More en Sat Apr 27 17:18:45 IST 2019 what-after-may <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The old order in Europe is shaken, but not broken. Mainstream centrist parties have lost vote share to surging far-right, populist and green parties in the European Parliament elections, the second largest democratic exercise in the world after the Indian general elections. A triumphant winner, the head of far right Lega party and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted that the success of nationalist parties in “Italy, France, Hungary, Poland and Great Britain are signs that Europe is changing. People are tired of the powers of the elites, finance, the multinationals. From tomorrow we must redouble our efforts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The efforts of the newcomers will impact Europe’s stance on issues such as immigration, business and climate change, because this parliament approves or rejects legislation. The results will also shape national politics within the 28-member bloc, triggering consolidation or collapse of ruling coalitions, fresh elections and governance changes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ongoing leadership race in Brexit-burdened Britain will also be affected. The runaway success of the six-week-old populist Brexit Party headed by the redoubtable Nigel Farage and the shameful defeat of the Conservative Party in the European elections will encourage Tories to select a diehard Brexiter to replace Prime Minister Theresa May after she steps down on June 7. History will judge May harshly, said Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror editor. “She was dealt a difficult hand and she played badly. She tried her best. It was not good enough,” said Maguire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>May’s resignation has ignited a ferocious leadership scrum in the Conservative Party that will culminate with the new prime minister taking office by July end. Said Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, “There are no more vicious attacks than during a Conservative Party leadership race. It’s a circle of firing squad.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under party rules, the 313 Tory MPs will shortlist two candidates and the winner will be chosen by 1.2 lakh party members—mostly white, middle-aged men. Conservative MP Mark Francois predicted, “When Tories are desperate, they go for a wild card. Farage is causing the desperation.” Analysts agree that the only Tory Brexiter who can “out-Farage Farage” and win back voters is frontrunner Boris Johnson, former London mayor and foreign minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in New York to English parents with Turkish ancestry, the “blond bombshell” or “Bojo” is known for his untidy hair, sloppy suits and quirky remarks. Johnson described actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as the “monosyllabic Austrian cyborg”, Tony Blair a “greased piglet”, Farage an “engaging geezer”, George Bush a “cross-eyed Texan warmonger” and veiled Muslim women as “bank robbers”. Johnson is popular but polarising. Supporters say he is clever, down-to-earth and funny. Critics say he is opportunistic, unreliable and outrageous. Johnson is being sued for “irresponsibility” and “criminal misconduct” for lying during his Brexit referendum campaign that UK gives £350 million a week to the EU.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Johnson, 54, is the bookie’s favourite, he is in a crowded leadership race. Prominent rivals are all Brexiters, though no one is as radical as him. Like Johnson, most of them have burnished their Brexit credentials by resigning from May’s cabinet in protest against her “bad Brexit deal”. A close second is Dominic Raab, 45, who resigned as Brexit secretary and is the youthful face of the party. Michael Gove, 51, environment minister in May’s cabinet, is a leading Bexiter who famously said, “Britons have had enough of experts”. He lost to May in the 2016 leadership race and then went on to knife his ally Johnson. The wide-eyed bespectacled politician said, “Whatever charisma is; I don’t have it.” No one disputes that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jeremy Hunt, 52, replaced Johnson as foreign minister. Like St. Paul, Hunt appears to have had his “Road to Damascus” moment, converting from wanting to remain in the EU to leaving. Now he said the EU’s negotiating tactics are “arrogant” and “disappointing.” Last year, in a speech to the Conservative Party conference, he drew severe criticism when he compared the EU to the Soviet Union.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Son of a Pakistani bus driver, Home Minister Sajid Javid, 49, is the slick poster boy for the successful integration of immigrants. The banker-turned-politician is also in the fray. As May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington is a natural successor. But proximity appears to have killed desire. Asked if he would succeed May, Lidington said a few months ago, “One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 185-year-old Conservative Party prides itself as the oldest democratic party in the world. This year, it suffered its worst parliamentary defeat in British history when May’s Brexit deal was put to vote. And, it suffered its worst electoral debacle ever in the European polls. In addition to a fractious, haemorrhaging party, May’s successor will inherit all the unresolved Brexit problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But ambition trumps the intractability of problems. Leadership contestant Esther McVey vowed to “rebuild a UK that works for everyone”. That is exactly what May said. Johnson promises “resolute” leadership. May tried that to the point of stubbornness. His solution for breaking the Brexit deadlock is “a tougher negotiating stance with Brussels”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ace up the sleeve of some of the leadership contenders is their proclaimed willingness to go for a no-deal Brexit—leave the EU without a deal. Johnson insists he will lead Britain out of the EU by the October 31 deadline, “deal or no deal”. He dismisses the disastrous consequences of no deal saying, “Whatever the doomsayers may say… there will be no shortage of Mars bars. We will still have potable drinking water in Britain. The planes will fly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnson uses the no-deal threat as a negotiating ploy, asserting “the way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal”. But the EU will not renegotiate a good, better or another deal. Experts say crashing out of the EU without a deal will be chaotic until new trade agreements are negotiated under the World Trade Organization. That will take years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next prime minister has just three months to deliver Brexit—including August, when Europeans go on summer vacation. Sounding depressingly like a stuck record, all options still remain on the table—deal, no deal, another extension and general elections. What lies ahead—Brexit bedlam or breakthrough? As Johnson famously wrote in 2004, “There are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.”</p> Fri May 31 14:31:59 IST 2019 religious-terrorists-and-drug-cartels-are-targeting-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>More than two weeks have passed since Sri Lanka suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in its history. The suicide blasts on Easter Sunday, which targeted churches and prominent hotels, were said to be executed by local terrorists with possible links to Islamic State. The Sri Lankan government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, are focused on restructuring the security and intelligence apparatus of the island nation to foreclose the chances of further attacks. In separate interviews with THE WEEK, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe listed the measures taken by their government to tackle the terrorist menace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What now after the attacks? Has the country been secured now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has now been more than 10 days after the attacks. We have been successful in thwarting more attacks. The security forces are carrying out investigations, raids and necessary missions all over the island and the country is now returning to normal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are there many more suspects linked to Islamic State in Sri Lanka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The nature of terrorism is such that we cannot say who will get attacked where. I can’t say whether Islamic State supporters are here or not. I don't think even the US or Russian president will be able to say such a thing under such circumstances. As you know, Europe, Indonesia, Canada, Australia and many other powerful countries have been victims of terrorism. Therefore, I must say that this is not Sri Lanka's problem alone. This is a problem, in fact, to the entire world. Even India, a country that is highly advanced in terms of military might and is highly secured, has been subjected to attacks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say about Islamic State? Your message to your people and the international community?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Islamic State terrorism peaked during 2015-17. However, with the attacks launched by the powerful nations of the world, this organisation became weak. It seems now they are targeting smaller nations like ours. And I believe that all the nations of the world should be prepared to face this challenge. I believe that Islamic State needs to be destroyed. It needs to be eliminated. Me and my country's security forces are committed to achieving this end. I am confident that we will be able to do so. We must understand that terrorism has not won anywhere in the world. Terrorist organisations like al Qaeda have been destroyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was there intelligence failure leading to the attacks? And why were you kept out of the loop?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The defence secretary and the inspector general of police were informed and letters were exchanged, although I was not apprised of the situation at that time. They did not fulfil their responsibilities properly. I have taken action to remove them and appoint new people in their positions. However, I don’t think it was done deliberately. It was due to lack of understanding, negligence and lack of commitment to their duties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Are there suspects linked to Islamic State still at large in Sri Lanka?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The nature of terrorism is such that we cannot say who will get attacked where. I can’t say whether Islamic State supporters are here or not. I don't think even the presidents of the US or Russia will be able to clearly say such a thing under such circumstances. Europe, Indonesia, Canada, Australia and many other powerful countries have been victims of terrorism. Therefore, I must say that this is not a problem for Sri Lanka alone. This is a problem for the entire world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Were the attacks a political conspiracy to tarnish your reputation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the course of my term in the last four years, peace has prevailed in Sri Lanka. I have launched a battle against the drug menace, which is a major problem. As far as I know, other than the leader of Philippines, I am the only head of state who has taken a firm stand against the drug menace. I have launched a comprehensive programme to fight illegal narcotics. There is a close connection between drugs and international terrorism. On the other hand, religious extremist terrorism and international underworld and drugs are interconnected. We can consider the possibility that there may have been a hidden force which expedited this attack, in view of these realities in Sri Lanka. However, we need to look at all aspects connected to these attacks. Why was Sri Lanka targeted? Why did they choose the Christian community? And why did they attack hotels and have a forceful impact on our economy and tourism industry?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>India shared intelligence with you. Is it true that the intelligence was shared several times, even just hours before the attack?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had provided certain information to the Sri Lankan Intelligence forces. And this information was passed on to the higher officials, namely the defence secretary and the inspector general of police. However, they did not inform other relevant parties or take necessary action. They have been removed from office and I will be taking necessary action with regard to their conduct.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The entire security apparatus has been reshuffled now. Do you think it will improve investigation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe it has already. A new defence secretary has been appointed. He is a former army commander and also a director of intelligence services in the past. The new inspector general of police will also be appointed and I have already taken certain measures to reorganise the security forces and intelligence services, for the safety and security of the public. Our army was able to win a war that went on for 30 years. So, I always tell my security forces to ensure people trust them. My security forces and I will take all necessary actions to wipe terrorism off the face of my country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A three-member committee has been appointed to probe into the intelligence failure. What is the progress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blasts occurred on April 21, and the very next day, I appointed the special committee headed by a justice of the Supreme Court. They have been empowered through a gazette notification which was published. Their mandate is to look into this matter and report to me within two weeks. An interim report has already been submitted, which was forwarded to the advocate general for future action. Of the two weeks given to this committee, only five days remain. Once the committee submits its final report, necessary action will be taken as per the recommendations made in it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your critics raise questions about your inefficiency.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 11, 2001, a brutal terror attack took place in the US in which over 2,700 people died. But no one asked president George W. Bush to resign. Instead, Bush gathered his forces to face the threat of terrorism. Similarly, leaders of many other countries faced the challenge and overcame terrorism on their soil after facing terror attacks. I don’t care about fingers pointed at me because I do not have a political agenda. I am fully committed to fulfilling my duty and responsibility towards my country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Rajapaksas say that if they were in power, this would not have happened.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They represent the opposition. It is very easy for them to say whatever they feel like saying. There have been five presidents before me, and during their terms, too, bombs had gone off. We are a nation which suffered from war for 30 years and we have so many experiences with bombs. So pointing fingers is very easy. But, right now, what is important is that we face the challenges before us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Islamic fundamentalism is a major issue in Sri Lanka. Hasn’t radicalisation been happening over the years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this point, it is very important that we take proper care of the Muslim community in the country. When the LTTE terrorist attacks began in the early 1980s, a lot of Sinhalese wondered whether the Tamils were supporters of the LTTE. However, it changed later. Similarly, we have to understand that only a very small number of people are involved in these extremist activities. We must not push the regular Muslim community into difficulty. We must be able to create an environment where all ethnic groups are able to live in harmony. We must be able to take necessary measures to remove suspicion, fear and mistrust among different groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did NTJ actually have connections with the Islamic State?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to intelligence reports, there is a connection between this local organisation and the Islamic State. Over the past few years, some of the members of this organisation from Sri Lanka have travelled abroad to receive training. Also, on two occasions, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But there has been communal strife in Sri Lanka, which has led to radicalisation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today there is extremism all over the world, be it in Europe, the western hemisphere or in Asia. I think the destruction of the global balance of power has contributed to this. For instance, there was balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States back in the day. But with Gorbachev, this was destroyed. Therefore, in a way, world leaders are responsible for the disruption in the balance in power, and it has fuelled extremist ideology. On the other hand, terrorists do not produce their own weapons. Weapons are manufactured in some of the most powerful nations in the world. If we can stop manufacturing powerful weapons, there could be some contribution towards ending terrorism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are connecting global balance of power to the communal strife in your country. But doesn’t this show the inefficiency of your government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not right to say that the government is incompetent. Those who occupy the responsible positions should be able to execute their duties. Two people have clearly been negligent in executing their duties and today the nation is struck with an incomprehensible tragedy. It is easy to point fingers and say such things. However, the ground situation is different. The security chiefs should have taken action to inform me and the prime minister. That was not been done. Even my private security officers were not been apprised of the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>People in the Rajapaksa camp say there was a military intelligence unit to monitor Muslims and you dismantled it after coming to power.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the Rajapaksa period from 2013 to 2015, many organisations and institutions with which they were associated were in question. Those organisations were given legal recognition through private members' motions passed in the parliament. There have been lapses during their regime as well. It was because of certain shortcomings that the people decided in 2015 that they wanted a change in government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of working relationship do you have with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a regular relationship that any president and prime minister would have. We meet at the cabinet. And I go to the parliament whenever it is required under the provisions of the constitution. In fact, even yesterday I went to the prime minister's office to meet him. Similarly, he comes to my office to meet me. At the national security council meetings, we sit together and discuss matters pertaining to the country’s security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There have been calls for your resignation. Will you step down taking responsibility for the attacks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Laughs) No head of state has ever stepped down in the manner that you describe. What any head of state in my position has ever done is to step up to the challenge and fight terrorism. That is what I intend to do. Also, I have no confidence, that in the event of my resignation, a suitable successor can be appointed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will you again run for president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The nominations have not been called yet. So it is difficult to say right now. I can say whether I will contest only after the nominations are called.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your personal opinion about Mahinda Rajapaksa? You wanted him to become the prime minister then.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is the former president and I defeated him in the last presidential election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Gotabaya Rajapaksa says he will run for the president.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presidential election is to be held at the end of this year and right now there are almost 100 candidates. But we do not know how many of them will give nominations. It will all depend on the vote of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How's your relationship with India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and Sri Lanka are close friends. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a good friend of mine. In fact, after Modi became prime minister, he has visited Sri Lanka four times. Similarly, I have visited India on five occasions. I believe that this relationship has been strengthened further recently. India has offered us their support and cooperation in terms of economic development and also national and regional security. In international fora, India has always been our friend.</p> Fri May 10 12:35:28 IST 2019 i-dont-agree-with-the-president-on-certain-issues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is determined that the perpetrators of the deadly Easter day blasts are punished and Sri Lanka comes back to normalcy. In a candid interview with THE WEEK, Wickremesinghe lists his priorities after the blasts, his relationship with President Maithiripala Sirisena and the communal strife in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said you did not get intelligence inputs about the attacks. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not know why the information did not reach me. But that is not the issue. The issue is the information which was available and not acted upon. If the information was acted upon, the attacks could have been prevented. Whether I knew it or not would have been just news for the Sunday papers. But it has become a national tragedy. So that is the question. But yes, as prime minister, I should have been informed. So, a commission has been appointed to look into it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said you were not invited to the national security council meetings since October.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was not called. But not many meetings of the council had taken place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Doesn’t law and order come under your purview?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It comes under the cabinet. Not under me. We are collectively responsible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was the reason for the intelligence breakdown?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It went down. They did not act on it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you probing it now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. We have appointed a commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When is it likely to submit its report?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not know. I am rather concerned about the future, not the past. I am concerned about how do you apprehend the perpetrators, get information and see whether there are other groups. Ensuring the security of the country is my primary concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think the home-grown terrorist cell had links with Islamic State?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They had some contact. We do not know the extent of it, but that is being investigated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does it have links with groups in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are working with our counterparts to see if they had any such connection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you getting intelligence support from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are getting information from India and also from other countries. And our own system is working. Our people got moving in two-three hours, and within 12 hours, they got vital information about some of the key suspects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of support are you getting from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the information that we want and any other support they wish to give us, like many other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you directly in touch with the Indian ministry of foreign affairs?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot be specific on it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the consequences of the attack?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has taken a toll in the short term. We are looking at the long-term impact. Tourism has been affected. But May and June are lean months. We want to revive it by September, for the next season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is the trade and economy affected?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Businesses have been hurt. There is disruption in exports. Ports and airports are not functioning. Some feel they can get it back once normalcy returns. Much foreign capital has left the country. How much will return, we will have to wait and see.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The security apparatus has been restructured. Will it help?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The full restructuring has not yet happened. It has to be a gradual process. You cannot go and disturb something which is bringing results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Law and order and defence portfolios are with the president. Don't you think he has to give it away?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The defence portfolio is with the president, till this tenure is over. It will be separated after his term as per the constitution. After that, it has to be given to a minister. The next president cannot hold any portfolio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the president failed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The president says his people were not informed either.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But he is also the defence minister.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The structure did not work, he has appointed a commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Rajapaksas claim that this would not have happened if they had been in power.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as this information is concerned, it may have happened or it may not have. The fact is that we are staunchly involved in counter-terrorism. On the Islamic State front who are their friends and enemies, I leave it at that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the radicalisation of the Muslim community a recent phenomenon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been happening for the past eight or nine years. We could see it everywhere, including in India. It is one face of Islam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it because of any external influence?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are looking into it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is there communal strife in Sri Lanka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reconciliation is taking root. Otherwise, there would have been riots by now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Religious preaching has been banned. And so is burqa.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have not banned any religious preaching. The Muslims, as a security measure, did not have their Friday prayers, and the Christians did not have the mass. The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama said burqa was not compulsory. We have asked the minister of justice to talk with them and prepare the necessary legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is your relationship with President Sirisena now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is like it was earlier. It is not different. We meet. There are certain issues on which we agree. And there are issues on which we do not. We meet at cabinet meetings and other meetings.</p> Fri May 10 12:30:33 IST 2019 terror-attacks-in-sri-lanka-the-week-reports-how-fear-has-gripped-the-nation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two days after the Easter-day blasts, the streets of Colombo are eerily silent. As night falls, policemen walk the streets looking for suspicious strangers. Curfew and fear have gripped the city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At Colombo 13, the road to St Antony’s Shrine is deserted, though a few shops are open. The Catholic shrine was one of the three churches attacked by suicide bombers on the morning of April 21. A clock on a wall near the shrine reads 8:45am. “It shows the time we heard the explosion,” says Yogaraja, a 42-year-old who lives nearby. “All of us here are like one community—be it Muslims, Hindus, Christians or Buddhists. St Antony is our saviour in this part of Colombo. He will not spare the wrongdoers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 40 kilometres north of Colombo, the seaside city of Negombo is still grappling with shock and grief. Scores of believers were killed by the blast in St Sebastian’s Church; its floor covered by flesh, blood and fragments of stained glass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A giant canopy has been erected near the damaged church. Under it, mourners sit on chairs placed on the sandy ground. After the prayers, pallbearers make their way through the crowd. Loud cries fill the air as the mass burials are held.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blasts targeted three churches and four hotels in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, a city in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. More than 350 died and around 500 were injured. A national emergency has been declared, and life has come to a standstill. “We never expected that we would become the target of such deadly attacks,” says Fr Lour Fernando of St Sebastian’s Church. “People are afraid. But we will have to remain strong and keep praying.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blasts have pushed Sri Lanka back to its history of conflict and polarisation. Security personnel can now detain suspects without a court order, a special power that was last exercised in the civil war that ended in 2009. With tensions simmering between communities, a decade of peace seems to have come to an end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s Christians, who make up 7 per cent of its 22 million people, had largely been spared the ravages of war. They were also thought to be insulated from the recent tensions between Muslims and right-wing Buddhists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the attacks were the result of an intelligence failure. “India had shared information on a possible attack, but there were lapses on the part of authorities here,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Maithripala Sirisena has called for a united effort to fight terror. “Action will be taken against the officers who failed to act. Changes will be made in the top rungs of the security forces,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “burning question”, according to Sirisena, is why the police failed to act. “I want to state here that I wasn’t informed either. Had I been informed, I would have acted immediately,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The parliament’s first meeting after the attack, on April 23, saw the ruling party and the opposition trading charges. Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa said such attacks would never have happened if he were in power. “We had strengthened the intelligence services so that there would be absolutely no threat to national security,” he said. “Whenever we got wind of a threat to national security, we acted on it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, there were several tip-offs. “Intelligence agencies abroad had warned the government on April 4 about the possibility of attacks,” said Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hours after the blasts, a note apparently sent by a top police officer, dated April 11, began circulating on social media. Addressed to the security divisions of various ministries, the diplomatic community, judges and former presidents, the note warned of impending suicide attacks on churches and the Indian High Commission. According to it, the plot was masterminded by “Mohammed Zaharan, leader of National Thowheed Jamaath”, a radical Islamist group that was earlier accused of vandalising Buddhist statues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The authorities apparently dismissed the note as a “fake document”. After Senaratne named National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) as the group behind the blasts, it became a talking point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The motive for the attacks remains unclear. According to the government, the blasts were in retaliation for the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand in March. The police have arrested around 50 suspects from across the country. “There were nine suicide cadres—all Sri Lankan nationals—involved in the attack,” police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara told THE WEEK. “The criminal investigation department has identified eight of them. Persons arrested are all Sri Lankan citizens. Of the suspects, 32 are in custody and are being interrogated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The investigators tracked the attackers to Dematagoda, near Colombo. Apparently, all were educated and belonged to well-off families. “One went to the UK to study. One suicide bomber was a woman,” said Gunasekara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardane said all attackers had been to Syria. But it is not clear whether they were trained there. Investigators say the attackers had links with NTJ and another little-known group called the Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. “We are investigating the involvement of JMI and NTJ,” Gunasekara told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The authorities are yet to establish NTJ’s links to Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks. IS has released photos and videos of what it claims are jihadists who were trained to carry out the blasts. If the claim is true, IS has carried out its deadliest attack outside Iraq and Syria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police are investigating whether IS cells are active in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka. Muslims, mainly Sunnis, have significant presence in eastern Sri Lanka. After the spate of attacks against them in March last year, international security agencies had warned the Sri Lankan government of the threat of radicalisation of Muslim youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January, security agencies had detained four people after unearthing a huge cache of explosives from an 80-acre coconut farm in Puttalam district in northwestern Sri Lanka. All four, including the owner of the farm, were released later. The police are now investigating whether the case is connected to the blasts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Intelligence agencies believe that the attacks are the handiwork of an international jihadist organisation,” said an officer. “The reason is the sheer sophistication of the attacks—six sites in three cities hit by nine suicide bombers. Nearly all of the explosives went off with deadly effect.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Investigators say it points to the involvement of an expert bomb-maker. Also, the plot itself could have taken more than a month to hatch. “A plot of this magnitude means that it was no small cell,” said the officer. “Imagine the backup you need. Who drove the attackers to the sites? What safe houses did they use?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The questions are burning, and so is the situation in the country. “The army has taken over,” Wijewardene told THE WEEK. “The situation is under control now. Interpol and intelligence agencies from India, the UK, Australia and the UAE have offered help.”</p> Sat Apr 27 17:06:43 IST 2019 the-suicide-bombers-were-all-well-educated <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Was there a tip-off from the Indian intelligence agencies about the attack?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are getting intelligence information from India, Australia, the UK, the UAE and the Interpol. India has been helping the criminal investigation department carry out the investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Given the scale of the attack, are you worried about the Islamic State demonstrating its capabilities in the region?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Absolutely. I am worried. We had not received information that IS was involved. We need to know if they [attackers] were trained by IS. We will find that out with the help of foreign intelligence [agencies].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Christians were primarily the victims of the attack.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easter Sunday is a holy day for a Catholic, and something violent of this scale happening on a holy day is heartbreaking. The Cardinal [Malcolm Ranjith] had said that if the information was shared [well in advance], we could have minimised the casualties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But, you had the information.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was not aware of the information.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you suspect the suicide bombers were trained abroad?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are investigating that. We have information that they were educated abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Which means that they were not from poor families.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They were well-educated and were from economically-sound background.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was their age group? Did they have families, children?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 20 and 30. I cannot say if they had families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do they belong to any particular community, any puritan sect or any mujahideen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot divulge that information at the moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said the bombings were in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no direct link, but our intelligence services say that it could be the motivation.</p> Fri Apr 26 12:26:52 IST 2019 terror-attacks-in-sri-lanka-diplomatic-and-security-nightmare-for-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BANGLADESH PRIME MINISTER</b> Sheikh Hasina was in Brunei when she was told about the death of her cousin’s grandson in the Sri Lankan terror attacks on April 21. Eight-year-old Zayan Choudhury was at breakfast with his father in one of the hotels targeted by terrorists. Zayan was among the 38 foreign nationals killed in the attacks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Hasina, the Sri Lankan bombings went way beyond personal loss. It was eerily similar to the 2016 terrorist attacks that devastated Bangladesh. The perpetrators in both cases were well educated and came from financially sound upper middle-class families. Looking at the alarming similarities, analysts in India feel that New Delhi, too, should be on guard. “There is a lot of affinity between Sri Lanka and southern states like Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu,” said Arun Choudhary, former special director in the Intelligence Bureau. “The fact that Islamic State has displayed that it is not [geographically limited] and [that it] resonates with local outfits is a matter of worry.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Sri Lankan government has blamed a small fundamentalist group called the National Thowheed Jamaath for the attacks, Islamic State claimed responsibility three days later. An Indian counterterrorism official said Islamic State was building its violent brand in the region, challenging the well-established Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Retired diplomat G. Parthasarathy said the attack was retribution for the New Zealand mosque shootings. “That was the first time that Muslims had been killed collectively at a place of worship. It had to hit back,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian agencies had alerted Sri Lankan intelligence officials on April 4 about possible attacks on churches and the Indian high commission in Colombo, after an Islamic State radical disclosed during interrogation that he was associated with Zahran Hashim, a Sri Lankan cleric who was identified as one of the key attackers. The plot came to light after the National Investigation Agency busted the Coimbatore module of Islamic State six months ago and found incriminating material about Hashim, including videos that pointed at impending attacks in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 23, Islamic State released a video claiming responsibility for the Easter attacks. It showed Hashim with a rifle, leading seven purported attackers, pledging allegiance to Islamic State. “It is a strategy among terror groups to take credit for an attack that has not been claimed by any organisation. Thowheed is a lesser known group, but linking up with Islamic State makes for a potent combination,’’ said Choudhary. Ashok Behuria, who heads the South Asia Centre at the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said Islamic State was using fringe outfits to carry out spectacular strikes like the one in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, the Sri Lankan crisis also poses a diplomatic challenge, especially because the rift between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena is widening. Harsh Pant, who heads the strategic studies programme at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said the president and the prime minister were not coordinating their responses. “Intelligence was passed, but no action was taken. There is something amiss in the way the institutional infrastructure is being managed,’’ said Pant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India needs to be careful as its ties with Sri Lanka have been somewhat stormy. Last November, Sirisena had alleged that India’s Research and Analysis Wing was plotting his assassination. Although he quickly denied the reports, the allegation came on the eve of Wickremesinghe’s visit to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been a perception that India is closer to Wickremesinghe, who had promised to revisit the island nation’s burgeoning economic ties with China. The Wickremesinghe government had cancelled several contracts to Chinese companies, while India was offered more projects. This has been one of the reasons behind the rift between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena. The president even replaced Wickremesinghe with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. While the move failed, there is a strong possibility of someone from the Rajapaksa clan winning the presidential elections scheduled for later this year. Rajapaksa’s party had swept local body polls held in 2018. The national security crisis will further bolster its chances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a scenario that New Delhi will be watching carefully. In 2015, Rajapaksa had accused R&amp;AW of conspiring to defeat him in the presidential elections. In an interview with THE WEEK in January, he said, “In 2014, certain misunderstandings emerged between the newly elected governments [in both countries]. That is something that should not have happened.’’ The prevailing sense of mistrust could be one of the reasons why Indian inputs on the terror attacks were not taken seriously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been working on improving ties with Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met him during an official visit to Sri Lanka in 2017. Last September, Rajapaksa, along with his son and heir apparent Namal, had met Modi during a visit to India. But irritants continue to mar ties between the two countries. For the moment, however, there is little India can do, but remain supportive. “We have to be a good neighbour,’’ said Parthasarathy. “We need to respond positively when we are asked for help.”</p> Sat Apr 27 17:11:55 IST 2019 how-pakistan-new-foreign-secretary-sohail-mahmood-wants-better-ties-with-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS ON</b> a cricket ground that the legendary coach Gurcharan Singh first met Sohail Mahmood, Pakistan’s new foreign secretary. A match was in progress at the British High Commission in Delhi, and Singh was bowling. “A diplomat doesn’t have time to practise each day,” Singh said. “But Mahmood managed to connect with the ball each time. He is a good batsman.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh, 84, made one request to Mahmood. He had left his village across the border when he was 12, and he wanted to go back home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The visa came with astonishing speed—in a day. “I visited the Gaddafi Stadium (in Lahore), where Mahmood had arranged a special visit with Pakistan administrators. I cannot explain what it means to me to have seen my house after 72 years. I met people who knew my parents.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahmood may not have the ability to influence foreign policy or change the narrative. Foreign secretaries rarely do, especially in Pakistan. But his appointment after his India stint indicates which way the wind is blowing in Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his 19 months as Pakistan high commissioner, Mahmood underwent baptism by fire. He had been to South Block many times, but few of those meetings were friendly. An undeclared war, punctuated with ceasefire violations, became the new norm. A range of issues—Kulbhushan Jadhav’s imprisonment, terror attack at Pulwama and India’s Balakot strike—worsened relations between the two countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was a high degree of oscillation in India and Pakistan relations,” said Mahendra Lama, who teaches at the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “But Mahmood brought it back to normal. It is a credit to both him and our high commissioner. High commissioners play a critical role. It is important for institutions to play a role rather than individuals. It is the best kind of diplomacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his stint in India, he overcame the diplomatic deep freeze by finding new ways—like initiating a massive reach out. As many as 33,635 visit visas were issued to Indians last year by the Pakistan High Commission, which translates to around 111 a day. The high commission had issued 52,183 visas in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The high numbers reflected Mahmood’s commitment to keeping communication channels open. The hope could be that people-to-people connections, which go beyond government ties, will be a game-changer. The opening of the Kartarpur corridor and other shrines to Indians are steps in this direction. It also fits into the narrative of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’—a nation that roots for peace and extends an olive branch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sikh festival of Baisakhi fell on April 14 this year, and on that day the Pakistan High Commission set a record by issuing 2,200 visas. Coupled with Naya Pakistan’s soft power mission, Mahmood’s initiatives have been able to counter the overwhelming narrative of Pakistan being India’s enemy. Sources say he keeps his doors open for anyone who has a different approach to maintaining India-Pakistan ties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who know Mahmood describe him as a hardworking, serious-minded and seasoned diplomat. Before he came to India, he was posted in Ankara, where he proved his mettle by bringing Turkey and Pakistan closer. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offer to mediate in Kashmir—which figured prominently in his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India in 2017—was the result of Mahmood building a case for Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The links that he made in his previous postings will matter more. Mahmood served in Washington, DC, and acted as political coordinator in Pakistan’s delegation to the UN Security Council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like India, the US will loom large in the Pakistani foreign policy horizon. America holds many cards, the most powerful being the proposed International Monetary Fund bailout. Post Balakot, the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terror will increase—or so India hopes. In the United Nations Security Council, China has been stonewalling attempts to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar a global terrorist. But, with 14 of 15 member states of the UNSC backing the efforts, it is only a matter of time before China caves in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Peace and better ties with India will go a long way in making things easier for Pakistan. Imran Khan seems to understands this; even the Pakistani army is said to be on the same page. He recently told foreign journalists that there was a better chance of peace talks if the BJP returns to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the impending US pullout from Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to bank on its influence on the Taliban. The peace talks between the Taliban and the US, which were to have representation from the Afghan government for the first time in 17 years, was again called off recently. So, it is advantage Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahmood has been courting the peace constituency without diluting his government’s line. He had continued links with the Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir, despite India’s objections. Yet, to his credit, it did not turn into another diplomat spat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His balancing skills, sharpened by his India stint, will serve him well in his new role. Especially, when a new government takes charge in New Delhi, and the demand for peace talks surfaces again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahmood has demonstrated his commitment to engage with India. The question is, would that be enough?</p> Sat Apr 27 17:17:20 IST 2019 china-eyes-a-divided-european-union <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The European Union seems to be toughening its stance against China, after cuddling the ‘Giant Panda’ for decades. In a strategic shift, an “assertive” EU has alleged that China disregards international rules, discriminates against foreign firms and dodges a level-playing field. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the most urgent problem for the EU with China was to ensure reciprocity regarding market access. Jean-Claude Juncker, the outspoken president of the European Commission, said, “Limits are set for us when we set no limits for Chinese investors. This can’t be.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a strategy paper published ahead of its summit with China on April 9, the EU called China a “competitor” and a “systemic rival”, which practised “alternative models of governance” in politics and in business. Said French President Emmanuel Macron, “Power cannot be without rivalry. We are not naïve.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EU has started to act tough, weaponising policy instruments to restrict Chinese acquisition of strategic assets, thwart forcible technology transfers and control cheap Chinese imports. The unusually strong stand by the EU forced China to agree not to make companies share intellectual property at the April summit. China also agreed to work towards opening up its economy for foreign investors. Jo Leinen, president of the European Parliament’s China delegation, said the EU was forced to wake up and protect itself because, in a few years, China had changed from a friendly partner into an unfriendly rival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But to the EU’s dismay, a dozen European countries have rolled out the red carpet to the Chinese caravan of projects, money and deals comprising its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a 21st century Silk Road aiming to fulfil President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” of restoring lost glory. China intends to emerge as the centre of the universe, not by firing intercontinental missiles, but by assembling an intercontinental economic programme through a web of roadways, railroads, pipelines and shipping routes crisscrossing three continents. As the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago in his treatise The Art of War, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Forget battle, Italy, a key member of the EU, embraced BRI and welcomed Xi with imperial pageantry. There were grenadiers in tall bearskin hats and horsemen in shining armour and plumed helmets to receive Xi, the grandeur of the moment reminiscent of an era when all roads led to Rome. “Made in Italy” is now a jewel in the “Made in China” BRI crown. Bagging a G7 country and the tenth largest economy of the world is a coup, even though Italy is in recession, with high debt and crumbling infrastructure. The $2.8 billion deals are not dramatic, but their potential is. Bruno Maçães, Portuguese political scientist and author of Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order, said the economic map of Europe was ripe for a revolution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Chinese investment, Italy’s Trieste port can out-compete the north European trading ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, the engines of Europe’s industrial progress since the 17th century. Trieste is closer to Munich, Europe’s industrial heartland. Michele Geraci, undersecretary of state at the Italian ministry of economic development, said, “Trieste can become China’s gateway to Europe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Together with Trieste, the ports of Piraeus in Greece, Sines in Portugal and Valencia in Spain can transform into pearls on China’s industrial chain, transporting goods between Shanghai and Europe in 33 days, 10 days faster than by the northern route. “It’s a win-win situation,” said Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not everyone agrees. His rival and coalition partner, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, abstained from the ceremonies. Branding foreign businesses as “colonisers”, he warned, “Before allowing someone to invest in the ports of Trieste or Genoa, I would think about it not once, but a hundred times”. Italian newspaper La Repubblica described Xi as the “Godfather of Rome”. From across the Atlantic, the US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis tweeted, “Italy did not need to lend legitimacy to China’s vanity infrastructure project and its predatory approach to investment that will bring no benefits to the Italian people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“All warfare is based on deception,” wrote Sun Tzu. Western powers see China as a “stealth superpower”, deploying its gigantic geopolitical project as a Trojan Horse to encroach, extend and deepen its strategic influence in Europe, Asia and Africa. The BRI straddles the earth from Mongolia to Montenegro, encompassing 4.5 billion people representing one-third of the world’s wealth. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared, “China is not a military threat, but it has come nearer to us.” NATO is currently assessing the security implications of Chinese investments on Europe’s digital and physical infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The furore over Huawei as a global Chinese spy tool rages, which Xi tried to play down. “We cannot let mutual suspicion get the better of us,” he said. But the EU is not about to let its guard down. And what China does openly is bad enough. The EU strategy paper acknowledged the BRI’s commercial potential, but also red-flagged the perils that needed tackling: plunging participating countries into debt, using unfair trade practices, providing state subsidy and cheap credit to Chinese companies, especially hi-tech firms, employing espionage, corrupting procurement practices, manipulating media, flouting environment and labour standards, legitimising opaque procedures and taking “decisions not based on science”. The EU counters with an alternate “sustainable” Europe-Asia connectivity programme. “For the first time, there is a common strategy,” said Macron.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s response has been glacial. Zhang Ming, China’s ambassador to the EU, said the concerns would be “gradually addressed” as China opened up its economy at a “reasonable pace”. The EU is also appalled by the “China-effect” on European values. “One (European) country is unable to condemn China’s human rights policy because Chinese investors are travelling in its port,” said Juncker. “Another country cannot support a decision of the Human Rights Commission because Chinese investors are travelling in its territory. It can’t work like this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It, however, works because of divisions within the EU. China and the EU are each other’s second largest trading partners, transacting goods worth €1 billion every day. But competing interests corrode unity. France and Germany see China as a growing economic and strategic threat. Sweden is ambivalent. Greece, Croatia, Romania, Poland and Hungary are all enthusiastic about cooperation. Europe’s pro-China lobby is significant. The southern, central and eastern countries in the EU and several west Balkan nations queuing up to join the EU are hungry for funds to improve their infrastructure. They are frustrated by the EU’s bureaucracy and irritated by German and French domination. Cuddling China and accessing quick, no-lectures and no-strings-attached money is tempting. Asked Peter Frankopan, Oxford University professor and author of The Silk Roads, “If investment does not come from China to build ports, refineries and railway lines, then where will it come from?” These European countries have formed the 16+1 bloc with China. Macron warned Xi, “Respect the unity of the European Union.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But divide and rule is not a British patent. Warriors look for cracks in the enemy flank. Fortress Europe would be impossible for Xi to penetrate, but a divided, disgruntled and financially famished continent is a dream come true for China. If EU unity weakens, China can build strong bilateral economic relations with its members, gain access to markets, assets, resources and technology and steer an era where all roads lead to Beijing. Said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, “China is a challenge on almost every topic.”&nbsp;</p> Sat Apr 13 21:36:46 IST 2019 alpine-avalanche <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ACROSS THE ALPS,</b> France and Italy are jostling and jousting to crown their idea of Europe, while destroying the other’s. Italy’s ruling coalition wants its populist, nationalist, anti-establishment, anti-immigration, Eurosceptic vision to proliferate across the continent. French President Emmanuel Macron aims to eradicate populism, which he said was like “leprosy spreading across Europe”. He wants the progressive, liberal avatar of Europe to triumph.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which of the two visions will conquer Europe’s soul? The answer will be revealed in the May elections to the European parliament. This is ground zero for the fight between Europe’s populists and progressives, between the Europhobes and the Europhiles. Until then, the volume and venom of the verbal attacks will escalate. Said Marc Lazar, professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, “This is a collision of two very different concepts of Europe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The collision has consequences. France recalled its ambassador from Rome, an adversarial tactic common enough between India and Pakistan, or Russia and the United States. But it is extraordinary between France and Italy, the European Union’s founding members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recall was French retribution for Italy’s “repeated, baseless attacks… without precedent since World War II”, said French official Benjamin Griveaux. Nathalie Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs, said such a thing had not happened since 1940 when Italy declared war on France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate provocation for the recall was Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio’s rendezvous in a Paris suburb with anti-Macron protesters of the yellow vest movement. Said Dominique Moisi of the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, “This is a sad first in the history of the EU. No country has intervened so openly in the domestic affairs of another…and broken all diplomatic conventions of EU solidarity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 32-year-old Di Maio, who belongs to Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), was expressing solidarity with Macron’s opponents. Di Maio told the activists that he was “ready to give the support” they needed to contest the European elections. He blogged and tweeted and also posted photographs with them, announcing that they would meet again in Rome. “A new Europe is being born of the Yellow Vests. Winds of change have crossed the Alps,” said Di Maio. In 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini invaded France in what is called the “Battle of the Alps”. By recalling his envoy, Macron was punishing populism more than rebuking Italy. Many believe that he is the best bulwark against the populist tide sweeping Europe. After all, he was elected as a shield to stop far right leader Marine Le Pen from becoming president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Italy, populism flared after the 2008 financial crisis that spawned bankruptcies and unemployment. And then the migrant crisis exploded. History will judge German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Europe’s doors to a million refugees as transformative, altering the continent’s social, cultural and political landscape. The migrant influx inflamed economically-distressed communities. Across Europe, anti-immigration populists surged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Feeling betrayed by mainstream parties and the corrupt elite, Italian voters turned to their anti-immigration populists, either the far right Northern League or the leftist M5S. The rivals formed an uneasy coalition government after last year’s elections. Italy’s two deputy prime ministers are Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, the fiery head of the League. “These populists are dangerous to Europe’s stability and unity,” said former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Polarisation is their preferred ploy. Populists feast on ‘enemies’ to swell in size and importance. In power, the Italian populists realised that demonising the EU is counterproductive. Faced with recession and insolvent banks, attacking the EU alienates bureaucrats, spooks investors and rattles the fragile economy. On the other hand, Macron is a picture-perfect enemy. The elitist French president personifies the pro-EU establishment they seek to wreck. Their refrain: “The real leprosy at the heart of Europe is the double standards of the French president.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rhetoric, personalities and ideologies aside, France and Italy have strong cultural, geographic and economic ties—both are the other’ second largest trading partner. They are Europe’s superpowers of culture. Their distinct creativity and innovation make them compete in everything from art, cars and wine to fashion, food and football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rivalry extends to stereotyping and lampooning each other. The Italians are unruly, say the French. The French are disdainful, retort the Italians. “The French are smug even when they are weak,” sneered the right-wing Italian daily Libero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now sparring turns to sabotage and old conflicts trigger new battles. Air France reportedly withdrew from a bailout plan to rescue the bankrupt Italian airline, Alitalia. France and Italy wrangle over corporate takeovers (France “conquers”, Italy resents), high-speed rail between Lyon and Turin (France persists, Italy blocks), border checks (France insists, Italy objects). “The result of all these tensions is an explosive environment between France and Italy,” said Jean Pierre Darnis of the Italian Institute of International Affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One third of the Italians feel that France is hostile to them. Immigration is the divisive, emotional issue. Due to its Mediterranean coastline, Italy bears the brunt of refugee arrivals. Migrants try to move further, but neighbouring France pushes them back into Italy, the country of their entry. When Macron criticised Italy for preventing a migrant rescue boat from docking in Sicily, Di Maio reacted angrily, saying Italy would not “accept hypocritical lessons” from the French.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When historical rivalries fester, maggots crawl out. Accusing France of “stealing” Africa’s wealth, Salvini said, “African migrants are flooding Europe because of France’s policy of impoverishment and exploitation of its former colonies.” Said Di Maio, “France has never stopped colonising. I am tired of speaking of the consequences of immigration. I want to start discussing the causes.” French officials replied that many migrants came from the former brutalised Italian colonies, Eritrea and Somalia. Italy blames the 2011 French-led invasion for the disintegration of its former colony Libya into a den of warlords and criminals who now smuggle African migrants into Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even art is dragged into the fight. The world’s most seen artwork, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, observed by 20,000 visitors a day. The Louvre plans a spectacular retrospective to mark Da Vinci’s 500th death anniversary this October. The Italian government had agreed to lend several masterpieces, including the rarely exhibited Vitruvian Man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then the populists came to power and now it’s not certain. Lucia Borgonzoni, Italy’s deputy culture minister, said, “Leonardo is Italian, he just died in France.” She accused France of disrespecting Italy and treating it like “a cultural supermarket by sending a shopping list of works it wants to borrow—basically everything. No other country would dare to behave as France had.” The French ambassador is back in his Rome embassy, but the spat is not over yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a spectacular start, Macron is now under siege on all fronts. The Yellow Vest protesters have blunted his image, popularity and reforms. From opposing his fuel tax, the movement has broadened to demand the ouster of their “pro-rich investment banker-president”. His budget deficit is growing and the economy is slowing. While Macron’s ratings are sinking, populists, nationalists, leftists, grassroots activists and street protesters are ganging up against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Populists threaten to storm not the Bastille, but the European parliament. With the populists of Poland, Hungary, Italy, Britain, Austria and others waiting to welcome more of their kind, the continent could soon be saddled ironically with the most anti-EU European parliament. Should that happen, more national sovereignty, tougher immigration controls, higher taxes for the rich, wage hikes, better welfare policies, bigger deficits and slower growth are likely. Said Letta, “If the populists win over 25 per cent of the votes in May, it will be the start of a very negative trend that can potentially devastate Europe’s growth.”</p> Sat Mar 02 16:57:59 IST 2019 halfway-to-freedom <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For 30-year-old Ibtehal Al Shareef, mobility equals freedom. The schoolteacher-turned-photographer from Jeddah remembers the time when she had to depend on cabs or on her father or brother to ferry her to the workplace and back. She had got her driver’s licence while the family lived in Dubai, but could not get behind the wheel in her home country because of a ban on women driving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, then came the moment of liberation. “I felt unshackled, liberated,” said Al Shareef, recalling the time when she steered the family car out of the garage and onto the wide roads of Jeddah. “There were so many other women drivers on the roads. It was freedom at midnight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was at the stroke of midnight on June 24, 2018, that the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia came to an end. There was celebration and jubilation as scores of women burned rubber across major cities. The occasion even saw Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah Al Saud, daughter of the late king Abdullah, appear on the cover of Vogue magazine, in the driver’s seat of a red convertible, glamourously attired in a fashionable abaya, complete with black leather gloves and high heels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The driving ban was repealed through a royal decree in September 2017, and the first driver’s licences were issued to women in the first week of June 2018, most of them in exchange for driving permits procured in other countries. The lifting of the driving ban is perhaps the biggest sign of the dramatic change that is currently under way in the kingdom in terms of empowerment of women. “It will bring more women into the work force. It will contribute to their feeling of independence and empower them,” said Al Shareef.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is almost like women were waiting for an opportunity to go out there and be free. For example, the existing driving schools are unable to cope with the demand from women who want to learn to drive. As per an estimate made by PricewaterhouseCoopers, by 2020, 30 lakh Saudi women would have got driver’s licences. Recent years have seen changes, with an increasing number of women going for higher studies and taking up jobs. Women were allowed to contest and vote in municipal elections in 2015. In 2016, the powers of the religious police to stop, question or arrest people were taken away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“All of my friends and my cousins are working or want to work. This is a big change from my mother’s generation,” said Haya Aldamigh, a resident of Riyadh, who works as a specialist in the ministry of media. Women can now watch sporting events at stadiums. In the past, they could get arrested for entering a stadium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first Saudi woman to get a pilot’s licence, the first woman TV presenter, the first women appointees to sports federations, the first women’s sports teams, the first woman to sing in a music festival and the first ever marathon race for women are some of the many firsts that have made headlines in the past one-and-a-half years. Government departments opened up senior-level positions for women for the first time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change in the Saudi society is most evident in men and women mingling in public spaces, with gender segregation not being enforced. This has made it possible for more women to join the work force. “A few years back, it would not have been possible for women to work in a newspaper. And this was primarily because of gender segregation,” said Khalid A. Tashkandi, assistant editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette. He said 20 per cent of the editorial staff at the newspaper now comprised women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many restaurants, however, continue to have separate sections for women and families. And, this is primarily because of reasons of practicality. Hijab-wearing women need privacy, as they remove it while eating. There is also a women-driven demand for separate public services, such as banks or smoking rooms in airports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the societal level, women are now deciding what they want to study, where they want to work, who they want to marry and when they want to get married. “I am 28. And, of course, my parents want me to get married now, but the decision will be mine,” said Alaa M. Al Ghamdi, who works as a public relations officer at the Organisation for Press and Publication in Jeddah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women now have better rights than before in the personal sphere. Divorced women are now entitled to financial aid from the government, and they will get custody of their children till their divorce cases are decided. This will mean that women will not have to endure abuse at the hands of their husbands in silence because they are financially dependent on them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no longer mandatory for women to wear an abaya—a loose-fitting outerwear, normally black in colour—or a headscarf in public. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview in March 2018 that it should be left to the women to decide their clothing. “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia, that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, however, still rare to see a woman without the abaya in public places, although many women do not wear the hijab even while wearing the loose-fitting robe. “I do not like to wear the abaya. But without it, I would be the odd one out,” said Nouf Hassan, a 22-year-old trainee in hotel management. “It is still not seen as normal for a woman to go out without the abaya. But I think this will change in a few years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An increasing number of women, especially college-going youngsters, are finding new, more fashionable ways of wearing the abaya, some not buttoning the front all the way down so that their stylish jeans and shoes are visible, or wearing it more like a cape or a long shrug.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women are opting for designer abayas, which come in different colour combinations and are embellished with sequins and crystals. Keeping with the decision to allow women into stadia, fashion designer Eman Joharjy launched the sports abaya. Saudi Arabia had its first fashion week in April 2018, although drones and not models showcased the clothes on the ramp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Who wears these clothes? We wear them!” said Nouf. She showed a picture of herself on her phone, in which she was dressed in a trendy short dress and was unidentifiable, as against her traditional abaya-clad office look. “I do not wear the abaya when I am travelling out of Saudi Arabia. And, young women like me wear western wear when we are amongst family and friends,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The young generation has a lot of international exposure, with many of them going abroad for higher studies. The explosive growth of social media and the revolution in the entertainment scene because of online media has made the youth aspire for similar circumstances back home. “We cannot impose the old rules on the new generation. The internet has changed their outlook. They have exposure to the whole world,” said Tashkandi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fast-paced changes are being credited to the reformist agenda of MbS, who became crown prince in March 2016. He is said to have heeded the aspirations of the youth in drafting his Vision 2030, which aims at turning Saudi Arabia into a multi-faceted economy, which is not dependent solely on the oil sector. The government hopes to increase the participation of women workers from the current 22 per cent to 30 per cent by 2030. Refurbishing the country’s image by ridding it of hardline Islamic practices is also an important aspect of Vision 2030.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nawal Baksh, who is the country’s first woman TV presenter, credited the changes to the policies of MbS. “The revolution that we are witnessing is because of Vision 2030, which is all about meeting the aspirations of the youth. Seventy per cent of the population is young. Our youth go all over the world to study, and when they come back, they should have jobs and a social milieu that they aspire for,” said Baksh, director of family and society programmes for Riyadh Radio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, while Saudi Arabian women may now be enjoying new rights and freedoms, speaking out against injustices or being critical of the establishment is still not acceptable. This was evident as several women’s rights activists, who had campaigned for the Saudi woman’s right to drive, were arrested around the same time as women in the country were allowed to drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manal Al Sharif, who was put behind bars in 2011 for defying the driving ban, and who is now living in Australia, said she wanted to visit Saudi Arabia but feared that she would be arrested. Al Sharif, 39, is the first Saudi woman cyber security expert and was one of the main campaigners for the Saudi woman’s right to drive. She was forced to exit Twitter recently in the wake of a flurry of hate messages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the recent incident of Saudi teenager Rahaf Al Qanun getting asylum in Canada as she feared that her family might kill her or that she can be arrested puts the focus on the much criticised male guardianship law in the country. Under the law, women are required to seek consent from their male guardians, who can either be their father, uncle, husband, brother or even son for small and big decisions in their lives, including work, marriage, travel and even medical treatment. A woman can be arrested for parental disobedience. Exceptions can be made in this law by a royal decree. One such exception is the driver’s licence, which no longer requires a guardian’s permission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Saudi society, while displaying a readiness for change, also has to deal with conservative elements, who are not yet ready to accept the new developments. There have been several instances of cars belonging to women getting torched. A young man posted a video of himself issuing the threat of burning cars down. He was later arrested. Songs such as ‘You will not drive’ and ‘No woman, no drive’ came up on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conservative viewpoint has also been raised in the Shura Council, the consultative assembly of Saudi Arabia, which advises the government on law and policy. Last September, the council refused to approve a proposal to stop accusing women of parental disobedience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, however, felt that the western media has projected a biased picture of Saudi Arabia, not appreciating the strides the Saudi society has made over the years. Emon Al Nouri, a 21-year-old economics graduate, said the achievements of Saudi women should be seen in the milieu of the country, as they did not want to blindly ape the west. “We want to follow Muslim culture and tradition, and yet be independent and successful,” she said. “What was not possible in my grandmother’s generation or my mother’s generation is now possible. This is a natural evolution of the society.”</p> Sat Feb 09 12:11:50 IST 2019 the-price-of-freedom <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN HER BOOK</b> <i>Daring to Drive</i>, Manal Al Sharif wrote that a short drive across the Saudi Arabian city of Al Khobar changed her life forever. In 2011, Al Sharif, a divorced mother, who was tired of depending on drivers and cabs, took her brother’s car out for a spin. She was accompanied by her brother, sister-in-law and five-year-old son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sister-in-law shot a video of the adventure, which Al Sharif was hoping to use to promote her ‘Women2Drive’ campaign. She was, however, intercepted and detained by the police during her drive, after which her sister-in-law posted the video online. It brought the attention of people across the world to Al Sharif’s act of rebellion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 39-year-old Al Sharif, who is her country’s first woman cyber security expert, now lives in self-imposed exile in Sydney, Australia. “I hope no woman will ever again be jailed for the simple act of driving a car. Driving is only the start to end other unjust laws, which treat Saudi women as minors, not trusted to direct their own destiny,” wrote Al Sharif in her book, which came out in June 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1990, as many as 47 women had been arrested for defying the driving ban. Many of them lost their jobs, and their families were harassed. Then, in 2011, Al Sharif began the ‘Women2Drive’ movement, which reignited the campaign. There were more campaigns, including the one started by blogger Eman Al Nafjan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014, activist Loujain Al Hathloul tried to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi journalist Maysaa Al Amoudi came to the border to express solidarity with her. Both were put in jail for 72 days. Al Hathloul, 28, contested the municipal elections in 2015, but was again arrested before the June 23 event of Saudi women driving for the first time. Al Amoudi is now working in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Repealing the driving ban coincided with the arrest of women’s rights activists. The revolutionary move has, therefore, been a bittersweet experience for the Saudi women, especially those who fought for it.</p> Fri Feb 08 12:15:29 IST 2019 world-is-taking-note-of-saudi-women <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For 32-year-old Raha Moharrak, climbing mountains is not just a test of human endurance, it is more of a means of empowerment, and of inspiring other women. When Moharrak told her parents about her wish to live the life of a daredevil, they were apprehensive. But, on May 18, 2013, the feisty young woman from Jeddah became the youngest Arab and the first Saudi woman to conquer Mount Everest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How has the image of Saudi women changed in recent times?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is amazing where we have reached. From being unheard and unseen, we are now dazzling the world with our achievements in different spheres of life, and the whole world is sitting up and taking note.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is driving this change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than anything else, it is survival that is driving this change. Women were waiting for the opportunity to take up different vocations. They needed to work. And, when they got the chance, they grabbed it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How much of it is because of the campaign that women have undertaken over the years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is true that women have campaigned for their rights, and it has resulted in the change that we are witnessing. But it is also because of the natural process of evolution. Every country evolves. Saudi Arabia, too, is evolving and responding to the demands of changing times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How significant is the recent development of women getting the right to drive?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a huge movement forward in terms of women’s participation in public life. It is a major step towards their empowerment, and is changing their lives in a very fundamental way. More women will now come out to work, because mobility opens up innumerable possibilities. I learnt driving a long time ago, but I had a foreign driver’s licence. Now, I can drive in my own country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You describe yourself as a rebel.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was always curious to know more about the world, wanting to see new things and do different things that may or may not be possible for me. That is why I say that I am a rebel. When I say different things, it includes climbing mountains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did your family have any reservations about your ambition?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were both positive and negative reactions. But I must say that my parents have always supported me in whatever I have done, even if it was different and non-traditional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How empowering was it for you to scale Mount Everest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was literally on top of the world. It was satisfying as years of hard work had paid off. And, I will be very happy if it inspires more women, including from my own country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have you influenced women in Saudi Arabia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have tried to spread the message about sports being a tool of empowerment. Being a sportsperson myself, whenever I get a chance, I talk about the importance of sports. I feel there should be more clubs and places for women to participate in sports. There is so much talent in the country which is waiting to be tapped.</p> Fri Feb 08 12:12:10 IST 2019 theresas-dismay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>She looks like a bitten, bruised and battle-scarred tigress. Her triumphs dismal, her defeats momentous. Theresa May goes down in British history as the prime minister who suffered the worst parliamentary defeat, till date. She held snap elections to increase her majority, only to lose it. She made the worst party conference speech in history. She has been unable to deliver the only thing she is in office to do–midwife Britain’s exit from the European Union. Now, parliament threatens to wrest the Brexit process from her control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any other leader would have given up. But May ploughs on. Satirists call her “Our Lady of Perpetual Crises”. But gritty May survives them. Says The Independent’s Tom Peck, “She is the cockroach in nuclear winter. She is the algae that survives sulphuric gas from sub-aquatic volcanoes. She is Nokia 5210.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the phone, May is shockproof. Brexit is Britain’s tryst with destiny. It could be a tryst with “disaster”, fears Business Minister Greg Clark. Following the 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the EU, the nation has slid into chaos, pathos and uncertainty. “We are moving dangerously close to a chaotic Brexit,” says Dieter Kempf, president of the Federation of German Industries. Most people find the complex details and consequences of leaving the EU incomprehensible. By clearly outlining the new rules and regulations, EU negotiators exposed Brexiters’ "empty and unrealistic promises", says Andreas Utermann, CEO, Allianz Global Investors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the cold, windswept streets of London, it is business as usual as people go out to eat, work and shop. But beneath the calm, there is anxiety. Says cab driver Bob Field, ”People don’t talk about football. They only talk about Brexit. There is fear.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mainly, it is the fear of the unknown. Britain is so poisoned, paralysed and polarised that politicians, parliamentarians, people and political pundits are clueless about what comes next. The nation is split down the middle. There is no consensus on the way forward. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire says Britain should say what it wants. But Britain doesn’t know. Ask 10 Britons, and you get a dozen opinions on what Brexit should look like.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>May’s Brexit deal with the EU is a punctured ball after its massive rejection in parliament. The Plan B she outlined was not much different from the earlier plan. She did not rule out a no-deal Brexit and dismissed the idea of asking the EU for an extension. She also ruled out a second referendum. She, however, agreed to waive the £65 fee for European citizens to remain in the UK following Brexit. She also offered to work with the MPs and the EU on the Irish backstop—a deal to prevent a hard border between Ireland, an EU member, and Britain's Northern Ireland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punters, however, are betting on a second referendum, while astrologers predict May will forge a pact with the devil, but without identifying who the devil is. The options are contentious: if parliament rejects May’s tweaked withdrawal agreement, then Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, causing bureaucratic logjams, public pain, economic distress and logistics dislocations of nightmarish proportions, including panic buying as supermarkets run out of food, chaos in hospitals as life-saving medicines disappear, long lines of trucks choking ports and people standing in serpentine queues for dwindling supplies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If parliament cannot agree on a deal and the MPs veto a no-deal Brexit, then the alternatives are: to extend Article 50 to delay the March 29 deadline for Brexit, hold fresh elections or a second referendum that reverses the earlier verdict, enabling Britain to remain in the EU. But, if “remain” parliament hijacks the public’s “leave” mandate, it will trigger a “political tsunami”, warns Trade Minister Liam Fox.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Referring to the Brexit bedlam and the US shutdown, CNN’s Stephen Collinson notes, “It is hard to believe that two such robust democracies, long seen by the rest of the world as beacons of stability, have dissolved into such bitter civic dysfunction.” The only person who functions with a sense of duty is May. Setbacks for her are not opportunities to correct course. They are occasions to reaffirm her hallowed mandate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>May’s upbringing as a vicar’s daughter probably explains her resolve, resilience and missionary zeal for public service. “She embodies values and attitudes which large swathes of the country hold—traditional, socially conservative, provincial, sceptical about EU and immigration,” says Oliver Patel, manager of University College London’s European Institute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>May sympathises with the public backlash against the elites. She had her share of them in the Conservative Party, like David Cameron, who recklessly led to the chaos by holding the Brexit referendum, and former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne—rich, genteel, clean-cut, chummy, entitled, boy-men for whom politics is sport. May is the strict headmistress. "She is held to be possibly humourless, rather severe, perhaps unflinching," says historian Matthew Cole.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some see May’s determination as commitment. Others see it as stubbornness or proof of her self-belief that she is the 'chosen one', a manifestation of vanity like her exotic collection of shoes that she stores in see-through plastic boxes. As chairperson at a Conservative Party meeting in 2002, she did some tough talking on public perception of them as “the nasty party.” But the men’s attention was riveted on her leopard-print kitten heels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>History will probably judge May as the prime minister of the Tories rather than the UK. She prioritised avoiding a split within the Tories, instead of reaching out to all parties to strive for a national consensus on Brexit. Inside parliament, the vicar’s daughter spewed insults with a snarl and a curl of her lip at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, loathed by all factions in her party. A 'remainer' tasked with delivering Brexit, May was influenced by Conservative Brexiters who imagine an independent Britain reclaiming its former majesty, striking lucrative trade deals with the US, China and India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public school boys seem out of touch with bleak reality. Donald Trump is a protectionist president. Slowing China is getting increasingly angry with the west. Russia despises Britain. India will extract more visas in return for access to its market. Post-Brexit, Britain will lose the privileges, access and zero-tariffs enjoyed by EU members and join the queue of “third countries” like Turkey, South Korea and Ghana. Remainers say abandoning Brexit is a face-saver.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brexit is also becoming Britain’s tryst with irony. Imperial Britain once had colonies across the globe. Britain, today, behaves like a subjugated nation, wringing its independence and sovereignty from the almighty EU. Fears about the Brexit contagion invading and infecting the EU have largely subsided. While the EU looks united, the 'Disunited Kingdom' faces sectarian violence and breakup due to Brexit-induced dread among the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spectre of disintegration, dilution and diminution is discomfiting. But May does not do despair. The tenacious tigress returns to battle, bouncing back like a Russian doll after fate’s every punch. Fear and fatigue are, however, eating into the British soul. Perhaps her puffy eyes offer a glimpse into May’s unknowable soul. Says The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, “Theresa May personifies the UK: lonely, exhausted, her power ebbing away.”</p> Fri Jan 25 17:12:01 IST 2019 left-in-the-lurch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JANUARY 10,</b> Nicolas Maduro started his second term as president of Venezuela. The political drama behind his rigged re-election, the economic collapse of the country and the traumatisation of the society resemble the story of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Venezuelan reality, however, is even more bizarre than the magical realism in the Marquez novel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, even more than that of Saudi Arabia. Besides oil, the country is blessed with minerals, hydroelectric potential, arable land, a pleasant climate and beautiful beaches. In the 1960s, Venezuela's per capita GDP was much higher than that of Brazil and Colombia. Venezuelan capital Caracas was the only destination for Concorde flights in Latin America. On weekends, the Venezuelan middle class used to go to Miami for shopping. The country was a vibrant democracy, while many countries in the region languished under military rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, most of Latin America has moved on with a new paradigm of democratic maturity and economic growth, while Venezuela has gone backwards with a toxic combination of authoritarianism, political chaos, economic disaster, hyperinflation, shortage of food and medicine, rampant crime and corruption. The Chavistas, the followers of former president, the late Hugo Chavez, have given a bad name to socialism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Maduro, Venezuela's GDP has contracted by over 50 per cent. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world, running into six digits. With manufacturing and agriculture in a shambles, the country depends on imports. But, there is a severe shortage of foreign exchange, hampering imports. The Venezuelan bolivar is worthless, and it has led to the rise of a huge black-market run by Chavistas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poor people scavenge for food in rubbish bins. Queues are common in front of supermarkets and shops, which are often empty. There are frequent power cuts and shortage of water. Most international airlines have stopped flights to Venezuela because of payment issues. Crime and violence are rampant in Caracas, which has become unsafe even for diplomats. Three million Venezuelans (10 per cent of the total population) have fled to other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The country’s oil production has come down from three million barrels per day to 1.5 million barrels, because of mismanagement and lack of investment. PDVSA, the state oil company, which had the best oil experts and managers in the region, is run by unprofessional Chavistas these days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maduro’s re-election has not been recognised by the Venezuelan opposition. The snap election was called prematurely by an illegal constituent assembly which usurped the powers of the legitimate Congress in which the opposition had the majority. The opposition is now led by Juan Guaido, who is the new head of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Venezuelan opposition, however, seems to have run out of steam and looks divided. It tried dialogue with the government through the mediation of the Vatican. This, too, failed. There is no possibility of any recovery under Maduro, who is simply incompetent. He has, however, ensured the support of the military by giving it control of lucrative businesses such as food distribution and the petroleum sector. The Chavistas and their military collaborators continue to plunder the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chavez, a long-time admirer of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, nominated Maduro as his successor from his deathbed in Havana, on the advice of the Castros. The Cubans have been helping the Chavista regime with intelligence inputs through their advisers in Venezuela. They guide Maduro on how to survive American conspiracies and sanctions, based on their long experience. There are thousands of Cuban doctors who work in the slums of Venezuela, who act as the eyes and ears of the Chavista government. In return, Cuba gets Venezuelan oil on generous terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The twelve Latin American countries of the Lima Group, which include Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, have condemned Maduro's rigged re-election and refused recognition to his government. The US, Canada and the European Union, too, have followed suit. They have threatened sanctions and restrictions to further isolate Venezuela. But Maduro receives some support from China, Russia and Turkey as well as from Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maduro regime would collapse if the US imposes oil sanctions. The US, which is the largest importer of Venezuelan oil, can afford to forgo it thanks to the shale revolution. But the US administration does not want to cause losses to a few American refineries which only use Venezuelan crude. The US is not in a hurry to step in as it feels that Venezuela’s collapse would serve as an example against the spread of socialism in Latin America.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is the second largest importer of Venezuelan oil, with imports worth $5.85 billion in 2017-18. It is part of India's strategic energy policy, aimed at reducing dependence on the Middle East. The ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) has invested over a billion dollars in Venezuela. Subsequently, India does not comment on Venezuelan politics and maintains pragmatic ties with the Maduro government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a former ambassador to Latin American countries.</b></p> Sat Jan 19 14:47:20 IST 2019 pitching-for-peace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS DIPLOMAT</b> season in India. Among the flurry of meetings that will keep South Block officials busy, it would be easy to miss the significance of the back-to-back visits of Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security adviser; Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister; and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US’s special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Afghanistan stands at a crucial juncture, facing just two choices—civil war or peace. Seventeen years after the war began, there is no end in sight. And the talk about a post-US scenario is no longer hypothetical. President Donald Trump, who is running out of patience, is reportedly planning to reduce troops in Afghanistan, like in Syria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is one of the longest wars America has fought. But the Taliban now controls more territory than they did since the war began. A quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, prepared for the US congress, indicates that the Afghan government controls only 55.5 per cent of the country’s districts. This is the lowest since November 2015. The government had begun with 72 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fight to retain control comes at a great cost. Reports submitted to the Afghan parliament indicate that, on an average, 40 Afghan security personnel die every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has invested deeply in Afghanistan’s stability. With the pullout of American troops looming, India will naturally be expected to play a bigger role. “Part of my effort, being here in India, is to ensure that you are fully abreast of what is going on in [the talk] process,” Mohib told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohib is not alone in wanting to keep India in the loop. Afghanistan will figure in Zarif’s India agenda. Iran recently became the latest to join the ‘talk to the Taliban’ bandwagon, with its foreign office holding official talks with the Taliban leaders last December. Iran wants to push the Taliban towards intra-Afghan talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump may joke about India building libraries in Afghanistan, but it is evident that stability in the region needs Indian participation. Khalilzad’s long-pending visit makes this clear. He will try and convince India that the talks will lead to peace; may nudge India to put boots on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question now is, who will tame the Taliban and how? Whether Khalilzad can bring about peace in Afghanistan is debatable. The fourth round of peace talks were recently cancelled, because the Taliban refused to sit opposite the Afghan government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Breaking the deadlock will not be easy. Khalilzad had wanted to successfully conclude the peace talks by April this year, but the ambitious deadline now appears unrealistic. “We have been fighting this war for the past 17 years,” said Mohib. “More than 1,00,000 Afghans have died or been martyred. Peace is difficult; we should not put a deadline on peace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bigger worry for India is Pakistan. If the Taliban were to come to power, after being legitimised by the political process, India would find itself in a tricky situation. Especially so if Pakistan continues to control the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are experts who say that the Taliban’s rise to power could pose an existential question for Pakistan. But, as things stand, a win for the Taliban would be a dream come true for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. And that is why India needs to step up its diplomatic offensive.</p> Sat Jan 12 11:55:50 IST 2019 talks-will-happen-after-taliban-introduces-negotiating-team <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AT 36, HAMDULLAH MOHIB</b> is one of the youngest national security advisers in the world. Being in the security business in Afghanistan is not an easy job, even for older and senior diplomats and statesmen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Afghanistan is at a crucial juncture. The US, under President Donald Trump, has been losing patience with the 17-year-old Afghan war. To negotiate a peace treaty with the Taliban, Trump has appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation in the state department. But the talks have yielded little, as the Taliban refuses to recognise the elected Afghan government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On a three-day visit to India, Mohib had a long session with Ajit Doval, his Indian counterpart. Mohib also interacted with THE WEEK, talking about the road ahead in Afghanistan. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What role do you want India to play?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been our strategic partner. What we have in common is that we see eye to eye on terrorism. We also see eye to eye on the role of democracy and on the democratic process. My visit has been to continue our strategic dialogue on how we see the region, our security, and how we would like to shape the future of politics in Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the Moscow format, India is in the room with the Taliban. Would you want India to take a larger role to be the Afghan voice?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The talks that must happen have to be intra-Afghan. That is the only way to peace and reconciliation. (Among) those who engage with the Taliban outside of that format, some are helpful and some are unhelpful. Our partners who engage with the Taliban—be it the US, Saudi Arabia or the UAE—are doing it on our behalf, to facilitate that intra-Afghan process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Part of my effort, being here in India, is to ensure that you are fully abreast of what is going on in that process, where we are, and how we continue to the path of stability in this region. We do not see this as related to Afghanistan alone. This is much broader than that. We would like all stakeholders in the region to play a constructive role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How confident are you that the Qatar office fully represents the Taliban, given that the Taliban has become fractured over the years? How sure are you that any negotiations with the Qatar office will lead to peace on the ground?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not confident that the Qatar office represents all of the Taliban. There is a lot of factionalism inside the Taliban. They are not a cohesive group. They have multiple fronts as well. The Taliban has even failed to appoint a single negotiating team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So each negotiation format has a different negotiating group?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are different people who go to different places. So, the Moscow format had different people, compared with those who went to Abu Dhabi. We are not sure who went to Iran and who will represent them in Jeddah. So, there is a lot of factionalism. If they would like to see a united front, they should appoint a single negotiating team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are not talking to any faction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have not had peace talks on the table where they have had representation. Of course, we have contact. But that does not mean we are negotiating with them. The negotiations will happen when they formally introduce their negotiating team, and we sit across the table and have an agenda that is mandated for us. We have a peace shura, an advisory board, that will tell the negotiating team where our red lines are.</p> Fri Jan 11 12:44:53 IST 2019 bible-beef-and-bullet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN CARDINAL JORGE</b> Mario Bergoglio from Argentina was elevated as Pope Francis six years ago, an Argentine journalist approached Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff for her comments. “The pope might be Argentine, but God is Brazilian,” said Rousseff. With Jair Messias Bolsonaro taking over as president of Brazil on January 1, it seems God has sent his messenger to the country. Bolsonaro, a far right populist, has promised to take Brazil back to the “Jewish-Christian tradition” and place “God above all”. As part of his victory celebrations, Bolsonaro attended a service conducted by the celebrity evangelical pastor Silas Malafia, who declared that God would change the fortune of Brazilians. “Brazil belongs to Lord Jesus,” said Malafia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro has surrounded himself with a team that shares his core beliefs. Ernesto Araujo, the new foreign minister, wrote in an article after his nomination that God was back in Brazil. “[Former British prime minister] Tony Blair’s spokesman Alastair Campbell famously said of Britain, 'We don’t do God.' Well, in Brazil, now we do,” wrote Araujo. He said his goal was to help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from the globalist ideology, which he felt was anti-Christian and anti-human. He said the ultimate aim of globalisation was to break the link between God and man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The words of Araujo and Bolsonaro should have been music to the pope's ears. But, they are not. The number of Catholics is dwindling fast in Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country. They now constitute less than 70 per cent of the population as more and more Catholics are drawn to evangelical sects, attracted by prosperity theology. The prosperity theology teaches that God rewards faith with financial blessings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In return for the divine help, followers of evangelical sects have to contribute a part of their income to the church. It has made many pastors multimillionaires. Edir Macedo, the biggest of them all, is a billionaire, with his own private jet. His Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has over five million members and 13,000 temples across Brazil, as well as presence in several other countries, including the United States. Macedo's church owns the second-largest television station in Brazil and runs newspapers and radio stations in 27 states. Macedo was accused of money laundering and other illegal activities for which he spent a few days in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The evangelical churches are politically active and advise their members to vote for evangelicals and their sympathisers under the slogan “brother votes for brother”. The biblical caucus in the Brazilian parliament is proactive on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Bolsonaro himself has said that he would prefer his son to be dead than be homosexual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro identifies himself as Catholic, although he has been attending a Baptist church for the past ten years. His wife and son are Baptists. In May 2016, Bolsonaro was baptised in the Jordan river by Pastor Everaldo, a prominent leader of the Assemblies of God church. Bolsonaro came back from the trip full of praise for Israel’s military prowess and achievements. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was present at Bolsonaro's inauguration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with the bible, bullets form another key element of Bolsonaro's politics. “Good citizens deserve the means to defend themselves through gun ownership,” said Bolsonaro at the inaugural speech. His supporters in the parliament responded by pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun. Bolsonaro has inducted seven former military officers into his 22-member cabinet, and a retired general is his vice president. He has plans to further strengthen the armed forces, although Brazil does not face any external threat. Brazil, which shares borders with ten countries, has no territorial disputes and has never faced any aggression from its neighbours. Most of the wars waged by the Brazilian armed forces were against their own citizens. Bolsonaro, however, is proud of the criminal military dictatorships of the past and his only complaint is that not enough people were killed. He now plans to give extra powers to the police to kill. His son, Carlos, who is also his social media manager, circulates video clips that praise police shootings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro was part of the bullet caucus in the parliament, which lobbied for easy access to guns and privatisation of prisons. The caucus members are mostly former police and military officials, who received major campaign contributions from the Brazilian handgun manufacturing giant Taurus and the Brazilian Cartridge Company, the country's largest ammunition manufacturer. Not surprisingly, the price of Taurus shares has almost doubled after Bolsonaro's victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro and his supporters do not believe in climate change. Araujo once said climate change was part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote China's growth. He said climate science was a dogma which was used to justify increasing regulatory powers of states and the power of international institutions over nation states. Bolsonaro, Araujo and the rest of the team are fervent admirers of US President Donald Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “God and the Gun” rule of Bolsonaro looks exactly like the “Sword and the Cross” rule of the Portuguese and the Spanish. The colonisers exterminated millions of indigenous people in South America, destroyed their faiths, and converted most of them to Catholicism. Bolsonaro has already launched an assault on the environment, especially the Amazon ecosystem, with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry, which is controlled by the bible, beef and bullet caucus in the parliament. The caucus consists of evangelicals, rich landlords, cattle and meat industry representatives as well as former members of the security forces. The move sparked outcry from indigenous groups, who said it threatened their reserves. The demarcation of the reserves had been controlled by the indigenous agency FUNAI, which was under the justice ministry. It will now be overseen by a new ministry of women, family and human rights, headed by an evangelical pastor. The new health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, has called for spending cuts on health care for indigenous people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro said in his inaugural speech that he would liberate Brazil from socialism and political correctness. His anti-affirmative action and racist views are a setback to the poor and marginalised black population that number over 80 million. Under the pro-poor policies of the socialist president Lula Inacio Lula da Silva, nearly 40 million people were lifted out of poverty. Bolsonaro, however, is of the view that welfare schemes make the poor lazy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new government has dismantled the labour ministry and redistributed its functions to the ministries of justice and public security, economy and citizenship. And, under the neoliberal Finance Minister Paulo Guedes, Brazil, which has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, could see further increase in the gap between the rich and the poor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro has been given a clear mandate by the Brazilians who desperately wanted a change from the hubris and corruption of the politicians of the Workers Party and other establishment parties. The economy, which was in recession in the last two years, is already recovering and the business sector is bullish. The biggest challenge before the new president, however, will be to carry all Brazilians along with his vision of development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The author is a former ambassador to Latin American countries.</p> Sat Jan 12 16:12:19 IST 2019 rise-of-the-demagogues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DEATH AND RESURRECTION.</b> One twin dies, the other is reborn. On a bleak, wintry day eight years ago, former Polish prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński visited the air crash site where his beloved identical twin Lech, Poland’s serving president, was killed. People wept, but stone-faced Kaczyński shed not a tear—at least not in public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poland’s political power-pair were soulmates, phoning each other a dozen times every day. Kaczyński refused to speak to the condoling Russian president Vladimir Putin. He suspected his brother was assassinated. A grieving Kaczyński stood strong and patriotic. A forceful national populist in the European Union was born. Zbigniew Mikolejko, philosopher of religion at the Polish Academy of Sciences, describes Jarosław Kaczyński as the “Chosen One”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A trailblazing archetype, Kaczyński emblazons all the traits that subsequent EU strongmen would typify—a right-wing demagogue defending conservative, traditional Christian values, nationalist, populist, Eurosceptic and anti-migrant; driven by a “messiah” complex to save people from foreign meddlers and their own corrupt elite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This new “ism” called “national populism” is sweeping across Europe and the United States. Explains Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent: “National populist movements provide political expression for the fears and frustrations of ordinary people, who feel excluded from mainstream politics, who are anxious about rapid societal, demographic and economic change.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like all EU populists, Kaczyński is divisive. His supporters see him as a crusader of Polish independence and identity. His English-speaking, liberal opponents regard him outdated, dangerous, polarising, anti-Semitic, homophobic and xenophobic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EU strongmen are also seen as human rights violators, degrading democracy and perpetuating corruption to entrench themselves in power. To them, critics are traitors, dissent is subversive and opposition is anti-national.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EU is trying to put out the various fires lit by the strongmen, but nowhere more than in Poland. Kaczyński is at loggerheads with the EU over his “judicial overhaul”, which the EU regards as unacceptable political interference in the judiciary, violating the bloc’s sacrosanct rule of law. The European Court of Justice ruled against Poland and the EU invoked its “nuclear option”—Article 7—which can culminate in Poland losing its EU voting rights and facing sanctions if all the other 27 EU members agree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But another EU strongman, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has already confirmed he will veto this EU move. Orbán is in the same boat. His opponents call him “Viktator” and the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, once greeted him: “Hello, dictator”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Orbán faces the EU’s ire for undermining the liberal media, judiciary, universities and NGOs. He is criticised for his “Stop Soros” law (targeting the Hungarian-American investor-philanthropist George Soros, who funds liberal causes). NGOs are not independent, accuses Orbán, they are “paid political activists who are attempting to enforce foreign interests… hordes of implacable human rights warriors who have an unquenchable thirst to lecture and accuse us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Member of European parliament Judith Sargentini says these measures are a “systemic threat” to the EU’s governing principles. Miklos Szantho, director of Hungary’s Center for Fundamental Rights counters: “EU measures are an unacceptable intrusion into Hungarian sovereignty”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many central and east European strongmen seem to carry the DNA of their former communist rulers. Yet, they have been winning elections all across Europe—in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But World Bank statistics show that corruption has increased in the past decade in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The billionaire-turned-prime minister Andrej Babiš is under investigation for alleged fraud. Its president Miloš Zeman called journalists “manure” and “hyenas” who should be “liquidated”; his office claimed the last comment was a joke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No journalist in Europe is likely to meet Jamal Khashoggi’s fate. Yet, disturbingly, journalists investigating corruption were assassinated in Slovakia and Malta. A beautiful young Bulgarian television reporter was brutally raped and murdered. Organised crime is entrenched in Bulgaria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nationalist strongmen are a worldwide phenomenon: Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Recep Tayip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte and Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EU takes the rise of strongmen seriously because it is a chilling reminder of the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler exploited people’s economic hardship with his ultranationalist, Jew-bashing demagoguery. “Enemies” are always strongmen’s oxygen. Says Michał Krzymowski, author of a Kaczyński biography, “There is one constant thing in his politics: he has always had to have a defined enemy, to unite his electorate, his voters around him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now migrants replace Jews. Confined behind the iron curtain under Soviet rule during the Cold War, central and east European countries were closed to outsiders. Thus, they preserved an ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity. So, when refugees inundated Europe in 2015 following German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ill-fated open door policy, these citizens were aghast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Populists stoked fear and prejudice. Refugees must be kept out, Kaczyński said, because they bring “disease and parasites”. Islamophobia thrives. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, Orbán said “We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders.” Barb-wiring his border to prevent “asylum-sneakers”, Orbán said, “Every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk… refugees bring gangs hunting down our women and daughters.” The refugee crisis fertilised far right movements across liberal Europe-Germany, France, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EU is another “enemy”. Across Europe, there is frustration that the almighty “Brussels” (the headquarters of the EU bureaucracy) is robbing national sovereignty, enforcing rules, imposing hardship and “meddling” in political, economic and cultural matters. “Foreign” enemy is always a rallying issue, especially in countries that have been subjugated for centuries by the Austro-Hungarians, Prussians and then the Russians. Now the EU, which they belong to, is the powerful, dictating “outsider”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Italy’s new coalition government comprising the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement is warring with the EU. Fulfiling its election manifesto, the coalition is hiking welfare spending, cutting taxes and lowering the retirement age. But the disciplinarian EU will not tolerate a rise in Italy’s deficit that impairs its ability to repay its gigantic debt. League leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini attacked top EU officials as “the enemies of the happiness of Europe’s people”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, why are Europe’s people electing these populists? Some blame Russia’s hybrid warfare of cyberattacks, hacking, propaganda and planted fake news for the rise of anti-liberal movements. But Russia can only fish in troubled waters. Poisoning Europe’s waters from 2000 are the consequences of the dotcom bubble, the global financial crisis and then the Eurozone debt crisis. Voters across Europe saw governments bailing out the perpetrators of the crises—banks, big business and financiers—while punishing the ordinary people with austerity cuts and mass layoffs. The European socio-political contract—in place since the end of World War II—ruptured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest grievance in Europe is the stagnating standard of living. Most youngsters cannot match their parents’ lifestyle. Struggling with low pay and temporary jobs, they cannot afford to own a house or build up a pension. Deindustrialisation, outsourcing and economic stagnation resulted in job losses. Inequality widened between those who reaped the benefits of globalisation and those who felt “left behind”. Disparity between the city elites and countryside commoners grew.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trust in mainstream politicians evaporated. People’s anger, sense of injustice and fear of the future channelled in four directions as they sought new political choices—extreme left, green, far right and anti-establishment parties. In Germany’s recent Bavarian election, the local ruling conservative party—the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union—suffered big losses, to the gain of the Green and far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) parties. British political theorist Margaret Canovan, who died in June this year, had said, “It can be argued that populism is good, it is a corrective, bringing ignored people and issues to the foreground.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One leader who bucked the populist trend was the centrist Emmanuel Macron, who scored a spectacular victory in the French elections last year. His own break from the sclerotic mainstream parties was his allure. Yet, in one year, his popularity has sunk catastrophically to below 30 per cent because he is seen as pro-rich. Today, France is roiling under hundreds of riots and street protests, some of them violent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Macron is an extremely eloquent anti-nationalist. His passion stems from the catastrophic consequences of Nazism. But the lessons of the world wars, Hitler and Soviet invasion were different for different countries. In Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania, nationalism spurred freedom struggles from foreign occupation. Observes American academic Walter Russell Mead, “Nationalism helped countries break out of the Soviet bloc and confirmed their belief that the cause of nationalism was the cause of freedom.” Today’s nationalists feel the multi-ethnic, elitist, bureaucratic and neo-imperial economic system benefits the internationalised rich at the expense of locals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>European nationalists have been legitimised and emboldened by Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed nationalist. His ally and former White House official Steve Bannon travels across Europe to strengthen national populism. Trump’s ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell provoked an uproar when he said that because of the failed socialist policies, he wants to “empower rightwing populists in Europe to rise up”. Disturbingly, the local police in countries like Germany and Italy have displayed extremism and racial bigotry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a famous 2014 speech, Orbán said a page had turned from 1989 when communism ended and Hungary adopted liberal values. “The new point of departure is the financial crisis,” he declared. This resonates powerfully, especially with the youth who are fearful of a jobless future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>European mainstream leaders despise the strongmen, calling them dangerous, impractical, lying rabble-rousers. Yet, these strongmen have also risen from the embers of public disappointment, frustration and suspicion. While they have successfully aroused emotions, these strongmen have not presented a credible economic alternative. Kaczyński is now being challenged by his polar opposite, Robert Biedron, mayor of Słupsk town. He is 42, gay, left-wing, atheist and pro-European.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Without doubt, national populism has taken root in Europe. Predicts professor Goodwin, “National populism is not a short-term protest. It is here to stay, it will be a permanent feature on our political landscape for a long time to come.” He is not talking of eternity, but national “messiahs” do have a habit of staying on. Asked what his political ambitions were in an interview a quarter of a century ago, Kaczyński proclaimed: “I would like to be the retired saviour of the nation.”</p> Sat Jan 05 16:12:01 IST 2019 cheers-and-fears <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SHEIKH HASINA HAD</b> spent 15 years of her life in exile. But, she is now all set to complete 15 years as prime minister of Bangladesh. And, with her comprehensive victory in the parliament elections held on December 30, her reign could continue for many more years. She is one of the longest serving woman heads of state in the world. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first to congratulate Hasina after the results were announced on the morning of December 31. The next to call were Chinese President Xi Jinping and Bhutanese King Jigme Wangchuck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hasina, 71, retained power, by winning 289 of 300 seats. (Election to one seat was deferred. The parliament has 50 more seats reserved for women, which are allocated on the basis of the overall vote.) In the 2014 elections, Hasina's coalition had won all the seats after the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted the polls. This time, the BNP took part in the elections, but won just 12 seats. The opposition alliance alleged irregularities, calling it the most rigged elections since independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have seen many elections in my life, before and after independence. But I have never seen such a rigged election,” said Kamal Hossain, leader of the opposition alliance. “Democracy in Bangladesh is at risk today. The 2018 elections were a farce,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hossain, a legal scholar who headed the constitution-drafting committee of Bangladesh, said an election commissioner had acknowledged that the opposition did not have a level-playing field. The US embassy and many other foreign missions in Dhaka, too, have reportedly raised concerns about the impartiality of the election commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results surpassed the expectations of even the ruling Awami League. Before the elections, senior leader A.K.M. Rahmatullah had told THE WEEK that his party would get 180 to 200 seats. But after the results were announced, he said the “unholy association” between the BNP and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami helped his party perform even better. “The BNP and the Jamaat wanted to sabotage the elections. They wanted to show the world that there was no democracy in Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh gave them a fitting reply. They did not want to oust the party that brought independence to Bangladesh,” said Rahmatullah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition alliance plans to challenge the results. Hossain said he would approach the election commission to declare the election null and void. “If the commission refuses to do so, we have the right to go to court,” he said. Asked about the ruling front's allegation that the opposition was trying to internationalise the issue, Hossain said as Bangladesh was the seventh largest country in the world in terms of population, the elections were bound to draw international attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the sweeping victory, the Awami League has asked its supporters to keep their celebrations low key. Party general secretary Obaidul Quader said the party did not want to vitiate the political situation. He said 14 political activists were killed on election day, of which seven belonged to the Awami League. “Our party had to sacrifice a lot,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Awami League has been historically close to India. The Hasina government has openly acknowledged India's role in ensuring peace and prosperity in Bangladesh. The Modi government, for instance, has cleared the supply of 1,000 MW free power and a $2 billion line of credit to Bangladesh. India has also been providing Bangladesh critical intelligence inputs to target its terror network, making Modi one of the most reliable foreign leaders for Hasina.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BNP, too, has been courting India, of late. Early last year, a BNP team had visited Delhi and met with senior RSS leaders, soliciting support for the opposition front. BNP chief Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman, who is the co-leader of the party, had issued directions from London, where he lives in exile, to seek India's support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anti-India sentiment has been on the wane in Bangladesh with the incarceration and execution of senior Jamaat leaders. “Most of the Jamaat leadership has been executed by the war crime tribunal. So, the influence of the Jamaat has diminished a lot. The opposition alliance committed a big mistake by including the Jamaat,” said Dhaka-based academician Mohammed Khaled Chowdhury. The Jamaat is banned from contesting elections. But 20 Jamaat leaders contested on BNP tickets, and all of them lost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, voters refused to listen to the opposition alliance and gave Hasina a big victory despite allegations of corruption and the widespread crackdown against opposition parties by the security forces, especially the Rapid Action Battalion. The RAB, which was created a few years ago as an anti-terrorism force, was used to maintain law and order ahead of the elections. The opposition alliance said the RAB attacked its candidates and tortured young activists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The margin of defeat makes it clear that opposition unity remained on paper. In nearly 200 seats, opposition candidates got less than five per cent of the votes polled. The BNP got just 12.5 per cent of the votes, while the Awami League got 77 per cent. With the Awami League's massive win, the only option left for the opposition is to try and break the ruling coalition, which has disgruntled leaders like former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad. His Jatiya Party won 20 seats, finishing second after the Awami League, which won 259 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling coalition credits the pro-poor development policy of the Hasina government for the huge win. “Bangladesh is no more a poor country. It is, in fact, a developing country. In some criteria like [controlling] infant mortality rate and deaths during pregnancy, we have even surpassed India. Why would not people vote for our government?” asked Rahmatullah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said Bangladesh's growth rate had doubled in the last five years. “In our first term [from 2009 to 2014], we took time to ease the bureaucracy and the system of governance. During our second term, we took our banking system to the rural level and made credit available to the poorest of the poor,” said Inu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the attempt by some of the freedom fighters to create an opposition alliance under the BNP turned out to be futile as people found Hasina to have led the most efficient government ever in Bangladesh. “Our growth rate in the last five years has been around 8 per cent, which has never happened in Bangladesh, not even during the military rule,” he said. “The people have seen us being progressive nationalists. It is a lesson for the freedom fighters who joined hands with war criminals, and pro-Pakistan people who opposed the creation of Bangladesh and killed the father of our nation.”</p> Sat Jan 05 16:10:52 IST 2019 khaleda-could-be-released-on-bail-as-the-appeal-is-pending <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>In an interview, you said that even if you die, your body should be taken to the polling booth to cast the vote. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because change is imperative if Bangladesh is to achieve the objectives that people aspire for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Once Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s confidant, you are now opposing the party he set up, the Awami League, and his daughter, Sheikh Hasina. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We worked [together in] 2007 to secure free and fair elections. Prior to this, our party, the Gono Forum, had promoted an alliance of 13 pro-liberation parties. The Awami League joined the alliance as the 14th party. In the election held on December 29, 2008, this alliance won 270 of 300 seats in parliament. This result led us to believe that, through a democratic process, we could move forward to secure national objectives of sustainable development, and that at the end of five years, free and fair elections would be held, in which everyone could participate.</p> <p>Unfortunately the ‘election’ on January 5, 2014, was perceived to be partisan and most parties could not participate. When it was challenged in court, I was asked by the court to assist as amicus curiae. The government submitted that they had rushed through the election to maintain continuity, but that it would immediately start consultations with all sections to hold fresh elections. On this assurance, I had submitted to the court that if the government were to act accordingly, the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, this promised election never took place. Governance for five years in effect was conducted by the prime minister. In the absence of an effective elected parliament, grievances have grown with regards to governance. The current banking crisis is one of the conspicuous examples of misgovernance. This is why an acceptable general election is seen as an opportunity to bring about peaceful change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There were reports of violence before elections. Do you think the opposition was not given a level playing field?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, there was no level playing field. You can see reports in the local media about attacks on candidates and their campaigners, and arrests of opposition leaders with complete impunity. The police have failed to take any action. There is general apprehension that the election would not be fair and free, even though there was a national movement demanding one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What role did India play? A BNP delegation recently met Indian government officials in Delhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government received full support from India. A strong message from the Indian government in support of free and fair elections could have a positive effect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Parties in the ruling coalition also alleged that Pakistan had a role in the violence as it would prefer the Awami League’s defeat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Historically, this may be true. But today, Pakistan is in such disarray that its capacity to interfere and influence elsewhere is grossly limited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think that Khaleda Zia should have been released from jail?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has been convicted on corruption charges, but the judgment is on appeal. As a leader of the opposition, she could be released on bail since the appeal is pending.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Many call you the B.R. Ambedkar of Bangladesh.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am flattered by the comparison. We had the benefit of Dr Ambedkar’s valuable work for the Indian Constitution and drew upon those materials in drafting our constitution.</p> Sat Dec 29 11:37:34 IST 2018 friendly-fire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KAMAL HOSSAIN</b> has fought many battles, in court as a legal luminary and in Bangladesh’s freedom struggle as a confidant of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation. He also headed the drafting committee of the constitution. Today, Hossain, 81, is fighting to restore democracy, which, he thinks, is on the wane in Bangladesh. And, he pins the blame on Rahman’s daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the Awami League, which was founded by Rahman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hossain was introduced to Rahman by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the fifth prime minister of undivided Pakistan and a renowned barrister. Hossain had studied law at the University of Oxford and was enrolled as barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, before his return to Dhaka in 1959. His most challenging assignment at home was when he represented Rahman, fondly called Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal), in the Agartala Conspiracy case in 1968. The conspiracy, to overthrow the government in East Pakistan through a military coup, was seen as the first attempt to liberate East Pakistan. Thanks to Hossain, Rahman was released from jail in 1969.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hossain was then made East Pakistan’s chief political negotiator. He carried out negotiations for transfer of power with three Pakistani presidents—Mohammad Ayub Khan, Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 1970 general elections, the Awami League swept the polls in East Pakistan, which was seen as a referendum for independence. Pakistan, however, refused to grant independence, and a full-blown war began. Hossain and Rahman were both arrested and lodged in different jails in Pakistan. After the war ended in December 1971, the duo was released. Hossain became Bangladesh’s first law minister, and later its petroleum and minerals minister and also the foreign affairs minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hossain was abroad when Rahman was shot dead in 1975. He was lured by the military junta, which took over after Rahman’s assassination. But, he refused, and chose to teach law at Oxford university. In the early 1980s, Hossain was instrumental in bringing back Hasina, who was living in exile in India. In the 1990s, he helped restore parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh. But, it was also the time when differences cropped up between him and Hasina, and he formed a new party—Gono Forum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the differences, Hossain, in an exclusive interaction, tells THE WEEK that he helped Hasina come to power in the 2008 general elections by bringing together opposition parties. “This alliance won 270 of 300 seats,” he says. But, today, his aim is to replace Hasina’s “authoritarian government” with a democratic one, through fair elections. And, to do that, he has floated the Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front) that includes the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. His alliance with the BNP and the Jamaat has come under criticism because BNP’s founder, Ziaur Rahman, was allegedly involved in Bangabandhu’s assassination and the Jamaat is home to many members of the Razakar, an anti-Bangladesh paramilitary force set up by the Pakistan army, which had carried out attacks on Bangladeshi freedom fighters during the war. But, many people think that Hossain is being used to infuse new life into the BNP, which is on the verge of extinction following the arrest of its chief, Khaleda Zia, on graft charges. Her fugitive son, Tarique Rahman, has also been sentenced to life imprisonment in a 2004 grenade attack case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Awami League, however, sees Hossain as an opportunist. “He is behaving like the conscience of the nation, which he is not. He is an opportunist,” says A.K.M. Rahmatullah, Awami League MP. “Yes, he was one of the closest aides of Bangabandhu. But that was because of his academic excellence, not because he was a political icon. I was also a freedom fighter, but I was never a follower of Kamal Hossain.”&nbsp;</p> Sat Dec 29 18:26:16 IST 2018 khaledas-release-cannot-be-a-condition-for-a-fair-election <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Opposition parties are alleging that they are not being allowed to campaign.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is totally wrong. We are happy that they have fielded candidates this time, but they are not going to their constituencies. Instead, they are in big cities and towns and are creating disturbance like torching public vehicles and attacking law enforcement agencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A Bangladesh Nationalist Party team recently met the Indian government in Delhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are free to reach out to any neighbouring country for peace in the region. We are sure that India would like to see free and fair elections [in Bangladesh] and will not intervene in any way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BNP is trying to internationalise the Bangladesh election. But they have not been successful; European countries refused to support them. After the BNP allied with the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has terror links, even the US criticised the BNP. Now, they are left with only Pakistan, which is trying to play a covert game to sabotage the Bangladesh election to help the BNP and the Jamaat. I am sure Pakistan will not be successful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is Bangladesh’s perception of India’s NDA government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People of Bangladesh were suspicious of the Modi government when it came to power, as we had a very bitter experience with the previous NDA government. To our surprise, the Modi government was even more cooperative than the Congress government. The last 15 years of Indian governments have helped Bangladesh grow and the anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh has considerably reduced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Many war veterans have supported the opposition front this time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, but they are not a big number. It largely happened because of the long military rule in Bangladesh after the killing of Bangabandhu [Mujibur Rahman]. Many lost their ideology because of military pressure. But it would have been unimaginable then that they would one day be in the same front with the Jamaat. Such an alliance has actually helped us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But there is an allegation that the Bangladesh government is violating the human rights of its political opponents.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is development all around, cutting across political lines. Is such growth possible with human rights violation? How can a government that kept Myanmar refugees in their land be harsh with its own people? It is all the opposition party’s propaganda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the banking scams?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Frauds will be dealt with by the government with an iron hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why not release Khaleda Zia before the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khaleda Zia was convicted by a court of a democracy. You cannot make [the release] of a person a precondition for a democratically elected government and election commission to hold a free and fair election. It shows that the BNP does not have any respect for institutions.</p> Sat Dec 29 11:29:58 IST 2018 desperate-measures <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A FORTNIGHT</b> before the 11th Bangladesh general election, Mahbub Talukdar, an election commissioner, expressed his concern over the absence of a “level playing field for opposition parties”. Talukdar’s statement drew criticism from his own chief election commissioner. But Talukdar said, “No one can take away my right of telling the truth to the nation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With several leaders of the principal opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), in jail or in exile, the country’s freedom fighters took it upon themselves to prevent the 2018 election from being one-sided. These are people who were closest to the ‘father of Bangladesh’, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Today, they are fighting to prevent his daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, from winning the election for the third time in a row. Bangladesh goes to the polls on December 30.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a 13-party opposition pitted against the eight-party alliance led by Hasina’s Awami League (AL), it would not have been a cakewalk for Hasina. Opposition activists said that worried AL activists were attacking opposition candidates. Buses were torched and roads blocked during their campaign days in Dhaka, opposition politicians said. It showed that the political system in the country continues to struggle since the dark days of Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in 1975 in a bloody coup. In fact, freedom fighters and close associates of Mujibur Rahman, fondly called Bangabandhu, are today allying with an opposition that includes the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, which was allegedly behind Rahman’s death and had opposed the formation of Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Freedom fighters opposing Hasina include Dr Kamal Hossain, who drafted the Bangladesh constitution, and Abdul Kader Siddique, the guerrilla leader who captured vast parts of central Bangladesh in 1971 with the help of the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddique rues the situation in Bangladesh. “I am sorry to say, but people were perhaps better off when it was with Pakistan,” said Siddique, 71. “I am forced to say this because the torture by the present government has surpassed the violence during Pakistan’s rule.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many AL supporters are shocked by the change in the political scene. “It is true that BNP had a role in killing Bangabandhu. But we believe that the ruling coalition has become arrogant and tyrannous, and dangerous for Bangladesh,” said Anisul Haque, a Dhaka-based businessman and former AL activist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddique admitted that the BNP and Jamaat are unacceptable for people like him and vowed that there would be no relationship between him and the Jamaat at any point of time. “But, before that we would have to save Bangladesh,” he said. “By keeping [former prime minister] Khaleda Zia in jail and her son in exile, the present government has made them heroes in the eyes of the people.” Khaleda is chairperson of the BNP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired major general of the Indian Army K.K. Majumdar, who played a crucial role for India in Bangladesh’s liberation war, says he knew ‘Tiger Siddique’ as a legendary guerrilla leader. “But today, it pains me that the tiger has become a kitten,” he said. “I have no doubt that money from the Middle East is coming to Bangladesh with the help of an ISI-backed network. These leaders, who had sacrificed a lot, have been swayed by that and forgot about the war they had fought. How could they ally with the BNP and the Jamaat?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majumdar says that political instability for decades has made the Bangladeshi political establishment corrupt. “A line has been drawn between those who have tasted power and those who could not. It is a peculiar situation in a country which is slowly becoming like Pakistan,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June, a BNP delegation visited Delhi to reach out to the RSS leadership in order to allay fears of the BNP being anti-India. The RSS is said to have asked the BNP to stay away from Jamaat-e-Islami, which has allegedly fanned anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh. But the fight against the AL has forced the BNP to accept Jamaat as a member of the opposition alliance, despite reservations expressed by freedom fighters who are backing the BNP. The BNP leadership told disgruntled former AL leaders that the alliance was a “necessity and would be done with moderates of the party”, as the radicals have already been hanged for their war crimes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We know that they had gone to meet Indian leaders. But I am sure that after their alliance with Jamaat, India’s support would never be for the BNP,” said Dhaka MP A.K.M. Rahamatullah of the AL. The BNP leadership maintained that their trip was largely to amass support against the imprisonment of Khaleda. But their meeting with the RSS leadership raised eyebrows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AL government has categorically stated that the trial against Khaleda had started during the military rule, before it came to power. “The judiciary convicted her and as a result of that she is in jail. Can our government ask the court to release her because of pressure from certain sections of the people?” asked Rahamatullah. “The people will teach the BNP a lesson for allying with war criminals. Take my word, we will win 180 to 200 seats out of 300 seats.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BNP had boycotted the 2014 elections after the prime minister scrapped the longstanding practice of having a caretaker government oversee elections. Not only was there no opposition in parliament, but it also meant that opponents of the Hasina government were no longer recognised by the people. In many districts, party offices were even closed. Despite the absence of Khaleda and her exiled son Tarique Rahman, the BNP are contesting this election to avoid the mistake of leaving the AL unopposed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While bank fraudsters in India continued to make headlines, similar frauds in Bangladesh hardly made news. When Bangladesh finance minister Abul Muhith admitted in parliament this year that the total defaulted loans in Bangladesh banks were around Rs1.31 lakh crore, it set alarms bells ringing. Out of the 2.3 lakh defaulters, the top 20 businessmen are closely associated with the ruling party. The minister, however, announced he names of the 20 defaulters in parliament, with no opposition member to hear it. Muhith has retired from politics and will not contest the election, but he insists there was rapid social and economic development during his tenure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from banking frauds, there were several alleged scams in sectors like coal, gold and the stock market. But there is nothing the BNP could do about it, because of its self-imposed political absence. To make a comeback in the Bangladesh political scene, at a time when its party chief is in jail, the BNP had no other option but to fall at the feet of the nation’s heroes. Time will tell how the people of Bangladesh react to such an arrangement.</p> Sat Dec 29 17:45:08 IST 2018 all-in-the-family <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On December 13, the US senate passed two extraordinary resolutions. The Republican-controlled senate voted 56-41, asking President Donald Trump to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The second resolution, which was passed unanimously, held Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had been living in exile in the United States. The US Congress usually defers to the president’s authority in conducting foreign affairs. So, the intervention was extraordinary. But then so were the circumstances that led to Jamal’s murder. Jamal, 59, was undoubtedly the most talked about person in 2018. His death continues to dominate news cycles and is being debated across world capitals. He was the Time Person of the Year. And, his death could reshape the contours of global politics in the days to come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal belonged to an illustrious Saudi family, which traces its roots back to Turkey. The Khashoggis were originally from the central Anatolian city of Kayseri. Khashoggi is the Arabised form of Kasıkçı, which means spoon-maker. Nearly four centuries ago, a group of Khashoggis went to perform the Hajj. Some of them chose to be jarareem, the Hajis who stayed back in Mecca and Medina.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Khashoggis did very well in Arabia. Jamal’s great-grandfather was the mayor of Medina. His grandfather Mohamed Khaled Khashoggi attended the Sorbonne and later, medical school in Damascus. Trained as a surgeon, he returned to Medina, and subsequently became the personal doctor to king Abdul Aziz, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Mohamed Khaled married Samiha Ahmed Setti, a Saudi girl whose family came from Syria. He brought the first X-ray machine and generator to Saudi Arabia, after the king’s favourite wife fell and fractured her hand. He used the generator to power lamps in nearby homes as well, charging a monthly fee of 10 riyals per lamp. In 1935, Mohamed Khaled and Samiha had their first child. They named him Adnan. For several decades, Adnan was the most famous Khashoggi in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adnan was educated at the exclusive Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt. It was a school for the rich and the famous, and his classmates included the future king of Jordan. Adnan was never a serious student; he was focused on business. His first successful deal was arranging a meeting between the fathers of two of his classmates, for which he earned $1,000 as commission. From Victoria, Adnan went to California State University in Chico. During a vacation, he ran into Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammed. The senior Laden was Adnan’s father’s patient, and he needed a new fleet of trucks for his growing construction business. Adnan put him in touch with a truck dealer he had met in California, and got a commission of $1,50,000 for the three million dollar deal. Soon, he quit his studies and jumped into business full time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the right time for Adnan as Saudi Arabia was beginning to spend its massive oil money to purchase weapons. With his fluent English, old-world charm and vast network of connections in the west and in Saudi Arabia, Adnan became the ideal middleman. One of his first deals on behalf of the royal family happened in 1962, when crown prince Faisal gave him a million pounds to arrange weapons for royalists fighting leftist rebels in Yemen. Adnan executed it perfectly, without charging a commission. It helped him land major deals with defence companies such as Northrop, Teledyne National, Lockheed and Raytheon. By the mid-1970s, Adnan’s commissions from Lockheed alone were worth more than $100 million. Pretty soon, he came to be known as one of the richest men in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the peak of his wealth, Adnan had 100 limousines, three aircraft and a $75m yacht, which was named Nabila, after his eldest daughter. He owned 12 homes, including a villa set in 5,000 acres in Marbella, the famous resort town in southern Spain. His mansion in Manhattan was 16 flats knocked into one. He had a stable of Arabian horses and he loved to keep exotic pets. His company owned 13 banks and a chain of steak houses in the United States, cattle ranches in the Americas and resorts and hotels in Fiji, Egypt and Australia. He even engaged a South Korean martial arts expert called Mr Kill as his bodyguard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 281ft Nabila was the largest and most opulent private yacht in the world at the time. It had a sundeck protected by bullet-proof glass, and the master suite had a gold sink. The cabins were lined with chamois leather and the bathrooms were decorated with hand-carved onyx, sculpted by Italian craftsmen. It had a discotheque, with laser beams that projected Adnan’s face, and an operating theatre and a morgue. In the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), Nabila appeared as the floating headquarters of the antagonist, SPECTRE agent Maximillian Largo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the mid-1980s, however, Adnan was nearing the end of his golden run. Growing competition among middlemen, deals that went wrong, decline in oil prices and his addiction to gambling shook the foundations of Adnan’s empire. Even then, Adnan spent money as if there was no tomorrow. For his 50th birthday, he threw a five-day party at his Marbella mansion. Hollywood A listers like Brooke Shields were present, while a fleet of refrigerator trucks was brought in just to cool the champagne. The theme for the birthday cake was Louis XIV’s coronation crown. The chef flew to Paris to have a look at the crown, which was on display at the Louvre. The celebrations cost $6 million, and Adnan sold an apartment to foot the bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of his financial troubles, Adnan sold the Nabila in 1987 to Donald Trump for $30 million. Adnan did not want Trump to keep the name Nabila. So, he offered a him a discount of a million dollars. Trump, who had already decided to rename the yacht the Trump Princess, quickly accepted the deduction. Trump used this experience to tell everyone that Adnan was a lousy businessman. “Adnan understood the art of bringing people together and putting together a deal better than almost everyone. But he never knew how to invest his money,” said Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adnan’s woes did not end there. In 1988, he was arrested in Berne, upon request from the US government on charges that he had helped the former dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife, Imelda, to launder their ill-gotten wealth. Adnan was in the Swiss capital to consult cellular therapist Dr Augusto Gianoli, who was famous for his anti-ageing revitalisation shots prepared from lamb embryos. After spending three months in a Swiss jail, Adnan was extradited to the US. In 1990, a federal jury in Manhattan cleared him of all charges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adnan’s first wife was Sandra Patricia Jarvis-Daly, the daughter of a waitress from Leicester. They got married in 1961, after Sandra converted to Islam and took the name Soraya. Adnan and Soraya had Nabila and four sons. The marriage broke down after Adnan found out that she was having an affair with his friend, president Gafaar Nimeiry of Sudan. Adnan and Soraya also had another daughter called Petrina. But, in 1999, Adnan ordered a DNA test and found out that Petrina’s real father was Jonathan Aitken, who was minister for defence procurement in the John Major cabinet. Soraya engaged celebrity divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, and won a divorce settlement of $875 million, which was the largest ever at the time. When the divorce came through in 1974, Adnan was already involved with an Italian named Laura Biancolini. They got married in 1980, after she converted to Islam and took the name Lamia. In 1991, Adnan married Shahpari Azam Zanganeh from Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adnan was never a faithful husband. His nephew Dodi al-Fayed once said that he stopped talking to his “ex-uncle” after the news of his sexual escapades became public, especially the Cap d’Ail scandal. Adnan had deputed one of his employees, Abdo Khawagi, to partner with a French woman called Mireille Griffon to run a high-profile escort service based in Cap d’Ail, a picturesque commune in southeastern France. Khawagi and Griffon maintained a roster of 300 girls between the ages of 18 and 25, who serviced Adnan and his clients. Adnan was very generous with the girls and they called him papa gâteau, or sugar daddy. The French police busted the network following a tip off. While Griffon and Khawagi got prison terms, Adnan slipped away on the Nabila.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Adnan’s favourite escorts was former Miss India Pamella Bordes, the daughter of an Army officer from Delhi. Even before befriending Adnan, she was a well-known figure in London, after having had affairs with some leading British editors and politicians. Pamella was just 20 when she first met Adnan. She managed to get herself invited to a cocktail party that Adnan threw at his penthouse on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Adnan was swept off his feet and asked Pamella to join him at his Marbella estate. In an interview, Pamella said she slept with him in what she described as the largest bed she had ever seen. “I was very happy to have sex with him, and he did not want me to do anything kinky or sleazy,” she said. After that stay in Marbella, Adnan used Pamella’s services to entertain several high-profile clients. Pamella is now Pamela Singh, and she lives in Goa, working as a photojournalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adnan’s India connection did not end with Pamella. He had some very powerful friends in the country, across the sociopolitical spectrum. In 1991, Adnan made a much-publicised visit to India. When arrived in Delhi, he was received at the airport by prime minister Chandra Shekhar’s secretary C.B. Gautam, BJP leader J.K. Jain and controversial godman Chandra Swami’s secretary Kailash Nath Aggarwal aka Mamaji. He was taken to the prime minister’s private retreat at Bhondsi, near Gurugram, where Chandra Shekhar and Chandra Swami were waiting. Farooq Abdullah, Subramanian Swamy, Om Prakash Chautala, Nanaji Deshmukh, and industrialists Jayant Malhotra and Vishnu Hari Dalmia were also said to be present. According to reports, Adnan was his usual flamboyant self during the reception hosted in his honour. He checked with Jain whether there was an ISD facility at the farmhouse so that he could make a call to king Fahd of Saudi Arabia. He said he could assist the Indian government to secure a $3 billion loan from the king, as India was going through a major financial crisis at the time. He also offered to get Chandra Shekhar evidence to implicate Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors scam. Later, when he visited Rajiv, he offered to help him play a key role in defusing the Gulf crisis caused by the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Adnan even had a solution to the Ayodhya crisis. He offered to get a fatwa issued from Saudi Arabia to shift the Babri mosque to another location. The Saudi Arabian embassy in Delhi, however, issued a quick clarification, saying that the country had nothing to do with Adnan’s offer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Iran Contra scandal that rocked the US in 1987 was a major setback for Adnan. It involved the illegal sale of weapons by the US government to Iran, despite an arms embargo. Sanctioned by president Ronald Reagan, the deal involved a complex web of transactions by which the US would clandestinely sell Iran weapons to secure the release of American hostages in Tehran and use the money from the deal to support the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua. Reagan survived with a public apology, but Adnan, who brokered the arms deal, became persona-non grata in most western capitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adnan was also hit by the drop in petroleum prices that forced the Gulf countries to cut back on arms purchases. His creditors such as the Sultan of Brunei started demanding their money back, pushing Adnan into a payment crisis. His holding company, Triad America Corporation, filed for bankruptcy in 1987. He was forced to sell his yacht, his aircraft, his fleet of cars, his stable of horses and he even had to relieve his expensive bodyguard. He died on June 6, 2017, in London, after a long battle with his detractors and creditors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dodi al-Fayed, who had stopped talking to Adnan because of his philandering ways, was the eldest son of Adnan’s sister Samira and her husband Mohamed al-Fayed. Mohamed was a billionaire who owned Harrods, the famous humour magazine Punch, the Fulham Football Club and the Balnagow castle in Scotland. Adnan and Mohamed were business associates in Cairo in the early 1960s, but they had a major fallout, apparently over money. Dodi, who was born in 1955, was initially named Emad. But when he began talking, he had trouble pronouncing the ‘d’ sound, and would keep on stuttering ‘do-di’. Mohamed found that cute and started calling him Dodi. The name stuck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohamed and Samira got divorced when Dodi was just four. Mohamed, who got his custody, sent Dodi to expensive boarding schools. Dodi spent his vacations with the Khashoggis at their villas in the French Riviera and Paris, and with his father at their ancestral home in Alexandria. Dodi was gifted his first flat in the posh London neighbourhood of Mayfair when he turned 15. He also got his own Rolls Royce, a chauffeur and a bodyguard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohamed got Dodi into the Sandhurst military academy and used his connections to get him a commission as a London-based officer of the UAE air force. The good-looking young officer lit up the London party scene. He owned five Ferraris, and was the first to buy a Humvee and a Sony Walkman. As his fame spread, the number of his girlfriends also went up. Dodi is said to have dated celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder, Daryl Hannah and Tina Sinatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite his Sandhurst training, Dodi got bored with military service. With the support of his father, he launched a Hollywood production company called Allied Stars. The first film which he co-produced was Chariots of Fire (1981), which won four Oscars, including one for the best film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a while, Dodi got addicted to cocaine. And, he lived in the perennial fear of being killed or kidnapped. According to his friends, Dodi was worried that someone might poison him. Whenever he was out having his favourite Stolichnaya vodka, he would take a sip, push the glass away, and order another drink. He would never drink from the same glass twice. Dodi always surrounded himself with a team of bodyguards. In fact, his 1987 marriage to the supermodel Suzanne Gregard collapsed in eight months because of his obsession with security. Gregard once said that she sought divorce because they were always surrounded by bodyguards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although his father bought him a Ferrari dealership and made him a director of Harrods, Dodi turned out to be an unsuccessful businessman. He chased fame, and he wanted to be seen always in the company of pretty and successful women. He even hired Pat Kingsley, who was publicist for Tom Cruise and Madonna, to ensure that he was always seen and photographed with his celebrity girlfriends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dodi was introduced to princess Diana by his father, who invited her for a holiday at the family resort in St Tropez, on the French Riviera. Dodi, Diana, William and Harry spent a couple of days on Mohamed’s yacht, the Jonikal. Diana stayed back with Dodi even after the young princes left to visit their father, prince Charles. Their whirlwind romance lasted only a few weeks, as the couple, chased by paparazzi, were killed in a car crash on August 31, 1997 in Paris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dodi had all the money in the world, but he wanted fame,” wrote author Jack Martin after his death. “He died with the most famous woman in the world. He couldn’t have scripted it better.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Dodi had numerous affairs, he treated his girlfriends with tenderness and sensitivity. According to his family, it was because of his devotion to his mother Samira, who died of a heart attack in 1986, at the age of 51. Although he lived away from her, he would call her almost daily. Dodi was so devastated by her death that he told a friend that he would do anything to bring her back. “I would give up everything I have—cars, wealth and women. I would do it to bring my mother back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Samira had studied at Alexandria’s English School for Girls and later at Alexandria University’s college of commerce. Samira and Mohamed met first at the Stanley Bay beach in Alexandria. They fell in love and got married soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after Dodi’s birth, Samira fell in love with Adnan’s business partner Anas Yaseen, and sought divorce from Mohamed. He apparently agreed for a divorce only after he was paid a hefty compensation. Samira married Anas and moved to Lebanon. Anas later joined the Saudi diplomatic corps and became ambassador to India. He died in a road accident in Turkey in 1974. Samira then married Abdel Rahman al-Aseer, who was also Adnan’s business partner, but he left her for another woman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Samira published her first novel Seeing off my Hopes in 1958. In 1962, she and Efat al-Thanayan, the wife of king Faisal, set up an NGO called the Al Nahda Society, to provide financial support for needy women. Samira wrote many other books and was the editor of the pan-Arab magazine Al Sharkiah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like his uncle Adnan, Jamal, too, was born in Medina. His father was Adnan’s younger brother Ahmad, who owned a fabric shop. His mother’s name was Esaaf. Jamal went to school in Saudi Arabia and then moved to the US for higher studies. He finished his BA in business administration from Indiana State University at Terra Haute, Indiana, in 1982. He also did a diploma in journalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal started his career as journalist in 1986 with the English-language Arab News and the Arabic newspaper Okaz. He also served as a correspondent for London-based Arabic dailies Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat. As a foreign correspondent, he reported from Afghanistan, Algeria, Sudan and many other countries in the Middle East in the 1990s. It was during this time that he became friends with Osama, who was fighting in Afghanistan against the Russians. The mood on the Arab street at the time was overwhelmingly in favour of Osama and the mujahideen, who had the overt and covert support of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Jamal once got an unexpected invitation from Osama to visit him in Afghanistan and see for himself how the mujahideen was taming the might of the Red Army. He soon left for Afghanistan, where he got to see the guerrilla tactics employed by the mujahideen and also got an opportunity to interview Osama. He even got himself photographed wearing a local dress and holding an assault rifle. He bonded well with Osama and interviewed him a few more times in Afghanistan and in Sudan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal was devastated when US Navy seals killed Osama in 2011. “I collapsed crying a while ago, heartbroken for you Abu Abdullah. You were beautiful and brave in those beautiful days in Afghanistan, before you surrendered to hatred and passion,” tweeted Jamal, mourning his friend’s death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Jamal was deputy editor-in-chief of Arab News. The attacks posed a major challenge to US-Saudi Arabia relations as 15 of its 19 masterminds were Saudi subjects. Jamal, who was very close to the royal family, was among the emissaries who were sent to convince the Americans that Saudi Arabia did not support terrorism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal became the editor-in-chief of Al Watan newspaper in 1999, but was fired for criticising the clergy. He then became media adviser to Prince Turki bin Faisal, the former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, who was then serving as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. When Turki was appointed ambassador to the US in 2005, Jamal went with him and continued to serve as a key adviser. In 2007, Jamal returned to Saudi Arabia after being reappointed as editor-in-chief of Al Watan. He served for three years before resigning over the controversy of publishing an op-ed piece criticising the conservative establishment. Yet, Jamal continued to be a popular journalist and remained a permanent fixture on Saudi television stations. Unfortunately for Jamal, the liberals thought of him as a closet Islamist, while the conservative Wahhabis felt he was a secular-minded liberal, leaving him without any firm support base.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crisis began brewing for Jamal with crown prince Salman succeeding king Abdullah. In early January 2015, Abdullah died of lung cancer at the Saudi National Guard hospital in Riyadh. Salman named his brother Muqrin as crown prince, his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince and his favourite son Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) as defence minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muqrin was replaced by Mohammed bin Nayef in April 2015. MbS became deputy crown prince, joining the line of succession. As a parting gift, Salman gave Muqrin the 280ft luxury yacht Solandge. In June 2017, Mohammed bin Nayef was removed from the post of crown prince and MbS was named in his place, formalising the succession plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost immediately after Salman became king, Jamal was named head of Al Arab, a new television station in neighbouring Bahrain, owned by Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal. One of the first shows aired by the station was an interview with a prominent government critic. In a matter of hours, the station was shut down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 4, 2017, Talal and several other prominent Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen were arrested on corruption charges and were detained at the Ritz-Carlton. Talal, a billionaire businessman, was released after three months. Jamal had seen the writing on the wall. His vision about the future of Saudi Arabia did not match the one MbS had for the country. Jamal was effectively barred from media appearances and, according to some reports, was even stopped from tweeting. He managed to leave just before the purge in November 2017 and moved to the US, where he took up the offer to revive his journalistic career as a columnist for The Washington Post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal said he left because he did not want to be arrested. “I got fired from my job twice because I was pushing for reform in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It wasn’t that easy, but people were not being put in jails.” Jamal relentlessly criticised MbS. “I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better,” wrote Jamal in his first column for the Post on September 18, 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal met Hatice Cengiz in May, at a conference in Istanbul. Hatice, a PhD student, found Jamal attractive and the two decided to get married. Hatice’s father was initially opposed to the marriage, because she was 23 years younger than Jamal. But he eventually came around. Jamal had bought an apartment in Istanbul and the couple was planning to get married in October. On the day he was killed, Jamal was supposed to visit the Cengiz family for dinner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal chose Istanbul as the venue for the wedding as the city’s beautiful mosques reminded him of his hometown Medina. Turkish law required Jamal to produce a certified copy of his divorce. He first tried to get it from the Saudi embassy in Washington, but he was reportedly asked to apply at the consulate in Istanbul. Some of his friends told Jamal that going to the consulate would be risky, but he said his high-level connections, such as his friendship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would ensure his safety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jamal visited the consulate without an appointment on September 28 and was told that the document would be ready in a week’s time. He flew to London the same day for a conference and returned to Istanbul on October 1. He was asked to collect the document the next day. Jamal went to the consulate on the afternoon of October 2 with Hatiz. He gave her his two mobile phones and went inside, after asking her to call Erdogan’s aide Aktay, if he failed to return. She made the call at 4.30pm. Aktay contacted security forces and intelligence officials and also informed Erdogan that Jamal was missing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the world got worried about Jamal’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia claimed that he had left the consulate alive. The Turkish intelligence, which had apparently bugged the Saudi consulate, however, was certain that Jamal was murdered inside the consulate and his body disposed of. It started leaking reports, pointing towards Riyadh’s involvement, finally forcing Saudi Arabia to acknowledge that Jamal was killed inside the consulate in a rogue operation. Saudi authorities reiterated that MbS was unaware of the mission. Prosecutors have charged 11 people in connection with the murder, and have sought death penalty for five of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may, however, prove not to be enough as evident from the bipartisan consensus in the US on the issue. Major European powers such as Britain, France and Germany, too, have been upset about the situation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on December 16 called for a credible investigation into the murder. Speaking at the Doha Forum, the UN chief said it was absolutely essential to have a credible investigation and to have the punishment of the guilty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Khashoggis are likely to dominate the news cycle in the upcoming year as well.</p> Sat Dec 22 14:32:58 IST 2018 proud-pakistanis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>TWO MEN, BOTH</b> named Ramesh, are part of Pakistan’s spiritual outreach to India. Ramesh Singh Arora was the first Sikh to be elected as a Member of the National Assembly (MNA) of Pakistan, and Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, now a three-time MNA, is a patron of the Hindu Council of Pakistan and tipped to be the first Hindu chairman of the Evacuee Property Board. “You will see more such gestures,’’ says Vankwani. There are plans to open shrines like Katasraj, the temple that L.K. Advani visited, and Sharda Peeth, a sacred shrine for Pandits. Both Arora’s and Vankwani’s families stayed in Pakistan during partition. “There is some extended family in India,” says Vankwani. But his close relatives never crossed. Arora, a tall strapping Sikh, says that his grandfather had thought of leaving for India, but his best friend, Hayat Baloch, stopped him. “He gave him three options. ‘Either stay back. Or take me with you. Otherwise people will say I abandoned my friend. Or kill me, so that no one accuses me of being a betrayer,’’’ says Arora who is with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). “We don’t cut our hair at all,” he says proudly. The children follow the traditions and 90 per cent of Pakistani Sikhs marry in Pakistan. “We have stayed back because we feel protected,’’ says Arora.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vankwani’s family was among the 80 lakh Hindus who chose Pakistan over India. He has kept his faith in Pakistan alive. He recently switched from the PML(N) to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He comes to India twice every year—to Shirdi and Haridwar—but Pakistan is home. “I love coming to India,” he says. “I find people on both sides don’t want borders. If France and Germany can be friends, why can’t we?”</p> Fri Dec 07 12:41:38 IST 2018 hope-on-the-horizon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE DOME RISES</b> moon-like against a dusty blue sky. The sun has set but the gurdwara of Kartarpur Sahib—in Narowal, in Pakistan’s Punjab—is still packed to the gills. This is the first time in more than 70 years that its compound is crowded. Sikhs from across the globe are standing on its floor and kissing the ground. “It is a dream come true,” says Gurpreet, who has come from Jammu and Kashmir. Her husband had applied for a visa three times before, but was rejected each time. An old Sikh gentleman stands in the middle of the compound, oblivious to others pushing past him. Tears stream down his face, as he murmurs prayers of thanks. Kartarpur Sahib is a mecca for Sikhs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, breathed his last. And where he handed over the mantle to his successor. He spent his last 18 years here, working in the fields with his followers. Legend has it that when he died, his followers fought over his body. The Hindus wanted to cremate him. The Muslims wanted him buried. No consensus was reached. The next morning, when the shroud was lifted, his body had disappeared. In its place were two lotuses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Sikhs, the pain of partition is still fresh. Yet, Kartarpur Sahib provides a glimpse of a pluralistic past. Narowal had only three Sikh families post independence, who kept the Guru’s traditions alive. His Muslim followers come each day to pray. The langar (food served at gurdwaras) is special in Kartarpur as the vegetables come from fields once tilled by the Guru. “Available 24 hours,” says Ramesh Singh Arora, the first Sikh to become a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan (five years ago). Years ago, his family had moved from Nankana Sahib to Kartarpur as granthis (custodians of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Miracles still happen. Or, so it is believed. In the 1990s, a bomb was found in the well of the gurdwara. The belief is that it did not explode because the Guru protected his people. The bomb is now placed on a pedestal outside the gurdwara. A testimony to faith and the possibility of miracles. Like the Kartarpur corridor is. Or can be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time such a proposal has been mooted. It came up during the regimes of Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf, too. Imran Khan has finally managed to make it a reality. The plans are ambitious. A documentary made by Inter-Services Public Relations—shown at the foundation laying ceremony—details them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan hopes to create a visa-free corridor. Buses will ferry pilgrims across the 4km road. There will be biometrics at the gate. With rooms to stay, a library, a souvenir shop and even a flower shop, Pakistan hopes to make this the biggest gurdwara in the country. A 100 acre forest has been proposed around the gurdwara, as a buffer. “Pakistan will complete its commitment by October next year,” says Arora. While no modalities have been discussed with the Indian government, Pakistan has already embarked on its plan. In anticipation of these plans, land prices have shot up. More than 50 times, if some claims are to be believed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 550th year of the Guru will see much activity on both sides of the border. The Indian government has planned a series of events. A special coin will also be launched. Pakistan will see major renovation of gurdwaras across the country. In Lahore, a new gurdwara is being built to mark the place where Guru Arjan Dev was martyred. Kar sevaks (volunteers) from India come in for six months to work on it. Pakistan also hopes to link Guru Nanak’s birth place, at Nankana Sahib, to Kartarpur via road.</p> Fri Dec 07 12:34:25 IST 2018 corridor-to-the-unknown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Lahore Fort was studded with fairy lights, like a Christmas store. Colourful murals depicting angels, men, elephants and flowers adorn its walls, making Jehangir’s fort a symbol of Mughal pluralistic tradition.</p> <p>To the north of the fort, the samadhi of the Sikh ruler Raja Ranjit Singh and the nearby gurdwara were also lit up—in celebration of gurpurab. Pilgrims spent the night dreaming of the next day, when they would travel more than 100 kilometres east and enter Kartarpur Sahib, the gurdwara known as the final resting place of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gayatri mantra on sitar played softly in the garden bound by the fort and the samadhi. Right in the centre of the garden was the tomb of the poet Muhammad Iqbal, the spiritual father of Pakistan. The setting offered Pakistan the perfect platform to launch Prime Minister Imran Khan’s narrative of Naya Pakistan: a confluence of cultures and religions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The proposed border corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, which will allow Indian devotees to visit Sikh shrines in Pakistan, was Khan’s way of holding out an olive branch to India. Diplomats were driven down bumpy roads of Pakistani Punjab, past pale yellow fields and brick kilns. They were then flown back by chopper to Islamabad. Buses ferried hundreds of journalists to the venue. A white, palatial, air-conditioned tent was erected to accommodate thousands of people, including 3,000 Sikh pilgrims and contingents of diplomats and ministers from both sides of the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan’s press interactions are tea-and-biscuit affairs, but Lahore saw that austere tradition giving way to kebabs, gulab jamuns and qawwali. On the eve of the stone-laying ceremony, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar hosted a special dinner. It was attended by representatives of several faiths, including a Christian priest in purple and Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Hindu Council of Pakistan. A member of the National Assembly, Vankwani is tipped to become the first Hindu chairman of the Evacuee Property Board, which administers properties and shrines left behind by communities that migrated to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past decade, Pakistan has struggled to get rid of its reputation as a sponsor of terror. In June this year, the Financial Action Task Force put the country on its grey list for failing to comply with its anti-money laundering and counter-terror funding laws. The grey-listing has so hampered investment that the International Monetary Fund bailout that Khan had refused earlier now appears inevitable. The Pakistani rupee is also on a downward spiral. Barely a week after Khan completed 100 days in power, it crashed to a record low of 144 against the US dollar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war against Taliban, too, is taking its toll. The US is tired of fighting it, while Pakistan has no control over the monster it helped create in Afghanistan. For the first time, the border between the two countries is being fenced—“at a considerable cost”, according to Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan wants to craft a new narrative. Khan’s Naya Pakistan is a moderate country—home to the minorities and a harbinger of peace. This is backed by the hardline Pakistani army and the deep state. The proposal to open the Kartarpur corridor, which has been pending since Benazir Bhutto’s time, is the first demonstration of this change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolstering this narrative are the Pakistani supreme court’s decision, freeing Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, and the subsequent arrest of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, an extremist who made incendiary remarks against Bibi and the court after the verdict. In stark contrast, though, was Khan’s terse dismissal of Atif Mian as his economic adviser, days after the appointment. Mian belongs to the Ahmadiyya community, which has been facing disenfranchisement and persecution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kartarpur corridor is Khan’s bold demonstration of peace. “You don’t remember people,” said Fawad Choudhary, Pakistan’s information minister. “You remember stories. This is a story that is positive; a very important moment. The corridor is not an ordinary event—history has changed its course.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By laying the foundation stone for the corridor on the Pakistani side on November 28, Khan sent a message to the world: Pakistan is ready for peace. The message is also a gamble. In 1999, prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif embraced each other in Lahore and signed a peace treaty. Barely a year later, the Kargil war happened. (This time, Khan seems to have left the hug diplomacy to his Army chief. General Javed Qamar Bajwa raised eyebrows when he embraced Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu during Khan’s swearing-in on August 18.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The seeds that Imran Khan has sown will bloom, maybe in a couple of years. People-to-people contact is most important,” said Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who came close to bringing about a peace agreement when he was foreign minister under Musharraf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bajwa was present when the foundation stone for the corridor was laid. He later flew out, leaving Khan to interact with his Indian guests. “The prime minister, political parties, the army and the authorities are on the same page,” Khan said in his speech to loud cheers from the Sikhs in the audience. The reactions from the Indian side, represented by Sidhu and Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Puri, were not equally enthusiastic, but it certainly provided a glimmer of peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, Khan’s outright wooing of the Sikh community has sent alarm signals. The presence of Gopal Chawla, secretary of the Pakistan Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, at Kartarpur fuelled the dismay. Chawla is known for his pro-Khalistan views.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in Islamabad, Khan restated his vision for peace. “The past is not to live in,’’ he said. “It is to learn from.” He has, however, made it clear that he expects India to respond positively to his overtures. “There is a consensus for peace,” he said. “But please do not mistake it for a desperation for peace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan believes that talks are the only way forward. But the thorny issues—Kashmir and terrorism—still remain. Regarding India’s concerns about Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks, Khan said, “There is a UN sanction. There is already a clampdown. I inherited [the issue].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things have been slow on the ground with respect to major changes in 100 days of the government. “They [the promises] were really ambitious,” said a source. “A minister barely gets a hang of his department by this time. His promises had set the expectations very high. But even if he manages to fulfil 25 per cent of them, he would have set Pakistan on the right course.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition, however, is pulling no punches. Ramesh Singh Arora, the first Sikh member of the National Assembly and a member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), described Khan’s performance as “pathetic”. The opposition has been focusing on Khan’s relative inexperience in administrative matters, even as rumours abound of his moves being controlled by his wife.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, Khan has a following among young Pakistanis, who make up 64 per cent of the population. “I voted for Imran Khan because I wanted change,’’ said Zainab, a young art history student in Lahore. “I was tired of the dynastic politics of the other parties. I wanted to give him a chance.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The support of the youth, however, will hinge on how Khan steers the troubled economy. He has tried to get investments from China and Saudi Arabia, but it seems that the IMF bailout might be his only option. The IMF, however, will force Khan to take tough economic decisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regarding China-Pakistan ties, he has tried to set new terms of engagement. Khan wants to divert part of the money he gets from China to fulfil this dream of poverty-free Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan seems unfazed about his challenges. An aide explains, “He doesn’t have any insecurities. As he is westernised, he has no complexes and will respond.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US President Donald Trump got a taste of it when he accused Pakistan of taking American money without “giving anything in return”. “Pakistan has suffered enough by fighting the US’s war,” Khan shot back. “Now we will do what is best for our people and our interests.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan’s meetings with his ministers are freewheeling affairs. They are asked to ignore protocol and speak freely. Pictures of the meetings in progress show Khan sitting anywhere but at the head of the table. Bureaucrats attending the meeting often groan that, as everyone can speak, the meetings take much longer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan is banking on the Kartarpur spirit to strike a cord with people on both sides of the border. It has the potential to be a gamechanger.</p> Sat Dec 08 16:22:14 IST 2018 rules-of-engagement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE LAST TIME</b> Indian representatives sat across a table with the Taliban was in the bleak winter of 1999, at the spartan airport lounge in a snow-filled Kandahar. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh had escorted three Pakistan-backed Kashmiri terrorists, including the dreaded Masood Azhar who would later found the Jaish-e-Mohammad, to be exchanged for 100-odd passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC 814. The Taliban regime in Kabul was purportedly playing the honest umpire, but everyone knew who they were actually putting on the act for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh described his decision to escort the terrorists as one of the most “emotionally draining’’ ones in his life. There are no pictures of that shameful flight, or of that meeting in Kandahar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearly two decades later, two retired Indian diplomats flew to Moscow and sat across the table with the Taliban on November 9. No words were exchanged, and again, no photos were taken. The official photograph released by the Russian foreign office, which hosted the meeting, did not show the Indian representatives. India said the two veterans—T.C.A. Raghavan, former high commissioner to Pakistan and currently the director-general of the Delhi-based Indian Council of World Affairs, and Amar Sinha, former ambassador to Afghanistan—were in Moscow as silent observers at a multilateral meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Kandahar fiasco was a security nightmare, the invitation to Moscow was an acknowledgment of the role Russia expects India to play in Afghanistan. India may not have much leverage over the Taliban, but it certainly has a voice in the quiet reconstruction of the war-torn country. “The fact that India is invited is a reflection of the investments that India has made in soft power across the board,’’ said Rakesh Sood, former ambassador to Afghanistan and a distinguished fellow at Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation. “Just as you are able to exploit your hard power, you should exploit your soft power, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US-led war in Afghanistan has gone on for too long, and the Americans want out, and fast. At the same time, all stakeholders have come to realise that there cannot be a solution without talking to the Taliban. Said an Uzbekistan official, who was part of the delegation to Moscow, “Everyone is talking to the Taliban. We are the only ones who are doing it publicly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Others, however, cannot be as open as the Uzbeks. But, even India, which has always kept the Taliban away, is responding to the “changed ground realities’’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decision to go to Moscow was not an easy one for Delhi. Stakeholders across the spectrum were consulted. In September, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani came calling, and asked Delhi to soften its line. He came soon after declaring an Eid ceasefire. Although the ceasefire did not work out well, it sent out a signal that a deal with the Taliban was still in the realm of possibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even after the ceasefire offer, the Taliban refused to sit down for talks with the Afghan government, calling it illegitimate. A compromise was finally achieved with the Taliban agreeing to talk to members of the High Peace Council, a forum established by former president Hamid Karzai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, in October, Amrullah Saleh, who had served as the head of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency for six years, came to Delhi asking the government to avoid engaging the Taliban. Saleh had been a member of Ahmed Shah Masood’s Northern Alliance, and he does not trust the peace initiatives involving the Taliban. Raghavan and Sinha had a detailed meeting with him, where he is learnt to have advised them against talking to the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi’s biggest discomfort was over sharing a table with the Taliban without the presence of the Afghan government. The dilemma was resolved with the participation of the High Peace Council, which is an established part of the Afghan governance structure. So, Delhi chose to send two “unofficial’’ representatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had adopted the hard line that the Taliban was a terrorist organisation, and would never engage with it. But, over the years, the line has softened to a position that Afghanistan needs an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Ghani’s invitation was an indication that the Taliban was verily Afghan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can Russia succeed where the US, which has invested more men, material and money, had failed?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer depends on how the Taliban will move forward. Over the years, it has split into several factions, so much so that many doubt whether the Doha office, which sent representatives to Moscow, has any control over the warlords. There are also doubts about the control wielded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. “It is not a monolithic insurgency any longer,” said Shanthie D’Souza, a researcher who has worked extensively on Afghanistan. “The Taliban you saw before 9/11 is not what it is now. It is a conglomerate of various groups. So the techniques to get its members into society and political stream will have to be different,’’ she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Americans, too, are engaging the Taliban. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is in talks with the Taliban, and with President Donald Trump breathing down his neck, a deal could be made soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whoever delivers a deal—be it the US or Russia—there is still a larger imponderable: does Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the political chief of the Taliban, have that kind of influence to sell it to all factions? Can he persuade the Quetta Shura, or the ISI-backed factions? “We have to differentiate among the Taliban,” said D’Souza. “One is the leadership which is outside the country at the moment and will not come back if there are certain conditions to be adhered to. The strategy adopted here is reconciliation which has not worked. We don’t see much progress. A lot of them who had come back have since gone back.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are several such imponderables, but most observers believe that for India, being in the room is a step forward. But was it wise to be a silent observer? “Raghavan and Sinha, both seasoned diplomats, represented the best of the Indian government and they should have been heard,” said a foreign diplomat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the next round, perhaps.</p> Sat Dec 01 14:45:03 IST 2018 all-poll-decisions-must-be-taken-before-next-june <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What do you think is the reason for the political crisis in Sri Lanka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our view is that President Maithripala Sirisena attempted to reconstitute the administration because he wanted the support of the Mahinda Rajapaksa group to contest the next presidential elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, this drama was scripted by the Rajapaksa group and executed by Sirisena?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would say both groups did it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But, you had a good working relationship with the president. When the alliance came to power in 2015, it seemed that change was due in Sri Lanka. Where did it go wrong?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had the mandate for long-term change. [It was decided that] President Sirisena would take the presidency, and I would be the prime minister. In the first few years, it worked well. I think it is his idea of running for a second term, which was not included earlier, that has really brought about this change in political alignments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, this whole drama was for a second presidential term?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, because we are all committed to abolish the current model of executive presidency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think the political crisis has brought shame to the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. Our democracy has been functioning for 85 years. This has not happened before. Like in India, in Sri Lanka, too, there have been disruptions. They happened for a day, and that, too, on the floor of the house. No one has ever gone to the chamber and destroyed the speaker’s chair and the equipment. This is not disruption; it is striking at the heart of parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you think will happen in the Supreme Court?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court has issued a stay order and, by December, there should be a final order. Our lawyers are confident they have a good case. Parliament cannot be dissolved without the consent of two-third members of the house or it should have at least completed four and a half years of the term. And, the two main parties should agree to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is your relationship with India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a good relationship with India, be it economic, trade, cultural or diplomatic relations. I know many of the leaders in India personally, from both the government and political parties. From the prime minister to Mrs Sonia Gandhi, I know the leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can we say that your relationship with them has helped you take your country forward in terms of trade and investments?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have been getting support from India for development and also on reconciliation. Three weeks ago, when I was in India, we discussed on the assistance for the north and the east. There are a number of development projects that are being planned in the north and the east, which are being worked out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is your relationship with China? Would you agree that China meddles in Sri Lankan politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not so. We have a good working relationship with all Asian countries— be it India, China, Japan or other Asian countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rajapaksa says the government under you messed up the Hambantota project, and so the country is in a Chinese debt trap.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The debt was taken by him. All he has done is take the loan for the Hambantota harbour and the Hambantota airport and offer it through public-private partnerships. In case of the harbour, Chinese merchants were awarded [the project]. Chinese merchants paid nearly $1.3 billion initially for the loan he took for building of the Hambantota harbour. As far as the Hambantota airport was concerned, there were no Chinese offers that were acceptable. We accepted [the offer] from India. Rajapaksa is solely responsible for the increase of debt in this country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a controversy surrounding the Colombo port, which, too, has played a role in the political crisis.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I returned from India, the suggestion was that all the interested parties involved in developing the Colombo port—Sri Lanka, Japan, India and Singapore—meet together. And then, we decided we have to come to an understanding between the two governments. Also, there is discussion between the president and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So, within that framework, it is for the countries to sit and discuss and see how it is to be carried forward. Recently, when I met Prime Minister Modi in India, we discussed everything from investments to political relationship. Like in India, we, too, have different agencies. Some of them raise objections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>During the rally at Lipton Circus junction, you said you were ready to face the elections, not just the prime ministerial one but also the presidential polls.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are ready for any election, presidential or parliamentary. They must be held in accordance with the constitution. The first instance for a presidential election is January 8 [2020]. So, you cannot declare it on January 5. That is the same issue we have with parliamentary elections. For dissolving parliament, two-thirds of its members must agree. And, there must be a government that commands majority, in which case we have no real reason to get worried because at this stage we will win the election. Thereafter, we will challenge the courts to give power to our legislature. We have to pass that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what we are saying now is let us finish the process legally. If the court says go for elections—I don’t think any court will say that—then we, as a government, are ready to sit down with all the political parties and discuss it. And we want to put out a cutoff date—June next year—before which decisions have to be made. And, if legislation is needed for holding elections, we can bring in the legislation. In addition to it, we will also discuss how we are going to go with provincial council elections. So, our strategy is to call the parties and then decide if they want to go for an election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, will Sri Lanka go to polls in 2019 itself?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All I can tell you is that Sri Lanka must have a legally constituted government first, then it can go to polls according to law and, if necessary, pass some additional legislation for provincial council elections, or otherwise dissolution may be the case in parliamentary elections. All these must be determined and decisions taken before June next year.</p> Sat Nov 24 17:00:49 IST 2018 fight-to-the-finish <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TRAFFIC CAME</b> to a standstill. Pedestrians stood on pavements, watching protesters walk in from all corners to the Lipton Circus junction in Colombo. Only the cranes remained oblivious to the political drama on the streets, and continued to clear sand from the sprawling open ground close to the junction. Talking over the noise of the cranes, an emotional Ranil Wickremesinghe roared: “We are ready to face the elections. Let us have the presidential elections along with the prime ministerial polls.” The crowd cheered, waving flags and carrying placards that read ‘Let us kick out the illegal prime minister appointed by the president. Save democracy’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka is at a crossroads, owing to the political crisis that began on October 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena ousted Wickremesinghe and appointed his former Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) boss, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister. Sirisena dissolved the parliament to hold early elections, but the Supreme Court stayed his order. And, the cranes provide a clue to the apparent bone of contention between allies-turned-foes, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Colombo has been witnessing massive construction in recent years, thanks to the investment by China. So, ports, airports, commercial districts, marinas, malls, hotels, a motor racing track and huge housing projects are being developed in the island nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Mahinda Rajapaksa is solely responsible for the increase in Chinese debts in Sri Lanka,” Wickremesinghe told THE WEEK. He said that the Hambantota harbour project was signed with the Chinese during Rajapaksa’s rule. In 2017, Sri Lanka reportedly had to lease the port to a Chinese company for 99 years, after it failed to pay back the loan. This set off alarm bells in India, the traditional superpower in the Indian Ocean region. While India has been steadily investing in port, airport and other projects, China has muscled its way into the construction and communication industry in Sri Lanka. India fears that Sri Lanka could soon become a Chinese military base.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Chinese debt trap, close to $800 million for just roads and communication other than the $1.5 billion for harbour and other construction activities here, and India’s efforts to hold on to its traditional power in our country are the reasons for the ugly political battle now,” said Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka. The fight between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, he said, is on how to accommodate its neighbour, India, and China, the other Asian giant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickremesinghe’s ouster was preceded by heated arguments in the cabinet over a proposal to grant development projects to China. During his speech in parliament on November 15 as the disputed prime minister, Rajapaksa, too, reiterated that there were “sharp exchanges” in the cabinet over investments, finance and economy. “By October 26, the people of this country were living under enormous pressure,” said Rajapaksa, who quit the SLFP and joined the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). “We saw the president trying to mitigate the damage that was being done to the country by taking steps such as dismissing the UNP’s [Wickremesinghe’s United National Party] economic affairs committee. We heard that there had been sharp exchanges between the president and the prime minister in the cabinet over these issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Owing to the political turmoil, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reportedly put on hold its bailout loan of about $1.5 billion to Sri Lanka. The three-year arrangement, approved in 2016, had a condition that Sri Lanka implement key economic reforms proposed by the IMF. Among the proposals were a fuel pricing formula and tax reforms, which were implemented by former finance minister Mangala Samaraweera. The Rajapaksa government scrapped the formula and introduced changes in the tax reforms. “We have now lost in terms of finance and economy. The president, influenced by the Rajapaksas, is the sole reason for this,” Samaraweera, said to be the second in command in the UNP, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources in the Sri Lankan government confirmed that Rajapaksa’s attempt to grab power was to put Wickremesinghe on the back foot in the fight between India and China over investments in the country. And, he had help from Sirisena. The bonhomie between the two leaders was visible during Rajapaksa’s 73rd birthday celebrations in Colombo on November 18. Hours after the celebrations, an all-party meeting was convened to resolve the crisis. Sources said Sirisena was adamant that the no-confidence motion passed against Rajapaksa was not as per the rules of parliament. “The first clause, indicting the president for dissolving the parliament, was removed in the second motion tabled on November 16. We did this as per his suggestion,” said Vijitha Herath, a senior legislator from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). It was the JVP that brought the no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa both the times in parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second no-confidence motion saw high drama in parliament, with Rajapaksa’s supporters hurling chairs and chilli paste at opposing MPs, the speaker and the police. Sirisena, however, rejected the second no-confidence motion as well. “This is a clear coup to throw us out and bring Mahinda in. The president is for it,” said Samaraveera. At the all-party meet, Sirisena asked for a third vote of no-confidence to be held.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 19, the parliament was adjourned within minutes, as the 225-member house failed to arrive at a consensus to form a committee to draw up the legislature’s agenda. Also, parties opposing Rajapaksa and his SLPP brought in a motion under article 148 of the Sri Lankan constitution proposing to cut off budgetary allocations to the prime minister’s office. The vote on the proposal is scheduled for November 29. “We are living in anarchy. We wish Mahinda will lay down his claim to office and vow allegiance to the democratic principles and the voice of the people,” said Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His family is trying to portray Rajapaksa as “the people’s leader and the true statesman”, if one goes by former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tweet on his brother’s birthday. But Wickremesinghe is not ready to give up without a fight. “Mahinda cannot come back, definitely not after all these episodes,” he said. Calmly and assuredly, he has been gathering forces. The UNP parliamentary group and other like-minded parties like the JVP and TNA, which have a significant majority in parliament, have come together. Wickremesinghe has also found support from his initial detractors. “The only viable leader of this cause at this juncture is Ranil Wickremesinghe. Ranil’s 40-year track record gives other parliamentarians an understanding of his modus operandi, and inspires trust among partners. He is not a backstabber,” said MP Mano Ganesan of the Tamil Progressive Alliance. Wickremesinghe said he had the support of 122 members. Rajapaksa, he said, did not have the numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He [Wickremesinghe] has held his ground, solidified the unity of his parliamentary groups, and received almost unwavering support among the international community,” said Samaraveera. “He received the support of the public by making this a fight about an issue instead of a personality. Our rally at Lipton Circus junction was an example of this. If like-minded citizens continue to rally alongside him, he will win it.”</p> Sat Nov 24 11:54:18 IST 2018 sound-of-silence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>IN FRANCE,</b> the Rafale deal has been described as the contract of the century,” said investigative journalist Antton Rouget of the French online journal Mediapart, which triggered the ongoing controversy with its exposé. In India, people wonder whether the deal is becoming the scandal of the century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Long before piercing the skies of China or Pakistan, Rafale—which means gust or burst, like in machine gun fire—has blasted into the Indian political firmament, propelling the squadrons of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi into combat manoeuvres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, in France, the situation is calm. “Since our revelations, the subject has gradually settled in France,” said Rouget in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK. “There is traditionally an omertà in France on topics related to armament contracts. The deeply entrenched military–industrial lobby is very powerful. There is a lot of money involved and little information is available.”</p> <p>C’est la vie. That’s life in France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>French politicians don’t wrangle if the mighty defence lobby is involved. “Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was minister of defence for former president François Hollande, is a fervent supporter of Rafale,” said Rouget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So there is neither frenzy nor follow up on Mediapart’s revelations. Manufacturers of fighter jets face stiff competition. Jobs, regional communities and economic growth are involved. Dassault Aviation employs 11,400 people, of whom 9,300 are from France. Nobody in France wishes to create turbulence in its aviation industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is French malaise on Dassault’s choice of Anil Ambani's Reliance as the contrepartie. The French language is rich, mellifluous, nuanced and subtle, but it is also tricky because it is textured with innuendo. Contrepartie means compensation, but it can have sly connotations, implying quid pro quo. It can even hint a “mock counterparty”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sudden selection of Reliance was unexpected. “This is all the more surprising since Dassault was—before April 2015 and Modi's brutal change of strategy—in discussion with another partner, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited,” said Rouget. Reliance is seen as politically powerful, financially in debt and embroiled in litigation. “It has no experience in aviation or defence industries. This is risky for Dassault’s international reputation,” said a strategy consultant. The French are proud, even snobbish, about the quality of their top brands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what made Dassault choose an inexperienced partner like Reliance? To “reconstruct the puzzle”, Rouget and his colleague Karl Laske began investigating. They knew Ambani had financed a film co-produced by Hollande's partner, actor Julie Gayet. This, they thought, was the real McCoy, the real contrepartie, the actual trade-off. Ambani’s way to the Rafale contract was through Hollande’s heart!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How much Gayet meant to Hollande is immortalised in a photograph that went viral in January 2014. He was seen riding a scooter with his bodyguard, his helmet strap flying in the wind. Hollande was racing incognito through the streets of Paris for a rendezvous at Gayet’s flat. The beautiful actor is 20 years his junior. The visual evidence of the tryst ended Hollande’s relationship with his official girlfriend, journalist Valérie Trierweiler. Hollande was in a relationship with Trierweiler after he had split with Segolene Royal, a minister in his government with whom he has four children. Not Catholic, but very French.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mediapart’s probing pair met Hollande twice and confronted him with their findings on Ambani funding Gayet’s film. “We asked him whether it was a gift to speed up the negotiations,” said Rouget. “And Hollande said, ‘No, it's not a gift. I did not need to do it since he [Ambani] was imposed on us by the Indian authorities.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hollande defended himself with the now famous quote, “We did not have a choice. We took the interlocutor who was given to us.” That sentence lit a firestorm in India, becoming almost as memorable as Bill Clinton’s infamous denial during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But unlike Clinton, Hollande saved himself, only to corner Modi. “That one of the few people at the heart of these complex discussions say that Reliance has been imposed [on them] has huge implications,” said Rouget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The asymmetry between Dassault and Reliance is, well, absurd. Dassault has delivered over 10,000 military and civilian aircraft in more than 90 countries over the past 90 years. The “shed” in the impressive sounding Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited factory in Nagpur is not exactly buzzing with activity. “We still do not know what components they will make. But they have to make civilian aircraft on site,” said Rouget. On the other hand, uniformed technicians in Dassault’s plant in Argenteuil, 13km northwest of Paris, are busy assembling fuselages for Rafale. This plant has been making fuselages for civilian and military aircraft for 60 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In yet another plant in Biarritz, where aircraft components are made and Rafale aft fuselages and tail fins are assembled, Dassault had arranged for training in manufacturing processes and production methods for a Reliance team. Biarritz is a glitzy, luxurious seaside resort on the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast, luring tourists with its sandy beaches, surfing and casinos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do market trends suggest that the heyday of the military-industry complex is set to wane? Last year, Dassault’s turnover was €4.8 billion. That is peanuts compared with the turnover of the Big Tech companies and small change compared with the turnover of leading French firms—energy conglomerate Total has a turnover of €240 billion, BNP Paribas bank has €130 billion, insurance company AXA has €147 billion and the scandal-hit Société Générale has about €110 billion. It appears to be more profitable to manufacture makeup than fighter jets. French cosmetics firm L’Oréal has a turnover that is six times bigger than Dassault’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, right now, the defence lobby is strong in the Parisian corridors of power. France has gone quiet on Rafale, in stark contrast to India, where a battle royale is being waged. Insults fly between the “commander in thief” and the “clown prince”. Rhetoric inflames as elections near. "The polemics are sad, but we are serene,” said Dassault chief executive officer Éric Trappier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Dassault's view, “Combat aviation is the most strategic weapon.” That is true in military battles. In political warfare, a combat aviation scandal is an even more powerful weapon.</p> Sat Nov 17 16:20:24 IST 2018 tropical-trump <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BRAZIL, THE LARGEST</b> country in Latin America, endowed with abundant natural and human resources, had come close to realising its potential to be a great power many times in the past. But, the boom was followed by a bust. The last time Brazil was on the top of the world was during the golden years of Lula Inacio Lula da Silva's presidency from 2003 to 2010. From the heyday of socialism, Brazil has taken a right turn by electing Jair Bolsonaro as president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The election of Lula in 2002 was a historic moment for Brazil. He was a leftist who put workers and the poor on top of his socialist agenda. Yet, he turned out to be a darling of the businesses, too. He transformed Brazil with his Brasilia Consensus model of a balanced mix of pro-poor and business-friendly policies. Lula challenged the US hegemony in Latin America and killed the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas. He even tried to mediate in the issue of US sanctions on Iran. Such measures caused alarm bells to ring in the American deep state, which started plotting to stop Lula, Brazil and the Latin American left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lula finished his second term with the highest approval ratings, and got his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff elected as president. But Rousseff lacked Lula's political skills. Moreover, the leaders of the Workers' Party succumbed to hubris and became corrupt. Rouseff was impeached for fudging the budget, while Lula was jailed in what was effectively a judicial coup led by Sergio Moro, a US-trained judge. The constitutional and judicial coups succeeded in instigating the public. This led to protests—some spontaneous and others sponsored—in the streets and on social media in the last three years. Bolsonaro capitalised on the voters’ disillusionment and managed to win the election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro has been a long-time congressman, who loves to glorify past military dictatorships and the atrocities they committed. He thinks they did not kill enough people. He once even spoke about eliminating all socialists and communists. According to Hamilton Mourao, his vice president-elect who is a former general, coups are justified if circumstances warranted those. Bolsonaro himself is a former army captain, and he plans to fill his cabinet and top administrative positions with generals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro is likely to bring back the Washington Consensus [a set of free market economic policies supported by prominent economic institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury] and reverse Lula's resource nationalism [an attempt by a state to exert greater control over its natural resources]. His nomination of Paulo Guedes, an economist trained at the University of Chicago as his finance minister, has confirmed that he will be following neoliberal policies. The pro-poor policies initiated by Lula would suffer budget cuts. Bolsonaro’s solution for poverty is “birth control of the poor”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro favours relaxing gun laws. He could give law enforcement officers power to kill drug traffickers and criminals extrajudicially. He proposes to relax environment regulations to open up the Amazon forest for farming and mining. He has even talked about pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Under his administration, the protection for indigenous people and minorities could be reduced. Bolsonaro is likely to implement the agenda of the evangelicals, who gave him solid support, on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Bolsonaro, however, does not have a congressional majority. His Social Liberal Party has just 52 seats in the 513-member lower house of Congress and four seats in the 81-member senate. This could act as a check on his agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With his anachronistic and hate-filled approach, Bolsonaro could turn Brazil back into the bad old country of polarisation. Women, blacks, gays and leftists may become second-class citizens and subject to military style rightist rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro's victory, however, should not be seen as the end of the Workers' Party. Its candidate got 45 per cent of the votes in the presidential elections, despite the corruption scandals and the short campaign time the party got after Lula’s candidature was rejected by the courts. If Lula was allowed to contest, he might have won as he was consistently leading the opinion polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Known as Tropical Trump, Bolsonaro admires and often imitates the abusive and vulgar language of the US president. He is likely to follow Donald Trump's lead in foreign policy. With his “Brazil First” policy, he has ridiculed the UN as a gathering place of communists, and has threatened to pull out from the world body. He abhors multilateral and global commitments and prefers bilateral deals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has promised to shift the Brazilian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and close down the Palestine office in Brasilia. He would happily support the US attempts to change the chavista regime in Venezuela. It may be recalled that it was because of Lula's support that Hugo Chavez survived the 2002 coup attempt and continued in power till his death in 2013.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro is likely to undermine regional alliances such as UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). Guedes has already stated that Mercosur (the customs union of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) would not be a priority for Brazil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro will pay the least attention to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He snubbed China during his campaign by making a trip to Taiwan. China has invested over $60 billion in Brazil and has extended a credit of more than $40 billion. Bolsonaro has criticised the Chinese acquisition of Brazilian assets. China is Brazil's largest trading partner and export market. In 2017, Brazil's exports to China were worth $47 billion as against $27 billion to the US. It enjoyed a trade surplus of $20 billion with China in 2017. Bolsonaro cannot afford a trade war with China, which can hurt Brazil by cutting imports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, which has been cultivating Brazil as a strategic partner for the past two decades, should not have big expectations from Bolsonaro. Even before Bolsonaro, presidents Rousseff and Michel Temer had lowered Brazil’s international profile because of their domestic problems. As a result, proactive collaboration with India on global issues had come down. Bolsonaro is unlikely to work hard on IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). India, however, should look at Brazil beyond Bolsonaro, and adopt a wait and watch policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the moment, India should focus more on economic diplomacy. Brazil is the biggest economy in Latin America and India's largest business partner in the region with bilateral trade of $8.6 billion in 2017-18. With the pro-business Bolsonaro administration, the economy and the market could improve after years of corruption scandals, political crisis and economic recession. Consequent to the indictment of large companies such as Petrobras, Odebrecht and JBS in corruption cases, infrastructure and investment had been affected. Now these companies and projects could flourish again. Recently, Indian companies such as Sterlite and Sterling have entered Brazil's infrastructure sector with contracts worth billions of dollars. There is going to be more business and greater opportunities for Indian companies in Brazil in the coming years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a former ambassador to Latin American countries.</b></p> Sat Nov 17 16:18:50 IST 2018 twist-in-the-isle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON NOVEMBER 14,</b> when the Sri Lankan parliament reconvened after the Supreme Court nullified the president’s dissolution order, newly sworn-in Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa walked in with an uneasy smile. It turned out to be a day of high drama in the 225-member house. Slogans supporting and opposing Rajapaksa were raised repeatedly. Foreign diplomats and journalists could be seen waiting for the proceedings to begin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The session began with the introduction of a motion to suspend the standing orders to dissolve the parliament. Apart from ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party, opposition groups such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, All Ceylon Makkal Congress and the Tamil Progressive Alliance voted in favour of the motion, which was moved by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran. Some MPs from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), too, joined them. As it became clear that the motion to suspend the standing orders was approved, Rajapaksa walked out quietly. Later, 122 MPs signed the no-confidence motion against him. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya confirmed that the motion was passed. “Copies of the motion and the signatures are being sent to the president for necessary action,” he said. Wickremesinghe thus managed to retain the support of the same number of MPs who voted for him during a no-confidence motion in April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a victory for democracy. Rajapaksa must step down as he does not have majority support in the parliament,” UNP deputy leader and MP Sajith Premadasa told THE WEEK. He said the president should name the prime minister from the majority party. Wickremesinghe, too, expressed confidence about the UNP’s return to power. “We will ensure that the government which was in place before October 26 continues,” said Wickremesinghe in a statement. He asked government servants and the police not to carry out orders from the “purported government that has failed to demonstrate the confidence of the people”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Rajapaksa lost the vote of confidence, his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is confident that he will make a comeback. On November 11, Rajapaksa ended his 50-year-long association with the SLFP and joined the SLPP, which was floated by his supporters last year. “We have faith. The Supreme Court will be fair and this government will move forward with Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister,” said S.B. Dissanayake, an SLFP MP, and a staunch Rajapaksa supporter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The UNP, meanwhile, is hopeful of Wickremesinghe making a comeback or nominating someone in his place to take over as prime minister. According to sources, Premadasa could be a likely replacement as he is popular among party cadres. Wickremesinghe, too, might agree to let Premadasa replace him. “It is for the president to decide. The chaos and crisis began with him,” said Selvam Adaikalanathan, a senior MP from the TNA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recent political turmoil began on October 26, after Rajapaksa got a call from President Maithripala Sirisena. The president wanted Rajapaksa, his former boss, to replace Wickremesinghe as prime minister. Rajapaksa was sworn in a few hours later. Wickremesinghe, however, refused to oblige, forcing Rajapaksa to set up office on Colombo’s Flower Road, and leaving Sri Lanka with two prime ministers. Wickremesinghe continued to function from the official Temple Trees residence.</p> <p>After realising that Wickremesinghe still had majority support, Sirisena issued an order to prorogue the parliament till November 16, giving Rajapaksa time to win over MPs. As it failed to work, Sirisena dissolved the parliament on November 9, and announced fresh elections to be held on January 5. That gamble, however, backfired as the Supreme Court vetoed the decision and Rajapaksa was subsequently ousted by the parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Supreme Court’s order is a great victory for all those forces in Sri Lanka and anywhere else in the world who believe in constitution and free and fair functioning of a democracy,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, founder and executive director of the Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives. “The president cannot dissolve the parliament till the court’s final orders. He can prorogue the parliament, but cannot dissolve it,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the court’s interim order was a shot in the arm for the UNP, Rajapaksa’s return seems imminent as Sirisena wants him back. Feeling threatened by Wickremesinghe, who often took major decisions without consulting him, Sirisena went back to his former leader. According to highly placed sources in the parliament, it was Sirisena who mooted the idea of bringing Rajapaksa back. Although Sirisena and Rajapaksa have been in talks over the past few months, the sudden invitation to be sworn in as prime minister shocked even members of the Rajapaksa camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They had at least four meetings since February, after Rajapaksa won the civic polls,” said a senior MP. “The talks picked up pace after Rajapaksa’s brother Basil got involved. It took proper shape after Rajapaksa visited India,” he said. Other sources confirmed that it was Basil who took the lead in taking the talks forward. Rajapaksa’s son Namal was another key player. Most of the meetings were held at his office-cum-residence in Colombo’s Toronto Avenue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What worked further against Wickremesinghe was the perception that he was close to India. A few weeks before he dismissed Wickremesinghe, Sirisena had allegedly said the Research and Analysis Wing was involved in a plot to assassinate him. Sirisena later denied having made the charge, and even called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and spoke about the friendly ties between the two countries. “All these happened only because he felt threatened by Wickremesinghe’s decisions,” said Adaikalanathan. Sirisena was also worried about the failing economy and the bank bond scam, which he felt was spoiling his image. It made him explore the possibility of joining hands with Rajapaksa once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court’s intervention has come as a major challenge for Rajapaksa and Sirisena. “The interim stay has upset everything,” said a senior SLPP leader. The Rajapaksa camp, however, is confident of a comeback as the court has issued only an interim stay. The final orders are awaited in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajapaksa supporters also challenged the manner in which the no-confidence motion was passed. “This is not democracy,” said Namal. “The voting was not done properly.” Rajapaksa supporters are confident that their leader has the edge if the country goes to elections. Namal and other SLPP members have repeatedly challenged UNP leaders to hold fresh elections.</p> <p>Sri Lanka, meanwhile, is facing a constitutional vacuum as it does not have a prime minister. It is up to Sirisena to name a new prime minister and restore confidence among the people of the island nation. His actions in the next few days will determine whether Sri Lanka will return to normalcy or descend into further political chaos.</p> Sat Nov 17 16:17:44 IST 2018 after-india-there-is-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b><i>India-Nepal relations are defined with a lot of cliches, but where do we stand right now?</i></b></p> <p>India-Nepal relations cannot be measured within the parameters of diplomacy and politics. They encompass a shared culture, economics and a common way of life.</p> <p><i><b>As a developing country which is just becoming a functional democracy, what are the aspirations of Nepal?</b></i></p> <p>We aspire to first establish and stabilise the federal democratic republic. Secondly, Nepal is a country of diversity in geography, religion, ethnicity and language. We have to recognise these identities and address the problems of the various groups, to unify all.</p> <p>Nepal is economically one of the least developed nations and we have economic aspirations. We have resources—hydro, tourism, agriculture—but they need to be developed.</p> <p><i><b>What are your expectations from India?</b></i></p> <p>India is our nearest neighbour and very closely related to us. Our life and future is together, so we have to move forward together for economic development. We have to be better developmental partners. We have hydro resources, India needs power. India has large lands, we have water for irrigation. Our cooperation needs to pick up pace. We need to pick up pace. We need to discuss the technical issues or financial issues that are slowing us down.</p> <p><i><b>How do you define your relationship with China?</b></i></p> <p>After India, there is China.</p> <p>We have very good diplomatic relations with China. However, the dynamics we have with India are not there with China. We have an open border with India, there is a visa policy with China. Relations between India and China have improved vastly since the 1960s, and that is good for Nepal. If we all work together, our entire region will thrive.</p> <p><i><b>There is a perception that Nepal is leaning closer to China.</b></i></p> <p>When I go to India, I hear that Nepal is getting close to China. What I hear in China is exactly the opposite. In China, they even confuse us sometimes with Indians.</p> <p><i><b>Why did Nepal pull back from the BIMSTEC military exercise?</b></i></p> <p>That was a very small incident, it was not a definer of relations between two close countries. We sent observers, like Thailand did. Our internal preparations to participate in the exercise were not in place. We were not against the exercise, we simply weren't ready. This is what the prime minister told me.</p> <p><i><b>What are Nepal's expectations from China?</b></i></p> <p>Nepal is landlocked, it has only two options, India and China. Between China and Nepal, right now there is only one road, the Kathmandu- Lhasa highway, which is in bad shape after the 2015 earthquake. We would like China's help in connectivity and infrastructure development.</p> <p>Mr Modi has assured us that the rail link from India will come to Kathmandu very soon. China has also proposed a 78km rail link to Kathmandu. The day we have one train arriving from India and another from China, Nepal will be a connectivity hub. But this will not be easy. I do not see it happening in our generation.</p> <p>China has offered its ports to us, but the closest Chinese port is 3,000 km away, Kolkata [less than 1,000 km away] remains the best option.</p> <p><i><b>China cancelled some hydro electric projects with Nepal recently.</b></i></p> <p>Yes, the Chinese cancelled the Seti and Budhi-Gandaki projects [the latter has been reissued to another Chinese firm]. They could not complete the works in time, so the companies decided to withdraw. They say the Nepal government did not co operate, Nepal says they failed to complete their task.</p> <p><i><b>Does Nepal feel threatened by India?</b></i></p> <p>Those who are closer to each other expect more from each other. These expectations may sometimes cause confusion. India has played a very vital role in establishing democracy in Nepal.</p> <p><i><b>Your party, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, was against the constitution initially. Now you are part of the government. Have the issues been resolved?</b></i></p> <p>Not yet. The constitution and the new constituencies are not adequately representative of the Madhesis, or the indigineous communities like Limbus, Gurungs, Sherpas and Tamangs. We decided to participate in the government on the assurance that these issues will be resolved once the constitution is amended.</p> <p>The government is enacting laws to implement the constitution. Then, we will begin work on the laws for amending the constitution.</p> <p><i><b>India was accused of interefering in the constitution-making process two years ago.</b></i></p> <p>When there is a problem in the Terai, it affects India, as it is an open border. It is natural that India will show interest then. To suggest something for the betterment is not interference, to my mind.</p> <p><i><b>But Mr Oli thought so.</b></i></p> <p>That was a political move to work upon a vote bank. First, to create an anti-Indian sentiment, then to cash in on that. This happens even in India and Pakistan politics.</p> <p>But after elections, those who raised these slogans are partnering with India, and even India reciprocated. These are vote bank politics and India knows that.</p> <p><i>What is the future you see for Nepal at the end of your term.</i></p> <p>In Nepalese politics is unpredictable. So, though we hope to complete the term, you can never tell. I hope that we achieve political stability and begin the starting of economic development.</p> <p><i><b>What is Nepal's foreign policy focus?</b></i></p> <p>India and China are superpowers, we cannot compare with either. Nepal is sandwiched between these two, and for its safety, as well as development, we have to maintain neutrality. It is true that in practice, the people to people ties are are stronger with India, and we are also more reliant on India, but it is our compulsion to maintain neutrality.</p> <p>But Nepal's foreign policy is not restricted to India and China. Nepal has better relations with SAARC members than even India, we have no conflict with any country. We strongly feel that SAARC should be revived as a regional body. See how successful other regional bodies like the Arab League, European Union and African Union have been. But SAARC hasn't succeeded beyond the ritual of summits largely because India and Pakistan bring their bilateral issues into the organisation, even though SAARC is clear that such matters should be kept out of it. Pakistan suggested that China should become a member, and there was further confusion.</p> Sat Nov 10 16:03:45 IST 2018 tectonic-shift <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The road outside Thamel, Kathmandu’s happening tourist district, is so dusty that it could be mistaken for a dirt track in a village, were it not for the ceaseless traffic. It was dug up for a drinking water pipeline a few months ago, the patch-up job was slapdash. Locals say no amount of complaining to the authorities will make a difference. They need Modiji to visit the city. “Overnight, the area will become first class,” they say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is buzz in Kathmandu that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning another visit. This has the city agog, but not all in the same way. While some are excited, others are suspicious about the frequency of his visits (four so far). In this Himalayan capital, Modi is both knight-in-shining-armour and villain of the piece. He is the hero who brought in reciprocity in bilateral relations, being the first Indian prime minister in 17 years to visit Kathmandu. But he is also that fairy-tale ogre who snuffed out kitchen fires during the bleak winter of 2015, leaving children to starve in the cold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhav Nepal, former prime minister and senior member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), blames Modi for having first got the pulse of Nepalis, and then, hurting their sentiments. “To deal with Nepal, you have to understand the Nepali mindset, and Modiji did that initially, when he visited in 2015 and said exactly what Nepalis wanted to hear. That we are a sovereign state,” he says. “Then, India did just the opposite when the issue of the constitution came up, and even blockaded supplies. There is bound to be trust deficit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a funny paradox we see in Nepal. It aspires to style itself on the Indian template—from buying a Bollywood-style lehenga to coveting a job in a Bengaluru-based software firm. But India bashing is as stylish. For instance, some refuse to speak Hindi because Indians do not bother to learn Nepali. India is blamed for everything, from ending the monarchy to causing the rout of the Nepali Congress. Occasionally, an incident sparks off a bigger fire. Several decades ago, an ill-informed comment by actor Dharmendra resulted in his films being banned in Nepal. Old-timers recall coming to the other side of the border to watch Sholay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Suspicion of the Indian state at present is so high that Nepalese are even wary of the recently launched South Asian satellite, which India gifted its neighbourhood. You want to spy on us, was the reaction one Indian educator got. The recent round of India bashing is more vitriolic, as it is thriving on a vicious circle of politicians and public pandering to each other’s sentiments. Furthermore, this time, the dragon has entered the storyline. Om Thapa, entrepreneur and CEO of Bizmandu, an online portal, says the blockade of 2015 was a watershed. “Kathmandu realised how it could be choked by India. That was when we began scrambling for alternatives, and China is the only other option. Memories of those weeks will not go away soon,’’ he says. But he knows China is only an alternative, not the mainstay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the angry Nepali is keenly aware that China sent less than a dozen oil tankers during the crisis, a drop in the ocean of need. China subsequently opened three ports to Nepal, offering more, if needed. But, Nepal knows its geography. The cost of docking cargo in a port 3,000km away, transporting it through harsh mountainous terrain and bringing it in through a seasonal road may be feasible, but neither cost effective nor viable. Deep Kumar Upadhyay, former Nepalese ambassador to India, says, “We need supplies 365 days a year, we do not have storage capacities. The routes through China are prone to mountainslides.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many Nepalese like to tell India that if they share boundaries of 22 districts with India, they also have a vast common boundary with China. Reality check: These districts are thinly populated, unlike the Terai. After the 2015 earthquake, China closed an entry to Nepal at Tatopani, blaming damage by the temblor. Insiders say China could have quickly repaired the damage but was looking for an excuse to close the gate as it suspected Tibetans of using it for entering India. Whatever the reason, the incident went unnoticed in Kathmandu; it had not affected life in any way. “Compare that with what happened when the route from India closed, and you know the difference,” says Bishnu Rijal, central committee member, NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is playing the friendlier neighbourhood card to the hilt. Everywhere there are advertisements for Mandarin courses; these come with lucrative scholarships, free classes and even all-expenses-paid tours to China. At any given time, there are delegations of mediapersons, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs or politicians in China on invitation. China Aid logos, and the Chinese flag, are prominent across several heritage sites where China is rebuilding. The Chinese envoy in Nepal, Yu Hong, is a visible face in Kathmandu, her public outreach always in the media eye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Add to this certain political decisions of the Nepal government, and the China tilt is obvious. Though Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli did make Delhi his first port of call after being sworn in, he took his time, setting off talk about his intentions. A dash to China soon after did not go unnoticed. Oli, who came to power on an anti-India rhetoric, likes to highlight the balance of trade and slow progress of projects with India as speed breakers in the relationship. “However, he is grappling with similar problems with China, too, which he does not openly articulate,” says Upadhyay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China walked out of two projects, West Seti and Budhi Gandaki hydropower projects, blaming Nepal. Oli handed back the latter to the same Chinese firm recently, and Nepali parliamentarians themselves are questioning why. The Bhairahawa airport, given to a Chinese firm in 2013 for upgrading, is not yet ready, neither is the Pokhara one, started in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Oli’s visit to Beijing this summer resulted in the two agreeing to a railway link between Tibet and Kathmandu, calling it the “most significant initiative in the history of their bilateral cooperation”. The timeline for the train to Kathmandu is seven years. The railway will be a marvel of engineering, given that the elevation of Xigatse in Tibet is 4,500m above sea level and Kathmandu is much lower at 1,400m. Most of the 78km will be through tunnels in the seismically unstable mountainous area. While there are few doubts on China’s ability to build, there are questions on financing and on the likely volume of traffic on the route. “The Chinese are pucca vyaparis [typical businesspersons]. They will look at profits,” says Upadhyay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, in the last five years, India has done more for Nepal’s infrastructure than ever before. It made a commitment of $1.35 billion, which include roads (500km), housing, hydro projects and rail links. Two rail links are ready to be thrown open anytime now—Jaynagar-Kurtha (35km) and Jogbani-Biratnagar (8km). Oli himself requested for a Raxaul-Kathmandu rail link recently, which is being planned. An integrated checkpost at Biratnagar, funded by India, will open next year; two more, Nepalganj and Bhairahawa, are being worked on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources in the external affairs ministry say dollar to dollar comparisons with China are unwarranted, India’s outreach is unique, the work will speak for itself. “Politics apart, we have developed expertise that we want to share with partners, and we are keen on timely delivery of our projects,” said an official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nepal’s decision of not sending troops for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) military exercise is perceived as another defiance against India. Explanations for this are plenty. One story says Oli was caught by surprise when Modi announced the exercise without consulting him. Some say he withdrew because he was unsettled by the warm welcome former Nepal prime minister Prachanda received from Modi when he visited India. Some say Oli had not consulted parliament and was pressured to withdraw. The fact that three Nepal army officers were already in India to discuss the exercise shows the confusion within Nepal. “We should not have been ambiguous in our response. Nepal has not done a regional exercise before, it is true. We should be clear on our foreign policy. In India, even the opposition is one when it comes to foreign policy,” rues Madhav Nepal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Misunderstandings between us are natural, [but] they will never last long,” says Nepali Congress leader Sujata Koirala. “India should not get perturbed every time we have dealings with China. It is natural for us to want to prosper in China’s growth story. It should not be seen as an either/or option.” Koirala adds that the “so called Chinese influence has always existed in Nepal, without affecting ties with India”. She remembers trekking in mountain districts as a young girl and spending nights with locals. “They all had pictures of Mao Zedong on their walls,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajan Bhattarai, member of Nepal India Eminent Persons Group, says, “When India works at improving ties with China, it is fine. Why is there concern then when we do business with them? We are a sovereign nation, we can choose to have ties with any country. Rest assured, we will not let Nepal be used against another neighbour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The trust deficit needs to be addressed,” says Madhav Nepal. “We need to be honest with each other, to be aware of our sensitivities. The United Nations treats all countries on par. We expect that treatment.” He recalls the time when, after the monarchy was overthrown, there was talk of the United Nations sending a peacekeeping force to Nepal. “I was against it, I am glad I prevailed. We had our problems, we sorted them ourselves. This is what the people of Nepal want.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ordinary Nepali knows that learning Mandarin has limited scope—communicating with Chinese tourists and businessmen. There are no jobs in China beckoning them. India, on the other hand, is that land where you can rise to top positions, Major General Gopal Gurung, a serving officer in the Indian Army, being the best example.</p> Sat Nov 10 15:53:37 IST 2018 delhi-must-dally <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>INDIA HAS ONLY</b> one option available in Sri Lanka: wait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry of external affairs took more than 24 hours to issue a brief statement on the political turmoil in Colombo. The statement, cautious and bland, made one thing clear: India has to patiently watch things unfold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India is closely following the political developments in Sri Lanka,” said Raveesh Kumar, the ministry’s spokesperson. “As a democracy and a close, friendly neighbour, we hope that democratic values and the constitutional process will be respected. We will continue to extend our developmental assistance to the friendly people of Sri Lanka.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has found itself at the centre of a rather messy situation. There were reports that President Maithripala Sirisena had alleged during a cabinet meeting that India’s Research and Analysis Wing was plotting his assassination. Though Sirisena promptly denied the reports in a phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the timing of the allegation should have alerted India. It was on the eve of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s India visit. India, and Wickremesinghe himself, did not expect that his ouster would be so quick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to wait and watch,” said Captain Alok Bansal, director, India Foundation. “We want to have good relations with everyone. The government of India’s stance that democratic traditions and stability must be maintained is very important. It is an issue for [Sri Lanka’s] parliament, and it must be convened soon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tensions have been simmering in Sri Lanka. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, who joined hands to form the unity government in 2015, had not been seeing eye to eye on several issues. Wickremesinghe had tried to favour India in awarding projects; he recently gave India a low-cost housing project in Jaffna that had earlier been awarded to China. Sirisena was not enthused about his prime minister’s India tilt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickremesinghe’s statement after his return from India showed that the rift would not be easily bridged. He said Modi was disappointed over the slow progress of India-sponsored projects in Sri Lanka. The statement hinted that the blame lay squarely on Sirisena. That India emerged as a point of conflict in their battle is at the heart of why New Delhi seems to have lost its footing in Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s much-hyped ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy is now in disarray. With the exception of Bangladesh, India has lost the goodwill of its neighbours. Ties with Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives are far from warm. Even in Bhutan, India has lost its standing. “The crisis is very deep,” said a former R&amp;AW officer. “We need to reflect as to where we went so wrong.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Sri Lanka, India has neither been able to capitalise on its relationship with pro-India leaders, nor been able to win over the opposition. The possibility of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, staging a comeback has been talked about since February, when his party won the local polls by a landslide. But India, at its own expense, is perceived to have allied itself firmly with Wickremesinghe. It is this perception of India having a favourite that has cost it friendships across the political spectrum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In contrast, China has played its cards well. Its financial power and Buddhist heritage have helped China become the most influential player in Sri Lanka. The handing over of the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease last year, to offset Sri Lanka’s debt in the project, is a classic example of how Lankan politicians have been unable to strike a balance in its ties with neighbours. India, which had declined the port development project when it was first offered by Sri Lanka, chose to mitigate the setback by buying the loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport near Hambantota for a whopping $210 million.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Doval doctrine has failed,” said Satish Misra, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation. “The national security adviser is overly security-conscious. He looks at everything as a conspiracy.... This has been the entire approach in dealing with our neighbours, which is why this government is hopping from one crisis to another.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has made overtures to Rajapaksa. Last year, during his Sri Lanka visit, Modi met Rajapaksa at the latter’s request. In September, Rajapaksa came to India with Namal Rajapaksa, his son and heir apparent, and met Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government has favoured track-II diplomacy—in which trusted, RSS-backed think tanks play a key role—in reaching out to neighbours. But playing the Hindu card in a Buddhist-dominated country like Sri Lanka has been unwise. “It has not worked in Nepal either,” pointed out Misra. “Conducting diplomacy through a religious prism does not get you any benefit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is, has India lost the plot completely? “We should not get into this trap of writing off people as pro-India or pro-China. It is far too simplistic,” said Ashok K. Kantha, former high commissioner to Sri Lanka. “In neighbouring countries, there are certain ground realities; whichever dispensation is in power, they respect those realities. We have certain interests which they are aware of. Change in the government does not mean those ground realities change, or that our interests change. We have to work with the government of the day. We can do that. We do not play favourites.”</p> Sat Nov 03 17:09:25 IST 2018 marriage-of-convenience <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RANIL WICKREMESINGHE</b> was at a mosque in the southwestern Galle district when he got the letter informing him that he was prime minister no more. President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa on October 26, a few days after Wickremesinghe returned from a trip to India. Rajapaksa was at a wedding when Sirisena called him up, asking him to take charge at the earliest. After having had four meetings with Sirisena in the past two months, Rajapaksa was prepared. He readily agreed, while a defiant Wickremesinghe called the move unconstitutional and vowed to put up a fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sirisena said an assassination plot against him—which apparently involved a cabinet minister—and several grave charges against Wickremesinghe forced him to sack the prime minister. In an address to the nation on October 28, Sirisena blamed Wickremesinghe of supporting corruption, planning to give away land to foreigners and of taking decisions without consulting him. “Under these political problems, economic troubles and the strong plot to assassinate me, the only alternative open to me was to invite former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and appoint him as prime minister,” said Sirisena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The move was not entirely surprising as Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have never been natural allies. They joined hands in 2015 to oust Rajapaksa, who was then a common foe. Sirisena and Rajapaksa were members of the nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), while Wickremesinghe headed the liberal United National Party (UNP). In the 2015 presidential elections, Sirisena formed an alliance with Wickremesinghe, defeated Rajapaksa, and took over the leadership of the SLFP. Wickremesinghe was appointed prime minister. The two leaders set up a national unity government, bringing together the SLFP and UNP, two rival political parties whose ideology and governance styles were poles apart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a year, cracks began to appear in the coalition. Veteran SLFP members were never really comfortable about the alliance, and many of them continued to maintain close ties with Rajapaksa. There was pressure on Sirisena to abandon Wickremesinghe and ally with Rajapaksa’s newly-floated Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) especially after 16 members of the SLFP left to join Rajapaksa, following the SLPP’s victory in the local government elections held in February.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central bank bond scam that cost the country billions of rupees tarnished the image of the UNP, which controlled key ministries, including finance. Wickremesinghe, who hitherto had a squeaky clean image, came under suspicion after he appointed Arjuna Mahendran, a Singaporean national of Sri Lankan origin, as governor of the central bank. Mahendran allegedly leaked inside information to a company owned by his son-in-law. Wickremesinghe reportedly delayed action against Mahendran, allowing him to escape to Singapore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the unity government got embroiled in controversies, Rajapaksa used them to consolidate his position. Although Wickremesinghe managed to defeat a no-confidence motion moved by Rajapaksa supporters in April, he might find it difficult to repeat the feat, under the changed circumstances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickremesinghe may find that he has fewer allies after Sirisena prorogued the parliament till November 16, ostensibly to give Rajapaksa time to win over more legislators. On the day he was dismissed, Wickremesinghe had the support of 106 MPs, but the numbers seem to be dwindling with each passing day. On October 30, the five-member All Ceylon Makkal Congress announced its support for Rajapaksa. Ananda Aluthgamage, the first UNP MP to switch over to the Rajapaksa side, said 20 more MPs were ready to support Rajapaksa. The Tamil National Alliance led by R. Sampanthan is also weighing its options. Sampanthan called on Rajapaksa on October 30, but the TNA, which has 16 MPs, has not revealed its cards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickremesinghe told journalists that he still enjoyed majority in parliament and was still the prime minister. He has the support of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who asked Sirisena to allow Wickremesinghe to stay on as prime minister until another person could prove his majority. He also asked the president to convene the parliament at the earliest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the debate on Sirisena’s constitutional powers to sack or appoint a prime minister without the consent of the parliament continues, it will be advantage Rajapaksa with each passing day. After the 19th amendment to the constitution, the prime minister enjoys significant powers in governance, and, for Rajapaksa, who was president for a decade, it would largely be a familiar role. As prime minister, he will be able to get more MPs who want a share of power. And, the MPs are unlikely to miss the fact that the Rajapaksa family and the SLPP are the favourites to win the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the majority Sinhalese see Rajapaksa as the man who tamed the Tamil Tigers and brought an end to the long-drawn civil war, the Tamils are worried about his return. Plantation workers in the Tamil-dominated Vavuniya district had planned a strike on October 27, demanding a wage hike. It was the day after Rajapaksa took charge as prime minister, and only a few turned up for the protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The fear is coming back,” said M. Nilanthan, a political columnist from Jaffna. “In the past four years, there was a space for Tamils to protest and to register their voices. Now we doubt whether the space will continue to exist,” he said. Human rights activists agree. Brad Adams, executive director of the Asian division of Human Rights Watch, said Rajapaksa’s return without any justice being done for the past crimes had raised concerns. “This only reopens the door for past abusers to return to terrible practices at a time when war victims have still not got justice,” Adams said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tamils supported Sirisena as they hoped his victory would mean the end of the road for Rajapaksa. With Sirisena bringing him back, they feel the trust has been betrayed. “Sirisena is bringing back to power the man who terrorised us,” said Sandya, wife of missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda. “When we campaigned for Sirisena in 2015, we talked against the politics of fear and repression,” she said. Even the officials from the Northern Province are worried. Ananthy Sasitharan, a minister in the Northern Province government, said while the Sirisena government did not fulfil their hopes, the Tamils had a space to speak out. “Under Rajapaksa, who always sails on the triumph of war, we cannot expect any justice,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajapaksa will continue to face international pressure because of his human rights records, but it will only make him and Sirisena more popular among Sinhala nationalists. Speaking to foreign envoys on October 30, Sirisena said they did not know the pulse of the Sri Lankan people. He said the constitution had provisions which allowed him to sack the prime minister. Wickremesinghe, too, held a meeting with foreign diplomats. The geopolitical game surrounding the power struggle is also getting interesting as India, Canada, the US, the EU and the UK have asked for constitutional provisions to be respected, while China was quick to welcome Rajapaksa back.</p> Sat Nov 03 17:08:36 IST 2018 dead-men-tell-no-tales <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER MEANDERING</b> in a swelter of high drama for almost a month, the curious case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder on October 2 in Istanbul is heading for a tame denouement. The heart of the matter is that Saudi Arabia is far too wealthy and important as an oil producing country and as leader of the Muslim world that no one wants to antagonise it, or destabilise it.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As speculation rose to a crescendo, there was heightened interest about a speech in the Turkish parliament that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to make on October 23, where he promised to disclose the “naked truth” about the murder. Yet the platter he served had a bit of many things, but nothing definitive. Erdogan’s message to the Saudis was something like this: ‘I am not buying your story, try again; this was a pre-meditated murder and so, who ordered it?’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Turkey appears to have had its say, and Saudi Arabia is keen to seize the initiative. In the run up to Erdogan’s speech, he had spoken twice with King Salman of Saudi Arabia and also with President Donald Trump. A Turkish readout said, “Erdogan and Trump agreed the Khashoggi case needs to be cleared up with all aspects.” On the day before Erdogan spoke, CIA Director Gina Haspel flew into Turkey to meet the high officials and “assess the strength of the evidence that Turkish officials have”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Evidently, Erdogan has had to take into account US concerns in the matter. And, his speech turned out to be rather heavily pixelated. He narrated more or less what is in the public domain already, that Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate at the hands of a 15-member team that came from Saudi Arabia. The pixel-like patches blurred the image and whether it was intentional or accidental, the net impression is that his speech hung suspended in the air without any conclusive end. It seemed to satisfy Riyadh, though. The Saudi cabinet met soon after Erdogan’s speech, chaired by King Salman, to vow that Saudi Arabia will hold to account those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing and those who failed in their duties, whoever they are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Khashoggi affair has become an issue of the US-Turkey-Saudi triangle. The European countries are bit players who will ultimately follow the American lead, while Russia and China are calmly waiting in the wings with no inclination whatsoever to wade into the affair. They prefer to take advantage of the emergent situation, no matter which way it took. Therefore, much of the uncertainty in the past four weeks stemmed from the fact that the US-Turkey-Saudi triangle itself became very unstable with each of the three protagonists having their own considerations while none of them happens to be on the best of terms bilaterally with the other two. This needs some explaining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although notionally allies, the US’s relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been in serious disrepair in the recent years. Succinctly put, trust has broken down. Following the Arab Spring and the Barack Obama administration’s “pivot” strategy in Asia, Saudi Arabia began doubting the American commitment to the compact forged between president Franklin D. Roosevelt and king Abdul Aziz in 1945 that laid the foundation for US-Saudi relationship, whereby, US gained access to the vast Saudi oil reserves and the Saudis remained within America’s sphere of interest in lieu of arms and security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the advent of shale industry is positioning the US as a leading global competitor in oil exports. This has nudged the Saudis to close ranks with Russia in stabilising the world oil market on their terms as two energy superpowers with shared interest in steady and appreciably high oil prices. In his UN General Assembly speech in September, Trump alluded to this Saudi-Russian collusion while making some caustic remarks about the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Then, there is the underlying friction over the Saudi Aramco initial public offering (IPO), which is estimated to be worth $2 trillion. Trump pushed hard for the Saudis listing at the New York Stock Exchange, but they apprehend that families affected by the 9/11 attacks might claim huge damages and the IPO might become hostage to litigation. Deep down, Saudis have also opted for a “Look East” policy to strengthen their relations with Russia and China, which are currently in the American crosshairs as “revisionist powers”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, major differences have cropped up between the US and Turkey through the past seven years of the Syrian conflict. A curious situation prevails today where the US military is in alliance with the Syrian Kurdish militia in northern Syria, whom Turks regard as terrorist groups fuelling separatism within Turkey. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s “Islamism”, his visceral opposition to Israel (and support of Hamas), Turkey’s deepening strategic ties with Russia, differences over US sanctions against Iran, and, above all, Erdogan’s suspicion that the US masterminded the failed 2016 coup attempt against him have created a virtual breakdown in mutual trust between the two NATO allies. Lately, Turkey is threatening to crush the Kurdish militia in northern Syria and is defiantly ignoring the threat of US sanctions while procuring the S-400 missile system from Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As regards Turkey-Saudi relations, the roots of discord run very deep, dating back to the Ottoman campaign that rolled back and overthrew the first Wahhabi state in Arabia in the early 19th century when Mecca and Medina were under the legal protection of the Ottoman sultan. The so-called “Arab Revolt” in the 1910s was, in reality, a British intelligence operation tapping into the seething discontent in the Arabian peninsula against the Ottomans. An uneasy cohabitation followed after the disintegration of the Ottoman empire when the British made the Saudi monarch the custodian of the two ‘Holy Places’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the fissures are running in several new directions too: principally, Turkey’s backing for Qatar, and their links to the Muslim Brotherhood (which the Saudi regime sees as an existential threat), their friendly ties with Iran, and the Turkey-Saudi struggle for influence in the future Syrian political order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another overarching factor lies in the controversial personality of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) who, abandoning the cautious Saudi approach to regional politics, has switched to an abrasive and adventurist mode, willing to use coercion in pursuit of geopolitical objectives. Erdogan has profound differences with MbS over the war in Yemen and the latter’s dalliance with Israel as well as the covert Saudi financing of Kurdish insurgency against Turkey, among other things.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, Erdogan skilfully managed the media to put pressure on MbS over the Khashoggi affair, leaking details in driblets almost on a daily basis and ensuring that the pot was kept boiling and western opinion got inflamed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erdogan has calculated that Turkey and the US intelligence establishment are on the same page in the Khashoggi affair. Here the plot thickens. The point is, who is Khashoggi? He has been described commonly as a journalist, but his connections with the Saudi (and US intelligence) go back to the 1980s, when he was the “handler” of Osama bin Laden. It is entirely conceivable that he remained an “asset” of the US intelligence at the time of his death (which probably explains the unusually harsh reaction by the Deep State in America).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khashoggi was Erdogan’s friend, and they had shared affinities with the Muslim Brotherhood. In an extraordinary opinion piece in The Washington Post on August 28, Khashoggi wrote, “The eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing less than an abolition of democracy and a guarantee that Arabs will continue living under authoritarian and corrupt regimes…. There can be no political reform and democracy in any Arab country without accepting that political Islam is a part of it. A significant number of citizens in any given Arab country will give their vote to Islamic political parties if some form of democracy is allowed…. Islamists today participate in the parliaments of various Arab countries such as Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Tunisia and Morocco. This has led to the emergence of Islamic democracy… and the maturing of democratic transformation.... The coup in Egypt led to the loss of a precious opportunity for Egypt and the entire Arab world. If the democratic process had continued there, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political practices could have matured and become more inclusive, and the unimaginable peaceful rotation of power could have become a reality and a precedent to be followed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khashoggi crossed the red line. Did alarm bells ring in Riyadh that Khashoggi, a high-profile and influential dissident with links to US intelligence, espoused regime change agenda for Saudi Arabia in an influential American newspaper?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At any rate, 35 days after his opinion-piece appeared, Khashoggi was brutally murdered by a Saudi death squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his sombre speech on October 23, Erdogan called Khashoggi’s death a “political murder”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former ambassador to Turkey.</b></p> Mon Oct 29 14:46:11 IST 2018 tricky-triangle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE DELHI SUMMIT</b> between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin held on October 4 and 5 took place under the shadow of extraordinary pressure from Washington. The US wanted India to scale down its defence ties with Moscow, but India went ahead with the purchase of the S-400 air defence system from Russia. India and Russia, however, played down the deal’s significance. In their joint statement, it was mentioned in just a sentence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India also deliberately withdrew from the summit agenda discussions on other joint projects like that of Kamov helicopters, frigates and assault rifles. These are likely to be taken up during the meeting of the intergovernmental commission on military-technical cooperation scheduled to be held in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 19th annual summit was possibly the first bilateral engagement between India and Russia in which a third country, too, had a key role to play. The US presence was felt, especially in the form of the threat from Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which could affect India’s strategic autonomy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are caught in a strategic fix. The next few months are going to be very crucial, as India may be headed for trouble on the Russian weaponry front and on the Iranian oil issue,” said a South Block official. India is constantly in touch with the US, explaining its defence needs, pointing towards the border situation with China and Pakistan. India has made it clear that it is not going to scale down ties with Russia, which supplies nearly 70 per cent of its defence equipment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days before Putin landed in Delhi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval made a trip to Washington, possibly to argue India’s case for buying the S-400 system. In her interview with THE WEEK, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the US recognised the legacy of India’s defence ties with Russia. “How far the US is ready to accommodate India’s concerns remains to be seen,” said a defence ministry official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after the deal was announced, Washington said the US presidential waiver on sanctions against defence deals with Russia was intended to “wean” countries like India off Russian equipment. A White House spokesperson said “new or qualitative upgrades in capability, including the S-400 system” was a focus area for the implementation of sanctions under CAATSA. “The waiver authority is not country-specific. There are strict criteria for considering a waiver,” said the spokesperson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US, however, knows that imposing sanctions on India will affect its own weapons sales. A defence ministry official said the US was weighing its commercial benefits and strategic objectives. “India has its own strategic objectives. We are not going to abandon Russia. I think both US and India are testing the waters,” said the official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The CAATSA secondary sanctions (section 231) waiver authority resides with President Trump, and he is likely to use India’s desire for a waiver for the Russian S-400 system to extract some sort of trade concessions,” said former White House official Joshua T. White, who is now with the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies, Washington, DC. “Most observers in Washington expect the president to eventually issue the waiver. If he chooses not to, I think it would undermine some of the progress that has been made in the defence relationship over the last ten years, and would raise legitimate questions in New Delhi about Washington’s reliability as a defence partner.” He said India’s defence and security relationship with the US was relatively strong. “The inaugural 2+2 ministerial dialogue was unexpectedly rich in concrete outcomes. Indian leaders want to communicate that while they are committed to a wide range of great power relationships under the rubric of strategic autonomy, they can continue to deepen US-India defence ties,” said White.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ties with Russia form a key component of India’s strategic autonomy. Modi and Putin, in fact, made a significant effort in Delhi to add new layers to the existing partnership, which has become sluggish over the years, turning into a buyer-seller relationship in the defence sector. The two leaders have realised that in the new world order, economic ties needed much sprucing, even the 20 per cent growth in bilateral trade recorded last year was way below potential. Both leaders have set a bilateral trade target of $25 billion by 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin offered to open up the Russian Far East for investments in mining and refineries. With India being the fastest growing civil aviation market in the world, he suggested Russian alternatives to aircraft made by Boeing and Airbus. Collaborations were proposed in the railways sector and in managing inland waterways. Putin also asked India to look at investments in the Russian Arctic, and to explore the possibility of importing gas from there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harsh Pant, fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said if the US imposed sanctions on India under CAATSA, it would further strengthen India-Russia ties. “Sanctions will be very unfortunate,” he said. “It will revive anti-Americanism in the Indian intelligentsia and political class. People will start questioning the very basis of our growing defence engagement with the US.”</p> Tue Oct 16 15:49:55 IST 2018 saudi-arabias-role-in-jamal-khashoggis-disappearance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SAUDI ARABIAN JOURNALIST</b> Jamal Khashoggi’s dramatic disappearance in Istanbul has everything to do with his criticism of his country’s politics, which he continued as a free writer, not as a dissident. That he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate on October 2, in order to get some documents attested for his wedding with his Turkish fiancee, and was not seen coming out, is an undeniable fact. Despite claims by Saudi authorities that Khashoggi had left the consulate, they failed to provide any evidence of him exiting the consulate. One of the major fallouts of Khashoggi’s disappearance is that it could put Saudi Arabia-Turkey relations—which are already strained because of the misgivings over Turkey’s support to Qatar against the Saudi-led boycott—under further pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been following Khashoggi’s work and I have met him twice in Istanbul. His journalism was the best example of the balance between self-imposed censorship and permitted critical space. His journalism was made for a conservative Islamic monarchy where political sensitivity and religious and social taboos often define the public sphere. He was targeted for being critical of the religious salafi establishment, not as a French liberal, but as a moderate Muslim reformist who thought another interpretation was possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khashoggi was trusted by the people in the royal court, and has served as media adviser to the powerful prince Turki bin Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence directorate and former ambassador to the US. Twice he was appointed editor of Saudi Arabia’s sole liberal newspaper, Al Watan. But, he was dismissed arbitrarily for clearing the publication of several articles critical of clerics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khashoggi, however, never angered the royal court, where he was close to several powerful members, including Turki and Al-Waleed bin Talal. (Talal wanted Khashoggi to run his Manama-based Al-Arab news channel; the channel was shut down within a few hours of its launch in February 2015.) In his response to whether the Arab uprisings threatened the Gulf monarchies, Khashoggi said the monarchies never promised democracy, and so people never felt betrayed. He was optimistic about Saudi Arabia’s gradual transition in which the young and foreign-educated generation was given important roles in the kingdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This background is enough to tell that Khashoggi would never have accepted the tag of “Saudi dissident” or a “Saudi opposition figure” with which many Islamist enthusiasts and Saudi critics in Qatar, Turkey or in the West have hurriedly labelled him after his disappearance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Khashoggi’s recent drift was different from the previous tiffs with the Saudi royals. He was in the crosshairs of a tortuous power transition that will make Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) the longest serving king of Saudi Arabia, possibly till 2070, if he lives the average age of his predecessors. MbS is seen as very ambitious, with a different vision for the kingdom. The royal court has traditionally been following either salafi Islamism or moderate Islamism. MbS has rather chosen a third option—Saudi nationalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After King Salman assumed power in 2015, Iran has made significant inroads into Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, which have been traditionally under the Saudi sphere of influence. To stop the Houthis’ march in Yemen or to be a counterweight to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Saudi Arabia needs the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian military’s failure to meet with Saudi expectations and become its regional lackey has frustrated the Saudis. Khashoggi’s semi-official criticism of the Egyptian military establishment was not just a coincidence. Although the Saudi foreign ministry distanced itself from Khashoggi’s statements, the Egyptians, who were aware of Khashoggi’s prominence, were not convinced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Arab Islamic American Summit held in Riyadh in May 2017, which was also attended by President Donald Trump, MbS was seen as the key architect of Saudi Arabia’s new foreign policy template. A few days later, on June 5, an air and sea blockade was imposed on Qatar. On June 21, MbS was formally elevated as crown prince, replacing the powerful Mohammad bin Nayef.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, MbS has been left with few friends and many rivals within the royal family. The rules of shared power were broken, prominent princes were detained, and stopped from travelling abroad. The isolated and disappointed Khashoggi left the kingdom. Since then, he has been living in exile in the US, criticising MbS and his policies, including the war in Yemen and the overambitious development plan, Vision 2030. Many of his articles have been translated into Arabic, and have majorly influenced Arab public opinion. Moreover, the presence of a Saudi critic in Washington was spoiling the kingdom’s PR machinery work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khashoggi’s disappearance will serve a purpose for Saudi Arabia, but it could blow up relations with Turkey, its Sunni counterweight against Iran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under heavy pressure to tell the world about what has happened to Khashoggi. His priority will be to minimise the damage it can inflict on the already strained relations. Nobody in Ankara seems to have a clear picture until the Saudis supply some convincing information. King Salman himself may approach Erdogan if the worst fears come true.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author teaches international relations at Yildirim Beyazit University, Ankara, Turkey.</b></p> Sat Oct 13 17:42:14 IST 2018 india-must-shed-its-strategic-ambivalence-in-the-multipolar-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A WIDELY PREVALENT REFRAIN</b> in our strategic discourses is that the present trajectory of international politics presents India with unprecedented opportunities to advance national interests. This estimation also appears to have reached the policymaking level. In a typical remark, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said India should take advantage of a trade war between the United States and China. Some Indian analysts take a similar perspective with regard to the 19th annual India-Russia summit, which takes place on October 5 in New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any premise that India’s engagement with the emergent world order can be transactional may appear smart thinking. But it is inherently flawed. Selective engagement with a globalised world is impossible for a country that is itself avidly globalising. Besides, as an emerging power, India’s long-term interests lie in positioning itself to influence the formation of the new world order. Above all, the birth of the new world order also coincides with a historic shift in the locus of power from the West to the East. New value chains are being formed and India must remain open to them. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is already a compelling reality. Telcogeopolitics—West versus China in the 5G race for control over the technology’s global standards—is posing Delhi a dilemma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cherry-picking is not an option. In the period ahead, India’s strategic ambivalence will become increasingly untenable. Instead of looking for tiny windows of opportunities now and then in the big power relationships, India should wade into the stream and define its political power in terms of the geographic space of the Eurasian region. The bottom line is that India is either at the Eurasian table or on the Eurasian menu. That is why the India-Russia summit is invested with extraordinary significance. The two countries have to reset their relations to cope with a highly complex and contradictory historical stage in world politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US National Security Strategy unveiled last December openly identified Russia and China as “revisionist” powers who pose threat to American dominance and whom, therefore, Washington intends to counter. At the very core of this struggle lies the clash of two opposing trends in the international system. On the one side, multipolarity is gathering momentum. Nations are asserting their sovereignty and their prerogative to choose their own paths of development in tune with their cultural and historical identity and heritage and their circumstances. New growth centres have appeared that are not dependent on the West for keeping up the tempo of their development. Quite obviously, it is no longer possible for any single power to dominate the world order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, the entrenched western powers, led by the US, are loathe to giving up their status as “world leaders”, although it is abundantly clear that the notion that history had ended following the collapse of the USSR has proved wrong. They are hell bent on rolling back or at least slowing down the trend of multipolarity. Thus, the UN is being bypassed, international agreements are summarily rejected and self-serving unilateral approaches are being prioritised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US has lately begun drawing India into the forecourt of its unilateralism vis-à-vis Russia and Iran, and Delhi may have to pay a heavy price for Washington’s selfish ambitions. What is at work here is nothing less than political blackmail and economic pressure. The US enacts laws to punish Russia and Iran for political reasons and expects India to abide by such legislation. Thus, the US has withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, despite the fact that the agreement carries the imprimatur of the UN Security Council or that the International Atomic Energy certifies on a regular basis Tehran’s compliance with the obligations under the pact. In regard of both cases—Russia and Iran—Washington is also pursuing business interests. The US arms vendors hope to replace Russian partners in the Indian market and Big Oil covets India as a huge guzzler of energy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Narendra Modi government is in the defensive mode by seeking exemption from the US laws on a case-by-case basis. But, in the process, Delhi is conceding to Washington the prerogative to have a say in India’s relations with two friendly countries. Delhi has never conceded ground to any power in this fashion, and seeking exemption from US laws is tantamount to infringement on India’s sovereignty. This can only end like the proverbial camel entering the tent, given the American style of diplomacy to keep up pressure tactic and demand “some more”. A senior American diplomat Alice Wells was quoted as saying last week that with a tougher round of US sanctions on Iran clicking in from November 4, Washington “recognises” India’s need for significant oil imports and is having conversations with Delhi to ensure there are alternative supplies of fuel “so that our friend India’s economy is not adversely affected”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How nice! But the issue here is not that Indians do not know how to buy oil in the world market. The issue is about the terms at which oil is purchased. Can Wells ensure that Washington arranges oil for India on commercial terms similar to what Tehran is offering? The Iranian oil comes at discounted price and on deferred payment basis and keeps India’s oil import bill from spiralling up. On the contrary, Washington’s long-term objective is to persuade India to import oil and LNG from the US at prices that are substantially higher than from Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, the manner in which US-China tensions are playing out also holds profound meaning for India, although the tendency among Indian analysts is to view China’s travails with a sense of schadenfreude or in a spirit of rivalry as to how India could exploit China’s tribulations. Jaitley’s remarks pinning hopes on an impending US-China trade war blithely overlook that the trade war is only a manifestation of an epochal struggle in the making of the new world order. Yet, the trade war with the US as such cannot have serious deleterious effects on China’s economy or other areas. Foreign trade accounts for just about one-tenth of China’s total economic volume of 82 trillion RMB. And out of the 8 trillion RMB foreign trade, Sino-US trade accounts for just about one-tenth. Any impact of a brutal US-China trade war for China’s overall national growth rate may range somewhere from 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent only. Surely, the Chinese are capable of managing this zheteng, as they call it, (which means “much ado about nothing”)?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fascinating study published recently in The Washington Quarterly titled “Beijing’s Bismarckian Ghosts: How Great Powers Compete Economically” made three key conclusions. One, we are barking up the wrong tree by viewing the US-China rivalry through the prism of the ‘Thucydides Trap’ (briefly, how a rising power causes fear in an established power, which inevitably escalates towards war). The study says what we need to expect instead is great power economic competition amidst the emergence of economic globalisation and “explosive technological innovation”. Two, the dynamic of the emerging US-China competition bears uncanny resemblance to another great rivalry in modern history—between Great Britain and Germany in the second half of the 19th century. China has long admired Germany’s export-led growth model and has been sceptical of laissez faire capitalism, so much so that the 19th century Qing general Li Hongzhang apparently kept a photograph of Otto von Bismarck in his study and admired Alfred Krupp as a model for how to industrialise China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, most important, to quote the Princeton professors, “Indeed, economic competition among great powers is often about tools far more subtle and sophisticated than tariffs…. Beyond blunt tariffs, at least four economic tools— standard-setting, technology acquisition, financial power, and infrastructure investment—were and are the battlegrounds for great power economic advantage.” The professors pointed out that Great Britain’s decline in the face of the German ascendancy by the beginning of the 20th century offers a “cautionary tale”. Put differently, a US strategy of “unbridled, unnuanced confrontation is unlikely to be successful” with China and “Washington needs to renegotiate elements of its economic relationship with Beijing”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US-China economic competition is in many ways a preview of what will happen to India also as it climbs up the greasy pole in the world economy. In fact, President Trump has repeatedly called attention to India’s growth as a potential competitor for the US. Clearly, what is unfolding is a struggle for power by the US. Although the world’s strongest power, the US is a declining power (like Britain in the late 19th century) and its influence is going down, especially on the economic front. India should have great clarity where its medium and long-term interests lie in this geopolitical situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big picture is incomplete unless we draw in these trends in the world order to conceptualise our response. We should put in proper perspective the growing Sino-Russian entente instead of viewing it sceptically. The entente underscores that the US strategy to divide China and Russia and fight them separately—China in the Pacific battlefield and Russia in the European battlefield—has not worked. On the contrary, what is under way is a squeezing of the US out of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Washington is showing signs of nervousness. This explains the desperate American attempt to draw India into a military alliance to suit its own needs. We will be erring seriously in any mistaken belief that this is about a “liberal international order”, which, of course, is only an American myth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In sum, India’s approach to the emerging multipolar world should be progressive, constructive and unequivocal. The visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Delhi this week is a great opportunity for India to shed its strategic ambivalence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bhadrakumar </b>is a former diplomat.</p> Sat Oct 06 17:17:49 IST 2018 trumps-new-tango-the-taliban <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE IS CHANCE</b> for a truce in the Afghan conflict, and India isn’t exactly happy. Not that India is a war-monger, nor is India seeking to fish in the troubled waters of the Kabul, the Kokcha, or the Oxus which is now called Amu Darya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much water has flowed down these rivers since President Donald Trump sent more troops to Afghanistan, and promised a new strategy to resolve the conflict without spelling out what it would be. Pakistan had been urging the US, which has about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, to engage the Taliban, or at least those Taliban leaders whom Pakistan would certify as good Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, a US president, who had only in January announced a cut in the military aid to Pakistan unless Islamabad took more action against terrorist groups that targeted Americans, appears to have listened. Breaking from the Barack Obama-crafted policy that any peace process in Afghanistan would have to be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” (meaning that any talks would have to be between the Kabul regime and the insurgents), Trump authorised US diplomats to talk directly to the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s feelers, and then his diplomats, have been in touch with the Taliban, and the initiative led to a temporary ceasefire for three days around Eid-ul- Fitr, marking the end of Ramzan in June, when Taliban and Afghan troops exchanged greetings, took selfies, and then went back to fighting with renewed vigour. The Taliban have since been bombarding the strategic city of Ghazni in a bid to capture it. Currently, 229 of the country’s 407 districts are controlled by the Kabul regime, 59 by the Taliban and the remaining 119 districts are contested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysts in Delhi believe that the attacks have been aimed at undermining the credibility of the Kabul regime and its forces, and convincing the US that there can be no peace in Afghanistan without the Taliban being allowed to dominate the state, militarily and politically. Therein lie India’s concerns. “The problem with the Taliban leadership,” said Jayant Prasad, former ambassador to Afghanistan, who currently heads the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in Delhi, “is that they want to share in the governance of the country and to change the constitution, which will compromise the gains made by the Afghan people over the last few years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had opposed any talk with the group stating that there are no good Taliban and bad Taliban as had been bandied about by Pakistan. So had the government of President Ashraf Ghani which considers India a friend, and Pakistan as the place from where the Taliban are drawing weapons, money and training to fight the regime in Kabul. However, Ghani has also been waving the olive branch of late. Last year, he offered the Taliban wide-ranging incentives for a peace deal, including political recognition and a constitutional review, but the Taliban didn’t respond then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Washington, which has been aiding the Afghan army to fight the Taliban, has been on a parallel diplomatic track, too, which led to a not-so-secret meeting in Qatar on July 23 between four Taliban representatives and Alice Wells, senior state department official in charge of South Asia. Billed as the first official contact between the US administration and the Taliban in seven years, it was the culmination of months of Track-II diplomacy initiated last November by the controversial Pakistan-friendly retired US diplomat Robin Raphel and retired US army officer Col Chris Kolenda. (Interestingly, Raphel was once even probed by the FBI for being a Pak spy; so close has she been to the Pakistani establishment.) The two, who no longer hold any official post, have flown thrice to Doha since November, and paved the way for Wells.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though details of the deal, if any, have not been revealed yet, the Taliban are learnt to be willing to accept continued US troop presence in Afghanistan, ostensibly for training the Afghan army, and aiding the country to fight the rising Islamic State, in lieu of the Taliban getting a role in governing the country, something that is giving jitters to the Ghani regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much was clear when the regime, within a week of the western media coming out with the news about the Qatar meeting, offered an ambitious three-month ceasefire beginning with Eid-ul-Adha in the third week of August. But, the Taliban spurned the offer outright, and followed up the rejection with renewed attacks on civilian targets, including ambushing of buses and taking passengers hostage. The Taliban leadership said any ceasefire would only help the US forces, but the real reason appears to be to consolidate their military position for hard bargaining with the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things now appear to be going beyond what Ghani, who is going for parliamentary polls in October and presidential elections next April, can comprehend. Though the Kabul regime knows that there cannot be any peace deal without it having a role, the rejection by the Taliban of the second ceasefire offer in August has raised concerns in Kabul about the kind of role it would get. “The US has concluded that there’s not going to be a US-led and Afghan government-led military victory,” Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia Programs at the US Institute of Peace, has been quoted as saying. “Also, many Taliban leaders don’t think they can have a complete military victory like they did in the 1990s.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomatic circles in Delhi believe that Trump’s actions have been motivated by the sole purpose of combating Islamic State. The Taliban, which consider Islamic State as their rival in the Central and West Asia’s radical Islamic geopolitics, are learnt to have agreed not to allow any ‘foreign’ terrorist groups on Afghan soil. Only weeks ago, a major Taliban assault forced 250 Islamic State fighters to surrender in Jowzjan, in northern Afghanistan. “Nobody wants Afghanistan to be another Syria,” said an Afghan diplomat in Delhi, who confessed that he was not much into the picture as to what is happening back home. “Not the government; not the US; not the Taliban.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as India is considered, there is not much difference between the Taliban and Islamic State, but this view is getting fewer and fewer takers among the major actors in the Central and West Asian politics. Yet, New Delhi has been quiet, considering Trump’s impassioned plea “to help us more with Afghanistan” while unveiling his South Asia strategy last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taliban had been uncompromising on its two demands—that any deal would have to be without the Kabul regime, and that all foreign troops should quit the country. However, many in India believe that the rise of Islamic State is making the Taliban rethink. “They may no longer be so averse as they were towards US troops presence, who also would be fighting Islamic State,” said the diplomat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump had warmed Indian hearts with his New Year announcement suspending military aid to Pakistan until the country took more action against terrorist groups, especially the Haqqani group that targeted Americans. However, Raphel had been maintaining that “it is hard for the Pakistanis to deal with the Haqqani issue” and that Pakistan needs help, not threat from the US. Apparently, her argument still carries weight in the state department where a considerable section believes that if the US abandons Pakistan, the latter would snuggle further into Chinese embrace. And, a US withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave the field open to powerful rivals like China, Russia and Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Pakistan has shown an ability to survive with the US military aid cut, and also run the Taliban havens within its territory from where the Taliban have been launching attacks into Afghanistan. It is no secret that Imran Khan, the new prime minister, has been having very cosy relations with the Taliban as well as the deep state within Pakistan, run by the army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are three types of Taliban,” said Prasad. “Those that are reconcilable, and both the Afghan government and the United States believe that the rank and file of the Taliban might be so. Then there are moderate leaders, who are talking with both the Americans and the Afghan authorities (but whose traction with the hardline Taliban leadership is suspect). And, then there are those whose ‘hands are stained with blood’, with whom no reconciliation is possible because such elements will always remain a threat to any government that they do not fully control.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though New Delhi is keeping its fingers crossed, there are many who believe that it would finally have to play along, considering the high economic and strategic stakes it has in stabilising Afghanistan. “It is preposterous to even think that the Americans will have a deal with the Taliban, without taking Afghanistan’s neighbours on board,” according to an Indian foreign ministry official. “There are Russia, China and Iran around, all of who have high stakes there, apart from us, and all of them dread the sweep of Islamic State into Afghanistan. China is planning a rail line through Afghanistan to link up with the port of Chabahar in Iran where India, too, has its berths. Even the Taliban want Islamic State to be eliminated. So do Russia and Iran,” said the official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus it is the common fear of Islamic State that is making the Taliban important in the eyes of the US. But then how would Trump, who has been fighting trade wars and imposing sanctions on Afghanistan’s powerful neighbours, bring them all on board?</p> Fri Sep 21 17:12:38 IST 2018 chronicles-from-crazytown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward exposed Richard Nixon, the only US president to have resigned. The Watergate scoop made Woodward a star, and changed political reporting forever. After Watergate, he wrote on several presidencies and on the Supreme Court, the CIA and the Federal Reserve. His latest book, Fear, is on Donald Trump, which paints an unflattering picture of the US president, entangled in a web of lies, deceits and tantrums.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL</b> gathered in the Situation Room at 10:00 the next morning, July 19, to brief Trump on the Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy.<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[National Security Adviser, H.R.] McMaster spent the initial part of the meeting identifying objectives and framing issues for discussion. Trump looked bored and seemed disengaged. After about five minutes, he interrupted. “I’ve been hearing about this nonsense about Afghanistan for 17 years with no success,” he said before McMaster had finished laying out the issues. We’ve got a bunch of inconsistent, short-term strategies. We can’t continue with the same old strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He brought up his meeting with the troops the previous day. The best information I’ve gotten was from a couple of those line soldiers, not the generals, he said. “I don’t care about you guys,” he told [Defence Secretary James] Mattis, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph] Dunford and McMaster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We’re losing big in Afghanistan. It’s a disaster. Our allies aren’t helping. Ghost soldiers—those paid but not serving—are ripping us off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NATO is a disaster and a waste, he said. The soldiers had told him that NATO staff were totally dysfunctional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pakistan isn’t helping us. They’re not really a friend,” despite the $1.3 billion a year in aid the US gave them. He said he refused to send any additional aid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghan leaders were corrupt and making money off of the United States, he insisted. The poppy fields, largely in Taliban territory, are out of control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you,” the president told his generals and advisers. “They could do a much better job. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a 25-minute dressing-down of the generals and senior officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Look, you can’t think of Afghanistan in isolation,” [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson said. “You’ve got to think about it in a regional context. We’ve never before taken this sort of multilateral approach to Afghanistan and the region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But how many more deaths?” Trump asked. “How many more lost limbs? How much longer are we going to be there?” His antiwar argument, practically ripped from a Bob Dylan song lyric, reflected the desires of his political base whose families were overrepresented in the military forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The quickest way out is to lose,” Mattis said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump pivoted. Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi of India is a friend of mine, he said. I like him very much. He told me the US has gotten nothing out of Afghanistan. Nothing. Afghanistan has massive mineral wealth. We don’t take it like others—like China. The US needed to get some of Afghanistan’s valuable minerals in exchange for any support. “I’m not making a deal on anything until we get minerals.” And the US “must stop payments to Pakistan until they cooperate.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mattis described their strategic framework and goals for nuclear nonproliferation. We need a bridge strategy until we’re able to empower the Afghans, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Why can’t we pay mercenaries to do the work for us?” Trump asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to know if the commander in chief is fully with us or not,” Mattis said. “We can’t fight a half-assed war anymore.” In order for the military to succeed, Mattis needed Trump to be all-in on the strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I’m tired of hearing that we have to do this or that to protect our homeland or to ensure our national security,” Trump said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The official full written NSC record of the meeting said simply that Trump “endorsed” the use of a “mix of tools” to pressure Pakistan to abandon its covert support of the Taliban. Contrary to his words, the document stated the US would continue to engage Pakistan where there were mutual interests, and civil assistance to Pakistan would continue, while military assistance would be conditioned on better behaviour. Rhetorically and operationally it would be a new, get tough strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later in the day those who had been in the meeting huddled in [White House Chief of Staff Richard] Priebus’s office to discuss Afghanistan and South Asia strategy. McMaster worked to frame things in a way that showed he had heard the president’s views and was trying to execute on the general orientation of them in as responsible a manner as possible. He tried to be upbeat. But it was clear that he, Mattis and Tillerson were close to their wits’ ends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That evening, Priebus hosted a dinner strategy meeting. [White House Chief Strategist Steve] Bannon seemed to be driving the agenda. Priebus, Bannon and Stephen Miller, a young, hard-line policy adviser and speechwriter who had previously been [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions’s communications director, complained about the NSC process. McMaster didn’t seem to want to implement the president’s viewpoints, but was trying to convince Trump of his own. Bannon wanted to replace McMaster with [Keith] Kellogg, the NSC chief of staff, whose worldview aligned more closely with the president’s and his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[Senator Lindsey] Graham told Trump that Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, would allow him to have as many counterterrorism troops as he could want, plus CIA bases wherever he wanted. It was the best listening post and platform to attack international terrorism in the world. “They would take 100,000 troops,” Graham said, exaggerating. “You should jump for joy that you have a counterterrorism partner in Afghanistan which will prevent the next 9/11.” “That’s not nation building,” Trump said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We’re not going over there to try to sell Jeffersonian democracy,” Graham agreed. His worry was the increasing, endless tension between Pakistan and India. “Pakistan is spending a lot of money to build more nuclear weapons. It’s getting really out of control.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Graham had recently visited Afghanistan and left depressed. “We don’t have a game plan in Afghanistan on the diplomatic side.” There was no special representative, the role that had been filled by Richard Holbrooke in the first part of the Obama administration. “We don’t even have an ambassador.” For all he could tell, there was only one person at the State Department on the South Asia desk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We’re going to fail on the political,” he said. A peace settlement with the Taliban was the only way out. “The Pakistanis are going to double deal until they see the Taliban losing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump had a solution. Did Graham want to be the ambassador to Pakistan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“No, I don’t want to be ambassador to Pakistan,” Graham said. They left it at that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the White House, Trump began repeating a line he had heard at a meeting: “The way we’re going to win is to run an insurgency against the insurgency of the Taliban.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump loved the idea of a renegade operation, a campaign that the establishment was sure no one could win. The president said, “These guys in the 1980s against the Russians on horses.” Perfect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bannon added fuel to the renegade fire by criticising the weak Afghan Army. “We spent a trillion dollars to take the world’s best fighters,” Bannon said, “and turn them into the world’s worst army.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump loved that also. Bannon had pushed about as far as he thought he could. They were trying to make policy on a string of one-sentence cliches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Graham had one more warning for Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pull them all out, because 8,600 [troops] ain’t going to work, and accept the consequences,” he warned Trump, referring to the number currently in Afghanistan. “And here are the consequences: It becomes Iraq on steroids. There are more international terrorists in Afghanistan than there ever were in Iraq. The deterioration will be quick and the projection of terrorism coming from Afghanistan will exponentially grow. And the next 9/11 is coming from where the first 9/11 was. And you own it. The question is, are you going to go down the Obama road, which is to end the war and put us all at risk, or are you going to go down the road of stabilising Afghanistan?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Extracted with permission from Simon &amp; Schuster.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Fear: Trump in the White House</b></p> <p>Author: Bob Woodward</p> <p>Publisher: Simon &amp; Schuster</p> <p>Pages: 448</p> <p>Price: Rs 799</p> Sat Sep 15 16:28:30 IST 2018 questionable-commitment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN OCTOBER 2010,</b> the Indian Air Force bought six C-130 Hercules aircraft from the US, largely to bolster its capability to launch special operations. The US, however, did not provide secure communication systems for the aircraft as there was no agreement between the two countries on the issue. At the first 2+2 dialogue held on September 6 in New Delhi between their foreign and defence ministers, India and the US signed the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for sharing strategic communication systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India uses several US platforms like the P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft, C-130 and C-17 heavy-lift aircraft, Chinook helicopters and the amphibious vessel INS Jalashwa. “For deriving optimal benefit from such advanced platforms and to enable the US to share such military technology with us, certain legal arrangements were needed,” said a top defence ministry official. And, the agreement did not “involve any acquisition or commit India to acquire US platforms”. Former IAF chief Fali Major said India did not compromise anything by signing COMCASA. “It is a damn good thing for us because interoperability is an area which we should concentrate on,” said Major. “We are on the right step. It is towards using the equipment more effectively.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vice Admiral (retd) A.K. Singh, however, said India’s dependence on American platforms was not a good sign. “Other platforms, which are largely of Russian origin, have their own firewalls and independent interface communication systems in order to keep them secure from the Americans,” said Singh. Air Marshal (retd) M. Matheswaran suspected an ulterior motive of pushing India towards dependence on the US. “We bought so much from the US in the last decade, but it did not benefit our defence industry,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other experts warned against getting into unwanted military alliances. Colonel (retd) Ravi Nair, who was with the military intelligence, cautioned against allying with the US just because of our China-Pakistan phobia. “We should mend relations in our neighbourhood first. Once that is secured, we can think of reaching out to the larger world on our own terms, just as China seems to be doing now,” said Nair. There are criticisms about the intrusive nature of the agreement and its secret nature. Happymon Jacob, who teaches disarmament studies at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said although military cooperation with the US was important, a secret agreement was not proper for a democracy. He also warned about annual inspections of such systems by US officials. “The government needs to clarify on several aspects, which are termed classified,” he said. “Installation of US systems would compromise India’s military communication systems.”</p> Sat Sep 15 16:29:58 IST 2018 india-can-help-preserve-nuclear-deal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITH THE US HAVING</b> imposed its first set of sanctions on Iran, and the second just two months away, it is not going to be easy for India, which has interests with both the US and Iran, especially when the first phase of the Chabahar project is nearly done. Iran's deputy chief of mission Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi, in an interaction with THE WEEK, spoke on why the US is not a reliable partner and how India can help counter American pressure. Excerpts from the conversation:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was Iran caught by surprise when President Donald Trump decided to walk out of the Iran nuclear treaty and impose sanctions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Iran has never witnessed honesty from the United States. Iran gave NATO forces access to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda. Iran also arrested several Al Qaeda operatives.... Yet, President George Bush declared Iran a rogue state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, the US clearly sided with Saddam Hussain. In spite of sending, undeclared, US National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane to Tehran with a cake and gifts as a goodwill gesture to start negotiation, they supported Iraq with military equipment and intelligence reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is Iran looking at dialogue with the US over the sanctions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of our experience, there is resistance in Iran to start a new dialogue now. The nuclear deal was the result of a two-year dialogue between Iran and several countries. As President Hassan Rouhani says, if the US wishes to have a genuine dialogue with us, why have they destroyed the bridge?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looking at the history of the US negotiations with other countries could also teach us a lot. The US has reneged on many multilateral agreements, too, like the UNESCO and UN Human Rights Council. It also walked away from the Paris climate accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Where does the Iran nuclear deal stand at this stage?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Withdrawal of one member from a multilateral pact, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, will not abrogate the treaty. We still feel this treaty will stand as long as other partners—European Union, Russia and China—abide by their commitments. Even nations which were not part of the dialogue on this treaty, like India, can significantly help in preserving this deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your expectations from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, together with other countries, can change the world to be more peaceful and make a new world order, based on mutual respect, cooperation and non-interference, where there is no hegemony of one specific country. Today's India is different from the one 25 years ago. It is becoming a big power, so it has bigger responsibilities and everybody expects more from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are some good grounds which India could focus on, including peace in Afghanistan as a shared objective.... India could also play an important role to fight against unilateralism and to maintain and promote our regional peace through multilateral fora and regional groupings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why do you think the US walked away from the nuclear deal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US is following its own interests. History teaches us that the US usually remains untouched by most events happening around the world. During WWII, while Europe was facing a devastating war, the US economy was unaffected and thus it emerged as a super power. But, in our region, we are interdependent. For instance, 80 per cent of India's energy requirement is met through imports, so any instability in the region affects countries like India and China. The US is trying to increase the price of oil through artificial political tensions, to make the alternative of shale [that it produces] viable. Obviously, the major markets for this would be India, China and Europe, so the US feels the need to create more tension in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India's interests, however, can only be secured by reducing tensions and working with regional partners like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman to set up a security arrangement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>During the earlier sanctions on Iran, we had the rupee-rial arrangement to bypass trade in dollars, but it was not very successful. What about this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this stage, it is premature to say what alternative arrangements can be worked out to secure continuation of bilateral trade. During the previous US sanctions, the rupee-rial arrangement worked almost well, but this arrangement requires updates and amendments to adapt to present requirements. I am confident that we will have a reliable mechanism of payment, either a rupee-rial mechanism or some other, to facilitate emerging trade between the two countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the facets of this emerging trade?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The economies of the two countries are interdependent and complement each other. India looks to Iran for oil and energy resources, which we offer to India with special concessions and flexibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India also looks towards the significant role Iran has in preserving regional security and access to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Chabahar Port, which has an annual capacity of eight million tonnes at present. This was the main reason for India to extend a $150 million line of credit to Iran for procuring equipment and necessary investment in Chabahar Port.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the present position of Chabahar Port? Wouldn't inviting China to invest in the free economic zone be detrimental to India's interests?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are delighted that part of the credit line from India has been absorbed. But, there are still some technical issues such as bank guarantees that have to be resolved. Initially, it was agreed that by June 2018, phase one of Chabahar would be handed over to IPGL [Indraprastha Gas Limited]. We expect to hand over operations to IGPL as soon as these issues are resolved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chabahar, however, is not just a port project. The development plan encompasses transiting routes connected to that port, including railways, setting up storage tanks and silos, as well as expansion of the free economic zone, which includes many industrial and gas-based projects. We are inviting many countries to invest. We have considered India a priority and given a special status to it. Inviting China and others will not put any limits on India's role in such huge projects.&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 01 11:42:49 IST 2018 heights-of-attrition <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON AUGUST 28</b> last year, in a surprise move, China and India agreed to pull their forces back from the Doklam trijunction of India, Bhutan and China, after a standoff that lasted 73 days. A year later, India and China have put their defence preparedness on the fast track, and are preparing to be in a much better position tactically, in case of another confrontation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a big shift after Doklam, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said it was time to shift the Army’s focus to its northern border to handle Chinese “assertiveness”. India has enhanced its deployment of Su-30 MKI fighters, which can fire the supersonic BrahMos missiles, at the Bagdogra and Hasimara airbases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has deployed in the region its early-warning and command aircraft, HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. It has upgraded facilities at the airbases in Lhasa and Shigatse and will open three more airbases in Tibet by the end of next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Defence ministry officials in Delhi said around 1,600 Chinese troops in north Doklam had set up permanent huts. The area was earlier barren, and ignored by patrols. China has constructed an observation tower and is developing a road network nearly 12km north of the standoff site to circumvent Indian positions. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told Parliament about China’s construction of sentry posts, trenches and helipads near the standoff site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary in the cabinet secretariat, said the Chinese army was not happy with the Doklam disengagement decision, and was itching for revenge. “There is no urgency for them. But I don’t see an ‘easy’ relationship for a while between the two nations,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 73-day standoff exposed the Indian Army’s inability to mobilise its resources including artillery and additional ammunition swiftly because of inadequate road infrastructure. As a result, the Army has decided to re-prioritise its 2018-2023 five-year plan to meet the operational requirements along the Line of Actual Control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Indian official said the emphasis would be to fast track infrastructure development by creating better roads, fuel storage facilities and troop accommodation facilities. Priority will be given to capability enhancement, by adding more infantry weapons with night fighting ability, and placing intelligence and surveillance equipment along the LAC and the International Border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Construction of 73 strategic border roads has been prioritised to ensure quick mobilisation of troops. India is also constructing 17 tunnels along the LAC to ensure all-weather connectivity. Besides, efforts are on to strengthen the railway network and to build advanced landing grounds and helipads close to the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General (retd) Vinod Bhatia, who had commanded the Sukna-based 33 Corps in charge of Doklam, said the Chinese had multi-model infrastructure. “We are no match for them.” He said 73 strategic road projects had been pending since 2005, and while 46 roads were nowhere close to completion, the construction of 19 roads had not yet started. Mountain Strike Corps, the Army’s primary offensive formation against China, has been delayed because of budgetary constraints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of late, however, both India and China have been working on improving bilateral ties. President Xi Jinping told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he wanted to put Sino-Indian relations on the “right track”. The Wuhan Summit played an important role in breaking the ice between the two militaries. In a gesture of conciliation, India kept a distance from the events commemorating 60 years of the Dalai Lama’s exile. During his recent visit to New Delhi, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said India and China shared a friendship dating back to ancient times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Post Doklam, the Chinese are looking at us more carefully, including on military terms,” said Ranade. “They have understood that they need to deal with India in a different manner, and that threats will not work.”</p> Sat Sep 01 11:41:32 IST 2018 nigeria-boko-haram-oil-ghettos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A country’s festivals are captivating attractions. But, in Nigeria, you can become a captive… or a corpse at one.</p> <p>The travel advisory issued by the UK government cautions you to shun such occasions due to the “heightened risk of terrorist attacks”. Guerrillas roam this country’s northeast with improvised explosives, anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades. To paint a broader picture, there is banditry in the northwest, escalating fatal clashes between farmers and herders in the central areas, gangsters battling to control resources in the south, pirates operating off the southern coast, secessionism in the southeast, pollution, protests, scams and violent street crime in the cities (assassinations, muggings, armed robberies and car-jackings) and “high threat” of kidnap by criminals and terrorists for ransom throughout the country. Diplomats, aid workers, businessmen and journalists are legitimate captives. Some were killed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were three outbreaks of cholera this year; the threat of Zika virus transmission continues, warns the advisory. Also common are malaria, typhoid and lassa—whatever that is! Okay, Wikipedia says it’s a viral haemorrhagic fever causing mouth and stomach bleeding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As gangsters and terrorists target them, the travel advisory suggests you avoid crowded areas like “places of worship, markets, shopping malls, football stadium, transport hubs, educational institutions, government buildings, international institutions, hotels, bars and restaurants”. So if you are not robbed, murdered or dangerously ill, what is left to visit?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who in their right minds would travel to Nigeria, one of Africa’s “shithole” countries as provocatively labelled by President Donald Trump?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearly two million people do every year. I am one of them, and an old belief is reaffirmed: situations look more dangerous from outside than from within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every bit of the travel advisory is true. But the opposite is equally true—like in India. In Nigeria, I also experienced the beauty and sheer vitality of Life—the voraciousness of contrasts, the vibrancy of culture, vividness of colour, vivaciousness of its people, verve of street fashion, vigour of critical media and the valour of human spirit that conquers the pathos of human existence. Says singer Nneka, “If you can survive in Nigeria, you can survive anywhere.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muslim politicians from the north take turns with their Christian brethren in the south to run this rich and diverse land of 250 tribes. In a live and let live urban spirit, Muslim elders ignore—but do not chastise—young girls, giggling and swiggling in stilettoes and well-stitched, tight dresses. Tall tribal statesmen in magnificent caftans glide with their retinue, while colourfully-attired women wear wigs—not to hide hair loss but as fashion statements. Christian pastors, with dazzling smiles, promise miracles from large billboards; gigolos advertise their mobile numbers in large letters on compound walls. Sin gambols with piety, superstition with irreverence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Business and family reunions by expatriate Nigerians lure visitors to Africa’s largest economy. I am in the capital, Abuja, to attend the International Press Institute’s high-profile conference on “Why good journalism matters”. For weeks, the federal government showcased the conference as a symbol of press freedom. But my “business” visa approval “warned not to practice journalism” without the information ministry’s accreditation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The warning was a ticket for time travel. Decades slipped past and I was back covering the killing fields in another country’s northeast—Sri Lanka—beautiful, diverse, tropical; with human tigers roaming with IEDs, anti-aircraft guns and rocket propelled grenades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to IPI’s arrangements, on arrival I don’t encounter “bogus greeters” who welcome you and then rob you. But, true to the advisory, while I am there, there are terror attacks on religious festivities, kidnappings and spiralling farmer-herder clashes that leave 100 dead. Born in Nigeria to English parents, actor Hugo Weaving says “It’s a hideous country to go to, in reality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is also “beautiful”, as the flip-flopping Trump remarked when challenged on his offensive description. Nollywood is the world’s third biggest film industry, after Hollywood and Bollywood. Contemporary Nigerian literature spans a rich spectrum, from feisty Wole Soyinka, 84, Africa’s first Nobel Literature prize winner, to fantastical Ben Okri, 59, to feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 40. Visitors are enthralled by haunting folk songs, throbbing music and mesmerising dances—one involves belly muscles mimicking ocean tides. Abundant natural resources, thriving entrepreneurial bravura, the construction of a privately-owned $12 billion oil refinery on a swamp, the ceaseless thrum of jugaad and innovation, the hustle of cities and the bustle of village markets emblazon the drive, virtues and potential of a proud nation. But they also inscribe the dangers, vices and perils of a covetous state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corruption is severe. Nigeria ranks 148 in Transparency International’s list of 180 countries; New Zealand tops the list. It is an example of natural resources being a curse, a fountainhead of corruption degrading morality and environment. Soyinka despairs: “Nigeria would have been a more highly developed country without the oil. I wish we had never smelled the fumes of petroleum.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shell Nigeria discovered oil in 1956, and today the country is the world’s fifth largest producer of crude—two million barrels a day. Power corrupts, oil power can corrupt absolutely. Past military dictators and the ruling elite have systematically embezzled oil profits. Says Zainab Ahmed, national planning minister and head of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, “The fight against corruption is the single most important thing we have to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Muhammadu Buhari—who won the 2015 elections promising to end corruption—visited Washington to seek help to retrieve Nigerian loot stashed in foreign banks. The amount: $150 billion!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite raids, an illegal $6 billion-a-year “blood-oil industry” thrives with organised crime involved in sabotage, theft and illegal crude-refining. Parts of the verdant Niger Delta look apocalyptic—barren, blistered and blackened by foul-smelling, evil-looking, firewood-fuelled makeshift oil refineries run by gangsters employing slave labour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nigerian investigative journalists have catalogued how corruption, regulatory failures, poverty and premature death stalk the oil producing areas: no drinking water, fish dying in oil-contaminated rivers, and toxic exposure to gas flaring and tanker explosions. Says Lawal Musa Daura, who heads the government’s anti-corruption battle, “Corruption denies people education, health care, electricity, and the basic necessities of life. It is about pot-holed roads, dry taps and unlit bulbs.” As the local Guardian newspaper editorialised “Corruption bastardises governance”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Urban areas are fringed with slums—crumbling mud huts with rusty corrugated roofs, smelly gutters, mounds of garbage and slushy dirt tracks, bereft of water, toilets and electricity. Says Gishiri slum-dweller Abdul Usman, “We sit in darkness while rich people are chauffered in big cars on wide roads with bright streetlights.” Public transport is “dangerous”, taxis and long distance buses are often, to quote the advisory, “poorly maintained, uninsured and driven by unqualified drivers”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the poor struggle in squalid ghettos, millionaires become billionaires bagging lucrative deals through political connections. They spend lavishly on sentried, magnificent mansions in Abuja or Lagos, fenced by high walls topped with electrified barbed wire. They buy yachts, private jets and the choicest real estate in the west. Like oil-rich, bankrupt Venezuela, Nigeria imports trivia like toothpicks. Electricity shortage is crippling, but the affluent live in a stratosphere powered by imported diesel in imported generator sets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nigeria generates only 3,600MW of electricity for its 200 million people; Norway 36,000MW for its 5 million! Transparent and accountable governance has made Norway’s 1969 oil discovery a blessing, leading to inclusive growth, the world’s best quality of life, high per capita income and $1 trillion in the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund to secure current and future generations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like gushing oil, scams stream from Nigerian swindlers: cyber frauds, credit-card cloning, emails promising to transfer unclaimed millions on receiving bank details. “Baby scams” are notorious. Conmen exploit by bridging the “calamity” of childlessness with the stigmatisation of unwed, pregnant women in a country where abortion is illegal. Fake clinics and sham orphanages trade in babies—$4000 for a girl, $5000 for a boy. Gangsters steal babies or bribe their impoverished mothers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an also an organised racket in “miracle babies”. In parts of Nigeria, childless women face ridicule, contempt and prejudice. They are viewed as bad omens, sometimes, even accused of witchcraft. For some, adoption is not an option because it publicises the “curse of barrenness”. So they go to extreme lengths to “achieve” pregnancy. Meeting this desperate demand is an industry of quack doctors and spurious fertility clinics that offer “miracle babies”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In maternity clinics with names like “God’s Gift Clinic”, women are injected with hormones and given voodoo concoctions to make their bellies swell. After nine months, the miracle doctors call them to select clinics where they perform fake caesarean operations and present them with a new born. Unknown to the parents, the baby is not naturally theirs, but “products” of “baby farms”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gangsters kidnap, imprison, rape and repeatedly impregnate young women to produce babies in well-guarded, dilapidated houses. World Health Organizations’s Alexander Dodoo says, “The numbers of baby farms have reached epidemic levels.” One TV sting operation showed a fake doctor with his fleet of luxury cars in cruel contrast to the wretched conditions of the living baby factories—captive, pregnant girls aged between 14 and 19. Despite raids, it’s difficult to eradicate this scourge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Exploitation, destitution, injustice—these are ideal conditions for terrorism. Says Hamza Idris, Politics Editor of Daily Trust, “Boko Haram cashed in on the poverty in the northeast and the failure of governments to live up to their responsibility of providing basic necessities to their people.” A powerful orator, Mohammed Yusuf, who formed Boko Haram in 2002 to “purify” Islam, won local loyalty by providing safety, marriage, mosques and livelihood to the youth—from taxis to farmland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Preachers of Boko Haram (which means “non-Islamic education is forbidden”) misinterpret the Arabic Quran into local African dialects to proclaim that education and democracy are sins. After Yusuf was killed in 2009, his group split; one faction is now affiliated to the IS. In cooperation with western countries, Nigerian armed forces have eroded Boko Haram’s capability to invade major towns. But they remain active in their strongholds. The lure of overthrowing oppressors, achieving justice in this life and paradise in the after-life fuel the flow of jihadi suicide bombers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If economic growth fails to match its population explosion, a demographic bomb awaits Nigeria. Millions of youngsters are already jobless. Their doomed choices are terrorism, crime and illegal migration to Europe. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing areas of organised crime. Says NGO activist Charity Ohadugha, “Migration, miracle pastors and desperate devotees are all signs of unemployment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On my plane ride back home, a heavily pregnant Nigerian lady sits beside me. I wonder, is hers a “miracle baby”? It turns out it is her third and she is heading to Texas to deliver, as she did her first two. Being born in the USA entitles them to the coveted American citizenship. No longer willing to be captives of misgovernance, affluent Nigerians prefer “miracle birthplaces” to secure their children’s future.</p> Sat Aug 18 19:38:04 IST 2018 modicare-ayushman-bharat-indu-bhushan-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON AUGUST 15,</b> Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the world’s largest health care scheme—Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission. Dubbed ‘Modicare’, the scheme will guarantee a health cover of Rs 5 lakh per year to 10 crore families across the country, and include more than 1,000 treatment packages. Most states and Union territories have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Centre; a few are working out ways to merge state health schemes with the AB-NHPM. In an interview with THE WEEK, Dr Indu Bhushan, CEO, Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission, said the Centre’s preparations were on track. Edited excerpts</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AB-NHPM aims to reach 10 crore beneficiaries across the country. How does the government plan to reach these people?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A massive awareness drive will be initiated. Community health workers such as ASHAs (accredited social health activist) and ANMs (auxiliary nurse midwife) will be going to each family to explain their entitlement, benefits of the scheme, other details such as list of empanelled hospitals and how to approach the hospitals for seeking benefits. Reaching these families is going to be one of the big challenges in rolling out the scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once they reach the hospital, there will be an ‘Ayushman mitra’ to help them. Currently, the training for these mitras is on. They will be critical to the scheme because they are the first point of contact for any beneficiary and will manage the software on the ground. In some states, these mitras will be employed by the government, in others, by insurance companies or by the hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How many states are on board for the Centre’s scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost all states have agreed to take on this scheme; Odisha and Telangana have decided to wait for some time. We have signed the Memorandum of Understanding with 28 states, and hopefully, this number will touch 30 soon. Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab would soon be signing the agreement, and Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka will also be on board. It is critical that all states work on the scheme together. For a scheme like this, we need a national pool. States were told that this scheme is for the bottom 40 per cent of the population, and it will change the face of the health sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There has been a dispute with the Indian Medical Association over rates of treatment packages. They feel these rates are too low.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That issue has been resolved. We will be regularly reviewing and revising the rates, if needed and justified on the basis of evidence that will be gained once the scheme is rolled out. It is a big challenge to work out a national rate in a country as diverse as ours. The prices that we have fixed are the median rates, and we have worked them out through a rigorous analysis. Besides, states are free to work around these prices depending on their situation. We will involve a range of stakeholders in our reviews, including IMA representatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will the scheme be rolled out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That decision is yet to be taken. Most likely, the scheme will be rolled out in phases. Many states such as Chhattisgarh, Assam, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Manipur and Nagaland are ready to roll out the scheme. It might be more feasible to roll out the scheme in these states first. In states such as Maharashtra and Punjab, the details are being worked out, as the beneficiary pool is larger than ours because of their existing schemes. In Maharashtra, for instance, 84 lakh families are eligible for the AB-NHPM scheme. The current state insurance scheme covers 2.28 crore families. So, we will be funding 60 per cent for the 84 lakh families, and the state government will need to provide 100 per cent financing for the rest of the 1.5 crore families. Plus, the cover would increase from the existing Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. Such details are being worked out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Twenty states and Union territories are going for the assurance (trust) model, and seven for the insurance model. The remaining nine have opted for a mixed model.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are several reasons for that. In some states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat, the trust model was already doing well. It is also easier in terms of administration, and allows for better control of the scheme. Of course, this also shows that there is a lack of confidence in insurance companies. In Nagaland, the Apollo Munich has bid the lowest premium, and in Jharkhand, a public sector insurance company will be rolling out the scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will you ensure that there are no fraudulent claims?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have included several design features in the scheme that will reduce the opportunities of fraud. For example, several procedures that are highly prone to fraud, such as C-sections, have been reserved for public sector or require pre-authorisation by the government. We will undertake regular medical audits to detect potential fraud cases and take corrective action. We are also working on an IT system that will help prevent frauds. These mechanisms apart, people have to be vigilant themselves and report frauds. We will regularly seek client feedback about the quality of services received.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the challenges that you foresee in the coming months?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the short term, the challenge will be to reach the 500 million people for whom the scheme is intended. Post that, the challenge will be to ensure that there are no frauds. In the long run, it will be to ensure that the private sector expands its reach in remote areas. Right now, the private facilities are concentrated in urban areas. This scheme will incentivise these hospitals to prioritise the poor. Until now, the private sector did not focus on remote areas because people living in these areas did not have the paying capacity. Now, they will, and that is why the scheme has the potential to fundamentally change the picture of the health sector in the country.</p> Sat Aug 18 18:16:30 IST 2018 sta-status-shows-us-values-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE US GOVERNMENT’S</b> decision to move India to Tier 1 of the Department of Commerce’s Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA) licence exemption is a good development for India. Not only does it make transfer of technology and technology products easier, but it is also an acknowledgement of the faith the US has vested in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US has demonstrated it values India as a reliable partner. So, there need not be a case-by-case decision on sale and transfer of products that are eligible for export under the STA Tier 1 list; the decision has been taken en bloc.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are at least 36 countries that the US has placed in the Tier 1 of the STA list. Most of these are its NATO partners. From Asia, there are Japan, South Korea and Israel. India is the only country from south Asia to be given this status. Though the US sold F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, it did not share the know-how of the technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world has changed a lot since the Cold War era. It moved from being a unipolar world with the rise of China. Now, there is a multipolar world, where India is a possible pole. And, the US is recognising India’s emergence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first experience we had of the US loosening some control was when we were discussing the US-India Framework for Defence Relations, signed in 2005, when I was defence secretary. It was the first time that the US opened its doors to us for accessing high technology. After that, the Indo-US nuclear deal was signed. The STA Tier 1 position was the next step.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This designation authorises export, reexport and transfer of specific items on the commerce control list to destinations with a possibly low risk of unauthorised or impermissible use. Items eligible for export under STA Tier 1 are those subject to national security, chemical and biological weapons, regional stability and crime control. Almost 50 per cent of these items will not require licences under STA Tier 1, therefore, we, in India, get greater accessibility to technology items.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, too, India was getting hi-tech items, but it required case by case licence. It required permission from the highest authorities in the US for companies to sell or transfer technologies to India. Obtaining this licence involved complicated procedures, which discouraged several Indian entities from approaching the US for technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big difference, therefore, is that now a huge number of hi-tech items will be available for transfer to India automatically. This would make it easier for Indian and US companies to make better and superior products and deal in sensitive technologies. This would also pave the way for joint partnerships, co-production agreements and co-development deals between Indian and US companies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has certain offset clauses in most strategic equipment deals with other countries, which were introduced during my tenure as defence secretary. The new dispensation will have an enabling effect on these offset deals as US companies will be able to transfer technology to India, and get equipment made in India as part of the offset package in major strategic deals. Indian and US companies can also enter into partnership deals over offsets. This will enable greater realisation of offset possibilities and give thrust to manufacturing of hi-tech items in India. It will help us to acquire and maintain a technology lead in global manufacturing, and also play a major role in the global supply chain. India could become the hub of high-technology manufacturing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>As told to Rekha Dixit</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Shekhar Dutt is former deputy national security adviser, defence secretary and governor of Chhattisgarh.</b></p> Wed Aug 08 18:47:38 IST 2018 rift-over-refuge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS THE</b> world’s most perilous journey. For curly-haired, fine-featured 16-year-old Omar, who resembles Michael Jackson, it all began in war-ravaged Yemen. Brutal Saudi carpet-bombing has resulted in what the UN calls a “catastrophic humanitarian crisis”. Worried about his safety and future, Omar’s family sold their meagre belongings to fund his journey to the promised land of safety and prosperity: Europe. Says Omar, “I was sad and scared to leave my family, but I was full of hope. Once I find a job, I dream of bringing them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then, the nightmare began. After a seven-day voyage across the Red Sea in a ramshackle wooden boat, he landed in Sudan—and into hell. Beaten, abused, thrown into jail and out again, he fell into the web of human smugglers. He travelled to Libya, crossing the scorching Sahara Desert in an open, jam-packed truck for three weeks. “It was a nightmare. No food—and worse, no water–for days in terrible heat,” he says. Eventually, he crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in a crammed, heaving dinghy that began listing dangerously. They would have drowned had not an NGO ship rescued them and taken them to Porto Empedoclo in Sicily in southern Italy. Authorities may grant asylum as he is fleeing war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Ismael from Niger will most likely be sent back. He came to Europe in a creaky boat with standing room only, after spending months in a teeming, filthy Libyan camp where he was sodomised by the armed traffickers. Conditions were so unhygienic, he contracted scabies. He is fleeing poverty. Europe does not give refuge to illegal economic migrants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omar and Ismael are lucky: 2,500 refugees drowned during the risky voyage this year. But 45,000 managed to land on European shores, smuggled across the Mediterranean from Libya, Turkey, Morocco in precarious boats, hapless human cargo of vicious human trafficking, reminiscent of the African slave trade centuries ago. Families incur debts to pay $500 to $1000 for this perilous journey into Europe, where some wind up as indentured prostitutes, pimps and drug peddlers for local mafia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, there has been a dramatic 95 per cent reduction in illegal migrants entering Europe, compared to 2015, when over a million flooded in after German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw Europe’s doors open to asylum seekers. Donald Trump labelled it a “catastrophic mistake”. He was right. Merkel’s decision to defend European values led to disastrous consequences that undermined the very values she sought to protect. Despite the reduction, migration continues to tear EU apart—causing rifts between north and south, east and west, centre and periphery. Said Merkel, “The decisions on migration will determine Europe’s fate.”</p> <p>Rising public resentment against migrants fuels left and right wing populism across Europe, threatening elites and disrupting mainstream parties. Without any trace of irony, Austrian farmer Otto Scheikl—who supports the far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), which is now in the ruling coalition—says, “We are pro-migrants. We want them to go back to their own countries.” Located in southern Europe on the Mediterranean, Italy bears the brunt of refugee arrivals. After recent elections, a coalition of left and right wing anti-immigrant populists are in power. Ironically, even Merkel, the pillar of European stability, is shaky, her federal coalition teetering. Like a machete, migration has cleaved the 70-year solidarity between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and its Bavarian ally Christian Social Union (CSU), which faces an existential threat in the forthcoming provincial elections from the increasingly popular anti-immigrant far right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Migration is a boiling issue in Bavaria, which has seen large refugee inflows as it borders Austria, Czech and Switzerland. CSU demands that refugees be sent back from the German border to their European port of arrival, which is usually the southern EU states—Italy, Spain and Greece.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel opposes. Rarely has Merkel been so emphatic, passionate, upset—perhaps even stubborn. Border controls, surveillance, arrests are not just unpleasant memories and relics of the Cold War, but for Merkel, a young migrant from east to west Germany, freedom, peace and opportunities, enabled by social and physical mobility, are quintessential European values worth fighting for. Merkel is usually the pacifying force, but the internecine quarrels got so intense, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier intervened uncharacteristically, “The two parties are fighting so implacably and with such boundless rigidity, like there’s no tomorrow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quarrelling European countries offer irreconcilable solutions to the migration problem. But after a recent marathon all-night EU summit that had veteran heads of nations yawning widely, fatigued deputies forcibly widening eyes to stay awake and stressed aides scratching their heads to find harmonious words, a solution package emerged at 4:35am. Incredibly, all 28 member states returned to their capitals, exhausted but happy. The multi-pronged solution includes establishing refugee centres in regions of origin in West Asia and North Africa, intensifying coastal patrolling to foil migrants from leaving their shores, tightening Europe’s borders to prevent them from entering, establishing voluntary reception camps across the continent to sift asylum seekers from economic migrants who succeeded in slipping in and blocking refugees from crossing Europe’s internal borders. The EU also recognises the need to invest more to create better living conditions in Africa to ensure that people do not flee. If war and poverty were not existential threats, most refugees would prefer to live in their own homelands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Often unimplementable, please-all solutions please none. But one should not underestimate Merkel’s pragmatic, low key, painstaking, solution-oriented methods that do not grab headlines, but fixes problems. Says Alex Stubb, Finland’s former Prime Minister, “I have never, ever, seen anyone able to negotiate her way through difficult situations with such calmness.” A vital factor for the dramatic drop in migrant inflows after 2015 was Merkel’s Euro 3 billion deal with Turkey to prevent Afghan and Syrian migrants from leaving its shores. Now Spain and debt-laden Greece volunteers to accept more migrants. Others, facing labour shortage due to falling birth rates, will follow. The EU negotiations showcase how governments ought to resolve problems: long, laborious, complex discussions aiming for compromise and consensus, a la successful marriages; in stark contrast to quick, unilateral, racy tweets threatening war, heralding peace or boasting stronger alliances after one-night stands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europe and the United States must take their share of blame for instigating crises that force people to flee. Imagine a world if western conglomerates did not bribe local governments for extracting natural resources, if there were no western tax havens for corrupt dictators to park their loot, if there were fairer trade policies, and above all, if the United States and Europe did not wage, abet or support wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Western hand-wringing over migrant inflows is disingenuous: 90 per cent of the nearly 70 million displaced people live in their own or neighbouring countries. “This is where the crisis is, not in Europe or United States,” says an angry Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugee and migratory flows can be managed in a responsible manner. The failure to do so simply fuels anxiety and xenophobia. The victims of violence are being dehumanised and politicised, with politicians taking advantage to gain votes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omar and Ismael are innocent victims, born in the wrong country at the wrong time, now huddled in a European refugee camp, battling fear and uncertainty, hope and despair. Omar bites his nails in nervous anticipation, but a broken Ismael is losing his will to live. He knows, back in Niger, he will be claimed by poverty or gang violence.</p> Thu Jul 26 19:34:43 IST 2018