More en Sat Sep 14 18:41:11 IST 2019 qatars-eminence-will-not-fall-with-the-taliban-shifting-its-headquarters-to-kabul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A tiny country</b> tucked in between Arabian sands and the Persian Gulf is emerging as the Geneva of the Middle East. Qatar, a country that is barely 11,586sqkm in size, now wields an international heft that many bigger countries cannot even dream of.</p> <p>Doha, its capital, has hosted diplomats from across the globe, as they engaged with the Taliban at various levels—bilaterally or in groups. Taliban set up its foreign office here in 2013, and the city has played an important role in shaping the once proscribed terror outfit into a reality that just might get legitimised. Doha’s early negotiating success was facilitating the swap of a US soldier in Taliban custody since 2009, in return for five Taliban men in Guantanamo Bay prison. The exchange happened in Doha in 2014.</p> <p>Doha provided that neutral ground, which was comfortable to both the US (it has its largest air base in the Middle East, Al Udeid, also the forward base of its Central Command, in Qatar) and the Taliban, which preferred this country over options like Saudi Arabia and Turkey when it wanted to set up a diplomatic office. Qatar had not recognised the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001, only Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan had. Yet, the Taliban preferred Qatar for its outreach. Taliban leaders had been moving into Doha since 2011. It was to Qatar that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar headed when he was released from a Pakistani jail in 2018, a move that paved the way for the intra-Afghan peace talks. Over the last couple of years, as the talks began taking some shape, Doha’s eminence rose. The Doha Agreement of 2020 by which the US agreed to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan is the document which has shaped the present scenario in Afghanistan. Qatar continues to remain important to the Afghan story. It facilitated evacuations of foreigners and Afghans, and was among the first to rush in with relief material for Afghans. It helped reopen Kabul airport, along with Turkey and the UAE, and got domestic flights operational. Many countries have shifted their Kabul embassies—at least temporarily—to Doha, while Afghanistan remains in a flux.</p> <p>Qatar is a maverick in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It thinks and acts independently, often to the ire of the big brother in the region, Saudi Arabia. Its phenomenal wealth, largely through the deposits of natural gas, allows it to get away with its outlier ways—something which Oman cannot. With a per capita income of around $128,000, Qatar is among the richest countries in the world, where the definition of middle class itself is someone who can only afford an apartment, and not a mansion, in London’s Mayfair.</p> <p>So in 2006, Qatar launched the Al Jazeera network, which provides English language news away from the tilts of the US and the UK, and openly critiques the policies of Middle East nations, except, of course, Qatar. The other countries frowned at Qatar, but Al Jazeera went on to be a success. Then, in 2011, when the Arab Spring swept over Saharan Africa, Qatar openly sided with the Muslim Brotherhood, an outfit which Saudi Arabia declared as terrorist, as it was against the emirate kind of governance. Qatar maintains friendly ties with Iran, which again irks the GCC.</p> <p>In 2017, angered by Qatar’s “errant ways”—the Al Jazeera network, friendship with Iran and support to the Muslim Brotherhood—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with the country. The blockade was lifted this January. Anyway, it had not had the intended effect of isolating Qatar, which strengthened its friendship with Iran (with which it shares a rich natural gas reserve) and became the fulcrum for Afghan negotiations. “During this period, it decided to reach out to the world, and styled itself as a negotiator in international matters,” said Anil Trigunayat, India’s former envoy to Libya.</p> <p>In fact, even before, Qatar was clear about making itself relevant on the global stage and not just remain a regional entity. In 2010, it won the rights to host the football World Cup for 2022, the first Arab country to do so. It will also host the Asian Games for a second time in 2030. Qatar has also become an education hub, with a number of US universities having overseas campuses in Doha. “Qatar has modernised itself, going in for renewables and smart technologies,’’ said Trigunayat.</p> <p>Qatar’s foreign policy, said Mohan Kumar, dean and professor of diplomatic practices at the O.P. Jindal Global University, was “disruptive, aspirational and very successful”. Qatar, he said, offered a lot more than just five-star amenities for dialogues. “Its easy rapport with many warring factions helps in getting these parties on board. It is shaping itself the way Norway had during the LTTE crisis years. Because of its geography, it provides the perfect bridge for mediation between the east and the west,” said Kumar.</p> <p>While the Taliban talks made big news, Qatar has also mediated between the warring Hamas and Fatah factions of Palestine, and among various factions in Sudan. It is the only country which can take on Saudi Arabia in the region. However, now that the blockade is over, it is keen on easing ties with neighbouring countries. It has offered to broker talks between Iran and the US over the nuclear deal that former president Donald Trump tore up. Who knows, it might someday even be an interlocutor between China and the US.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:41:30 IST 2021 along-with-refugee-crisis-afghanistan-faces-shortage-of-essentials-health-facilities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Nazeema studied in </b>India, but she went back to Afghanistan, to work for women. Since the Taliban has taken over, she knows it is a matter of time before there is a knock at her door. “Everyone is at risk,’’ she says. “Especially women like me.” The complexion of the current government—17 of the 33 cabinet members are on the UN sanctions list—does not hold out much hope.</p> <p>Nazeema’s story is by no means the exception. The UN estimates that half a million refugees will flee Afghanistan by the end of the year. Last year, nearly 14.3 lakh Afghans crossed over to Pakistan, while Iran provided shelter to 7.8 lakh. India, by comparison, admitted only 8,275 refugees.</p> <p>With the Taliban taking over, there is an attempt to stop people from fleeing. Pakistan and Iran have indicated that they will not be taking any more refugees. “It is going to be much more difficult for Afghans looking to travel beyond their borders, looking for safety,’’ says Kabir Taneja of the Observer Research Foundation. “The Taliban will push Afghans back from the Iran border so as to not upset Tehran. Turkey already hosts more than two million Syrian refugees. Pakistan is an option for southern Afghans, but those who would feel safe there are very few.’’</p> <p>There are also an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced Afghans who are forced to flee their homes. But more than just the refugee crisis, Afghanistan is also facing a looming humanitarian crisis. The government has practically no money. As winter approaches, 80 per cent of the Afghans will need shelter, and the food shortage is real.</p> <p>The World Bank has frozen aid after the Taliban took over. “Nearly 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s budget came through international aid,’’ says Taneja. “But the west did not design any long-term economic plan. There is going to be an immense loss to the Afghan exchequer.”</p> <p>The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says nearly $606 million is needed immediately. Doctors have not been paid for months. The World Health Organisation says 90 per cent of its clinics will be shut soon. “Countries in the west can and should use their influence with the Taliban to ensure that it cooperates with aid groups,’’ says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, Washington, DC. “The west has an obligation to do this, given that sanctions will add to the misery of the people.”</p> <p>But it may not be easy. “The new Taliban government is led by the Pashtuns, ignoring other demographics, and has no women representation, making it difficult for Europe to justify aid beyond a point,’’ says Taneja. The US, however, has assured that it will continue to provide assistance despite the sanctions.</p> <p>Can India find a way to step in and make a difference? India has offered to help the Afghans when the country was under Taliban rule in the past. Providing humanitarian aid could help India keep alive its “winning hearts and mind” agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:32:58 IST 2021 angela-merkel-didnt-need-grand-vision-to-achieve-national-european-global-goals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the night of November 9, 1989—when the Berlin Wall came down, heralding the collapse of the communist regime in East Germany—tens of thousands of delirious youngsters crossed over to the West, taking in the sights and sounds of freedom, and of course, capitalism. Angela Merkel was not among them. “It was Thursday, and Thursday was my sauna day. So that's where I went—in the same communist high-rise where we always went," she said in an interview many years later. Merkel, who was then a 35-year-old quantum chemistry researcher at a government institute in East Berlin, did indeed cross into the West later that night, but she was back home early enough to get ready for work the next morning.</p> <p>More than 30 years later, as she steps down as chancellor of Germany after serving four consecutive four-year terms, Merkel might acknowledge that it was perhaps this pragmatism that helped her survive a long tenure, working with four American presidents, five British prime ministers and four French presidents.</p> <p>Merkel was not just pragmatic, she was also ruthlessly ambitious. Her father was a Lutheran preacher who moved his family to East Germany a few months after she was born. Merkel entered active politics only after the fall of the Berlin Wall and not many people thought that she would be successful in the conservative and predominantly Catholic Christian Democratic Union (CDU). She was from the East, was divorced and was a Protestant. But she was noticed by the then chancellor Helmut Kohl, who wanted a female politician from the East in his cabinet. For Kohl, Merkel was “<i>mein Mädchen</i> (my girl)", and her rise among a group of hard-drinking, womanising, cutthroat male politicians was quiet and unobtrusive.</p> <p>But she took her chance when Kohl got engulfed in a campaign finance scandal in 1999. She wrote a guest column in the conservative daily <i>Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung</i>, blaming Kohl for the fiasco and asking him to step down from CDU leadership. It was the end of Kohl’s political career. A few months later, Merkel took over as head of the CDU, and five years later as the third chancellor of reunited Germany.</p> <p>The first few years in power were relatively easy sailing, as Germany enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, riding on former chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s structural reforms which propelled economic growth. Her first major challenge was the eurozone crisis, which came in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Europe was split down the middle with its spendthrift southern periphery of Greece, Italy and Spain on the one side and the parsimonious north, including Germany, on the other.</p> <p>The US, under president Barack Obama, feared the unravelling of the European project, and wanted Merkel to loosen her purse strings. It was a major challenge for her as the German public was clearly opposed to it. At the 2011 G20 summit at Cannes, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Obama literally cornered her and insisted on a financial package for Greece and Italy. As the pressure became unbearable, Merkel started crying. “That is not fair,” she said about the bailout package. “I am not going to commit suicide.”</p> <p>Merkel was referring to the conservative Germans who adored thrift and abhorred debt. She, however, stepped in at the last moment, pushing through a rescue package which imposed tough austerity measures on the southern European countries. And, it was not an act of charity. Most of the bailout money was, in fact, used to pay back lenders, especially the German banks.&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel’s greatest moment as chancellor came in the summer of 2015, when about a million refugees from the Middle East crossed the Mediterranean into Greece. She knew that cash-strapped Greece would be unable to deal with the problem and announced, uncharacteristically, that Germany would take them in. She waived EU rules which permitted Germany to turn refugees back to the first EU country they had passed through. And she did not even consult her cabinet or the parliament. It was a personal decision for which she took full responsibility. “<i>Wir schaffen das</i> (We can do it),”she told the rattled Germans.</p> <p>But she scaled back on the refugee resettlement plan as the crisis resulted in several law and order problems and terrorist attacks. She negotiated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a $4 billion deal to stop the refugee flow. There was some criticism that the refugee crisis helped the German industrial sector to tide over the labour problem caused by the introduction of the statutory minimum wage.</p> <p>Merkel’s cold, calculating side was evident also during her dealings with key partners like Russia and China. She was guided by “<i>Wandel durch Handel</i> (change through trade)”, the theory which posited that deepening economic relations would encourage progressive reforms in Moscow and Beijing. With Russian President Vladimir Putin, she shared a love-hate relationship. When she first went to visit him, he gave her a small stuffed toy dog. During the next visit, Putin let Konni, his big, black Labrador, walk up to Merkel. The chancellor, who is mortally afraid of dogs, did not flinch. But she never stopped engaging with Russia throughout her tenure.</p> <p>Merkel has often stepped in to smoothen the rough edges of the west’s relations with Russia. When Russia annexed Crimea, Merkel stepped in and led the peace negotiations, resulting in the Minsk agreement. At the same time, she did not hesitate to put together a sanctions regime against Russia.</p> <p>Yet, despite enormous pressure from US President Joe Biden and her European allies, she did not abandon Nord Stream 2, the pipeline project which will bring Russian natural gas to Germany, circumventing Ukraine and Poland. She was convinced that the project was in Germany’s national interest.</p> <p>With China, too, Merkel’s motives have been largely economic. China is the biggest market for German automobile majors. It was the Chinese market which saved Germany from slipping into a depression in 2009. “Merkel remained beholden to the post-Cold War mindset that expanding economic ties would render China a ‘responsible stakeholder’in the global system, and never adjusted to signs that China was abusing the asymmetric dependencies inherent in such ties to challenge key precepts of the global system,”said Daniel S. Hamilton of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. But with China continuing to be aggressive economically and politically, Merkel has been scaling down the engagement. The EU-China investment agreement championed by her is on the back burner. Similarly, the plan to allow Huawei into Germany’s 5G network, too, is likely to be shelved.</p> <p>While she has been invested in maintaining good ties with Russia and China, India was never a priority for Merkel. She did not miss the fact that while German trade with India is worth about $23.5 billion annually, China had a trade volume of $250 billion in 2020. Merkel visited India four times during her tenure, the most by a German chancellor. She was, in fact, the first foreign leader to visit India after Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories in 2019. But bilateral ties never really took off under her watch.</p> <p>“Merkel's term was a period of unmet expectations in Indo-German relations,”said Uma Purushothaman, who teaches international relations at Central University of Kerala. “India didn't really have a role in her scheme of things. Her recent remarks about India being 'allowed' to become a pharmaceutical major in the wake of the Covid pandemic betrayed a lack of sensitivity and lack of appreciation of India's progress and achievements.”</p> <p>During the pandemic, Germany blocked a broad waiver of rules protecting intellectual property on the production and export of vaccines and other critical medical goods. “The German refusal to waive intellectual property regulations has made it difficult for the global south to procure vaccines, medicines and even testing kits,” said Shiju Mazhuvanchery, who teaches trade law at Sai University, Chennai. Merkel defended her position citing monetary support to COVAX, a global vaccine procurement and distribution programme.</p> <p>According to most reports, Merkel was planning to quit politics after her third term ended in 2017, but she was persuaded to stay on for another term—some say by Obama—after Donald Trump was elected US president. She offered him cooperation, but spelt out her conditions quite clearly. “Germany and America are bound by common values–democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation or political views,” she said. “It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation.”</p> <p>From the day Trump took over, Merkel used every possible opportunity to drive home the point that the liberal world order based on democracy and multilateral institutions, which came into existence after the devastations of World War II, was sacrosanct, making her the “new leader of the free world”. While Trump bad-mouthed traditional European democracies, undermined NATO and fought a trade war with Germany and questioned its security commitments, it was Merkel who took the lead in preserving the transatlantic alliance with remarkable restraint and farsightedness.</p> <p>“Had Merkel responded in kind to Trump, one could easily imagine a relationship in ruins,” said Jeffrey Anderson of Georgetown University, Washington, DC. “Instead, she kept the relationship on an even keel with an artful blend of de-escalation, resolve, and autonomy.”</p> <p>Despite her credible achievements, Merkel was never regarded as a visionary, unlike her predecessors like Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer. She eschewed any grand transformative vision for her country, continent and the world. All her major achievements—resolving the eurozone crisis, opening Germany up for refugees and the defence of the liberal international order—were essentially reactions to unfolding events. Even the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was launched by her predecessor.</p> <p>In three of her four terms as chancellor, including the current one, she ruled in alliance with an ideological adversary, the leftist Social Democratic Party. “Merkel’s radical centrism promoted incrementalism and a surfeit of compromises. It adversely affected Germany’s party system and ceded the opposition space to fringe elements like the far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD),” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies. “She adopted many of the programmes of the rival SPD, leaving both parties in ideological disarray.”</p> <p>Merkel indeed is leaving her own party in turmoil, which is divided into leftist and rightist factions. The current leader Armin Laschet is facing an uphill battle in the run up to the September 26 elections. The latest opinion polls show the CDU and the SPD running neck-to-neck with 22 per cent support, while the Greens are close behind. But on individual popularity stakes, Laschet, the minister-president of the North Rhine-Westphalia state,&nbsp;is trailing SPD leader Olaf Scholz by a wide margin. He became the CDU supremo in a tight leadership tussle after Merkel’s hand-picked successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer failed to unite the warring factions in the party and was forced to step down.</p> <p>If Merkel expected her final days in office to be uneventful, the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to such hopes. But she responded well and worked with state leaders in implementing a response based on testing and lockdown. While it worked well initially, the strategy crumbled during the subsequent waves. The public has grown weary with the lockdown and the vaccination drive is plagued by inordinate delays. The pandemic has also brought to light the digital deficit in Germany. For several months, states had to use fax machines to share data in the absence of a viable software. Online classes are not working properly. Ulrich Silberbach, president of the German Federation of Civil Servants, told the broadcaster Deutsche Welle, “Germany remained a sleeping beauty when it came to digitisation”.</p> <p>Merkel, however, took the lead in putting together a massive stimulus plan to revive the Covid-ravaged economy. The $950 billion package formalised on July 20 will be financed by joint bonds issued by the European Commission, and it will help regions hit hardest by the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic, however, has completely upended the lifestyle of the intensely private chancellor, who continues to live in her old Berlin apartment with her husband and enjoys the occasional grocery shopping. She no longer has any private time. Weekends are devoted to studies and discussions with virologists. She has even stopped private meetings with artists, actors and old friends over a glass of wine.</p> <p>Yet, despite all the doom and gloom, Merkel has kept Germany largely safe from the ravages of the pandemic. And, she leaves the chancellery with a sense of achievement. “Under her, Germany has once again become Europe’s centre, the key swing state on a continent in tremendous flux,” said Hamilton. “Merkel intuitively understood the hesitations of her neighbours and the uncertainties of her compatriots. Her cool, cautious and incremental style reassured other countries about Germany and reassured the Germans about themselves. That is perhaps her greatest legacy.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 26 16:41:00 IST 2021 artist-tania-bruguera-on-dissent-freedom-of-expression-in-cuba <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On July 20, Cuban </b>installation and performance artist Tania Bruguera, 53, was arrested and taken to Villa Marista, a Cuban state security prison for political prisoners. Bruguera was interrogated and released after 11 hours, with an injunction to stay at home. She is facing three charges, including plotting against the government through protests and performance.</p> <p>Ten days earlier, on July 11, thousands of Cubans had taken to the streets, chanting “freedom” and demanding President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s resignation. Those were Cuba’s first protests since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The protests were fuelled by dissatisfaction over rising Covid-19 numbers and Cuba’s shrinking economy; the Cuban economy fell by 10.9 per cent last year. Diaz-Canel, who was named first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in April, said the coverage of the unrest in Cuba was a dissemination of “false images” . “What the world is seeing of Cuba is a lie,” Diaz-Canel tweeted. “Stop the lies, infamy and hatred. #Cuba is deeply allergic to hatred. And it will never be a land of hatred! Nothing good is built out of hatred. Hate robs us of time to love and even love itself. TO #Cuba, #Putyourheart.” He was responding particularly to the videos on social media of the unrest and footage of the police using violence to disperse protesters.</p> <p>As of August 15, Covid-19 cases in Cuba have crossed the five-lakh mark. The spike in cases is overwhelming health care facilities. The country with a population of about 1.2 crore has fully vaccinated 30 lakh, all with home-grown vaccines.</p> <p>As for Bruguera, she faces charges of organising a demonstration on November 27, 2020, with the intent to overthrow the Cuban government; collaborating with artist Hamlet Lavastida on anti-government demonstrations and performances; and planning a meeting with the National Democratic Institute, a worldwide pro-democracy nonprofit. She has been staying low since the injunction. But, this is not the first time she has been detained. In 2014, Bruguera attempted to recreate a piece that invited anyone to speak on stage—and in the end they were taken away by actors in military uniforms.</p> <p>In 2018, she was detained for organising a sit-in with other artists against decree 349, which would limit artistic freedom. In December 2020, she was detained after she took part in a protest over curbs on artistic freedom. This time, however, she is more wary. She has not been active on any social media platform and has even stayed away from WhatsApp. If Bruguera is found guilty, she could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. It is against this backdrop that she spoke to THE WEEK. To stay true to Bruguera’s voice, we are carrying excerpts from the conversation in first person:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T<i>he government of Cuba recognises artists, not artistic ideology. A person or an artist cannot criticise what the government has done; any criticism is viewed as a threat to the government. For example, now I cannot showcase any of my work. Cubans, on July 11, have spoken very clearly. Cuban citizens, mainly youngsters are not happy with the decisions of Miguel Diaz-Canel. He is still making decisions based on Raul Castro’s orders or that is what it seems like. Diaz-Canel has no political pedigree.</i></p> <p><i>At least 600 people arrested at the protests (on July 11) are being detained without proper trial. The authorities made the arrests indiscriminately. Even minors are being detained. People are starving as American dollars needed to buy the essentials are not as accessible. The pandemic has worsened the situation, several people have lost their livelihoods and the propositions being made by Diaz-Canel seem to be benefiting only the privileged.</i></p> <p><i>Many unhappy citizens are afraid to comment on or post material related to the protests, or express their views on the government over the fear of being detained. Freedom of press has been long dead in Cuba, and people are now under pressure to remain quiet about any atrocities they might face. The police have beaten up several of the detained minors badly. But, their mothers cannot raise this issue with the government—everyone has been silenced.</i></p> <p><i>Currently, the situation may seem calm, but it is really tense. Activists are seeking the release of detainees. The government is promoting fake news to create a sense of normalcy or to discredit the voices that are being raised. The national news is a big lie. They rarely showcase any critical voices and they never broadcast videos of the protests. They are showing only neutral material or sports news. If the government promotes fake news, then people will eye the videos of the protests with suspicion, which is what the government wants.</i></p> <p><i>There is a video that shows seven policemen beating up an underage boy. But, the people are scared to share it. Right now, an average Cuban citizen feels hungry, oppressed, neglected and does not have any hope.</i></p> <p><i>Of late, even foreign news agencies in Cuba are being pressured to exclude voices that are critical of the government.</i></p> <p><i>The detainees are being denied trial saying that people cannot gather because of Covid-19. On the other hand, however, Diaz-Canel held a mass rally just two days after the protests. He himself violated the Covid-19 protocols. Also, on the island where the protest took place, a 1pm curfew was imposed. This is irrational. The only reason could be that the government is afraid of another protest.</i></p> <p><i>Diaz-Canel could have charted a way to democracy for Cuba, he could have made history. But instead, he chooses to be a president who crushes the people. People are really desperate and want to somehow leave Cuba. Strangely, the government, too, wants people to leave the country. This has been happening over the years. When a problem arises, the government makes it worse and then opens the borders, so that there is a release of sorts.</i></p> Thu Aug 26 16:30:36 IST 2021 india-role-in-afghanistan-has-not-been-good <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the Taliban, peace is the first option, says Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the group. The 40-something Mujahid is in an undisclosed location, from where he spoke to THE WEEK. In a 45-minute-long interaction, Mujahid spoke with elegance and courtesy, expressing the Taliban's desire for a progressive Afghanistan. He said the group welcomes every initiative towards a peaceful solution, as long as there was no meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. As Mujahid prefers to remain faceless, he did not share his photos. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So many countries are involved in chalking out Afghanistan’s future.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We welcome initiatives of other nations to bring peace to Afghanistan, like the efforts at the intra-Afghan talks in Qatar. But we make this very clear—we accept efforts at facilitating peace talks, but we do not accept anyone's interference in our internal matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your observations about the US involvement?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US was in direct conflict with us; it had waged a war on our country. But since the talks in Doha in May, it has assured that it will withdraw its troops by August, and the forces have begun leaving. This is good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What outcome are you expecting from the intra-Afghan talks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our hope from the Doha talks is that the conversation for peace continues, this is to the benefit of Afghan citizens. We hope that in future, these talks lead to a better outcome. We want peace. Notwithstanding whatever happened in Afghanistan in the past, the future hinges on peace. It is our first option, and we want initiatives towards a peaceful resolution of issues to be given a chance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The youth of Afghanistan, however, reject the Taliban. They look upon you as an outdated outfit, which does not respect values like democracy and equal rights.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 20 years of US imposition in our country has created this mindset among a certain section, but it is not true for the majority. The people of Afghanistan want independence from foreign intervention, they want the country to have peace and to be ruled by Afghans, under Afghan laws. Is it not significant that in two months we have established control over 200 [of the 400] districts in the country? It could not have happened without their acceptance. The Afghan people want their own government and laws. External interference is against the belief of the Prophet himself. The Afghans do not have faith in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How much Afghan territory is under Taliban control as of now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to our information, 85 per cent of the country is under our control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the Ashraf Ghani government says this is not true.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghans do not even consider Ghani as their representative. For his own reasons, for appeasing the external (US) influence, he will make wrong claims. But if Ghani had supporters in his own country, he would not have needed foreign troops on this soil. Why is he scared? He is the one telling lies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Despite your claims of controlling over 85 per cent of Afghanistan, even you will agree that you do not have influence in the urban areas. In fact, despite taking over Qala-e-naw (capital of Badghis province), the city slipped out of your hands.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason is not our inability. We ourselves do not want to enter cities at this stage. Cities have businesses, enterprise, markets, and we do not want to destabilise this structure. If cities become battlefields, many innocents will suffer. That is why we want to stay on the periphery of cities at present. We want to give a chance for peaceful resolution of differences and issues through dialogue. This is our outlook. However, if the issues are not resolved within a certain time-frame, we will have no option but to take over the control of cities by force. With regard to Qala-e-naw, we did not want to vitiate the festive occasion of Eid with bloodshed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How safe is Afghanistan right now? Internationally, it is regarded as a very unsafe place.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You are right, Afghanistan has not been a safe place. We have been at war for 20 years, so many countries have deployed weapons on this land. It was our helplessness that there was no peace here, that innocent Afghans had to make sacrifices while the struggle against foreign influence was on. War is not good, but there was no option. However, in the territory under our control, there is peace now. Elsewhere, there is unemployment and hunger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why was photojournalist Danish Siddiqui killed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His death is not related to the Taliban, he was caught in the crossfire. He was himself responsible for his death, for entering the crossfire and risking his life. We don't know whose gunfire killed him. The Taliban is not targeting journalists, but we are not responsible if someone gets hurt by coming into the midst of the battle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who will want to have any links with Afghanistan, or visit for tourism and business?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the external forces leave, we want to establish Islamic law here and reach out to other nations—Asia, the Islamic world, Europe, America—to establish diplomatic and trade ties, and revive our economy. When that happens, people from all over the world will want to visit<br> Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What role do you see for India in your vision for Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our plans include India. We want to have diplomatic ties with India. In the past, we have not had good ties. India has supported the foreign forces system, it supplied equipment for the war, leading to our own people becoming martyrs. We hope India rethinks its position on the diplomatic way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you saying India helped in the war?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India's role in Afghanistan so far has not been good. It gave helicopters which are used to bombard our population. India took sides in an internal matter, aiding one side to kill another section of Afghans. This is not the type of relationship we want. We want ties of diplomacy, respect and economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has any Indian leader contacted the Taliban leadership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, I have no information that any Indian leader has reached out to us. If I come to know something, I will let you know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>If India reaches out, will you talk?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are in favour of countries like India and others reaching out and wanting to have talks with us. We are certainly willing to have a conversation, if they are willing to discuss our issues and (support us). We will definitely welcome it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the Taliban reached out to the Indian government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not yet. We have been busy with our own matters. We also have issues with India because of its policy of aiding one section of Afghans with guns and equipment. We do not want such ties. If India changes its policies, Inshallah, we will have talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say about Pakistan's role in Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan is our neighbouring country; it gave shelter to Afghan refugees. We have good ties and want to continue that way with Pakistan, and also with all other countries we share a border with, like Turkmenistan, Iran, Tajikistan, China and Uzbekistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has Pakistan helped the Taliban?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, no, neither Pakistan nor any other country has helped us. If anyone says otherwise, that is wrong. No country is helping us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But Pakistan trains Taliban cadres.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is propaganda. We do not need training. We have the experience of being at war for 40 years. We do not need someone else to train us. In fact, if anyone else wants training, we can train them, we have so much experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will the Taliban be able to form a government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, we want the Taliban system to govern the entire country. The Taliban has struggled for Afghanistan's independence, it is our right to govern the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In your rule, will women also find a place?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women have rights under Islam. Within the system of Islam, whatever rights they have, they will have access to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it possible that a woman will be the leader of the country under a Taliban regime?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once we have formed our government and laws, the leaders will decide who will be given what position. Under the framework of Islam, women have the right to employment, education and service to the country. Within that framework, they will be given their rights and roles when our laws are formed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So many Afghan Hindus and Sikhs have left the country, what is your comment on this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are Afghans, they have rights in this country. We are responsible for ensuring they get their rights. Under our regime, we hope all religions will coexist. We want them to return and work towards making the country prosperous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Twenty years ago, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas. Do you regret that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That incident was under a past regime, we do not want to have any association with it. It is in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But are you sorry?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, the issue of regret doesn't come in because there are no followers of Buddhism in Afghanistan today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you say Hindus and Sikhs will be ensured protection to follow a faith different from Islam when you do not regret the destruction of the Buddha statues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, there are no practising Buddhists in Afghanistan today. If there was a single Afghan Buddhist, it would be their right to practise their religion, and we would respect that. There are Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, so there is a difference. We do not want their temples and gurdwaras to be destroyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Would you want Afghanistan to participate in sports, go explore outer space?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, of course, we want Afghans to participate in the Olympics. Science and sports both are important for a new Afghanistan to have independent thinking. In the past, too, our teams have taken part in international sports meets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>We hear there is a power struggle within the Taliban.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have unity. We have a single leader and we have good coordination between our leaders. There is no conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ten years hence, what will Kabul be like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inshallah, Afghanistan will be considered a good country. After the war is over, Afghanistan will emerge as the centre for trade and commerce, the link between east and west Asia. There will be growth and prosperity, the country will be full of people again.</p> Thu Aug 05 19:59:57 IST 2021 india-aim-should-be-to-ensure-taliban-doesnt-become-the-absolute-power-in-kabul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFGHANISTAN IS ON</b> the edge again. Emboldened by the vacuum created by the retreating western forces, the Taliban is steadily gaining control over Afghan territory. Despite claims that it is not keen on disrupting urban infrastructure, the fight for control between the Afghan military and the Taliban is intensifying in cities like Herat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the Taliban wrests territory by force, it talks the language of peace, claiming that is the first option for resolving internal differences. The world has acknowledged that the Taliban is a reality in Afghanistan that cannot be wished away. For any conversation towards the country’s future, the Taliban is a stakeholder they have to speak with. The Taliban, eager for legitimacy and acceptance, is in a mood to talk, and every country from China to Switzerland is having conversations with the group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India may perhaps be the only entity to show extreme reluctance in engaging with the Taliban, as it would be against the country’s stated policy of talking only with the democratically elected representatives of Afghanistan. The jury is divided on whether India has already missed the bus to the Hindukush, though it is generally accepted that some good opportunities have certainly gone by. “Ideally, India should have reached out in 2018 itself, we have lost much leverage,’’ said Kabir Taneja, a fellow of the strategic affairs programme at the Observer Research Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Indian government and the Taliban are vehement in denying that there have been any efforts at conversation. In June, when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Doha, there were reports that he had met with the Taliban leadership. But the ministry of external affairs denied it as “false and mischievous’’. Yet, most observers are certain that India has made some backend efforts at reaching out, but the conversations, if any, appear not to be making much headway. The Taliban is on the offensive mode with India. Some days ago, it said the air attack over Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, in which a hospital got bombed, was done by helicopters India had supplied, and called it a “war crime”.</p> <p>While India has resolutely kept its boots off the Afghan soil, it helps train military cadres. In 2019, India gave Afghanistan four Mi-35 attack helicopters and three Cheetah light helicopters. On the one hand, there is pressure from the Afghan government for spare parts to keep these aircraft operational, while on the other, the Taliban sees these gifts as India taking sides in an internal conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s decision to evacuate staff from its consulate in Kandahar last month underscores the threat India perceives from the Taliban. India has spent between two to three billion dollars in Afghanistan in various development projects. It has also helped capacity building, training Afghans in establishing democratic institutions, and grass-root level empowerment. Afghanistan has been a good example of the success of India’s soft diplomacy. The goodwill for India is immense among the people of Afghanistan, who flock to Indian cities for education and medical care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That goodwill will continue, irrespective of the future,” said Manjeev Singh Puri, former Indian ambassador to Kathmandu. The Taliban, so far, has not targeted any of the big Indian projects, well aware that those will be required even when it comes to power. However, with the Taliban’s recent anti-India outburst, the future seems uncertain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Engaging with the Taliban, observers say, is crucial if India wants to keep its infrastructure in Afghanistan secure. The Chabahar project, which gives the landlocked country a sea port access in Iran, may have met blocks towards further development. But, even in its present form, it gives India access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. Keeping this connectivity secure is crucial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much of India’s success in Afghanistan hinged on the US providing the so-called peace. With the Americans leaving, time has come for India to engage with other big stakeholders in Kabul. Russia is an important player, it even brokered intra-Afghan talks in 2018. It is strong on engaging with the Taliban and is critical of the Afghan government’s “hypocritical” approach to the talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is swiftly being edged out from many new groupings around Afghanistan, because of its reluctance to part with historical baggage. The US formed a new quad with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. China is grouping with Pakistan, and Russia has several initiatives, including one with the US, China and Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what really happens if India misses the bus to Kabul? Given that the US blueprint on Afghanistan has nothing about economic reconstruction, India might be facing a bleak future. Predominant Pakistani influence and rise in regional terrorism are the likely adverse outcomes. With China already thinking of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Kabul, the toe-hold India had on Afghan soil could be stomped out ruthlessly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So how does India salvage the situation for itself? It needs a special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, as most countries like the US, Russia and China have. “We need to talk to everyone, even the Taliban, even if that causes a domestic backlash,” said an observer, requesting anonymity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to engage at special multilateral platforms on Afghanistan,” said Puri. “With India in the UN Security Council right now, we are ideally placed to initiate discussions on peace in Afghanistan.” Could a UN-led peacekeeping force be an option?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation contact group for Afghanistan and the Russia-China-India trilateral, too, are opportunities. Though equations with China have dipped because of the border conflict, and with Iran over New Delhi toeing the US line against it, India has to engage with both over Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bolder approach could be to support Mullah Yakub, one of the two deputies in the Taliban leadership, against Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose Pakistani affiliation is greater. India’s aim, according to observers, should be to ensure that while the Taliban becomes part of Afghanistan’s legitimate future, it does not become the absolute power in Kabul. “We don’t want to meet the Taliban for the first time in the parliament building we built in Kabul, do we?” asked Taneja.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The great game is on. And if India wants to stay in it, it has to play with extreme dexterity.</p> Thu Aug 05 19:49:27 IST 2021 china-dangerous-biowarfare-blueprint <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Guest column/ Maj Gen Partap Narwal (retd), The author is a microbiologist trained in biowarfare detection and protection.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Iain Stewart, the president of Canada’s Public Health Agency, recently defied the country’s parliament. He refused to share details of why a Chinese scientist couple was expelled from a high-security microbiology laboratory in Canada in 2019. Stewart said the details being sought by parliament were “extremely sensitive or potentially dangerous”. The media had earlier reported that the couple not only helped ship two dangerous viruses from the laboratory to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, but also trained a researcher affiliated to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, after the US Justice Department indicted six Chinese researchers for hiding their PLA connection, more than 1,000 PLA-affiliated researchers fled the US because of similar charges. Even senior scientists from prestigious institutions like Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been indicted for allegedly working for China. The pattern is clear: PLA’s hunger for technology acquisition is as insatiable as China’s hunger for world domination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PLA used to look at war as a battle of wits that could be won with trickery and deception. But, about 20 years ago, it realised that its old strategies were inadequate for present-day warfare. Thus began its quest for technology. In 2002, the PLA strategist Bingyan Li wrote in the journal China Military Science: “We should make traditional strategy merge with modern science and technology and scientific methods to restore the original intent of the Sun Tzu strategy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 2003 paper in CMS cautioned that unless PLA combined high-tech weapons and improved stratagems, it will not be easy to win military operations. PLA has since been focusing on mechanisation, information technology and artificial intelligence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, a landmark development in biotechnology attracted PLA’s interest. A revolutionary tool called CRISPR made the process of gene editing easier, quicker, cheaper and more precise. It enhanced scientists’ capabilities to create designer microbes, crops, livestock and even human babies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PLA lost no time in exploring the possibilities. In 2015, its scientists and strategists saw biotechnology as a “new strategic commanding heights of the future revolution in military affairs”, and they strived for “biological deterrence” and “militarisation of biotechnology”. With its jun-min ronghe (the civil-military integration programme), China now leads in trials of CRISPR in animals and even in humans. Its scientists have already produced designer pigs, monkeys, mice, rats, rabbits and dogs. In 2018, a Chinese scientist shocked the world when he claimed to have created three human babies with gene-editing technology. Such research is considered unethical and unsafe worldwide. Though the Chinese authorities reportedly jailed the scientist later for his “illegal medical practices”, it is now suspected that China’s military leaders are supporting human gene-editing trials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Academy of Military Science (AMS), which is directly under China’s Central Military Commission, oversees military research and doctrine development. China overhauled AMS in 2017 to further sharpen its focus on technology. The divisions dealing with doctrinal development were consolidated into two new institutes: the War Institute and the Military Political Work Institute. Three institutes that dealt with technical research and were earlier directly under PLA—the Military Medicine Research Institute, the System Engineering Institute, and the National Defence Science and Technology Innovation Institute—were brought under AMS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Defence S&amp;T Innovation Institute pioneers research in cutting-edge technologies like AI, unmanned systems and nano and quantum technology. The other AMS institutes, with their roles obvious from their names, are the Military Law Research Institute, the Chemical Defence Research Institute, the National Defence Engineering Research Institute, the Evaluation and Demonstration Research Centre, and the Military Science Information Research Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under jun-min ronghe, AMS has also created linkages with several private biotechnology companies and scores of Chinese civilian universities for training military scientists and pursuing defence research. The Beijing Genomic Institute, the largest Chinese biotech company, is working on several PLA projects. Though the company reportedly accepts only its academic alliance with the military and denies other linkages, its opaque system of reporting further raises doubts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many PLA-associated universities have brazenly sent thousands of researchers abroad to learn crucial technologies, wrote Alex Joske in a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “There is a growing risk that collaboration with [Chinese] universities can be leveraged by PLA or security agencies for surveillance, human rights abuses or military purposes,” Joske wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, only uniformed personnel staffed military research, but from 2017 onwards, a large number of civilian scholars are being enrolled. Their number has since seen a five-fold increase. The Military Medicine Research Institute, which spearheads medical research, happens to be the second largest recruiter of scholars among the 10 AMS institutes, wrote Kai Lin Tay of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Accordingly, PLA’s expertise in medical research has grown tremendously. The ongoing pandemic has established this—PLA scientists were in the forefront to develop the world’s first coronavirus vaccine for restricted use. Zhou Yusen, a prominent military biotechnologist who had partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Technology for research, had applied for a vaccine patent as early as February 24, 2020. He died mysteriously three months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PLA has, unsurprisingly, focused on using biotechnology to manipulate the brain. The aim is to acquire capability to alter and distort the adversary’s cognition on the battleground and to develop a “combat brain” for the future battlefield. This combat brain is likely to enhance not only the situational understanding in a battlefield, but also transform decision-making. PLA has adopted a two-way approach in this field: it is studying brain development for memory enhancement through gene editing in monkeys, and developing a brain-computer interface for integrating human intelligence with AI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AI is thought to be at the centre of the PLA’s future-war scenarios. “Chinese academic and military medical institutions have concentrated on the expansion of military brain science, which has been prioritised for funding,” wrote Elsa B. Kania, a fellow with the Centre for a New American Security, in PRISM, the US National Defence University’s journal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PLA is also passionately interested in designing genetically modified super soldiers by enhancing human performance. The aim is to create combatants who are stronger, healthier, smarter and faster than adversaries. In December 2020, John Ratcliffe, the US director of national intelligence, shocked the world when he wrote in an op-ed article: “China also steals sensitive US defence technology to fuel President Xi Jinping’s aggressive plan to make China the world’s foremost military power. US intelligence shows that China has even conducted human testing on [PLA] members in the hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities. There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power.” Although Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s daily, termed Ratcliffe’s article as “an overhyped sensation”, there is worldwide recognition of China’s problematic ethical standards and opaqueness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most alarming use of biotechnology is in developing “genetic weapons”. The integration of biology with AI computation has facilitated scientists’ understanding of how different population groups have differing susceptibility to diseases and disorders, and their responses to medicines. It has now become possible to design and develop precise genetic weapons that could be deployed stealthily over wide areas, and such weapons would affect only targeted people, of specific ethnic group or race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When bioscience reveals microorganism mysteries between different races, groups and individuals, and explains mechanisms of memory, emotion, decision and thinking functions, then it is possible to filter out targets at the biomolecular level with a weapon system attacking biological functions that de-capacitate forces,” wrote Timothy Thomas, quoting from a 2016 paper in CMS, in a 2020 study sponsored by US Army Futures and Concepts Center. “When genetic roots and cognitive space are understood, commanders will be able to weaken the will of people and control people’s consciousness from the ‘inside of people’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No doubt, the new gene-editing technology is exciting and powerful. But it carries great risks, particularly when used for manipulating large and complex genetic structures, as in the case of human and animal embryos. The experiments have proven that it can cause long-term, unintended or even harmful effects—like cancer and partial loss of genetic structures. Consequently, a 2020 report by the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing strongly recommended that the practice be ended. But the question remains: can these recommendations deter a totalitarian state that blindly aspires to become the most powerful nation on earth?</p> <p>Military writings from China proclaim PLA’s intentions and efforts to integrate biotechnology with the traditional ways of waging war. PLA considers biotechnology as a crucial means of attaining strategic dominance over adversaries. With China’s low ethical standards in research, lack of transparency in reporting, and indiscriminate hunt for technology, PLA is determined to attain its obvious goal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, the belligerent and figurative language used by Xi while addressing the recent centenary celebrations of Communist Party of China gives a loud and clear message to democracies: Be wary, and be prepared.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:50:09 IST 2021 taliban-uses-quick-battles-slow-negotiations-to-take-territory-and-gain-legitimacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When the Taliban captured Spin Boldak, a town in the southern Kandahar province bordering Pakistan, in 1994, not many people took notice. But the battle made history later as it was the first military success of Mullah Omar, the founding leader of the Taliban. The group captured the town once again on July 14, repeating Omar’s tactics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spin Boldak is the latest in the series of border towns that fell to the Taliban in the past one month. It started with Sher Bandar Khan on the border with Tajikistan on June 22. The next ones to fall were Islam Qala close to Iran and Torghundi on the Turkmenistan border. “The Taliban has modified very smartly,’’ said Rakesh Sood, former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan. “Back in the 1990s, it was unknown and untested. Now it is a seasoned entity. It has run the country for six to seven years, lived through an insurgency and has run shadow governments. But the Taliban’s ideology remains the same. It has not given us any indication that it has changed.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The taking of the border posts is part of a calculated plan. In 1994, when Omar captured the Spin Boldak crossing, he had help from Pakistan. And history seems to have repeated. “The ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) is involved,” said Sood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Islam Qala hit headlines in February after a blast destroyed oil tankers, causing a loss of $100 million. It is one of the busiest transit ports in Afghanistan, which generated revenue over $1.3 billion in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The idea is not only to deprive the government of aid, but also hem it in further and stop regional allies from sending military equipment,” said Jonathan Schroden of the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses (CNA). “The government had a chance to reset its posture as the US started to withdraw, but it failed to do so. That left a lot of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) positions in rural areas bereft of support. The Taliban sensed those weaknesses and pounced. What is interesting is that it pounced mostly in the north—that caught people by surprise. It is clearly a strategic move, designed to pre-empt militia networks.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taliban is now within touching distance of being the rulers of Afghanistan once again, and this time perhaps with political legitimacy. “The 1990s experience of being a pariah was a bitter one,’’ said Ibraheem Thurial B., independent researcher with the International Crisis Group. “The Taliban is desperately trying to have regional legitimacy, if not international legitimacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The organisation’s supreme commander Hibatullah Akhundzada indicated as much in his Eid message. “In spite of the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate strenuously favours a political settlement,” he said. Sood said Akhundzada’s message could be a tactical move and an indication to wait till the Americans left. Yet, with its gains over the past few weeks, the Taliban is now in a position to set the agenda for future negotiations. “The concessions it was willing to make in 2014, [were not on the table] in 2020 because it was in a stronger position,” said Thurial. “And the concessions that it would be willing to make now will be nowhere near what it offered last year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military offensive is deliberate. “The Taliban will continue to push where it thinks it can make easy gains, but it is unlikely to mass fighters against major cities or ANDSF strongpoints because they will get decimated by airstrikes,’’ said Schroden. “Instead, the strategy now is a continuation of what it has been doing for years: surround, isolate, and choke the cities in an attempt to get them to capitulate without a fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, Omar captured the munition dump at Spin Boldak before he marched to Kandahar, the second largest city. Kabul fell on September 26, 1996. This time, the conquest has been quicker, and without much of a fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thurial said the Taliban had a clear strategy in seeking surrenders. “It sends intermediaries or village elders or the group’s own commanders to negotiate surrenders. In most cases, it treats soldiers well and gives them money for not returning to the battlefield. We have seen an unprecedented number of people surrendering. Had the Taliban gone by the Islamic State model of executing everyone, it might not have had the same success. In the 1990s, it treated soldiers harshly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plan seems to be working. In a short span, 13 of 15 districts in Herat have fallen. The city remains with the government, but only just. The Taliban’s quick victories also point towards the lack of investment in building Afghan capabilities. “Say, there are 50 Afghan fighters with tanks, Humvees and machine guns. But 20 Taliban fighters may come and take away everything,” said Arash Yakin, a counterterrorism researcher based in Washington, DC. “From 2010 to 2012, the focus in military training was on quantity, while quality went down. President Obama wanted to get out. Also, a lot of investment was in Kabul, and not in the remote areas.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military strategy is only a small part of the Taliban game plan. The larger aim is to have a seat at the high table with the international fraternity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pakistan is playing the long game,” said Sood. “The Pakistanis provided the Taliban with safe havens and sanctuaries and waited. The first indication of the change came in 2011 when Obama’s secretary of state Hillary Clinton changed the preconditions for the talks with the Taliban into outcomes of the talks. It was stage one of ensuring legitimacy. The next stage came when it opened the Doha office. There was a lot of uproar about it, but the Taliban had a foot in the door.” It was followed by talks okayed by the Obama administration and the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the special representative for Afghan reconciliation by president Donald Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Battle tactics apart, can the Taliban establish a successful administration? Experts say it will depend on the unity of the group. “The Taliban could be considered the most united political movement in Afghanistan,’’ said Thurial. Mullah Omar’s death resulted in a power struggle between his son, Yakub, and Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Yet, most commanders stayed on as they realised that breaking away would push them into political irrelevance. “But that is not to say that in the future, if the Taliban joins a hybrid system with different actors, it would not splinter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sood believes that there may be fissures that will surface. “We would like that to happen now. But the Pakistanis will want them to emerge later,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being relegated to the margins, India has no option but to wait. There are reports that India has reached out to moderate elements within the Taliban, like Mullah Baradar, one of the cofounders of the group. But the ministry of external affairs and the Taliban have denied it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghan government, which is clearly on the back foot, wants India in its corner. Afghan army chief General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai is expected to visit India on July 27. It is no secret that Afghanistan is keen on procuring military equipment from India, but New Delhi has, so far, been reluctant to oblige. With Kabul in danger, the Afghan government is looking for assistance from every possible corner. Unlike during the Taliban takeover of the 1990s, the Afghan army still stands, and it remains the only buffer between the Taliban and Kabul.</p> Thu Jul 22 18:27:26 IST 2021 cabal-in-control <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ALTHOUGH THE TALIBAN</b> is the most influential player in Afghanistan, details about its leadership and organisational structure are sketchy. The group’s supreme leader is Hibatullah Akhundzada, who took over in 2016. He is assisted by three deputies: Mullah Yakub, the son of founding leader Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani network and Mullah Baradar, who is in charge of political affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Akhundzada reportedly prefers a hands-off approach. “Most decisions are left to the leadership council,” said a source. One-third members of the council are based in Doha and the rest are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All major decisions are cleared by the council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is speculation that a battle is brewing among the deputies for supremacy. A source said it was essentially a competition between Baradar and Yakub. With Akhundzada not being involved with each decision, the deputies enjoy considerable leeway. Even local commanders are given enough latitude in designing their operations and framing local policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being the commander of the military wing, Yakub seems to have the upper hand among the deputies, but he has also reportedly made some military blunders. Baradar, known as the face of the group’s Doha office, is also a powerful player. “Only two or three people in the movement play a role equal to or bigger than Baradar’s,” said a source.</p> Thu Jul 22 18:55:59 IST 2021 scared-yet-pragmatic-afghan-youth-prepare-themselves-to-face-a-civil-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RAZMA PARWANI, 20,</b> is upset. She grew up hearing that peace was just around the corner in Afghanistan. “But we are spiralling back into a civil war,” she says. Parwani is angry with the US. “They came uninvited into a messy situation, made it a bigger problem and have now dumped it on us, leaving without resolving anything,” she says. She is angry with the Taliban, which is putting up posters in provinces saying women cannot step out without a male escort. She is angry with fate. “We were a generation with dreams. We thought we would take Afghanistan towards progress and development. I wanted to be that symbol of hope for my country. My dream is shattered,” she laments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parwani returned to Kabul from India, where she studies economics at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, a few months ago, and the initial thrill of homecoming soon fizzled out as power supply became patchy, internet connections weak and news from the provinces scary. “We go to bed every night in the fear that the Taliban will take over, and we wake up every morning wondering whether the city has fallen. Is this any way to live?” she asks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a generation of Afghans who grew up in the post-Taliban era, the developments of the last several weeks—western forces withdrawing, the Taliban growing stronger and the threat of anarchy looming large—is a return to a past it had only heard about, or vaguely remembers. “We grew up with experiences Afghanistan had never had,” says Samiullah Mehdi, 37, a Kabul University lecturer and journalist. “We experienced freedom of expression, a connectivity with the outside world, given our isolation for decades. Women got a chance at education and employment. We took part in a dozen elections [since the Taliban’s fall in 2001]—four presidential, four parliamentary and several provincial ones. Afghanistan is a young country; 75 per cent of our population is under 35. I am already an old man. This war, therefore, is on the new generation. That is why they are attacking schools and colleges.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As this generation sees the country slipping back from gains of past years, it grapples with a gamut of emotions—anger, fear, disappointment. It feels betrayed by the west and its own leaders. “We had 20 years and billions of dollars coming in as help, yet our leaders were not able to secure our homeland,” says Jebrael Amin, 28, who works with the US-aided District Peace Dialogue, helping remote communities become self-sufficient. His tours have stopped now, and stress has eroded his devil-may-care demeanour. The fun-loving boy I met in Kabul three years ago wanted to live life to the maximum, because “one never knows when a suicide bomber decides to say ‘Allah hu akbar’ and take us away with him”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, Amin is an insomniac, grateful if he can get two hours sleep. Sleep mostly brings nightmares. He dreamt of being beheaded one night; another time, he was in a battle, gun in hand, but with no courage to shoot. He has lost 10kg, as he works out plans to secure his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amin would rather not leave Afghanistan. He hated his stay in Pakistan, where his family fled to during the earlier tumult while he was still in the womb. “The Pakistani boys used to address me as ‘you mohajir (refugee)’,” he recalls. “I hated them. I got into so many brawls.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scramble to leave the country has begun. Some are slinking out illegally, the pandemic-induced closed borders making it harder to do so. Choices are further whittled as many do not want to go to Pakistan, as they blame it for their present problems, and Iran is in its own turmoil. Most prefer Turkey, with hopes to get into Europe. Some are seeking refuge in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and even India. “This is a regional issue, not our problem alone. The help from our neighbours is very important, before it becomes a bigger problem,” says Wahaj Raz, 25, with a wisdom belying his age. He had started a cement supply business, but no one is thinking of building anything right now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The passport office and the one issuing the national identity card are seeing serpentine lines. People are braving the baking heat for hours to get their documents in place, in case they have to flee. The internal exodus, too, has begun, with villagers fleeing towards cities. Kabul, already bursting with internally displaced refugees, is bracing itself for more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Taliban damaged some supply stations, most of Kabul is without electricity. Residents fear that while the capital is still secure—most of Taliban’s gains are in remote provinces—it could come under siege if the Taliban secures the highway that brings in supplies from Uzbekistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although global leaders believe Taliban is the reality Afghanistan has to reckon with, and are therefore involving it in intra-Afghan peace talks, this generation rejects the Taliban. “They will not change. They have proved it with their proclamations about women,” says Rikhteen Momand, 33, from Jalalabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, a sliver of hope, even though Amin says he is now searching for it with a magnifier. News that Taliban has captured 80 per cent of the country, say the youth, is just propaganda. “They have taken over 100 of 400 districts,” explains Mehdi. “Taken over means they have control of the district government and police offices; it still does not mean they have control of the entire land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kabul airport has installed an anti-missile system; our troops are well-trained, they say. “For some time now, our forces were providing the bulk of security. The western troops had reduced their help,” says Mehdi. That the Taliban is struggling to hold onto territory gained, like Qala-e-Naw, capital of Badghis province, gives Afghans hope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a pragmatic generation. “There will be peace one day, but not tomorrow. First there will be a civil war,” says Momand. They know that the price of that elusive peace will be high—many will lose lives, livelihood and homeland. But the crowds at Slice, a popular fast food chain in Kabul, give a peek into the minds of these youngsters. They are making the most of whatever good time they can grab, Covid restrictions notwithstanding, before they brace for blood and battle. That is the resilient Afghan spirit.</p> Sat Jul 24 19:41:51 IST 2021 china-boosts-position-in-sri-lanka-with-colombo-port-city-dealing-india-major-blow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 20, the Sri Lankan parliament approved the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill with the support of 149 legislators in the 225-member house. While Sinhala parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly in support, opposition came from Tamil MPs, who said the bill compromised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and could turn the country into a Chinese colony because of the preferential clauses included in it. The Port City, which will be Sri Lanka's first special economic zone for services-oriented industries, will be built by a Chinese company on 269 hectares (about 665 acres) of land reclaimed off the Colombo coast. It is financed by China as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With domestic and international opposition against the project intensifying, three cabinet ministers—Ali Sabry, G.L. Peiris and Ajith Nivard Cabraal—addressed a webinar organised by the Sri Lankan information department on May 28 to defend the Port City. They said the project was “fully Sri Lankan” and solicited foreign direct investment for its development. “Sri Lanka is non-aligned and that is our pride as a nation. We are friends of all and open for business with the entire world,” said Sabry. Peiris said the venture was completely transparent and that there was “no exclusivity” in Sri Lanka’s relationship with any one country, in an apparent reference to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reclamation of 269 hectares for the project was done by the China Harbour Engineering Company at a cost of $1.4 billion and was completed by January 2019. According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the entire project will be completed by 2041. But real estate development, including commercial, financial, hospitality, residential and social infrastructure, is being accelerated. The PwC report estimated that the project would create more than two lakh jobs and would contribute around $11.8 billion to Sri Lanka’s GDP per annum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa claim that the project will be a big boon to the Sri Lankan economy, the opposition to the project is largely because of Chinese involvement. Launched in September 2014 when Mahinda was president, the project, which was halted briefly, is now back on track with the Rajapaksas back in power after a four-year break. This will be the third major infrastructure project in Sri Lanka after the Hambantota Port and the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) which is financed by China under BRI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growing Chinese presence has alarmed civil society groups, which have raised objections about the manner in which the governance of the project is envisaged. The bill allows the president to appoint a commission to govern the Port City. The commission enjoys absolute power in matters of governance, but there is not much accountability and oversight. Moreover, even foreigners can be appointed members of the commission. The bill also enables businesses to use any recognised foreign currency within the Port City. Critics, therefore, argue that it could turn into a Chinese enclave in future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As many as 19 petitions were filed against the bill in the supreme court. Some of them opposed the provisions to appoint foreigners to the commission, while others challenged the provision to grant the Port City exemption from several tax and labour laws, giving the Chinese paymasters a major say in its day-to-day running and in matters of arbitration. After the court ruled that some provisions of the bill were “inconsistent” with the constitution, the government introduced a few amendments and got the bill passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The project also faced opposition from environmentalists and fisherfolk who said it would affect marine life. But those protests fizzled out in the absence of political support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was no opposition as such in the parliament against the bill, except from a section of the Tamil parties,” said N. Sathiyamoorthy, distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai. “All the Sinhala parties stood united and the bill was passed. The concern now is that the bill allows backdoor entry for China.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese influence is growing at a steady pace in Sri Lanka. Chinese control of the Hambantota Port and the CICT has already altered the geostrategic profile of Sri Lanka’s western and southern coasts. The Port City now joins the list. “Given the fact that China [took away] a piece of our country 13 years ago [with the Hambantota project], this cannot be seen as just an investment project. A hegemonic rivalry is likely to be played out through these projects as China is establishing its presence at [another] strategic geographic corner of the Indian periphery,” said Nilanthan, a Jaffna-based political analyst and blogger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s geopolitical dynamics has a direct impact on Indian foreign and security policies, which have failed to keep in check the growing Chinese influence. Although Gotabaya has promised that “no one will be allowed to jeopardise the security of India,” he seems to be getting increasingly shackled by China's rapidly growing economic and strategic might.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China's increasing influence in India's backyard is turning out to be a nightmare, strategically and economically. “It will help China eavesdrop in cyberspace,” said Colonel (retd) R. Hariharan, who served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. India, along with Japan, has already lost the contract to develop the strategic East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port, allegedly under Chinese pressure. India is also wary about the growing delay in approval for starting the development of the upper tank farm in Trincomalee, which is part of a longstanding India-Sri Lanka strategic initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past few years, India’s relations with its neighbours such as Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar have run into rough weather. It will, therefore, want to tread cautiously on the issue and avoid ceding further space to China</p> Thu Jul 15 19:44:57 IST 2021 india-moves-to-utilise-lakshadweep-strategic-location-but-security-is-a-challenge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On April 7, 2021, the USS John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer, passed just off the coast of Lakshadweep. It was on a freedom of navigation operation of the US navy. But it was in India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—an area in which a sovereign state has special rights to explore and use marine resources. India responded strongly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It said that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea “does not authorise” passage of ships with weapons or explosives without the consent of the coastal state. India's reaction was apt and understandable, but the "unauthorised" movement of a US warship close to Indian waters also highlighted something else. The proximity to Lakshadweep was indicative of the strategic importance of the archipelago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of Lakshadweep's 36 islands, only 10 are inhabited. The population is estimated to be around 73,000 (2020 UIDAI projection). But Lakshadweep gives India 20,000sqkm of territorial waters and 4,00,000sqkm of EEZ. It is close to the Nine Degree Channel; 12 ships cross this channel every minute. But, probably because of the limited land area—32sqkm—Lakshadweep lacks adequate infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, it got only a small military detachment and electronic surveillance. Now, Indian military planners are starting to believe that it can be used to counter China's growing influence in neighbouring nations like the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar. China is building a port city in Sri Lanka, around 300km from India. Similarly, it controls several islands in the Maldives and is building an airport there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian defence infrastructure in Lakshadweep has been enhanced over the years. In 2010, then defence minister A.K. Antony commissioned coast guard stations in Kavaratti and Minicoy, thus boosting the presence of the Indian Coast Guard. In 2012, the second Manmohan Singh government commissioned the first naval base in the islands—INS Dweeprakshak, in capital Kavaratti. In the same year, a coast guard station in Androth was commissioned. In 2016, a naval detachment was commissioned on Androth island.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides surveillance, these detachments work as observance and reporting organisations. And, there are plans for a fully operational navy base in Lakshadweep. A bigger facility on Minicoy is also under consideration, because of its proximity to the Maldives (71 nautical miles).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Andaman and Nicobar islands in the east and Lakshadweep in the west are getting renewed attention, as the ministry of defence and the national security council secretariat are constantly in touch with the Island Development Agency. (The IDA was set up in June 2017 to oversee the development of 1,382 identified offshore islands of India.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multiple efforts are on to develop Lakshadweep’s defence capabilities. The Navy is working in tandem with the civil administration to extend the Agatti airstrip to 3,200m (from 1,000m) to accommodate larger aircraft. A longer runway would take the Navy’s Boeing P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft; the squadron—INAS 312, nicknamed The Albatrosses—is currently based at INS Rajali in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu. Experts say that the P-8I taking off from Agatti will have longer legs in the Indian Ocean region, enabling it to reach as far as South Africa. The Indian Air Force, too, has, plans for Lakshadweep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At present, Lakshadweep is under the Southern Naval Command, based in Kochi, Kerala. But, once the Karwar Naval Base (Project Seabird, which Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited on June 24 to take stock of the progress) becomes fully active, the archipelago will be handled from there. This may result in Lakshadweep getting a more important role in India's military strategy. Phase-II of the Karwar project, which will be the biggest naval base east of the Suez Canal and a major part of India's power projection, is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian maritime agencies are keeping a close eye on the Nine Degree Channel, which separates Minicoy island from the main Lakshadweep archipelago. The channel is used by all merchantmen shuttling to and from Europe, the Middle East and western Asia, and south east Asia and the far east. In wartime, India can block the channel and cut enemy supply lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rear Admiral Sudarshan Y. Shrikhande (retired), who served as chief of staff in the Southern Naval Command, said: “Any capability enhancement helps Indian security establishment against all [potential] adversaries, including China.” However, he added that the volume of narcotics seizures in Indian waters was a big challenge. “[Indian waters have] become a conduit for global narcotics trade,” he said. Prabhakaran Paleri, former director general of the coast guard, said that protecting inhabited islands posed a different kind of challenge, as they can be used for trafficking of arms, drugs and people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, coastal security received close attention after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. It was pointed out that terror outfits could pose a security challenge if Lakshadweep was not secured. Intelligence agencies even warned that Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba could utilise uninhabited islands in Lakshadweep as a base to attack mainland India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The archipelago’s proximity to the Maldives is seen as an additional concern. Security agencies believe that Lakshadweep's predominantly Muslim population (over 90 per cent) offer easy pickings for Maldivian fundamentalist outfits. Lieutenant Colonel M.P. Habibullah (retired), a native of Androth and the first Army officer from Lakshadweep, said that growing fundamentalism in the Maldives posed a threat. “The recent bomb attack on former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed indicates the ingression of radical groups,” he said. “[The highest] percentage of jihadi recruits from south Asian nations to the ISIS have been from the Maldives.”</p> Fri Jul 16 23:16:52 IST 2021 neither-israel-nor-hamas-in-palestine-is-even-thinking-of-peace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Parul Rathee, a 25-year-old Indian student at Tel Aviv University, will never forget May 11. She and her friends had a plan for the evening—dance classes—and she casually asked them whether it would be safe, given the rockets Hamas was sending. They laughed and said: “This is Tel Aviv, we are far from the border.”</p> <p>However, later that evening, one of her friends got an alert on a smartphone app that there could be rockets coming their way within minutes. It all happened so fast, she said. Suddenly, the night sky was lit up with rockets. Her friends dragged her to the nearest house and the owners hustled the whole group of strangers into their underground bomb shelter, no questions asked.</p> <p>“We stayed like that for the next two hours, and we could hear booms outside,” said Rathee, who was terribly shaken by the experience. Then, the noises dimmed, and they stepped out. The rockets had been deflected and there was no damage done. Her friend—an Arab Israeli—coolly headed to her car and dropped the others home.</p> <p>In the days hence, Rathee's fear of living under siege has fast disappeared. She may not follow the routine as matter-of-factly as Israelis, but she is getting there. “Living here is not as scary as it seems from the outside,” she said. Almost 60 per cent of Israeli homes have bomb shelters, there are also several in public areas. These are either underground or, if above ground, made of reinforced metal. The app which alerted Rathee's friend is courtesy of the Israeli Home Front Command. It is GPS-enabled and provides real-time alerts. It may not always give enough reaction time, but sometimes even a two-minute warning is enough to evade death.</p> <p>Overhead is the invisible protection of Israel's famed Iron Dome, which deflects missiles from targets. However, even the Iron Dome is not impenetrable, as is evident from the recent deaths. Israelis say that Hamas ammunition has got sophisticated, too. The Israelis make it a point to announce that their dead include Muslims, foreigners (recently, the Indian caregiver Soumya Santhosh) and even children. In retaliation, they are sending their own fire, bringing down entire buildings in business and residential districts of Palestinian towns, especially in Gaza.</p> <p>The Palestinians have neither the protection of an anti-missile umbrella, nor enough reinforced spaces to take shelter in. In Palestine, therefore, people are being killed in much higher numbers, the civilian casualties increasing by the day. After a building which housed several international media houses was pulverised by Israeli fire, Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt said the “world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today”. No one was killed in the blast, as Israel had given an hour's notice before bombing.</p> <p>Israel says that its bombings are precise, targeting only Hamas infrastructure or cadre. But, it accepts that there will be civilian casualties. “I am not belittling civilian deaths, but we have hit dozens of senior and mid ranking people in Hamas. This is what the Gazan media announces,” said senior Israeli diplomat, Paul Hirschon. “We are in no mood to apply Band-Aid over our wounds right now; we will continue to hit them.”</p> <p>The anger between Israel and Hamas in Palestine is so red hot that neither side is even thinking of a cessation to the hostilities anytime soon. The Palestinians say there is no point having talks with a country that has not heeded to any past agreement; Israel says that talks can happen only after they have ensured Hamas does not fire at them again. The world is looking at this conflict with unease, even as both sides openly ask nations to support their cause.</p> <p>Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the 25 countries which have supported them; India was not one of those. Iran has called on Muslim countries to defend Palestine; Indonesia and Malaysia have condemned Israeli attacks. Many others, however, are wary of immediate responses. Four Islamic countries—the UAE, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain—normalised ties with Israel last year. The development was seen as a move towards underscoring economic development and peace over communal hostilities. There was hope that more Arab countries would join the Abraham Accord, brokered by the Donald Trump administration with the UAE last year. Jordan and Egypt already have ties with Israel.</p> <p>India, which made a bold move under Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few years ago to de-hyphenate its ties with Israel and Palestine, has made guarded utterances. T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the United Nations, called for immediate de-escalation and appealed to the two sides to “refrain from changing the status quo”. He condemned “all acts of violence, specially rocket attacks from Gaza” and noted and mourned the death of Santhosh to one such hit at Ashkelon.</p> <p>While Israel and Palestine have had an uneasy relationship at the best of times, there was a recent slowdown in open hostilities. The last long-drawn instance was in 2014, which lasted around 50 days. “Let us hope it does not drag on for so long again,” said Reena Pushkarna, an Indian-origin Israeli restaurateur. Life was just returning to normal after Israel's intensive vaccination drive. “The schools have shut again, the restaurants, too,” she said.</p> <p>What worries her more is that this time the communal fabric of Israel is under stress. “We have a good number of Arab Israelis; many are part of the intelligentsia, they are doctors and professors,” she said. “But, the atmosphere is changing, spurred largely by social media and TikTok videos. The communal riots are scarier than the rockets. The other day, Arab rioters torched the famous Uri Buri fish restaurant in Acre, which was so popular with the Arabs. Once the rockets stop, will our leaders be able to bring back communal harmony?” That, however, seems like a problem for another day. For now, the rockets continue to bring death and destruction.</p> Thu May 20 18:40:06 IST 2021 all-muslim-nations-will-have-ties-with-israel-when-issue-is-resolved-palestine-envoy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/ <b>Why did Hamas fire rockets into Israel?</b></p> <p>A/ It comes from what happened in Jerusalem, at the Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. The Israeli police entered such a holy mosque's premises and they shot at the Palestinians. They say they used rubber bullets, but not all were rubber bullets. At least 150 metal bullets were found on the worshippers at the mosque, and that also, on the upper half of the torso. We cannot stay forever watching our people being troubled or killed. Earlier, they were evicting Arabs who have historically lived in the Sheikh Jarrah area. This is happening in Jerusalem, which is the capital of Palestine.</p> <p>The main problem is the occupation of Palestine. We have agreed to accept 22 per cent of the original historical land of Palestine, which is the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. But the Israelis continue to occupy even these lands. They send militia in the garb of settlers, and they are later aided by the Israeli forces. How long will we continue to just sit and watch? They want the Palestinians to live forever under occupation. What are we supposed to do—raise our hands and say we accept to live as slaves? They mete out an apartheid-like treatment even to Israeli Arabs; there are different laws for Jews and non-Jews.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You have, however, killed innocent civilians and escalated the fight.</b></p> <p>A/ You think Israelis are not killing civilians? [On the night of May 15] alone, they killed eight children and two women. There is heavy shelling on our cities; their cannons are not aimed at military people but at civilian homes. We have had 139 deaths so far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Are you not willing to have talks?</b></p> <p>A/ We are always ready for peace and negotiation, but not on the terms of the Israelis. Israel has proved it is above international law; it has violated all the agreements. It has refused to apply any of the resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly or the Security Council. Or, for that matter, any peace plan. We signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. Have they honoured it? If that has not happened, what are we expected to do—start negotiation all over again?</p> <p>The world is calling for a two-state solution. Israel, however, is going about confiscating land, closing borders and killing people. They are still making settlements in the West Bank, evicting hundreds of our people. They had the support of [Donald] Trump and we still do not see any real pressure by the [new] US government on Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Many Islamic countries in the region now have diplomatic ties with Israel. Does that not trouble you?</b></p> <p>A/ Even they have condemned Israel's actions. We do not recognise these diplomatic ties. When we are able to solve the Palestinian problem, then not four or five, but all 57 Islamic countries will have relations with Israel. We are looking for support from the international community for our cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What are your expectations from India?</b></p> <p>A/ India is well aware of the situation. I hope it will take up the Palestinian cause and support us politically.</p> Thu May 20 18:35:21 IST 2021 it-would-be-nice-if-india-expressed-support-strongly--israeli-di <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/ <b>How did the current conflict begin?</b></p> <p>A/ Hamas has been angered by a number of things recently. Four Muslim nations have normalised relations with us, they fear Palestine may follow suit and they do not want this. There is anger over the sudden cancellation of elections in Palestine. For several weeks, they were inciting and instigating violence between Israelis and exploiting the court case between tenants and landlord at Sheikh Jarrah, giving it a communal twist.</p> <p>The goal of Hamas is to remove Israel from the face of the earth. Last week, there was a confluence of important dates: it was the last Friday of Ramadan, followed on Monday by Jerusalem Day. Hamas exploited it well, getting stones and incendiary material into the temple mount. As you know, just below this is the Western Wall where Jews worship and it is easy to target them. Israeli police would not allow that and when they stopped it, Hamas made it seem as if Israel was invading the holy mosque.</p> <p>On May 11 night, Hamas fired six rockets into Jerusalem. Is it not a holy city for them, too? What if one of the rockets had hit Al Aqsa or any of the several mosques in the city? We are now having daily rocket hits. Rockets do not distinguish between people; they have killed Israeli Muslims, an 87-year-old lady, a five-year-old boy and an Indian worker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Your rockets are doing the same. Killing innocents.</b></p> <p>A/ There is a difference. Hamas is shooting rockets indiscriminately at civilian centres. We are pinpointing and precision-hitting places which we know have Hamas infrastructure. Unfortunately, Hamas uses civilians as human shields; they shoot from population centres, so that when we hit back, we will be hitting civilians. We warn them (civilians) by firing a low ammunition shot on the roof first, giving them time to get out. We even call people up and say we will hit a building where they are, so please leave. Hamas does not allow them to leave; they want these pictures of people hit, suffering. We are doing our best not to hit civilians; they are doing their best to hit civilians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>We are hearing reports of Israel planning to send ground troops into Gaza Strip.</b></p> <p>A/ There was a report about ground troops planning to go, but it was a mistaken translation. At this point, I do not know if and when ground troops will go in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>So there is a possibility?</b></p> <p>A/ Everything is possible—within international law—until Hamas stops its rocket fire. When a civilian population is under attack, we can respond with appropriate measure.</p> <p>Q/ <b>According to Palestine, you have violated every law.</b></p> <p>A/ They are wrong. They are the ones who have committed over 2,500 war crimes in the past days—every rocket fired from a civilian population into a civilian area is a war crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You said everything is possible—even talks?</b></p> <p>A/ We do not rule anything out. But we need to be able to know that we have achieved our aim in this campaign that Hamas dragged us into. We had no interest in getting into it, but once it pulled us in, we need to know we have achieved our goal—to stop the rocket firings and ensure they will not recur. Only after achieving this goal will we agree to negotiate. At this point, we need to achieve what we need to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Israel had just begun establishing diplomatic ties with some Muslim neighbours. Will this conflict not be a setback to the process?</b></p> <p>A/ I hope not. I hope the countries we make peace with recognise Hamas is a terrorist organisation which is working against the interests of the Palestinian people, against their interest, too. I think they will recognise it is in everyone's best interest to be at peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What do you feel about the international response, especially India's?</b></p> <p>A/ We have received heartwarming support from Indians on social media and the Indian government understands what is happening with us and why we are doing what we are doing. From the international community, we are getting wholehearted statements of support. The Austrian chancellor actually raised the Israeli flag above his offices, which is a wonderful expression of support. There is understanding of what we are doing and that we are faced with no choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What about India's response?</b></p> <p>A/ It would be nice to see stronger expressions of support.&nbsp;</p> Thu May 20 18:31:22 IST 2021 flashpoint-gaza--hamas--netanyahu-stand-to-gain-politically <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The day Hamas and Israel chose to launch the latest episode of their periodic conflict seems to be an interesting one. In Israel, May 10 is observed as Jerusalem Day to commemorate the annexation of east Jerusalem in 1967. But political observers were anticipating a different big bang, as six disparate political groups whose only common aim is to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were all set to announce a new coalition later that day. It would have given Israel a proper government after four elections in two years, and would have resulted in Netanyahu's exit, after being in power for 12 years. It would also have ended the immunity he enjoys against prosecution on corruption charges. But the rockets from Gaza sealed the fate of the talks and saved Netanyahu.</p> <p><br> Like Netanyahu, Hamas, too, is likely to be a beneficiary of the ongoing crisis, although it does not appear to be a premeditated one. The organisation, which is supported by countries such as Iran and Qatar, has been trying for a long time to extend its sway over West Bank and it spotted an opportunity when the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority announced national elections, the first since 2006. President Mahmoud Abbas, however, cancelled the elections last month, infuriating Hamas. Israel's decision to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem and the heightened tension between the Arabs and the Israelis in the holy city—common during the month of Ramadan—gave Hamas an opportunity to grab the initiative and fire rockets at Israel, inviting a predictable, disproportionate response. The attacks have boosted the image of Hamas, made it more popular on the Arab street and further discredited the Fatah leadership, which is seen as old, corrupt, self-serving and being on good terms with Israel.</p> <p>The conflict has helped bring back the Arab-Israeli crisis to global limelight. The world had largely forgotten the issue and even Arab countries like the UAE and Bahrain started normalising ties with Israel under a deal brokered by the Trump administration, allegedly with the blessings of Saudi Arabia. The sudden escalation in Gaza seems to have altered that trajectory.</p> <p>For Israel, the latest round of hostilities could turn out to be expensive. Unlike in the past, the Arab citizens of Israel are out on the streets. There have been clashes between Jews and Arabs across Israel and the ethno-religious rupture appears to be getting worse.</p> <p>As it hoped, Hamas has found support in West Bank. During the previous rounds of hostilities—in 2009, 2012 and 2014—even when thousands of lives were lost in Gaza, there was hardly any response in West Bank. But things are different this time, with protests erupting in more than 200 places across West Bank, resulting in multiple deaths. Hamas has also found support in Jordan, and a few rockets were launched against Israel from Lebanon and Syria.</p> <p>Israel will be disheartened by the underwhelming reaction from the US. Although President Joe Biden approved more weapons sales and reiterated American support for Israel, the White House readout of his telephonic conversation with Netanyahu shows that he also stressed on ensuring the Palestinians “dignity, security, freedom and economic opportunity”. The progressive wing of the Democratic party is solidly behind the Palestinians, and Biden will be under pressure to be more evenhanded while dealing with the Arab-Israel conflict. The public opinion in the US, too, is undergoing a change, with the some opinion polls showing up to 30 per cent of Americans viewing Palestinians favourably. Pro-Palestine marches have been reported from several cities across the world.</p> <p>With Egypt stepping in to mediate, a ceasefire is possible. Netanyahu has consolidated his position within Israel, despite losing face globally. Hamas demonstrated its military prowess by firing more than 3,200 rockets into Israel in eight days. More importantly, it has emerged as the primary representative of the Palestinians and the protector of east Jerusalem, upstaging the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, and will be a key stakeholder in all future peace negotiations.&nbsp;</p> Thu May 20 21:33:56 IST 2021 will-work-to-restart-the-sino-tibetan-dialogue <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PENPA TSERING,</b> the newly elected president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)—known earlier as the Tibetan government in exile—has plans to approach the Chinese government to facilitate the visit of the Dalai Lama to China. The 14th Dalai Lama, who turns 86 this year, has expressed his desire to visit China. If the attempt is successful, it will be his first trip to China since he fled Lhasa in 1959, following the failed uprising against Beijing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I want to take up the matter with the Chinese government through various channels,” said Tsering, in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK. At a time when China continues to make territorial advances across the Himalayan region, Tsering hopes to bring Beijing to the negotiating table with the representative of the Dalai Lama for the resolution of the Sino-Tibetan conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As the newly elected president of the CTA, what are your priorities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ A key priority is the resolution of the Sino-Tibetan conflict. Keeping in mind the international situation and the political dynamics, we will have to study the issue more closely and come out with the right strategy. We also have to make good use of all the opportunities that come our way. All this can be achieved by abiding by the wishes of the Dalai Lama. All Tibetans who voted for me would like to follow the guidelines he has set for the betterment of the Tibetan population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the first step towards resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There have been no formal talks between the Chinese government and the representative of the Dalai Lama since 2010. From 2002 to 2010, we had nine rounds of discussions, including one round of informal talks, but there has been no forward movement since 2010. My aim is to make some progress in resuming the dialogue. China does not recognise the CTA. The talks have always been held between China and the representative of the Dalai Lama.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ China’s aggressive territorial posturing in the Himalayan region may come in the way of resumption of talks.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ China claims that Tibet is an integral part of it. China has adopted this public posture to deny legitimacy to the demands of the Tibetan people. Despite this, we have been making efforts at different levels to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict. Other than working for the rights of the exiled community, we want to represent the true condition of Tibetans inside Tibet and draw international attention to the Chinese policies that are aimed at destroying their identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[We also want to draw attention to] the dangers posed by mass migration of the Chinese to the Tibetan plateau and [the ensuing] threats to the language, religious freedom and environment of the Tibetans. My attempt will be to gather evidence in the form of data and records to prove the threat from Chinese policy in the Tibetan plateau. We will also study the policy being implemented there today so that we can represent their concerns through the ambassadors and write open letters to draw attention of the political leadership in China and tell them that it is not benefiting the Tibetan people and there is an urgent need for change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the support from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have got tremendous support from India and we will continue to work closely with the Indian government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Many Tibetans have left India and have become citizens of other countries.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have a lot of potential in the form of a young population that is living in at least 25 countries, as citizens, working professionals and students, who can be roped in to work for the rights of the Tibetans. I plan to create a Tibetan advocacy group to recruit young Tibetans, including those who live in different countries, who will spend a few weeks a year doing lobbying. This move will add value to the ongoing efforts of our administration’s department of international relations. The Chinese government should know that Tibetans are working very hard to prevent China from sidestepping the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the Dalai Lama still wish to travel to China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, the Dalai Lama wishes to travel to China. I want to take up the matter with the Chinese government through various channels so that his holiness can visit China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The CTA has been getting a lot of support from the United States recently.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The US has been lending significant support to the Tibetan community. It has recently amended its 2002 Tibet Policy Act to help Tibetans preserve their identity as people in exile and in Tibet. During the tenure of former president Barack Obama, there was support for the cause and we are looking forward to more support from the Biden administration. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a close friend of the Dalai Lama and we have good support from both Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are many Tibetans who demand independence from China. Will they be satisfied with the middle way approach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The middle way approach suggested by the Dalai Lama to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict is the official policy passed by the Tibetan parliament in exile. It will continue to be our guiding policy unless the parliament has a better alternative. There are demands by a section of the Tibetan people to make Tibet an independent nation, but no one has come up with a concrete plan for it. The Dalai Lama had said that if there were better options, they could always be discussed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to resolve the latest constitutional crisis that has hit the Tibetan government in exile?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ During the last session of the parliament, the chief justice commissioner and two justice commissioners of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission were impeached. A lot of concern is being voiced to restore their position. The parliament will have to meet to decide. A special session of parliament may be convened in May to end the crisis. It is the first time such a situation has occurred and we will take steps to ensure that it does not happen in future.</p> Fri Apr 23 19:08:47 IST 2021 why-india-is-struggling-to-respond-to-myanmar-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The nights have been</b> endless in the Rohingya camp in Delhi since the Myanmarese military overthrew the country’s democratically-elected government on February 1. Watching the images of the violence on their tiny phone screens, the 360 residents in the camp testify that their decision to flee their home was justified. “The world never believed the Rohingyas,’’ said a young man who left Myanmar nine years ago. “Now, the truth is out for everyone to see.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The unprecedented brutality shown by the military junta in crushing civilian protests continues to make headlines. Two months after the coup, violence continues unabated, with more than 700 people dead. The bloodiest day so far has been March 27, observed as the 76th armed forces day of Myanmar. Although nearly 100 people were killed, it did not stop the junta from organising a grand military parade with diplomats from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand in attendance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presence of the Indian defence attaché caused outrage among the pro-democracy activists in Myanmar and beyond. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of Myanmar asked on Twitter why India—“one of the greatest democracies in the world”—chose to “shake hands with the generals whose hands are soaked with our blood”. The spokesperson of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)—government in exile formed by the lawmakers belonging to the National League of Democracy—said: “The foreign diplomats who attended this shameful armed forces day are a disgrace to their own people, their governments and to the international community.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 16, the ousted lawmakers announced the formation of a national unity government (NUG), bringing together pro-democracy activists and ethnic minorities. It has promised equality for all, including the Rohingya. The NUG has urged ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to facilitate its representation in the April 24 summit on Myanmar hosted by Indonesia. The ASEAN summit will be the first foreign engagement for junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing after the coup. “It is important that the military council is not recognised. This needs to be handled carefully,” said Moe Zaw Oo, the NUG's deputy minister of foreign affairs. As of now, however, the chances of the NUG participating in the summit appears to be remote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, the discomfort about the coup is being felt domestically, too, as the diplomatic crisis turns into a humanitarian one. More than 3,000 refugees have crossed over to India. But India has been less than welcoming. For instance, an order issued on March 26 by H. Gyan Prakash, special secretary (home) of the Manipur government, asked deputy commissioners of districts bordering Myanmar to “politely turn away'' refugees who tried to enter. The order, which also stated that no camps were to be opened and no food or shelter was to be provided, was withdrawn the next day. But it gave a clear indication about the line of thinking in New Delhi. “The reversal of the order is just an eyewash,’’ said social activist and lawyer Alana Golmei, founder of the Burma Centre in Delhi. “India is actually washing its hands of supporting the democracy movement.” On April 8, the Supreme Court allowed Rohingya refugees detained in holding cells in Jammu to be deported as long as due process was followed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is reluctant to antagonise the junta and thereby cede space to China. Unlike the United States and most other western countries which have strongly criticised the coup and have imposed sanctions against the military regime, India has made it clear to the junta that it can be counted as a friend. “We believe that rule of law should prevail,’’ said Arindam Bagchi, the new spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs at a press briefing last month. “We condemn any use of violence. We stand for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. We have urged the release of political prisoners and supported attempts at resolving the current situation, including through the efforts of ASEAN. We remain engaged on this issue with international interlocutors and at the UN Security Council in an effort to play a balanced and constructive role.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a closed-door meeting of the UNSC, India’s permanent representative T.S. Tirumurti emphasised the need to resolve the situation peacefully. “India and Japan will find a way to keep the windows of communication open,’’ said K. Yhome, a scholar based in the northeast who monitors India-Myanmar relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s track record in supporting the democracy movement in Myanmar has been dismal, except for the courage shown by former defence minister George Fernandes, who sheltered refugees in his Delhi residence. But, unlike in the past when the brutality of the junta was kept firmly under wraps, today it is being tweeted live for the world to see, making it all the more difficult for India to ignore the demand for democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Given India’s historical, civilisational, developmental, strategic and security interests in Myanmar, and the presence of an estimated two million Myanmar citizens of Indian origin and the shadow of 1988 when the Tatmadaw (the armed forces of Myanmar) crushed the democratic movement and gave us the cold shoulder, India’s caution is understandable,’’ said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar. “But 2021 is not 1988. The justification for the military takeover and the arrest of pro-democracy leaders and activists including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is spurious; the nature and scale of state violence against a peaceful movement for the restoration of democratic rule is open, vengeful and unacceptable; and the chances of them prevailing and restoring any level of governance are very low.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past few years, India has stepped up its engagement with Myanmar and its military. India has sold Myanmar HMS-X2 sonars and gifted it a diesel-electric submarine, which helped consolidate ties with the Tatmadaw. Two years ago, India built and handed over 250 houses for displaced Rohingyans in the restive Rakhine state. It was a symbolic gesture, but it showed India’s clout to mediate with Myanmar on a touchy topic. Last October, India sent foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Army chief General M.M. Naravane to signal the continuing growth in bilateral ties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the crisis worsens, there will be more quiet diplomacy and India will certainly try and emphasise the need for restraint. But with the body count growing each day, it is facing considerable pressure to act morally and more decisively. “India should give regional and bilateral diplomacy one more chance so that the generals can walk back,’’ said Mukhopadhaya. “But if that fails, India should shed its hesitation and come out in support of the CDM and the CRPH and should take steps like providing temporary shelter to the persecuted. This is both on grounds of principle and realpolitik. None of our objectives in Myanmar can be met by pursuing a ‘China lite’ policy. Otherwise, there will be no short-term gains, but there will be huge long-term losses to India’s position in Myanmar.”</p> Fri Apr 23 12:22:38 IST 2021 india-pak-ties-uncertainties-remain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Nothing speaks</b> louder than silence in the India-Pakistan relationship. In February, the two countries surprised the world by having their armies issue a joint statement. The “free, frank and cordial atmosphere” that resulted in ceasefire along the Line of Control and “all other sectors’’ has kept the border quiet. But there is more to the silence than just the absence of gunfire.</p> <p>On March 31, Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), under the newly appointed Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, recommended that the ban on importing sugar and cotton from India, in place for nearly two years, be lifted. The recommendation gave the whiff of something that has long been elusive: normalisation of ties.</p> <p>The expectations barely lasted 24 hours. A cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan decided not to begin trade until India reinstated Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. “It is a setback,” said Raoof Hasan, special assistant to Imran Khan and head of the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. “But, a subcommittee has been formed to look into the matter. I am an eternal optimist and I see an opportunity in the formation of the subcommittee.”</p> <p>Khan’s decision came at a time when tensions were diffused on both sides of the LoC. Khan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had written to each other expressing hope for better relations. Modi even tweeted wishing a speedy recovery to Khan after he contracted Covid-19. Pakistan’s tent-pegging team got visas to visit Delhi and the Indus commissioners met in March after two years. The same month, Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa waved a white flag at the Islamabad Security Dialogue, asking India to “bury the past and move forward”.</p> <p>Things had moved to a point when there was speculation that Foreign Ministers S. Jaishankar and S.M. Qureshi would meet on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference in Dushanbe in Tajikistan. “What clearly happened was that the select committee chose to make a decision without building consensus in the cabinet,” said T.C.A. Raghavan, former high commissioner to Pakistan. “The more structural issue will be how to back out from it.”</p> <p>Playing hardball on Kashmir might give Khan domestic advantages. His position has become stronger since the collapse of the Pakistan Democratic Movement. “He is playing to the right-of-centre civilian audience as well as to the hardline elements in the army,” said Rana Banerji, former special secretary at the cabinet secretariat.</p> <p>The road to better relations remains tough. “When it comes to India and Pakistan, there is virtually no low-hanging fruit,” said Hasan. “We only have serious issues. You have terror and we have Kashmir. I don’t know how much we can work around terror and Kashmir.”</p> <p>But, despite the trade-related setback, there is a perceptible change in the mood in Islamabad and Delhi. “The reduction in tensions, the optical signalling, is a good thing,” said Raghavan.</p> <p>Some silences have been speaking volumes. Though the two foreign ministers did not meet in Dushanbe, India chose not to use the forum to raise the issue of cross-border terrorism. “I was listening carefully,” Qureshi later told a journalist. “[Jaishankar] didn’t mention anything negative about Pakistan. Modi’s letter to Imran Khan, and India not slamming or blaming Pakistan at the Heart of Asia summit—I would consider these as a positive move.”</p> <p>The signals, however, could not have come without sustained interactions. The ceasefire between the two armies came a day before the second anniversary of the Balakot strikes. It suggested contact between the two countries. This was first hinted at by Moeed Yusuf, special assistant to Imran Khan on national security and strategic policy planning, but India later denied it.</p> <p>Despite India maintaining that the ties remain strictly bilateral, there were reports that a deal was brokered by the UAE with blessings from US President Joe Biden, an old Pakistan hand. Biden would find the situation helpful, especially as he is desperate to work out a peace deal in Afghanistan that is more substantial than what his predecessor had negotiated.</p> <p>Lasting peace, however, is a long way off. The restoration of high commissioners in both countries was widely speculated as the next logical step in the process, but it might not happen soon. Though a beginning has been made, each step forward is “fraught” with uncertainties, say experts. “I think there will be an inching forward [in relations],” said Raghavan. “I see efforts to work in the field of health; maybe vaccines.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 08 19:43:11 IST 2021 we-are-open-to-discussing-terror-if-india-is-open-to-discussing-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Raoof Hasan</b> has for long been a fierce proponent of better relations between India and Pakistan. He was recently appointed special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Hasan, who also heads the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad, spoke to THE WEEK on the way ahead for both the countries. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>How would you define the dip in hostilities between India and Pakistan?</b></p> <p>A/It is a possible thaw. The DGMOs (director-general of military operations) met, and there was a ceasefire along the Line of Control. We kept hearing of back-channel contacts. Whoever did it, it is a good thing. We are looking to move forward further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>When you say moving forward, what are the steps that can happen?</b></p> <p>A/If the two countries want to maintain regular contact, then you need senior people to be stationed in both the countries. They can be the high commissioners. I feel that is going to be one of the initial steps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>We have been here before. Do you see these steps leading to a fruitful engagement this time?</b></p> <p>A/When Imran Khan was elected prime minister, he addressed a press conference reiterating his commitment to peace with India. He said, ‘If [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi takes one step, I will take two.’</p> <p>In the two and a half years since, he has reiterated that. His commitment to having peace with India has not floundered. But developments took place, and since he is a political leader, he has to be sensitive to developments at home.</p> <p>I think both countries have now realised that it is time to move on, without forgetting what has happened. In the letter Imran Khan recently wrote to Modi, he again reiterated the need to address the problem of Jammu and Kashmir. Modi meanwhile said we should have a relationship minus terror. You have reiterated your position; we have reiterated ours. One has to work within these constraints. Progress may be slow, but there will be progress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Do you think it is possible for India and Pakistan to move forward so far, for the DGMOs to have issued a joint statement, without a deal being brokered?</b></p> <p>A/Pakistan’s position has been very transparent on that. We have always urged friendly countries to intervene so that India and Pakistan could have peace. On the other hand, the Indian position has been contrary to ours. The Indian government has always said it is strictly a bilateral issue and that it will not allow any foreign intervention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Do you think this can happen without help?</b></p> <p>A/I feel that some friendly countries, or a friendly country, has nudged it along. The nudging makes all the difference. Maybe Pakistan sought some assurances; maybe India did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Do you think the next steps will be confidence-building measures? That the two countries will agree on low-hanging fruits first?</b></p> <p>A/When it comes to India and Pakistan, there is virtually no low-hanging fruit. We only have serious issues. You have terror; we have Kashmir. Then, of course, there is Siachen. I don’t know how much we can work around terror and Kashmir. We will have to find a mechanism.</p> <p>I would like to go back to the time of president Musharraf and prime minister Vajpayee. You remember the five-six years of back-channel diplomacy? We came tantalisingly close to signing a deal on Kashmir. Maybe that is a document you refer to and we can begin where we ended. A lot of background work has been done on how to move ahead on Kashmir, which was not seen as a victory for either India or Pakistan. We have enough material on the table, if there is willingness on the part of India and Pakistan. I can speak for my country: we are totally devoted to peace this time.</p> <p>A very important moment of transition [is here], marked by the holding of the Islamabad Security Dialogue. Pakistan wants to go from being a geo-strategic country to a geo-economic one. It is an important moment. Indians can be assured that the desire for peace is more than ever before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Do you think things will be different from last time, when Modi made a grand gesture visiting Nawaz Sharif?</b></p> <p>A/This time, it is going to be real, solid work—which is building a sustainable edifice of peace. Grand gestures make a difference, but they are not sustainable. You can’t just have a sequence of grand gestures. It just happens once. Unless you are able to build a sustainable edifice on top of that foundation, you don’t have something to go back to.</p> <p>This time, I think, it is a well thought out strategy when it comes to Pakistan. Our commitment to peace has increased with the passage of time. I think we are willing to invest solid, sustainable effort in the cause of peace with India. As I am given to understand, if there was no reciprocity from the Indian side, we would have not come as far as we have.</p> <p>This provides a good beginning. What is important is that the two countries should be able to build on it. It is absolutely vital. Restarting after a break is a difficult thing. But going slow is maybe a much better option. I think it is going to be a slow process this time. But it is going to be a solid and sustainable process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What about terror? How do you see India’s demand on it?</b></p> <p>A/There has been no terrorist activity even inside Pakistan. The entire country has suffered enormously because of terror. We are the only country that has fought the battle successfully. We have overcome it inside Pakistan, and we are committed that terror will not be used as an instrument.</p> <p>It will be a more formidable challenge for India to shape its narrative on Kashmir. Obviously, that is going to be on the table. Negotiations with India and Pakistan cannot be without Kashmir being on the table from our side. From your side, you can put terror.</p> <p>We will be quite open to discussing terror, but similarly India will have to be open to discussing Kashmir. These are solid challenges that India and Pakistan face. It won’t be possible to go around these issues for too long. At some point, we will have to address them. How the two countries do it depends on the sagacity and wisdom of the two leaderships.&nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 08 19:27:25 IST 2021 summer-retreat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITHIN HOURS</b> of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Parliament on military disengagement in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army released a video showing Chinese T96 tanks pulling back from Rechen La, Mukhpari and Spanggur Gap. India also pulled back its T90 and T72 tanks and infantry combat vehicles from the same locations. Singh said that the agreement for disengagement envisages both sides ending forward deployment in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that India did not cede territory as a part of this agreement and added that outstanding problems, including those at Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang Plains, are to be taken up within 48 hours of the completion of the disengagement. The 10th round of military talks is expected next week, after complete disengagement. Structures built by both sides on the banks of Pangong Tso since April are to be removed; China is yet to declare this publicly, though. Moreover, going by the statement issued by Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson, Chinese ministry of national defence, the Chinese are also staying silent about the other friction points.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired Lieutenant General S.L. Narasimhan, member of National Security Advisory Board, said that India should remain vigilant along the line of actual control. “Clarification of the LAC will go some way in avoiding such incidents in the future,”he said. “It is hoped that China will not resort to [fresh] attempts to change the LAC unilaterally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With regards to the eight fingers of Pangong Tso, where slopes of barren mountains jut into the lake, it has been decided that China will retain its troop presence in the area east to Finger 8 known as Sirijap; it was captured by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the 1962 war. Indian troops will withdraw to the permanent base at the Dhan Singh Thapa post of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police near Finger 3. The 10km stretch between Finger 3 and Finger 8 will be a no-patrol zone till a new agreement is reached.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior army officer said that the no-patrol zone would act as a buffer and, after disengagement, the two sides could decide on coordinated, joint or staggered patrolling in the area. According to latest videos and satellite images, the Chinese military has not only reduced its presence, but has also removed several shelters, observation posts and helipads, and a jetty it had built in the last few months between Finger 5 and Finger 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leader Rahul Gandhi argued that India had essentially given away territory to China. He said that the army used to hold Finger 4, but is now moving back to Finger 3. Congress leader and former defence minister A.K. Antony said that the government was not realising the danger of creating such buffer zones. He said that though the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8 was disputed, India had always claimed territory up to Finger 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the other friction points, military analysts flag Depsang as the most sensitive. This is because of its proximity to India’s strategic Daulat Beg Oldie base, near the Karakoram Pass. In this region, China restricts Indian troops from reaching even their traditional patrol limits at Patrolling Point 10 (PP10), PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Army chief V.P. Malik said that Indian military commanders must ensure that the Chinese do not take “undue advantage or renege”. It is too early to hope for peace and tranquillity, he said. “I firmly believe, the LoC-type deployment on LAC backed by strategic and economic measures adopted already must continue,”he said. “Our military has conveyed ability and determination to hold-off the PLA.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former additional director general of infantry, Major General Shashi Asthana, said that China seems firm on its occupation of the Depsang Plains. This would enable it to threaten the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road, which is viewed as a threat to Tibet-Xinjiang-Pakistan connectivity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I refuse to believe that China will pull back everything,”said Maj Gen Asthana. “Given, its track record, it is possible that post winter, it would reoccupy the same areas after [now] getting the Kailash Range vacated by India. Its faster mobilisation because of better infrastructure gives the PLA an advantage over us.”Maj Gen Asthana added that the Chinese have a history of throwing agreements out the window. “Even in 1962, they feigned pulling back, but then attacked us,”he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former northern army commander Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda however said that momentum is building up over disengagement and he is hopeful of similar outcomes in other friction points. “Trust is not going to come immediately,”he said. “But, it does not mean that negotiations will not move forward.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Feb 19 12:47:51 IST 2021 back-from-the-barracks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TANKS RUMBLED</b> along the empty roads of Nay Pyi Taw. The deadline was clear for the Myanmar military: the first session of the new parliament. The November elections had made it clear to its top brass that the ballot, even in its limited form, can be more powerful than the bullet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aung San Suu Kyi’s National Democratic League won the elections in a landslide, bagging 396 of 476 seats. As the new government was getting ready to take charge, the army grabbed control. It detained State Counsellor Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other senior leaders and declared a year-long emergency. “This has been brewing,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar. “It has been an uneasy cohabitation. The army could not reconcile to the civilian victory and felt it would be marginalised. The timing was forced by the beginning of the new parliament session.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the first coup in the country since 1988. A decade after the junta permitted a limited democratic experiment, although it reserved seats for itself in the parliament and held on to major portfolios, it is back to square one now. The army has shut down television and radio stations and has disabled telephone lines and the internet. Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing justified the coup and said it was in line with the law. “After many requests, this way was inevitable for the country,” said the general.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian response has been guarded. “We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar,” said a statement issued by the ministry of external affairs. “We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The uncertainty in Myanmar poses a big challenge for India, especially at a time when China is trying to assert its might in the neighbourhood. It also brings back the old “dilemma”, as India’s master diplomat, the late J.N. Dixit had put it. Although India prides itself to be the upholder of democracy in the region, it had to reach out to the junta in the past. Dixit, back in 1991, had clarified that India was “supportive of democratic forces”, but was “interacting with the de facto government”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Myanmar is one of the key pillars of India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ and ‘look east’ policies. India has been pulling out all the stops to woo Myanmar, including sending 15 lakh doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. In November, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Army Chief General M.M. Naravane visited Nay Pyi Taw to discuss “important bilateral issues”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been enhanced security cooperation between the two countries. Myanmar has been more than ready to hand over insurgents, while India has been handling the Rohingya refugee crisis delicately with Bangladesh, in order to protect Myanmar’s interests. In 2019, India allocated Myanmar Rs170 crore in its annual budget. This time, it has gone up to Rs400 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vaccine diplomacy and the monetary support have come at a time when the generals in Myanmar seem to be slightly disenchanted with China. Last July, Min Aung Hlaing alleged in an interview that terrorist groups in Myanmar were being backed by “strong forces”, in an obvious reference to China. A month before that, Myanmar’s auditor general Maw Than warned that reliance on Chinese loans could force the country to go the Sri Lankan way. “Loans from China come at higher interest rates compared with loans from financial institutions like the World Bank,” he said. “So, I would like to remind the government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, however, continues to be a powerful force in Myanmar. “We cannot let China be the only player with the military,’’ said Harsh Pant, who heads the strategic studies programme at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. And the two-track policy with Myanmar will continue. “I don’t think megaphone diplomacy works in the region,” said Mukhopadhaya. “Our commitment to democracy stands. We favour popular rule. It is likely to be behind-the-scenes diplomacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, however, is likely to face pressure from the Joe Biden administration, which has come to power on the plank of a renewed promise of democracy. The White House would want India to nudge the generals back to the democratic track. The issue could even put some strain on India-US relations in the days to come. Pant said American sanctions were unlikely to work as they have had no impact in the past. “The US will have to think whether it wants China to be the only player [which is friendly with] Myanmar in the region,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next few months will be critical, especially with the military clamping down on its challengers and pro-democracy protests beginning to take shape. The fate of democracy hangs in the balance. Suu Kyi, who is back under arrest, has become the symbol of democracy once again despite her anti-Rohingya stand. “She is likely to emerge stronger,” said Mukhopadhaya. “She is steely-willed and will rise to the challenge.”</p> Thu Feb 04 17:29:52 IST 2021 tibet-on-the-table <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Relations between world powers US and China have entered a turbulent phase in 2021. If Beijing was thinking that it has cornered New Delhi with continued aggression on the Line of Actual Control since April 2020, the Dalai Lama has proved that China will first have to deal with Tibet before it can cross the Himalayas. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concerns have been escalating after US President Joe Biden expressed his desire to meet the Dalai Lama and the US Senate passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In September 2020, Biden criticised his predecessor, Donald Trump, for focussing on “empty trade deals” with Beijing and protecting his “very good friendship” with Xi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is disgraceful, though not surprising, that Trump is the first American president in three decades who has not met or spoken with His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” said Biden. As senator, Biden had met the Dalai Lama in 2003 during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Now, both are looking forward to a renewed engagement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden said he would meet the Dalai Lama, appoint a new special coordinator for Tibetan issues, and insist that the Chinese government restore access to Tibet for U.S. citizens, including diplomats and journalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, this is good news. “China is afraid of the Dalai Lama,” said a senior government official. “For Beijing, his stature is of a king and not a saint. They want to be sure the next Dalai Lama will be a Chinese puppet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the US becoming the biggest stumbling block in China’s reincarnation dream, both literally and figuratively, the Dragon is breathing heavily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 27, 2020, Trump signed the TPSA, placing restrictions on new Chinese consulates in America until a US consulate has been established in Lhasa. The law also mandates the US government to slap sanctions, including travel bans on senior Chinese officials who are “responsible, complicit or have directly or indirectly engaged in the identification or installation of a candidate chosen by China as the future 15th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To Beijing’s horror, a copy of the bill had been hand-delivered to the Dalai Lama at his exile home in Dharamshala on October 1, 2019. Matteo Mecacci, president of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), led a Senate staff delegation to Dharamshala. “We are making some progress in the US Congress in particular,” Mecacci informed the Dalai Lama.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Tibetan Americans are a small community, numbering around 27,000, their struggle against China has been recognised and supported by the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Dalai Lama has been travelling around the world for almost five decades, meeting different people—academicians, public representatives and government leaders—which has created a tremendous amount of goodwill for the people of Tibet and also made the public more aware of the actual situation in Tibet and the facts relating to the issue, contrary to the propaganda of the Chinese government,” said Tempa Tsering, board member of the ICT. “Many other governments will take heed of what has happened in the USA.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK from Washington, Ngodup Tsering, representative of the Dalai Lama in North America, said Tibet has many friends in Capitol Hill. “I always say next to India, the US is the most generous country for Tibet,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He explained that the idea for updating the Tibet Policy Act (2002) was tossed around for some time during the annual Tibet strategy meetings led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Then in 2018, by passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, the US Congress took direct aim at China’s unfair policy of restricting America’s access to Tibet even though Chinese citizens are free to travel throughout the US. This further re-energised Tibetans’ support in the US Congress, which culminated in the landmark Tibet policy of the United States. “The US Congress has passed several legislations and resolutions... supporting the ‘middle-way’ policy to resolve the Sino-Tibet conflict,” said Ngodup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a decade since the Dalai Lama devolved his “political authority”, paving way for a democratically elected government-in-exile that would pursue the cause of Tibet. In March 2011, Lobsang Sangay became the first president (Sikyong) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) for a five-year term; the US citizen was re-elected in 2016. Predictably enough, he has been directly involved in the framing of the TPSA. In November 2020, he became the first Sikyong to be formally invited to the US State Department. His second term ends this year, and cannot contest elections a third time. This paves way for the election of a new Tibetan government in exile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next five years will be crucial. A close aide of the Dalai Lama said that even though the 85-year-old spiritual leader has conveyed that he will live for over 100 years, his advanced age is a matter of concern. When the Dalai Lama gave up his political charge, he based his decision on his desire to only pursue a spiritual role, but the move was also seen as an attempt to prepare the coming generations for a future without him. This future has a belligerent China showing outward aggression on India’s northern borders, which is being matched internally by increasing repression in regions like Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ngodup says that though the border aggression was unfortunate, it was to happen “sooner or later”. “The Chinese Communist Party is an entity never to be trusted,” he said. “Tibetans have lived under the CCP for seven decades now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On China interfering with the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, Tempa says it is not just a religious issue but a more complex one because the current Dalai Lama is an international icon with wide support. “In any case, Buddhists will neither recognise nor accept any interference in a religious matter by a communist regime that considers religion as poison,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s multiculturalism should be reason enough for it to be more forthright in supporting the cause of the Tibetans, said Tempa. “Wherever the Dalai Lama goes, he is always talking of India’s history and culture of ahimsa and karuna. I hope that the Indian government will express their views on reincarnation... and on the larger issue of Tibet,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Claude Arpi, well-known author and Tibetologist, said that the new Sikyong will have an important role to play, particularly in coordinating the next moves with Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the Tibetans are in the two-phase process of elections that will conclude in April. The front runners for the post of Sikyong are Penpa Tsering, former speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, and Kelsang Dorjee Aukatsang (Kaydor). Both of them are former representatives of the Dalai Lama in Washington.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Penpa is leading by a huge margin, Kelsang is second, closely followed by Dolma Gyari, former deputy speaker of the parliament in exile—the highest position held by a woman in the Tibetan government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearly 80,000 Tibetan voters around the world, including 55,000 in India, Nepal and Bhutan, will elect their Sikyong in April. Insiders said that Covid-19 and the gradual migration of Tibetans to other countries has brought down the number of voters in India this time. But the recent developments in the US in support of the Dalai Lama have invigorated their spirit and also raised their hopes of continued support from the Indian government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK, Penpa expressed concern about the belligerent moves by the Chinese army on India’s borders. “As Tibetans, we do not have a diverse view on this point,” he said. “I am sure policies are being reviewed by all sides. I would expect India to be more assertive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kelsang said it was time India upgrades its policy towards Tibetans and Tibet by making the resolution of Tibet a core issue in its relationship with China. He also added that a tangible way of acknowledging the Dalai Lama’s support for India would be to confer on him the Bharat Ratna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dolma Gyari said there is a growing public sentiment in India that the government should take a stronger stand in recognising Tibet as an occupied nation. “India does not share a border with China—India and Tibet share a boundary,” she said. “Tibet is an occupied nation, but the non-acknowledgement of this fact is to a large extent the reason why the border talks between India and China have been so unsuccessful till date.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether New Delhi reacts or not, it certainly cannot dismiss the fact that it is drawn into a geopolitical issue that has put the US and China at loggerheads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikanth Kondapalli, a leading Chinese expert, said that New Delhi must be cautious not to think the Dragon will be tamed by the US alone. “While the threat of sanctions of the US may not work, given the rising clout of China and its full occupation of Tibet, China’s image could take a beating if it intervenes in the religious processes of the Tibetans in the future,” he said. “Already its restrictions in Tibet have led to more than 150 people committing self-immolation and a loss of face for Beijing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The choices are narrowing and the time may have arrived for India to start preparing for the future. With the US expressing its intention to open a consulate general in Lhasa, Arpi said all eyes are on India which used to have a full-fledged diplomatic mission in Lhasa till 1952 and a consulate general in Tibet till December 1962. “One can hope that in the following years, Delhi will put pressure on China to reopen this mission in Tibet, which is vital if Beijing is interested to reopen the Ancient Silk Roads through the Himalayas,” said Arpi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What New Delhi may also need to spell out in unambiguous terms to the Dalai Lama is that he will be a most honoured guest, once again, if he decides to “come back” to India as the 15th Dalai Lama.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 21 17:54:06 IST 2021 ironic-that-atheist-china-is-intervening-in-dalai-lama-succession <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How do you plan to pursue the ‘middle-way’ approach of Dalai Lama?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our task is not only to work towards alleviation of suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet, but to also bring peace and stability in the region through non-violent means. We must deepen and strengthen the Tibetan democratic polity, thereby fulfilling the farsighted vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Tibetans to be able to govern themselves in a free, fair and transparent manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is unprecedented Chinese aggression on borders as well as the Dalai Lama reincarnation issue.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am extremely concerned about the Chinese Army’s belligerent moves on the border with India. As Tibetans, we do not have much of a diverse view in this point, and hence this was not a major issue during the elections. It is true, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is ageing. However, we are constantly comforted by the reassurance of His Holiness to live beyond 113 years of age. Reincarnation is a purely religious matter, and His Holiness is the final authority on his reincarnation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The succession of the Dalai Lama has become a geopolitical issue. Do you agree?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has brought this upon itself. State intervention in religious issues exacerbated the situation and that too coming from an atheist government. Nothing can be more ironic than that!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the Dalai Lama has a following beyond the Buddhist world, all peace-loving leaders and people are alarmed at China’s strong-arm tactics. The international community has not remained immune to the new developments. I hope China realises the counter productiveness of such measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your expectations from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of us realise that the national interest of India will be first and we respect India’s position in that aspect. The Indian government knows exactly what to do. I would expect India to be more assertive, and on an equal footing with China. The ecological and environmental conditions in Tibet and river waters that flows out of Tibet has implications not only on the region but globally. I am sure there will be many areas that will need resetting or fine-tuning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you plan to help Tibetans in exile facing persecution in Nepal and other places?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will use every means to reach out to the government of Nepal. The Nepalese leadership is well aware of the implications of their relationships with both the neighbouring giants, and struggle to keep their sovereignty intact. If you cannot help a historical neighbour now, then when would that time be? We will also reach out to the Bhutanese government on matters related to several hundred Tibetan refugees there.</p> Thu Jan 21 17:04:58 IST 2021 lonely-island <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This year has been like no other in our lifetimes, except for one issue—Brexit. Yes, Britain left the European Union last January, but the status quo continues to enable a negotiated post-Brexit free trade deal.</p> <p>And that was when the fight started… again.</p> <p>It was déjà vu. With a December 31 deadline, the 2020 trade talks mirrored last year’s UK-EU tensions when they negotiated the exit deal—accusations, threats, showdowns, deadlock and even the annoying exclamations from yesteryear. “All options are on the table, deal no deal, hard or soft deal, delay, no delay”. Have they not been there, done that? Apparently not. “Nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.</p> <p>At “the eleventh hour”, because they could not “see eye to eye”, the two sides made a “last-ditch” attempt to meet “face to face” to negotiate a “make or break” deal. Covid-overwhelmed Britons seemed past caring and journalists ran out of clichés. “The Brexit frog has been truly boiled, but we’re too exhausted to notice,” said former Tory finance minister George Osborne.</p> <p>The “cliff-edge” brinkmanship was preceded by one referendum, two national elections, three prime ministers and four and a half exhausting years of transcontinental haggling. The row: Britain insisted on sovereignty over its fishing waters, where the Europeans have trawled for decades. Fish is only 0.1 per cent of the British economy, but ceding sovereignty over fish and laws is betraying Brexit—which ordained “Take Back Control”.</p> <p>In turn, the EU insisted Britain comply with its “fair competition” laws regarding subsidies, labour and environmental rules to get “no quota, no tariffs” access to its single market of 450 million people. And establish a dispute resolution mechanism. “We must obey their rules!” sneered Pro-Brexiteer fisherman Tom Watson. “The European Union is Soviet Union with money.”</p> <p>Even with a free trade deal, there will be checks and inspections at British borders, causing bottlenecks, delays and traffic snarls when the transition period ends. But a no-trade deal is catastrophic, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spin-doctoring, “It’s a wonderful solution to trade with the EU on Australia-style trade terms”. A voice of doom cautioned from Down Under. Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned Johnson: “Be careful what you wish for. It’s not what you want, frankly.” Australian style is a euphemism for a WTO deal, involving customs procedures, barriers, inspections, paperwork, quotas and tariffs. British exports and imports become costlier, making them harder to sell; queues and shortages inevitable.</p> <p>But there is no shortage of bravado. When Brexit takes effect, “Global Britain” breaks free from the EU and becomes an independent nation. Britain saves annual EU membership fees, strikes its own trade deals with Japan, India and the US, and controls its laws and borders. “Britain will be stronger, more prosperous and secure outside the EU,” said Brexiteer Home Minister Priti Patel. “With greater fiscal flexibility and regulatory reform, we will transform our country into a dynamic engine of prosperity, job creation and growth.”</p> <p>In the near future, Brexit will cut growth, jobs and prosperity. Government “worst-case scenarios” warn supply disruptions, and inflation can cause civil disorder. Foreign companies that had set up headquarters in London to access the EU market are shifting to the continent, aggravating the economic slump. Britain must pay a £33 billion divorce bill to the EU, cannot obtain high technologies or bid for their public contracts.</p> <p>“With our educated workforce, our language as the international language of commerce, we are ideally geographically located to prepare for success,” predicts Patel. But geographically, Britain is somewhat conjoined at Europe’s hip. Half of its £1 trillion trade is with the EU. “Brexit is bad for the EU, but the pain is shared by 27 countries. It’s terrible for Britain. It is self-harm,” said European Parliament member Philippe Lamberts.</p> <p>Visa regimes will constrain travellers, tourists and workers. New immigration policies appease pro-Brexit voters, mostly older, working class residents in the English countryside. They resented “job-stealing” immigrants and refugees. But the new restrictions hurt the UK’s industries. Preferring to be vloggers and influencers, young Britons are unlikely to replace plumbers, construction workers and fruit picking immigrants.</p> <p>For Britain, a trade deal with the US is vital. But Johnson first has to do damage control with the Joe Biden administration. The Democrats were displeased by Johnson’s reference to Barack Obama’s “part Kenyan heritage”. Biden described Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump’’.</p> <p>In no hurry to do trade deals, president-elect Biden focuses on American workers and education, saying “We’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first.” He reaffirms Obama’s position that Britain must go to the back of the queue for a trade deal. Unlike Trump who despised the bloc, Biden views the EU as a like-minded partner and sees Brexit as a “historical error”. Proud of his Irish ancestry, Biden is the most Irish President since JFK 50 years ago and says he will not tolerate the Good Friday Agreement (brokered by the US in 1998 to end the 30-year Protestant-Catholic Irish violence) becoming a “casualty of Brexit”.</p> <p>Open borders are a Brexit casualty. Brexiteers are high on sovereignty but low on solving the “Catch-22” situation in Britain’s Northern Ireland—maintaining sovereignty while keeping borders open with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. Open borders were guaranteed by last year’s EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, which reinforced the Good Friday Agreement. Said PM’s brother Jo Johnson, a former member of parliament, “The case for Brexit was made on rhetorical flourishes, bluster and undeliverable promises”. Johnson’s solution: close borders by breaching signed international treaties. “Rule Britannia. Britannia waives the rules,” summed it. British lords were shocked and Europeans aghast; Perfidious Albion strikes again. Then Johnson withdrew his lawbreaking clauses. Northern Ireland will remain under EU customs after Brexit.</p> <p>Negotiation tactics reflect their strategic goals. The UK must preserve the kingdom’s political unity while the EU must protect the integrity of its single market from cheating competitors at its doorstep. And demonstrate that Brexit is costly—a warning to its own anti-immigration, Eurosceptic secessionist political groups. If strengthened, these forces could unravel the EU. Brexit cacophony has drowned the static over Frexit (France), Nexit (Netherlands) and Grexit (Greece).</p> <p>The EU would have preferred the UK remain in the bloc not only because of its valuable contributions, but also because, as former American President Lyndon Johnson said, “It’s probably better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.” But being in the tent is irksome for imperial-hungover Britain, used to giving orders, not taking them. “Boris Johnson is on this runaway train of English exceptionalism and heaven knows where it is going to take us in the end,” fretted Lord Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.</p> <p><i>Britannia Unchained</i> (2012), a tribute to turbo-Thatcherism, is a manifesto for a Global Britain charting an independent free-marketeer course. Four of the five authors are in Johnson’s cabinet. But, says author Neal Ascherson, “Post Brexit, Britain will remain chained down by alliances, treaties and new foreign trade rules.” Cambridge University professor Mary Beard said, “When I publicly suggested a few months ago that we really were a quite ordinary country (and none the worse for that), I was deluged with abuse and accusations that I lacked patriotism. It’s about time that we got rid of any illusion that ostriches are good patriots.”</p> <p>Even patriots must see Britain’s diminished, if not dark, future possibilities: Scottish independence, Irish reunification, economic decline and relegation to the junior league within Europe. Predicted Lord Peter Ricketts, “Biden’s administration will prioritise trade and security matters with Berlin and Paris because London is no longer Europe’s centre of gravity. Britain is not so useful when it is an outlier, rather outside the mainstream of Europe.”</p> <p>Brexit comes upon Covid-19, which has devastated the economy, public health and Johnson’s reputation. Critics savaged his handling, calling him flustered and floundering, divisive and detail-allergic, casual and clumsy. Britain has the highest Covid-19 deaths in Europe. A Pew survey found 64 per cent Britons believed the EU handled Covid-19 better than their government.</p> <p>As pandemic cases spiralled, Johnson said they were “flashing at us like ­­dashboard warnings in a passenger jet”. He is better at vivid descriptions than prescriptions. The economy shrank by 20 per cent and the predicted 11.3 per cent fall in national income is the steepest in three centuries. “Our health emergency is not over, and our economic emergency has just begun,” said Finance Minister Rishi Sunak. Together with Covid-19, Brexit comes as a double whammy, prolonging recovery. “Brexit was a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face,” rued actor Hugh Grant.</p> <p>Brexit was a wake-up call. It woke up the demons. Now the demons must be pacified if Britain wishes to reclaim its status as both a European and an Atlantic nation, whose strategic interest is to maintain close ties with the EU and the US to tackle common threats—Russian disinformation, Chinese competition, cyberattacks, migration, terrorism and dark money. “Britain is adrift without a bloc,” said diplomat Mark Malloch Brown. “That is challenging.”</p> <p>But Brexit buccaneers are bullish. It is not just about Great Britain, it is about Making Britain Great Again. We saw what that slogan did to the United States. Besides, greatness may well be a thing of the past. “We are no longer a great power,” says former Tory prime minister John Major. “We will never be so again. We are a top second-rank power.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 17 22:48:44 IST 2020 us-support-for-tibet-will-always-be-bipartisan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q\ How do you see the US election result impacting US-Tibet ties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ For the past 60 years, the Tibet issue has enjoyed bipartisan support in the US Congress and also in the administration. Support for Tibet will always remain bipartisan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How important is it for the US to focus on Tibet when the world is facing Chinese aggression?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ It is important. China’s aggression is felt everywhere. We have always said that it is crucial to study and understand the Tibet issue to grasp what the Chinese Communist Party is truly capable of. China’s aggression in Taiwan or on the LAC proves the point. Through its hard and soft diplomacy, the CCP’s tentacles have reached into democratic countries, undermining their values and principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How was your visit to the US state department?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The first agenda of the US special coordinator (Robert Destro) after he took office was to formally invite the head of the Central Tibetan Administration to the state department with the approval of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This speaks volumes about the US’s commitment to the Tibetan cause. This is historic because… [inviting] the head of the CTA would be formally recognising the Tibetan government in exile. And it has also been a consistent view that such a move would cause inconveniences with the Chinese government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Whom did you meet and what are the key issues you discussed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Robert Destro and I, along with Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of democracy, human rights, and labor, discussed the critical situation in Tibet and reports of over half a million Tibetans in labour camps there. We also discussed the importance of renewing dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness and the Chinese government. I urged the US government and Destro to press China on it. We further discussed the swift passage of the Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2019 in the Senate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ US House speaker Nancy Pelosi plays a key role in the US elections.</b></p> <p><b>Pelosi said that the Dalai Lama is a “messenger of hope”. Do you think that the next US president will be more disposed to the cause of Tibet under the guidance of the Dalai Lama?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Nancy Pelosi has been a true friend of Tibet and also very close to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her support for Tibet is known by the fact that she led a congressional delegation to Tibet (2015) and Dharamsala (2017).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Past US presidents, since George Bush Sr, have hosted His Holiness and prioritised human rights issues, including the critical situation in<br> Tibet. For the past 60 years, it has been the US’s official policy to promote dialogue without preconditions to advance a solution on Tibet and to press for respect for human rights and the preservation of Tibetan religion, language and cultural heritage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, we are more than hopeful that the new administration will continue to prioritise the Tibet issue until it is peacefully resolved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The CTA elections will be held next year. What are the challenges?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The Tibetan freedom movement led by the CTA has persevered against all odds and will continue to be resilient for many decades to come. With sustained efforts and support of our allies, particularly India, the Tibetan administration will succeed in reaching a peaceful solution to the issue of Tibet and see the return of His Holiness to Tibet.</p> Fri Nov 27 11:10:51 IST 2020 bidens-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As US president, Joe Biden cannot pick up from where president Barack Obama left off: there is neither a United States of America nor a Pax Americana.</p> <p>Swinging across the globe like a wrecking ball, President Donald Trump demolished national unity and US-led international solidarity. With Biden at the helm, says foreign policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter, “the chaos, at least, is over”. “Would US foreign policy actually change? In action, substantially but not completely. In style, dramatically,” she says.</p> <p>In style, decency and diplomacy will replace Trump’s slurs and erratic confrontations, which like the coronavirus, aggravated underlying conditions. Biden is no vaccine, but he will calm the global infection of feverish rhetoric and politics. “We have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again—not just with the example of our power, but also with the power of our example,” said Biden. Obama-style action is distant, but the lofty rhetoric is back.</p> <p>Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have a lot of repairing to do first. The Biden-Harris administration’s focus is grounded in its two campaign slogans: “Build back better” and “Battle for the soul of the nation”. Biden was inspired by Pulitzer prize-winning author Jon Meacham’s book and documentary The Soul of America, which explains: “Soul is the essence of who we are. It is the constant struggle between our better angels and our worst instincts. Do we build walls or build bridges?”</p> <p>Trump built walls, while building bridges comes naturally to Biden, whose personality strengthens America’s soft power. Empathy, his strong point, comes from personal suffering. Throughout childhood, Biden was tormented for his stutter, which caused many “gaffes”. He lived with mean nicknames. He has mastered the neurological defect, but still occasionally suffers word blocks, which critics cruelly attribute to senility or stupidity. When he got stuck on Obama’s name, he sidestepped to say, “my boss”, but was taunted for forgetting his boss’s name. Biden once said, “Stuttering gave me an insight into other people’s pain.” Like all American presidents, Biden will be hard-headed, but he also understands the shame of a stutterer and the anguish that comes from losing family members horrifically to car crash and brain cancer.</p> <p>Affable and folksy, Biden sees the need to put America together, which is like a house ripped apart after Trump’s visitation. Editorialised The New York Times: “Trump has intensified the worst tendencies in American politics. Under his leadership, the nation has grown more polarised, more paranoid and meaner.”</p> <p>Experts agree that foreign policy derives legitimacy from domestic reform. “Biden’s foreign policy stands on three Ds—domestic [politics], deterrence and democracy,” said Slaughter. His domestic priority is to unite the country, heal racial divisions, revive the economy, reduce inequality, and repair the broken state, society and infrastructure. Creating jobs is a priority, to be achieved by transitioning to green energy, opting for fair not free trade, prioritising American over foreign workers and keeping industrial supply chains in or near America. “Our policies at home and abroad are deeply connected,” says Biden.</p> <p>The second D is a 21st century version of deterrence. Not a la Soviet Union, but deterring disparate nations—Russia, China, Iran and North Korea—from trespassing nuclear limits, encroaching on American hegemony or targeting nations with disinformation.</p> <p>The third D is democracy, which has been on the backfoot globally. Historically, the pendulum shifts from left- to right-wingers and back. Biden intends to push back far-right forces while bolstering liberals. He will convene a global summit for democracy. Together, says Biden, democracies “must confront the rise of populists, nationalists, and demagogues. By presiding over the most corrupt administration in modern American history, Trump has given licence to kleptocrats everywhere.”</p> <p>Biden vows to seize stolen assets, eliminate dark money and shut illicit tax havens. Interestingly, Biden’s home state, Delaware, is a notorious but legal tax haven.</p> <p>Europe will be happy if Biden did nothing more than roll back Trump’s policies and replace the current loose cannons with professional ambassadors. Biden will roll back, but not everything. He is not expected to return Israel’s capital to Tel Aviv. Nor will he ease pressure on Europe to increase its defence expenditure—pressure first applied by Obama.</p> <p>But to Europe’s relief, Biden will re-embrace multilateralism to unitedly tackle international problems—from pandemic to rogue states, climate change to Big Tech. There will be international coordination on security challenges, from North Korea, Iran and Syria to Afghanistan and Venezuela. The US will return to the Paris Agreement, though a return to the Iran deal will not happen without hard-nosed diplomacy.</p> <p>Biden will end the “forever wars” in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and bring troops back home gradually. He promises to end American support to the unconscionable Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the UN labels a “humanitarian catastrophe”.</p> <p>China remains crucial for American foreign policy. The Chinese jokingly referred to Trump as “jianguo” (he who builds up China). They must find a new name for Biden, who will likely be coherently tougher on China mainly because there is bipartisan support for this in the US Congress. Unlike Trump’s solo wrecking-ball excursions, Biden will lead a concert of democracies to “confront China’s abusive behaviour. When we join other democracies, our strength more than doubles. China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy.”</p> <p>Using diplomacy and not tweets, the coalition of democracies will squeeze China on issues ranging from cyber-raids to state subsidies to industries. As defence secretary candidate Michèle Flournoy said, the US must “re-establish credible deterrence of China”.</p> <p>Harris lends weight to pressure China on issues ranging from erosion of democracy in Hong Kong to human rights abuses, especially the Uyghur prison camps in Xinjiang. Though her identity is transformational, Harris’s foreign policy positions are conventional. Of China she said, “It’s a complicated relationship. China steals our products, including our intellectual property. They dump substandard products into our economy. They need to be held accountable. We also need to partner with China, on climate change, non-proliferation, global health and North Korea.”</p> <p>China’s state-run Global Times expects Harris to be “harsh” on China, escalating the “who-is-the-toughest-on-China competition”. Like the devil quoting the scripture, Global Times echoes Trump referring to Harris as the “meanest” US senator.</p> <p>How mean a defeated Trump gets will be revealed by how he handles the 77-day transition period before leaving office on January 20. “People who have worked with Trump compare him to a mafia boss,” said historian Garrett Graff. “The Trump transition might be the start of the wildest chapter of an already controversial presidency.”</p> <p>Previous presidents have pardoned activists and friends. Trump could pardon himself (as a shield to creditors, court cases and investigations), his family, friends, cronies, convicted felons and media accomplices. He can also sabotage the incoming administration by mass-firing of top officials, destroying records, signing decrees, settling political scores, initiating covert operations, or launching unilateral military strikes—actions that prove there is neither a Pax Americana nor a United States of America. The grand finale of his presidency could see Trump succumbing to his worst instincts. That makes it harder, but more urgent, for Biden to fight for America’s soul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Previous presidents have pardoned activists and friends. Trump could pardon himself (as a shield to creditors, court cases and investigations),<br> his family, friends, cronies, convicted felons and media accomplices.</p> Fri Nov 13 15:03:05 IST 2020 katie-comes-to-party <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If you’re full of bullshit, I’m coming for ya,” says California congresswoman Katie Porter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A rising star of the Democratic party, Porter has Capitol Hill abuzz. In fact, that has been the case since 2018, when she shocked America by becoming the first Democrat to win California’s 45th congressional district, created in 1983. Porter’s razor-sharp politics makes her a serious contender for the senate seat that Kamala Harris would vacate if she becomes vice president. Porter is open to the idea, but she has more pressing issues on her mind. Taking down the Trump presidency, for instance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her rockstar image strengthened in April this year, when she raised $4.6 million—30 times more than her opponent Greg Raths of the Republican party did. Recognising her star power, the Democratic party has enlisted her help in its ‘Red to BOLD’ campaign, aimed at flipping seven Republican seats in Nebraska, Texas, New York, Michigan and Florida. “To achieve big change, I need more allies in Congress. And I’m asking for your help to make it happen,” Porter says in her fundraising emails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she winds down a virtual ballot party attended by THE WEEK, she reaches for a dry erase marker. “If you have any doubt about whether it is worth it for you to vote in this election,” she tells the audience, “I brought the whiteboard and here are some of the reasons. Climate change. Let me break it down for you. Do we all want to die? No. So vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she reels off other reasons—health care, women’s reproductive freedom, criminal justice reform—one begins to see President Katie Porter as a distinct possibility in the future. She furiously scribbles “Will you vote?” on the whiteboard, and issues a sober reminder: “Your voice is your vote. It is not enough to write things on Twitter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she waits for the fruits of the Red to BOLD campaign, Porter continues to pore over legislative work, hold people in power accountable and, of course, raise her three kids. Divorced, Porter is the only single mom in the US Congress. She splits her time between Washington, DC, and Irvine, California, where her three young children go to school. Every weekend, the minivan-driving supermom heads back to Irvine, does her chores, and volunteers with her children’s Cub and Boy Scout troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the pandemic hit and Congress permitted votes by proxy, she stayed in Irvine, home-schooling the children, holding virtual events, distributing cleaning supplies to childcare workers, and even finding time to donate blood. Committed to being a voice for working mothers like her, Porter tweeted on September 17: “Despite current protections in the law, pregnancy discrimination continues to burden working women and their families. I’m glad the House today passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and I’m eager for my colleagues in the Senate to take it up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a member of the house committee on oversight and reforms, Porter has been driving political reforms. In September, she announced that she would be sponsoring a bill that would help prevent an out-of-control presidency. “Of course, it is inspired by Donald Trump,” she said in a talk show. “When you have someone expanding the role of executive power, and using it relatively competently, it seems okay. But here we have someone expanding the role of executive power and making a mess of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, Porter took the political plunge thanks to Trump. After Trump’s shocking victory in 2016, she had brunch with her mentor and senator Elizabeth Warren. She told Warren about her three possible career ideas. Warren said the first was terrible and the second, forgettable. The third idea—which was to run for Congress—had Warren saying: “Now that is a good one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The younger generation of voters love “Katie’s spunk”. Members of the Katie Porter fandom include young adults sporting ‘No BS’ tee shirts, Halloween revellers dressing up as ‘Katie’s Whiteboard’, and young mothers pointing her out to their children saying, “That’s your future president.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I feel she respects the intelligence of the voter, keeps it real, shows integrity and truly walks her talk,” says techie Rekha Kaul of Irvine. “I looked up her record; she has sponsored and cosponsored close to 470 bills in 2019-2020 alone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaul’s views are validated by the Asian American Action Fund, a political action committee that decided to endorse Porter’s 2020 reelection bid as early as July last year. Porter’s success in flipping Orange County, a Republican stronghold that encompasses her congressional district, and her initiatives for ensuring the rights of immigrants led to the decision. Asians, including Indian Americans, make up 21 per cent of the population in Orange County. One of her fans there is MBA student Amit Vashist, who describes Porter’s tenacious questioning in Congress as “cogent, firm and supremely practical”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two mentors helped Porter hone her questioning skills—the trailblazing senators Warren and Kamala Harris. After attending Yale University and getting a law degree from Harvard, Porter specialised in bankruptcy and consumer protection law at Warren’s instance. Porter’s decision to accept a teaching job at the University of California Irvine prompted Harris, then the state’s attorney general, to appoint her as California’s independent monitor of banks. Both opportunities eventually helped her run for public office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, when the whiteboard and dry erase marker come out, members of Congress know Porter is about to school someone. Her most famous whiteboard takedown resulted in Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, committing to free Covid-19 tests for all Americans. In October, she chastened Mark Alles, CEO of the pharma company Celgene, for landing $500,000 as bonus in two years, “just by tripling the price of [the cancer drug] Revlimid”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a video that went viral, Porter asks Alles after scribbling ‘$13 million’ on her whiteboard: “Do you know what this number is? Does it ring any bells?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think you’re referring to my compensation in some way,” says Alles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This was your compensation for 2017 for being CEO of Celgene. It’s 200 times the average American’s income,” says Porter. “Any increase in the price of Revlimid would also increase your bonus [because it] increases [the company’s] earnings. Isn’t that right, Mr Alles?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caught on the backfoot, Alles tries to ramble on about technicalities, but Porter cuts him off. “Thank you,” she says. “So to recap here: The drug didn’t get any better; the cancer patients didn’t get any better. You just got better at making money.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before her showdown with Alles, she had castigated Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, over the pay disparity in the company. She demanded that he explain how a bank teller could live on minimum wage. Even Mark Zuckerberg has been at the receiving end of her ‘no-BS’ stance. Porter dared the Facebook CEO to commit “to spending one hour a day” for a year working as a content moderator. The commitment would involve sticking to the regimen of Facebook’s 15,000-odd moderators—policing stabbings, suicides and other gruesome videos on the social media platform for long hours, taking only nine-minute supervised “wellness breaks”. Zuckerberg declined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it was Porter’s decision last year to sign, along with 14 other members of Congress, a letter urging India to restore communications in Kashmir that had Indians and Indian Americans taking notice. On August 5 this year, Porter tweeted against the lockdown. “Today marks one year since India’s crackdown on Jammu and Kashmir. Millions remain cut off from phone and internet, the local economy is in ruins, and political prisoners are in custody without charges. It’s time for the lockdown to end.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Congress, Porter wants to overturn Trump’s tax plan, which raised taxes on middle-class families. She opposes the US-Mexico border wall, supports “immigration reform that will provide a fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants”, and is keen to break the chokehold of big money on American politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her quibbles about life as a congresswoman reveals how Capitol Hill remains “a male institution”. The furniture is too big for women—her feet do not touch the floor when she sits—and the congressional lapel pin that distinguishes members from staffers and visitors is more suited for men’s suits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Porter, however, does have two tools that have served her well in Washington—her ‘no BS’ attitude and her whiteboard. If the Democrats win big in the elections to the US Congress in November, an upgrade from congresswoman to senator could well be on the cards for her.</p> Thu Oct 22 18:16:05 IST 2020 desiding-factor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Last week as US President Donald Trump was convalescing from Covid-19 at the Walter Reed hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, the battle for the US presidential election 2020 continued nationwide. Even as she wished the president and First Lady Melania Trump a speedy recovery, democratic vice president nominee Senator Kamala Harris was all business at a fundraiser Q&amp;A attended by THE WEEK. “The stakes in this election couldn’t be higher,” she stressed.</p> <p>With early voting already under way, Harris brought the star power of former president Barack Obama to draw out the democratic vote. Obama, too, issued this serious reminder: “There are very concrete issues that are going to impact the well-being, the health, the welfare of millions of people determined in this election.” Learning from the loss of 2016, the Democrats are leaving no stone unturned to woo voters from every community, including the 1.3 million-strong Indian American electorate.</p> <p>Those expecting a Joe Biden-Harris juggernaut, powered by the Indian-American vote, to overtake Trump by virtue of Harris’s Indian lineage need to hold off celebrations. The Democratic Party’s stand on Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 and calling out India on human rights and other issues could hurt them at the polls.</p> <p>Trump, on the other hand, has made overt efforts to showcase his outreach. Be it the Howdy, Modi! event in Houston last November, visiting India this February despite no major trade deal being inked, observing an indifferent silence on the Kashmir issue and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and Modi’s endorsement of Trump itself has touched a chord with groups like ‘Hindus for Trump’, ‘Sikhs for Trump’ and ‘Indians for Trump’.</p> <p>While Indian Americans lauded Harris’s meteoric rise as a big moment for the diaspora and Trump bragged, “I have more Indians than she has”, Harris focused on acts of voter suppression. At the fundraiser Q&amp;A, she urged: “Ask the question, ‘why are so many powerful people trying to make it so difficult for us to vote?’ Because, when we vote, things change.”</p> <p>Where Indians are concerned, the Biden-Harris ticket is already committed to change on a key issue, that of overturning the Trump curbs on H1-B visas. Biden also acknowledged the contribution of Indian Americans at a fundraiser end September, saying: “You have helped forge an economic and cultural dynamism in this country.” Interestingly, the Asian American Voter Survey, released mid-September, indicates 54 per cent of Indian Americans were pro-Democratic and most inclined to vote for Biden-Harris while 16 per cent identified as pro-Republicans, rallying behind Trump.</p> <p>The Democratic Party is not taking the poll numbers for granted though. Harris, who has been faulted for acknowledging her black identity over her Indianness, finally appears to be addressing Indian-American voters head on. The duo has been attending virtual campaign events. The grassroot network has been feverishly working phone and texting banks to reach Indian-American voters. Such is the seriousness that in the swing state of Pennsylvania, on October 2, Democrats held a phonebank with former US ambassador to India Richard Verma, who attended the event as a private citizen.</p> <p>If Biden has his admirers in the Indian American community, so does Trump. His handling of the economy, jobs, tax reforms and China has resonated with them. As per the AAPI survey, men are driving up the pro-Republican vote among Indian Americans. In 2016, 71 per cent of Indian-American men had voted Democrat, and 21 per cent Republican. In 2020, 41 per cent of the men are estimated to vote Republican and 57 per cent Democrat. Whether this translates into actual votes remains to be seen. In 2016, the Republican vision appealed to corporate executive Raj Bandekar, 51, of Pennsylvania. Today, he is undecided if he will vote Trump again. His minor gripe is that “Trump did not successfully merge corporate thinking and government stability”.</p> <p>When Trump won in 2016, he did so on the promise that he would “drain the swamp”. Many agree that Trump has shaken things up, perhaps a bit much. What has not gone down well with many Indian-American voters is this administration’s tendency to play Russian roulette with issues of governance, health care and national security. Is that enough to tip Bandekar over to camp Biden? Apparently not. “I need to see a bit more spark in Biden,” he says. “He needs to spell out what he intends to do about our country’s 2.3 trillion dollar debt and how he plans to add jobs and fix health care.”</p> <p>On the other hand, Biden-Harris seem to have struck the right note with Arun Natarajan, 52, from Minnesota. A PhD in engineering-material sciences, Arun voted Republican since 1998, gave Obama his vote for both terms and returned to the Republican camp in 2016 after Obama’s promise of a solid health care plan fell short. “I felt maybe Trump being a businessman could make a better deal, perhaps do something to upgrade health care,” he says. But with Trump out to axe the health care plan with no concrete replacement, Arun turned in his ballot early this time, voting for Biden-Harris based on their commitment to fix health care. “They address my number one issue,” he says. “A person’s quality of life depends on his health. Had Biden-Harris focused more on immigration and wars, they would have lost my vote.”</p> <p>When asked “seven months in to the pandemic what keeps you up at night?”, both Obama and Harris grew sober. Citing the 2.05 lakh Covid-19 deaths and over 70 lakh people who have contracted the virus, Harris condemned the Trump administration’s effort to strike down the Affordable Care Act, put in place by the Obama-Biden team. “I cannot stress how important having the affordable health care act that covers pre-existing conditions is,” said Harris. “Especially given that Covid will become a pre-existing condition, given [its] potential for lung scarring and heart damage.” This approach is probably what has 83 per cent women leaning pro-Democrat and only 17 per cent pro-Republican.</p> <p>Interestingly, Indian-American women who support Trump face greater rebuke than their male counterparts for doing so. Political science student and first-time voter Athmika Dubey blames it on Trump’s rhetoric and how much he has polarised the electorate based on gender, race, religion and economic status. Biden, she says, would be the better president for America. A President Biden would be better for India, too. It was under Obama-Biden’s tenure that India received a niche ranking as a major defence partner, she recalls. Dubey also points out that “both India and the US need to rein in China for different reasons. And a tempered statesman like Biden can accomplish that”. Bandekar disagrees, believing Trump’s strong-arm tactics are the need of the hour to deal with China.</p> <p>Members of the Indian-American electorate often discuss China in the Indian and American context. They wonder how Biden-Harris will handle this challenge, given the roughing up of relations with China under the current administration. Californian entrepreneur Rehan Dastagir hopes Biden can bring his statesmanship to work, iron out stronger trade policies through dialogue, ink better trade deals and “avert a new cold war”.</p> <p>Others at the fundraiser believe a Biden presidency would restore bilateral ties to the point advocated by him in 2006, when he envisioned US and India as close partners by 2020. They maintain a Biden administration might even advocate a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council, given it was first mooted by Obama-Biden in 2010.</p> <p>In the final weeks of campaigning, Biden-Harris and their supporters are even wooing Indian-American voters Bollywood-style. California-based entrepreneur couple Ajay and Vinita Bhutoria released a digital graphic in 14 languages with the slogan—“<i>America Ka Neta Kaisa Ho, Joe Biden Jaisa Ho</i> (How should be America’s leader, just like Joe Biden)”. The couple had also put together a music video, featuring Biden-Harris, based on a song from Aamir Khan’s movie<i> Lagaan</i>. With a few tweaks, it reads, “Chale chalo, Chale chalo, Biden ko vote do, Biden ki jeet ho, Unki haar, haan (Let’s go, let’s go, vote for Biden; May Biden win, their defeat, yes)”.</p> <p>Those Indian Americans, especially the younger generation, holding out their vote admit they just want to get a better feel of the Harris vibe. They have celebrated with pride her rise to power, but they are not about to vote on the basis of their Indian identity alone. They listen keenly to her plans on the issues close to their heart—civil rights, education, climate change and immigration. The more they hear, they admit they might be warming up to the idea of a Vice President Kamala Harris and the promise to “build back better” with a President Joe Biden.&nbsp;</p> Tue Oct 27 17:08:14 IST 2020 strategic-value <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Last month, India</b> got observer status in the Djibouti Code of Conduct/Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA). It is a little-known multilateral grouping that hinges around a country the size of Manipur and a population of less than 10 lakh. Djibouti has risen to importance because of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, at the chokepoint of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This part-membership gives India a toehold into a country where China stole a march against almost the entire world by making Djibouti one of the most important baubles in its grand String of Pearls.</p> <p>The DCOC is a grouping on maritime matters, comprising 18 nations adjoining the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, east coast of Africa and island nations of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It was established in 2009 to repress piracy and armed robbery against ships. The Jeddah Amendment 2017 enhanced its scope to include repression of illicit maritime activity, including maritime terrorism and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Along with India, the UK, US, Japan and Norway have observer status, too. According to the ministry of external affairs, the position does not have a fixed term.</p> <p>Djibouti’s importance has been rising over many years, given the volume of international trade that passes into the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. But in 2015, the world snapped into attention as China began building a military base there. The three big choke points for Chinese maritime traffic are the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden, said vice admiral Shekhar Sinha (retired). With Gwadar in Pakistan, and a few long-lease islands from Malaysia, China has secured the first two points. Djibouti takes care of the third.</p> <p>Djibouti was yet another missed opportunity for India that China took advantage of. In 2002, Djibouti, with which India has good ties, was in need of developmental assistance. “The India Navy was in favour of accepting this offer for developing Djibouti, as it would help us secure the sea lanes of commerce,” said Sinha. “[But] back then, India was not outward-looking. We suffered from what the Americans call ‘sea blindness’.”</p> <p>China, meanwhile, began steadily investing in various infrastructure projects in Djibouti. It now controls the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, Dolareh Container Terminal and Djibouti Port, and thus, the country’s economy. The Chinese military base is around 60.7 hectares, with facilities to house 200 marines, wrote rear admiral Monty Khanna (retired) in a paper for Observer Research Foundation. The facilities are constantly evolving. A notable development is the construction of a jetty which, when ready, would cater for a deep-water military berthing facility, a huge fillip to China’s capabilities there.</p> <p>India is not a significant adversary in China’s global plan. Its String of Pearls and Belt and Road Initiative are gamechangers in challenging the US’s global influence. However, for India, the IOR is a very important space as it is the biggest country in the region. With the current dispensation having given the maritime region some importance, Djibouti is a crucial location for India to beef up its presence.</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR) has given a boost to India’s maritime outreach. India is engaged in multilateral cooperation with countries in the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Last November, at the East Asia Summit, India proposed the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative for a safe, secure and stable maritime domain. India wants to enlarge its footprint in waters where Chinese presence is increasing.</p> <p>In a dynamic global situation, where the seas have regained importance, India is warily joining groupings to keep China under check in regional waters. The Indo-Pacific concept may be one of growth and development with the centrality of ASEAN, according to India, but there can be no ambiguous couching of a grouping like the Quad (US, India, Japan and Australia), which has scaled up to foreign minister-level summits.</p> <p>India’s recent logistic sharing tie-ups with the US, France, and Japan also gives it access to base facilities at Djibouti, where France and Japan both have a presence. India has been patrolling these waters regularly since 2008, with one warship always on deployment in the western Indian Ocean region. China, too, has maintained the presence of at least three ships in these waters. Such heavy military presence has reduced piracy here; piracy has shifted to the west coast of Africa in recent years.</p> <p>The DCOC is not related to India’s bilateral ties with Djibouti or any other country in the region. “The very fact that India’s request for observer status was accepted by consensus speaks volumes of India’s bilateral ties with DCOC/JA member states,” said a ministry official.</p> <p>Observers view the DCOC entry as a positive move. They note that India so far has only access to information on white shipping (commercial), and tie-ups like DCOC which will give India access to grey (military) shipping activities, too.</p> <p>For India, perhaps, such tie-ups are a better way of information and logistic sharing than expensive development projects whose benefits may not be that forthcoming. The Chabahar project in Iran, for instance, is only a commercial tie-up. Its expansion is under a cloud now with the US-induced tension in India-Iran ties. Chabahar, anyway, was no match for China’s influence in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. China has now extended finances to Iran for port and infrastructure development. The Bandar-e-Jask project at the northern end of the Strait of Hormuz in Iran is set to be the next pearl in the Chinese necklace. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 18:39:00 IST 2020 malicious-intent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Binoj Basnyat, a retired major general of the Nepali army, has fond memories of his time spent in Delhi 10 years ago, pursuing a course at the National Defence College. He bonded quickly with Indian officers from the Gorkha regiments, including General Bipin Rawat, now chief of defence staff. Basnyat, who has seen several ups and downs in India-Nepal relations, is confident that the friendship will last despite the recent crisis in bilateral ties, even as China tries to drive a wedge between the neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a move that signals China’s intent, its embassy in Kathmandu has engaged a local think tank called the China Study Centre (CSC) to explore what motivates young Nepalis to join the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army. The study will also look at the areas in Nepal where such recruitments are popular, the socio-economic impact of the recruitment and the level of interest of potential candidates in joining the armed forces of foreign countries. The move has caught the attention of the Indian military establishment as it has come at a time when India and China are engaged in a tense border standoff. “The closeness between Nepal and India has always troubled China. It has never liked Nepali youth joining the Indian Army,” said Basnyat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sino-Indian tensions grow, China is increasingly making use of the CSC, said to be funded by the People’s Liberation Army, to gather information on Indian activities. The Indian military intelligence has repeatedly expressed concern over the growing influence of the think tank at a time the Nepali government is headed by a decidedly pro-China K.P. Sharma Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a report by the Sashastra Seema Bal, more than two dozen CSC offices have come up in Nepal, with half of them operating close to its 1,751-km-long border with India. While the CSC maintains that it is engaged in teaching Chinese language and disseminating cultural information about China and its various art forms, Indian security agencies believe that it spreads anti-India propaganda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nepal is the only foreign country whose nationals are part of the Indian Army. Close to 40,000 Gorkhas serve in the seven Gorkha regiments of the Army, which have won numerous gallantry awards, including two Param Vir Chakras. The Gorkha regiments have given several chiefs to the Army including the legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and also its last two chiefs, General Dalbir Singh Suhag and General Bipin Rawat. The Army presently operates 16 recruiting centres across Nepal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was commander Sir David Ochterlony of the East India Company army who first recognised the bravery of the Gorkhas, a sturdy hill tribe, during the Anglo-Nepalese war (1814-16), and invited them to join his army. Since then, the Gorkhas have been part of multiple military campaigns including the 1857 rebellion, the Afghan wars and the two world wars. In 1947, India, Britain and Nepal signed a tripartite agreement after which seven of the 11 existing regiments of the Gorkhas in the British Indian Army joined the Indian Army while the remaining four joined the British army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 70 years of meritorious service of the Gorkhas has come under some strain recently because of the deterioration in India-Nepal relations. Last year, Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said the 1947 agreement had become “irrelevant” in the “changed political context”. A section of the Nepali intelligentsia and lawmakers, meanwhile, has started questioning the practice of the country’s youth serving in foreign armies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sundar Nath Bhattarai, officiating chairman of the CSC, meanwhile, denied that his organisation was conducting any study on behalf of the PLA. “China knows that the Nepalese Gorkha join the Indian Army under a tripartite agreement between India, Nepal and Britain. There is, however, a view that the Gorkhas should not join Indian Army,” Bhattarai told THE WEEK. “We have been operating in Nepal for over 20 years and we indulge only in academic research on China-Nepal relations. There is no ulterior motive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian foreign policy establishment thinks that Nepal is playing the China card against India. The bonhomie the two countries used to share no longer seems to exist. In May, when Nepal objected to India’s road construction in Lipulekh, Army Chief General M.M. Naravane pointed out that Kathmandu’s reaction was at someone’s behest, in an apparent reference to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired Indian officers believe that the CSC’s exercise is backed by China. Former northern army commander Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda, who was with the Gorkha regiment, said the Chinese military was trying to exploit the differences between India and Nepal. “The intention could be to get information and subsequently to exploit it for spying,” he said. “We need to be careful about their moves, especially as we have close to 40,000 Gorkha soldiers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General (retd) Vinod Bhatia, who was director general of military operations, said the CSC was controlled and funded by the Chinese government. “The ongoing study is part of the Chinese military’s psychological operations, its three-warfare strategy of psy ops, public opinion and legal warfare. It is aimed at putting the adversary in a dilemma.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the move faces pushback from within Nepal as well. Colonel (retd) Dhan Bahadur Thapa, who served in Indian Army’s 11 Kumaon regiment, said it was a proud moment for any Nepali to join the Indian Army. “It is a tradition and a norm in Nepal,” he said. “China is using this as propaganda. The Chinese military is now standing against Indian forces (in eastern Ladakh) and they are trying to put pressure on the Nepal government to stop the youth from joining Indian forces.” But he said the 1.3 lakh Gorkhas who retired from the Indian Army would oppose any such move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s ties with Nepal transcend political leadership, according to Lieutenant General (retd) Shokin Chauhan, an officer from the 11 Gorkha Rifles and former Indian defence attaché in Kathmandu. “The two countries have a ‘roti-beti’ relationship and the Army and the Gorkhas form the bedrock of the relationship,” he said. “China is trying to find out the motivation for Nepali youth to join the Indian Army. It could be an attempt to infiltrate the Army or to lure the Nepali youth to the PLA. But Gorkhas have a very strong emotional connect with the Indian Army.”</p> Fri Sep 11 20:40:54 IST 2020 suing-for-peace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kenosha, Wisconsin, is a small town used to big-time trouble. Just over the Illinois border, it was where Al Capone and his men would hide from Chicago police chases at a time when the police could not cross state lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wisconsin itself has a history of racism dating back to its time as a territory; it is a state that once let non-citizen newcomers vote before it allowed black men near the ballot box. Last month, seven shots in the back of an unarmed black man brought world attention to Kenosha. Into this cloud of infamy, walked in the biggest of the big-gun civil rights lawyers of the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 50, attorney Ben Crump is an imposing figure. Tall, and at once soft-spoken and forceful with his words, he projects kindness, compassion and a deep desire for justice. He is a handsome black man with a velvet quality; reassuringly flawless in his dress and perfect skin, he has perfected the art of putting legalistic language into words everyday folk can relate to. In doing so, he commands a presence that comforts and stabilises emotionally charged situations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is everything families dream of —a law graduate from Florida State University, a recipient of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Thurgood Marshall Award, recipient of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Martin Luther King Servant Leader Award, one of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers, and Ebony magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have seen him on television next to those collapsing inward at the loss of a family member to a racially tinged event leached of humanity. There is something he understands that others are just beginning to see. We have seen him next to the families of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Kenosha man paralysed from the waist down by the seven, point-blank shots from policemen who followed him to his car after a struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That he was in Kenosha standing next to Jacob Blake’s family to demand justice from the police department and the city, told the world that the town was in big-time trouble. “This seems to be a pattern in this town,” said Crump in a television interview. “Just like it is in America, the police killing an unarmed man unnecessarily and unjustifiably.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When police shoot black people in America, Crump says they are “told not by word but by action over and over and over again, you won’t be held accountable”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump is there because he understands that these events take place within a larger, more monstrous reality that envelops the everyday life of people of colour, and recognises that the root cause of these actions is embedded into the laws and customs and life in American society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seven shots were fired into Philando Castile in eight seconds in 2016 in St Paul, Minnesota. Castile was with his fiancée and her daughter as he attempted to comply after being stopped for a broken tail light. The officer was later acquitted of charges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2005, off-duty detective, father and church deacon Howard Morgan was stopped for driving the wrong way without headlights in Chicago; as a cop, he was permitted to carry a gun. While searching his car, the police found a gun. Morgan was shot at more than 100 times; 21 times in the back. He survived, but is permanently disabled. He was charged with four counts of attempted murder, deadly use of a firearm, assault and battery. After being acquitted of some of the charges and deadlocked on others, he was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison, despite having eight years of police service and being an elderly man reduced to using a walker and wearing a colostomy bag because of the shooting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is one of the worst injustices I have witnessed,” said Crump, despite the fact that a governor later commuted Morgan’s sentence. “Because the conviction also prevented him from bringing a civil lawsuit. The police were clearly in the wrong here, yet Morgan was punished. This devastating event shows that black people are being attacked from many fronts. The police are killing us on the streets; we are also being killed by the judges and prosecutors in the courtrooms.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump describes the above in his book Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People (Amistad, 2019). In his television appearances, you can hear him readily recite the names of such victims. It is a long list, but their names roll out of his tongue in quick succession with an emphasis that tells you he can tell you all about the injustices visited upon them. In 2018, he represented the family of Stephon Clark against the city of Sacramento in California. The 22-year-old Clark was shot seven times in his grandmother’s backyard because the officers thought the phone in his hand was a gun. There was no gun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The names keep adding on. There is context to it all; it is open season genocide, he argues in his book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>America’s list of racial-event deaths is long. He has not represented them all, but he writes about the embedded injustice and systematic racism that kills them: Eric Garner, Philando Castile, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Martin Lee Anderson, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michelle Cusseaux, Laquan McDoland, George Mann, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Matthew Ajibade, Frank Smart, Natasha McKenna, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Mya Hall, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scout, William Chapman II, Alexia Christia, Brendon Glenn, Victor Manuel Larosa, Johnathan Sanders, Freddie Blue, Joseph Mann, Salvado Ellswood, Sandra Bland, Albert Joseph Davis, Darrius Stewart, Billy Ray Davis, Samuel Dubose, Michael Sabbie, Brian Keith Day, Christian Taylor, Troy Robinson, Asshams Pharoah Manley, Felix Kumi, Keith Harrison McLeod, Junior Prosper, Lamontez Jones, Patterson Brown, Dominic Hutchinson, Anthony Ashford, Alonzo Smith, Tyree Crawford, India Kager, La’vante Briggs, Michael Lee Marshall, Jamar Clark, Richard Perkins, Nathaniel Harris Pickett, Benni Lee Tignor, Miguel Espinal, Michael Noel, Kevin Matthews, Bettie Jones, Quintonio LeGrier, Keith Childress Jr., Janet Wilson, Randy Nelson, Antronie Scott, Wendell Celestine, David Joseph, Calin Roquemore, Dyzhawn Perkins, Christopher Davis, Marco Loud, Peter Gaines, Torrey Robinson, Darius Robinson, Kevin Hicks, Mary Truxillo, Demarcus Semer, Willie Tillman, Terrill Thomas, Sylville Smooth, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Paul O’Neal, Alteria Woods, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Ronell Foster, Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose II, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson, Christopher Whitfield, Christopher McCorvey, Eric Reason, Michael Lorenzo Dean, Breona Taylor, George Floyd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is not okay for people of colour to be killed by the police or assaulted by the justice system,” wrote Crump. “Absent the privilege of legal protections and designated as a threat to society, people of colour are prime targets for genocide. As we know this pattern of unequal and disproportionate policing of people who have been racialised as well as criminalised and even exterminated based on race has a long history.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump represented the family of Terence Crutcher of Tulsa, Oklahoma, shown on police helicopter and car video walking toward his car with his hands raised, shot and killed in plain daylight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2006, 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson went joyriding in his grandmother’s car and was sent to a Panama City, Florida, boot camp for juvenile offenders. Hours after arriving, he was dead. Due to a blood disorder, said the medical examiner. In a landmark case that prompted the Florida legislature to dismantle the state department of justice’s juvenile boot system and name the act the Martin Lee Anderson Act, Crump used the media masterfully after unearthing CCTV footage that showed white guards forcing him to inhale ammonia after kneeing, kicking, dragging, and hitting him. A second autopsy determined the 14-year-old was suffocated to death. With Crump’s help, the family reached a $5 million settlement with the state of Florida.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a jury found the seven former boot camp drill instructors and a nurse not guilty of causing the child’s death, and they walked free. Crump stood in front of reporters and thundered: “You kill a dog; you go to jail. You kill a little black boy, and nothing happens.” Those comments were covered by media all over the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In today’s America, it is Crump who calls on the conscience of the nation through skilful media appearances and publications. “Today, there is in America a persistent, prevailing, and unhealthy mindset regarding people of colour,” he wrote. “To understand the presence of genocide, we must acknowledge that our society is one that is built on violence and condones arming its people. This genocide is fuelled by police brutality, unfair treatment in the judicial system, and ‘stand your ground and shoot first’ laws which are influenced by the gun lobby.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These laws are stuff that says “you can shoot black people and we will justify it,” said Crump of the Kenosha shooting. Kenosha is a town of about one lakh people along Lake Michigan. Protesters, many from the large Black Lives Matter movement that sprouted after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, gathered in downtown Kenosha to protest police violence. The marchers later clashed with the police and the protests deteriorated into arson and destruction of private property. Armed white militia appeared in the streets of Kenosha the following night and television cameras showed police offering water to heavily armed vigilantes and saying, “We sure appreciate you guys here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of those guys turned out to be a 17-year-old white teenager who later killed two people and blew the arm of another. After making a call where he is heard telling someone that he had just killed someone, the boy approaches the police carrying his semi-automatic rifle with crowds pointing out to the police that he had just shot someone. The police drive on, ignoring him. He was then driven home to Antioch, Illinois, by his mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>White privilege, one might argue, considering the treatment of Blake who carried no weapon and was at the time shackled to his hospital bed. “Black men do not get the benefit of their humanity,” said Crump. “Armed militia can walk freely, but a black guy heading to where he might have a knife is shot in the back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He goes further to look at the greater injustice in the system. “Police want the family to talk, but they want to stay quiet. Don’t rush to judgment. But did they not rush to judgement when they shoot? We cannot have a justice system for black America and another for white America,” Crump said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Genocide amply describes what transpires between the US judicial system and coloured people,” Crump wrote in his book. “In effect the judicial system in this country targets, whether consciously or not, black and brown people robbing them at every level including, in the end, of their very lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The physical, financial, mental and even spiritual deaths can be evidenced in newspaper articles, numerous studies, in courtrooms, and on the streets of our impoverished neighbourhoods. You can see them in our prison populations, our schools, and our communities in need of healthcare. It is legalised genocide because the system legitimises over and over again these injustices. Technical reasons are often found for their legality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an undeniable pattern to atrocities perpetrated against people of colour, according to Crump. “Cooperation doesn’t work,” he said. “Polite responses and non-threatening retreat don’t work. So often, too often, no matter how we respond, the police shoot us and the police get off, which sends the message that it is acceptable to kill black people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump says he is fighting to help transform communities marching and chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace’ into ones proclaiming ‘Know Justice, Know Peace’. He believes that America “can be redeemed and can live up to its promise”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looking to the start of his journey for justice, Crumb looks to a time in 1978, when the supreme Court-ordered forced busing began to racially integrate schools. It was also the time the son of a hotel laundry worker who also worked a night job at a shoe factory realised that his white classmate had a weekly allowance greater than what his mother made in a week or two.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When his mother told him that the integration of white and black children was due to the work of a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall (who later became a Supreme Court justice) in a landmark case named Brown vs Board of Education, Crump decided he would become an attorney just like Marshall. He would “fight to make life better for people from my side of the tracks”. “I was going to fight for all people to have a chance for justice and an equal chance of freedom,” Crump wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a lawyer, he soon learned that it was dangerous to be a coloured person in America. “The police don’t shoot white men in the back,” he said. People of colour are also killed softly, said Crump, quoting Frederick Douglass. “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them,” said Crump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Thousands of young black and brown people are killed every year, spiritually, if not physically, through racially biased judicial rulings in American courtrooms,” he said. “Police write dishonest probable-cause affidavits, prosecutors justify charging them with felonies, and judges hand down excessive multi-year sentences of prison and probation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of that fits the description of the crime of genocide, Crump points out, as defined in Paragraph C, Article 2, of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Crump, the conditions imposed on black and brown people inflict physical destruction on the members of those communities. “Genocide is not limited to just killing,” he said. “It is also genocide to cause serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and deliberately inflict on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Laws of this country and their enforcement and adjudication are used to cut into the heart and soul of the people. “Most coloured folk believe that the legal system and nearly every other institution in the United States is out to eliminate black and brown people,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump was in Kenosha to help coloured people know justice and know peace. He has taken the cause of Jacob Blake to the 2020 March on Washington, which commemorates two events—the 65th anniversary of the killing of Emmet Till, a 14-year-old black American lynched in Mississippi in 1955, and the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is black America’s attorney general,” said the Rev Al Sharpton introducing Crump at George Floyd’s funeral. Crump’s passionate press conferences during the Trayvon Martin trial are the stuff of legend. He has been a fixture on cable news interviews this year, and his pursuit of justice forms the crux of an upcoming, six-part Netflix documentary, Who Killed Tupac?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are in a time of heightened tension,” wrote Crump, quoting King to explain his pursuit. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He stood by Jacob Blake’s family in the streets of Kenosha, as they led the crowd in prayer, shared their grief and told their stories. “This is our reality,” he said. “That is why we fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before television cameras and the world, he has laid bare the human fight; the fight for equality and against what he argues is a slow racist genocide in Kenosha and in every city where racism continues to rise. “We must,” Crump said, “speak truth to power.”</p> Fri Sep 04 12:26:13 IST 2020 access-denied <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Covid-19</b> pandemic has dealt a nasty blow to all those who have been waiting patiently to enter the United States legally. Citing the pandemic, President Donald Trump has shut down most immigrant and work visa programmes till the end of the year, pulling the rug from under the feet of those waiting for their green cards and H-1B visas.</p> <p>Green cards are now being issued only to physicians, nurses and health care workers and their families. It, however, leaves the door open for the EB-5 immigrant investor programme. The freeze on green card applications—initially for 60 days—has been extended for the whole of 2020. The administration has also stopped issuing H-1B, H-2B, H-4, L and J visas during this period.</p> <p>In early July, the Trump administration came up with yet another restriction, banning foreign students from entering or remaining in the US if their academic programmes were fully online. Many colleges and universities have moved their courses online because of the pandemic. Trump’s order was challenged immediately in court by prominent institutions like Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as “arbitrary and capricious”. The administration backtracked quickly and agreed to allow existing students to continue their studies. The ban, however, remains applicable to fresh international students.</p> <p>With presidential elections coming up in less than three months, Trump seems to have gone into an overdrive on the immigration front. In yet another move targeting foreign workers, he has banned federal agencies from employing foreign workers on H-1B visas and has put restrictions on H-1B workers moving to other employers’ job sites. The administration has also hiked application fees for H-1B and L-1 visas.</p> <p>Indians will be among the hardest hit by the newly imposed visa and immigration restrictions. The blanket freeze on green cards and job visas has come as a big shock for those who were scheduled to get their visas, says New York-based immigration lawyer Cyrus Mehta. “If they have been sponsored by employers through the labour certification process and they happen to be overseas, then they, too, will be impacted by the order,” he says.</p> <p>In an opinion piece in <i>The Hill</i>, journalist and attorney Raul Reyes says Trump’s latest move is little more than a calculated political stunt. “It is designed to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment and to distract the public from the administration’s myriad failures in dealing with the coronavirus crisis,” he says.</p> <p>The new restrictions have thrown several families already in the US into a whirlpool, as immigration and the pandemic have combined to form a potent mix. Millions have lost their jobs in the US and so the H-1B workers are not immune; but unlike American workers, if they do not find a job within 60 days, they will have to leave the country.</p> <p>Tahmina Watson of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle says the Trump administration is using Covid-19 as a vehicle to achieve its anti-immigration objectives like banning most family-based immigrant visas. “It is not a secret that this administration does not like H-1B visas. Covid-19 and the onset of recession provided the perfect opportunity for the administration.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has promised a major overhaul of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, if its candidate Joe Biden wins the presidential elections in November. “We support awarding visas for permanent, employment-based immigration in a way that is responsive to labour market needs,” says the party’s campaign agenda. With Trump and Biden having sharply divergent views on the issue, the debate on immigration is likely to become more acrimonious.</p> <p>The Trump administration, meanwhile, is considering a proposal to require companies to pay foreign-born scientists and engineers in H-1B status a minimum wage of $1,50,000 to $2,50,000 or more a year. “The law enacted by Congress does not limit the issuance of H-1B visas to those earning such high salaries. This proposal would be subject to court challenges,” says Mehta.</p> <p>Watson says the regulations are set on this issue through the Code of Federal Regulations. To change the rules, new regulations have to be drafted, proposed and finalised and the public will have an opportunity to comment on any proposed rules. “A standard high salary will lead to economic failure for companies that hire high-skilled foreign workers. It will lead to economic hardship for businesses just when the economy needs all the help possible to recover,” says Watson.</p> <p>There are, however, some signs of cheer in the prevailing gloom. “Federal courts have reversed arbitrary H-1B denials,” says Mehta. “One court also held that the policy of requiring extensive documentation with third party clients was unlawful. This should improve the prospects of H-1B requests filed on behalf of IT professionals from India who are assigned to their party client sites.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, it is wait and watch for those almost on the finish line for green cards. Gautam (name changed) who is in Seattle on an H-1B visa lost his job. With 18 days left on his visa, he debated whether to get a tourist visa so he could stay on to take care of unfinished business. At the same time, he also tried hard to get a consultancy job that would take care of his visa issues. He got a job despite the hiring freezes. “On the day my visa was expiring, I got the news that my new visa application was filed,” he says. “Within two weeks my visa was approved.”</p> <p>One cannot predict what the future holds for those waiting to enter America, but there may be a silver lining to the Covid-19-induced crisis.</p> <p>“India’s high-skilled workers are sought after globally,” says Watson. “As we enter an era of remote work for the technology industry, countries will compete for talent. I don’t necessarily worry about my clients making a living outside the US. My concern would be for the status of America as a global leader if we lose the talent that gives us the edge.”</p> <p>­<b>—The author is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p></p> Thu Aug 13 17:55:54 IST 2020 winners-take-all <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Sri Lankan</b> parliament elections held on August 5 will go down in history as a watershed moment in the country’s political history. It saw the United National Party (UNP), which was in power till a year ago, getting decimated so thoroughly that it failed to win even a single seat. The other traditional party of the island nation, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, contested only in a few districts and gave overall backing to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).</p> <p>The SLPP, founded by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, won 145 of 225 seats. With their allies, the four-year-old SLPP crossed the 150 mark, securing an unprecedented two-thirds majority. The last party to achieve such a feat was the UNP, which swept the polls in 1977 under the first past the post electoral system. Under the proportional representation system, which has been in operation since the 1980s, such commanding margins have become almost impossible, leading to post-election crossovers and horse-trading.</p> <p>Mahinda and Gotabaya campaigned hard to avoid such a situation, seeking a comprehensive mandate from the voters. And, they got it thanks to the weak and divided opposition which failed to learn the lessons from their disastrous presidential campaign last November. The main opposition party this time was the Samagi Jana Balawegaya of Sajith Premadasa, the former deputy leader of the UNP who chose to float his own party following a tiff with UNP leader and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. After the crushing defeat, Ranil stepped down as party leader.</p> <p>With the overwhelming mandate for the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka could be potentially looking at a one-party rule scenario. The new regime will be looking to repeal the 19th amendment to the constitution enacted in 2015 by the UNP regime. The Rajapaksas believe the amendment was brought to keep them out of politics and to weaken the directly elected executive president. Their campaign was focused on convincing the electorate that the repeal has brought the country to an economic, political and security crisis, including the horrendous serial bombings in April 2019.</p> <p>Another key challenge for the Rajapaksas will be reconciliation with the Tamils and the Muslims. After the civil war, the Mahinda government had appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and had taken steps to release and rehabilitate nearly 12,000 LTTE cadres who had no grave charges against them. Steps were also taken to release civilian lands. Yet, all those initiatives remain unfinished.</p> <p>Dealing with the minorities will test the political and diplomatic skills of the Rajapaksas as the issue is being keenly monitored by the powerful Tamil diaspora, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. Many Sri Lankans fear that the west is using its economic power to impose its control over Sri Lanka. The country had faced economic sanctions on grounds of human rights violations during the final phase of the civil war.</p> <p>Disappointment with the west has pushed Sri Lanka close to China, which does not enjoy a stellar human rights record. As a result, China now enjoys a critical economic and strategic hold over Sri Lanka. In the 2015 elections, the Chinese “debt trap” and the 99 year-lease of the Hambantota harbour were key campaign issues. This time, however, the key issue was the pressure exerted by the west, especially the United States.</p> <p>With the strong parliamentary backing they enjoy, the Rajapaksas are expected to strategically balance the pressure from the west, China and India, all of which want a share of the Sri Lankan economic pie and its support for their strategic designs. India considers Sri Lanka to be in its sphere of influence, while China considers it to be a key part of its Belt and Road Initiative. The US, India and Japan want Sri Lanka to support the ‘Quad’, an informal strategic platform they share with Australia.</p> <p>India, in collaboration with Japan, has been wanting to run the Colombo port’s eastern terminal, perhaps because it is next to the Chinese-run terminal. But port workers have gone on strike against the proposed deal and have extracted a promise from Mahinda that the terminal will not be handed over to foreigners. It may not be easy for Sri Lanka to wriggle out of its contractual obligations without antagonising India. There are already reports about India dragging its feet on giving Sri Lanka a moratorium on its loan repayments.</p> <p>Nearly 15 Indian project proposals are pending with the Sri Lankan government since 2017. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi complained about Sri Lanka’s non-response, Gotabaya said India was to be blamed for the delay and that some of the projects were unnecessary. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, wants India to return 25 of the 99 oil tanks in Trincomalee which were given to India in the early 2000s. India, according to Sri Lankan sources, has been using only 15 of them.</p> <p>SLPP spokesperson G.L. Peiris said the new government would revisit international agreements, though he did not mention any pact in particular. The unprecedented victory of the SLPP is seen as a result of the disillusionment with the attempts of the UNP-led regime to take the country along a neoliberal and pro-western path. Some observers, however, think that the Rajapaksas may find it difficult to free themselves fully from the pressure exerted by the US.</p> <p>Making the country self-reliant by strengthening its economy will be one of the key objectives of the new government. Gotabaya has a team of intellectuals, business leaders and economists who are expected to assist in setting up a strong platform to boost entrepreneurship in the post-Covid-19 era.</p> <p>One of the first tasks before the new parliament when it meets on August 20 will be to decide on a fresh vote on account as the government needs time to prepare a full-fledged budget for the upcoming year. For the Rajapaksas, the real challenge may have just begun.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 19:02:45 IST 2020 donald-is-pretty-transparently-pathological <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are no photos of her in the public domain, except the slick-shot on the back of her controversial book on President Donald Trump—Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man—which has already earned record sales. Mary L. Trump has chosen to spend her life flying below the radar; her celebrity real-estate name only pops up when she signs a cheque. The relationship between her and the rest of the Trump clan is strained. She and her brother took the rest of the family to court over their grandfather’s will. Publishing the book, where she spills Trump family secrets, also took her to court against her family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, she has remained almost invisible. Two years ago, however, she did become the anonymous source for the longest expose against Donald Trump—on how the wealth was acquired. Her book has already gone into several print runs in America. Its publication was not easy as the president tried his best to block it. Unlike the other books on the Trumps, this one is personal, scathing and deeply disturbing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It makes for grim, even disturbing reading, offering a ringside view of a dysfunctional First Family. Mary believes her uncle is a “narcissist’, and her grandfather Fred Trump a sociopath. Cruelty is common and kindness is considered a weakness in the family. She writes about a time she wakes up to find her father aiming a rifle at her mother for fun. Fred humiliated the husband of her aunt—Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister—by offering a job as a parking lot attendant when the couple went broke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mary’s father, who turned into an alcoholic, was also bullied by Fred. Her grandmother was cold; her aunt Elizabeth once kept a watch from her because she felt it was too grown up for her. At Christmas, she was once gifted a cheap three-pack underwear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When her father was dying, Donald Trump went out to see a movie. Not surprisingly, he once passed a comment on her when she wore a bikini.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview over Skype, Mary gives an insider perspective of the Trump family, and its role in creating the psyche of the president. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It must have been a hard book for you to write. You refer to your grandfather as a sociopath.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually, that was not hard. Given the way he treated his children and his grandchildren, I felt no responsibility to protect him from his own horrible deeds. On the other hand, the rest of it was quite hard. I could not write about Donald without writing about everything else. The only way to understand him was to put him in the context of his family and his childhood, and what that experience was growing up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You talk about him being the most dangerous person in the world. How important it is for the America, and the world, to recognise it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If he did not have the position that he currently holds and all the powers that come with that position, he would not have been dangerous to anybody but himself and the people around him. But he has shown himself perfectly willing to destroy, if not weaken, alliances this country (the US) has built up for decades. He has unilaterally (ripped) up treaties that professionals have spent years crafting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just the sheer power, in terms of nuclear weapons—which also is terrifying—it is the other ways (in which) America’s standing in the world has been diminished. Four years ago, I knew it was going to be bad. But I did not understand, nor did many (other) people, just how enabled he would be by the other people in the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been no efforts to rein him in or moderate his behaviour. Exactly that I was thinking of when I came up with the title of the book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You wrote that Donald Trump was enabled by the Republican Party. This mirrors what happened in your family. Why do you think this is happening?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, they did. It is really striking. In fact, when I started writing the book, one of the things I found most mind-boggling was the thin line between Donald’s treatment in my family to his treatment in the Republican Party. I cannot answer the question “why”. That remains a mystery. But he remains to this day protected by money, power and protection: when he was younger, it was my grandfather’s; now, it is his power, the US government’s money and all the people surrounding him who completely let him do whatever he wants without any accountability and push-back, whatsoever. It is extremely dangerous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think it is, as you put it, because of his superficial charm? Or, is it because he is a bully?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it is a little hard for me to wrap my head around it. There are people in the world who are weaker than he is who are susceptible to his charm, which is extremely superficial. He has no sense of loyalty to other people; he only requires it from them. But it is quite mystifying that people admire him, or see him as a strong person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The book has an episode, quoting your aunt Maryanne, where you claim Donald Trump sent in papers to be signed by his father, who had dementia, to swipe all the money.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not just to swipe money. It was to change my grandfather’s will, so that Donald would be completely in charge of the estate, (and) my aunts and uncles would be entirely dependent on him. It was a very bold ploy. He almost got away with it. My grandfather was not faring well at the time. He just happened to have a relatively lucid day, and he knew something was suspicious about it. But he could not tell what it was. He ended up telling my grandmother who ended up telling my aunt Maryanne, who was a lawyer. When a colleague of hers looked into it, they realised what Donald had tried to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You wrote that while your father was dying in the hospital, Donald Trump went to see a movie.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, it is true. I cannot explain it, because it is so heartless and cold. But it happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can you explain why no one from the family was there in the hospital, when they knew he was dying. How do you reconcile with it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not. It is by definition unforgivable. But it is because my grandfather, at that point, had entirely given up on my father. There was no reason for him, it would be a waste of his time, to go to the hospital. My grandmother (always) did whatever my grandfather (expected of her). As for Donald, waiting around by the phone would have been boring, so he went to the movies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can you explain Donald Trump’s relationship with his mother. This, you write, is at the heart of his whole abandonment issue. You also quote your grandmother saying she was relieved when he was sent to military school.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he was two and a half years old, my grandmother had become ill and essentially unavailable for him for about a year. He never recovered from that sense of abandonment. My grandfather was the only adult who was in a position to fill my grandmother’s absence, which he was incapable of doing because he was a sociopath. Donald really suffered. My grandmother was never really able to heal the rift between them. Donald, as a consequence, developed all sorts of defence mechanisms from those feelings of abandonment, loneliness and not having been loved. So, by the time he was a teenager, he was a bully, he was acting out. He did not listen to my grandmother. I think the fact that she let him go to boarding school, without putting up a fight to keep him home, was for him the final act of betrayal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How does that abandonment play out right now, especially in front of millions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it explains, in large parts, his need for constant attention. As if he can make up the losses in the past, which obviously you cannot do. He is filling up this void, left by both my grandparents, with adulation and media attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has he ever talked up about India? His casino was called Taj Mahal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. Never. I did not know [that] he had been there before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Donald Trump’s dealing with other countries has been called “transactional”. Do you think it is your grandfather’s attitude that shaped Donald Trump’s vision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my family, everything is a zero-sum game. If you were not winning, you were losing. The same thing applies to money. The more money you had, the more you [were] worth in every sense of the word. Donald is now in this position, where he views the US treasury as an extension of his own wealth. He often talks about saving money, like that is the point of NATO [The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation]. I think it absolutely has a negative impact on how he approaches other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>One attribute you think that makes him dangerous, that the world does not know.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not think there is anything we do not really know about. He is pretty transparently pathological, if you will. The most dangerous thing about him? It is hard to choose. I would pick between his impulsiveness, but also his malleability. It is extremely easy for smarter, more powerful men to manipulate Donald into doing what they (want him to do).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Too Much and Never Enough: How my family created the world’s most dangerous man</b><br> Author: Mary L. Trump<br> Publisher: Simon &amp; Schuster</p> <p>Pages: 228</p> <p>Price: Rs699</p> Thu Aug 06 20:44:52 IST 2020 power-and-powder <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>GREEN EYES. FLÁVIA</b> has green eyes. Her hair dances between black and blonde. But with 110cm-hips, a 68cm-waist, and 90cm-chest, she was Brazilian hotness personified.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Playboy Portugal billed her a “true Brazilian beauty” when she graced their cover. She was a former Miss Bumbum Brazil (an annual beauty pageant to find the woman with the best buttocks in the country), a dancer, showgirl and erotic video starlet. But the face that sold countless magazines in Brazil and Portugal is now on a mugshot in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Flávia Tamayo, 25, who went by the stage name Pamela Pantera, was recently arrested from a luxury hotel in Vitoria after a two-year investigation. It is alleged that she was a “$200 call girl” (per session) who flew across Brazil servicing the rich and powerful, and that her services were often repaid, at least in part, with cocaine and hashish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the police approached her to bring her in, she lifted her dress, stood nude in the crowded lobby of the hotel on Camburi Beach, and shouted at them. The stunned male officers called for immediate backup from a female colleague. Tamayo was then taken into custody, handcuffed and driven to the police station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo’s clients knew her as the “Powder Panther” or the “Queen of Powder”, said authorities, adding that she offered a combination of sex and drugs. She would deliver drugs along with love-for-pay or accept narcotics as part payment for sex. In the second scenario, sex was offered for half the price; she would keep the drugs for personal use or sell it. Allegedly, she ran a tele-drug service in Brazil’s capital, Brasília.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo was born in São Paulo and raised in Brasília, according to her profile bios. Her Facebook page says she attended the Adventist School of Tucurui in the northern state of Pará; a school “based on biblical principles and permanent values… committed not only to pedagogical quality... but to integral formation [of students]”. But, somehow, Tamayo’s religious formation translated into a life of luxury and glamour and, apparently, sophisticated cosmetic procedures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After winning Miss Bumbum Brazil in 2018, she said that she had to prove that she had not undergone any surgical procedure to have perfect buttocks. “As they doubted me, I even did a live ultrasound on television to show that there is no procedure, but, honestly, I was not offended by this mistrust,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, her assertion that she was all-natural turned out to be false. In May 2018, months before winning the title, she had been operated upon by Dr Denis César Barros Furtado, 45, aka Dr Bumbum. She paid the surgeon 40,000 reals ($7,600) for the bioplastic procedure. Furtado is currently a fugitive; he was charged with culpable homicide after a female banker from Rio de Janeiro died during a cosmetic surgery in 2019. Six other police investigations have indicted him for crimes such as illegal exercise of the profession, misleading advertising and for refusing to provide medical records to patients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo’s current stature was largely built on the Miss Bumbum aura. Her Instagram page showcases her in seductive positions, prominently featuring what she considers her most valued asset. She has more than 1.2 lakh followers on social media and became an erotic film star in the Brasileirinhas series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has said that she represented the beauty of Brazilian women and that she had dreams of a future in politics, starting with running for the city council. She had also complained that the electronic ballot boxes used in Brazil were not reliable and that voting “should be on paper, the same as in the United States”, evidently unaware that the US employs electronic voting. Her comments on politics and her desire to run for office led to her being featured as the muse of the 2018 Brazilian presidential elections by both Playboy and SEXY magazines. For the SEXY centrefold, she posed on the Esplanade de Ministerios, the grand avenue of Brasilia’s Monumental Axis that is home to important government buildings, monuments and memorials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the police say the muse also offered a sexual menu to her sophisticated customers and that the highest prices were always accompanied by a hit of powder. According to the police, her wealthy clients came largely from the federal civil service—members of the executive, legislative and judiciary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The movement of men eager for easy pleasure has always made Flávia earn high, both with programmes and with the sale of powder,” wrote reporter Carlos Carone in Metrópoles, a Brasilia-focused news and discussion website. “The delivery of narcotics was done by taxi drivers, who left the papers in a flat, in the Northern Hotel Sector, where the call girl is accustomed to serving men who seek her for hours of sex in absolute secrecy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The arrest warrant for drug trafficking was issued about a month ago by the 1st Narcotics Court of Brasilia. But her whereabouts were not known until the Civil Police tracked her down to Espírito Santo and contacted the state police, which alerted the 1st Regional Police Station in Vitória.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo was in Espírito Santo for a photoshoot. According to a photographer, who requested anonymity, she had wanted to pose with snakes; he had arranged them from a biologist. Police allege she was also there to meet clients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She had a very busy schedule and she did not have a fixed place; she travelled throughout Brazil,” said police spokesman Ricardo Olivera of the 5th Police District, which was in charge of the investigation. The day before the operation, she flew 1,600km to see clients in Florianópolis in the southern state of Santa Catarina, he said. Information also put her in Sao Paulo in the preceding days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We already had information about the time when she would arrive at the hotel,” said the chief of the division that arrested her. “I personally positioned myself outside the hotel…. When we showed we were serious and that she really would have to go to the (police station), she realised that she really had no way out. Then, in that moment, in a psychological lapse, [she] lifted her dress—she was not wearing underwear—and started screaming and struggling in the hotel lobby.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After she was arrested, the police found in her possession of a small amount of marijuana, which, according to the police, was for personal use, about 60 reals and a rolled-up dollar bill, which she reportedly told police was to inhale drugs. “She had a thresher, which is a piece of equipment used to make marijuana in a better condition for consumption, with a small amount inside it,” said a police statement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps more importantly, Tamayo’s cell phone was also confiscated. It may contain leads that will further the investigations being carried out by the Civil Police. The phone is currently being analysed. Now, the investigation’s focus is on finding the origin of the drugs. “We are going to identify its suppliers,” said the police. “What was the origin and where did these drugs come from?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After being booked, Tamayo was transferred to the Centro Prisional Feminino de Cariacica of the Espírito Santo penitentiary system, where she is one of 1,159 prisoners. She awaits transfer to Brasilia, but her attorneys are fighting extradition and requesting her release from preliminary detention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview in the Jornal de Brasília, two days after her arrest, Tamayo denied the accusations of the Civil Police and said that she works in adult entertainment and never got involved with crime. Last year, the model had said that she would feature on the cover of Playboy Italy this year. Noting that she often visited exotic locations like Ibiza, the authorities have revoked her passport. For now, Tamayo will have to stay in jail and in Brazil. Meanwhile, her lawyer said she wants to “change her life” and help other women.</p> Thu Aug 06 18:59:02 IST 2020 battle-for-guayaquil <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 has taken more territory and broken more defences across the planet than Genghis Khan, Attila and Alexander the Great combined, and it looms over humanity with a menace that appears to leave no refuge. At the current rate of doubling of casualties, the world could see some 36 million deaths in a year, and over 140 million dead just four months later. In this world war, humanity is fighting to survive and dominate a strand of DNA that itself is hard-coded to survive and dominate. The battles fought in this war are a record of reference for the rest of humanity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The war on Covid-19 cannot be fought in the emergency rooms and ICUs but in its breeding grounds—in the homes and neighbourhoods,” says Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri. “You have to take from it the element of surprise. Using the knowledge that you develop, you avoid open battle in the hospitals, you launch raids and surprise the virus in the zones and barrios where it is beginning to gain ground.” The Ecuadorian city of three million was the earliest example of Covid-19 horror in the Americas. Now, it deserves another title: The city that beat back Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viteri knows well that waves of aftershock might come, yet she is focusing on the takeaways from what has already happened and why it happened when the city was at its lowest moment—deaths in one day—and how it turned the tide, reaching a zero-death toll in just 34 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 stormed through her city, Viteri was in quarantine along with her husband and son—the three of them had tested positive for Covid-19. At a time when there was no clear playbook and the central government was not able to provide health and sanitation services, she began a campaign that relied on a public-private voluntary effort and top-down implementation and leadership. By increasing the city’s hospital, ICU and direct piped-in oxygen-delivery capacity in record time and by addressing the funeral, morgue and cemetery shortages, Viteri delivered the services her city needed and her county was unable to provide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Additional help came from the city’s former mayor and two-time presidential candidate, Jaime Nebot, who lent his skill and connections to set up an emergency committee to secure early-treatment medicines through a global acquisition effort. His efforts procured PPEs and later helped rework food supply chains. “The goal was to ensure populations did not have to mix with large groups far from their homes to acquire food,”he said, and that “people did not have to choose between dying of hunger vs dying of coronavirus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viteri and Nebot then focused on hunting the virus through door-to-door visits to thousands of homes every week, providing sanitation, disinfection, pest-control, food and medicines. Those presenting symptoms were given treatment and kept in quarantine at home; when a home was not adequate for quarantine, an ambulance took them to one of the newly outfitted hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People knew they would be in a good place, with good medical attention, good care, oxygen, food, and that they would not be cut off from their families,” says Viteri. A weekly survey of homes with sample-population testing helped identify hot spots and allowed the city to respond quickly to the area and cut-off any foothold the virus may be gaining. To ensure there were enough doctors and nurses, Viteri says “the city provided hotel rooms for health care workers brought in to supplement the hospitals, and for those who wanted to remain isolated from their families”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As streets that once thronged with life stood empty, fully equipped teams walked the cracked sidewalks daily with one tense purpose—to ensure that the virus had no place to hide. The city delivered more than one million food kits to help keep people at home. It hired some 200 women to sew masks to outfit those who could not afford one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the same time, the city launched a telemedicine platform for those who could not attend to their medical appointments because of Covid-19, and for those suffering stress and mental illness as well as for those with addiction problems. This service, run through the city website, allows the continued employment of doctors in risk categories and begins with a symptoms evaluation of callers to screen for Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city also embraced the use of SOSAFE, a citizen participation smart-city app, to establish a direct channel of communication with all levels of the municipality. From their phones, free of cost, citizens can contact city departments from telemedicine, health services, to trash pick-up, to police and fire services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been no deaths for 36 days since May 10 as of the date of this interview. Though many early steps can be criticised, it was textbook crisis leadership. Viteri and her city, the civic leaders, the former mayor, the emergency committee, the doctors, the front-line workers, the brigades, and the people have together beat back the pandemic in Guayaquil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite that, its citizens are defeated, says Guayaquil-based sociologist Cesar Aizaga-Castro. “There is no optimism; there is conformism,”he says. As Guayaquil got infected and the authorities were not in a capacity to intervene in a direct manner, people felt they were without a government, without support, and lacking all the capacity to mount a fight, says Aizaga-Castro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The media did not have accurate information, people suspected they were hiding information, he says. “Lack of hospitals, lack of the necessary equipment. In a matter of weeks, you could see bodies in the streets. People died and died,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People realised there was total chaos, and at that time lost all confidence in the media, says Aizaga-Castro. “People did not follow the quarantine, they went out because they had to,” he says. “They lived of what they sold, their little businesses. The country did not have a structure of authority to handle the situation.” That is when the local government decided to take control, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At first, city hall did not make the case for staying at home, says Aizaga-Castro. Soon, most people realised that everyone had a family member affected, that there was contamination in places like markets. “There were people who had someone sick at home but did not go out to seek help because they knew that going out meant being exposed and getting sick,” he says. “There was shock and great anguish because you knew your neighbours had died. We could see this happening, and wondered who could save us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many people went into hospitals and their relatives never even saw their bodies again. Parents were saying goodbye to their children, and telling them it would be ok if they were incinerated, says Aizaga-Castro. “You could see common graves, you looked up and could see vultures circling over the hospitals,” he says. “Guayaquil smelled of death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guayaquil attorney José Chiriboga-Hungría says the reaction of the national government was late, and that even the minister of health resigned during the height of the onslaught saying the government had not released sufficient money to face the pandemic. Facing the abyss, people even questioned Viteri’s Covid-19 infection, notes Chiriboga-Hungría. “People died in hospitals or in their homes, the bodies laid there for three to seven days without burial,” he says. “Cemeteries were not ready to receive so many dead. People chose to take their deceased relatives (out) to the streets to ward off the smells and contagion.” That is what the world saw on its TV screens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In hospitals, the bodies of the deceased rested in containers, some without identification…,” says Chiriboga-Hungría. “And, around this there was much corruption…where certain people charged the relatives of the deceased, to be able to help identify the bodies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the saddest thing was that due to restrictions, says Chiriboga-Hungría, “many Guayaquileños could not say goodbye to their loved ones; others, to this day, have not found their relatives’ bodies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why? Why? Why? Why?</b></p> <p>Por que? Por que? Por que? Por que? The mayor recognised the voice of her neighbour lamenting the death of a loved one. As she quarantined at home with her family, Viteri felt the grief pierce through her in a way that forms a knot in her throat even today. Death was everywhere. It was heartache that went on and on, she says. “It was confusion—a sea convulsing with more confusion,” says Viteri of her time at home in isolation. Asked to recall those moments, Viteri closes her eyes and visualises herself in the middle of waves as great as mountains that come from every direction—with every statistic, with every wail of an ambulance, with every death report. “And I am in one of those waves, and I need to—with my team, with the military, with the police, with all who help me—go and wrestle life from death,” says Viteri. And, she did that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 had crushed the medical system, the funeral system, the morgues; in hospitals, people had to walk past wrapped bodies without even knowing who was inside, recounts the mayor. “Those were the worst days of my life,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city’s worst day was many days, adds Viteri. Guayaquil was a city in turmoil, its local government overwhelmed, a national government absent, people agitated, a hectic chaos in the street, public workers irate, exhausted resources, food scarce, general despair, and no clear way forward. “Suddenly, there was nothing certain and the population lost total confidence. The country did not have corresponding authorities to manage the situation,” says Aizaga-Castro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is when Viteri stopped looking for help elsewhere and took charge. Structurally, she did not have all the authority, says Viteri. As dictated by the country’s constitution, the entirety of the health and sanitation systems come under the jurisdiction of the national government, leaving the city in charge of water, sewer, trash, transportation, markets and the like. But that would no longer matter. She would assume the responsibilities in front of her and take charge of rebuilding the collapsed health, funeral, morgue and cemetery systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Leadership and strategy</b></p> <p>With taking charge came clarity of purpose and Viteri boiled down her mission to two simple problems: save lives and feed the people. The strategy: coordination and discipline. Guayaquil was lucky it could rely on the emergency committee to generate strategies to reverse the crisis. The committee included Viteri, business titans, doctors, pharmaceutical executives, health professionals, farmers and members of civil society. If this was war, this would be the city’s counterattack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Focused on her two-pronged war strategy, Viteri set out to marshal money and assistance, commandeering the yearly budgets of the city’s departments, including those for public works destined to commemorate the city’s 200th anniversary, and taking on responsibilities beyond her mayoral powers. To save lives, Viteri’s team began to look at death as one of three tactical areas: attending to the dead, epidemiologic control and attending to those alive. Each tactic engendered its own strategies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city moved to take care of the bodies in the streets and in homes. Viteri moved to address the shortage of funeral homes, morgues and cemeteries by securing freezer trucks outside hospitals, building cemeteries and contracting a company to pick up bodies. In its first week, it collected 500 bodies off the streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To attack the pandemic, the city hired hundreds of doctors and medical personnel, spread them in satellite medical tents so that people would not have to go into the high-concentration areas of the city and risk infection. Viteri also set up free-of-cost birthing clinics so expectant mothers could give birth without fear of exposure. Then came what she considers the coup de grace—the deployment of medical teams going door-to-door to find the virus. This entails visits by special brigades to homes to evaluate early symptoms and get immediate attention to those in need so they would not worsen and arrive at the hospitals too late. “We are chasing the virus,” says Viteri. “Instead of it chasing us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To get this done required work on several parallel tracks. It began with outfitting 51 health centres, field hospitals, outreach tents in peripheral areas, hiring some 500 doctors, adding 25 ambulances, turning the convention centre into a hospital and finishing an abandoned construction project for a second hospital with 300 beds. When it was clear oxygen supply would be a problem, the city set up an oxygen-generating plant to supply piped-in oxygen to hospitals and to stem the speculation that had inflated the cost of an oxygen tank from $50 to $1,500.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While governments from Washington to Buenos Aires to La Paz were frantically purchasing ventilators, Guayaquil noticed that half of the patients on ventilators were dying, so they focused on treating people before they needed to be intubated. To that end, the effort focused on purchasing medicines for early-stage treatment and on keeping people off the streets to avoid infection. For the quarantine to work, Viteri wanted to make sure her people were fed. Ensuring food entailed a shortening the supply chain, cutting out middlemen and supplying neighbourhood stores directly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prevent. Treat. Avoid death. To build that wall of defence, the cornerstone would be quarantine. To prevent the strategy from collapsing upon itself, the emergency committee set out to address the social impact of staying home without an income.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guayaquil re-engineered supply chains with substantial participation from the private sector. Cerveceria Nacional, the country’s largest brewery, led a group of other companies in the logistics battle. To stop price speculation, they began by supplying nearly 5,000 neighbourhood stores. Donations from farmers provided some 1.5 lakh fruit deliveries to the neediest neighbourhoods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eventually, in-home visits delivered one million food reserves, vitamins, supplements, even diapers, at the same time disinfecting, fumigating homes, leaving disinfecting kits, chlorine and some 1.4 lakh food kits to 5,000 families each week.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is an elaborate campaign to effectively chase the virus, and effective follow-up is necessary. Viteri describes the work with a statistical survey group that samples 1,600 homes across 17 districts of the city, identifying where the virus is so that efforts can be concentrated there to put down any spike. Teams are there the next week. Nobody is waiting to be surprised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is all built on a monumental effort that was mounted to outfit, retrofit, and supply all hospitals for the central government as well as all clinics, public and private. They were all stocked, free of charge, with a cocktail of drugs for early treatment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Medicine acquisition was undertaken by a team of the country’s top private sector leaders—pharmaceutical executives, buyers, importers, custom-clearing specialists—who fanned their efforts across Europe, Latin America and China. The team worked for free, says Nebo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dos prioridades (two priorities),” repeated Viteri. “People did not want to go to public hospitals. They were afraid,” and with good reason, says Viteri. “They would go into the hospital and they would not come out, even when they died,” referring to the corruption that extended to making bodies “disappear” only to be found for a fee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People lived the tragedy in their own homes, only seeking help when they turned gravely ill, often too late,” says Viteri. “We changed the strategy, we went out to find them before, at early onset and intermediate stages to get them immediate treatment to avoid complications so they could be saved.” At the time of writing this story, they had assisted 1,02,573 patients who never went to a health centre, and there had been 36 days of zero deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But our vigilance continues,” says the mayor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viteri’s arsenal relies on the telemedicine initiative so that people can keep up with non-Covid-19 related medical care while keeping them off the streets and providing doctors in vulnerable groups a way to continue to work while helping the war effort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the post-mortem as to how and why Guayaquil ended up as one of the hardest-hit cities in the world, the start of community spread is placed by experts on a March 4 soccer game for the Copa Libertadores that had about 20,000 spectators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It resulted in massive contagion which led to the saturation of hospitals, institutions that collapsed and couldn’t handle the number who came for help; besides, they didn’t have enough equipment to fight the contagion,” says Chiriboga-Hungría. “The reaction of the national government was late.” He also calls out Viteri for a late response and controversial missteps early on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, the battle plan has succeeded, and there is one takeaway of global import: it is essential to control the element of surprise by surprising the virus in early stages. It is the one thing Viteri wishes she had known before all of this started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about the city’s 200th anniversary later this year? It will be marked with a memorial to the 10,000 dead, says Viteri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city’s response to Covid-19 was not perfect. But during the battle there emerged a healthy respect for what the virus can do, and a steely willingness to do anything it takes to defeat it. The mayor is not declaring mission accomplished. Vigilance, she says. “Every day.” She says she will never stop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Vigilance,” she says, again. “Unwavering.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She looks up.</p> Fri Jul 24 10:55:55 IST 2020 dragons-snare <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The long</b>,sweltering summer of 2019 will be etched in Hong Kong’s history for the city’s biggest political crisis in decades. Choked by billowing clouds of teargas, gridlocked traffic, scathing slogans and burning barricades, the streets in Hong Kong saw a face-off between two million protestors and the police for over six months.</p> <p>What started on June 9, 2019, as a peaceful mass protest against a now-revoked extradition bill has now evolved into a “fight for independence”. More than two decades after the end of the British colonial rule in Hong Kong, the Chinese government is all set to impose a new national security law in the city, essentially aimed at criminalising dissent.</p> <p>As of now, the details of the proposed law have not been made public, but Hong Kongers are getting anxious about losing civil liberties like freedom of expression and an independent judiciary. “It is clear that the manner in which Beijing is going about implementing this law—by going above the heads of Hong Kong’s duly elected legislature and imposing the law by fiat—is a serious blow to Hong Kong’s rule of law and autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ formula,” says Antony Dapiran, a lawyer and author, who has documented the city’s protest culture in his two books, <i>City of Protest </i>(2017) and <i>City on Fire </i>(2020).</p> <p>Originally from Australia, Dapiran has been living in Hong Kong for the last 20 years. He feels the biggest change in the city has been an increasing influence of China over everything—be it business, tourism, traffic or simply the number of Mandarin Chinese on the streets. “Everyone expected that the ‘two systems’ would converge into the ‘one country’ by 2047, when the 50-year guarantee of Hong Kong’s autonomy expires,” he says. “I think what has changed is how much more quickly than everyone expected that convergence is coming, and also that the ‘one country’ Hong Kong is converging with is looking less liberal and more authoritarian than at any time in the past 20 years.”</p> <p>Located at the crossroads of the east and the west, Hong Kong transformed into a truly global city with buzzing financial districts and cultural hotspots over the past five decades. Its special status under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy promised freedom of speech, independent financial institutions and a fully convertible currency. Since 1997, more than a million people from the mainland have moved to Hong Kong in search of a brighter future in a socially and politically liberated environment. However, China’s recent overreach and the growing insecurities of the locals have left a deep impact on the migrants in the city. “I moved here nine years ago because the city really excited me. It was more open, modern and inclusive than China. However, in recent years, I have been seeing tribalism and identity politics taking over the city’s inclusive spirit,” says Tracey Wong, an entrepreneur and wine writer. “Some of the restaurants in the city have stopped serving people like me who speak Mandarin. The agitation is getting extreme. Hong Kong was never promised independence, it was promised a high degree of autonomy. I think it is very clear that the government would preserve the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”</p> <p>The growing identity crisis and unrest among the youth in Hong Kong have been brewing for years now. It all started with some wealthy Chinese investing in the city’s real estate business in the 1990s, which propelled Hong Kong’s rise as a financial and trade centre. This drove up the cost of living for the educated, white collar professionals in the city and a struggle for jobs, housing and education soon ensued. According to Dapiran, there are clearly deep issues of identity tied up in the protest movement. “Beijing’s overreach tends to drive the anxieties which feed into making this identity even more entrenched,” he says.</p> <p>While Hong Kong has had a long tradition of peaceful marches, the newer generation is more confrontational in its approach. They are ready to clash with the police and even set universities on fire. “The 2019 protests had a number of hallmarks—one was the ‘leaderless’ nature of the protests and their ‘be water’ philosophy, which made the movement a very fluid, and very resilient, phenomenon,” explains Dapiran. “The second was the broad degree of community support, and the solidarity behind the ‘no splitting’ principle, which meant that people remained unified behind the movement as a whole, notwithstanding the more extreme nature of certain elements within the overall movement.”</p> <p>The most widespread expression of public anger with Beijing in recent years, last year’s protests have left a deep impact on the city. While the outbreak of Covid-19 paused the demonstrations for a few months, activists are now planning a full calendar of protests and mass movements. The police, too, is ready for a clampdown under the command of a new chief appointed by Beijing. Armed with water cannons and pepper sprays, anti-riot officers can be seen at most protest assemblies across the city. “Around 9,000 people have been arrested in the last one year, the youngest one being just 11. The government needs to intervene and stop police brutality. We will not forgive or forget these attacks,” says Daniel Chan, an activist who is majoring in music at one of the leading universities in Hong Kong. “The students are frustrated for various reasons. The government barred our leader, Joshua Wong, from running in the local district council elections last year. And now Beijing wants to force a new national security law upon us. This will be the end of Hong Kong. Our demands are very clear and the protests will go on,” he says.</p> <p>According to political observers, Beijing’s latest move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong should not come as a surprise. “China has been giving these signals for over five years now. The city’s chief executive has not been able to maintain the law and order situation as desired by the central government, so they are now coming up with the national security law,” says Thomas Abraham, adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong and former editor, South China Morning Post.</p> <p>While Hong Kong’s campaign for democracy was always a long shot, China’s direct intervention is being seen as an attack on not just citizens’ rights, but also on their distinct identity. “China has never been able to reconcile Hong Kong to be Chinese and that is a major sore point. Ironically, it shows that the ‘two systems’ theory works. China’s dilemma now is how far these two systems will diverge and still be one country,” says Abraham. “When Hong Kong questions the national security law, China feels it is going beyond the ‘one country’ notion, whereas Hong Kong is well within its rights to protect its freedom. The next significant moment in the city will be when the university campuses reopen. The protests will get a new momentum then.”</p> <p>The political deadlock, months of civil unrest and the pandemic have ravaged Hong Kong’s economy. In the first quarter of this year, the city’s economy plunged 8.9 per cent year on year, the steepest quarterly drop in the past four decades. So far, the biggest strain has been felt by retailers, hotels and restaurants. “We cater to hotels and restaurants in the Kowloon and Hong Kong island region, which have been protest hubs. In terms of volume, our flagship brand, Les Jamelles, is a leading brand in Hong Kong,” says Olivier Hui-Bon-Hoa, regional director-Asia at winemakers Badet Clément. “Last year, in Q1, Q2 and Q3 we were at 12 per cent growth, but we closed the year at 7 per cent. We have not seen such a drop in the last 10 years,” he says.</p> <p>For Sonia Hamera, an Indian expat in Hong Kong, the idea of having ‘no democracy’ does seem scary. “Our business is mainly based out of China, and it has been difficult to keep operations smooth with the travel ban. The notion of one country, two systems is gradually fading,” says Hamera, who has been living in Hong Kong for over 20 years.</p> <p>The political upheaval in Hong Kong has left an indelible mark on the psyche of even those who are not directly connected to the protests. A heightened sense of helplessness and fear has torn the city’s social fabric. Many parents, for instance, have kicked out their children over political disagreements. “I work in a university, so I have been in touch with a lot of young people who are frontline protestors. I feel stressed and a bit hopeless about how Hong Kong can still continue to thrive. While the older generation understands the context of the Hong Kong-China relationship and has accepted the constraints, the youth wants to take charge and fight for freedom,” says Wills Li, a manager at one of the leading universities in the city.</p> <p>The protests in Hong Kong are unlikely to cease anytime soon. Many activists have pinned their hopes on the pressure being exerted by the US, but it has not undermined the strength of the Chinese government in any way. “Several years from now, it may look like our protests failed, but this last year has proved to be a touchstone that feeds the continuous demands for democracy,” says Chan. “It is a long game, and we will never surrender.”</p> <p><i><b>Some names have been changed to protect identities.&nbsp;</b></i></p> Thu Jun 18 15:03:03 IST 2020 the-rotten-tree <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is an avocado tree in my backyard that grows creamy, delicious fruit, but I suspect the roots are rotting. Some branches have hollowed out and when it storms, they crack and fall off. The leaves brown around the edges and sometimes the avocados are speckled and browning inside. Unless we can remove what is attacking its roots, it is just a matter of time before the whole tree dies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My country’s roots are rotten, too. Some have known this for a while. Some are just discovering this with protests over the on-camera police killing of George Floyd. And some have chosen to ignore the signs and continue eating avocados. Because they are what is causing our roots to rot, and if we do not get rid of the cause of this sickness called racism, the whole tree will die. This is 2020 in the United States of America.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The New World was only new to the Europeans who sailed into it accidently in the late 1400s. In what we now call North and South America, there were already millions of people living in sustainable, thriving societies. These “Indians” were not Christian or “civilised” to European eyes, which claimed the lands for the Catholic church and the resources of the land for the nobles, merchants and royal venture capitalists who funded their travel. This is when the roots began to rot….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the native inhabitants rebelled, attacked settlers, escaped into the hinterlands or were massacred by guns, swords and Old World diseases like smallpox, the invaders realised they needed another workforce that was inexpensive and virile. They turned to Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The transatlantic slave trade began in 1502 and lasted until the 1860s, bringing 10 to 12 million African women, men and children to the Americas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slavery thrived in the southern US. If you had dark skin, you were a slave. No wage was owed for your labour. You could be bought and sold. You had a value, like a goat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though most whites in the American south were also poor, their colour provided them status and merit that their financial conditions did not. If poor whites felt their colour made them part of the same “tribe” as the wealthy, then it would be in their interest to defend the race and the ruling class by keeping the black population in check.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1861, the United States went to war against itself. In a nation already divided by cultural and political differences, slavery was the catalyst, but not because it was cruel and inhuman. To the rapidly industrialising north, slave labour gave the agricultural south an unfair economic advantage. The promise of emancipation for close to four million slaves could mobilise blacks to side with the north. When the north won the war 1865, (with the help of many free black and escaped slave troops) Abraham Lincoln honoured the promise to free (most of) the slaves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1865 to 1877, the US’s boldest experiment in socialism saw the redistribution of 4,00,000 acres across several southern states, the election of free black men and former slaves to congress and local political positions, and burgeoning black communities with business owners, professionals and the inauguration of black colleges and universities. This was a problem for many southern whites who, in addition to losing the Confederacy, continued to be as poor as or poorer than the former black slaves. Segregation, a system based on skin colour and bloodline, had been in place in the south since slavery, but after the Civil War, it became law. The establishment of the Ku Klux Klan brought an end to the Reconstruction and the best chance for blacks to level the playing field after slavery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They don’t see us as human," wrote a friend last week in a WhatsApp group and I had to agree. When the American constitution was written, black slaves were counted as three-fifths of a human (for purposes of taxation and representation for their owners). We did not even become citizens until 1868. And while the law of the land has been updated, not everyone’s consciousness has.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The killing of George Floyd is tragic, but not a surprise for black Americans. What made Floyd’s killing a flash point, in my opinion, is that white Americans finally saw this incident for what it is, perhaps for the very first time. They saw a white police officer kill a human being just because he was black. A collective veil has started to lift and white Americans are realising that their privilege, perhaps taken for granted as a right, makes them complicit by association.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cities went up in flames around the US and the world has taken to the streets to protest for justice, in defiance of lockdowns, curfews and the very real threat of contamination from the coronavirus. Where I live in Brazil and throughout South America, where those who look more European also benefit from “white privilege”, black and indigenous people are standing in solidarity against police violence, too. Paradoxically, racial discrimination and polarisation at their apex are fuelling a global movement for unity, justice and equality, with more precision and fervour than any politician or religious leader could have whipped up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The global community must hold the USA accountable for its human rights abuses, much the same way that the US and her allies are quick to sanction other nations for similar abuses. From police brutality to cruel, inhumane mistreatment of immigrants, especially young children, the US must fear the consequences of such actions otherwise change may never arrive. It's not just Donald Trump, it's the established institutions of cruelty that must be demolished...ASAP,” said Nigerian humanist and activist Fatai Adewusi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some white people are turning to black and brown friends and apologising. Some are asking what they can do to help. Honestly, that is a conversation that most black people do not want to have. Racism is not something we created so we cannot fix it. But I will take it upon myself to offer some tips because I want you to figure out how to fix this, white America(s). So…</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us grieve and do not judge us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fortunately, most of the protests of police violence, around the world, have been peaceful. I do not justify violence and looting, but I do understand why it is happening. It is an outlet for the overwhelming anger, fear, hopelessness and frustration we are feeling and have been feeling for centuries. These feelings are ugly and messy under the best of circumstances and even more so when millions are feeling them together. It is like a cyclone. You do not blame it for the heavy rains and winds blowing through. You let it blow through. It will pass. And releasing the anger, which is also being done in positive and constructive ways, is part of the healing process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talk to other white people. Honestly, talking to brown and black people is not going to help us or you. We cannot relate to what you are feeling. Our pain is different. You also will not be honest about how you feel if you are talking with us and what we need to change things is some raw honesty, even when it is hard to hear (or say).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take responsibility. The three police officers who did not have their knee on George Floyd’s neck are also held accountable. They saw what was happening and they did nothing to stop it. If you have benefited from white privilege or the privilege of being part of the ruling elite, you are complicit. Take responsibility for your actions or inaction and then educate yourself so that you can take action towards change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stop normalising whiteness. Being white is just one of many human experiences. How you see the world as a white person holds valid and true for you, but probably not for people of colour (most of the world).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do not speak for people of colour. It is time to listen. We have been ignored and silenced for far too long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, the systems and institutions that uphold and perpetuate racism in the US and around the world must be dismantled. According to a 2019 Oxfam report, 26 billionaires hold 60 per cent of the world’s wealth. The great majority of this minuscule group are white men. Not only is this grossly unjust, it is unsustainable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, yes, black and brown people in the US and around the world are raging, are grieving and rightfully so. And when this cyclone has passed, we need to work together to rebuild our societies and institutions on foundations of equality where power is redefined and not used as a weapon to oppress and control. Housing, food and health care can no longer be commodities for profit and provided only to those who can pay for them. They must become basic human rights. We must redefine success by how we take care of each other and our environment, how we provide for our children and make sure we give them a better world than we were given, and by how happy and fulfilled each individual feels inside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, we must build a foundation from love, otherwise we are going to end up with a version of what we have now with just a change in the colour of the oppressors. I am not talking rainbows and lollipops, love. I am talking about the kind of love that Dr Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai and Mahatma Gandhi spoke about, to peacefully bring deep societal transformation and longstanding change. The rest, we are going to have to figure out on our own because, well... we are making a new world from the ashes of the old.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an African American singer settled in Brazil.</b></p> Fri Jun 12 14:33:42 IST 2020 stronger-together <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT HAS BEEN</b> called a pandemic within a pandemic. America has been hit by a double whammy—Covid-19, which has claimed over 1.10 lakh lives, and racism, the virus that has infected it for more than 400 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Racism in America goes back to the original sin of slavery, and in 2020, it has been perpetuated by the knee of a white police officer which was pressed against the neck of a fallen, unarmed, handcuffed black man. The knee stayed on the victim’s neck, while three other officers watched—for eight minutes and forty-six seconds—until the life oozed out of George Floyd, whose last words were, “I can’t breathe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Racism is not new. The only difference now is that it is getting documented. This modern-day lynching was recorded by bystanders on their phone cameras, and the resultant horrific video became the proverbial match to a powder keg, shocking people of all colours and faiths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>George Floyd’s last words—“I can’t breathe”—have become the slogan of millions of protesters. For the past two weeks, people have come together to protest police brutality. The protests have spilled over to a 100 cities in all 50 states, even amid the pandemic. What has been noteworthy is the turnout across racial, gender and age barriers, and the support that has been ignited in many countries across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is, where do the Indian-Americans fit into this larger picture?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They themselves have been objects of racism, starting with discrimination against ‘Hindoos’ a hundred years ago to the immigration biases of the 1960s to the Dotbuster incidents in the 1980s to many other hate crimes even now. But all this fades in comparison with the systemic racism against black people for centuries. The country has failed them in social and economic equality, and criminal justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, was the head of the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration. Speaking at a virtual town hall organised by Indiaspora, a community organisation, she said, “Mr Floyd’s death really reopened wounds that expose the degree to which there are two justice systems, two kinds of sets of communities in this country. The history of police brutality against black people in particular is a long and storied one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She felt that the current confluence of events was a turning point for the nation and there was a feeling that one cannot go back to normal. People are demanding more from their elected officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Leadership Conference, which works on civil and human rights with over 220 organisations, has asked members of Congress for eight specific changes to address police violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Americans like Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Ro Khanna are leading the charge in getting critical legislation passed in Congress. There are several Indian Americans who lead non-profit organisations, which are coming together to address issues of racism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some young Indian Americans also have individual reasons for marching in protest. For Gurpreet Kaur, a professor in health sciences at California State University, the current situation brought up terrible childhood memories of 1984, when Sikhs were persecuted in India. “Being a Sikh, I feel it is my moral obligation to stand up against systemic racism, abuse of power and the extrajudicial killing of civilians,” she said. “As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Rajeev Sigamoney, chair of film at the Pacific Union College in Napa, California: “We were not brought over to this country unwillingly and subjugated to lifetimes of slavery and systemic oppression. The difference this makes psychologically and to our starting points is immense. Just because you arrived with $50 in your pocket, does not mean you did not arrive with plenty of privilege. We can never fully understand their struggle and life experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He and his wife, Brittnee, who is white, marched in the protests and have contributed to black organisations. As parents of a mixed-race child, they realise that the conversations have to start in childhood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Indian-American activists owe a debt to the black community, said Theresa Thanjan, who works with the New York Immigration Coalition. “As South Asian immigrants were often targeted after 9/11, we turned to black leaders and they came through in dramatic fashion,” she said. “I am moved to act because of the desire to show solidarity and also work with BLM (Black Lives Matter) to make important institutional changes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The race dialogue has continued on social media among Indian Americans: Instagram went dark for a day with posts of black tiles in solidarity; Indians on social media have posted and spoken about the inequities, and arranged virtual panels and gatherings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But sometimes, it takes more than words. Rahul Dubey, a health care innovator in Washington DC, became an overnight hero when he opened up his home to 70-plus protesters who were being pursued by police in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. He comforted and supported the protesters through the night, until the curfew ended in the wee hours of the morning. Yet, Dubey does not want to take credit. “I believe 95 per cent of the people I know would open that door,” he said. “The good has been set in motion. You will open the door now and you know that, and if you do not, you need to check yourself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the incident, Dubey has been inundated with calls, letters and offers of help. He tells anyone who will listen, “We have the brain trust of desis and we have the capital that we are sitting on, and we have inner-city problems. Let us find their teams, and let us lend out our star desi people. Let us make it a two-way street. If there is any subculture and any demographic that should be collaborating, it is ours.”</p> <p><b>Melwani </b>is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</p> <p><a href=""><u></u></a></p> Fri Jun 12 14:29:02 IST 2020 no-control-actually <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For China, the unarmed skirmishes on the disputed border with India do not merit notice. The May 26-28 meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ignored them. But the Ladakh confrontation is a muddled preoccupation of the Indian government with no clarity about what happened, how many People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops violated the 2005 Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the extent of territory illegally occupied by them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to former northern Army commander Lt Gen H.S. Panag, there is ingress by a brigade-sized PLA force in the Galwan River valley and in the Pangong Lake area, and occupation of some 60sqkm of Indian territory. If one adds the 640sqkm—which former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says India had lost up until 2013, and which may have doubled by now—the total territory ceded to China without a fight may exceed 1,300sqkm!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The astonishing thing is that these developments surprised the Indian government and the Indian Army. Why this should be so is a mystery, considering there was satellite imagery and that Chinese President Xi Jinping objected to the Indian infrastructure construction—never mind that it is a matching but less dense build-up on the Indian side—in his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Mamallapuram Summit on October 11 and 12, 2019. Of particular concern to China is the all-weather road connecting Daulat Beg Oldi and Durbuk with Depsang, inclusive of the bridge over the Shyok river, to ease the strain of maintaining the Indian military’s presence on the Siachen glacier. Delhi had six months to prepare for an adverse reaction and to pre-emptively establish forward Indian military posts in the areas the PLA has now advanced into before the summer patrolling season began in April. It should have moved some long-range artillery, even if with an inadequate supply of shells, to put down stakes and show intent. But beating China to the punch is not India’s forte.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The passive-reactive Indian government banks on diplomacy to restore the status quo ante that the Army, lacking the offensive will, wherewithal and endurance, is unable to deliver. This condition is a boon to the Xi regime, which can withdraw the PLA or not in this or that instance as it suits Beijing’s political purpose, while inexorably pushing the LAC India-wards. At each turn then, Delhi is presented with new territorial faits accomplis, reinforcing China’s policy of creeping annexation of Indian territory. The prerequisite for such policy is an undefined border. To keep it so, but to make it easier for Delhi to swallow the incremental territorial losses, Beijing promises more productive talks—the next round will be the 22nd in the series—between the special representatives to exchange maps and resolve the dispute. The Indian government will again fall for it, hail it as a great diplomatic achievement. The excitement will abate until next summer when evidence of new encroachments will trigger armed face-offs along the LAC, and this unvirtuous cycle will repeat itself until China realises all its claims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Karnad is emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and author, most recently, of Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition.</b></p> Fri Jun 12 14:19:44 IST 2020 virtual-turns-real <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Declassified documents from the British foreign office on the 1942 Moscow summit between British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin show that the breakthrough came in the wee hours of August 16. After hours of tortuous negotiations failed to bear fruit, Stalin invited Churchill to his apartment in the Kremlin to continue negotiations over dinner, which featured copious amounts of alcohol and food, including a suckling pig. Finally, at around 1am, Churchill summoned his permanent undersecretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, and gave him the good news.</p> <p>In comparison, the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, scheduled to be held on June 4, will be a staid affair, despite its historic nature. The summit will certainly be a success, but there will be no drinks, food or photographs, only a joint statement. The warmth in bilateral ties, however, will be felt across the digital divide. “Covid has brought about disruption in all aspects of life. Diplomacy is no exception,’’ says Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell, who digitally presented his credentials to President Ram Nath Kovind last month.</p> <p>Welcome to diplomacy 2020, where the rules of engagement have changed. The virtual has replaced the real. Diplomats have learnt to adapt to zero physical interaction to enhance cooperation and even to signal displeasure. India, for instance, issued a virtual demarche to Pakistan in April over the killing of civilians on the border. It involved a terse phone call to the Pakistani high commission, followed by an email. And, now, the MEA is all set to virtually host the Australian prime minister.</p> <p>“While this may be the first time we are hosting a virtual summit, engagement with world leaders over digital platforms is not new for us,’’ say MEA sources. “Our leadership has virtually connected with our partners across the globe in the past few weeks.”</p> <p>Between March 1 and May 11, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has had 52 conversations with foreign leaders over telephone or via videoconference. Modi, meanwhile, has held 42 such meetings. “Virtual diplomacy will be the new normal in post Covid times,’’ assert sources in the MEA. “We are fully prepared to use technology and innovative tools to ensure business as usual.’’</p> <p>Gopal Bagley, the Indian high commissioner to Sri Lanka, became the first Indian to present his credentials virtually. Syed Akbaruddin, one of India’s most illustrious permanent representatives to the United Nations, retired from service with a virtual namaste.</p> <p>Multilateral interactions, too, are happening virtually. From the extraordinary G20 summit held on March 26 to the World Health Assembly held on May 18 and 19, multilateral engagements have moved online. Diplomats have realised that prickly conversations and lobbying can happen without leaving the comforts of their seats and offices. The UN is looking at a virtual General Assembly meeting this year with pre-recorded speeches. India’s election to the non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, which involves hectic lobbying, seems a certainty, with diplomats working the phones.</p> <p>“The digital [era] is also transforming the space for track-1.5 and track-2 diplomacy,’’ says Sanjay Pulipaka, who has co-authored a paper with Mohit Musaddi on digital diplomacy. “These initiatives have all moved online.” With digital platforms being more cost-effective and climate-sensitive, virtual engagement is likely to be the way forward. The decision to hold a digital summit with Australia has shown that concrete outcomes with like-minded countries do not always require in-person interaction.</p> <p>Pulipaka and Musaddi point out in their paper that digital diplomacy existed and thrived even before Covid-19. “Ever since the telephone found its way into diplomatic conversations, it has remained indispensable,’’ says the paper. US president George H.W. Bush made 35 calls in the first 10 days after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. President Barack Obama went ahead with the now-dead nuclear deal with Iran following a telephone conversation with president Hassan Rouhani.</p> <p>Handling trickier relationships, however, will continue to be a challenge. “Virtual diplomacy works for normal, day-to-day affairs,’’ says retired diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar. “But where there are critical and vital issues, whether it is trade or security, you need to see the person and look him in the eye to make a judgment.’’</p> <p>Hard negotiations almost always happen behind closed doors, often with a little help. The Russians believe in vodka diplomacy, with the liquor helping in loosening tongues. The Chinese rely on their unending banquets. The Finns are proud of their saunas. Back in 1960, Finland’s president Urho Kekkonen men ded ties with the Soviet Union by hosting a birthday party for Nikita Khrushchev in a sauna. Indira Gandhi used to send Alphonso mangoes to the shah of Iran. Modi, too, has used gifts as a diplomatic tool. The shawl sent to Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s mother was a perfect gift in a less than perfect relationship.</p> <p>When diplomacy turns digital, such tools, however, may not be available, especially while dealing with challenging relationships. “It is certainly successful in the case of India and Australia where there is commonality of views,’’ says Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation. “I am sceptical how effective it will be when there are divergent views, and diplomacy is really needed.’’ The 2018 Wuhan summit between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which helped bring down temperatures after the Doklam crisis, could not have taken place in a virtual format.</p> <p>Tough situations, even now, need old-fashioned diplomacy. As the Afghanistan situation seemed to be getting out of hand, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad flew down to Qatar, India and Pakistan in early May to salvage the situation. While in Delhi, he suggested opening a channel of communication with the Taliban. Such a conversation could never have happened over a screen. But for now, digital diplomacy might just be the way countries engage with one another.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 18:28:17 IST 2020 cant-believe-china-wants-to-be-an-unreliable-partner <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="'Farrell_Barry.JPG" /> <p>Improving ties with Australia has been one of the key foreign policy priorities for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Within months of taking charge in 2014, he travelled to Australia, which was the first prime ministerial visit in 28 years. Six years later, Modi is holding a virtual summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on June 4. Morrison’s visit to India was delayed because of the Australian bushfire crisis and subsequently by Covid-19. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell says India and Australia have reached a historical high in bilateral relationship. “The virtual summit is a chance to reflect on that,” he says.&nbsp;<br> Excerpts:&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Q/India and Australia have come closer militarily. How do you see this space evolve, especially after the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement is in place?</b><br> </p> <p>A /The India-Australia defence relationship is overlooked sometimes. In the past few years, we have seen the number of defence engagements quadrupling. We have AUSINDEX, which is Australia’s largest and most complex [defence exercise] with India. I think it is going in the right direction.</p> <p><b>Q/Faced with the threat of Covid-19, how do you assess the potential of economic ties between the two countries? Is the door to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) still open?</b></p> <p>A /The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient supply chains. The Indian government is looking to encourage more common investment, with many companies seeking to diversify their production bases to make sure they are not crippled by being caught in one country in the midst of a crisis. There are natural commonalities between India and Australia. There is potential in education, energy resources, biotech, advanced manufacturing, health, water and agricultural services. The door remains open for India to join the RCEP. But that decision is to be made by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Australia has demanded an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.</b></p> <p>A /The call for an independent review came from the conviction of the global community to know how we got Covid-19 and as an attempt to improve international institutional response to future pandemics. We welcomed the resolution of the World Health Assembly, committing to an impartial, independent and comprehensive review, supported by 138 member states, including India. Australia shares an economic and strategic partnership with China. But our decisions are guided by common sense and national interest. I am not unmindful of the issues that India is facing on its borders in the north. But those are for India to resolve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Your views on an increasingly&nbsp;assertive China?</b></p> <p>A /I find it hard to believe that China wants to be seen as a less than reliable trading partner. Many countries including Australia and India have engaged in trade with China for a long time. We have seen actions that have been characterised in particular ways. But in the long-term, it makes no sense for any country to get the reputation of being unreliable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Australia has been quite passionate about the India-US-Japan-Australia Quad.</b></p> <p>A /The Quad is developing as a good forum for like-minded democracies to coordinate approaches towards important issues such as maritime security, cybersecurity and counterterrorism. Those issues are real today. We share a commitment and responsibility for maintaining a secure and stable Indo-Pacific region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The dates for the Indian cricket team’s Australian tour have been announced.</b></p> <p>A /Cricket is the shared passion of both countries. The series will lift spirits as we keep fighting this terrible virus. It can assist in repairing mental health and morale in both countries.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 18:23:29 IST 2020 locked-and-loaded <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On September 16, 2019, the Indian Army’s Northern Command tweeted photos of its chief, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, sitting atop a T-90 tank and watching the “integrated exercise of all arms” in “super high altitude area” in Pangong, Ladakh. To most people, it appeared to be another ‘PR photo’.</p> <p>It was not. The photo changed the military-tactical picture of Ladakh, literally! It announced to the world that India was now capable of deploying tanks on the mountains of Ladakh.</p> <p>Ladakh and thereabouts on the Himalayas had always been infantry country. Tankmen have rarely ventured onto the mountains. In the 1947-48 war with Pakistan, the dashing General Thimayya took a few across the Zoji La; tanks were tried to be put to battle in 1962; and a pilot programme to deploy them in Ladakh in the 1990s was given up.</p> <p>Ladakh, thus, had always been the foot soldier’s domain. On the other hand, the Indian Army knew that the Chinese could bring tanks and artillery down the Lhasa-Xinjiang G219 Highway and drive them down the newly-built subroads towards several parts of Ladakh, especially in Chushul and Demchok. In other words, the Chinese had the armour advantage. India had been hamstrung by the fact that its undeveloped roads could not take tanks and most of the rivers on its side were unbridged.</p> <p>The situation had been changing since the mid-2000s when India launched a building spree of roads and bridges near the borders. Several landing grounds were prepared during the second Manmohan Singh government and the old airfield at Daulat Beg Oldi was upgraded to take military transport planes. The Narendra Modi government followed up the building projects. By 2015-16, the Army found it could actually deploy tanks and sustain armoured operations. A slow induction of tanks commenced since then.</p> <p>The tactical picture changed officially last September when it was announced to the world with the photo. “We have been inducting tanks for some time, but if we have displayed them in exercise, that means we have them in regiment strength now,” said an intelligence analyst. “We now have the capability to even take an aggressive posture, if we want.”</p> <p>Apparently, it was the completion of a bridge over the Shyok River on the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road that has now emboldened India to announce the ‘arrival’ of tanks. “We can now supply and sustain armoured operation there,” said the analyst. “Our guess is that this has provoked the Chinese now; they are now objecting to several of our bridge- and road-building activities.”</p> <p>The September exercise also saw huge C-130J transport planes unloading troops and heavy equipment, paratroopers jumping from Mi-17 helicopters, foot soldiers being carried swiftly across the plateaus in armoured vehicles, and Heron UAVs flying around. Clearly, with India’s capability to deploy tanks in strength, the battle order in Ladakh is changing.</p> <p>Indeed, the Chinese were also watching. In February, the People’s Liberation Army carried out an even larger exercise in Tibet, where it deployed and displayed Type 15 tanks, the brand new T-96 tanks and the 55mm vehicle-mounted howitzers. China also made it known that it had developed a wheeled light infantry fighting vehicle and a new light tank that could be used in mountain warfare.</p> <p>China had also been augmenting its air war machine in Tibet for the past decade and a half. Airports and airfields in Shigatse, Nyingchi and Lhasa have been upgraded, and there have been increased fighter flying over Tibetan skies. Satellite photos have also revealed early-warning planes parked in Lhasa, apart from fighter aircraft and troop-carrying helicopters, and also a new runway being built in Shigatse airport, apparently for UAVs. During a discussion held at the Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation on the growing capabilities of the Chinese air force in Tibet, former Indian Air Force chief B.S. Dhanoa said that over the past few years, there had been a significant induction of aircraft and aircrew into the Tibet Autonomous Region from other military regions. The deployment of Sukhoi-27, J-11 and J-10 fleets for continuous operation during winter months afforded the Chinese credible year round capability. Earlier, they only used to occupy the airfields during the summers.</p> <p>China has 14 airbases in the Lanzhou and Chengdu regions, which are opposite Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. In April, a large area was developed parallel to the runway at the Ngari Gunsa dual-use airbase, where a detachment of Flankers has been deployed since May. The fighters were first seen in the area last December.</p> <p>AirLand battle scenarios involving land and air forces have been tested since mid-2015 with more than 1,40,000 troops. Exercises were going on in Tibet even during mid-2017, when the Doklam crisis was unfolding. The PLA had then claimed that the exercise “effectively tested the brigade’s joint strike capabilities on plateaus”, and at 16,400 feet.</p> <p>In short, both armies have been upgrading their fighting capabilities for more than a decade now, and are now more or less evenly matched. “It is this parity that the Chinese want to remove; so they are asking us to stop building certain bridges and roads,” said the analyst.</p> <p>But the Indian side seems to be determined this time. Unlike in the case of Doklam three years ago, when India had refrained from making any official statements, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh admitted that PLA soldiers had “come a little further than they used to earlier” in eastern Ladakh, making the “situation different” from earlier face-offs. He said Chinese troops were present in sizeable numbers. Unconfirmed estimates say between 3,000 and 5,000 troops have been deployed partly in the disputed stretches and otherwise close to the line of actual control in the Galwan valley, the northern bank of Pangong Lake and Demchok. All eyes are on the military talk between corps commanders on June 6.</p> <p>In the Galwan valley, which is looked after by India’s 81 and 114 infantry brigades under the 3 Mountain Division, a few Chinese troops have come deep inside and pitched tents while their buddies are building roads to supply them. Intelligence reports suggest that the insertions took place on May 5 in Galwan, on May 9 in Naku La (northern Sikkim), on May 12 and 13 near Pangong Lake. Satellites have since picked up pictures of the Chinese moving towed artillery, trucks and infantry combat vehicles to a few kilometres behind the LAC near the Hot Springs and Gogra. The PLA is estimated to have 2,00,000 to 2,30,000 troops under its western theatre command which envelops Tibet and Xinjiang military districts.</p> <p>The problem, in case of a flare-up, may not be of numbers, but of command coordination. India still has four corps deployed against China—one in Ladakh, one in Sikkim and two in Arunachal Pradesh. “We definitely have greater numbers on the LAC,” said Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda, former northern Army commander. “We match up their strength and our total deployment on LAC is greater than the Chinese. Having said that, we must acknowledge that our infrastructure still does not match the Chinese who have roads coming right up to the LAC.”</p> <p>If the current border standoff flares up, all the operational decisions on the Chinese side will be taken by General Zhao Zongqi who, sitting in Chengdu, commands all the forces, including the squadrons of fighter jets, in China’s western theatre. He will decide the scale of operations, which units to be employed in what formation, how much force to be employed, where to strike other than in Ladakh, and where to hold territory. Under him, he has General Xu Yong, who commands the Tibet military district which is directly under the PLA, unlike other regions which are controlled politically by the Central Military Commission. This meant that operations in Ladakh, in Sikkim or in Arunachal can be synchronised under one command under Zhao, giving him a formidable advantage. There is no such one field commander on the Indian side. Matching wits and clashing arms with Zhao and Xu will be six three-star officers sitting hundreds of miles from one another—the northern Army commander at Udhampur, the central Army commander in Lucknow, the eastern commander in Kolkata, the western air commander in Delhi, the central air commander in Allahabad and the eastern air commander in Shillong. These six gentlemen will have to decide on the operations, coordinated, of course, by the directorate-general in Delhi.</p> <p>The Chinese have also reorganised their field formations into mobile brigades, whereas India continues with the World War II style corps-division-brigade system. ‘’The brigadisation of the PLA is another advantage which makes the actions of the Chinese army more flexible and responsive to new and complicated situations,’’ said French-born author, historian and China watcher Claude Arpi. India is also following suit, but again slowly. The 65-year-old General Zhao is one of the few commanders who had taken part in China’s Vietnam war of the late 1970s (the last time the PLA fired shots in anger), and is reported to be quite close to President Xi Jinping. Having served in Tibet for nearly 20 years, he knows the Indian frontier like the back of his hand.</p> <p>There are reports that Zhao may finally be retiring, or elevated to the Central Military Commission. Arpi pointed to reports coming from China that a newly promoted Lieutenant General Xu Qiling has taken over as the new commander of western threatre ground forces. A report of the Chinese western Army’s official WeChat account on May 29 had said that a meeting of the command’s standing committee was convened “to convey the spirit of learning of the third meeting of the 13th National People’s Congress”. Xu Qiling delivered the report at the meeting, which was presided over by the army political commissar Xu Deqing.</p> <p>Xu Qiling, too, is an experienced hand at joint theatre management. As a major general, he had served as the deputy commander in the central theatre. Later, he served as the commander of the 79th Army in the northern theatre. In January 2019, he became deputy commander of the eastern theatre, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in December.</p> <p><b>—with R. Prasannan</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 16:53:33 IST 2020 what-happened-to-us-can-happen-to-you <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/How do you see the growing aggression by China along the LAC?</b></p> <p>A /China has traditionally maintained that Tibet is the palm, and Bhutan, Nepal, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Sikkim are its five fingers. Once they took over Tibet, they had an upper hand in terms of imposing their expansionist policy. Ladakh is the latest addition to China’s expansionist policy. Tibetans were its first-hand victim and we have been warning the world ever since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The People’s Liberation Army can use Tibet to gain access into Indian territory. Your comments.</b></p> <p>A /If we look at history, India never shared a border with China, but it has always shared a border with Tibet. During that period, Indo-Tibetan border was never an issue. In fact, Tibet acted as a buffer zone between India and China, which is now no longer the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/In the event of increased Chinese assault on India, what role can the Central Tibetan Administration play?</b></p> <p>A /We stand with India on ahimsa. The CTA and voice of the Tibetan people have been at the forefront when it came to confronting China. We seek China to follow international norms, basic human rights and non-violence. We have been alerting all the neighbouring countries, including India, that what happened to Tibet could happen to you.</p> <p><b>Q/Do you think India should support the Dalai Lama even more?</b></p> <p>A /India has been a gracious host to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and is the second home for Tibetans. In fact, no country has done more for the Tibetans than India and its people [have] and we are extremely grateful [for that].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/There is growing clamour about boycotting Chinese goods and products after the pandemic.</b></p> <p>A /This campaign has been going on for decades. Its success depends on whether citizens consider national interests over individual interests or entertainment. For me, whether the public buys Chinese goods is secondary, because they will buy if things are cheaper. If India can make better and cheaper goods then people will buy Indian products.</p> <p>People and celebrities should be informed on China’s strategic interests in Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Bhutan and Nepal, and critically assess China’s increased aggression at the border in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you see India’s reassertion of Aksai Chin in the new political map released in November 2019, post abrogation of Article 370?</b></p> <p>A /[The] Aksai Chin problem began after the occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang. Till Tibet is resolved peacefully, such assertion will continue.</p> Thu Jun 04 16:46:15 IST 2020 race-of-death <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Bats did not bring Covid-19 to Brazil, the deadly virus came through the noses, lungs and throats of revellers eager for the Carnival. It was carried by upper-class Brazilians who had the means to escape to Milan, Aspen or Rome during the world’s biggest street festival. The arrival of the virus was not a surprise as we watched the news from Wuhan and YouTube videos of abandoned Italian streets, wondering if local governments would cancel the Carnival this year. They did not, and this country of 211 million saw more than 27 million people, from across Brazil and the world, take to its packed streets for seven days. And that is how Brazil, now projected to be the epicentre of the pandemic, became our collective nightmare. Added to the challenges every country is facing with lockdowns, illness, death and economic collapse, Covid-19 has thrown us off a cliff and into the chasm that is Brazil’s great social, economic and racial divide—our peculiar brand of tropical apartheid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not Brazilian. I am an African American singer who fell in love with this amazing country and moved here two decades ago. I live in what many refer to as “Black Rome”, the city of Salvador in the state of Bahia. Brazil received 40 per cent of all Africans who were enslaved and shipped as cargo to North America, the Caribbean and South America to provide the free labour that created great wealth for European merchants and nobles. This, unfortunately, is the story of the whole “New World”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Brazil’s first capital, Salvador and the surrounding rich farmland received huge numbers of enslaved Africans. Today, their descendants make up roughly 82 per cent of the city’s population, while the national average is 56 per cent. Most of them live in poverty, and they are seeing the highest mortality rates. Covid-19 has no racial or economic divide. There is simply the opportunity for transmission and infection in the midst of poverty, malnutrition, dense population and lack of sanitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of May 11, the Brazilian ministry of health has reported 1,62,699 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 10,627 deaths. But researchers say the actual numbers will be 12-15 times higher. The Brazilian public health system has 2.62 beds for every one lakh inhabitants. Most of the beds are in the big cities, leaving the countryside at a big risk. Last week saw a 22 per cent increase in deaths and if the numbers continue to rise, the pandemic will break the national health care system, which is used mostly by poor Brazilians. “As the virus spreads to the outlying, poorer regions, the death rate will be much higher because it is going to join other epidemics like dengue fever and chikungunya and conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and malnutrition. Putting all these together, you can see the situation of the poor, black population,” says Silvio Humberto, city councilman in Salvador, and professor of economics at the State University of Feira de Santana. “Covid-19 has come to make a grave situation of social vulnerability worse. The city of Salvador is cited in poetry and prose for its enchantment and physical beauty. But the pandemic has come to show us that Salvador has gained the title, not of the city of music, but of the city of the poor.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slavery in Brazil lasted from the 1530s till May 14, 1888. But after their emancipation, the victims of slavery were left to fend for themselves by doing precarious, informal work, such as sharecropping or hard labour. At the same time, European immigrants were offered land and free passage in exchange for agricultural work. The result is that the south and southeast of Brazil, where the European immigrants settled, became more white, accumulating and distributing more wealth, while the north and northeast continued to be locked in a slavocracy with most of the land owned and controlled by descendants of the beneficiaries of the Portuguese land grants who maintained the racial, class and economic disparities of slavery. Humberto says the virus has only revealed the tip of the iceberg. “We had poverty, informal labour and people scraping for a living doing whatever they could in the streets, doing their hustle. Families sustained themselves this way. Now the streets are closed off,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doranei Alves, an Afro-Brazilian social worker who lives in Salvador’s São Caetano neighbourhood, says the situation is dire. “There is a huge street fair where everything—from shoes to tea and natural herbs to fruits—is sold. Imagine what is happening to the people who make their living from this. This money pays for their food each day. With the pandemic, everything has stopped. The media says ‘stay home and use a mask’. But people need to eat. Money from the government is taking a long time to come. Many people have not gotten it yet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a musician who is out of work because of the lockdown, I am not rich by any means. But the fact that I can stay home, alone, and live on money I have saved means that I am privileged. In many communities, people are weighing the risk of getting infected against the need to feed their children. “People cannot afford to stay at home anymore,” says Alves. “They have returned to street fairs and have started selling their products again. This reveals how much inequality is there in Brazil. Mothers go crazy when there is no food for their children.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The combination of financial, mental and emotional stress has led to increased domestic violence and also defiance that contributes to the spread of the virus. “Women are going crazy because of domestic violence. This affects children and their development,” says Alves. “Many old people are at home alone. Family members used to visit them every day and now they cannot visit. Physical contact is very important. It is hard when you are deprived of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the fear of getting sick has forced many people to comply with the norms of social distancing, others are rebelling, following the example of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. “There is a group that defends the president and the majority of them are men,” says Alves. “They are using the president as an example and are going against the recommendations. These men are going to play football, even though they know that they are putting their families at risk. They are going to bars. They are trying to show defiance through their actions. The fight against the virus is also an ideological and political fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro, however, insists that Covid-19 is just a cold and says Brazilians could “swim in excrement and still emerge unscathed”. He says his priority is the Brazilian economy, not Brazilian lives. He questions scientists who oppose his opinions, rails at the press coverage of the pandemic and refuses to wear a mask even at rallies where he shakes hands and hugs his supporters. He even planned a big barbecue at the presidential palace on the day when deaths from the pandemic crossed 10,000 in Brazil. It was cancelled finally following widespread protests and the threat of a lawsuit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Bolsonaro, the pandemic has provided a convenient cover for rolling back land rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-Brazilian quilombos—homesteads where descendants of escaped slaves and indigenous people have lived for hundreds of years. Decree MP910 signed by Bolsanaro is before the Congress, and once approved, it will allow loggers, wildcat miners and farmers to lay claim to protected land reserves in the Amazon, traditionally inhabited by indigenous Brazilians. It has emboldened them to invade land and kill indigenous leaders even as they spread Covid-19 among indigenous people with no immunity or access to hospitals. Ivaneida Bandeira of the NGO Kanindé says the pandemic is being used as a cover by the president and corporations involved in agro-business, logging and mining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humberto, however, sees an opportunity for change in the ongoing crisis. “With so much uncertainty, we have an opportunity to stir things up,” he says. “We have a non-government. The president goes against science, against the 10,000 deaths. While our country is mourning, the president is jet skiing. This shows how insensitive, ignorant and incompetent the president is. He does not resolve problems, but creates crisis on top of crisis. But the light in this crisis is the empowerment that solidarity has brought to the Afro-Brazilian communities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humberto says there have been numerous examples of solidarity and brotherhood across the country. “The pope was right, there is no salvation individually. Salvation has to be collective and we have to be very careful about returning to the so-called ‘normal’ like it was before,” he says. “We need change, not just in the economy, which has been turned on its head. The economy cannot be the be-all and end-all. It should serve society. We have to be liberated from this hegemony of financial capital. It is going to be difficult, but we cannot keep having money generating more money to the detriment of everything, of the people. The people need to be the beginning, the middle and the end.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The newfound solidarity has given hope to millions. Marcia Marciel, a social worker from the neighbourhood of São João do Cabrito, says volunteers in the neighbourhood have decided to create a chain of solidarity. “The solidarity has multiplied,” says Marciel. “I hope that this chain will continue to remain even when this is over.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alves says there was solidarity when he was growing up. “It is still present, even though today capitalism separates people and encourages individualism. But still, if you need some flour, it is your neighbour who will help you”, she says. “As the wheels of the government turn slowly in response to the pandemic, community organisations are providing for the residents using their own resources and money donated from friends, colleagues and others who feel that we have a shared responsibility to provide for those in need.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humberto believes it is going to be a new beginning. “This is not just about Covid,” he says. “It is a vision of an African Utopia, an evolution and a new view.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is an African American singer settled in Brazil.</b></p> Thu May 14 17:37:01 IST 2020 far-right-far-wrong <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 cases in Brazil are growing at an alarming rate, with the number of deaths crossing 11,000 as on May 10. But for President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, it is all a big joke. “My name is Messiah. But I cannot work miracles,” he said. Hearing about the mounting death toll, he responded with supreme indifference, “So what? What do you want me to do?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In most countries, presidents and prime ministers visit hospitals to comfort victims and support the medical staff. But not Bolsonaro. He was recently seen at a shooting range, grinning at the cameras in front of a bullet-riddled target, saying, “Pretty good, eh?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brazil faces a shortage of ventilators, masks and other essential items. But it hardly bothers Bolsonaro. He is more worried about the shortage of guns in Brazil. When governors are scrambling to get ventilators, Bolsonaro wants to see more guns. Last month, he shut down a military project that sought to use blockchain technology to track guns and other weapons. The public prosecutor’s office is investigating the constitutionality of this move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While presidents of other countries are meeting scientists and doctors for advice on dealing with the virus, Bolsonaro had an unusual guest on May 4. He received at the presidential palace Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Sebastião Curió Rodrigues de Moura, a notorious assassin who killed several left-wing guerrillas in the Araguaia region when Brazil was under military dictatorship (1964-1985).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 infections grow exponentially, mass graves are being dug in cities like Manaus, where a large number of indigenous people have lost their lives. The mayor of Manaus was in tears describing the acute shortage of coffins, medicines and equipment. Unable to get Bolsonaro’s attention, indigenous leaders have approached the World Health Organisation and even climate activist Greta Thunberg. Millions of poor, mostly Afro-Brazilians, live in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo without adequate water and sanitation facilities. Even the drug-trafficking gangs have started helping them, but not Bolsonaro. The president has ignored WHO advice on Covid-19, but has targeted the world body, saying it promotes masturbation and homosexuality among children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The president has not been supportive of officials who have been working hard to tackle the pandemic. He has sparked protests by sacking his popular health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, after repeated clashes over handling of the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a study by the University of São Paulo, Brazil may already have the most number of Covid-19 cases in the world. But testing is minimal in the country due to the lack of federal government support. Bolsonaro continues to downplay Covid-19, calling it a “simple cold” and a “fantasy” and “hysteria” promoted by the media to weaken his government. Such talk clearly misleads and confuses the general population. He criticises the lockdown imposed by state and municipal authorities and calls social distancing measures imposed by governors and mayors as “crime”. He goes around shaking hands and taking selfies with his supporters at rallies organised by his sons and allies. He wants to resume football games, arguing that players are less likely to die from Covid-19 because of their supreme physical fitness. Bolsanaro once said, “Brazilians could swim in excrement and still emerge unscathed”. He even launched a #BrazilCannotStop campaign which asked people to get back to work and normal life. The move was banned by a federal judge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At least 20 officials of the Bolsanaro administration, including national communications chief Fabio Wajngarten and National Security Minister Augusto Heleno, have tested positive for Covid-19, but the president scoffs at preventive measures. On May 8, Bolsanaro said he would celebrate the weekend with a barbecue at the presidential palace. But a day later, after facing widespread criticism and being threatened with a lawsuit, he called the news about the barbecue fake, blamed journalists, and was seen riding a jet ski on Lake Paranoá. He stopped to chat with a group of people who were barbecuing on a speedboat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro attacks journalists day in and day out, often using the language of street thugs. Following his cue, his supporters have even physically attacked journalists at the president’s rallies. Bolsanaro and his sons spread fake news on social media, forcing Facebook and Twitter to remove some of their posts. The prosecutors are investigating fake news campaigns of the Bolsonaros.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The president does not even spare the Congress and the judiciary. He routinely incites his followers to shout slogans in favour of military dictatorship. The attorney general is investigating one such case of sloganeering outside the army headquarters when Bolsonaro was present. The defence ministry issued a statement on May 4 saying the armed forces were dedicated to their constitutional mission and democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Bolsonaro, protecting and promoting his family comes first. He recently fired the chief of the federal police and appointed a family friend in his place to scupper ongoing criminal investigations against his sons and allies for murder, money laundering and disinformation campaigns on social media. Justice minister Sérgio Moro resigned recently after publicly accusing the president of criminal obstruction of justice. The supreme court subsequently vetoed the appointment of the new police chief and ordered an investigation on the basis of Moro’s charges. The president has now proposed another family friend to the post. The association of the members of the federal police has written to Bolsonaro to “keep the constitutionally-required distance” and not interfere in the day-to-day work of the police to maintain objectivity and public confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Bolsonaro had tried to make his third son, Eduardo, Brazil’s ambassador to the US, saying ‘Eduardo and President Donald Trump’s sons are friends’. But Eduardo had to withdraw his candidacy following widespread protests against such blatant nepotism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides polarising the country with his hate-speech, the Bolsonaro clan continues to burn bridges with the world. He had insulted the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron and made disparaging remarks against President Alberto Fernández of Argentina, Brazil’s neighbour and most important regional partner. He had provoked China, Brazil’s top export destination, by visiting Taiwan during his presidential campaign. Sino-Brazilian relations deteriorated further after Eduardo criticised the absence of democracy and transparency in China and also its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Chinese embassy in Brasilia made a scathing counterattack, saying the president’s son had contracted a “mental virus” while he was in the United States. “Sadly, you are a person without any international vision or common sense. We suggest you don’t rush to become the US spokesman in Brazil,” said a statement by the embassy. The sharp reaction prompted some state governors and exporters to apologise to the Chinese ambassador, especially as they have been hoping to procure masks, protective gear and ventilators from China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro’s ministers, however, are competing with each other to impress the boss with their own incendiary statements. Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo wrote that Covid-19 “could be a global project to transform the world into a concentration camp and impose communism via the ‘comunavirus’”. Education Minister Abraham Weintraub tweeted that the pandemic would serve Chinese interests. In his tweet in Portuguese, he substituted the letter ‘r’ in ‘Brazil’ with ‘L’ so that it read ‘BLazil’, a style used to mock Chinese accents. The Chinese ambassador called Weintraub a racist and the supreme court has ordered an investigation into the minister’s action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics fear that the Bolsonaro administration has managed to undo in less than 16 months the excellent work done by Brazilian diplomats over the past two decades. Bolsanaro has shocked the world with his bigotry on several issues, including global environmental concerns. Brazil today stands completely isolated on the issue in sharp contrast with the leading role it played during President Lula’s time. On April 20, Brazil voted against a UN General Assembly resolution co-sponsored by 179 countries seeking global access to medicines and vaccines to tackle Covid-19. It was ironic as Brazil had in the past successfully led developing countries in their fight for affordable HIV/AIDS medicines, even breaking a few international patents in the process. Marking a complete turnaround in its foreign policy, Brazil recently voted against a pro-Palestine resolution in the UN, further alienating several countries in the developing world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only bridge Bolsonaro has built so far is with Trump, his role model. But this is temporary and unsustainable. Although Bolsanaro wants total alignment of Brazil’s foreign policy with that of Trump’s, he has been restrained by his own foreign office and military. For instance, his decision to shift the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has not been implemented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most people voted for Bolsonaro in 2018, in a clear verdict against the corruption scandals involving the Workers Party and other mainstream political parties and leaders. There was a massive anti-incumbency wave across Brazil, which benefited Bolsonaro. But many of those who voted for him regret their decision now. People are horrified to see his inhuman approach towards the pandemic. People had hoped that the power and prestige as president might make him moderate and pragmatic. They are disillusioned to see that he has become worse and even incites anti-democratic attacks from the presidential palace. Millions are now protesting, banging pots and pans and yelling “Bolsonaro out” whenever the president comes on television. They are afraid that the longer Bolsonaro continues as president, the worse it will be for the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sensible politicians, businessmen, civil society leaders and professionals consider Bolsonaro more toxic than Covid-19. The president does not have the support of any major political party. He has moved from one fringe party to another eight times so far. During his presidential campaign he was with the Social Liberal Party. He quit last November over a dispute on the control of campaign funds and launched his own party called the Alliance for Brazil with himself as president and his eldest son Flavio as vice president. But it does not have any other recognisable leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has already received at least two dozen impeachment petitions against Bolsanaro. It had impeached president Dilma Rouseff in 2016 for budget manipulation. It was nothing compared with the charges being levelled against Bolsonaro. However, he enjoys the support of the bible, bullet and beef lobby comprising evangelicals, rich landlords and the cattle and meat industry, which uses him to advance their own partisan agenda. Some other legislators are willing to support him thinking that this is the best time to bargain for favours and pork barrel (appropriations made for projects that are not essential but are sought because they pump money and resources locally).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso cautioned that Bolsonaro’s authoritarian impulses could lead to the return of the military dictatorship. Rodrigo Maia, president of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, tweeted, “The whole world is united in the fight against the coronavirus. In Brazil, we have to fight against the coronavirus and the virus of authoritarianism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a retired diplomat with extensive experience in Latin America.</b></p> Thu May 14 17:28:09 IST 2020 states-of-despair <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A few months ago, Covid-19 was a distant threat for the United States, but the country now leads the world in terms of deaths and live infections, with New York City being the epicentre of the pandemic. The once glittering ‘centre of the universe’ is now largely deserted, with the silence broken only by ambulance sirens. As of April 29, the US has recorded 59,266 deaths, with the state of New York reporting 23,144 deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most Americans remain locked down, listening to the conflicting and worrisome news coming out of the Trump White House and wondering what’s next. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been the voice of calm and reason as Americans embrace social distancing and masks, and adopt a new normal for quarantined school and work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Americans are a prominent presence in the tri-state area comprising New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Many members of the community have been affected by the pandemic and some, like the well-loved chef Floyd Cardoz, have lost their lives. But members of the community, including physicians, nurses and health care workers and a large number of essential workers employed in restaurants, grocery stores and small businesses, are also active in the fight back against Covid-19. Seema Verma, who heads the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is a member of President Donald Trump’s task force to tackle the pandemic. Other prominent Indian Americans engaged in the endeavour include former US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy, Dr Kavita Patel of Brookings Institution, Dr Ashish Jha of Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr Rahul Sharma of Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr Nirav Shah of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts department of public health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New York’s hospitals are Covid-19 hotspots as doctors try to save as many people as possible despite the constraints of space, personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. One of the fierce battlegrounds is Mount Sinai Hospital which has several branches in Manhattan and Queens, and has dealt with hundreds of cases. “There is usually a variety of intensity within any intensive care unit, but here everyone is equally super sick. So there is no variation, no downtime, there is no easy patient,” said Dr Umesh Gidwani, chief of cardiac critical care at Mount Sinai. Dr Roopa Kohli-Seth, director of critical care at Mount Sinai, said the Institute for Critical Care Medicine had dedicated all seven ICUs and 45 physicians to treat Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A week ago, when the infections were at the peak of the curve, there was a nightmarish lack of hospital beds, ventilators and PPE, and cities and states were hustling to get their act together. In New York, tourist spots such as Central Park and business arenas like the Javits convention centre were turned into hospitals to solve the shortage. The federal government even sent in the USNS Comfort, a navy ship, to serve as a mobile hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The delay in testing, coupled with the lack of equipment and adequate staff, has been the bane of many hospitals, not only in New York, but also in neighbouring states. “Our government failed us—it has repeatedly misinformed the public, it dawdled instead of manufacturing enough test kits, it has persistently failed to procure PPE for essential workers,” said Dr Sejal Hathi, resident physician in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Doctors and nurses were not prepared for it. But community by community, one by one, we are picking up the pieces and working together to confront the challenge ourselves.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One Indian American doctor who is making virtual house calls during this difficult time is Dr Sanjay Gupta, surgeon and journalist who conducts ‘coronavirus town halls’&nbsp;on CNN with Anderson Cooper, helping house-bound populations to stay informed and calm. Health care workers are certainly proving to be the heroes of the hour. Dr Omar Manya, an emergency room doctor at Elmhurst General Hospital in New York, survived the virus and returned to confront it. “There is just so much need out there and such a shortage of supplies and people in the workforce that we are excited to get back on the frontlines,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Essential workers driving buses and handling groceries, too, have been infected and some have lost their lives. The Empire State Building in New York was lit up in red and six Swaminarayan temples from Atlanta to New Jersey were lit up in blue to thank them. The Swaminarayan organisation also donated thousands of&nbsp;N95 masks. Sikh gurdwaras and NGOs have been donating meals to health workers and those who lost their jobs. Restaurants, themselves out of business, are paying tribute to selfless first responders by providing meals to hospitals. Every evening at 7, New Yorkers gather at their windows and doors to clap and sound a grateful thank you through trumpets and bells. It is spontaneous, with the honking of car horns and applause from skyscrapers—a moment of goodness, joy and gratitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For most people, life during the pandemic means adjusting their lifestyles and their expectations. Children and young adults are back home, trying to pursue their studies from their bedrooms with online learning; parents are trying to run businesses from their home computers. Life is on hold, but a new lifestyle may develop from this, as arts, leisure and social activities are reborn on online platforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 continues to ravage nations around the world, the loss is not only in human life, but also in the very basics of health, food and livelihood. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 43 per cent of Americans have reported that someone in their household has lost a job or has taken a pay cut. Among the lower income groups, the figure is 52 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians in the hospitality industry have been particularly hit, especially the hotel and motel industry which was behind so many Indian success stories. “America’s hotel owners were the first ones to feel the economic impact of Covid-19 as meetings and events were cancelled, and they will likely be the last to recover as travel restrictions are lifted and economic recovery begins,” said Cecil P. Staton, president and CEO of Asian American Hotel Owners Association. “We are, however, gravely concerned whether many hotels can survive until we reach that point.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Restaurants and bars, once the joy of city life, are shuttered and Indian restaurants, too, have seen a complete shutdown except for contact-less deliveries. Some of the players like chef Chintan Pandya and owner Rony Mazumdar of Adda and Rahi, and Surbhi Sahni of Tagmo are cooking up meals and working with city agencies and NGOs to provide food to the hungry and the jobless. In New York, thousands of restaurants, owners, chefs, kitchen staff and delivery people are all concerned about the future. The danger is that many of these restaurants may never be opened again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Americans wait for the federal government’s stimulus package to get their lives restarted, Indian American NGOs are trying to help alleviate the situation in the US and also in India. A group of Indian American entrepreneurs brought together by Indiaspora, a Washington, DC-based community organisation, has raised $1 million for food security in both India and the US in an initiative called ChaloGive for Covid-19. M.R. Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, said the funds were being directed to two credible organisations—Feeding America in the US and Goonj in India. NGOs like Share and Care, Children’s Hope India and Sewa International are delivering meals to needy New Yorkers. Sudha Acharya, director of the South Asian Council for Social Services, is delivering Indian meals to the elderly, the needy and the undocumented in the hard-hit borough of Queens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the US economy in a tailspin, negotiations between the White House and the Congress on the next stimulus package are expected to begin soon. The White House is likely to seek a “liability shield”to protect businesses from being sued by customers who catch the virus. Many companies are reluctant to reopen while the virus still spreads, for fear of being held liable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As people and small businesses wait for more help from the federal government, there is concern that they may suffer as big corporations make a grab for the available funds. Bharat Ramamurti is an Indian American who will have a say on the issue. He has been appointed to the Congressional Oversight Commission which will oversee the $2 trillion fund to restart the economy. Announcing his appointment, Senator Chuck Schumer said Ramamurti would fight for transparency and would hold bad actors accountable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While some states are looking to ease the lockdown, many others are yet to hit the peak of the infection curve. New York, which has seen the worst, seems to have survived under the watch of Governor Andrew Cuomo. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has provided free meals for anyone who needs to eat, with no questions asked about their status or income. The homeless and the ones who are recovering from the infection and cannot be quarantined at home have been housed in city hotels with all costs paid. Children who are from vulnerable homes and do not have access to online devices for home-schooling have been provided with iPads and Wi-Fi. However, until millions of tests are done, opening of the economy seems impossible and the city remains fragile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Testing is going to be a major operation that happens from now until the situation is over,” said Cuomo. “It’s new, it’s technical, it’s complex. It’s a political football. But testing does a number of things for us. Number one, it reduces the spread of the virus by finding people who are positive, tracing their contacts and isolating them. That’s a function of testing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most states are observing quarantine, some states like Georgia are tentatively reopening, although they have not yet reached the peak of the infection. Trump has asked governors to make the decision, so there is no unified national policy. New York plans to reopen in phases, based on more testing. Cuomo said reopening of parts of upstate New York could happen after May 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, fear that the virus may return in a second wave in the fall. Cuomo has suggested that it is important to plan for a better health care system, a smarter telemedicine programme, better technology and education and importantly, more social equality for minority communities. The pandemic has hit low income groups and minorities harder and Trump’s new immigration ban has added more problems for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You can see the disparate effect of this disease and how it reinforced the disparity and inequity in society,” said Coumo. “So it’s not just reopen, it’s not just build it back. It’s advance. Use this as a moment in time where they look back when they write the history books and they say, ‘Boy, they went through a terrible time, but they actually learned from it and they improved from it and they moved forward.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p><a href=""><u></u></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>UNITED STATES</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CONFIRMED CASES</b><br> 10,35,765</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>DEATHS</b><br> 59,266</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NEW YORK</b></p> <p><b>CONFIRMED CASES</b><br> 3,01,450</p> <p>deaths<br> 23,144</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(figures as on april 29)</p> Thu Apr 30 22:55:39 IST 2020 on-a-wing-and-a-prayer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN MARCH, PRIME MINISTER</b> Sheikh Hasina decided to scale down the yearlong centenary celebrations of the birth of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her father and Bangladesh’s jatir pita (father of the nation). The reason behind the decision was Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>World leaders who were to participate in a public meeting in Dhaka on March 17 pulled out because of outbreaks in their own countries. Four days before the event, as the number of Covid-19 cases surged in Delhi, Mumbai and Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called off his visit to Dhaka and sent a video message instead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Hasina decided to scale down the celebrations, only three Covid-19 cases had been reported in Bangladesh. A month later, there are more than 6,000 cases; 155 people have died. The country has been in lockdown since March 26, and it will remain so till May 5. A high-level committee headed by Hasina may decide to extend the lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has already wreaked havoc on Bangladesh’s thriving manufacturing industry, which employs millions. With Ramadan having begun, the government is also bracing for a spike in the number of infections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The authorities are struggling to prevent religious gatherings and enforce the lockdown. Last month, around 25,000 people assembled for prayers at a mosque in Raipur. On April 18, more than 10,000 people in Sarail violated the lockdown to attend the funeral of a well-known religious scholar who had died of unknown causes. The government said it had permitted only 50 people to attend the funeral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They violated the lockdown to send a message that they would not accept the government’s order,” Foreign Affairs Minister A.K.M. Abdul Momen told THE WEEK. “We will not accept such fanatic behaviour. Bangladesh is no longer a country of fundamentalists.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Momen said violations would be strictly dealt with from now on. “We have closed down almost all mosques and asked everyone to offer prayers at home,” he said. “Any violation would be dealt with a firm hand.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the government, Bangladesh has entered the third stage of the Covid-19 outbreak. “We have detected community-level infections,” said Momen. “But things have not gone out of control and we are not in a horrible situation. The government is taking tough actions, like controlling gatherings—religious and otherwise—everywhere in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 3,000 Bangladeshis have been stuck in India. A few hundred of them had taken part in the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi in March, which later became one of India’s largest Covid-19 clusters. Momen said many people had gone to India without informing the government of their intention to take part in the Jamaat event. “About 60 of them have been infected and they are quarantined in Delhi,” said Information Minister Muhammad Hasan Mahmud. “They can only come back if they are fit enough to come.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh is trying to arrange flights to bring back hundreds of citizens who had gone to Delhi and Chennai for health care purposes. “A number of tourists are stuck in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Rajasthan,” said Momen. “We will not be able to bring them back now. I am in touch with New Delhi and have learnt that they are being taken care of by the Indian government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh is also trying to help struggling expatriates. Hundreds of Bangladeshis have died in outbreaks in the US and Europe, and many have lost their jobs. According to the foreign affairs ministry, 164 Bangladeshis have died in the US because of Covid-19. In the UK, around 150 have died. “We estimate that 28 lakh Bangladeshis settled abroad are now jobless,” said Momen. “We have decided to bring them back in a phased manner. They have every right to come back to their own country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has decided on a package worth Rs200 crore to bring the expatriates back. They will be given land and loans to start new ventures. A stimulus package worth Rs1 lakh crore has already been announced for the domestic market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its labour-intensive growth and drastic improvements in health indicators had earned the praise of global experts. Covid-19, however, could have a lasting impact on the country’s future, since a major part of economic growth depends on exports of garments, food products and jute. According to Momen, garment companies have already lost export orders worth $2.5 billion, while remittances have fallen by 12 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are, however, opportunities. Garment companies have started mass-producing personal protective equipment and sanitisers. Some companies have begun making test kits and ventilators, which Bangladesh is currently importing from China, Japan and East Asian countries. “This crisis has given us unbelievable opportunities for building up our internal capacity,” said Momen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A big worry is the extent of community spread of the disease. At around 1,300 people per square kilometre, Bangladesh’s population density is one of the highest in the world. If community spread is not contained, the result could be disastrous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh, however, has learnt well from the outbreaks in Europe. “[Not separating Covid-19 patients from other patients] was the mistake that Italy did,” said Mahmud. “But we have been segregating Covid-19 patients from the start. In fact, we are building a good number of Covid-19 hospitals across Bangladesh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahmud said the government was worried about the eight lakh Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. To prevent an outbreak, the authorities have decided to increase testing in cities like Cox’s Bazar, which have significant Rohingya population. “The Rohingya issue is a major headache for us,” said Mahmud. “There are reports of fresh infiltrations from Myanmar. We are trying to hold them back. More and more Rohingyas are coming to Bangladesh because the health care facilities in Myanmar are in distress.”</p> Thu Apr 30 20:06:04 IST 2020 we-can-feed-our-people-for-a-year-at-least <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A chartered accountant-turned-textile baron, Mustafa Kamal was president of the International Cricket Council (ICC) from July 2014 to April 2015. He was minister of planning in the Sheikh Hasina government for five years, before he was made finance minister in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamal spoke to THE WEEK about Bangladesh’s battle with Covid-19. He said Prime Minister Hasina has taken full control by constituting a high-powered team to lessen the impact of the pandemic on the economy. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Bangladesh has been in lockdown for a month. What would be the economic implication?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is very difficult to ascertain that now. It will take time to assess the damage caused by the lockdown and the disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Economies all over the world are assessing the impact now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Every country is suffering; Bangladesh cannot be an exception. It is true that we, too, will see downward trends after a couple of months. But to what extent, we will be unable to tell you (now).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You went for the lockdown without assessing the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/A high-level committee headed by the prime minister is in place. The HLC decided when to implement the lockdown; it will decide when to withdraw it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What about the support to different sectors of economy in this critical time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is also being decided by the HLC. Incentives are being given based on the demands of different sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Why is it left to the HLC and not the finance ministry?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The HLC headed by the prime minister has experts who are globally renowned and highly competent. The finance ministry is reporting to the prime minister as and when required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an export-oriented economy, Bangladesh will have to rely on other nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, our service sector makes up 55 per cent of our economy. So our economy is mostly export-oriented. Each and every factory is being assessed and a stimulus package is being worked on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What has the government done so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The government would release sops for affected sectors. The prime minister is closely monitoring it through the HLC. She has completely taken charge. A stimulus package of $12 billion, which is 3.3 per cent of our GDP, has already been sanctioned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What is the role of your central bank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The central bank is working on multiple packages. Apart from infusing liquidity, it is also adopting a policy to help micro and small industries get loans at subsidised rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Bangladesh had been witnessing double-digit GDP growth. It looks like history now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We need to save people first. If people are there, then the growth story could be redesigned and rewritten. Our main target today is to save lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But would not the present global situation hit Bangladesh hard?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Our domestic economy is very strong. We are among the top producers—I think seventh or eighth—in rice, fish and agro-products. So we have enough to feed our people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How will you produce food without labour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/You will be surprised to know that we have turned to agro-based industries. We have undertaken automation in production. Within a year, nothing would be manual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Where will the labourers go then?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Once the pandemic is over, we will need a large number of labourers for other kind of jobs. The food processing industry would need a huge number of labourers. Every sector will benefit from this automation process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How long can you feed the people without any production?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/For one year, at least. We are completely self-reliant. Our rice, wheat and pulse yields are among the highest in the world. We have revolutionised fisheries and poultry farming. People will not starve today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/For what products are you dependent on foreign countries?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Only cooking oil, sugar and onions. We are trying to become self-reliant in these as well. It will take some time. As I said, our main aim now is to control this pandemic and save lives.</p> Thu Apr 30 20:02:53 IST 2020