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Covid-19: Modi, Putin to coordinate efforts

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | March 26, 2020

Soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the nation on Wednesday on the government’s coronavirus response and measures to be adopted to deal with the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to him on the phone. The Indian and Russian readouts (here and here) have alike highlighted that the two leaders “agreed to strengthen coordination in the coronavirus response effort” (Kremlin).

The two countries are facing similar challenges. Having done very little by way of testing, the actual figures of coronavirus patients could be higher than the official estimate in Russia and India alike.

The total number of infected people as of today touched 840 in Russia, while the Indian figure has reached 660. Importantly, the figures are dramatically rising. There was a 28% jump in Russia since Wednesday.

Putin has admitted candidly that the outbreak is worse than what he had thought previously. The head of a top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients told Putin on Tuesday when he visited the patients undergoing treatment that Russia needs to “prepare for the Italian scenario.”

To a degree, the relatively low number of cases so far in both India and Russia can be attributed to an early ban on entry for Chinese citizens at the time the epidemic was at full swing in that country.

But India has been ahead of Russia in denying entry to all foreigners except diplomats and members of official delegations. It was only last week that Russia imposed such restrictions. Again, India shut down international flights earlier than Russia which announced the decision only today.

Both Indian and Russian authorities were inclined to project an upbeat view on the situation, claiming that all measures have been taken to prevent a bigger outbreak. But both have acknowledged lately that there is indeed a crisis looming ahead.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who leads a task force on dealing with the virus, told Putin at a meeting in the Kremlin that provincial governors must receive orders to move more quickly to ready hospital beds for the gravely ill. “Otherwise, the system won’t be able to cope,” he said.

Sobyanin has ordered all Moscow citizens over 65 to stay home starting Thursday. Construction of a new hospital for coronavirus patients that is being built from scratch is going on at breakneck speed in Moscow suburbs.

Basically, Russia suffers from the same disadvantages as India to cope with a big coronavirus crisis — underfunded healthcare system, paucity of hospital beds, shortage of protective gear for medical communities, grossly insufficient network of labs to conduct / analyse coronavirus tests and so on.

But the Russian system is better adapted to handle such crises. Sobyanin signed a decree today “to temporarily suspend … from 28 March to 5 April, the work of restaurants, cafes, canteens, buffets, bars, snack bars and other catering establishments, with the exception of takeaway services without citizens visiting the premises of such enterprises, as well as order delivery.”

Shops, except pharmacies and those selling essential goods, will suspend operation during this weeklong period. Sobyanin was almost apologetic: “The restrictions introduced today are unprecedented in the modern history of Moscow and will create many inconveniences in every person’s daily life. But, believe me, they are absolutely necessary to slow down the spread of the coronavirus infection and reduce the number of cases.”

The big question is whether these measures will suffice or Putin will also opt for a “total lockdown”, as Modi ordered on Tuesday. But then, Russia is a vast country spanning 9 time zones, and the Kremlin can always ramp up measures as cases grow. The regional imbalances are simply mind-boggling — between Moscow and St. Petersburg (European Russia) on the one hand and the Caucasus, Urals, Siberia or the Russian Far East (Asiatic Russia) on the other hand. 

Having said that, the crucial difference is that Russia is a developed country in most ways in the social sector, thanks to the Soviet rule, whereas India is a developing country with a much lower level of social formation.

The mammoth population of India puts additional pressure on social sectors of the economy. Again, the structure of the Russian economy is very different. It has nothing comparable, for example, to India’s “informal sector” or “migrant labour” that infinitely add to the complexity of the present crisis.

Russia was all set to join the OECD when the Ukraine crisis erupted in 2014 and the European Union imposed sanctions. In fact, at that point in time, Russia had already signed on to some of the landmark OECD standards.

However, the raison d’être of the two countries’ desire to “to strengthen coordination in the coronavirus response effort” lies in their capacity to show a third way in addressing the present crisis.

Neither Russia nor India has followed China’s Wuhan model of “suppressing” the coronavirus and moving on to resuscitate the economy.

On the other hand, their humanistic traditions also do not allow the pitiless approach that US President Donald Trump espouses.

Both Russia and India stress “social distancing” as the key. PM Modi used a powerful metaphor from Ramayana which every Indian would understand, to drive home that one’s home is one’s ultimate citadel in these extraordinary times. Putin meant much the same thing when he said, “Don’t think: ‘This can’t happen to me.’ It can happen to anyone. The most important thing is to stay home.”

Putin announced paid leave for all Russians next week due to COVID-19. He announced, amongst other relief measures for the economy, that families eligible for maternity capital will receive an extra 5,000 rubles ($44.80) per month from the government for each child under 3 years old.

Small and midsized businesses will receive a six-month tax deferral. And those who lose their jobs or take sick leave will receive payments at minimum wage until the end of the year. The allowance for the unemployed has been raised by 50 percent and brought on par with the prescribed minimum wage.

Today, the Modi government also announced a massive $22 billion package of cash transfer and food security exclusively targeting the poor.

Both Russian and Indian leaderships are acutely conscious of grim economic warnings for their countries. Both economies could shrink significantly in a worst case scenario. Nonetheless, both Putin and Modi have chosen to concentrate on socially sensitive clusters — pensioners and families with children in Russia, the teeming hundreds of millions of poor people in India.

One may say they stay true to their history as “populist” leaders. But this time around, it is far from an opprobrium.

March 26, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , | Leave a comment

Amid COVID-19, India Buys $116M Worth Of Weapons to Israel

teleSUR | March 25, 2020

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed Thursday an arms deal with Israel worth hundreds of millions of dollars, as cases of the coronavirus infections are surging and concerns are rising over the country’s ability to face a health emergency of such magnitude.

Israel will deliver to the Indian military 16,479 Negev light machine guns, the Indian government said in a statement.

The US$116 million contract was signed as doctors and health professionals in India continue to sound alarms about the shortage of masks and protective gear, pointing out the country’s ill preparation to deal with the crisis.

The weapons contract is part of a series of arms agreements between India and Israel under Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The provisioning of this operationally urgent and very critically needed weapon will boost the confidence of the frontline troops and provide much-needed combat power to the Armed Forces,” India’s defense ministry said.

There have been around 536 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India with 10 deaths reported. But like several other countries, it has barely done any tests and is now going through a spike in infections.

India’s “total lockdown” began at midnight Tuesday and will continue for 21 days.

At a time of crisis with a fatal pandemic spreading like wildfire and concerns rising over the consequences it is likely to have on economies around the world, the decision to give priority to military spending has sparked indignation among critics.

A retired professor of International Relations and Global Politics at the University of Delhi, Achin Vanaik, described the move as “extraordinary and highly condemnable, especially as it becomes clear that authorities are well aware that official stats are a gross underestimation at this point.”

“India needs every rupee to deal with the very real danger of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in a country of 1.3 billion people – living in densely populated cities and towns. As it is, compared to Europe, North America or even China and other countries in Asia, the medical system here is woefully under-equipped to deal with this emergency. This diversion of funds is deeply distressing,” Vanaik told the MEE.

Likewise, many critics are denouncing the fact that the far-right government led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose to spend hundreds of millions on military purchases while it has so far not announced any measure to assist those who are losing their income sources as a result of the epidemic.

“People rendered suddenly jobless are forced to rush back to villages to survive, risking the spread of the virus as they go,” leader of the Communist Party of India Kavita Krishnan told MEE.

“Why is the government of India choosing to spend massive amounts on military purchases instead of prioritizing a corona relief package, medical infrastructure, free healthcare and testing for all right now?” Krishnan asked.

March 25, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | 2 Comments

‘India Could Be Next Coronavirus Hotspot’

The Wire | March 18, 2020

In an exclusive 50-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan said that he found it hard to believe the health ministry’s official figure which, on their website at 12 pm on March 18th, said India had 130 people with COVID-19 in addition to the 14 who had recovered and three who had died.

He says if the UK could accept that they have underestimated the number infected by a factor of 12, at the very least the situation would be the same in India. That means there are over 1,500 undetected cases. In fact, given our size and population density, Dr Laxminarayan estimates that India is bound to have 10,000 or more undetected novel coronavirus cases.

March 20, 2020 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Video | , | Leave a comment

Crippling lockdown on Kashmir surpasses 200 days

By Javed Rana – Press TV – February 21, 2020

The crippling security and communications lockdown in the Muslim-majority Indian disputed Kashmir region has entered its 200 days. Nearly 900,000 military and paramilitary troops are deployed to prevent mass agitation since August 5 last year when New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s special status and forcibly annexed it into India.

The controversial merger of the disputed territory was in defiance of eleven UN Security Council resolutions which call for a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to decide on whether they want to stay with India or join Pakistan.

Since then, the top Kashmiri leaders including three former chief ministers have been imprisoned. In their absence, the second tier leaders held press conference in Islamabad to inform the world of what India seeks to hide.

India has banned the entry of independent journalists, human rights activists, observers and even many western politicians from entering into disputed Kashmir region.

Kashmiri leaders believe that the Indian government has been deliberately crippling the economy to create adverse conditions for Kashmiris to force them to sell their properties to Hindu businessmen. This, they say, is aimed at altering the demography of the Muslim-majority state.

February 21, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 1 Comment

US oil sanctions on Iran force India to look to Russia

By Shishir Upadhyaya | RT | February 9, 2020

Escalating US pressure on Iran, including sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports, may have had an unexpected consequence – pushing India to diversify its energy supplies by shifting from Tehran to Moscow as a major oil supplier.

State-owned oil refiner Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has just signed a contract with Russia’s Rosneft for the supply of up to 2 million tons of oil by the end of 2020. The meeting took place on the sidelines of India’s largest weapons fair, DefExpo, currently going on in Lucknow.

“This is just the beginning,” Indian Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters after meeting with Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The contract could be a precursor to an emerging energy security partnership between India and Russia, with more deals to come. India is the world’s third-biggest oil consumer and importer, shipping in more than 80 percent of its crude needs.

Security turmoil in the Middle East impacts energy trade

Iran was the third largest exporter of oil to India in 2018, right behind Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Between sanctions and spillover violence, the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran have endangered all three of those sources.

US sanctions against Iran are intended to cripple Tehran’s economy and force it to give up any nuclear ambitions, ballistic missile development, and support for militants in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

The conflict has spilled over to neighboring countries, however. The largest Saudi oil complex was hit by a drone strike in September. Yemen’s Houthis claimed responsibility, while the US blamed Iran. Meanwhile, Iraq has been dealing with shipping interruptions due to ongoing protests over economic conditions, which only got worse following the January 3 US drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Iranian retaliation by launching missiles against two US bases in Iraq appears to have driven India to take its oil business elsewhere.

Seeking diversification

India has already been seeking other sources for its energy needs away from the Middle East, in a bid to hedge geopolitical risks. Oil imports from the region shrank from 65 percent of India’s total in 2018 to 60 percent in 2019.

Another driver of this policy is the Indian government’s commitment to increase the use of cleaner fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) from six percent to 15 percent by 2030. As a result of security developments in the Gulf since January, India’s energy cooperation with Russia has now acquired a sense of urgency never seen before.

IOC’s historical reliance on Middle Eastern sources has been partly due to their proximity and the resulting difference in shipping costs. Most ports in the Persian Gulf lie within 2,500 kilometers of India, while Russian ports are located over 7,500 kilometers away. For that reason, Indian state refiners have previously preferred to buy Russian oil via the spot market rather than under contract.

Pivot to Russia

The IOC-Rosneft contract is just the latest development in what appears to be India’s energy pivot to Russia. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in September 2019, Indian companies signed several long-term energy deals with Russian partners. India’s GAIL gas company inked a 20-year LNG contract with Gazprom, while Coal India made arrangements to buy coal from Russia’s FEMC mining company.

“We have had a major breakthrough in the energy sector,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said at the time. “This is a sector where we are looking to diversify our sources of supplies and we are increasingly finding it attractive to buy oil and gas from the Russian Federation.”

India’s strategic relationship with Russia can be traced back to the Soviet era, but the relationship between Moscow and New Delhi has evolved in recent years to encompass energy, defense, nuclear cooperation, and space. Russia and India are also committed to expanding bilateral trade, hoping to reach the mark of $30 billion in annual exchange by 2025, up from the current $11 billion.

On the whole, the actions of the Trump government in Iran and their wider impact on the Persian Gulf have elevated the Indo-Russia relationship, something that Washington may not have had in mind.

Shishir Upadhyaya is an internationally acknowledged defence and strategic affairs expert, former Indian naval intelligence officer and author of “India’s Maritime Strategy: Balancing Regional Ambitions and China.” Follow him on Twitter @Shishir6

February 8, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

“Will Not Comment on Recent Events in Jammu & Kashmir”: Detainees Being Released Sign Gov’t Form

Sputnik | January 12, 2020

Thousands were detained under India’s Public Safety Act, a law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial, in Jammu and Kashmir before the Narendra Modi-led government revoked Articles 370 of the Constitution, stripping the state of its special status on 5 August.

The detained people, who are being released after five months of imprisonment, have to sign a bond where they say they will not make any comment or statement on the “recent events” in Jammu and Kashmir.

The bond, signed under Section 117 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), includes Section 107, which states that the executive magistrate has the power to apprehend any individual for not more than a year on information that a person is likely to disturb peace and public tranquillity.

“I undertake that in case of release from the detention, I will not make any comment(s) or statement(s) or make public speech(s), (or) hold or participate in public assembly(s) related to the recent events in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, at the present time, since it has the potential of endangering the peace and tranquillity and law and order in the State or any part thereof for a period of one year,” section two of the bond reads.

Nearly 4,000 people were arrested and some political leaders were detained after the revocation of Article 370, over fears of outbreaks of unrest and “most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity”, news agency AFP had quoted an official as saying.

The government bifurcated the state into two federally-administered territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The union territory then imposed a communications clampdown as new charges for mobile phone services were imposed. Postpaid mobile calling and messaging services along with broadband internet have been resumed, but internet services remain suspended. India’s apex court has termed the restrictions unconstitutional.

A delegation of envoys from 15 countries such as the United States, South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Maldives, Morocco, Fiji, Norway, Philippines, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Guyana visited the Jammu and Kashmir on 9 January.

January 12, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

India’s three-step communal game plan

Through the NRC-NPR process, the Modi government aims to create a category of second-class citizens

By Prakash Karat | The Hindu | December 22, 2019

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are interconnected and twin measures. The Home Minister, Amit Shah, had repeatedly made this clear both in Parliament and outside. First, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would be adopted by Parliament following which the NRC would be taken up.

In the wake of widespread protests against the CAA, the Central Government is trying to obfuscate the issue of implementing the NRC. It is taking advantage of the lack of clarity and the inadequate information available on how the NRC is going to be implemented in the whole country. The Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy, has said: “A countrywide NRC had not been notified so far and no one should fear.” The Government has put out advertisements in Hindi and Urdu newspapers stating that “The NRC has not been announced yet and if it is done so in future, then rules and regulations should be such that no Indian citizen is troubled.”

The NRC-NPR link

These and other such pronouncements are an exercise in disinformation. A crucial fact is that the NRC process begins with the compilation of the National Population Register (NPR). This is the first stage of the NRC. The notification for preparing and updating the NPR was issued by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration, on July 31, 2019. For this, house to house enumeration will be conducted throughout the country (except in Assam) for “collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of the Local Registrar”. This enumeration will be undertaken between the first day of April 2020 and September 30, 2020.

The compilation of the NPR is a preliminary step towards preparing the NRC. On the basis of the NPR, the local register of Indian citizens will be finalised after due verification. This is the procedure set out under the “Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003”.

So, from April 1, 2020 onwards, the National Register of Citizens process will begin with house to house enumeration for the National Population Register.

It is important to note that, as per these Rules, during the verification process, particulars of such individuals whose citizenship is deemed to be “doubtful” shall be entered by the local Registrar with appropriate remarks in the Population Register for further enquiry; and in case of “doubtful” citizenship, the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over.

Another clause of these Rules, 4(5)(a) states that: “Every person or family specified in sub-rule (4), shall be given an opportunity of being heard by the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration, before a final decision is taken to include or to exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens” [emphasis added].

Use of biometric data

Fifteen questions will be asked in the survey, including questions on the place of birth, the date of birth, and the name of the father and mother. The new addition will be eliciting the details of Aadhaar, which will then be crosschecked with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for verification of biometrics of the individual. So, the NPR compilation will also have the biometric data of those listed, which raises troubling questions.

It is at the verification stage that communal profiling will take place in line with what the Home Minister had declared — the purpose of the NRC is to eliminate “infiltrators” as against the Hindu refugees who will become eligible for citizenship under the CAA. Those summoned as “doubtful citizens” will have to go through the tortuous process of submitting proof of their citizenship.

The NRC does not require any new law or amendment. It is already part of the Citizenship Act of 1955 through an amendment made during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003. For the first time, the concept of a National Register of Citizens was introduced by making it compulsory to register every citizen of India and to issue a national identity card. Based on this, the rules for registration for citizenship were issued subsequently in which provision was made for a National Population Register.

Further, there is confusion created by the fact that the updation of the NPR is being done along with the Census enumeration for 2021. It is the Census authorities who undertake both these processes, but they are two separate things. The NPR is directly linked to the NRC.

That the game plan of the BJP is to create a communal division in States such as West Bengal is absolutely clear. On the one hand, it claims that the NRC process will eliminate all those who are “Muslim infiltrators” from Bangladesh. On the other hand, by amending the Citizenship Act, Hindu migrants who have come from across the border over the decades will be given citizenship.

Superfluous and expensive

The NRC process is being undertaken at a time when the Aadhaar identity card has already covered most of the population. There is also the Electors Photo Identity Card issued by the Election Commission of India. The necessity for another citizenship register and identity card is superfluous. Moreover, it will entail a huge amount of expenditure. The NRC process is weighted against the poorest sections of the population — migrant labour, Adivasis living in remote areas, and other marginalised communities.

The movement against the CAA has correctly linked it to the NRC. The CAA and the NRC must be seen in tandem. While the former would legitimise non-Muslim migrants as citizens, the NRC would target the so-called “Muslim infiltrators”. What the Narendra Modi government is aiming to do is to create a category of second-class citizens whose rights would be severely circumscribed.

Prerogative of States

It is imperative that the communal agenda of the BJP and the Central Government is foiled. This requires stoppage of the NRC. An important step in this direction will be to halt the NPR process in the States. Several Chief Ministers have gone on record that they are opposed to the NRC. Even Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, and Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha, whose parties supported the CAA in Parliament, have said that they do not want the NRC.

Already Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, and Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, have announced that they are suspending the NPR process in their States. The work in the NPR gets halted since it is the State government which provides personnel for the enumeration and verification process. Other State Governments should also do so. If the Central Government stands by the announcement that the NRC process has not begun, then it should withdraw the July 31, 2019 notification for the updation of the NPR.

Prakash Karat is a Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

December 25, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , | Leave a comment

UN Security Council Meeting on Kashmir at China’s Request Postponed Indefinitely

Sputnik – December 17, 2019

A crucial closed-door meeting at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the Kashmir issue has been postponed for a month at least.

The meeting was scheduled on Tuesday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Previously, a first such meeting was held in August this year in the aftermath of India’s decision to revoke the seven decades old special status of Kashmir on 5 August. However, the provisional schedule and daily meetings of the UNSC don’t mention the consultative meeting on Kashmir.

In its August programming schedule, the UNSC clearly mentioned the closed door consultation on India and Pakistan. But in December’s schedule no such meeting is planned. Two diplomats have also confirmed the development.

Currently, the decision to postpone the meeting on Kashmir came ahead of crucial boundary dispute talks between India and China.

India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are expected to meet on 20-21 December to stabilise relations and discuss the contentious boundary issues between the two nations during Special Representatives-level talks.

The boundary discussion was stalled for months due to strained relations between the two Asian giants over Kashmir. Beijing termed the Indian decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir as unilateral and impinged upon the sovereignty of China.

The last time the issue of Jammu and Kashmir was on the UNSC agenda was during a meeting on 21 December 1971. It was followed by the adoption of a resolution calling for a durable ceasefire, the halt of all hostilities in conflict areas, and the provision of international assistance to refugees impacted by the territorial dispute.

In a related development, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has also cancelled his scheduled visit to Malaysia to participate in a meeting on Kashmir.The development comes two days after Khan met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Riyadh, during which matters related to bilateral relations were discussed.

A summit of Muslim leaders is expected to deliberate upon a shared agenda of Islamic countries and their collective challenges in a highly interconnected world.

India and Pakistan have contended for the Kashmir region, the southern part of which lies in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state (now a union territory), since the end of British rule in 1947. Despite a ceasefire being reached in 2003 following several armed conflicts, instability has continued, leading to the emergence of various extremist groups.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , | Leave a comment

The ballad of India’s Kashmir and Israel’s Palestine

Palestinian children play outside their dwelling in al-Eizariya town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank with the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the background.
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | November 29, 2019

“I believe the security situation will improve (in J&K), it will allow the refugees to go back, and in your lifetime, you will be able to go back … and you will be able to find security, because we already have a model in the world.”

“I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it.” 

The above reported remarks by India’s consul-general in New York Sandeep Chakravorty while addressing an audience of Kashmiri Pandits raised some dust in the Indian media. But his job or career is no mortal danger.

For, Chakravorty must be an intelligent man and probably estimated that he was only articulating from a Track 1.5 platform the Modi government’s surreptitious policy in J&K  — following the Israeli footfalls of forcible occupation and colonisation of lands inhabited by alienated people. 

Whether the policy is doable or not is for time to tell. To my mind, the final word is not yet available whether even the brutal Israeli policy will work or not. Besides, circumstances are vastly different, and Kashmir is not an analogous situation. 

The main difference is that although the Indian state resorted to the use of force, much like Israel had done in Palestinian lands, the security situation has only deteriorated over the years, over decades. There are no two opinions that even half a million troops could not achieve anything by way of enduring results in the Kashmir valley. 

The ground realities in the valley militate against repression and state terrorism as viable policy option for a country such as India. The stark evidence of it lies in the government’s decision in August to change the status of J&K, which is an admission of failure rather than a mark of triumphant glory. 

Consul-general Chakravorty seems unaware how Israel went about systematically to prepare an external environment first by subduing the Arab countries that surrounded it and harboured sympathy, and were willing to support the Palestinian cause. Arguably, India too should begin with defeating and subduing Pakistan first? But, honestly, such an option is not available for India in our thermonuclear era, now or ever, the bravado of our ruling elite and their acolytes notwithstanding. 

Then, there is the western support for Israel, which helps it to get away with murder. The underlying factors here are complex and deep rooted in history. At its core, the western countries are constantly forced into an attitude of atonement for their anti-semitism that has a long and loathsome history dating back centuries. Remember the notorious Dreyfus affair in France — leave alone the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust, which makes Angela Merkel wobbly in the legs even today when she mentions Israel. 

Israel plays the “anti-semitic card’ very effectively. In actual practice, any criticism of Israeli state violations against Palestinians is instantly discredited as being “antisemitic”. Today, US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn are in the crosshairs of the Israeli lobby for this reason. Corbyn’s sin is that he has pledged to cut military trade with Israel and move to officially recognise a Palestinian state, if elected to power. 

The well-known commentator Finian Cunningham recently wrote, “This conflation of valid criticism of the Israeli state with being “anti-Jew” is a cynical distortion which is wielded to give Israel impunity from international law. It plays on moral blackmail of critics by equating the historical persecution of Jews and in particular the Nazi holocaust with the sanctity of the modern Israeli state.” 

Unfortunately, there is a notion even amongst educated Indians (including bureaucrats in the Indian Foreign Service) that linking up with the Jewish organisations would enable India to piggy ride on the Israeli lobby in the US. The false notion largely stems from sinister claims about the influence of “Jewish money” — and, it is not of recent origin. Didn’t Brajesh Mishra, the NSA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, envisage a US-Israel-India condominium? 

The heart of the matter is that India is not Israel. Unlike Judaism, Hinduism is not an Abrahamic religion and it is not joined at the hips with the Christian world. This is one thing. Second, while large sections of Hindus too have suffered cruel persecution through centuries, it happened to be at the hands of their co-religionists. Clearly, there is no reason for atonement on the part of the West. 

Third, while Indian-Americans are a prosperous community relatively, their clout in the Wall Street is minimal. Unlike the “Jewish lobby”. Simply put, following the Israeli footfall on the occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian homeland or the territories illegally annexed during wars will not take India very far in regard of the J&K situation. 

The bottom line is that the western opinion on Kashmir is supportive of neither India nor Pakistan. It always rooted for the “Third Option” — an independent and sovereign state of Kashmir. The official US position, in particular, always made it a point to stress that any solution should take into account the “wishes of the Kashmiri people.” 

In the prevailing geopolitical situation in Asia, an independent Kashmir state will be a strategic asset for Washington. Surely, any colonisation of Kashmir Valley by non-Kashmiris grates against the US interests. Israel, on the contrary, is itself a western creation on the map of the Middle East and the US condones Israel’s war crimes and aggressive state policies as a matter of regional strategy. 

One would imagine that an Indian diplomat of the rank of ambassador would know that discretion is the better part of valour. Yet, he voiced maverick opinions like a run-of-the mill rabble-rouser on the Hindutva platform, which, he should be intelligent enough to grasp, would only serve to confirm Pakistani allegations regarding the Modi government’s intentions behind the change of status of J&K. The politicisation of the Foreign Service, which such sordid episodes highlight, won’t serve any good.

November 29, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

Bereft of soft power, India stands diminished in Hindu Kush and Central Asia

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | November 24, 2019

The dichotomy between the regime policy and public opinion is nowhere near as sharp as in the world of diplomacy. And nowhere in the contemporary situation is this maxim so sharply visible as in the dalliance of the West Asian oligarchies with Israel. The romance began at least a decade ago — perhaps, more — but it still remains an illicit affair.

Israel would have liked an open relationship. It has a lot to gain thereby. But that’s possible only when pigs fly. The reason is that the authoritarian rulers of Muslim Middle East are acutely conscious of the so-called ‘Arab Street’. This may seem a paradox — that oligarchies need to be mindful of popular opinion — but, in actuality, they do not enjoy such a big leeway as one imagines to trample upon public opinion to the extent that strong elected leadership would have.

When they defy or ignore public opinion, it must be for weighty reasons — mostly, when existential issues are involved such as the regime’s survival, for instance. Israel doesn’t fall into that exceptional category — it is not as if without a relationship with Israel, the Arab oligarchies would face extinction. The dalliance between the Arab regimes and Israel is characterised by pragmatism rather than principles or critical imperatives. So long as Israel lacks any ‘soft power’ in its Arab neighbourhood and the ‘Arab Street’ views it negatively, the hands of the authoritarian rulers are tied. They can go only thus far, and no further. In turn, it severely limited the relationship.

The Indian leadership should realise the limitations of pragmatic external relations in diplomacy. There is no gainsaying the fact that India’s ‘soft power’ is depleting at an alarming rate. The acolytes of the Modi government do not seem to care and even those amongst the few amongst them who are erudite enough to comprehend the significance of what is happening tend to put on an air of defiance or studied indifference — or worse still, become polemical.

The External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s recent remark that Imperial Britain divested India of $44 trillion is a typical remark. Faced with the quandary of searing criticism in Britain regarding the J&K situation, he takes a de tour to malign Britain. (How this round figure of $44 trillion has been arrived at is another matter — even if one doesn’t want to get into the modernisation of India under British rule that made the evolution of the Indian state as a political entity possible.)

Today, ‘soft power’ is no longer in vogue in the Indian diplomatic toolbox. The obsession with ‘macho’ image is so overpowering. Under the Modi government, the accent on ‘soft power’ began with a bang in 2014 and is quite visibly ending after five years with a whimper.

A number of mistakes have been made during the past 5-year period that dented India’s ‘soft power’ (which one doesn’t want to go into there). But it is the appalling situation in the Kashmir Valley that dealt a body blow to India’s image.

An opinion is steadily gaining ground in the Muslim countries in India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’ that the Modi government is adopting state policies that are decidedly ‘anti-Muslim’. Even the elites in friendly countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia or Turkey, who are by no means ‘Islamist’ tend to see Kashmir as a ‘Muslim issue.’

A recent opinion piece in the influential US magazine Foreign Policy is entitled Kashmir Could Wreck India’s Reputation Among Afghans. It is a nuanced analysis — by no means ‘anti-Indian’ — of how Afghan public opinion, which is traditionally friendly, is discernibly getting disenchanted with India’s repression of Kashmiri Muslims.

This is a depressing scenario, because ‘soft power’ has been historically the bedrock of India-Afghan relations, and for that reason, Delhi under successive governments right from 1947, placed great emphasis on people-to-people relations between the two countries.

Certainly, our diplomacy will be by far diminished if the Afghans perceive us as no different from Pakistan — pursuing cold, pitiless geopolitical objectives in their country. It is small comfort that Afghans will probably continue to view India as a ‘stabilising factor’.

To quote Hari Prasad, the author of the article, “The positions of political actors in Afghanistan have ranged from neutral to explicitly pro-India, primarily for India’s support for the Afghan government as well as anti-Pakistan animus. But our discussions with journalists and Afghans in the region show the popular reaction is decidedly more nuanced. Many working-class Afghans, drawing from their own experiences of conflict and oppression, identify with Kashmir’s Muslims.”

The analysis makes the foreboding conclusion: “Afghans are closely watching the actions of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in Kashmir and throughout the region. That should be a reality check for New Delhi; its courting of Afghan opinion can only go so far. India may have the funding and power to shape public opinion and support in Afghanistan, but it will take much more to overcome growing mistrust.”   

If the changing perceptions regarding India are such in Afghanistan, can it be any different in the Central Asian region? The people in the steppes are, if anything, far more deeply immersed in Islamic culture, ethos and identity than Afghans, given the historical reality that their region was also the cradle of Islam in its golden era.

The Uzbeks, for instance, take great pride that Babur set out from Fergana, which, incidentally, has a museum dedicated to Babur. One of the most evocative historical monuments in Kabul is the Bagh-e Babur (Garden of Babur), the final resting place that the great emperor chose for himself — rather than Agra.

Even if Delhi were to build half a dozen parliament buildings in Kabul, Afghans will continue to treasure the Bagh-e Babur as the living monument to their abiding links with India.

November 24, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , | Leave a comment

With eye on India, Pakistan strengthens military ties with Iran

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | November 20, 2019

he low-key coverage by the Pakistani media on the 2-day visit of the army chief General Qamar Bajwa to Iran notwithstanding, the event signifies a surge in the tempo of ‘mil-to-mil’ exchanges between the two countries.

The Iranian side gave the event a distinct political colouring with the Pakistani COAS having meetings with President Hassan Rohani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, apart from  talks with his host, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri.

Border security and counter-terrorism are key issues for Iran. But Gen. Bajwa’s talks extensively covered regional developments and even dwelt on the two countries’ “coordination on the major issues of the Muslim world”.

The Iranian reports did not make any references to the Kashmir issue or India-Pakistan tensions, but it is inconceivable that Gen. Bajwa sidestepped the topic.

In fact, even as Gen. Bajwa headed for Tehran on Monday, Pakistan conducted a training launch of the surface-to-surface ballistic missile Shaheen-1, a day after India conducted the first night trial of its Agni-II missile.

The Iranian news agency IRNA took note that the launch of Shaheen-1 “aimed at testing operational readiness of Army Strategic Forces Command, ensuring Pakistan’s credible minimum deterrence.”

The Pakistani army spokesman tweeted that Gen. Bajwa discussed with Rouhani the “regional security environment and matters of mutual interest”. According to the Iranian agency IRNA, Gen Bajwa told Rouhani that Pakistan was prepared to strengthen bilateral relations “in all spheres”.

Rouhani in turn hailed Pakistan’s role towards regional peace and called the relations between the two Muslim nations as “an invaluable asset” which should be used to further boost mutual cooperation.

Iranian reports quoted Gen. Bajwa as saying Pakistan and Iran face “common threats and have common interests”, calling for close cooperation and interaction.

An IRNA commentary said, “In recent years, Tehran and Islamabad have witnessed high level exchanges from top military officials and the recent visit of Pakistan Army Chief to Iran demonstrates the commitment of the two sides to consolidate defense ties through active diplomacy.”

The semi-official Fars agency reported that Gen. Bajwa and Gen. Baqeri discussed “different issues ranging from security partnership, regional developments and maintaining stable security at the regional level” and “explored avenues for bolstering and reinvigorating defence relations”.

Notably, Admiral Shamkhani, who reports to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called for “all-out expansion of ties” with Pakistan “in a bid to provide regional security.” Equally, Foreign Minister Zarif and Gen. Bajwa “discussed a broad range of issues, including the political, economic and military relations” between Iran and Pakistan as well as “regional cooperation and the ongoing developments in the region, including the situation in Afghanistan.”

Without doubt, the Iranian reports uniformly underscored Tehran’s high expectations that a new phase of Iran-Pakistan relations may be commencing.

Gen. Bajwa’s visit tops up an intensification of high-level exchanges between the two countries during the past two-year period since his pathbreaking trip to Iran in 2017, which was the first by a Pakistani COAS in over two decades.

During the 2017 visit, Gen. Bajwa had told Rouhani that Pakistan was determined to expand its ties with Iran in all spheres and hoped that the two neighbours could collaborate for regional peace and security. To be sure, the shifts in the geopolitics of the region acted as catalyst in injecting new verve into the relationship.

Principal among them would be Delhi’s ‘pivot to Saudi Arabia’ in its Gulf strategy, markedly deviating from the traditional course of walking a fine line in the intra-Gulf discords and rivalries from a standpoint of benign neutrality.

Even as US-Iranian tensions began accelerating, the Modi government unceremoniously complied with Washington’s diktat to roll back ties with Iran by terminating all its oil imports from that country. The pusillanimous attitude of the self-styled nationalist leadership in Delhi took Tehran by surprise.

Tehran put its deep disappointment on display once it became apparent that the Modi government retracted even from its commitments at the highest level of leadership to cooperate with Iran on the development of Chabahar Port, which was a key underpinning of regional connectivity and security linked to the stability of Afghanistan. (See my column in Rediff, Why Iran is upset with India.)

The Indian U-turn on Chabahar has come to symbolise the phenomenal shift in Indian regional policies in the direction of harmonising with the US strategy at a critical juncture when Washington’s maximum pressure approach is fuelling tensions in the Gulf and leading to a steady augmentation of the American military deployments in Saudi Arabia that could well be the prelude to confrontation with Iran.

The unkindest cut of all is that Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province is also targetted by terrorist groups that are allegedly backed by Saudi Arabia. Tehran senses that the Modi government is inexorably gravitating toward the US-Israeli-Saudi axis, jettisoning India’s traditional independent Gulf policies.

The ardour of PM Modi’s personal friendships with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu must have set alarm bells ringing in Tehran.

On the other hand, Pakistan is closely gauging the downhill slide in the India-Iran relationship and estimating that the 40-year old Indian strategic embrace of Iran as a “second front” is ending. Meanwhile, for the first time since the Islamic revolution in in 1979, Iranian leadership is appreciating Pakistan’s independent foreign foreign policies.

Tehran would estimate that conditions are getting ripe for a breakthrough in Pakistan-Iran military cooperation. Importantly, the UN’s five-year time frame for embargo on arms trade with Iran expires next year, while the eight-year limit on Iran’s missile activities ends in 2023. (See a recent IRNA commentary titled JCPOA, Sunset Clauses and struggle of Americans.)

Of course, Tehran’s willingness to support Pakistan on the Kashmir issue could be the ultimate clincher.

In geopolitical terms, Iran’s overarching foreign-policy agenda of Eurasian integration brings Tehran and Pakistan more or less onto the same page in regional politics.

Zarif acknowledged at a recent meeting in Tehran with a group of visiting Indian writers and journalists that US economic and political actions had created “an understanding” between China, Russia and Iran “that we’re all (US) targets” and there was “a commonality being felt” by the leaderships of the three countries. Of course, Islamabad is well aware of it, having been a “target” itself.

November 20, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 2 Comments

Tehran loses patience with Modi government’s hide and seek

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | November 18, 2019

Historically speaking, the India-Iran relationship had its ups and downs during the decades of the Shah’s rule. The Lowest point was reached when, during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India, Pakistani Air Force jets were stationed in Iran to gain ‘strategic depth’ vis-a-vis the IAF.

However, after the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran adopted an explicitly anti-Western foreign policy and began viewing India as a natural ally. The ideology-based regime rooted in the principles of justice, freedom and resistance was greatly attracted by India’s freedom struggle, non-aligned policies, and the sheer grit to preserve its strategic autonomy. This perceived affinity withstood the changes and shifts in Delhi’s foreign policy outlook in the post-Cold war era.

Tehran was not unduly perturbed when the India-US relationship took an upward curve in the nineties during the Bill Clinton administration or when the 2008 nuclear deal was concluded — or, even when Washington and Delhi began chanting their ‘defining partnership of the 21st century’ during the Barack Obama Administration.

Tehran remained confident about India’s DNA anchored on the country’s strategic autonomy. This confidence took a beating when India voted for the first time in February 2006 in favour of a West-led resolution in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which reported against Iran to the UN Security Council — and, again, in November 2009 when India voted in favour of a resolution spearheaded by the US at the IAEA censuring Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme and demanding that it stop uranium enrichment.

Nonetheless, life moved on. There was no apparent rancour. This much needs to be recalled to put in perspective the highly critical remarks by Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently, while meeting a group of visiting journalists from New Delhi, regarding the Modi government’s pusillanimous attitude under American pressure to roll back cooperation with Tehran.

Zarif said Tehran had expected the Modi government to be “more resilient” in the face of Washington’s bullying. Zarif speculated that India probably “did not want to agitate” the US by being a sanctions spoiler and he added with biting sarcasm, “People want to be on the right side of President Trump” but the problem is “he hasn’t got a right side.”

Equally, Zarif regretted that the Modi government was dragging its feet on the Chabahar Port project, which has far-reaching implications for regional connectivity, stability and security.

Iranian state media widely reported Zarif’s remarks, which most certainly reflect deep misgivings at the highest level of the Iranian leadership that India’s capacity or political will to pursue independent foreign policies is increasingly in doubt.

To be sure, Zarif’s remarks must also be seen in the backdrop of the Modi government’s fawning attitude toward Saudi Arabia lately. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that Riyadh laid pre-conditions for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s embrace of PM Modi. In fact, Saudi-Iranian rivalry is far too complex to be reduced to zero-sum mindset. After all, Riyadh is robustly advancing cooperation with Russia and China despite these two countries having thriving strategic partnerships with Iran.

Indian analysts tend to link the Modi government’s dalliance with Saudi Arabia and the deepening chill in Indian-Iranian relations. Indeed, the Modi government has relegated cooperation with Iran to the back burner. It is no secret of course that Washington encourages third countries to replace Iranian crude with Saudi supplies.

The Modi government is pinning hopes on massive Saudi investments in India. During the Crown Prince’s visit to India in February, he forecast Saudi investments to the tune of $100 billion during the next two-year period. The Indian side has been daydreaming since then about big Saudi investments in the Ratnagiri petrochemical project and in Reliance Industries. While the Ratnagiri project is in limbo, Reliance is keeping its fingers crossed. Modi’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia can be viewed in this context.

How realistic are the Indian expectations? Clearly, Saudi Arabia itself needs to attract outside investment. Lackluster oil prices have caused the country’s budget deficit to widen. The budget deficit would be in the region of $36 billion in 2018 and 2019, and may widen to $50 billion in 2020. Saudi Aramco’s IPO itself is for raising money for funding the Crown Prince’s ambitious program of economic and social reforms (‘Vision 2030’).

CNBC recently featured an interview with ex-CIA chief General David Petraeus (who presently heads the KKR Global Institute, which provides consultancy to American companies active in the Middle East) regarding Saudi Arabia’s economic malaise. Some excerpts are worth noting:

“It’s a fact that Saudi Arabia is gradually running out of money, they’d be the first to acknowledge that the sovereign wealth fund has been reduced, it’s somewhere below $500 billion now.”

“The (budget) deficits each year, depending on the price of Brent crude, can be anywhere from $40 to $60 billion depending on some of their activities in countries in the region.”

“The bottom line is that they need the money, they need that outside investment that is crucial to delivering ‘Vision 2030’ which cannot be realized without outside investment, this is just one component of a number of different initiatives that they’re pursuing to try to attract that outside investment.”

The prospects aren’t bright for Reliance and Ratnagiri to pin hopes on Saudi investment. The Crown Prince’s priority is ‘Vision 2030’ — and it remains a hard sell. Period.

Put differently, neglecting India’s cooperation with Iran, especially Chabahar Port development, for the sake of a chimerical Saudi bonanza can only find the Modi government falling between two stools eventually. India cannot, should not and need not substitute Saudi Arabia as a preferred partner to Iran — or vice versa.

Why keep at arm’s length a regional power in our extended neighbourhood who is manifestly eager to foster cooperation with India? Such an attitude is illogical, myopic and cramps India’s diplomatic options in the Persian Gulf.

November 18, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment