducting elections there. Russia wants political reforms first, as it would give Donetsk and Luhansk veto power in Ukraine’s relations with NATO. The Zelenskyy government, however, wants to take control of the region before starting the political process. Russia’s recognition of the region’s independence and sending in troops have put more pressure on Zelenskyy. The US, meanwhile, criticised the Kremlin’s recognition of the two regions and announced that sanctions would follow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For Ukraine, the future of Donetsk and Luhansk is quite a painful issue,” said Viktoriia Ivanchenko, an analyst from Donetsk, who is with the Russian Foreign Trade Academy. “Donetsk used to be one of the leading and richest regions in Ukraine. But after being a conflict zone for more than seven years, things have changed and people are leaving the region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Putin ordering his troops into the breakaway republics, Ukrainians fear the worst. “There are several scenarios of possible military action, including a full-scale invasion,” said Oleksandr Sakharenko, a public affairs expert from Kyiv. “After Donetsk and Luhansk, the city of Mariupol is under the biggest threat. Also, the large cities of Kharkiv in the northeast, Dnipro in the centre and Odessa in the south are possible targets. In the worst-case scenario, Kyiv, too, may be attacked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, he became the first leader since Stalin to expand Russia’s territory. Some of the skills he picked up when he was with a street gang in the 1960s Leningrad seem to be helping Putin even now. Back then, a short and skinny Putin somehow managed to outpunch markedly heftier opponents. “The Leningrad street taught me a rule: if a fight is inevitable, you have to throw the first punch,”said Putin. His policy on Ukraine seems to be modelled on that lesson, and the response from the west could make or mar his legacy and Europe’s destiny.</p> Sun Feb 27 11:40:29 IST 2022 volodymyr-zelenskyy-the-comic-turned-president-who-is-leading-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On October 16, 2015,</b> a sitcom named Servant of the People premiered on the Ukrainian channel 1+1. The show featured the story of a school teacher who would accidentally become the president of Ukraine, after a viral video—filmed by one of his students—showed him ranting against corruption in the country. Actor-comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy played the lead in this hit show, and that was his stepping stone to active politics and power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 31, 2018, Zelenskyy declared his candidacy against president Petro Poroshenko, who was battling anti-incumbency and corruption allegations. Zelenskyy, who had a sizable social media following, launched an anti-corruption campaign which got him votes in the presidential elections. And, on May 20, 2019, Zelenskyy became the sixth president of Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born into a Jewish family on January 25, 1978, in Kryvyi Rih—a central Ukraine city—Zelenskyy spent four years of his childhood in Mongolia, where his parents were employed. Later, the family returned to Kryvyi Rih.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1995, at the age of 17, he entered the Kyiv National Economic University to study law. The same year, he joined a local theatre club. Later he started performing with the university’s KVN (a popular Russian comedy franchise) team. Later he became actor, scriptwriter and producer with the comedy group Kvartal 95, named after a neighbourhood in Kryvyi Rih. His big break came when Kvartal 95 entered KVN’s major league.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1998 to 2003, the team performed in the major league and toured many former Soviet republics. In 2003, Zelenskyy created a production house, Studio Kvartal 95, which became one of the most successful entertainment studios in Ukraine. In the same year, he married Olena Kiyashko, who had been his schoolmate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zelenskyy worked mainly in Russian language TV shows. In 2014, when the Ukrainian ministry of culture moved to ban Russian artists, Zelenskyy came out strongly against it. Interestingly, a group of Russian politicians and artists launched a campaign to ban his works in Russia. The group was irked by media reports that said that Zelenskyy had made a hefty donation for the Ukrainian army’s operation against Russia-backed separatists in Donbas in 2014-2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of his jokes, especially those featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin, had landed him in the soup. In 2019, Russian broadcaster TNT abruptly stopped airing Servant of the People, after the first three episodes. This happened after TNT was ridiculed for censoring Zelenskyy’s joke that made references to a vulgar anti-Putin chant: “Putin Huylo”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As tensions with Russia heightened, Zelenskyy’s approval ratings slumped, and some of his “jokes” created chaos. On February 14, he made a sarcastic comment that Russia would attack Ukraine on February 16—taking a dig at other countries predicting the date of the Russian invasion. His spokesperson later clarified that it was a joke, but the comment spooked the markets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his presidential campaign days, a reporter asked Zelenskyy how he would deal with Putin. He reportedly replied: “I would speak to him at eye level.” It was a jab at Putin being at least three inches shorter than Poroshenko. But now, Ukrainians expect him to do just that.</p> Thu Feb 24 17:54:35 IST 2022 sergei-lavrov-putin-sharp-tongued-negotiator <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Russian Foreign</b> Minister Sergei Lavrov is stubborn when it comes to defending Russia’s national interests and his “smoking rights”. As permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, Lavrov said “no” to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s efforts to ban smoking at the UN headquarters in New York. He added that Annan “does not own this building”. After becoming the Russian foreign minister in 2004, Lavrov had said “no” to the west’s plans on different occasions at the UN. And hence, the nickname: “Mr Nyet (Mr No)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov was born on March 21, 1950, in Moscow. His mother worked in the Soviet ministry of foreign trade. His father was an Armenian, but Lavrov never used his father’s surname—Kalantaryan—or learned Armenian. He is, however, fluent in five languages—English, Sinhalese, Dhivehi, French and Russian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a 2019 interview, Lavrov said that his original plan was to join an engineering physics institute. But his mother pointed him to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). On a Russian talk show, Lavrov revealed that he had wanted to study French and Arabic at MGIMO, but his name appeared on the list for Sinhalese. During his student years, Lavrov wrote the anthem for the elite institute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He graduated in 1972 and was soon posted to the embassy in Sri Lanka. In 1976, he returned to Moscow, to the foreign ministry’s department of international economic organisations. In 1981, he went to New York as senior adviser to the Soviet mission at the UN. He returned to Moscow in 1988 as deputy head of the department of international economic relations. Lavrov remained at the foreign ministry when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, he went back to New York as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN. He remained there for a decade and returned in 2004 as foreign minister in Vladimir Putin’s cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov is a fan of cigars, Scotch whisky and Italian suits. His hobbies include white-water rafting, playing the guitar and writing songs and poetry. Over the last 17 years, Lavrov has steered Russia’s diplomatic relations. And, he has successfully put Russia back at the high table of international decision-making. Russia watchers say that Lavrov is not just an executor of policies dictated to him by the Kremlin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 14, he urged Putin to allow more time to solve the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy. But a week later, Putin escalated the situation by recognising the independence of Ukraine’s separatist regions. Diplomacy, however, remains the best option to prevent a disastrous war in the region and beyond—and Lavrov’s role is going to be crucial.</p> Thu Feb 24 17:51:12 IST 2022 antony-blinken-america-top-negotiator-enjoys-a-tight-bond-with-biden <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>THE NEGOTIATORS</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Antony J. Blinken</b> is someone who has the ear of US President Joe Biden. As the US secretary of state, he constantly interacts with presidents, prime ministers and monarchs. Over his three decades of public service, Blinken has served three US presidents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, unlike many others in power positions, Blinken is not a distant figure living in an ivory tower, seen and heard only at official gatherings. He is winsomely human, right from his shock of hair with a dusting of grey to the missing “h” in Anthony to the fact that he is known to many simply as Tony. In his official Twitter account, he disarmingly describes himself as “Husband, dad, (very) amateur guitarist, and the 71st Secretary of State serving under the leadership of @POTUSBiden”. The “amateur guitarist” has released two songs on Spotify under the name ‘Ablinken’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Public service runs in his family—Blinken’s father, Donald M. Blinken, was the US ambassador to Hungary and his uncle Alan Blinken was the US ambassador to Belgium. His public service began at the state department in 1993, as a special assistant in what was then called the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blinken’s professional relationship with Biden started in 2002, when he began his six-year stint as Democratic staff director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Later, in the Barack Obama administration, he served as national security adviser to then-vice president Biden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He met his future wife, Evan Ryan, in 1995 at the White House. He was a speechwriter on the National Security Council; she was a scheduler for first lady Hillary Clinton. Hillary was a guest at the Blinken-Ryan wedding in 2002, and Blinken gave a toast thanking the 40 million Americans who voted for Bill Clinton, because the election led to the marriage. Ryan is now the White House cabinet secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blinken’s stepfather, Samuel Pisar—a Holocaust survivor and noted lawyer—was an adviser to president John F. Kennedy. Pisar’s parents and younger sister Frieda died in the Holocaust; he was the only survivor of the 900 children of his Polish school. Blinken spoke about Pisar’s experiences in his Senate confirmation hearing. Blinken himself has experienced many different surroundings. As a six-year-old, he moved to Paris with his mother, Judith, and Pisar. And, that is how he became fluent in French.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later he moved back to the US, graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude and earned a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School. Before joining government service, Blinken was an attorney in New York and Paris. In 2017, he co-founded WestExec Advisors—a consulting firm focused on geopolitics and national security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over three decades and three presidential administrations, Blinken has helped shape American foreign policy. There are big challenges in front of him, but Blinken is someone who has the potential to rise to the occasion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist.</b></p> Thu Feb 24 17:47:50 IST 2022 by-threatening-to-invade-ukraine-putin-taunts-the-west <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The essence of the “Putin doctrine” is this: “Russia Matters”. The west, however, sees Russian President Vladimir Putin as an inscrutable, stealthy and sinister Cold War ninja. His grievance is that since the Cold War ended, a triumphalist west has neither treated Russia with respect nor taken its security concerns seriously. Instead, NATO has steadily advanced into Russia’s “sphere of influence”. William Burns, CIA director and former US ambassador to Russia, warned that Ukraine’s entry into NATO would be the “brightest of all redlines for Putin”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To signal that he will invade Ukraine if this redline is crossed, Putin has more than a lakh soldiers almost encircling the country and has forced the US to the negotiating table. Said Russian foreign policy expert Andrei Kortunov, “The military buildup is aimed at getting Washington’s attention and he has got it.” President Joe Biden said he expected Russia to invade Ukraine in February. Admiral Sir Antony David Radakin, the UK’s chief of the defence staff, warned that a Russian invasion “would be on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.” There would be mass casualties, waves of refugees and occupation or partitioning of Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US and Britain have evacuated all non-essential staff from their embassies in Kyiv. But Europeans do not share the Anglo-American threat assessments. Their staff remain in Ukraine. To America’s embarrassment, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, too, did not agree that an invasion was imminent and urged everyone, including Biden, to calm down as war cries were spooking investors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts continue to debate what Putin really wants in Ukraine. Russian military expert Dmitri Trenin said Putin was not keen on annexing more territory, and that his aim was to stop NATO’s expansion. Putin wants to bring Ukraine back into the Russian orbit and he believes that “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia”. Whether Putin invades or not depends on western concessions to his demands, which includes halting NATO’s eastward enlargement, freezing further expansion of its military infrastructure in the former Soviet territory, ending western military assistance to Ukraine and removing intermediate-range missiles in Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NATO dismissed the maximalist demands as a “non-starter”. If anything, it began fast-tracking Romania’s long-pending request to have a NATO battlegroup, like Poland and the Baltic countries have. Said a European diplomat, “The west is not threatened by Russia as in the days of the Cold War, but it cannot afford the perception of defeat.” Biden has talked the carrot-and-stick language of diplomacy and deterrence, but striking a deal is hard because it would make him look as if he caved in to the Russian strongman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukraine’s chance of joining NATO is dim, as not all members are enthusiastic. They do not wish to alienate Russia or to wage a war in Ukraine. NATO’s collective defence doctrine, which means that an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all, is a huge burden. Two months ago, the US state department officials reportedly told Ukraine that its NATO membership was unlikely to be approved in the next decade. “Despite the western media’s predilection for depicting Putin as reckless, he is cautious and calculating, particularly when it comes to the use of force,” said Trenin. But by amassing troops, Putin has raised the stakes for NATO’s continued eastward expansion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Soviet Union’s collapse enabled NATO’s unchecked expansion into the former Soviet republics, the Baltics and eastern Europe. Released from Moscow’s political and military grip, these countries yearned for western-style democracy, freedom and prosperity. But Putin was convinced that the pro-democracy revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine were CIA-inspired. At the 2007 Munich Security conference, Putin asked rhetorically, “We have the right to ask, ‘Against whom is this expansion directed?’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even some NATO members had misgivings about the expansion. In 1994, when the four Visegrád countries—the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia—were joining the alliance, US president Bill Clinton warned that NATO could not “afford to draw a new line between the east and the west that would create a self-fulfilling prophecy of future confrontation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NATO’s announcement at the Bucharest summit held in April 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine were aspiring members ratcheted up Putin’s threat perceptions. “This was like poking the bear with a stick,” said Alan West, member of the House of Lords and former head of the Royal Navy. Putin invaded Georgia four months later and seized Ossetia. In 2014, he annexed Ukraine’s Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. He also seized Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas that borders Russia. Putin asserted that he would not stomach Ukraine being turned into “a springboard against Russia”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Putin, now is a good time to crash the Ukrainian springboard. The US is deeply polarised, its politics dysfunctional and its president weak. Moreover, its international stature is dented by the Afghanistan pullout. Seasoned Putin is dealing with his fifth US president. Europe is divided when it comes to relations with Russia. Eastern states like Poland and the Baltics fear a resurgent Russia, while Germany seeks cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Author and Russia expert John Lough outlines the deep commercial, political, cultural and intellectual networks between German and Russian elites. Britain, meanwhile, threatens severe sanctions and flexes muscles in tandem with the US on Russia, but the Boris Johnson government is keen to protect “Londongrad”, so nicknamed due to the huge investments by Russian oligarchs in the British capital. Both Biden and Johnson are battling domestic crises. Europe is also mired in domestic challenges. Oil and natural gas exports give Russia considerable leverage over a Europe reeling under high energy prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia has another trump card—China. US sanctions have brought the two countries closer. Ukraine is to Russia what Taiwan is to China. The greatest 21st century foreign policy challenge for the US is its strategic rival China, not Russia. Fighting both is hardly smart. To China’s advantage, Biden is likely to be preoccupied with Russia. Analysts say that should war erupt in Ukraine, it will weaken Russia, the US and Europe. The only one to emerge stronger will be China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Integral to the Putin doctrine is the belief that the post-Cold War liberal order has run its course and the future is likely to be a multipolar world with the US, Europe, Russia and China each with its own “sphere of influence”. Putin has inspired authoritarian leaders worldwide. As recent events in Belarus and Kazakhstan show, Russia is the go-to power for embattled autocrats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A keen student of history, Putin sees 2022 as the perfect year to launch his “Russia Matters” doctrine. The year marks the centenary of the founding of the Soviet Union. Putin sees Russia as the natural heir of the Soviet state. To make Russia great again, he wants to reassert Russian hegemony in erstwhile Soviet republics and regain influence at the global decision-making table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia has strengths—an advanced military with hypersonic missiles, nuclear weapons and veto power in the UN. It is also an energy and technology powerhouse. Still, today’s Russia pales in comparison with Soviet Union. Its economy is about the size of Italy’s. To make up for Russia’s inferiority to the US in conventional military and economic might, Putin must be “innovative, catch the west off guard and fight dirty,” said Fiona Hill, who has worked for three American presidents. Putin projects himself as a macho, shirtless, Cold War pin-up commando. But he is also a hybrid warrior and a cyber ninja, modernising the Soviet bag of tricks and treats, employing spinmeisters, fanning divisions, poisoning defectors, spreading disinformation and spinning conspiracies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To say Putin sows discord in the west would be giving him too much credit. These differences pre-date Putin. Spawned in troll farms, Russia has weaponised American social media platforms and technologies to drive fringe ideas into the mainstream, making fractiousness more visible and vocal. Russian email hacks, ransomware attacks, cyber wars on infrastructure grids, banks, governments, legislatures and interference in western elections have been well-documented. Putin has supported anti-American and Eurosceptic groups in Europe, backed far left and right populist movements and abetted private sector’s thirst for profit. Despite their political leaders’ disapproval, Italian and German business delegations recently met Putin at the Kremlin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The west sees Putin as a wily, divide-and-rule chess player who plots far ahead. Nobody wants war, not even the Russians. But dissent is muted, if not silent. “Putin’s Russia is a one-man show,” said Hill. Over the past 20 years, Putin has strengthened himself—quashing dissent, enriching his coffers and entrenching himself by amending the constitution to potentially remain president until 2036. If fate bows to his will, Putin has enough time to implement his doctrine for the world to acknowledge that “Russia Matters”.</p> Sun Feb 06 11:34:05 IST 2022 india-walks-a-diplomatic-tightrope-on-ukraine-ambassador-v-b-soni <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the legacy of Ukraine was fraught with unresolved historical issues. The Russians and the Ukrainians have had a troubled relationship for centuries, with big brother Russia treating Ukraine as a colony. After gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine finally had a chance to assert its identity.</p> <p>The West tried to lure it away from the Russian influence by throwing a broad hint at possible association with the European Union. For dismantling nuclear silos on its land voluntarily, Ukraine was given cash grants from time to time. Accordingly, it dared take an aggressive stance on regional issues, at variance with Russia’s stated position.</p> <p>With such pinpricks, Russia started stirring things up in Ukraine through Russian-speaking ethnic groups, leading to armed skirmishes and casualties. Ukraine used to siphon off the gas for domestic use from Russian pipelines to Germany. The payment issue for that had remained unresolved, as the exact volume could not be determined.&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia had a foreboding that the west would strike at its vulnerable soft underbelly. Enters Crimea in the equation. Ukraine had leased it out for Russia’s crucial naval base in the Black Sea.</p> <p>After being part of the Russian Empire for a long period, the Crimea region was “gifted” to Ukraine in 1954—to commemorate the 300th anniversary of a treaty between the Cossacks and the Muscovy authorities. It is claimed that this transfer of control was facilitated by Nikita Khrushchev, the Ukrainian-origin leader who was then at the helm of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as was his successor Leonid Brezhnev.</p> <p>To spike Ukraine’s intent to cross over to the western camp, Russia took over the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Thankfully there was not much bloodshed or direct action between the two adversaries. After this unilateral action from Russia in violation of international law, Ukraine went to NATO grouping for support and help. Russia has been ignoring all warnings and threats since then.&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia's next move was to place military infrastructure in Ukraine's troubled border region—Donetsk and Luhansk. The west now wants Russia to withdraw its forces from the region and return Crimea to Ukraine.</p> <p>Russia is not in a position to take on its own the mighty US and the European Union. By putting its full weight behind the Ukraine issue, is the US not going for the overkill--which would be detrimental to its interests and commitments, especially in the strategically vulnerable Indo-Pacific region? China is bound to exploit the vacuum so created to its best advantage.&nbsp;</p> <p>From India’s point of view, the crisis in Ukraine has grave implications. With Russia getting closer to China, India’s legitimate concerns on the border with China may well be ignored by Russia.</p> <p>This is a crucial time as India has been actively involved in the Quad grouping (along with the US, Japan and Australia) in the Indo-Pacific. The direct participation of the US in Ukrainian affairs, at the cost of its interests in the Indo-Pacific, will be nothing less than catastrophic for India. There is even the threat of India losing the sanctions waiver it enjoys from the US for the acquisition of the S-400 missile system from Russia.</p> <p>India hopes that the US would keep a close watch on China’s activity in the South China Sea, the issue of Taiwan and security in its neighbourhood.&nbsp;</p> <p>India has to take a balanced stand in the Russia-Ukraine standoff. More than 60 per cent of India's defence supplies come from Russia. Spare parts for MiG fighters and other defence equipment come also from Ukraine. Our supply lines must not face any disruptions.</p> <p>India’s relations with Ukraine have come a long way from my days as the ambassador of India to Ukraine 25 years ago. We had a direct relationship with the Soviet-era design bureau in Ukraine for the supply of strategically vital components and had close links in science and technology and R&amp;D sectors.</p> <p>Bilateral ties, back then, suffered a setback because of two unfortunate developments. Against our strident protests, Ukraine gave Pakistan 320 T-80 UD battle tanks. They also supplied guns for Pakistan’s China-made tanks. Even more disappointing was Ukraine’s stand against our 1998 nuclear tests. It was one of the few countries to have come out openly against India. After explaining our compulsions, followed by some intense lobbying at the top level, Ukraine toned down its rhetoric.</p> <p>Indo-Ukrainian relations have been on the upswing since then. The Indian pharma sector made a spectacular entry in Ukraine at the turn of the century. Bilateral trade has been growing. The Indian student population in Ukraine is now more than 18,000. Their security has to be kept in mind while dealing with the unfolding scenario.</p> <p>On Crimea, India had expressed “concern”, but it also talked of “legitimate Russian interests”. On January 31, India abstained from a procedural vote at the UN Security Council to decide whether to hold a discussion on the Ukrainian crisis. India called for “a solution that can provide for immediate de-escalation of tensions, taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries concerned and aimed towards securing long-term peace and security in the region and beyond”. As tensions between the west and Russia grow, India will have to walk a diplomatic tightrope.</p> <p>India does not want the US to divert its attention and resources from the Indo-Pacific because of the Ukraine crisis. China exploiting this situation to its advantage will give sleepless nights to the Indian strategic community.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>The author was India's ambassador to Ukraine.</b></i></p> Sun Feb 06 11:32:49 IST 2022 we-didnt-hesitate-to-express-views-firmly-in-unsc-india-representative-to-un <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT HAS BEEN A YEAR</b> since India took its place in the Security Council for the eighth time as an elected member. But certain things have not changed. The pandemic is still raging. The world remains divided and polarised on issues of global importance. Conflicts on the agenda of the Council have persisted and new ones have emerged. Terrorism has not only continued unabated but expanded its tentacles to new areas, especially in Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The highlight of India’s presence in the Security Council, so far, was certainly our presidency in August 2021. It was a presidency that saw several historic firsts. The prime minister of India for the first time chaired a high-level Security Council meeting. For the first time, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on maritime security, capturing its holistic concept, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation, piracy, terrorism at sea, etc.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given our predominant role in UN peacekeeping over the years, where India continues to be the largest troop contributing country, we have given UN peacekeeping a strong focus during our stint. The external affairs minister [Dr S. Jaishankar] chaired two sessions, one of which was on Technology and Peacekeeping, which was another first. After nearly five decades, India piloted a resolution ‘protecting the protectors’ calling for accountability for crimes against peacekeepers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To “Walk The Talk” on our commitment to protect UN peacekeepers, we contributed $1.67 million to launch the UNITE Aware technology platform. We readily responded to the request of the UN Secretary General [Antonio Guterres] and gifted two lakh Covid vaccines to cover every peacekeeper, in every peacekeeping mission, throughout the world, in addition to upgrading two of our hospitals in Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where India’s interests are involved, it goes without saying that we did not hesitate to put forth our views firmly. It was in August, during our presidency, that the security situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorated, which demanded that the Security Council act without delay. We did so with the urgency it deserved. After two meetings and three press statements, a crucial resolution was adopted under our presidency, in the session chaired by the foreign secretary [Harsh Vardhan Shringla].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This resolution—2593—encapsulates the collective sentiments of the international community. It demands assurances that Afghan soil will not be used for terrorism against other countries and that the authorities in Kabul will act against all terrorists, including those designated by the [UN Security Council resolution] 1267 committee; it presses for inclusive governance in Afghanistan; seeks safeguards on treatment of minorities, women and children. These are the minimum expectations of the international community, and our approach to Afghanistan will be guided by these commitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, as a long-standing partner of Afghanistan and as chair of the Taliban Sanctions Committee, we are also working closely with our partners to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. We have delivered life-saving humanitarian assistance and vaccines bilaterally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On our eastern front, India has played the role of a bridge, bringing together divergent views on Myanmar in the Council. We have expressed our support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ leading role. We have also urged reverting to the process of democratic transition, for cessation of violence and for immediate release of leaders. India has been consistent in its support for transitions to democracy, whether in Myanmar or in Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Countering terrorism is an important national priority for us in the UN. During our presidency, the external affairs minister chaired a briefing on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Dae’sh. Across regional files, we have consistently highlighted the importance of remaining united against terrorism and have warned against diluting our collective stand by justifying terror. We cannot afford to go back to the pre-9/11 era where the world was divided into “my terrorist” and “your terrorist”. India also helped in shaping the global counter-terrorism strategy in the General Assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming to Africa, where the Security Council has the largest focus, India has sought to bring balance to the debates, given our historical friendship with Africa. We have made our views known against what we, and the African countries, perceive as unjust attempts to continue to burden countries with unrealistic benchmarks on their sanctions regimes. We have called for greater commitment from the international community to assist Africa fight terrorism and make “African solutions for African problems” a reality through sustained financial and logistics support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have been chairing the Libya Sanctions Committee in the Security Council, and have been supportive of the political process that is underway in Libya. In the Middle East, we have leveraged our strong and historical links to put forward our views, inter alia, on Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Syria, we have stood firmly for enhanced and effective humanitarian assistance to all Syrians throughout the country without discrimination, politicisation or preconditions, while fully respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We have fully supported Columbia in their pursuit for peace. We also continue to be steadfast in our support of the women, peace and security agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On issues affecting the developing world, India has been a strong voice to protect their interests. We firmly opposed the attempt by some countries to bring the issue of climate change into the Security Council under the guise of linking it with security. We saw this attempt for what it was—to have the Security Council take over the climate change agenda and take decisions without the involvement of most developing countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It sought to undermine the hard-won consensus and balance in climate change architecture under the principles and provisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and hand over responsibility to a body, which neither works through consensus nor is reflective of the interests of the developing countries. We support real climate action and serious climate justice, and call on developed countries to fulfil their commitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we end half tenure in the Security Council, our steadfast commitment to safeguard the interests of the developing world is reflected in our performance. Our performance again vindicates why the world needs India to be at the horseshoe table permanently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Ambassador Tirumurti is Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.</b></p> Sun Dec 26 10:26:07 IST 2021 it-can-no-longer-be-called-france-if-demons-from-hell-get-away-hawking-hate <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HE IS A HECTOR</b> from hell, hounding his victims with hate-filled abuse. Immigration is his cause célèbre and he enjoys insulting Muslims, Arabs and Africans. Best-selling author and television commentator Eric Zemmour has become a household name. An aggressive nationalist, the far-right Zemmour, 63, is trying to become the next president of France. His campaign slogan is the famous Napoleon quote “Impossible is not French.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People see Zemmour not as Napoleon’s avatar but as a French Trump. Both compulsively bait “minorities”. Both are rabble-rousing populists, anti-mainstream media, non-politicians who claim to be the “enemy of political correctness”. Like Trump, Zemmour hopes to catapult from small screen to big political stage, promising to lower taxes and to slash immigration. But there are differences. Zemmour is an orator with argumentative skills, while Trump’s polemics never went beyond name calling: “Crooked Hillary”, “Lying Ted”, “Sleepy Joe”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zemmour is compared with Brexiteers’ Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson for his Euro-scepticism. To keep migrants out, Zemmour wants to reimpose border controls within the EU.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zemmour’s main grouse is the “demographic tsunami of Arabs, Africans and Muslims who are violent and incompatible with French society. France is not France because it is full of immigrants. French people have become foreigners in their own country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He peddles “Great Replacement”—a controversial theory developed by French philosopher Renaud Camus—that with the complicity of the European liberal elite, immigrant hordes, especially Muslims, are replacing the white, ethnic French. Though popular among supremacists, even far-right leaders like Marine Le Pen shun this theory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he cannot find facts, Zemmour conjures them. “Most drug traffickers are blacks and Arabs… unaccompanied migrant children are “robbers”, “murderers” and “rapists”… 90 to 95 per cent of juvenile delinquents are Africans. This is reality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the “real” reality is that France does not maintain ethnicity-based statistics. About French Muslims he says, “In some neighbourhoods, we do not live the French way but the Muslim way. Most women are covered, men wear outfits like the Prophet in the seventh century, they consider you a whore if you wear a miniskirt, they watch young men to see if they drink alcohol. We can no longer call this France.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opponents agree that this can no longer be called France if “demons from hell” get away hawking hate and division. How does a xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynist become popular in France, a nation that prides itself for its secular, liberal values? The fact is that his anti-immigrant tirade has traction not only with a core base, but the wider population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says hairdresser Rene Dubois, “Our old Parisian suburbs have become immigrant ghettos. When I take the bus, I hardly hear anyone speaking French.” Says surgeon Jacques Ohana, “Zemmour has put immigration centre-stage. Whether he’s elected or not, he’s won the campaign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If elected president, Zemmour promises the “reconquest of the greatest country in the world”. Like “Replacement”, “Reconquest” is a loaded term, harkening to the medieval 800-years long “Reconquista” period when Christian forces drove out Muslim rulers from southwest Europe’s Iberian peninsula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zemmour goes back in centuries not only in restoring national grandeur, but also in his attitude to women as mere objects of carnal desire. Said he, “Before feminism, a young bus driver could slide a lustful hand over a charming female’s behind without her suing him for sexual harassment.” Zemmour fought but failed to prevent the tabloid Closer from exposing his extramarital relationship with his 28-year old adviser Sarah Knafo, with whom he is expecting a child. Closer’s headline snickered “Zemmour to become a daddy in 2022.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The irony is that Zemmour is the son of immigrants. He is Algerian by descent, his Jewish parents fleeing into France during the 1954-62 Algerian war. For an immigrant to aggressively block other immigrants seems hypocritical. But there is a well-known phenomenon: “Close the door after me”. Zemmour failed twice to get admission into the prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the elite alma mater of most French presidents, including Emmanuel Macron. But Zemmour is intellectually sharp. Political analyst Bruno Cautrès says, “He is a good communicator with a passion for oratorical jousting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zemmour began as a print journalist, then graduated to CNews—a right-wing television network a la Fox News—attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers daily. He has been convicted for hate speech and has multiple cases. “My adversaries want my political death, journalists want my social death and jihadists want my death,” he declaimed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His Islam-immigrant bashing helps him invade the far-right space occupied by another president-hopeful, Rassemblement National’s Marine Le Pen. Voters seem fatigued with Le Pen, increasingly seen as a poor debater, a repeat loser and too “mainstream” for radicals. But working classes support her, especially the poor, young voters with temporary jobs who feel cheated by globalisation. Zemmour is supported by businessmen, shop-owners and older, bourgeois men who feel French culture and family values are threatened by immigration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A “Great Rapprochement” between Zemmour and Le Pen would secure them a third of the votes and presidential victory. If not, they split the right-wing vote bank and destroy each other. But rapprochement seems unlikely because they hate each other. Zemmour calls Le Pen pathetic; she calls him arrogant. Precisely because his opponents are divided, analysts expect Macron—still a divisive figure—to win even though he faces a fresh challenge from the centre-right candidate Les Républicains’ Valerie Pécresse. She projects herself as a combination of Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel. That seems a contradiction in terms aimed to win votes left, right and centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Latest polls show Zemmour is losing steam. Macron has 23 per cent of the vote, Pécresse leapfrogs to 20 per cent, Le Pen 15 per cent and Zemmour 14 per cent. Usually in France, the least hated figure wins. The most rejected candidate loses. A backlash brews—59 per cent of French voters now reject Zemmour. Bombast aside, like Napoleon, Zemmour may yet discover “impossible” can be very French.</p> Sun Dec 26 09:20:37 IST 2021 us-china-tussle-on-ideology-technology-and-geopolitics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN JOE BIDEN</b> addressed his first news conference as president on March 25, it took a while before he was asked a question on China. The president did not mince words. “China wants to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world. But that is not going to happen on my watch,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden won the presidential race by running as the antithesis of Donald Trump. But on China, his playbook is remarkably similar to that of Trump’s. The Biden administration has made it clear that its China policy will be marked by “stiff competition” across sectors. As President Xi Jinping seems to have cemented his hold over party and government, there are three broad areas where US-China competition will be felt the most: ideology, technology and geopolitics. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Chinese expert at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the US and China were already in a cold war. “There is fierce technological competition and geostrategic and ideological rivalries. But this will be a new type of cold war because of the level of interdependence between China and the west,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the ideological front, Biden will host a virtual ‘Summit for Democracy’ on December 9 and 10, bringing together leaders from around 100 countries. For the US, it is important to show that the existing system of democratic capitalism still works. The financial crisis of 2008, the chaotic Trump presidency and the growing polarisation within American politics have made Biden’s hand weaker, while China’s economic growth and political stability have shown that democracy is not a prerequisite for development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the US portrays the ideological battle as one between democracy and autocracy, for China, it is about “effective versus ineffective governance”, and it is ready to offer an alternative to the world. China says its method of selecting leaders is much better than the democratic system. It identifies promising young people who are tasked with running small towns, then big cities, followed by provinces. Only those who prove their mettle will be promoted to national leadership roles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As sinologist Jude Blanchette tells The New Yorker, Xi’s narrative is that the “western democracy is a path to infighting, polarisation and institutional atrophy”, while the “Chinese political system is demonstratively superior in its ability to deliver practical governance outcomes”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate future of the ideological battle will, however, depend a lot on Europe. China could leverage its deep interlinkages with the European economy and could make use of the long-standing differences between the US and Europe over trade, technology and taxes. Still, Biden’s outreach efforts and Xi’s increasing authoritarian tendencies could help the US. “Europe will be a challenge for China,” said Avinash Godbole, Chinese expert at OP Jindal Global University, Haryana. “The UK has changed its policy and Germany, too, is moving away.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When the history of the 21st century is written, much of it will be centred right here in the Indo-Pacific,” said US Vice President Kamala Harris, in a speech aboard a US combat ship in Singapore during her Indo-Pacific tour in August. The region is of critical importance for the US. The world’s two most populous states (China and India) and the two most populous Muslim majority nations (Indonesia and Pakistan) are in the Indo-Pacific.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The region is home to seven of the world’s ten largest standing armies. Nearly 60 per cent of the global maritime trade passes through the Indo-Pacific. According to the US department of defence, “Indo-Pacific is the most consequential region for America’s future”. China, it says, seeks to reorder it by military modernisation and predatory economic practices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For China, however, expanding its influence in its extended neighbourhood is a matter of strategic and economic necessity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is Xi’s signature project, is essentially an endeavour to establish a China-centric maritime and continental zone of influence in the Indo-Pacific.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also at the centre of the Indo-Pacific conundrum is Taiwan. China, of late, has been quite vocal about annexing Taiwan, which would allow it to project power into the western pacific, threaten Japan and take over the province’s high value semiconductor sector. The fate of Taiwan will also determine America’s credibility in the Indo-Pacific.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Biden has so far ticked all the boxes in the region by bolstering the US presence through the Quad (India, Japan, Australia and the US) and AUKUS (Australia, the UK and the US) summits, while also ensuring through the summit with Xi that the differences will not escalate into open confrontation,” said Uma Purushothaman, US expert at the Central University of Kerala. “This is something that will reassure countries in the region which are unwilling to accept Chinese hegemony, but do not want to get caught in the US-China rivalry.” That rivalry is only likely to intensify as China woos the region with its economic might, while the US relies on its security credentials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 2, Nicolas Chaillan, the first chief software officer of the US air force, put in his papers, saying he could not bear to watch China overtake the US in technological transformation. “We have no fighting chance against China in 15-20 years,” he told the Financial Times, listing China’s advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and cyber capabilities. Although some of Chaillan’s claims sound far-fetched, a US-China technological battle is brewing, and it could well be the final frontier of the confrontation between the two superpowers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a report by the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, America’s status as a global superpower depends on maintaining a lead in five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, bioscience, semiconductors and autonomous systems. “These sectors produce technologies that will determine whether America remains the world’s leading superpower,” the report said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden’s response to the Chinese challenge has been a slew of legislations aimed at increasing research and development spending on high-tech industries. Optimists in the Biden administration hope that with the Innovation and Competition bill, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law and the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better bill, the US will be able to perform better in the technology race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese government is, meanwhile, taking control of critical high tech industries and tech giants such as Huawei and Alibaba. It also plans to reduce its reliance on foreign suppliers. In 2020, China imported microchips worth $350 billion. It has also learned the lessons from American punitive strikes against Huawei and ZTE.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to John Lee, senior analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin, one of the reasons for the tightening policy towards China’s internet platform giants is to shift resources towards strategic technology development to counter the growing pressure on China’s access to such technology. “Platform giants like Alibaba and Baidu are leading China’s push into cutting-edge chip design, supporting its development of industries and partnering with Chinese defence conglomerates,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US, too, is looking at minimising its reliance on products and technologies with Chinese connections. “The best illustration of the new cold war is the attempt by the US and China to decouple their economies,” said Cabestan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the intense strategic competition, the US and China could find avenues of cooperation in critical areas such as climate science and global health challenges. The Xi-Biden virtual summit held on November 15 was a promising start. Moreover, despite their decoupling attempts, the two countries will remain intertwined economically in the foreseeable future. Bilateral ties are, therefore, likely to follow the trajectory predicted by Biden’s Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in his first policy address on March 3: “Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be. The common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength.”</p> Sun Dec 12 17:23:48 IST 2021 joe-biden-diplomatic-appointments-hit-a-roadblock <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It will be a year into his inauguration, soon. Yet, US president Joe Biden has appointed ambassadors to only eight countries so far. Much of the world with which the US has diplomatic ties remains without an American ambassador. This includes India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Japan, Australia, the UK and Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, Australia and Japan are members of the Quad, a new grouping that the US is bullish about. Australia and the UK form part of the new military trilateral, AUKUS, and are, therefore, important. China and Russia, as the main rivals of the US, are key appointments. So is Pakistan, important from its regional location.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Various domestic reasons have resulted in the slow progress with ambassadorial appointments. These range from domestic politics, both within the Democratic Party—differences between Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—and from the Republicans in the senate, who have been successful in blocking many appointments. US ambassadors are political appointees, even those who hail from the foreign service cadre. And, the process for clearing a person for an ambassadorial post is a prolonged one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s name, for instance, was announced on June 9 as the next envoy to India, but his nomination was sent to the senate only a month later, on July 13. It has been pending before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for five months. He is not likely to come to New Delhi before the New Year, given that the holiday mood is on in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even by US standards, however, the delay has been long enough for US commentators to write about. Garcetti’s predecessor Kenneth Juster’s appointment, too, took time, despite the importance Donald Trump gave to India. Yet, Juster was in New Delhi by November 2017, within 10 months of Trump taking over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The main obstruction to senate clearances comes from two Republican senators, Ted Cruz of Texas (who made a presidential bid in 2016) and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Both reportedly believe that sticking to their stances will further their political ambitions. Cruz wants sanctions imposed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany, while Hawley wants all top security officials to resign over their (mis)handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “With a tight balance of power in the senate, such holds are relatively easy to implement,” said Rick Rossow, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC. “Political appointments—even those nominees with a great deal of foreign policy experience—have seen more serious delays.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Democrats had not created unnecessary obstacles for Trump, clearing at least the non-controversial appointments. Thus, by this time into Trump’s tenure, around 40 nominations had been cleared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inter-party differences are not the only spoiler. Biden’s team has been slow to name people for these important positions, with just 78 nominations so far, of which only eight have been confirmed (less than 10 per cent). Trump had a 70 per cent rate for the same time, while Barack Obama had 77 per cent. “The delay is systemic, it happens when there is a ‘spoils system’ through which top positions are given out,” said Anil Trigunayat, India’s former ambassador to Malta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden’s difficulties clearly show that his honeymoon period was short lived, said Harsh V. Pant from the Observer Research Foundation. “The Republicans are getting resurgent, eyeing the midterm polls next year. Biden’s strained ties with Harris also come across in the slow pace at which the nominations for plum appointments are being made.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Domestically, US leaders feel that this systemic lethargy is impacting the nation’s diplomatic outreach. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had earlier said that her trip to China could have been more successful had she had the expertise of the nominees on board. The nominee for Beijing, R. Nicholas Burns, has not got a senate clearance yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An ambassador is the representative of the president, and therefore, enjoys a high level of access in the host country. In many nations, the chargé d’affaires or deputy chief of mission does not have the same access. While an ambassador can deal directly at the ministerial level, others have to deal at the level of bureaucrats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So how damaging for its diplomacy has the slow rate of ambassadorial appointments been for the US? Observers in the US feel that had there been an ambassador in Paris at the time when AUKUS was announced, France’s ruffled feathers would have been soothed quickly. Most others, however, disagree. They believe that with important diplomatic dealings now being done at the highest levels, the absence of an ambassador does not have such a damaging effect. “Biden picked up the phone and spoke to [Emmanuel] Macron himself,” said Trigunayat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, whether a relationship is important because of the friendship element, or the frictions, diplomacy these days is led at the highest levels, and on a personal level. Appointments, therefore, may ease the logistics, but do not vastly impact the outcomes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From the Indian perspective, Garcetti’s (providing he gets confirmed) delayed arrival will barely impact the bilateral, which is “at its best relationship since independence”, said Surendra Kumar, president, Indo-American Friendship Association. Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have already met twice, and have interacted almost once every two months over the telephone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The past year has seen a string of high level US visits to India, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Deputy Secretary Sherman, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, the new special envoy to Afghanistan Thomas West as well as trade delegations. “Domestic issues in appointments are not going to impact overseas diplomacy, especially when there are so many institutional mechanisms for interaction,” said Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DCMs of Russia, the US and the UK are very special people and are treated almost on par with ambassadors, said Trigunayat. This is the same for India’s DCMs in those countries. Yet, an ambassador is an important appointment, and when that ambassador is close to the president, it gives the bilateral an additional fillip.</p> Thu Dec 09 18:06:18 IST 2021 tibetan-president-penpa-tsering-priority-is-to-restart-talks-with-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Penpa Tsering, sikyong (president) of the Dharamshala-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), has plans to expose the growing Chinese belligerence along the Indian border. The hawkish leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile has ordered his ministry of state security to prepare a report on the activities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Tibetan plateau, which he plans to present to the Chinese embassy in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, Tsering wants the Indian government to have a structured policy for Tibetans living on the frontline in the Himalayas. He wants them to be settled in the empty stretches in the far-flung areas, which he says can help detect and prevent PLA intrusions like the one that happened in the Galwan valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking exclusively to THE WEEK, Tsering, who was born and raised in a Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe in Karnataka, said his first task as sikyong was to restart the Sino-Tibetan dialogue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How true are the reports about China inducting Tibetans into the PLA to fight the Indian Army on the Himalayas?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ First of all, [China needs to] trust the Tibetans to put weapons in their hands. If there is no trust, they can also fight back. I know of earlier attempts to recruit people from the Qinghai province to serve in the military in East Turkestan (Xinjiang). But I don’t trust the Chinese to recruit Tibetans to their army and send them to the Indian border, because Tibetans have too much respect for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is the land of Aryabhata and we have a guru-chela (teacher-disciple) relationship. Tibetans feel they are an extension of Indian culture. It is only the food and clothing that come from China; the inner peace and spirit is derived from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, I believe it is Chinese propaganda. As the Special Frontier Force (SFF, consisting of Tibetan soldiers) is on the Indian side, the Chinese are trying to send a message that Tibetans will be fighting each other, which is absolutely false.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the role of Tibetans as the first line of defence on the border?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Tibetans have always played an important role in defending India’s borders—whether it was the Bangladesh war, the Kargil war or the skirmishes in the Galwan valley. Earlier, it was not known, but now the role played by the SFF is well documented in the media. We are very proud of them. India gave us a home to stay; for those of us who were born here, it is our first home. I feel the Indian government can prepare a structured policy for ordinary Tibetans living on the frontline in far-flung stretches, because they continue to play the role of defenders of the Himalayas. It is not easy terrain, but their perseverance and commitment is exemplary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your main objectives as sikyong?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My first objective is to restart the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. Second, we want to reach out to governments around the world. Third, we want to maintain close relations between the Tibetan diaspora and the CTA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you been approached by the Chinese government to restart the dialogue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is a fact that the Tibetan situation cannot be resolved without talking to the Chinese government. There are some feelers from those who claim [to be close to Communist Party of China], but we prefer an official channel of communication. We have been taken for a ride for too long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some people claim to have contacts and they claim to be the best channel to reach out to the Chinese leadership, but we have to check their credibility. Till we reach a resolution with the Chinese government through a “middle-way approach”—based on non-violence and a negotiated, mutually beneficial, lasting solution for Tibet—we will be focusing a lot more on understanding the reality of the situation inside Tibet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you analyse how China deals with Uyghurs or with Hong Kong, you will see it is probably the only country that spends more money on internal security than external security, which is symptomatic of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. There is a trust deficit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are planning to make a representation to the Chinese government explaining why the policies and programmes being implemented in Tibet are not helpful to China as a state and also for the Tibetan people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the situation in Tibet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Before 2008, we used to receive about 2,500 to 3,500 Tibetans every year. This has decreased because of the restrictions in Tibet. Many agents who brought Tibetans, over the Himalayas through Nepal, have been caught and imprisoned. Incentives are being offered to (betray) those who are fleeing. Last year, only five people came. There was also the pandemic. This year, nine people, including two children, have left Tibet. But they may not have much information on what is happening, as they might not have had exposure outside their pin code.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the trade war and China’s belligerence on the border, Chinese communication app WeChat was heavily used by Tibetans to communicate with families inside Tibet. Now only those who can afford to use VPNs (virtual private networks) get through. But they still need to be careful not to say anything sensitive, otherwise their relatives inside Tibet will suffer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Electronic surveillance has increased and hi-tech gadgetry is deployed to track movements, so any political activity will be caught at once. Recently we heard Chinese authorities are forcing families to remove prayer altars from homes and school children are banned from going to monasteries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest information is that Chinese officials are visiting Tibetan families to ask them if they have relatives outside China. Those contacts are being shared with consulates in different countries to call on the Tibetans. So, the control is not just within China, but going beyond its borders to control Tibetans in exile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the international community responding to your concerns?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The United Nations is willing to listen to us. The world has seen the Uyghurs getting harassed, so even if we do not have complete evidence, the UN understands that many lives are at stake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will travel to the US in January and the idea is to work with like-minded countries. I am also looking forward to establishing relationships with new governments like Germany. We are also seeing a slight turnaround in European and African mindsets about viewing China as an intruder. China has been using carrot-and-stick and divide-and-rule policies in European countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lot of concern about China’s ‘United Front’ operations (aimed at “co-opting and neutralising sources of potential opposition to the Communist Party”) extending beyond China’s borders and even meddling with domestic affairs of other countries, influencing media houses and financial and educational institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is it true that the number of Tibetan monks in monasteries is declining?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The numbers are dwindling. Earlier, of the 40,000 monks and nuns in India, Nepal and Bhutan, about 58 per cent were Indians and 42 per cent Tibetans. Today, the numbers suggest that 65.5 per cent are Indians, mostly from the Himalayan region, sharing similar culture and traditions, and 33.5 per cent are Tibetans. Around one per cent are non-Tibetans and non-Indians. So, no new Tibetans are joining Tibetan monasteries and institutions. But Tibetan Buddhism remains vibrant since it does not belong only to Tibetans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there any plan to integrate the Tibetan settlements in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are around 1.3 lakh Tibetan refugees in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Of these, around 55 per cent are in India. Eventually, the integration of the Tibetan settlements has to happen, and it is going to be a tough job. People have built houses in different places and asking them to move will be difficult. We will not force anyone to move, we are only creating opportunities to move from a vulnerable community to more compact communities. Around 4,000 refugees still do not have homes. I am travelling all over to understand people’s needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted the Dalai Lama on his 86th birthday this year. Will they meet soon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Dalai Lama has to decide when he will start meeting the public officially again. Since he loves human relationships so much, he will definitely be looking forward to (meeting people).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His Holiness is keen to meet the prime minister again and have engagements with Indian universities to see how India’s ancient wisdom can be combined with modern education and contribute to peace and harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think India needs to state its position publicly on the reincarnation of His Holiness?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Some day, India will have to make its position clear. Since His Holiness lives here and even the United States has recognised the absolute authority of His Holiness and Tibetans to select the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, New Delhi will have to voice its opinion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ For the first time, a political crisis hit the Tibetan government-in-exile. Does it not threaten unity?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I took the oath of office on May 27, before the crisis. New members of parliament were supposed to take oath on May 30, but 22 members did not take oath (as per law) and there was a crisis that went on for four months. We have a system that is neither presidential nor parliamentary. It is unique in itself since we are an exiled administration. The charter does not mandate the executive to override the competency of the parliament or the judiciary. As a Buddhist, I believe nothing is permanent. So, the question was how long will it take to resolve this? We were not keen that the parliament would cause concern to His Holiness, but ultimately they wrote to him and he had to intervene and resolve it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you proposing any changes in running the exiled government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I believe if there has to be unity, there has to be unity at the top. I have not only reached out to the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission (apex judicial authority of the CTA) but also to independent bodies, the public service commission, the auditor general’s office and the civil society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea is to systemise our functioning so that irrespective of the changes in individual leadership, the system remains strong. When an individual becomes more important than the organisation, it sounds the death knell of the institution itself. We have promised transparency and we want to institutionalise accountability and responsibility.</p> Thu Dec 09 17:58:22 IST 2021 angela-merkel-enduring-legacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After 16 years as German chancellor, Angela Merkel leaves behind a huge legacy. It bears her name, merkeln. The word captures the nuanced, complex and contradictory nature of her legacy. It is her. It is politics. It is life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel’s cautious, consensual, incremental decision-making is so distinctive, that it became a verb. Merkeln implies managing Germany’s evolution in a measured manner that reassured other countries and Germans themselves, calmly steadying the European Union in turbulent times. “This is her greatest legacy,” said foreign policy expert Daniel Hamilton. When she attended her 107th—and possibly last—EU summit in Brussels in October, European Council President Charles Michel called her a monument. “A summit meeting without you will be like Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel, the “girl” who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in impoverished East Germany, transformed into “Mutti”—the mother of the unified German fatherland. She took her conservative, right-wing Christian Democratic Union to the centre, expanded Germany’s political and economic power in Europe and became the EU’s biggest defender. Experts say her backing of the EU’s €800 billion pandemic recovery fund in May 2020 by allowing the bloc to raise common debt in capital markets for the first time—an option fiercely resisted by her party for decades—potentially prevented a disintegration of the union.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a Pew poll, the 67-year-old Merkel is the world’s most trusted leader. For 10 years, the Forbes magazine has ranked her the world’s most powerful woman. She is the longest serving head of state in the democratic world. Dismayed by their own leader, American commentators began calling her “the leader of the free world” during the Donald Trump presidency (a title that made her cringe as much as when a Barbie doll was named after her!)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former US president Barack Obama told Merkel that the entire world owed her a debt of gratitude for taking the high ground for so many years. Merkel was the solid, sensible, ethical woman of gravitas who counterbalanced the testosterone and braggadocio of the mighty men of global politics like Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. She tactfully and pragmatically balanced great power rivalries. Her fact-based, understated, unrhetorical style sharply contrasted with Trump who relentlessly baited the EU, Germany and her. Obama had urged her to run for a fourth term because of the risk to Europe from Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But sometimes Merkel seemed as immovable as the Eiffel tower. Merkeln also signifies “postponing decisions”, “dithering” or “failing to have an opinion,” reminiscent of the late Indian prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao who famously said that not making a decision was also a decision. Merkel refused to get sucked into breathless news cycles, patiently consulted opposing viewpoints and gauged public mood before deciding. Her legacy includes brokering countless compromises at EU, G7 and G20 summits, steering four coalition governments at home, and working with or outmanoeuvring authoritarian leaders, allies, coalition partners and party rivals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Merkel’s tenure is characterised by crises,” said political scientist Charlotte Galpin. Merkel weathered many crises, but they also left a trail of unintended consequences. The eurozone meltdown that followed the 2008 financial crisis was contained, Greek debt managed and Grexit prevented. But the austerity measures imposed had devastating unintended consequences—anti-Merkelism, with banners of her in Hitler moustache mushrooming and the rise of populism across Europe, kindled by public pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia is a frenemy. The Russian meddling in German elections, the hacking of the Bundestag (parliament) server and disinformation and propaganda operations on social media are major challenges. Merkel criticised the Russian annexation of Crimea and the attempted assassination of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. She supported new sanctions against Russia. But despite strong US objections, Merkel pursued business with Russia, going ahead with the Nord Stream 2 project that will supply Russian gas directly to Germany, supplementing transit through Ukraine. Despite China's human rights record, Merkel pushed through a China-EU investment deal just before President Joe Biden took office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are cited as merkantilism, a word coined by political scientists Matthias Matthijs and Daniel Kelemen, signifying the “prioritising of German commercial and geoeconomic interests over human rights and democratic values”. But they can also be seen as pursuing national interests. Critics say she did not do enough to stop Brexit, but even they admit she persevered to prevent a no-deal exit. Germany initially did well during the pandemic, but poor infrastructure and decentralised processes led to chaos and over 70,000 deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel’s legacy of unintended consequences flowed even from noble decisions. Reacting to public fears after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, Merkel announced the phasing out of nuclear energy. But Germany’s dependence on coal increased, hiking carbon emissions and angering climate activists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The worst unintended consequence stemmed from a crisis of her own making —welcoming one million refugees into Europe in 2015. The backlash was intense. Germans objected furiously, while populist rulers in Poland and Hungary made gains. But she stood her ground. Former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers said it was a matter of deep moral conviction. But Hungarian President Viktor Orban called it “moral imperialism”. Critics saw merkantilism even in this decision—supplying workers to labour-starved German businesses. Merkel cut a shady €3 billion-deal with presidents and warlords to restrain the refugees in Turkey and Libya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A consequential unintended consequence of the migrant crisis was the rise of the far right throughout Europe and especially, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany. This small Eurosceptic fringe group turned into a fiery, xenophobic party, roaring into national consciousness and into the parliament for the first time in 2017, becoming the main opposition. But the AfD has since weakened due to infighting and because migrants are no longer an inflammatory issue. It is now only the fifth biggest party in the German parliament. But it won in Thuringia and Saxony in former East Germany. The east-west divide in Germany is marked by disparity, with the east languishing behind the west in income and infrastructure. Deindustrialisation in the wake of globalisation has destroyed jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This social and political discontent finds its outlet in the AfD, which endears itself in the region with its Molotov cocktail of racism, white supremacy, xenophobia and anti-immigration stances. Here, being called a Nazi is a badge of honour. The unapologetic lurch to extreme right consolidates the AfD’s core base, but it makes it lose votes nationally, provokes other political parties to treat it like a pariah and encourages German domestic intelligence agencies to keep it under surveillance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2018, Merkel announced she would not seek a fifth term, exiting at a time of her choosing. Her predecessors mostly lost elections or were ousted by scandals. She has been the very antithesis of the heavy-smoking, hard-drinking, womanising, wheeling-and-dealing, domineering big men of West German politics. Merkel is the first woman chancellor, the youngest and the first from East Germany. If government-formation talks drag on past December 17, she will overtake her mentor Helmut Kohl to become the longest-serving chancellor in modern German history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel will enter the pantheon of the great German chancellors who shaped the course of their nation’s history—Konrad Adenauer who brought a democratic Germany into NATO and reconciled with Israel and France, Ludwig Erhard who stewarded Germany’s economic miracle, Willy Brandt who sought détente with the Soviet Union and asked forgiveness for holocaust by falling to his knees in a Warsaw ghetto and Kohl who steered the reunification of East and West Germany.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pollsters say had Merkel contested, she would have won a fifth term. Instead, candidates jostled to be her heir. Her own party's candidate lost and the next likely chancellor is social democrat Olaf Scholz, who stakes claim to her mantle as he was her finance minister in the outgoing coalition government. A new centre-left “traffic light” coalition–named after party colours of Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens—is expected to form the next government. It promises no tax increases, balanced budgets, exiting from coal by 2038 and increasing the minimum hourly wage to €12.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout her political life, Merkel towered over the sleaze and scum of everyday politics. She remained a private citizen of impeccable integrity, dedication and intelligence, living in her own modest Berlin apartment as chancellor, shopping for her own groceries. Her outstanding quality is her normalcy. She consistently wore black pants, uni-colour hip length jackets and flat shoes. Historian Jan-Werner Müller said Merkel’s anti-charisma had turned into a kind of charisma that communicated sincerity. Her anti-oratorical speaking style anaesthetised listeners and she demobilised opponents by dulling and depoliticising conflicts. An aspect of merkeln is being so self-restrained that it is hard to pin her down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To understand Merkel, perhaps one must travel to her past. “I know what living in a collapsing system feels like and I don’t want to go through that again,” she told her biographer Stefan Kornelius. Daughter of a pastor, Merkel is the good girl from communist East Germany who rose by excelling in school, speaking little and trusting few. She kept her first husband’s name and married Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist, like her. Her scientific training frames her worldview—a level-headed empiricist who is unimpressed by grand visions, histrionics and hyperbole.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel is a celebrated “incrementalist’, taking small-step decisions, not huge leaps to solve complex problems, muddling, adapting, compromising, recognising both possibilities and limitations. It is too early to judge her legacy because future events also determine legacies. If the EU falls apart, people will glorify the Merkel days. If it becomes stronger, she will be remembered as the stepping-stone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel has declined offers to chair various organisations. When she goes, she goes… literally into the wilderness, hiking on mountain trails with her husband, reading, travelling and watching football. She would “simply enjoy some leisure time knowing that no possible upheaval may happen in the next 20 minutes… a little melancholy will perhaps also come later,” said Merkel. When asked what she looked forward to most in retirement, she replied, “Not having to constantly make decisions.”</p> Sat Nov 06 12:27:03 IST 2021 what-sri-lanka-did-may-qualify-as-war-crime-norwegian-diplomat-erik-solheim <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war ended in 2009, with the killing of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. More than decade later, the Sri Lankan government led by the Rajapaksa family is still battling allegations that the final days of the war witnessed mass murders.</p> <p>Prabhakaran was allegedly shot dead by the Sri Lankan army, but not much is known about his final days. There are unconfirmed claims that he had offered to surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK interviewed Erik Solheim, former Norwegian diplomat and minister who had tried to negotiate a peace deal between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE in the early 2000s. Solheim was a confidant of Prabhakaran, and the only outsider who met him several times before the ceasefire was broken and the final battle played out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Solheim is now the convenor of the advisory committee of The Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC) at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington, DC. BRIGC is a non-profit organisation that works with leaders in government, business and civil society to promote green initiatives. It is supervised by the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment and has its own secretariat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Solheim was in Chennai recently on WRI business. He spoke to THE WEEK about how the LTTE reached out to the world during the final days of the war, and how Prabhakaran rejected an offer from Norway and the international community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What actually happened in the last leg of the war?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t have any specific information. In the last few days of the war, the LTTE was contained to a small area in eastern Sri Lanka. On May 17, 2009—before the white flag incident (the alleged massacre of surrendering LTTE leaders and their families)—LTTE peace secretariat chief [Seevaratnam] Pulidevan called us and said he and [Balasingham] Nadesan, the head of the political wing of the LTTE, wanted to surrender to the Sri Lankan forces and wanted our involvement in that. We told him that it was too late.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had, on many other occasions, proposed to end the war in a peaceful manner. But now there wasn’t much we could have done, because we were not on the ground. But we promised to inform Basil Rajapaksa, brother of president Mahinda Rajapaksa, about the LTTE’s intention to surrender. And we informed the president, too, the same afternoon. So, the government was well aware of Nadesan and Pulidevan’s intention to surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You say the LTTE wanted to surrender. Does it mean that Prabhakaran, too, wanted it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They did not mention Prabhakaran. They only mentioned Pulidevan and Nadesan. We do not know if Prabhakaran was in the same place or somewhere else. Thereafter we got a message that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been killed. The most likely scenario is that they surrendered to the Sri Lankan forces and were executed. But, of course, we were not witness to this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But why did they surrender? Was there no other option?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This was the absolute end. They had to either fight it out or surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There have been reports that Prabhakaran also surrendered.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have no knowledge on that matter. But the sure information I have is that his younger son, then 12 years old, was captured by Sri Lankan forces. The video clearly showed him with Sri Lankan soldiers, and then he disappeared. In all likelihood, he was executed after surrendering. A war crime, of course.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you know about Prabhakaran’s final hours?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not have any answer to that. I think the world needs to know exactly what happened. The Tamil side or the Sri Lankan army should come forward and tell the truth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you said the LTTE reached out to you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They reached out to us, yes. But we do not have any information on Prabhakaran. In the last few months of the war, we communicated with Pulidevan and Nadesan and, through them, with Prabhakaran. We had invited KP (LTTE leader Kumaran Pathmanathan) to Oslo, because he was the LTTE’s foreign policy spokesperson based in Singapore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KP agreed to come, and he arranged to take [Prabhakaran] from Singapore to Norway. But the meeting was cancelled at the last minute, obviously on Prabhakaran’s orders. So Prabhakaran constantly refused to organise an end to the war, which could have saved many lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said the LTTE reached out to you on May 17, 2009. What was the situation before that day? Where was Prabhakaran?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Before May 17, 2009, the main issue for us was to find an organised end to the war. It was very clear that the LTTE would lose. We wanted to save the lives of tens of thousands of Tamil and Sinhalese people. We wanted UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and other dignitaries to negotiate a deal with Prabhakaran.</p> <p>The deal was that Indian or US ships, flying the UN flag, would evacuate civilians and LTTE cadre from the war zone. Names and photos would be registered to ensure that those who surrendered would not be harmed. There were indications that the LTTE would accept this deal. But [ultimately] they did not. They wanted to fight till the last moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did Prabhakaran reach out to you between 2007 and 2009?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ At that time, there was no way we could speak directly with Prabhakaran. He felt that the government would track his call and bomb the location. We communicated with him through Nadesan or Pulidevan. They spoke to us many times a week and told us that all was well, but we knew that they were losing ground. In fact, we spoke to them even on the day before they were to evacuate Kilinochchi, which was surrounded by Sri Lankan forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If the LTTE had accepted the deal, would there have been a separate Eelam?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There would not have been a separate Eelam, but all of them would have been alive. There would have been, hopefully, a federal structure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What kind of a person was Prabhakaran?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He was not a charismatic person. There was a language barrier; we could not communicate with him in his language. He was more of a military man than a visionary leader. Be it losing the Jaffna peninsula in 2001 or destroying the Bandaranaike airport, and of course the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, Lakshman Kadirgamar and others, came from the military point of view.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LTTE was the world’s first rebel group with a navy and air force. I can say that, until the later part of his life, he was an absolutely brilliant military leader. His political vision, however, was not in line with his military acumen. He did not understand India well; he did not understand the rest of the world. If he had understood India well, he would not have committed the blunder of killing Rajiv Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He used to listen to [journalist and strategist] Anton Balasingham in all these matters. But after Balasingham died [in 2006], the LTTE began losing ground. I think Prabhakaran believed that there was a military solution to every problem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would you say that India offered support to the peace process?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Except in the very last few months, India was always for peace in Sri Lanka. India was sceptical and suspicious of the LTTE, because of the Rajiv Gandhi (assassination). But India continuously gave all possible support to the peace talks. Then, after 2008, India’s mood changed. That was the first time [India] thought that the Sri Lankan government could win the war. It was then that India gave all intelligence support to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you said India was always for peace.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That is because the LTTE did not keep its promise [on ceasefire] earlier. After 2008, India did not trust Prabhakaran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would you say that the war involved ethnic cleansing or genocide?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I normally don’t use that word. But the mass murder of tens of thousands Tamilians certainly happened. Hospitals and civilian institutions were shelled. It was very, very bad; it may qualify as a war crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think the LTTE is regrouping, because the diaspora has always been for Eelam?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t think so. The appetite for an armed struggle in Sri Lanka has gone down. But I think the Tamil diaspora is regrouping for a much stronger civil push based on Gandhian methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But in many countries, including India, the ban on LTTE has not been lifted. Can this be justified?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The LTTE does not exist at the moment, so the ban is not significant in my view. What is important now is to support the legitimate struggle of the Tamil National Alliance and other political parties which want to promote Tamil rights in Sri Lanka. The leadership must come from Sri Lanka itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you have to say about the present dispensation in Sri Lanka and their commitment to the 13th amendment, which created provincial councils and made Tamil an official language?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The 13th amendment has been declared as a solution by India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought it up. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and other leaders in India have been repeatedly asking Sri Lanka to implement it. I agree with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tamils of Sri Lanka should fight to expand their political space, ensure that peace remains and help devolve power. So, my advice to Tamils would be to maintain unity. And they should reach out to both Muslims and Sinhalese to find common ground. Indeed, the space for Tamils is far too limited in Sri Lanka. The international community should support the Tamil fight for expanding that space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a growing concern in India about Chinese investments in Sri Lanka. Do you think that a geopolitical change is happening south Asia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When we were involved in Sri Lanka, China did not play any significant role there. We were all focused on India and, to some extent, on the US. China did not have major investments there at that time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, it could be a difficult situation. China is investing everywhere in the world, and most countries benefit from these investments. So, Sri Lanka, in that sense, is not a separate case. China has also invested in India, but not as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But my question is specific. Is this altering the geopolitics in the region?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t think I want to comment on this. I would like to stay away from that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the relationship between Norway and Sri Lanka, now that the LTTE is no more and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have a normal relationship with Sri Lanka. We have an embassy there, and trade and economic relations. But there are no special ties, as had been the case during the peace process. We no longer have a close relationship with top leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You recently had a meeting with Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi. Did you discuss the LTTE issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We did not talk about Sri Lanka. We spoke only about Covid-19 and environmental issues.</p> Thu Oct 28 17:02:29 IST 2021 in-china-it-is-always-politics-that-drives-the-economy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AT THE HEART</b> of any communist political system is the Marxist emphasis on class struggle, with the apparent objective of achieving a society of perfect equality, a society free from want. But the class struggle itself depends on economic conditions. It is, therefore, not without reason that heads of communist nations have a constant focus on the economy, never mind the effectiveness of their prescriptions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the end of the Maoist era, China’s leaders have been more careful than their counterparts in the former Soviet bloc countries in giving economic growth its due place. They have succeeded in shaping a successful economic model that has delivered high rates of growth for decades. They have understood the consequences of economic conditions for a country’s domestic politics and its international prospects better than most.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Chinese leaders consider it a necessary part of their skillset to have a detailed knowledge of the latest economic developments, both at home and abroad. In fact, it is usually impossible to reach the top echelons of the Chinese leadership without considerable experience in economic administration—some provinces in China have GDPs as large as that of certain developed economies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The constant interplay of the political with the economic is an important feature of the Chinese economy, something that can often be ignored by casual observers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary Xi Jinping, who also serves as the country’s president, says that China is a champion of globalisation, it is easy to view the statement purely from an economic standpoint. This would, however, be an entirely wrong approach to take. While it is true that China has gained much from globalisation and hopes to gain still more from it, its approach to globalisation is a one-way street. It has sought to attract global capital and high tech to its shores, and, in turn, deploys its capital and tech abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, however, has also been mercantilist in its approach, subsidising companies operating in its jurisdiction with free infrastructure and low-interest loans and other forms of hidden subsidies in contravention of the World Trade Organization rules, while keeping its own economy closed with non-tariff barriers such as difficult legal requirements that undermine foreign entities trying to compete with local Chinese manufacturers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Americans have only recently woken up to this reality of the Chinese policy in which decoupling from the US economy has long been the objective. For instance, American tech companies and their products like Google, Facebook and WhatsApp have been banned in China for years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is another victim of this Chinese behaviour as both its persistent trade deficit with China and the high number of anti-dumping cases it brings against that country at the WTO show. Even in sectors where India is competitive, such as pharmaceuticals, it has taken great effort by the Indian government for its companies to enter and that, too, only because the Chinese wanted to make medicines cheaper for their own public healthcare system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This brings us to an important issue that has been at play in recent months and years in China. Why has the CPC actively targeted successful enterprises and sectors? Jack Ma of the Ant Group, one of China’s most internationally well-known entrepreneurs, was prevented from launching an IPO worth a record $37 billion in 2020. Earlier this year, Beijing began a crackdown on sectors as varied as coal and edtech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ma had complained about China’s regulatory system at a major meeting in Shanghai, with top political and economic leaders in the audience, saying China was stifling innovation and that its banks had a “pawnshop”mentality. The Communist Part of China’s (CPC) response was only to be expected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Xi, it has been very clear that “party, government, army, the people and intellectuals—east, west, south, north and centre, the party leads everything”. This Maoist-era slogan makes no allowances for private enterprises, no matter how big or important they are in the eyes of the rest of the world. Ma, himself a CPC member, was brought down because he dared to criticise the party, forgetting that he owed everything to it creating and maintaining the conditions for his growth and prosperity. Other major tech giants have also been put on notice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This then brings us to another important question: how ‘private’is the private sector in China?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, it was reported that some 70 per cent of China’s privately-owned companies had party organisations attached to them; under Xi, the CPC has specifically targeted private enterprises aiming to increase its ideological work and influence. This then has implications for Indian companies with any Chinese investments, especially in e-commerce and fintech, both of which are sensitive from the point of view of data security and privacy issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CPC has an increasingly expansive definition of its legal remit to monitor, supervise and punish—even across China’s international borders. Under such circumstances, for Chinese investors, the CPC’s writ will always take precedence over the laws of the country where they operate, or even international laws. Chinese capital will, thus, come with strings attached.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The attack on China’s edtech sector has been interpreted as part of the CPC’s efforts to regulate malpractice in the industry. It is seen as part of the wider crackdown on big tech in an effort to impose ideological order in the sector. In September, the Chinese government released new guidelines for “Strengthening the Construction of the Online Civilisation”. This appears to be an outgrowth from another Maoist-era catchphrase, namely, “spiritual civilisation”, and an attempt to ensure order and ideological standards as mandated by the CPC. In India, we might consider this the equivalent of what is known as “moral policing”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to one estimate, as much as 44 per cent of China’s industrial activity has been affected by massive power shortages with power rationing in place in 17 of China’s 31 provinces. While there are multiple reasons for the situation—with coal shortages and high fuel prices from expanding post-pandemic industrial demand among them—the fact is that even in this case, the situation has been exacerbated because of political considerations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi had announced at the United Nations in September 2020 a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Since then, there has been pressure on China’s local and provincial governments to reach their energy reduction targets set by the central government annually. Thus, local authorities have simply cut power and told industries to shut down to make sure they meet political expectations from the centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The power crisis highlights another important trend in today’s China, namely the centralisation of power that is taking place at multiple levels in the party-state. The most visible and obvious form of centralisation is that of power within the CPC in the person of Xi. Another form of centralisation is of power and authority from the provinces and regions to Beijing, while a third form is of the privileging of state-owned enterprises at the cost of private enterprises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These forms of centralisation give a sense of not just the factors that made China successful in the past four decades, but also of the problems that cropped up from time to time that China’s leaders today are struggling to deal with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was precisely the expansion of the freedom of speech under Deng Xiaoping, the decentralisation of power to the provinces and the capital that flowed to private enterprises over time that powered China’s rapid economic growth over decades. These reforms and freedoms—despite brief crises like the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989—put China in a place by the end of the last century from where it could begin accruing political power and influence on the global stage to go with its economic strength.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But as with all things in authoritarian states, abuse of power, overexploitation of resources and ignoring of the greater common good followed and spiralled out of control. China in the 2000s was also a site of multiple protests over various issues ranging from ethnic discrimination to labour rights to environmental degradation. It is into this cauldron that Xi walked in as the new general secretary of the CPC in late 2012. And like all leaders before him, he sought to use China’s domestic and external capacities to strengthen what seemed to be the increasingly shaky foundations of the CPC itself and he has more of both kinds of capacities than any of his predecessors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a reason why China is called a party-state: the People’s Republic of China is first and foremost devoted to preserving the CPC in power and is only secondarily concerned about questions or issues that we would normally understand as ‘national interests’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, China’s aggressive and uncouth diplomatic behaviour across the world, now termed ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, might not make any sense from the perspective of a country trying to create a good impression of itself and to achieve its interests in other countries. It does, however, make a great deal of sense from the perspective of a party trying to remain in power by portraying itself as the best possible defender of not just China’s territory and sovereignty, but also of its image and its supposed civilisational greatness. In other words, Xi has simultaneously used a mix of nationalism and state capacity to rouse the ordinary Chinese and also to suppress them to strengthen the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those of us watching in India will find some of this familiar in the choice of language and actions the BJP uses in portraying itself as a distinctly better defender than other political parties of India’s interests and pride at home and abroad. Thus, what we are seeing both in authoritarian China and populist regimes elsewhere in the world is the conflation of regime interests with national interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the way Xi has gone about the task has left him open to charges that his ruthless anti-corruption campaign—as much an economic necessity as a political one—has been both selective and incomplete. He has also in the process clamped down on what limited civil rights and media and academic freedom that existed in China. Indeed, that Xi has had to do any of this at all should itself be a comment on the failings of the Chinese political system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CPC leadership understands this reality, including the fact that centralisation of power can only be one approach to tackle China’s many ills. The party has understood that it is equally important to provide an intellectual rationale to the watching public for this centralisation of power and the increasing dominance of the party in their daily lives, so that political challenges can be prevented or pre-empted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nationalism by itself is not sufficient for this purpose or at the very least needs to be tempered so that it can be controlled by the CPC. Xi and the party have, therefore, followed up with a regular stream of slogans and concepts pitched at both popular and elite levels explaining the nature, objectives and rationale of the centralisation of power. Thus, Chinese politics today is suffused with such expressions or targets with economic imperatives as ‘poverty alleviation’, ‘rural revitalisation’, and ‘common prosperity’. Aligned to these economic goals are more obviously political goals as ‘national rejuvenation’or to ‘forever walk at the party’s side’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Together, these phrases and the effort that goes into showcasing and achieving the goals they represent confirm the close interlinkages between economic performance and political legitimacy of the CPC. They also underline the fact that in China, it is always politics that drives the economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>The author teaches at Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh</b></p> Sun Oct 31 10:50:18 IST 2021 coal-ition-partners <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Like-minded and China are not usually put in the same sentence when speaking from the Indian context. Isn’t China our headache number one? But, when it comes to climate change negotiations, India and China are more together than against. The two Asian giants form the main force behind the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), which has been fighting for a greater share of the world’s remaining carbon budget. More often than not, India and China together face up to the bullying tactics of the global north, or the developed countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and China are both ambitious countries, seeking a larger share of the global pie in almost every sphere. While there are great differences in their political outlook, and even in the way the rest of the world regards them, when it comes to development needs, the two are on the same page and seen so by the world. “The top emitters,” is how the dragon and elephant are referred to by the developed world. The truth though is that US is second to China in overall emissions among independent countries; India comes third.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This, however, is only partly true. When it comes to per capita emissions of carbon dioxide, India’s share is a very small 1.9 tonne per person annually, and China’s is only 7.38. The top per capita emitters are the oil-rich Middle East nations, led by Qatar (37.29). The next group of high per capita emitters is the developed west, with Canada (18.5) and the US (18.6) leading. Even South Korea has higher per capita emissions than China, whose figures are more on par with the European Union (7.16).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A more just way of looking at emissions is historically, given that the west had a 150-year headway in polluting the world, the price of which the poorer nations are paying inequitably today. As J.R. Bhatt, scientist in the environment ministry and part of the negotiation team for the Glasgow Conference of the Parties Summit, recently noted, the world owes India $15 trillion for past emissions that have led to present-day climate crisis events. Yet, an unfair finger-pointing has China and India as targets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even more unfair is the fact that while both countries are coal dependant for development, China’s present share in emissions—26 per cent—is higher than the entire developed world combined, while India’s is just 6.6 per cent. Yet, they are clubbed together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the climate change stage, both countries are positioning themselves in the leadership role for developing nations, notes Aparna Roy of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), with both strongly believing in the common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) that the Paris summit agreed upon. They are together in demanding more climate finance as per the agreed&nbsp;$100&nbsp;billion commitment per year by 2020 that the developed nations agreed upon but have not met fully. Regarding the demand for technology transfer for clean energy solutions, India is far more vocal than China, which is already the provider of low-cost technology products to the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anjal Prakash, lead author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report, says India has positioned itself as a responsible player, whose template could be emulated by other developing nations. India’s position is that while it will opt for renewable energy, it will keep coal as the mainstay. Also, that India cannot be held to ransom to “do more” to expiate the past sins of the developed world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though India is a democracy, where a change in government can lead to a change in policy, its trajectory on combating climate change has been consistent across governments, and its green ambitions have gradually risen. China, on the other hand, has shifted goalposts, stressing on renewables at one time and now insisting that it will not phase out coal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The global attitude is gradually getting more sympathetic towards India, with everyone from COP26 president Alok Sharma of the UK to US special envoy John Kerry “understanding” India’s need for developmental space. India’s track record is commendable. It is the only G20 country on record to meet its nationally determined commitments. India’s leadership role in kick-starting the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure is seen as commendable. How much of this understanding translates into actual climate financing and tech transfer is another story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though China leads the world in manufacture of solar panels and batteries, it gets less sympathy from the world. The sheer scale of its pollution is overwhelming the world right now. Chandra Bhushan of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology points out that being clubbed with China sometimes works against India, given the disparity in emissions. Also, the general anti-China sentiment in the world, owing to its expansionist policies and scant regard for a rules-based order, rubs off during climate discussions, too. China’s aggressive geoengineering technology for weather modification, says Roy, also has the world wary. India is particularly concerned over Chinese experiments to bring rain to certain areas, given the shared border and the risk of calamities affecting India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the leaders’ summit will not just read out India’s report card, but also make some announcements. India is clear that it has no intention of abiding by any net zero (emissions) timeline. India’s stand is clear: We will do our best, but not at the cost of our development. The world too should stick to its previous commitments instead of shifting goalposts with new slogans of net zero or methane pledge. China’s president Xi Jinping will not be present at the meet; he has not travelled abroad since the pandemic began. Top leaders of two other big emitters—Brazil and Russia—too will not be present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the first ministerial summit (virtual) of the LMDC, the members agreed that their unity and strength were fundamental at the climate summit to preserve the interests of the global south in the fight against climate change. The overarching aim was to ensure that their domestic policy space was not constrained even as they addressed climate change. “It is important for India and China to put up a united front at the negotiations to counter the bullying from the developed nations,” says Prakash. At the G20 ministerial meeting on climate change in July in Italy, India and China were of almost one voice, both refusing to agree on two hotly debated points—phasing out coal and upping the ambition of the Paris Agreement to lower global temperature rise. How well will the dragon and the elephant tango in Glasgow?</p> Thu Oct 28 16:48:15 IST 2021 tough-talk <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ROBERTO CINGOLANI</b> was frazzled at the end of the energy and environment ministers’meet of G20 countries this July. Cingolani, who is Italy’s ecological transition minister, had chaired the two-day meet. He said that negotiations with India and China were particularly tough and that the group failed to agree on a common language for their document ahead of the Conference of the Parties (COP) Summit to be held in Glasgow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The G20 is a group of the world’s top 20 economies and therefore is a grouping that best reflects modern-day realities. Most other important groupings do not give representation to emerging nations like India. The failure of the G20 ministers’ summit to arrive at a consensual vocabulary may have been a disappointment to Cingolani, but his comment that India is a tough negotiator is a backhanded compliment. India is putting up a tough resistance to the bullying by advanced nations, as it seeks out space and carbon budget for its development. The advanced nations, having reached saturation levels of energy consumption, are now preaching to developing nations to cut down on consumption, reduce the use of coal and raise their climate mitigation ambitions. The buzzword these days is net zero, which effectively means to reach a stage when the amount of carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere is equal to or more than the amount of greenhouse gases emitted, thus nullifying temperature rise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem with this lofty ambition is that countries which have polluted for a century and a half are now reading the riot act to nations that have barely got out of poverty. Also, it is against the common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), an ideal agreed to at Paris five years ago, which meant that different nations have varied levels of responsibilities towards climate change mitigation. In effect, it should be the developed world which should do more—emit less, put in more money into mitigation and relief, and also help their poor cousins with technology solutions. They have not done this, at least not to the level required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India to hold its own in the big bad world of bullies, it requires a team that is tough, and has done its homework well. Richa Sharma, additional secretary in the ministry for environment, forest and climate change, is the leader of this 15-member team that is bracing for a tough fight in Glasgow, for every little space for development and every sliver of carbon budget allocation, while ceding as little ground as possible. Sharma led the negotiations in Italy, too, and was largely responsible for Cingolani’s dismay. India refused to agree to put a deadline on phasing out coal. It will remain the mainstay of India’s energy requirement. India also refused to change the language around the 1.5 to 2 degree temperature rise. At the Paris summit, the agreement was to keep rise in temperatures below 2 degrees, preferably below 1.5; some countries now feel they should raise the ambition. India feels there is no need to shift goalposts without meeting previous commitments first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An alumna of Delhi University, Sharma has been an achiever throughout, winning gold medals at both her BA and MA levels. She majored in psychology, which has, perhaps, helped her deal with team members and opponents. An officer from the Chhattisgarh cadre, Sharma joined the environment ministry in 2019, and has been in the negotiations team for climate change, steering the domestic climate change agenda and strengthening international cooperation at multilaterals like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and G20. She took over as lead negotiator earlier this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Officers who have worked with Sharma say that though she is not a harsh taskmaster, she knows how to get the work done. She goes into the minutest details, said a colleague, and is quick to respond with such logic and clarity of thought that it leaves the opponent baffled and team mates impressed. Sharma also has the knack of developing a working rapport with other negotiating teams, be it the Chinese, with whom India has many common issues as well as divergences, or the Americans, who are now chanting the net zero mantra. In the last two years, she has carved her space in the negotiations stage and is a known face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharma will lead a heavy duty inter-ministerial team of experts, which includes J.R. Bhatt, scientist from the environment ministry, climate change finance specialist Rajasree Ray and joint secretary Neelesh Kumar Sah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although she has kept herself away from the limelight, Sharma interacted with THE WEEK. “At COP26, India will lead from the front as a responsible nation that is undertaking tremendous domestic climate actions as well as fostering international collaboration,”she said. “India will make constructive contributions in negotiations regarding pending agenda items (from the Paris Agreement) while respecting the principles of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and Paris Agreement.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Negotiations are a taxing job. Sometimes, one has to cede ground owing to other compulsions. This happened in Paris, when India wanted two words—historical responsibility—in the final document, which would make it official why the developed world needed to do more to address climate change. These countries were naturally opposed to it, and negotiations had reached a dead end. That is when US president Barack Obama made that famous call to Narendra Modi and India withdrew its stance. In return, India received much support for its proposed International Solar Alliance, from both the US and a grateful host, France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the world of diplomacy, you win some, you lose some. But fight, you must.</p> Sun Oct 31 10:47:11 IST 2021 taliban-pakistan-khalistan-nexus-could-boost-drug-trade-threaten-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Haji Bashir Noorzai—nicknamed Pablo Escobar of the Middle East—might have been a forgotten name since his arrest in New York, 16 years ago. But the top Afghan drug lord could make a comeback as the new Taliban government is reportedly negotiating with the US administration to secure his release. As Afghanistan faces a major economic crisis, the Taliban’s survival may depend upon the support of drug lords like Noorzai, who run criminal enterprises worth billions of dollars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Interpol has raised an alarm and anti-narcotics agencies around the world, especially in South Asian countries like India, are on high alert after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. In its latest assessment of the impact of the Taliban’s return, the Interpol said the opium economy in Afghanistan could be pegged between $1.2 billion and $2.1 billion a year. The Taliban's share ranges between $100 million and $400 million, and could go as high as $1.5 billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Taliban's takeover and the departure of foreign military forces will likely result in a significant increase in the production and trafficking of both heroin and methamphetamine and with the Taliban now in control of all border crossings, there may be fewer barriers to smuggling drugs out of Afghanistan,” said the Interpol. This could lead to a significant influx of drugs into neighbouring countries and other global destinations, particularly Europe. An increase in supply is likely to drive prices down, making drugs more accessible to both habitual and new users.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like the warlords, the opium lords, too, have contributed to the Taliban’s return. The new government, therefore, is keen to bring back Noorzai, who used to be the group’s chief financier. Noorzai was arrested by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005 in a covert operation and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009. His release was said to be among the key issues that figured in the discussions between the US and the Taliban delegation in Doha, prior to American withdrawal from Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is speculation that the US is considering a swap deal with the Taliban to secure the release of American contractor Mark Frerichs, who was abducted in January 2020 from the Khost province in Afghanistan by the Haqqani network. His family and friends are putting pressure on the Biden administration to bring him home. “Even though there are no troops on the ground, the US is still engaging the Taliban and the release of the Afghan drug lord from custody is a key issue,” said a senior intelligence official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Joe Biden does not want to leave any American behind in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is reluctant to leave any of its key men, especially the prized drug lords, in US jails. According to intelligence reports, many small-time drug lords who were in Afghan jails have already been freed by the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Noorzai, believed to be in his early 60s, is also politically important for the Taliban. He is a key leader of the Nurzai, a large landowning Pashtun tribe in the Greater Kandahar region. It is from here that Mullah Omar launched the first Taliban offensives in the 1990s. Noorzai helped sponsor some of his biggest operations, which brought him close to the Taliban supremo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “symbiotic relationship” between Noorzai and the Taliban was spelt out by prosecuting attorney David Kelley in April 2005, following Noorzai’s arrest. “Between 1990 and 2004, Noorzai and his organisation provided demolitions, weaponry and militia manpower to the Taliban,” Kelley said. “In exchange, the Taliban permitted Noorzai's business to flourish and also served as protection for his opium crops, heroin laboratories and drug transportation routes out of the country.” The new regime in Kabul has not forgotten the contribution of Noorzai and other drug lords in helping create the world's biggest opium empire, placing it at the apex of the Golden Crescent, comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.</p> <p>The appointment of Gul Agha Ishakzai as finance minister points to the fact that drugs, money and weapons—in that order—have played a major role in sustaining the Taliban and bringing it back to power. Ishakzai's proximity to the opium lords raises a red flag among narcotics control bureaus in South Asia, which fear that drug trade will be a key pillar in the economy of the newly formed Islamic Emirate. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, however, said contraband would be banned in Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK, S.N. Pradhan, director general of India’s Narcotics Control Bureau, said, “The Taliban 2.0 is making the right noises as far the drug problem is concerned, but how much of it is implemented remains to be seen.” He said the Taliban had banned opium production back in 2000 and it came down drastically, before it picked up again. “So, it can happen again. We hope the Taliban remains true to its word. But it remains to be seen whether drug lords will come out in the open and the Taliban will be able to regulate the entire system,'' he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the Taliban’s links to the drugs and money-laundering networks are worrying. Ishakzai is close to Quetta-born Taliban financier Ahmed Shah Noorzai Obaidullah, whose name figures prominently on the UN sanctions list. According to the UN, Ahmed Shah owns and operates Roshan Money Exchange, an enterprise with multiple branches across Afghanistan and Balochistan, used for arranging funds to support the Taliban’s military operations and narcotics trade. He has been accused of providing services to Ishakzai and other Taliban leaders in Helmand province.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In late 2011, Ishakzai, who then headed the Taliban Finance Commission, instructed Ahmed Shah to deposit millions of dollars in Roshan Money Exchange for the Taliban, as per reports of the UN Security Council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the other drug lords who cooperate with the Taliban include hawala operator Musa Kalim, a Pakistani national placed on the American sanctions list on November 20, 2012, for narcotics trade in the Golden Crescent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another key opium trader is Mohammed Qasim Mir Wali Khudai Rahim, who was placed on the UN sanctions list for supplying weapons to the Taliban. Helmand born Qasim is the owner of Rahat Trading Company, which is used by the Taliban for channelling funds from external donors and drug trade. Within Afghanistan, meanwhile, there is growing worry about the emerging economic crisis driving more youth to the drug industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the 2018 report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there has been a 37 per cent increase in opium production in Afghanistan, while the production in Myanmar—a key player in the Golden Triangle it forms along with Laos and Thailand—came down by 25 per cent. Afghanistan now contributes more than 83 per cent of the global opium supply.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately for India, significant quantities of these drugs are making their way here, both in transit to global markets and also as a final destination. On September 20, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized nearly 3,000kg of narcotics worth Rs21,000 crore at the Mundra port in Gujarat. It came in two containers from the Bandar Abbas port in Iran, but DRI officials believe that the original source of the drugs was Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Intelligence reports show that drug seizures have come down along the Balkan and Central Asian routes since 2016, indicating stricter enforcement by anti-drug agencies in the region. The only available alternate route is via the Indian subcontinent. Tonnes of opium produced in Afghanistan are smuggled into the western borders of Pakistan in 100kg-200kg packets and then reassembled into bigger consignments by gangs in Lahore and Faisalabad, before being sent to Karachi and Gwadar for further transportation through fishing vessels in the Makran coast. In many drug seizures in 2019 and 2020, it was noticed that packing covers were of some popular brands of oats and atta in Pakistan, said an Indian customs official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pakistan acts as an intermediary and assists the Taliban in distributing the drugs all over the world, as far as the west and Africa,” said Prateek Joshi, a foreign policy researcher at Oxford University. Pakistan takes advantage of the 2,500km-long porous border it shares with Afghanistan and also its 1,062km-long coastline on the Arabian Sea to promote drug trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>K. Srinivasan, retired inspector general of police (intelligence) who was with the BSF and CRPF, said that once the interim government in Kabul became steady, the focus of Pakistan and the Taliban would be on Indian border states. “They will look at Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir for narcotics smuggling. Infiltration is also expected to increase,” said Srinivasan. The latest DRI seizure, however, has shown that this may already be happening. Between 2017 and 2020, as many as 38 Afghan nationals were arrested by Indian agencies for drug trafficking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike terror outfits, drug smugglers never rely on a single route. “Apart from land, air and sea routes, the latest trend is the use of drones, which we have already seen in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir,” said a former director general of the National Investigation Agency. He said drugs were being smuggled from Pakistan through Indian waters along the western coast of Gujarat and Maharashtra and also through land routes to local suppliers in Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srinivasan said the ISI was targeting the Kashmiri youth with drugs, just like it did in Punjab. At the same time, terror groups active in these states use drugs and money to entice new recruits. There are more than half a dozen cases at various stages of investigation linked to Pakistani terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba and Khalistani outfits like the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khalistani terrorists in Germany like Gurmeet Singh Bagga are moving to narco terror from regular armed infiltrations. The NIA filed a chargesheet in December 2020 against narco-terrorist Dharminder Singh in which the agency exposed the role of Pakistan-based KLF chief Harmeet Singh and Dubai-based drug smuggler Jasmeet Singh Hakimzada in running a network of drug traffickers across Delhi, Punjab and Dubai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Involvement of Pakistani gangs was also noticed in the seizure of 532kg heroin at Attari in June 2019. The consignment was bound for Jammu and Kashmir, with its mastermind Farooq Lone sitting in Lahore. Investigation of drug cases in Jammu and Kashmir in the past one year indicates that more than 30 per cent of the narcotics came from Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taliban’s return has, meanwhile, started dominating political debates in border states like Punjab and Gujarat, which will have assembly elections next year. The Congress has demanded an exhaustive investigation into recent DRI seizures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said heroin was being smuggled into Punjab from Afghanistan via Pakistan, hurting the state’s youth and even preventing them from joining the armed forces. A senior officer of the Punjab Police said the Taliban-Pakistan-Khalistan network was a potent threat and pointed to the danger of Khalistani groups in the US, the UK, Canada, Germany and Australia getting further active in drug trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of the Indian security establishment, however, believes that drug trade out of Afghanistan is not going to change drastically because of the Taliban’s return as the group never abandoned it even when it was out of power. “Opium production in Afghanistan never declined and Indian and foreign agencies have been making regular seizures,” said Sanjay Kumar Singh, deputy director general of the NCB. “It shows that drug trade and trafficking remain the same, irrespective of the Taliban being in power or not. From covert support, it may just become more overt.”</p> Thu Sep 30 17:20:36 IST 2021 mundra-drug-bust-has-afghan-links-india-needs-to-be-wary <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States was focused on strategising and collaborating in the Asia-Pacific region. A key pillar in this collaborative effort is the joint war on narcotics trade and terror, which is posing a global security challenge following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the 2021 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan continues to be the largest producer of opium. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) chief S.N. Pradhan says that India is going to play a critical role in a common strategy to counter the narcotics menace.Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Afghanistan is said to be the producer of 83 per cent of the world's opium. How big is the threat with the Taliban's takeover?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it is an established fact that Afghanistan is the majority producer of opium in the world. The problem from India's perspective is that it is a country facing the problem of being the source, the user and the transit country. Because of India's sheer size in terms of geography and population, it becomes a natural attraction point for traders and suppliers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the Taliban taking over, there are apprehensions building up because of the sheer volume and weight of production. It has to go somewhere. On the plus side, there is the statement made by the Taliban that they are not going to allow it to happen. So, if the Taliban government is to be believed, there is hope and we would like to believe they are going to be true to their word.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But if we look at the weight of production and the volume of opium Afghanistan comes up with every year, there are concerns. In 2020, there was a growth of 37 per cent [from the previous year]. So, the fact is that the production and cultivation of opium has not come down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than two lakh hectares [of opium] is cultivated in almost 22 of 34 provinces of Afghanistan. And this is only opium. I am not talking about other drugs like cannabis and cannabinoids. The recent hauls made by the NCB or DRI [Directorate of Revenue Intelligence] in 2020 and 2021, including the recent Mundra port seizure in Gujarat, have connections to Afghanistan. So, it is a matter of serious concern and that is why India needs to be very wary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Taliban drug lords are on the UN sanctions list. Are there apprehensions of them having a free run now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot say if the drug lords will operate openly, because the Taliban has been conventionally restrictive talking about drugs. Taliban 2.0 is making the right noises as far as the drug menace is concerned. But how much of it will be implemented remains to be seen. The Taliban should ban production of opium. In 2000, they had banned it and suddenly the production came down to 10 per cent of what it was earlier. The drop was from 80,000 hectares to 8,000 hectares. So let us hope it will happen again. It remains to be seen whether the drug lords will come out in the open or whether the Taliban will regulate the whole system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the new routes of opium smuggling into the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last five to ten years, the whole system of drug supply has morphed out of recognition. In recent days, the NCB is investigating drug trade using the dark net. There is also the use of vessel containers as seen in the massive haul of heroin at Mundra recently. There have been seizures along the western coast, which is mainly Nhava Sheva Port, JNPT in Mumbai and other ports down south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the use of traditional routes like land, air and postal couriers. So, every route which is a possible conduit is being used. Therefore, it is a war for the NCB and other agencies fighting drug menace. It is a multi-front war where every front seems to be open and thriving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The kind of innovative tricks drug smugglers and traffickers are using is amazing. It is not just the routes, but the fronts that are being used to cover the drug trade that are shocking. In the last month, we apprehended a couple of [people working with] NGOs, based out of Delhi and Bihar, that were working with local institutions and acted as fronts for movement of LSD patches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, if the drug traffickers fail in one route or if it is more monitored, they move on to another. Since all options are open, it becomes that much difficult for the agencies to control and monitor the transactions. Which is why there is a greater need for all agencies to combine their expertise and resources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How big is drug consumption in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a real drug usage problem in the country. The Union social justice ministry has pointed out that drug abuse is expanding. The numbers are mind-boggling. As much as 2 per cent of the population, which is approximately three crore people, is using opioids. More than two per cent use cannabinoids. If we combine it, around 5 to 6 per cent of the population is using drugs. These are huge numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see the role of Pakistan and the Haqqani network, which is accused of financing terror or targeting youth in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it is both—the terror angle and the social disruption that can be caused with the use of drugs. The aim is to disturb the social fabric in border-states and this strategy works for all the enemies of the country. I would not like to comment on the policy of the new regime in Afghanistan or Pakistan's actions. Some of these things are out in the open. As far as the NCB is concerned, we are watching all developments with a microscope. What happened at Mundra port is not a good sign at all. And, if it has its origins in the Taliban coming to power, it is even more worrisome. We are hoping it does not, but if it does, it will be the worst fears coming true.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is the NCB preparing to counter the threat?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are working out a strategy at the highest levels of the government to prepare for a post-Taliban scenario as they return to power. There is serious thinking and strategising to beat the drug menace and all the agencies like the NCB, DRI and others are monitoring drug movement and trade. We cannot bank on the possibility that things will get better, so we should be prepared for the worst.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>After the Taliban came to power, what progress has India made in these interactions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, there has been focus on strategising for the Asia-Pacific region. So, there is an approach to collaborate more and more in the Asia-Pacific.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have personally had interactions with six countries in the last one month itself, and more [are] in the pipeline. So, the aim is to plan together, work together and operate together.</p> Thu Sep 30 16:33:38 IST 2021 sri-lankan-economic-crisis-experts-vs-central-bank <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Life in Sri Lanka’s capital city has not been easy in recent times. Kareema Datha, 25, a resident of Colombo, spends at least an hour a day in long queues outside supermarkets or grocery stores to buy essentials like milk powder, sugar, rice, vegetables and cooking oil. When she finally gets in, she is faced with empty aisles, in most of the shops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even when items are in stock, Kareema, a household help, can barely afford them. For example, the price of sugar jumped from LKR100 per kg in April to LKR230 per kg now (approximately Rs85). Similarly, the price of lentils went up by LKR40 per kg between April and August. “I was spending 750 rupees a week for my groceries and vegetables,” said Kareema over the phone. “It is now around 1,500 rupees, almost double.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hoarding was evidently identified as the issue and, on August 30, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced strict controls on the supply of essential goods. A statement issued by his office said that essential items would be purchased by the government and provided at fair prices. But, what seems to be the root cause of the inflation—the apparent scarcity—was not properly addressed. This is not surprising given that authorities seem to be asserting that there is no food shortage (see interview with Sri Lanka’s central bank governor).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an argument to be made for a direct link between the decline in the island country’s foreign exchange reserves and the empty aisles in shops—the ban on the import of chemical fertilisers. It was reportedly part of Sri Lanka’s effort to be more judicious with its forex reserves. Going forward, the ban is expected to cause serious problems for Sri Lanka’s tea industry. Plantation owners fear their crop could fail as early as October, without chemical fertilisers. This would have a severe economic impact on the three million labourers who pick leaves. In fact, central Sri Lanka—Kandy and the hilly country—rely completely on income from tea and rubber.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the shortage of food and other essentials is more easily noticeable, experts said there are other signs of trouble, too. The central bank had recently put restrictions on banks, preventing them from declaring profits until accounts had been audited. Economists assert that this is indicative of a looming banking crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>K.D.D.B. Vimanga, policy analyst at the Advocata Institute, a think-tank based in Colombo, said: “If reforms are brought in immediately at the macroeconomic level, the crisis will not worsen. It is high time we reform or perish.” He told THE WEEK that the economic crisis was caused by two factors—persistent fiscal deficit and external current account deficit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s new finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, had, on September 8, addressed the “severe foreign exchange crisis”. He informed parliament: “The data from the central bank shows the country’s net foreign exchange reserves are close to zero.” He added that the government’s revenue had fallen “between 1,500 and 1,600 billion rupees” from the estimate, because of Covid-19. “We are facing a severe external crisis as well as a domestic crisis with revenues falling and expenses continuing to rise,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Covid-19 robbed Sri Lanka off its tourist dollars, its foreign exchange reserves dropped to $2.8 billion in July from over $7.5 billion in 2019. However, central bank authorities argue that the decline in forex reserves was because Sri Lanka settled debts to the tune of $2 billion in one year. After the debts were repaid, the import cover of the forex-strapped country fell to 1.8 months, against the usual minimum of three months. The value of Sri Lanka’s rupee against the dollar has also dropped steeply, depreciating by 8 per cent till September.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahilan Kadirgamar, senior lecturer in the department of sociology, University of Jaffna, said that the pandemic only compounded existing issues. “The economic crisis has been emerging for a number of years because of the kind neo-liberal policy that was carried out in Sri Lanka.” He said this was why Sri Lanka has extreme levels of external debt. He added that even before Covid-19 the government revenue had been declining. There were other issues, he said, such as imports being double the exports, and remittances declining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The macroeconomic issues the country faces have been brought about by poor fiscal management,” says Vimanga. “Successive governments have run large budget deficits which have been financed through borrowings both from domestic and foreign sources. This has, in turn, led to serious concerns on debt sustainability. Unless the root cause for the macroeconomic situation the country faces is not addressed, other measures such as import restrictions will only provide temporary relief and will in the medium- to long-term create other distortions in the economy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that while there has been an increasing reliance on Chinese loans to finance large infrastructure projects, the pertinent question was whether this infrastructure has led to an improvement in productivity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The International Monetary Fund gave Sri Lanka special drawing rights of about $800 million in August to boost its forex reserves. And multiple currency swaps have been signed, including a $400 million deal with India. The deal makes sense from an Indian perspective. India’s relationship with Sri Lanka has soured in recent times and Indian exports have also reduced because of the recent restrictions. If the macroeconomic imbalances in Sri Lanka continue to be a major issue, Beijing is only likely to become increasingly influential. However, financial experts said the adequacy of Sri Lanka’s reserves would still be tenuous without additional means to boost reserves. There is a debt of about $5 billion due in 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Economists said the only way out now for Sri Lanka is to prioritise macroeconomic stabilisation. “This would mean implementing hard reforms such as debt restructuring, revenue consolidation, public finance management and public sector reforms such as enhancing monetary policy effectiveness and exchange rate flexibility,” said Vimanga. “Improving the country’s external finances requires policies that are pro-exports. Continuing some of the current policies that have an anti-export bias will have a serious impact going forward.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kadirgamar said: “The government has to focus on the fundamentals like essential items, so that at least we don’t end up in famine.” He added that the agriculture policy—the ban on import of fertilisers—is not feasible. “It will result in a huge drop in production,” he said. “Sri Lanka is self-sufficient in rice cultivation, but there can be a drop in it, too, if this continues. The focus should be on agriculture, food, people and livelihood.”</p> Thu Sep 30 21:01:13 IST 2021 there-is-no-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In an email interview with THE WEEK, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Sri Lanka’s new central bank governor, denied reports of food shortage in the country. While he admitted that there were economic “challenges’’, he added that recovery had started. The Rajapaksa loyalist also stressed that debt owed to China was not the cause of financial problems. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a food shortage in Sri Lanka? The country seems to have invoked emergency regulations because the banks have run out of foreign exchange reserves to finance imports.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No. There is no food shortage. We have invoked emergency regulations to counter hoarding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You cannot say we do not have money to finance imports. Imports have increased by over 10 per cent this year. There have been excessive imports of certain food items, particularly sugar, which is being hoarded to create an artificial shortage (to make more profits).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Import of turmeric and certain other spices has been discontinued as farmers were able to grow required quantities. There is no shortage of turmeric or any other spice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The government’s overnight decision to go 100 per cent organic is being seen as a threat to the country’s food security. What was the rationale behind it, during the pandemic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The government’s decision of growing 100 per cent organic food has been discussed for more than 10 years, in the face of the massive increase in kidney-related and other diseases in the country. The need to change over to organic food cultivation had also been referred to in the manifesto of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In implementing this strategy, the government is well aware that there would be challenges, and already, many challenges have been addressed while special teams are working to deal with those that are emerging. The outcomes so far have been reasonably satisfactory, with many stakeholders in the different processes adjusting well. Therefore, the government is confident that this vital transition to organic cultivation would take place quite smoothly. As with any major change, there are pockets of resistance and various groups continue to lobby against this decision. Such resistance has sometimes been picked up by various local and international agencies and used to convey a more-than-actual resistance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the economic crisis? The Sri Lankan economy shrank by 3.6 per cent last year. By when do you expect to recover?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That is true. But, the economy is growing by an estimated 4.5 per cent this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I want to reiterate that there is no food crisis, and accordingly there is no crisis to recover from. Inflation is in mid-single digits. Every single debt instalment has been paid on time. Of the Covid-vulnerable population, 99 per cent have been vaccinated with the first dose, while 65 per cent have received the second.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Exports and remittances are rising. The banking system is vibrant and stable. New Laws for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Colombo Port City have been passed recently—this will encourage future investment. Interest rates are at reasonable levels. The LKR (Sri Lankan rupee) has faced challenges, but is now stabilising.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore, while it is true that Sri Lanka is facing economic challenges, just like all other countries, the situation is being managed satisfactorily. Improvements are taking place in Sri Lanka even amid the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But Sri Lanka’s Central Bank increased the interest rates to shore up the local currency, say policy analysts. Is this true?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is not true. Increasing the interest rates was a Central Bank action which dealt with the anomaly where the local currency interest rates were less than the Forex interest rates. The situation was addressed with a suitable policy action. <b></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There was an unprecedented drop in Sri Lanka’s forex reserves, from $7.5 billion in 2019 to $2.8 billion in July.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Forex reserves dropped in July because of the settlement of $2 billion of international sovereign bonds within one year. But, the reserves increased to $3.8 billion by the end of August. Sri Lanka can also access a [currency] swap of $1.5 billion from the People’s Bank of China, which means available reserves are around $5.3 billion. With the expected inflows, there is no risk of [being unable to] settle due payments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the debt that Sri Lanka owes to China and what is the annual interest? Is this pulling the country into greater financial trouble?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The debt payable by Sri Lanka to China is around 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total debt. In fact, there are several other creditors who hold larger shares of Sri Lanka’s debt. Therefore, it cannot be said that Chinese debt is causing any financial trouble to the Sri Lankan economy. Many projects have been supported by Chinese loans and that has been an important factor in Sri Lanka’s growth over the past few years. Furthermore, there is a perception that the interest rates of Chinese debt is higher than what is charged by others. That is not so. In fact, the rate of the interest paid for international sovereign bonds is substantially higher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Economists recommend going to the International Monetary Fund to get help to tide over the current challenges. Will Sri Lanka go to the IMF? If not, why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Some economists think the IMF is the panacea for all economic ills, while others can only see a crisis, but no solutions. From the time the new government came into office in late 2019, these economists seem to be fixated on an IMF solution. They fail to understand that the IMF can’t bring 2.5 million tourists who would deliver inflows of $4.5 million or increase worker’s remittances or increase gem exports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nevertheless, the government has assessed the challenge and has already developed a realistic plan which deals with the pandemic-induced economic problems, including debt, reserves and investment. Those plans are now being implemented and the government is confident that with the effective implementation of those plans, the current weaknesses would be addressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In these circumstances, there is no need for Sri Lanka to go to the IMF and thereby cause unnecessary pain to its lenders and investors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How long does the government think it will take to come out of this food and economic crisis?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I want to reiterate that there is no food crisis, and so, there is no crisis to come out from. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further, this year, Sri Lanka will record an economic growth of over 4.5 per cent. Inflation is in mid-single digits. Every single debt instalment has been paid on time. Of the COVID-vulnerable population, 99 per cent have been vaccinated with the first dose while 65 per cent have received the second. Exports and remittances are rising. The banking system is vibrant and stable. New laws for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Colombo Port City have been passed recently, which will encourage future investment. Interest rates are at reasonable levels. The LKR has faced challenges, but is now stabilising.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p> </p> <p>Therefore, while it is true that Sri Lanka is facing economic challenges just like all other countries, the situation is being managed satisfactorily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What kind of support is Sri Lanka getting from India? What more are you looking for?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ India provided initial support to Sri Lanka in the first phase of the pandemic when it provided the first few consignments of vaccinations. Also, it has supported several projects. There is also support by way of investments by several Indian companies in the Sri Lankan economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the next few years, we would like to see more Indian businesses investing in Sri Lanka, and such support to the economy would definitely be very helpful. Investment that is already committed towards the Western Terminal of the Colombo Port is one of the larger investments that is due to be undertaken by an Indian company. We hope for more ventures of the Indian private sector into the Sri Lankan economy.</p> Thu Sep 30 21:05:26 IST 2021 india-seeks-a-balance-between-multilateral-clubs-and-bilateral-t <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It was supposed</b> to be the big moment, with leaders of four important countries in the Indo-Pacific getting together for their first in-person meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in the US. So it took people by surprise that just a week before the summit, three Anglo-Saxon countries announced the formation of AUKUS (a trilateral of Australia, the UK and the US). Now, there are questions about whether the US is dumping the Quad for this new club.</p> <p>The Quad is a club into which India was wooed ardently. Yet, it remained circumspect. It is largely because of India that the Quad remains a non-military club of regional democracies with a “shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”. AUKUS, on the other hand, is an unabashed security pact; the announcement of its formation came with the news that the UK and the US would help Australia develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines. The message of taking on China is unambiguous.</p> <p>Since 1993, when India made its first bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the country has embraced club culture in a big way. It joined a veritable alphabet soup of new groupings including BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), G-20, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and managed a toehold even in the Djibouti Code of Conduct. India is now part of over 70 such groupings.</p> <p>Yet, two exclusive club cards which it most desires—UNSC and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—remain elusive. The NSG was formed in response to India’s nuclear ambitions in 1974. India got a host of NSG waivers in 2008, which has negated the need for actual membership, yet India desires to sit at the high table and not outside the door. The UNSC membership line is long and the club has no intention of letting anyone in. The only option available is non-permanent membership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will raise the issue of UNSC reforms once again during his speech at the UN General Assembly.</p> <p>The Quad ticks the “exclusive” box, a point over which both Russia and China are sore. For all its desire to be part of elite clubs, its Quad membership makes India rather uncomfortable.</p> <p>This brings us to the question: what is the point of amassing so many club cards? Many multilaterals have limited purpose now. BRICS, launched as a group of emerging economies, is a good example. Although the leaders still go ahead with summits, its relevance is limited now to the Brics Development Bank, with Brazil having lost interest, South Africa no longer considered an emerging economy, Russia getting sanctioned and China already established as an economic superpower, according to Dilip Sinha, retired IFS officer and author of <i>Legitimacy of Power: The Permanence of Five in the Security Council</i>. Geopolitics has been turbulent over the last decade. Now, with the pandemic and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is even more turbulent. Existing alliances are being readjusted and new priorities are emerging, says Major General Dipankar Banerjee (retd), founder of the Forum for Strategic Initiative. “India, too, is adjusting to the changes, and it needs a presence in every significant grouping—regional or global—given its desire to be part of the global conversations,” he says.</p> <p>In a dynamic world, if one club loses its significance, another one can get revived in response to emerging needs. The G-20, which was formed in 1999, rose to prominence only after the global economic meltdown of 2008. The Quad was formed in 2007, then almost crumbled with Australia’s hesitance to counter China. India, too, was wary of China and also of Australia’s intentions. By 2017, however, China’s expansionist plans and the strength of its economy had rattled both the US and Australia enough to revive the Quad. “Post Galwan, India, too, has realised the need for this partnership, given its limited maritime reach,” says Banerjee.</p> <p>While some may regard AUKUS as having stolen the Quad’s thunder, the two are complementary. AUKUS actually solves India’s dilemma of militarising the Quad. The much needed military presence to check China’s growing footprint comes without India actually needing to provide its military.</p> <p>India, when it realised that there cannot be even limited diplomatic engagement with Pakistan, shifted focus from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) to BIMSTEC, a group which was in alignment with both Neighbourhood First and Act East approaches of the government.</p> <p>The question of the SCO’s utility to India, too, comes up repeatedly, given that both of India’s headaches—China and Pakistan, are members. As Sinha says, imagine us having a discussion on anti-terror strategies in a forum shared with Pakistan. What can be the takeaways from such dialogues?</p> <p>China initiated the formation of the SCO to reach Central Asian markets. With the inclusion of newer nations—India, Pakistan and now Iran—it has become a grouping of countries which matter in the region. Even though India may have limited scope in checking China’s Belt and Road Initiative ambitions through the SCO, the summits provide a platform for India to air its views before regional stakeholders.</p> <p>The SCO’s most important role has been in providing a neutral ground for both nations to meet, something which helped tone down aggression after Galwan. Both External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met their Chinese counterparts in Moscow on the sidelines of SCO meetings last year. Significantly, the Astana Consensus, by which Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed not to let differences between the two countries escalate into disputes, was forged at India’s first SCO meeting as a member in 2017. The consensus was put to test weeks later when the face-off between soldiers of the two countries happened in Doklam. It took months, but the situation was peacefully de-escalated.</p> <p>Another club where partners were keen for India to join, but India held out was the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Domestic pressures kept India from joining, though Sinha feels that India had not prepared well for the membership. “Just as you cannot join a golf club without at least purchasing a set of clubs, you cannot join a trade group if you have no import standards and have not built up your manufacturing capacities,’’ he says. He believes that while groupings have their uses, India should focus its energies on developing robust bilaterals.</p> <p>India now has the 2+2 dialogues with all three Quad partners, thus maintaining a defence engagement with each, but out of the ambit of the plurilateral. Balancing bilaterals requires immense diplomatic finesse. Keeping its time-tested friendship with Russia intact even as it explores newer opportunities with the US is one of India’s challenges. And just how much is India willing to give in any relationship is going to be put to test sooner or later.</p> <p>A recent jolt was when Republican Congressman Mark Green asked Secretary of State Anthony Blinken whether the US had reached out to India as a possible staging area for over-the-horizon forces. Blinken merely said that he would take up the issue in a different setting. India has refrained from commenting on it.</p> <p>India follows a fiercely independent foreign policy and has, in the past, turned down many outreaches which came with riders. The emergence of the new world order from the present flux will test each one of its relationships.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 23 16:29:43 IST 2021 qatars-eminence-will-not-fall-with-the-taliban-shifting-its-headquarters-to-kabul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A tiny country</b> tucked in between Arabian sands and the Persian Gulf is emerging as the Geneva of the Middle East. Qatar, a country that is barely 11,586sqkm in size, now wields an international heft that many bigger countries cannot even dream of.</p> <p>Doha, its capital, has hosted diplomats from across the globe, as they engaged with the Taliban at various levels—bilaterally or in groups. Taliban set up its foreign office here in 2013, and the city has played an important role in shaping the once proscribed terror outfit into a reality that just might get legitimised. Doha’s early negotiating success was facilitating the swap of a US soldier in Taliban custody since 2009, in return for five Taliban men in Guantanamo Bay prison. The exchange happened in Doha in 2014.</p> <p>Doha provided that neutral ground, which was comfortable to both the US (it has its largest air base in the Middle East, Al Udeid, also the forward base of its Central Command, in Qatar) and the Taliban, which preferred this country over options like Saudi Arabia and Turkey when it wanted to set up a diplomatic office. Qatar had not recognised the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001, only Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan had. Yet, the Taliban preferred Qatar for its outreach. Taliban leaders had been moving into Doha since 2011. It was to Qatar that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar headed when he was released from a Pakistani jail in 2018, a move that paved the way for the intra-Afghan peace talks. Over the last couple of years, as the talks began taking some shape, Doha’s eminence rose. The Doha Agreement of 2020 by which the US agreed to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan is the document which has shaped the present scenario in Afghanistan. Qatar continues to remain important to the Afghan story. It facilitated evacuations of foreigners and Afghans, and was among the first to rush in with relief material for Afghans. It helped reopen Kabul airport, along with Turkey and the UAE, and got domestic flights operational. Many countries have shifted their Kabul embassies—at least temporarily—to Doha, while Afghanistan remains in a flux.</p> <p>Qatar is a maverick in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It thinks and acts independently, often to the ire of the big brother in the region, Saudi Arabia. Its phenomenal wealth, largely through the deposits of natural gas, allows it to get away with its outlier ways—something which Oman cannot. With a per capita income of around $128,000, Qatar is among the richest countries in the world, where the definition of middle class itself is someone who can only afford an apartment, and not a mansion, in London’s Mayfair.</p> <p>So in 2006, Qatar launched the Al Jazeera network, which provides English language news away from the tilts of the US and the UK, and openly critiques the policies of Middle East nations, except, of course, Qatar. The other countries frowned at Qatar, but Al Jazeera went on to be a success. Then, in 2011, when the Arab Spring swept over Saharan Africa, Qatar openly sided with the Muslim Brotherhood, an outfit which Saudi Arabia declared as terrorist, as it was against the emirate kind of governance. Qatar maintains friendly ties with Iran, which again irks the GCC.</p> <p>In 2017, angered by Qatar’s “errant ways”—the Al Jazeera network, friendship with Iran and support to the Muslim Brotherhood—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with the country. The blockade was lifted this January. Anyway, it had not had the intended effect of isolating Qatar, which strengthened its friendship with Iran (with which it shares a rich natural gas reserve) and became the fulcrum for Afghan negotiations. “During this period, it decided to reach out to the world, and styled itself as a negotiator in international matters,” said Anil Trigunayat, India’s former envoy to Libya.</p> <p>In fact, even before, Qatar was clear about making itself relevant on the global stage and not just remain a regional entity. In 2010, it won the rights to host the football World Cup for 2022, the first Arab country to do so. It will also host the Asian Games for a second time in 2030. Qatar has also become an education hub, with a number of US universities having overseas campuses in Doha. “Qatar has modernised itself, going in for renewables and smart technologies,’’ said Trigunayat.</p> <p>Qatar’s foreign policy, said Mohan Kumar, dean and professor of diplomatic practices at the O.P. Jindal Global University, was “disruptive, aspirational and very successful”. Qatar, he said, offered a lot more than just five-star amenities for dialogues. “Its easy rapport with many warring factions helps in getting these parties on board. It is shaping itself the way Norway had during the LTTE crisis years. Because of its geography, it provides the perfect bridge for mediation between the east and the west,” said Kumar.</p> <p>While the Taliban talks made big news, Qatar has also mediated between the warring Hamas and Fatah factions of Palestine, and among various factions in Sudan. It is the only country which can take on Saudi Arabia in the region. However, now that the blockade is over, it is keen on easing ties with neighbouring countries. It has offered to broker talks between Iran and the US over the nuclear deal that former president Donald Trump tore up. Who knows, it might someday even be an interlocutor between China and the US.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:41:30 IST 2021 along-with-refugee-crisis-afghanistan-faces-shortage-of-essentials-health-facilities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Nazeema studied in </b>India, but she went back to Afghanistan, to work for women. Since the Taliban has taken over, she knows it is a matter of time before there is a knock at her door. “Everyone is at risk,’’ she says. “Especially women like me.” The complexion of the current government—17 of the 33 cabinet members are on the UN sanctions list—does not hold out much hope.</p> <p>Nazeema’s story is by no means the exception. The UN estimates that half a million refugees will flee Afghanistan by the end of the year. Last year, nearly 14.3 lakh Afghans crossed over to Pakistan, while Iran provided shelter to 7.8 lakh. India, by comparison, admitted only 8,275 refugees.</p> <p>With the Taliban taking over, there is an attempt to stop people from fleeing. Pakistan and Iran have indicated that they will not be taking any more refugees. “It is going to be much more difficult for Afghans looking to travel beyond their borders, looking for safety,’’ says Kabir Taneja of the Observer Research Foundation. “The Taliban will push Afghans back from the Iran border so as to not upset Tehran. Turkey already hosts more than two million Syrian refugees. Pakistan is an option for southern Afghans, but those who would feel safe there are very few.’’</p> <p>There are also an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced Afghans who are forced to flee their homes. But more than just the refugee crisis, Afghanistan is also facing a looming humanitarian crisis. The government has practically no money. As winter approaches, 80 per cent of the Afghans will need shelter, and the food shortage is real.</p> <p>The World Bank has frozen aid after the Taliban took over. “Nearly 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s budget came through international aid,’’ says Taneja. “But the west did not design any long-term economic plan. There is going to be an immense loss to the Afghan exchequer.”</p> <p>The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says nearly $606 million is needed immediately. Doctors have not been paid for months. The World Health Organisation says 90 per cent of its clinics will be shut soon. “Countries in the west can and should use their influence with the Taliban to ensure that it cooperates with aid groups,’’ says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, Washington, DC. “The west has an obligation to do this, given that sanctions will add to the misery of the people.”</p> <p>But it may not be easy. “The new Taliban government is led by the Pashtuns, ignoring other demographics, and has no women representation, making it difficult for Europe to justify aid beyond a point,’’ says Taneja. The US, however, has assured that it will continue to provide assistance despite the sanctions.</p> <p>Can India find a way to step in and make a difference? India has offered to help the Afghans when the country was under Taliban rule in the past. Providing humanitarian aid could help India keep alive its “winning hearts and mind” agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:32:58 IST 2021 angela-merkel-didnt-need-grand-vision-to-achieve-national-european-global-goals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the night of November 9, 1989—when the Berlin Wall came down, heralding the collapse of the communist regime in East Germany—tens of thousands of delirious youngsters crossed over to the West, taking in the sights and sounds of freedom, and of course, capitalism. Angela Merkel was not among them. “It was Thursday, and Thursday was my sauna day. So that's where I went—in the same communist high-rise where we always went," she said in an interview many years later. Merkel, who was then a 35-year-old quantum chemistry researcher at a government institute in East Berlin, did indeed cross into the West later that night, but she was back home early enough to get ready for work the next morning.</p> <p>More than 30 years later, as she steps down as chancellor of Germany after serving four consecutive four-year terms, Merkel might acknowledge that it was perhaps this pragmatism that helped her survive a long tenure, working with four American presidents, five British prime ministers and four French presidents.</p> <p>Merkel was not just pragmatic, she was also ruthlessly ambitious. Her father was a Lutheran preacher who moved his family to East Germany a few months after she was born. Merkel entered active politics only after the fall of the Berlin Wall and not many people thought that she would be successful in the conservative and predominantly Catholic Christian Democratic Union (CDU). She was from the East, was divorced and was a Protestant. But she was noticed by the then chancellor Helmut Kohl, who wanted a female politician from the East in his cabinet. For Kohl, Merkel was “<i>mein Mädchen</i> (my girl)", and her rise among a group of hard-drinking, womanising, cutthroat male politicians was quiet and unobtrusive.</p> <p>But she took her chance when Kohl got engulfed in a campaign finance scandal in 1999. She wrote a guest column in the conservative daily <i>Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung</i>, blaming Kohl for the fiasco and asking him to step down from CDU leadership. It was the end of Kohl’s political career. A few months later, Merkel took over as head of the CDU, and five years later as the third chancellor of reunited Germany.</p> <p>The first few years in power were relatively easy sailing, as Germany enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, riding on former chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s structural reforms which propelled economic growth. Her first major challenge was the eurozone crisis, which came in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Europe was split down the middle with its spendthrift southern periphery of Greece, Italy and Spain on the one side and the parsimonious north, including Germany, on the other.</p> <p>The US, under president Barack Obama, feared the unravelling of the European project, and wanted Merkel to loosen her purse strings. It was a major challenge for her as the German public was clearly opposed to it. At the 2011 G20 summit at Cannes, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Obama literally cornered her and insisted on a financial package for Greece and Italy. As the pressure became unbearable, Merkel started crying. “That is not fair,” she said about the bailout package. “I am not going to commit suicide.”</p> <p>Merkel was referring to the conservative Germans who adored thrift and abhorred debt. She, however, stepped in at the last moment, pushing through a rescue package which imposed tough austerity measures on the southern European countries. And, it was not an act of charity. Most of the bailout money was, in fact, used to pay back lenders, especially the German banks.&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel’s greatest moment as chancellor came in the summer of 2015, when about a million refugees from the Middle East crossed the Mediterranean into Greece. She knew that cash-strapped Greece would be unable to deal with the problem and announced, uncharacteristically, that Germany would take them in. She waived EU rules which permitted Germany to turn refugees back to the first EU country they had passed through. And she did not even consult her cabinet or the parliament. It was a personal decision for which she took full responsibility. “<i>Wir schaffen das</i> (We can do it),”she told the rattled Germans.</p> <p>But she scaled back on the refugee resettlement plan as the crisis resulted in several law and order problems and terrorist attacks. She negotiated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a $4 billion deal to stop the refugee flow. There was some criticism that the refugee crisis helped the German industrial sector to tide over the labour problem caused by the introduction of the statutory minimum wage.</p> <p>Merkel’s cold, calculating side was evident also during her dealings with key partners like Russia and China. She was guided by “<i>Wandel durch Handel</i> (change through trade)”, the theory which posited that deepening economic relations would encourage progressive reforms in Moscow and Beijing. With Russian President Vladimir Putin, she shared a love-hate relationship. When she first went to visit him, he gave her a small stuffed toy dog. During the next visit, Putin let Konni, his big, black Labrador, walk up to Merkel. The chancellor, who is mortally afraid of dogs, did not flinch. But she never stopped engaging with Russia throughout her tenure.</p> <p>Merkel has often stepped in to smoothen the rough edges of the west’s relations with Russia. When Russia annexed Crimea, Merkel stepped in and led the peace negotiations, resulting in the Minsk agreement. At the same time, she did not hesitate to put together a sanctions regime against Russia.</p> <p>Yet, despite enormous pressure from US President Joe Biden and her European allies, she did not abandon Nord Stream 2, the pipeline project which will bring Russian natural gas to Germany, circumventing Ukraine and Poland. She was convinced that the project was in Germany’s national interest.</p> <p>With China, too, Merkel’s motives have been largely economic. China is the biggest market for German automobile majors. It was the Chinese market which saved Germany from slipping into a depression in 2009. “Merkel remained beholden to the post-Cold War mindset that expanding economic ties would render China a ‘responsible stakeholder’in the global system, and never adjusted to signs that China was abusing the asymmetric dependencies inherent in such ties to challenge key precepts of the global system,”said Daniel S. Hamilton of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. But with China continuing to be aggressive economically and politically, Merkel has been scaling down the engagement. The EU-China investment agreement championed by her is on the back burner. Similarly, the plan to allow Huawei into Germany’s 5G network, too, is likely to be shelved.</p> <p>While she has been invested in maintaining good ties with Russia and China, India was never a priority for Merkel. She did not miss the fact that while German trade with India is worth about $23.5 billion annually, China had a trade volume of $250 billion in 2020. Merkel visited India four times during her tenure, the most by a German chancellor. She was, in fact, the first foreign leader to visit India after Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories in 2019. But bilateral ties never really took off under her watch.</p> <p>“Merkel's term was a period of unmet expectations in Indo-German relations,”said Uma Purushothaman, who teaches international relations at Central University of Kerala. “India didn't really have a role in her scheme of things. Her recent remarks about India being 'allowed' to become a pharmaceutical major in the wake of the Covid pandemic betrayed a lack of sensitivity and lack of appreciation of India's progress and achievements.”</p> <p>During the pandemic, Germany blocked a broad waiver of rules protecting intellectual property on the production and export of vaccines and other critical medical goods. “The German refusal to waive intellectual property regulations has made it difficult for the global south to procure vaccines, medicines and even testing kits,” said Shiju Mazhuvanchery, who teaches trade law at Sai University, Chennai. Merkel defended her position citing monetary support to COVAX, a global vaccine procurement and distribution programme.</p> <p>According to most reports, Merkel was planning to quit politics after her third term ended in 2017, but she was persuaded to stay on for another term—some say by Obama—after Donald Trump was elected US president. She offered him cooperation, but spelt out her conditions quite clearly. “Germany and America are bound by common values–democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation or political views,” she said. “It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation.”</p> <p>From the day Trump took over, Merkel used every possible opportunity to drive home the point that the liberal world order based on democracy and multilateral institutions, which came into existence after the devastations of World War II, was sacrosanct, making her the “new leader of the free world”. While Trump bad-mouthed traditional European democracies, undermined NATO and fought a trade war with Germany and questioned its security commitments, it was Merkel who took the lead in preserving the transatlantic alliance with remarkable restraint and farsightedness.</p> <p>“Had Merkel responded in kind to Trump, one could easily imagine a relationship in ruins,” said Jeffrey Anderson of Georgetown University, Washington, DC. “Instead, she kept the relationship on an even keel with an artful blend of de-escalation, resolve, and autonomy.”</p> <p>Despite her credible achievements, Merkel was never regarded as a visionary, unlike her predecessors like Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer. She eschewed any grand transformative vision for her country, continent and the world. All her major achievements—resolving the eurozone crisis, opening Germany up for refugees and the defence of the liberal international order—were essentially reactions to unfolding events. Even the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was launched by her predecessor.</p> <p>In three of her four terms as chancellor, including the current one, she ruled in alliance with an ideological adversary, the leftist Social Democratic Party. “Merkel’s radical centrism promoted incrementalism and a surfeit of compromises. It adversely affected Germany’s party system and ceded the opposition space to fringe elements like the far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD),” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies. “She adopted many of the programmes of the rival SPD, leaving both parties in ideological disarray.”</p> <p>Merkel indeed is leaving her own party in turmoil, which is divided into leftist and rightist factions. The current leader Armin Laschet is facing an uphill battle in the run up to the September 26 elections. The latest opinion polls show the CDU and the SPD running neck-to-neck with 22 per cent support, while the Greens are close behind. But on individual popularity stakes, Laschet, the minister-president of the North Rhine-Westphalia state,&nbsp;is trailing SPD leader Olaf Scholz by a wide margin. He became the CDU supremo in a tight leadership tussle after Merkel’s hand-picked successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer failed to unite the warring factions in the party and was forced to step down.</p> <p>If Merkel expected her final days in office to be uneventful, the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to such hopes. But she responded well and worked with state leaders in implementing a response based on testing and lockdown. While it worked well initially, the strategy crumbled during the subsequent waves. The public has grown weary with the lockdown and the vaccination drive is plagued by inordinate delays. The pandemic has also brought to light the digital deficit in Germany. For several months, states had to use fax machines to share data in the absence of a viable software. Online classes are not working properly. Ulrich Silberbach, president of the German Federation of Civil Servants, told the broadcaster Deutsche Welle, “Germany remained a sleeping beauty when it came to digitisation”.</p> <p>Merkel, however, took the lead in putting together a massive stimulus plan to revive the Covid-ravaged economy. The $950 billion package formalised on July 20 will be financed by joint bonds issued by the European Commission, and it will help regions hit hardest by the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic, however, has completely upended the lifestyle of the intensely private chancellor, who continues to live in her old Berlin apartment with her husband and enjoys the occasional grocery shopping. She no longer has any private time. Weekends are devoted to studies and discussions with virologists. She has even stopped private meetings with artists, actors and old friends over a glass of wine.</p> <p>Yet, despite all the doom and gloom, Merkel has kept Germany largely safe from the ravages of the pandemic. And, she leaves the chancellery with a sense of achievement. “Under her, Germany has once again become Europe’s centre, the key swing state on a continent in tremendous flux,” said Hamilton. “Merkel intuitively understood the hesitations of her neighbours and the uncertainties of her compatriots. Her cool, cautious and incremental style reassured other countries about Germany and reassured the Germans about themselves. That is perhaps her greatest legacy.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 26 16:41:00 IST 2021 artist-tania-bruguera-on-dissent-freedom-of-expression-in-cuba <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On July 20, Cuban </b>installation and performance artist Tania Bruguera, 53, was arrested and taken to Villa Marista, a Cuban state security prison for political prisoners. Bruguera was interrogated and released after 11 hours, with an injunction to stay at home. She is facing three charges, including plotting against the government through protests and performance.</p> <p>Ten days earlier, on July 11, thousands of Cubans had taken to the streets, chanting “freedom” and demanding President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s resignation. Those were Cuba’s first protests since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The protests were fuelled by dissatisfaction over rising Covid-19 numbers and Cuba’s shrinking economy; the Cuban economy fell by 10.9 per cent last year. Diaz-Canel, who was named first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in April, said the coverage of the unrest in Cuba was a dissemination of “false images” . “What the world is seeing of Cuba is a lie,” Diaz-Canel tweeted. “Stop the lies, infamy and hatred. #Cuba is deeply allergic to hatred. And it will never be a land of hatred! Nothing good is built out of hatred. Hate robs us of time to love and even love itself. TO #Cuba, #Putyourheart.” He was responding particularly to the videos on social media of the unrest and footage of the police using violence to disperse protesters.</p> <p>As of August 15, Covid-19 cases in Cuba have crossed the five-lakh mark. The spike in cases is overwhelming health care facilities. The country with a population of about 1.2 crore has fully vaccinated 30 lakh, all with home-grown vaccines.</p> <p>As for Bruguera, she faces charges of organising a demonstration on November 27, 2020, with the intent to overthrow the Cuban government; collaborating with artist Hamlet Lavastida on anti-government demonstrations and performances; and planning a meeting with the National Democratic Institute, a worldwide pro-democracy nonprofit. She has been staying low since the injunction. But, this is not the first time she has been detained. In 2014, Bruguera attempted to recreate a piece that invited anyone to speak on stage—and in the end they were taken away by actors in military uniforms.</p> <p>In 2018, she was detained for organising a sit-in with other artists against decree 349, which would limit artistic freedom. In December 2020, she was detained after she took part in a protest over curbs on artistic freedom. This time, however, she is more wary. She has not been active on any social media platform and has even stayed away from WhatsApp. If Bruguera is found guilty, she could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. It is against this backdrop that she spoke to THE WEEK. To stay true to Bruguera’s voice, we are carrying excerpts from the conversation in first person:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T<i>he government of Cuba recognises artists, not artistic ideology. A person or an artist cannot criticise what the government has done; any criticism is viewed as a threat to the government. For example, now I cannot showcase any of my work. Cubans, on July 11, have spoken very clearly. Cuban citizens, mainly youngsters are not happy with the decisions of Miguel Diaz-Canel. He is still making decisions based on Raul Castro’s orders or that is what it seems like. Diaz-Canel has no political pedigree.</i></p> <p><i>At least 600 people arrested at the protests (on July 11) are being detained without proper trial. The authorities made the arrests indiscriminately. Even minors are being detained. People are starving as American dollars needed to buy the essentials are not as accessible. The pandemic has worsened the situation, several people have lost their livelihoods and the propositions being made by Diaz-Canel seem to be benefiting only the privileged.</i></p> <p><i>Many unhappy citizens are afraid to comment on or post material related to the protests, or express their views on the government over the fear of being detained. Freedom of press has been long dead in Cuba, and people are now under pressure to remain quiet about any atrocities they might face. The police have beaten up several of the detained minors badly. But, their mothers cannot raise this issue with the government—everyone has been silenced.</i></p> <p><i>Currently, the situation may seem calm, but it is really tense. Activists are seeking the release of detainees. The government is promoting fake news to create a sense of normalcy or to discredit the voices that are being raised. The national news is a big lie. They rarely showcase any critical voices and they never broadcast videos of the protests. They are showing only neutral material or sports news. If the government promotes fake news, then people will eye the videos of the protests with suspicion, which is what the government wants.</i></p> <p><i>There is a video that shows seven policemen beating up an underage boy. But, the people are scared to share it. Right now, an average Cuban citizen feels hungry, oppressed, neglected and does not have any hope.</i></p> <p><i>Of late, even foreign news agencies in Cuba are being pressured to exclude voices that are critical of the government.</i></p> <p><i>The detainees are being denied trial saying that people cannot gather because of Covid-19. On the other hand, however, Diaz-Canel held a mass rally just two days after the protests. He himself violated the Covid-19 protocols. Also, on the island where the protest took place, a 1pm curfew was imposed. This is irrational. The only reason could be that the government is afraid of another protest.</i></p> <p><i>Diaz-Canel could have charted a way to democracy for Cuba, he could have made history. But instead, he chooses to be a president who crushes the people. People are really desperate and want to somehow leave Cuba. Strangely, the government, too, wants people to leave the country. This has been happening over the years. When a problem arises, the government makes it worse and then opens the borders, so that there is a release of sorts.</i></p> Thu Aug 26 16:30:36 IST 2021 india-role-in-afghanistan-has-not-been-good <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the Taliban, peace is the first option, says Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the group. The 40-something Mujahid is in an undisclosed location, from where he spoke to THE WEEK. In a 45-minute-long interaction, Mujahid spoke with elegance and courtesy, expressing the Taliban's desire for a progressive Afghanistan. He said the group welcomes every initiative towards a peaceful solution, as long as there was no meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. As Mujahid prefers to remain faceless, he did not share his photos. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So many countries are involved in chalking out Afghanistan’s future.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We welcome initiatives of other nations to bring peace to Afghanistan, like the efforts at the intra-Afghan talks in Qatar. But we make this very clear—we accept efforts at facilitating peace talks, but we do not accept anyone's interference in our internal matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your observations about the US involvement?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US was in direct conflict with us; it had waged a war on our country. But since the talks in Doha in May, it has assured that it will withdraw its troops by August, and the forces have begun leaving. This is good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What outcome are you expecting from the intra-Afghan talks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our hope from the Doha talks is that the conversation for peace continues, this is to the benefit of Afghan citizens. We hope that in future, these talks lead to a better outcome. We want peace. Notwithstanding whatever happened in Afghanistan in the past, the future hinges on peace. It is our first option, and we want initiatives towards a peaceful resolution of issues to be given a chance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The youth of Afghanistan, however, reject the Taliban. They look upon you as an outdated outfit, which does not respect values like democracy and equal rights.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 20 years of US imposition in our country has created this mindset among a certain section, but it is not true for the majority. The people of Afghanistan want independence from foreign intervention, they want the country to have peace and to be ruled by Afghans, under Afghan laws. Is it not significant that in two months we have established control over 200 [of the 400] districts in the country? It could not have happened without their acceptance. The Afghan people want their own government and laws. External interference is against the belief of the Prophet himself. The Afghans do not have faith in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How much Afghan territory is under Taliban control as of now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to our information, 85 per cent of the country is under our control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the Ashraf Ghani government says this is not true.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghans do not even consider Ghani as their representative. For his own reasons, for appeasing the external (US) influence, he will make wrong claims. But if Ghani had supporters in his own country, he would not have needed foreign troops on this soil. Why is he scared? He is the one telling lies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Despite your claims of controlling over 85 per cent of Afghanistan, even you will agree that you do not have influence in the urban areas. In fact, despite taking over Qala-e-naw (capital of Badghis province), the city slipped out of your hands.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason is not our inability. We ourselves do not want to enter cities at this stage. Cities have businesses, enterprise, markets, and we do not want to destabilise this structure. If cities become battlefields, many innocents will suffer. That is why we want to stay on the periphery of cities at present. We want to give a chance for peaceful resolution of differences and issues through dialogue. This is our outlook. However, if the issues are not resolved within a certain time-frame, we will have no option but to take over the control of cities by force. With regard to Qala-e-naw, we did not want to vitiate the festive occasion of Eid with bloodshed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How safe is Afghanistan right now? Internationally, it is regarded as a very unsafe place.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You are right, Afghanistan has not been a safe place. We have been at war for 20 years, so many countries have deployed weapons on this land. It was our helplessness that there was no peace here, that innocent Afghans had to make sacrifices while the struggle against foreign influence was on. War is not good, but there was no option. However, in the territory under our control, there is peace now. Elsewhere, there is unemployment and hunger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why was photojournalist Danish Siddiqui killed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His death is not related to the Taliban, he was caught in the crossfire. He was himself responsible for his death, for entering the crossfire and risking his life. We don't know whose gunfire killed him. The Taliban is not targeting journalists, but we are not responsible if someone gets hurt by coming into the midst of the battle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who will want to have any links with Afghanistan, or visit for tourism and business?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the external forces leave, we want to establish Islamic law here and reach out to other nations—Asia, the Islamic world, Europe, America—to establish diplomatic and trade ties, and revive our economy. When that happens, people from all over the world will want to visit<br> Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What role do you see for India in your vision for Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our plans include India. We want to have diplomatic ties with India. In the past, we have not had good ties. India has supported the foreign forces system, it supplied equipment for the war, leading to our own people becoming martyrs. We hope India rethinks its position on the diplomatic way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you saying India helped in the war?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India's role in Afghanistan so far has not been good. It gave helicopters which are used to bombard our population. India took sides in an internal matter, aiding one side to kill another section of Afghans. This is not the type of relationship we want. We want ties of diplomacy, respect and economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has any Indian leader contacted the Taliban leadership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, I have no information that any Indian leader has reached out to us. If I come to know something, I will let you know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>If India reaches out, will you talk?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are in favour of countries like India and others reaching out and wanting to have talks with us. We are certainly willing to have a conversation, if they are willing to discuss our issues and (support us). We will definitely welcome it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the Taliban reached out to the Indian government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not yet. We have been busy with our own matters. We also have issues with India because of its policy of aiding one section of Afghans with guns and equipment. We do not want such ties. If India changes its policies, Inshallah, we will have talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say about Pakistan's role in Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan is our neighbouring country; it gave shelter to Afghan refugees. We have good ties and want to continue that way with Pakistan, and also with all other countries we share a border with, like Turkmenistan, Iran, Tajikistan, China and Uzbekistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has Pakistan helped the Taliban?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, no, neither Pakistan nor any other country has helped us. If anyone says otherwise, that is wrong. No country is helping us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But Pakistan trains Taliban cadres.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is propaganda. We do not need training. We have the experience of being at war for 40 years. We do not need someone else to train us. In fact, if anyone else wants training, we can train them, we have so much experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will the Taliban be able to form a government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, we want the Taliban system to govern the entire country. The Taliban has struggled for Afghanistan's independence, it is our right to govern the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In your rule, will women also find a place?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women have rights under Islam. Within the system of Islam, whatever rights they have, they will have access to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it possible that a woman will be the leader of the country under a Taliban regime?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once we have formed our government and laws, the leaders will decide who will be given what position. Under the framework of Islam, women have the right to employment, education and service to the country. Within that framework, they will be given their rights and roles when our laws are formed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So many Afghan Hindus and Sikhs have left the country, what is your comment on this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are Afghans, they have rights in this country. We are responsible for ensuring they get their rights. Under our regime, we hope all religions will coexist. We want them to return and work towards making the country prosperous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Twenty years ago, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas. Do you regret that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That incident was under a past regime, we do not want to have any association with it. It is in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But are you sorry?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, the issue of regret doesn't come in because there are no followers of Buddhism in Afghanistan today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you say Hindus and Sikhs will be ensured protection to follow a faith different from Islam when you do not regret the destruction of the Buddha statues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, there are no practising Buddhists in Afghanistan today. If there was a single Afghan Buddhist, it would be their right to practise their religion, and we would respect that. There are Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, so there is a difference. We do not want their temples and gurdwaras to be destroyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Would you want Afghanistan to participate in sports, go explore outer space?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, of course, we want Afghans to participate in the Olympics. Science and sports both are important for a new Afghanistan to have independent thinking. In the past, too, our teams have taken part in international sports meets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>We hear there is a power struggle within the Taliban.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have unity. We have a single leader and we have good coordination between our leaders. There is no conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ten years hence, what will Kabul be like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inshallah, Afghanistan will be considered a good country. After the war is over, Afghanistan will emerge as the centre for trade and commerce, the link between east and west Asia. There will be growth and prosperity, the country will be full of people again.</p> Thu Aug 05 19:59:57 IST 2021 india-aim-should-be-to-ensure-taliban-doesnt-become-the-absolute-power-in-kabul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFGHANISTAN IS ON</b> the edge again. Emboldened by the vacuum created by the retreating western forces, the Taliban is steadily gaining control over Afghan territory. Despite claims that it is not keen on disrupting urban infrastructure, the fight for control between the Afghan military and the Taliban is intensifying in cities like Herat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the Taliban wrests territory by force, it talks the language of peace, claiming that is the first option for resolving internal differences. The world has acknowledged that the Taliban is a reality in Afghanistan that cannot be wished away. For any conversation towards the country’s future, the Taliban is a stakeholder they have to speak with. The Taliban, eager for legitimacy and acceptance, is in a mood to talk, and every country from China to Switzerland is having conversations with the group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India may perhaps be the only entity to show extreme reluctance in engaging with the Taliban, as it would be against the country’s stated policy of talking only with the democratically elected representatives of Afghanistan. The jury is divided on whether India has already missed the bus to the Hindukush, though it is generally accepted that some good opportunities have certainly gone by. “Ideally, India should have reached out in 2018 itself, we have lost much leverage,’’ said Kabir Taneja, a fellow of the strategic affairs programme at the Observer Research Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Indian government and the Taliban are vehement in denying that there have been any efforts at conversation. In June, when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Doha, there were reports that he had met with the Taliban leadership. But the ministry of external affairs denied it as “false and mischievous’’. Yet, most observers are certain that India has made some backend efforts at reaching out, but the conversations, if any, appear not to be making much headway. The Taliban is on the offensive mode with India. Some days ago, it said the air attack over Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, in which a hospital got bombed, was done by helicopters India had supplied, and called it a “war crime”.</p> <p>While India has resolutely kept its boots off the Afghan soil, it helps train military cadres. In 2019, India gave Afghanistan four Mi-35 attack helicopters and three Cheetah light helicopters. On the one hand, there is pressure from the Afghan government for spare parts to keep these aircraft operational, while on the other, the Taliban sees these gifts as India taking sides in an internal conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s decision to evacuate staff from its consulate in Kandahar last month underscores the threat India perceives from the Taliban. India has spent between two to three billion dollars in Afghanistan in various development projects. It has also helped capacity building, training Afghans in establishing democratic institutions, and grass-root level empowerment. Afghanistan has been a good example of the success of India’s soft diplomacy. The goodwill for India is immense among the people of Afghanistan, who flock to Indian cities for education and medical care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That goodwill will continue, irrespective of the future,” said Manjeev Singh Puri, former Indian ambassador to Kathmandu. The Taliban, so far, has not targeted any of the big Indian projects, well aware that those will be required even when it comes to power. However, with the Taliban’s recent anti-India outburst, the future seems uncertain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Engaging with the Taliban, observers say, is crucial if India wants to keep its infrastructure in Afghanistan secure. The Chabahar project, which gives the landlocked country a sea port access in Iran, may have met blocks towards further development. But, even in its present form, it gives India access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. Keeping this connectivity secure is crucial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much of India’s success in Afghanistan hinged on the US providing the so-called peace. With the Americans leaving, time has come for India to engage with other big stakeholders in Kabul. Russia is an important player, it even brokered intra-Afghan talks in 2018. It is strong on engaging with the Taliban and is critical of the Afghan government’s “hypocritical” approach to the talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is swiftly being edged out from many new groupings around Afghanistan, because of its reluctance to part with historical baggage. The US formed a new quad with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. China is grouping with Pakistan, and Russia has several initiatives, including one with the US, China and Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what really happens if India misses the bus to Kabul? Given that the US blueprint on Afghanistan has nothing about economic reconstruction, India might be facing a bleak future. Predominant Pakistani influence and rise in regional terrorism are the likely adverse outcomes. With China already thinking of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Kabul, the toe-hold India had on Afghan soil could be stomped out ruthlessly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So how does India salvage the situation for itself? It needs a special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, as most countries like the US, Russia and China have. “We need to talk to everyone, even the Taliban, even if that causes a domestic backlash,” said an observer, requesting anonymity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to engage at special multilateral platforms on Afghanistan,” said Puri. “With India in the UN Security Council right now, we are ideally placed to initiate discussions on peace in Afghanistan.” Could a UN-led peacekeeping force be an option?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation contact group for Afghanistan and the Russia-China-India trilateral, too, are opportunities. Though equations with China have dipped because of the border conflict, and with Iran over New Delhi toeing the US line against it, India has to engage with both over Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bolder approach could be to support Mullah Yakub, one of the two deputies in the Taliban leadership, against Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose Pakistani affiliation is greater. India’s aim, according to observers, should be to ensure that while the Taliban becomes part of Afghanistan’s legitimate future, it does not become the absolute power in Kabul. “We don’t want to meet the Taliban for the first time in the parliament building we built in Kabul, do we?” asked Taneja.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The great game is on. And if India wants to stay in it, it has to play with extreme dexterity.</p> Thu Aug 05 19:49:27 IST 2021 china-dangerous-biowarfare-blueprint <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Guest column/ Maj Gen Partap Narwal (retd), The author is a microbiologist trained in biowarfare detection and protection.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Iain Stewart, the president of Canada’s Public Health Agency, recently defied the country’s parliament. He refused to share details of why a Chinese scientist couple was expelled from a high-security microbiology laboratory in Canada in 2019. Stewart said the details being sought by parliament were “extremely sensitive or potentially dangerous”. The media had earlier reported that the couple not only helped ship two dangerous viruses from the laboratory to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, but also trained a researcher affiliated to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, after the US Justice Department indicted six Chinese researchers for hiding their PLA connection, more than 1,000 PLA-affiliated researchers fled the US because of similar charges. Even senior scientists from prestigious institutions like Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been indicted for allegedly working for China. The pattern is clear: PLA’s hunger for technology acquisition is as insatiable as China’s hunger for world domination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PLA used to look at war as a battle of wits that could be won with trickery and deception. But, about 20 years ago, it realised that its old strategies were inadequate for present-day warfare. Thus began its quest for technology. In 2002, the PLA strategist Bingyan Li wrote in the journal China Military Science: “We should make traditional strategy merge with modern science and technology and scientific methods to restore the original intent of the Sun Tzu strategy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 2003 paper in CMS cautioned that unless PLA combined high-tech weapons and improved stratagems, it will not be easy to win military operations. PLA has since been focusing on mechanisation, information technology and artificial intelligence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, a landmark development in biotechnology attracted PLA’s interest. A revolutionary tool called CRISPR made the process of gene editing easier, quicker, cheaper and more precise. It enhanced scientists’ capabilities to create designer microbes, crops, livestock and even human babies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PLA lost no time in exploring the possibilities. In 2015, its scientists and strategists saw biotechnology as a “new strategic commanding heights of the future revolution in military affairs”, and they strived for “biological deterrence” and “militarisation of biotechnology”. With its jun-min ronghe (the civil-military integration programme), China now leads in trials of CRISPR in animals and even in humans. Its scientists have already produced designer pigs, monkeys, mice, rats, rabbits and dogs. In 2018, a Chinese scientist shocked the world when he claimed to have created three human babies with gene-editing technology. Such research is considered unethical and unsafe worldwide. Though the Chinese authorities reportedly jailed the scientist later for his “illegal medical practices”, it is now suspected that China’s military leaders are supporting human gene-editing trials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Academy of Military Science (AMS), which is directly under China’s Central Military Commission, oversees military research and doctrine development. China overhauled AMS in 2017 to further sharpen its focus on technology. The divisions dealing with doctrinal development were consolidated into two new institutes: the War Institute and the Military Political Work Institute. Three institutes that dealt with technical research and were earlier directly under PLA—the Military Medicine Research Institute, the System Engineering Institute, and the National Defence Science and Technology Innovation Institute—were brought under AMS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Defence S&amp;T Innovation Institute pioneers research in cutting-edge technologies like AI, unmanned systems and nano and quantum technology. The other AMS institutes, with their roles obvious from their names, are the Military Law Research Institute, the Chemical Defence Research Institute, the National Defence Engineering Research Institute, the Evaluation and Demonstration Research Centre, and the Military Science Information Research Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under jun-min ronghe, AMS has also created linkages with several private biotechnology companies and scores of Chinese civilian universities for training military scientists and pursuing defence research. The Beijing Genomic Institute, the largest Chinese biotech company, is working on several PLA projects. Though the company reportedly accepts only its academic alliance with the military and denies other linkages, its opaque system of reporting further raises doubts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many PLA-associated universities have brazenly sent thousands of researchers abroad to learn crucial technologies, wrote Alex Joske in a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “There is a growing risk that collaboration with [Chinese] universities can be leveraged by PLA or security agencies for surveillance, human rights abuses or military purposes,” Joske wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, only uniformed personnel staffed military research, but from 2017 onwards, a large number of civilian scholars are being enrolled. Their number has since seen a five-fold increase. The Military Medicine Research Institute, which spearheads medical research, happens to be the second largest recruiter of scholars among the 10 AMS institutes, wrote Kai Lin Tay of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Accordingly, PLA’s expertise in medical research has grown tremendously. The ongoing pandemic has established this—PLA scientists were in the forefront to develop the world’s first coronavirus vaccine for restricted use. Zhou Yusen, a prominent military biotechnologist who had partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Technology for research, had applied for a vaccine patent as early as February 24, 2020. He died mysteriously three months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PLA has, unsurprisingly, focused on using biotechnology to manipulate the brain. The aim is to acquire capability to alter and distort the adversary’s cognition on the battleground and to develop a “combat brain” for the future battlefield. This combat brain is likely to enhance not only the situational understanding in a battlefield, but also transform decision-making. PLA has adopted a two-way approach in this field: it is studying brain development for memory enhancement through gene editing in monkeys, and developing a brain-computer interface for integrating human intelligence with AI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AI is thought to be at the centre of the PLA’s future-war scenarios. “Chinese academic and military medical institutions have concentrated on the expansion of military brain science, which has been prioritised for funding,” wrote Elsa B. Kania, a fellow with the Centre for a New American Security, in PRISM, the US National Defence University’s journal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PLA is also passionately interested in designing genetically modified super soldiers by enhancing human performance. The aim is to create combatants who are stronger, healthier, smarter and faster than adversaries. In December 2020, John Ratcliffe, the US director of national intelligence, shocked the world when he wrote in an op-ed article: “China also steals sensitive US defence technology to fuel President Xi Jinping’s aggressive plan to make China the world’s foremost military power. US intelligence shows that China has even conducted human testing on [PLA] members in the hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities. There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power.” Although Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s daily, termed Ratcliffe’s article as “an overhyped sensation”, there is worldwide recognition of China’s problematic ethical standards and opaqueness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most alarming use of biotechnology is in developing “genetic weapons”. The integration of biology with AI computation has facilitated scientists’ understanding of how different population groups have differing susceptibility to diseases and disorders, and their responses to medicines. It has now become possible to design and develop precise genetic weapons that could be deployed stealthily over wide areas, and such weapons would affect only targeted people, of specific ethnic group or race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When bioscience reveals microorganism mysteries between different races, groups and individuals, and explains mechanisms of memory, emotion, decision and thinking functions, then it is possible to filter out targets at the biomolecular level with a weapon system attacking biological functions that de-capacitate forces,” wrote Timothy Thomas, quoting from a 2016 paper in CMS, in a 2020 study sponsored by US Army Futures and Concepts Center. “When genetic roots and cognitive space are understood, commanders will be able to weaken the will of people and control people’s consciousness from the ‘inside of people’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No doubt, the new gene-editing technology is exciting and powerful. But it carries great risks, particularly when used for manipulating large and complex genetic structures, as in the case of human and animal embryos. The experiments have proven that it can cause long-term, unintended or even harmful effects—like cancer and partial loss of genetic structures. Consequently, a 2020 report by the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing strongly recommended that the practice be ended. But the question remains: can these recommendations deter a totalitarian state that blindly aspires to become the most powerful nation on earth?</p> <p>Military writings from China proclaim PLA’s intentions and efforts to integrate biotechnology with the traditional ways of waging war. PLA considers biotechnology as a crucial means of attaining strategic dominance over adversaries. With China’s low ethical standards in research, lack of transparency in reporting, and indiscriminate hunt for technology, PLA is determined to attain its obvious goal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, the belligerent and figurative language used by Xi while addressing the recent centenary celebrations of Communist Party of China gives a loud and clear message to democracies: Be wary, and be prepared.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:50:09 IST 2021 taliban-uses-quick-battles-slow-negotiations-to-take-territory-and-gain-legitimacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When the Taliban captured Spin Boldak, a town in the southern Kandahar province bordering Pakistan, in 1994, not many people took notice. But the battle made history later as it was the first military success of Mullah Omar, the founding leader of the Taliban. The group captured the town once again on July 14, repeating Omar’s tactics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spin Boldak is the latest in the series of border towns that fell to the Taliban in the past one month. It started with Sher Bandar Khan on the border with Tajikistan on June 22. The next ones to fall were Islam Qala close to Iran and Torghundi on the Turkmenistan border. “The Taliban has modified very smartly,’’ said Rakesh Sood, former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan. “Back in the 1990s, it was unknown and untested. Now it is a seasoned entity. It has run the country for six to seven years, lived through an insurgency and has run shadow governments. But the Taliban’s ideology remains the same. It has not given us any indication that it has changed.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The taking of the border posts is part of a calculated plan. In 1994, when Omar captured the Spin Boldak crossing, he had help from Pakistan. And history seems to have repeated. “The ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) is involved,” said Sood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Islam Qala hit headlines in February after a blast destroyed oil tankers, causing a loss of $100 million. It is one of the busiest transit ports in Afghanistan, which generated revenue over $1.3 billion in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The idea is not only to deprive the government of aid, but also hem it in further and stop regional allies from sending military equipment,” said Jonathan Schroden of the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses (CNA). “The government had a chance to reset its posture as the US started to withdraw, but it failed to do so. That left a lot of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) positions in rural areas bereft of support. The Taliban sensed those weaknesses and pounced. What is interesting is that it pounced mostly in the north—that caught people by surprise. It is clearly a strategic move, designed to pre-empt militia networks.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taliban is now within touching distance of being the rulers of Afghanistan once again, and this time perhaps with political legitimacy. “The 1990s experience of being a pariah was a bitter one,’’ said Ibraheem Thurial B., independent researcher with the International Crisis Group. “The Taliban is desperately trying to have regional legitimacy, if not international legitimacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The organisation’s supreme commander Hibatullah Akhundzada indicated as much in his Eid message. “In spite of the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate strenuously favours a political settlement,” he said. Sood said Akhundzada’s message could be a tactical move and an indication to wait till the Americans left. Yet, with its gains over the past few weeks, the Taliban is now in a position to set the agenda for future negotiations. “The concessions it was willing to make in 2014, [were not on the table] in 2020 because it was in a stronger position,” said Thurial. “And the concessions that it would be willing to make now will be nowhere near what it offered last year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military offensive is deliberate. “The Taliban will continue to push where it thinks it can make easy gains, but it is unlikely to mass fighters against major cities or ANDSF strongpoints because they will get decimated by airstrikes,’’ said Schroden. “Instead, the strategy now is a continuation of what it has been doing for years: surround, isolate, and choke the cities in an attempt to get them to capitulate without a fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, Omar captured the munition dump at Spin Boldak before he marched to Kandahar, the second largest city. Kabul fell on September 26, 1996. This time, the conquest has been quicker, and without much of a fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thurial said the Taliban had a clear strategy in seeking surrenders. “It sends intermediaries or village elders or the group’s own commanders to negotiate surrenders. In most cases, it treats soldiers well and gives them money for not returning to the battlefield. We have seen an unprecedented number of people surrendering. Had the Taliban gone by the Islamic State model of executing everyone, it might not have had the same success. In the 1990s, it treated soldiers harshly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plan seems to be working. In a short span, 13 of 15 districts in Herat have fallen. The city remains with the government, but only just. The Taliban’s quick victories also point towards the lack of investment in building Afghan capabilities. “Say, there are 50 Afghan fighters with tanks, Humvees and machine guns. But 20 Taliban fighters may come and take away everything,” said Arash Yakin, a counterterrorism researcher based in Washington, DC. “From 2010 to 2012, the focus in military training was on quantity, while quality went down. President Obama wanted to get out. Also, a lot of investment was in Kabul, and not in the remote areas.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military strategy is only a small part of the Taliban game plan. The larger aim is to have a seat at the high table with the international fraternity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pakistan is playing the long game,” said Sood. “The Pakistanis provided the Taliban with safe havens and sanctuaries and waited. The first indication of the change came in 2011 when Obama’s secretary of state Hillary Clinton changed the preconditions for the talks with the Taliban into outcomes of the talks. It was stage one of ensuring legitimacy. The next stage came when it opened the Doha office. There was a lot of uproar about it, but the Taliban had a foot in the door.” It was followed by talks okayed by the Obama administration and the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the special representative for Afghan reconciliation by president Donald Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Battle tactics apart, can the Taliban establish a successful administration? Experts say it will depend on the unity of the group. “The Taliban could be considered the most united political movement in Afghanistan,’’ said Thurial. Mullah Omar’s death resulted in a power struggle between his son, Yakub, and Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Yet, most commanders stayed on as they realised that breaking away would push them into political irrelevance. “But that is not to say that in the future, if the Taliban joins a hybrid system with different actors, it would not splinter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sood believes that there may be fissures that will surface. “We would like that to happen now. But the Pakistanis will want them to emerge later,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being relegated to the margins, India has no option but to wait. There are reports that India has reached out to moderate elements within the Taliban, like Mullah Baradar, one of the cofounders of the group. But the ministry of external affairs and the Taliban have denied it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghan government, which is clearly on the back foot, wants India in its corner. Afghan army chief General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai is expected to visit India on July 27. It is no secret that Afghanistan is keen on procuring military equipment from India, but New Delhi has, so far, been reluctant to oblige. With Kabul in danger, the Afghan government is looking for assistance from every possible corner. Unlike during the Taliban takeover of the 1990s, the Afghan army still stands, and it remains the only buffer between the Taliban and Kabul.</p> Thu Jul 22 18:27:26 IST 2021 cabal-in-control <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ALTHOUGH THE TALIBAN</b> is the most influential player in Afghanistan, details about its leadership and organisational structure are sketchy. The group’s supreme leader is Hibatullah Akhundzada, who took over in 2016. He is assisted by three deputies: Mullah Yakub, the son of founding leader Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani network and Mullah Baradar, who is in charge of political affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Akhundzada reportedly prefers a hands-off approach. “Most decisions are left to the leadership council,” said a source. One-third members of the council are based in Doha and the rest are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All major decisions are cleared by the council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is speculation that a battle is brewing among the deputies for supremacy. A source said it was essentially a competition between Baradar and Yakub. With Akhundzada not being involved with each decision, the deputies enjoy considerable leeway. Even local commanders are given enough latitude in designing their operations and framing local policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being the commander of the military wing, Yakub seems to have the upper hand among the deputies, but he has also reportedly made some military blunders. Baradar, known as the face of the group’s Doha office, is also a powerful player. “Only two or three people in the movement play a role equal to or bigger than Baradar’s,” said a source.</p> Thu Jul 22 18:55:59 IST 2021 scared-yet-pragmatic-afghan-youth-prepare-themselves-to-face-a-civil-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RAZMA PARWANI, 20,</b> is upset. She grew up hearing that peace was just around the corner in Afghanistan. “But we are spiralling back into a civil war,” she says. Parwani is angry with the US. “They came uninvited into a messy situation, made it a bigger problem and have now dumped it on us, leaving without resolving anything,” she says. She is angry with the Taliban, which is putting up posters in provinces saying women cannot step out without a male escort. She is angry with fate. “We were a generation with dreams. We thought we would take Afghanistan towards progress and development. I wanted to be that symbol of hope for my country. My dream is shattered,” she laments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parwani returned to Kabul from India, where she studies economics at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, a few months ago, and the initial thrill of homecoming soon fizzled out as power supply became patchy, internet connections weak and news from the provinces scary. “We go to bed every night in the fear that the Taliban will take over, and we wake up every morning wondering whether the city has fallen. Is this any way to live?” she asks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a generation of Afghans who grew up in the post-Taliban era, the developments of the last several weeks—western forces withdrawing, the Taliban growing stronger and the threat of anarchy looming large—is a return to a past it had only heard about, or vaguely remembers. “We grew up with experiences Afghanistan had never had,” says Samiullah Mehdi, 37, a Kabul University lecturer and journalist. “We experienced freedom of expression, a connectivity with the outside world, given our isolation for decades. Women got a chance at education and employment. We took part in a dozen elections [since the Taliban’s fall in 2001]—four presidential, four parliamentary and several provincial ones. Afghanistan is a young country; 75 per cent of our population is under 35. I am already an old man. This war, therefore, is on the new generation. That is why they are attacking schools and colleges.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As this generation sees the country slipping back from gains of past years, it grapples with a gamut of emotions—anger, fear, disappointment. It feels betrayed by the west and its own leaders. “We had 20 years and billions of dollars coming in as help, yet our leaders were not able to secure our homeland,” says Jebrael Amin, 28, who works with the US-aided District Peace Dialogue, helping remote communities become self-sufficient. His tours have stopped now, and stress has eroded his devil-may-care demeanour. The fun-loving boy I met in Kabul three years ago wanted to live life to the maximum, because “one never knows when a suicide bomber decides to say ‘Allah hu akbar’ and take us away with him”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, Amin is an insomniac, grateful if he can get two hours sleep. Sleep mostly brings nightmares. He dreamt of being beheaded one night; another time, he was in a battle, gun in hand, but with no courage to shoot. He has lost 10kg, as he works out plans to secure his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amin would rather not leave Afghanistan. He hated his stay in Pakistan, where his family fled to during the earlier tumult while he was still in the womb. “The Pakistani boys used to address me as ‘you mohajir (refugee)’,” he recalls. “I hated them. I got into so many brawls.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scramble to leave the country has begun. Some are slinking out illegally, the pandemic-induced closed borders making it harder to do so. Choices are further whittled as many do not want to go to Pakistan, as they blame it for their present problems, and Iran is in its own turmoil. Most prefer Turkey, with hopes to get into Europe. Some are seeking refuge in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and even India. “This is a regional issue, not our problem alone. The help from our neighbours is very important, before it becomes a bigger problem,” says Wahaj Raz, 25, with a wisdom belying his age. He had started a cement supply business, but no one is thinking of building anything right now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The passport office and the one issuing the national identity card are seeing serpentine lines. People are braving the baking heat for hours to get their documents in place, in case they have to flee. The internal exodus, too, has begun, with villagers fleeing towards cities. Kabul, already bursting with internally displaced refugees, is bracing itself for more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Taliban damaged some supply stations, most of Kabul is without electricity. Residents fear that while the capital is still secure—most of Taliban’s gains are in remote provinces—it could come under siege if the Taliban secures the highway that brings in supplies from Uzbekistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although global leaders believe Taliban is the reality Afghanistan has to reckon with, and are therefore involving it in intra-Afghan peace talks, this generation rejects the Taliban. “They will not change. They have proved it with their proclamations about women,” says Rikhteen Momand, 33, from Jalalabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, a sliver of hope, even though Amin says he is now searching for it with a magnifier. News that Taliban has captured 80 per cent of the country, say the youth, is just propaganda. “They have taken over 100 of 400 districts,” explains Mehdi. “Taken over means they have control of the district government and police offices; it still does not mean they have control of the entire land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kabul airport has installed an anti-missile system; our troops are well-trained, they say. “For some time now, our forces were providing the bulk of security. The western troops had reduced their help,” says Mehdi. That the Taliban is struggling to hold onto territory gained, like Qala-e-Naw, capital of Badghis province, gives Afghans hope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a pragmatic generation. “There will be peace one day, but not tomorrow. First there will be a civil war,” says Momand. They know that the price of that elusive peace will be high—many will lose lives, livelihood and homeland. But the crowds at Slice, a popular fast food chain in Kabul, give a peek into the minds of these youngsters. They are making the most of whatever good time they can grab, Covid restrictions notwithstanding, before they brace for blood and battle. That is the resilient Afghan spirit.</p> Sat Jul 24 19:41:51 IST 2021 china-boosts-position-in-sri-lanka-with-colombo-port-city-dealing-india-major-blow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 20, the Sri Lankan parliament approved the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill with the support of 149 legislators in the 225-member house. While Sinhala parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly in support, opposition came from Tamil MPs, who said the bill compromised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and could turn the country into a Chinese colony because of the preferential clauses included in it. The Port City, which will be Sri Lanka's first special economic zone for services-oriented industries, will be built by a Chinese company on 269 hectares (about 665 acres) of land reclaimed off the Colombo coast. It is financed by China as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With domestic and international opposition against the project intensifying, three cabinet ministers—Ali Sabry, G.L. Peiris and Ajith Nivard Cabraal—addressed a webinar organised by the Sri Lankan information department on May 28 to defend the Port City. They said the project was “fully Sri Lankan” and solicited foreign direct investment for its development. “Sri Lanka is non-aligned and that is our pride as a nation. We are friends of all and open for business with the entire world,” said Sabry. Peiris said the venture was completely transparent and that there was “no exclusivity” in Sri Lanka’s relationship with any one country, in an apparent reference to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reclamation of 269 hectares for the project was done by the China Harbour Engineering Company at a cost of $1.4 billion and was completed by January 2019. According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the entire project will be completed by 2041. But real estate development, including commercial, financial, hospitality, residential and social infrastructure, is being accelerated. The PwC report estimated that the project would create more than two lakh jobs and would contribute around $11.8 billion to Sri Lanka’s GDP per annum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa claim that the project will be a big boon to the Sri Lankan economy, the opposition to the project is largely because of Chinese involvement. Launched in September 2014 when Mahinda was president, the project, which was halted briefly, is now back on track with the Rajapaksas back in power after a four-year break. This will be the third major infrastructure project in Sri Lanka after the Hambantota Port and the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) which is financed by China under BRI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growing Chinese presence has alarmed civil society groups, which have raised objections about the manner in which the governance of the project is envisaged. The bill allows the president to appoint a commission to govern the Port City. The commission enjoys absolute power in matters of governance, but there is not much accountability and oversight. Moreover, even foreigners can be appointed members of the commission. The bill also enables businesses to use any recognised foreign currency within the Port City. Critics, therefore, argue that it could turn into a Chinese enclave in future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As many as 19 petitions were filed against the bill in the supreme court. Some of them opposed the provisions to appoint foreigners to the commission, while others challenged the provision to grant the Port City exemption from several tax and labour laws, giving the Chinese paymasters a major say in its day-to-day running and in matters of arbitration. After the court ruled that some provisions of the bill were “inconsistent” with the constitution, the government introduced a few amendments and got the bill passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The project also faced opposition from environmentalists and fisherfolk who said it would affect marine life. But those protests fizzled out in the absence of political support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was no opposition as such in the parliament against the bill, except from a section of the Tamil parties,” said N. Sathiyamoorthy, distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai. “All the Sinhala parties stood united and the bill was passed. The concern now is that the bill allows backdoor entry for China.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese influence is growing at a steady pace in Sri Lanka. Chinese control of the Hambantota Port and the CICT has already altered the geostrategic profile of Sri Lanka’s western and southern coasts. The Port City now joins the list. “Given the fact that China [took away] a piece of our country 13 years ago [with the Hambantota project], this cannot be seen as just an investment project. A hegemonic rivalry is likely to be played out through these projects as China is establishing its presence at [another] strategic geographic corner of the Indian periphery,” said Nilanthan, a Jaffna-based political analyst and blogger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s geopolitical dynamics has a direct impact on Indian foreign and security policies, which have failed to keep in check the growing Chinese influence. Although Gotabaya has promised that “no one will be allowed to jeopardise the security of India,” he seems to be getting increasingly shackled by China's rapidly growing economic and strategic might.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China's increasing influence in India's backyard is turning out to be a nightmare, strategically and economically. “It will help China eavesdrop in cyberspace,” said Colonel (retd) R. Hariharan, who served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. India, along with Japan, has already lost the contract to develop the strategic East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port, allegedly under Chinese pressure. India is also wary about the growing delay in approval for starting the development of the upper tank farm in Trincomalee, which is part of a longstanding India-Sri Lanka strategic initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past few years, India’s relations with its neighbours such as Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar have run into rough weather. It will, therefore, want to tread cautiously on the issue and avoid ceding further space to China</p> Thu Jul 15 19:44:57 IST 2021 india-moves-to-utilise-lakshadweep-strategic-location-but-security-is-a-challenge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On April 7, 2021, the USS John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer, passed just off the coast of Lakshadweep. It was on a freedom of navigation operation of the US navy. But it was in India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—an area in which a sovereign state has special rights to explore and use marine resources. India responded strongly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It said that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea “does not authorise” passage of ships with weapons or explosives without the consent of the coastal state. India's reaction was apt and understandable, but the "unauthorised" movement of a US warship close to Indian waters also highlighted something else. The proximity to Lakshadweep was indicative of the strategic importance of the archipelago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of Lakshadweep's 36 islands, only 10 are inhabited. The population is estimated to be around 73,000 (2020 UIDAI projection). But Lakshadweep gives India 20,000sqkm of territorial waters and 4,00,000sqkm of EEZ. It is close to the Nine Degree Channel; 12 ships cross this channel every minute. But, probably because of the limited land area—32sqkm—Lakshadweep lacks adequate infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, it got only a small military detachment and electronic surveillance. Now, Indian military planners are starting to believe that it can be used to counter China's growing influence in neighbouring nations like the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar. China is building a port city in Sri Lanka, around 300km from India. Similarly, it controls several islands in the Maldives and is building an airport there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian defence infrastructure in Lakshadweep has been enhanced over the years. In 2010, then defence minister A.K. Antony commissioned coast guard stations in Kavaratti and Minicoy, thus boosting the presence of the Indian Coast Guard. In 2012, the second Manmohan Singh government commissioned the first naval base in the islands—INS Dweeprakshak, in capital Kavaratti. In the same year, a coast guard station in Androth was commissioned. In 2016, a naval detachment was commissioned on Androth island.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides surveillance, these detachments work as observance and reporting organisations. And, there are plans for a fully operational navy base in Lakshadweep. A bigger facility on Minicoy is also under consideration, because of its proximity to the Maldives (71 nautical miles).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Andaman and Nicobar islands in the east and Lakshadweep in the west are getting renewed attention, as the ministry of defence and the national security council secretariat are constantly in touch with the Island Development Agency. (The IDA was set up in June 2017 to oversee the development of 1,382 identified offshore islands of India.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multiple efforts are on to develop Lakshadweep’s defence capabilities. The Navy is working in tandem with the civil administration to extend the Agatti airstrip to 3,200m (from 1,000m) to accommodate larger aircraft. A longer runway would take the Navy’s Boeing P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft; the squadron—INAS 312, nicknamed The Albatrosses—is currently based at INS Rajali in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu. Experts say that the P-8I taking off from Agatti will have longer legs in the Indian Ocean region, enabling it to reach as far as South Africa. The Indian Air Force, too, has, plans for Lakshadweep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At present, Lakshadweep is under the Southern Naval Command, based in Kochi, Kerala. But, once the Karwar Naval Base (Project Seabird, which Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited on June 24 to take stock of the progress) becomes fully active, the archipelago will be handled from there. This may result in Lakshadweep getting a more important role in India's military strategy. Phase-II of the Karwar project, which will be the biggest naval base east of the Suez Canal and a major part of India's power projection, is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian maritime agencies are keeping a close eye on the Nine Degree Channel, which separates Minicoy island from the main Lakshadweep archipelago. The channel is used by all merchantmen shuttling to and from Europe, the Middle East and western Asia, and south east Asia and the far east. In wartime, India can block the channel and cut enemy supply lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rear Admiral Sudarshan Y. Shrikhande (retired), who served as chief of staff in the Southern Naval Command, said: “Any capability enhancement helps Indian security establishment against all [potential] adversaries, including China.” However, he added that the volume of narcotics seizures in Indian waters was a big challenge. “[Indian waters have] become a conduit for global narcotics trade,” he said. Prabhakaran Paleri, former director general of the coast guard, said that protecting inhabited islands posed a different kind of challenge, as they can be used for trafficking of arms, drugs and people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, coastal security received close attention after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. It was pointed out that terror outfits could pose a security challenge if Lakshadweep was not secured. Intelligence agencies even warned that Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba could utilise uninhabited islands in Lakshadweep as a base to attack mainland India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The archipelago’s proximity to the Maldives is seen as an additional concern. Security agencies believe that Lakshadweep's predominantly Muslim population (over 90 per cent) offer easy pickings for Maldivian fundamentalist outfits. Lieutenant Colonel M.P. Habibullah (retired), a native of Androth and the first Army officer from Lakshadweep, said that growing fundamentalism in the Maldives posed a threat. “The recent bomb attack on former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed indicates the ingression of radical groups,” he said. “[The highest] percentage of jihadi recruits from south Asian nations to the ISIS have been from the Maldives.”</p> Fri Jul 16 23:16:52 IST 2021 neither-israel-nor-hamas-in-palestine-is-even-thinking-of-peace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Parul Rathee, a 25-year-old Indian student at Tel Aviv University, will never forget May 11. She and her friends had a plan for the evening—dance classes—and she casually asked them whether it would be safe, given the rockets Hamas was sending. They laughed and said: “This is Tel Aviv, we are far from the border.”</p> <p>However, later that evening, one of her friends got an alert on a smartphone app that there could be rockets coming their way within minutes. It all happened so fast, she said. Suddenly, the night sky was lit up with rockets. Her friends dragged her to the nearest house and the owners hustled the whole group of strangers into their underground bomb shelter, no questions asked.</p> <p>“We stayed like that for the next two hours, and we could hear booms outside,” said Rathee, who was terribly shaken by the experience. Then, the noises dimmed, and they stepped out. The rockets had been deflected and there was no damage done. Her friend—an Arab Israeli—coolly headed to her car and dropped the others home.</p> <p>In the days hence, Rathee's fear of living under siege has fast disappeared. She may not follow the routine as matter-of-factly as Israelis, but she is getting there. “Living here is not as scary as it seems from the outside,” she said. Almost 60 per cent of Israeli homes have bomb shelters, there are also several in public areas. These are either underground or, if above ground, made of reinforced metal. The app which alerted Rathee's friend is courtesy of the Israeli Home Front Command. It is GPS-enabled and provides real-time alerts. It may not always give enough reaction time, but sometimes even a two-minute warning is enough to evade death.</p> <p>Overhead is the invisible protection of Israel's famed Iron Dome, which deflects missiles from targets. However, even the Iron Dome is not impenetrable, as is evident from the recent deaths. Israelis say that Hamas ammunition has got sophisticated, too. The Israelis make it a point to announce that their dead include Muslims, foreigners (recently, the Indian caregiver Soumya Santhosh) and even children. In retaliation, they are sending their own fire, bringing down entire buildings in business and residential districts of Palestinian towns, especially in Gaza.</p> <p>The Palestinians have neither the protection of an anti-missile umbrella, nor enough reinforced spaces to take shelter in. In Palestine, therefore, people are being killed in much higher numbers, the civilian casualties increasing by the day. After a building which housed several international media houses was pulverised by Israeli fire, Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt said the “world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today”. No one was killed in the blast, as Israel had given an hour's notice before bombing.</p> <p>Israel says that its bombings are precise, targeting only Hamas infrastructure or cadre. But, it accepts that there will be civilian casualties. “I am not belittling civilian deaths, but we have hit dozens of senior and mid ranking people in Hamas. This is what the Gazan media announces,” said senior Israeli diplomat, Paul Hirschon. “We are in no mood to apply Band-Aid over our wounds right now; we will continue to hit them.”</p> <p>The anger between Israel and Hamas in Palestine is so red hot that neither side is even thinking of a cessation to the hostilities anytime soon. The Palestinians say there is no point having talks with a country that has not heeded to any past agreement; Israel says that talks can happen only after they have ensured Hamas does not fire at them again. The world is looking at this conflict with unease, even as both sides openly ask nations to support their cause.</p> <p>Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the 25 countries which have supported them; India was not one of those. Iran has called on Muslim countries to defend Palestine; Indonesia and Malaysia have condemned Israeli attacks. Many others, however, are wary of immediate responses. Four Islamic countries—the UAE, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain—normalised ties with Israel last year. The development was seen as a move towards underscoring economic development and peace over communal hostilities. There was hope that more Arab countries would join the Abraham Accord, brokered by the Donald Trump administration with the UAE last year. Jordan and Egypt already have ties with Israel.</p> <p>India, which made a bold move under Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few years ago to de-hyphenate its ties with Israel and Palestine, has made guarded utterances. T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the United Nations, called for immediate de-escalation and appealed to the two sides to “refrain from changing the status quo”. He condemned “all acts of violence, specially rocket attacks from Gaza” and noted and mourned the death of Santhosh to one such hit at Ashkelon.</p> <p>While Israel and Palestine have had an uneasy relationship at the best of times, there was a recent slowdown in open hostilities. The last long-drawn instance was in 2014, which lasted around 50 days. “Let us hope it does not drag on for so long again,” said Reena Pushkarna, an Indian-origin Israeli restaurateur. Life was just returning to normal after Israel's intensive vaccination drive. “The schools have shut again, the restaurants, too,” she said.</p> <p>What worries her more is that this time the communal fabric of Israel is under stress. “We have a good number of Arab Israelis; many are part of the intelligentsia, they are doctors and professors,” she said. “But, the atmosphere is changing, spurred largely by social media and TikTok videos. The communal riots are scarier than the rockets. The other day, Arab rioters torched the famous Uri Buri fish restaurant in Acre, which was so popular with the Arabs. Once the rockets stop, will our leaders be able to bring back communal harmony?” That, however, seems like a problem for another day. For now, the rockets continue to bring death and destruction.</p> Thu May 20 18:40:06 IST 2021 all-muslim-nations-will-have-ties-with-israel-when-issue-is-resolved-palestine-envoy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/ <b>Why did Hamas fire rockets into Israel?</b></p> <p>A/ It comes from what happened in Jerusalem, at the Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. The Israeli police entered such a holy mosque's premises and they shot at the Palestinians. They say they used rubber bullets, but not all were rubber bullets. At least 150 metal bullets were found on the worshippers at the mosque, and that also, on the upper half of the torso. We cannot stay forever watching our people being troubled or killed. Earlier, they were evicting Arabs who have historically lived in the Sheikh Jarrah area. This is happening in Jerusalem, which is the capital of Palestine.</p> <p>The main problem is the occupation of Palestine. We have agreed to accept 22 per cent of the original historical land of Palestine, which is the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. But the Israelis continue to occupy even these lands. They send militia in the garb of settlers, and they are later aided by the Israeli forces. How long will we continue to just sit and watch? They want the Palestinians to live forever under occupation. What are we supposed to do—raise our hands and say we accept to live as slaves? They mete out an apartheid-like treatment even to Israeli Arabs; there are different laws for Jews and non-Jews.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You have, however, killed innocent civilians and escalated the fight.</b></p> <p>A/ You think Israelis are not killing civilians? [On the night of May 15] alone, they killed eight children and two women. There is heavy shelling on our cities; their cannons are not aimed at military people but at civilian homes. We have had 139 deaths so far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Are you not willing to have talks?</b></p> <p>A/ We are always ready for peace and negotiation, but not on the terms of the Israelis. Israel has proved it is above international law; it has violated all the agreements. It has refused to apply any of the resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly or the Security Council. Or, for that matter, any peace plan. We signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. Have they honoured it? If that has not happened, what are we expected to do—start negotiation all over again?</p> <p>The world is calling for a two-state solution. Israel, however, is going about confiscating land, closing borders and killing people. They are still making settlements in the West Bank, evicting hundreds of our people. They had the support of [Donald] Trump and we still do not see any real pressure by the [new] US government on Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Many Islamic countries in the region now have diplomatic ties with Israel. Does that not trouble you?</b></p> <p>A/ Even they have condemned Israel's actions. We do not recognise these diplomatic ties. When we are able to solve the Palestinian problem, then not four or five, but all 57 Islamic countries will have relations with Israel. We are looking for support from the international community for our cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What are your expectations from India?</b></p> <p>A/ India is well aware of the situation. I hope it will take up the Palestinian cause and support us politically.</p> Thu May 20 18:35:21 IST 2021 it-would-be-nice-if-india-expressed-support-strongly--israeli-di <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/ <b>How did the current conflict begin?</b></p> <p>A/ Hamas has been angered by a number of things recently. Four Muslim nations have normalised relations with us, they fear Palestine may follow suit and they do not want this. There is anger over the sudden cancellation of elections in Palestine. For several weeks, they were inciting and instigating violence between Israelis and exploiting the court case between tenants and landlord at Sheikh Jarrah, giving it a communal twist.</p> <p>The goal of Hamas is to remove Israel from the face of the earth. Last week, there was a confluence of important dates: it was the last Friday of Ramadan, followed on Monday by Jerusalem Day. Hamas exploited it well, getting stones and incendiary material into the temple mount. As you know, just below this is the Western Wall where Jews worship and it is easy to target them. Israeli police would not allow that and when they stopped it, Hamas made it seem as if Israel was invading the holy mosque.</p> <p>On May 11 night, Hamas fired six rockets into Jerusalem. Is it not a holy city for them, too? What if one of the rockets had hit Al Aqsa or any of the several mosques in the city? We are now having daily rocket hits. Rockets do not distinguish between people; they have killed Israeli Muslims, an 87-year-old lady, a five-year-old boy and an Indian worker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Your rockets are doing the same. Killing innocents.</b></p> <p>A/ There is a difference. Hamas is shooting rockets indiscriminately at civilian centres. We are pinpointing and precision-hitting places which we know have Hamas infrastructure. Unfortunately, Hamas uses civilians as human shields; they shoot from population centres, so that when we hit back, we will be hitting civilians. We warn them (civilians) by firing a low ammunition shot on the roof first, giving them time to get out. We even call people up and say we will hit a building where they are, so please leave. Hamas does not allow them to leave; they want these pictures of people hit, suffering. We are doing our best not to hit civilians; they are doing their best to hit civilians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>We are hearing reports of Israel planning to send ground troops into Gaza Strip.</b></p> <p>A/ There was a report about ground troops planning to go, but it was a mistaken translation. At this point, I do not know if and when ground troops will go in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>So there is a possibility?</b></p> <p>A/ Everything is possible—within international law—until Hamas stops its rocket fire. When a civilian population is under attack, we can respond with appropriate measure.</p> <p>Q/ <b>According to Palestine, you have violated every law.</b></p> <p>A/ They are wrong. They are the ones who have committed over 2,500 war crimes in the past days—every rocket fired from a civilian population into a civilian area is a war crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You said everything is possible—even talks?</b></p> <p>A/ We do not rule anything out. But we need to be able to know that we have achieved our aim in this campaign that Hamas dragged us into. We had no interest in getting into it, but once it pulled us in, we need to know we have achieved our goal—to stop the rocket firings and ensure they will not recur. Only after achieving this goal will we agree to negotiate. At this point, we need to achieve what we need to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Israel had just begun establishing diplomatic ties with some Muslim neighbours. Will this conflict not be a setback to the process?</b></p> <p>A/ I hope not. I hope the countries we make peace with recognise Hamas is a terrorist organisation which is working against the interests of the Palestinian people, against their interest, too. I think they will recognise it is in everyone's best interest to be at peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What do you feel about the international response, especially India's?</b></p> <p>A/ We have received heartwarming support from Indians on social media and the Indian government understands what is happening with us and why we are doing what we are doing. From the international community, we are getting wholehearted statements of support. The Austrian chancellor actually raised the Israeli flag above his offices, which is a wonderful expression of support. There is understanding of what we are doing and that we are faced with no choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What about India's response?</b></p> <p>A/ It would be nice to see stronger expressions of support.&nbsp;</p> Thu May 20 18:31:22 IST 2021 flashpoint-gaza--hamas--netanyahu-stand-to-gain-politically <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The day Hamas and Israel chose to launch the latest episode of their periodic conflict seems to be an interesting one. In Israel, May 10 is observed as Jerusalem Day to commemorate the annexation of east Jerusalem in 1967. But political observers were anticipating a different big bang, as six disparate political groups whose only common aim is to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were all set to announce a new coalition later that day. It would have given Israel a proper government after four elections in two years, and would have resulted in Netanyahu's exit, after being in power for 12 years. It would also have ended the immunity he enjoys against prosecution on corruption charges. But the rockets from Gaza sealed the fate of the talks and saved Netanyahu.</p> <p><br> Like Netanyahu, Hamas, too, is likely to be a beneficiary of the ongoing crisis, although it does not appear to be a premeditated one. The organisation, which is supported by countries such as Iran and Qatar, has been trying for a long time to extend its sway over West Bank and it spotted an opportunity when the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority announced national elections, the first since 2006. President Mahmoud Abbas, however, cancelled the elections last month, infuriating Hamas. Israel's decision to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem and the heightened tension between the Arabs and the Israelis in the holy city—common during the month of Ramadan—gave Hamas an opportunity to grab the initiative and fire rockets at Israel, inviting a predictable, disproportionate response. The attacks have boosted the image of Hamas, made it more popular on the Arab street and further discredited the Fatah leadership, which is seen as old, corrupt, self-serving and being on good terms with Israel.</p> <p>The conflict has helped bring back the Arab-Israeli crisis to global limelight. The world had largely forgotten the issue and even Arab countries like the UAE and Bahrain started normalising ties with Israel under a deal brokered by the Trump administration, allegedly with the blessings of Saudi Arabia. The sudden escalation in Gaza seems to have altered that trajectory.</p> <p>For Israel, the latest round of hostilities could turn out to be expensive. Unlike in the past, the Arab citizens of Israel are out on the streets. There have been clashes between Jews and Arabs across Israel and the ethno-religious rupture appears to be getting worse.</p> <p>As it hoped, Hamas has found support in West Bank. During the previous rounds of hostilities—in 2009, 2012 and 2014—even when thousands of lives were lost in Gaza, there was hardly any response in West Bank. But things are different this time, with protests erupting in more than 200 places across West Bank, resulting in multiple deaths. Hamas has also found support in Jordan, and a few rockets were launched against Israel from Lebanon and Syria.</p> <p>Israel will be disheartened by the underwhelming reaction from the US. Although President Joe Biden approved more weapons sales and reiterated American support for Israel, the White House readout of his telephonic conversation with Netanyahu shows that he also stressed on ensuring the Palestinians “dignity, security, freedom and economic opportunity”. The progressive wing of the Democratic party is solidly behind the Palestinians, and Biden will be under pressure to be more evenhanded while dealing with the Arab-Israel conflict. The public opinion in the US, too, is undergoing a change, with the some opinion polls showing up to 30 per cent of Americans viewing Palestinians favourably. Pro-Palestine marches have been reported from several cities across the world.</p> <p>With Egypt stepping in to mediate, a ceasefire is possible. Netanyahu has consolidated his position within Israel, despite losing face globally. Hamas demonstrated its military prowess by firing more than 3,200 rockets into Israel in eight days. More importantly, it has emerged as the primary representative of the Palestinians and the protector of east Jerusalem, upstaging the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, and will be a key stakeholder in all future peace negotiations.&nbsp;</p> Thu May 20 21:33:56 IST 2021 will-work-to-restart-the-sino-tibetan-dialogue <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PENPA TSERING,</b> the newly elected president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)—known earlier as the Tibetan government in exile—has plans to approach the Chinese government to facilitate the visit of the Dalai Lama to China. The 14th Dalai Lama, who turns 86 this year, has expressed his desire to visit China. If the attempt is successful, it will be his first trip to China since he fled Lhasa in 1959, following the failed uprising against Beijing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I want to take up the matter with the Chinese government through various channels,” said Tsering, in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK. At a time when China continues to make territorial advances across the Himalayan region, Tsering hopes to bring Beijing to the negotiating table with the representative of the Dalai Lama for the resolution of the Sino-Tibetan conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As the newly elected president of the CTA, what are your priorities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ A key priority is the resolution of the Sino-Tibetan conflict. Keeping in mind the international situation and the political dynamics, we will have to study the issue more closely and come out with the right strategy. We also have to make good use of all the opportunities that come our way. All this can be achieved by abiding by the wishes of the Dalai Lama. All Tibetans who voted for me would like to follow the guidelines he has set for the betterment of the Tibetan population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the first step towards resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There have been no formal talks between the Chinese government and the representative of the Dalai Lama since 2010. From 2002 to 2010, we had nine rounds of discussions, including one round of informal talks, but there has been no forward movement since 2010. My aim is to make some progress in resuming the dialogue. China does not recognise the CTA. The talks have always been held between China and the representative of the Dalai Lama.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ China’s aggressive territorial posturing in the Himalayan region may come in the way of resumption of talks.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ China claims that Tibet is an integral part of it. China has adopted this public posture to deny legitimacy to the demands of the Tibetan people. Despite this, we have been making efforts at different levels to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict. Other than working for the rights of the exiled community, we want to represent the true condition of Tibetans inside Tibet and draw international attention to the Chinese policies that are aimed at destroying their identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[We also want to draw attention to] the dangers posed by mass migration of the Chinese to the Tibetan plateau and [the ensuing] threats to the language, religious freedom and environment of the Tibetans. My attempt will be to gather evidence in the form of data and records to prove the threat from Chinese policy in the Tibetan plateau. We will also study the policy being implemented there today so that we can represent their concerns through the ambassadors and write open letters to draw attention of the political leadership in China and tell them that it is not benefiting the Tibetan people and there is an urgent need for change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the support from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have got tremendous support from India and we will continue to work closely with the Indian government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Many Tibetans have left India and have become citizens of other countries.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have a lot of potential in the form of a young population that is living in at least 25 countries, as citizens, working professionals and students, who can be roped in to work for the rights of the Tibetans. I plan to create a Tibetan advocacy group to recruit young Tibetans, including those who live in different countries, who will spend a few weeks a year doing lobbying. This move will add value to the ongoing efforts of our administration’s department of international relations. The Chinese government should know that Tibetans are working very hard to prevent China from sidestepping the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the Dalai Lama still wish to travel to China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, the Dalai Lama wishes to travel to China. I want to take up the matter with the Chinese government through various channels so that his holiness can visit China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The CTA has been getting a lot of support from the United States recently.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The US has been lending significant support to the Tibetan community. It has recently amended its 2002 Tibet Policy Act to help Tibetans preserve their identity as people in exile and in Tibet. During the tenure of former president Barack Obama, there was support for the cause and we are looking forward to more support from the Biden administration. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a close friend of the Dalai Lama and we have good support from both Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are many Tibetans who demand independence from China. Will they be satisfied with the middle way approach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The middle way approach suggested by the Dalai Lama to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict is the official policy passed by the Tibetan parliament in exile. It will continue to be our guiding policy unless the parliament has a better alternative. There are demands by a section of the Tibetan people to make Tibet an independent nation, but no one has come up with a concrete plan for it. The Dalai Lama had said that if there were better options, they could always be discussed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to resolve the latest constitutional crisis that has hit the Tibetan government in exile?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ During the last session of the parliament, the chief justice commissioner and two justice commissioners of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission were impeached. A lot of concern is being voiced to restore their position. The parliament will have to meet to decide. A special session of parliament may be convened in May to end the crisis. It is the first time such a situation has occurred and we will take steps to ensure that it does not happen in future.</p> Fri Apr 23 19:08:47 IST 2021