Monday, December 14, 2009

Why Afghanistan is Not Vietnam

George McGovern had a piece in the Sunday Washington Post recalling how, during his run for the presidency in 1972, he told audiences across the country “that the only upside of the tragedy in Vietnam was that its enormous cost in lives and dollars would keep any future administration from going down that road again.”

He was wrong, he declares: Obama is going down the same path that Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon did.

McGovern should know better.

Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Here are the reasons why:

1. Vietnam was in the midst of an entirely legitimate nationalist, anti-colonial struggle that had the massive support of the Vietnamese people.

The fighting in Afghanistan is against the Taliban, a terrorist group that sustains itself by trafficking drugs. Based on their experience of Taliban rule, Afghans are massively opposed to the group.

2. The United States slipped into the Vietnam war by slow degrees, first supporting the French, then the corrupt regimes in South Vietnam, and finally subjecting the country to massive military intervention. Its motivation was fear that if the Viet Cong won, then the balance of power in Southeast Asia would tip towards the Chinese communists. That fear, as it turned out, was entirely misplaced; the Vietnamese have a historical hatred of Chinese domination.

The United States is in Afghanistan because it was attacked on 9/11 by terrorists who were based there and enjoyed the support of the Taliban regime. The need to fight them is not abstract or ideological; democracies around the world have suffered gratuitous attack because terrorists based in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been driven by a medieval Islamic vision of world conquest.

3. The Viet Cong fighters American troops faced in Vietnam were financed and supplied by North Vietnam, a State recognized by the overwhelming majority of the international community.

In Afghanistan American troops confront combatants who are financed with drug money and are universally considered to be criminal and illegitimate.

4. The withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam led to the end of the war there, and eventually, the emergence of a stable and unified Vietnam. The country is now a member of the strongly free-market Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

If American troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan the result will be the renewed spread of terrorism throughout the region and the world. Afghanistan itself will sink into civil war, and that will destabilize Central and South Asia. This is not a new “Domino Theory;” the forecast is actually a look back at what happened when the Taliban were in power.

Quite obviously, McGovern’s attempt to draw an analogy between American interventions in Vietnam and Afghanistan is not credible. He seems to acknowledge that in a final argument for withdrawal: ”Even if we had a good case for a war in Afghanistan, we simply cannot afford to wage it. With a $12 trillion debt and a serious economic recession, this is not a time for unnecessary wars abroad.”

That too is not a credible argument. The post-Cold War spread of democracy is not a settled and irreversible fact. To withdraw from Afghanistan prematurely would endanger vulnerable democracies not only in its immediate region but throughout the Islamic world. Authoritarian States like China and Iran would feel much less pressure to democratize. India, already seriously affected by terrorism exported from Pakistan, would be in much greater danger. Not to confront the sworn enemies of democracy in Afghanistan is to ensure that the fight, when it becomes unavoidable later, will be much more difficult.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Picking the Next UN Secretary-General

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has two years left of his first term, and the jockeying has begun to get him a second term -- or find a successor.

At the moment it seems likely Ban will not get a second term, for his sleep-walking performance in office has been unredeemed by any initiative that can claim to be even marginally successful or imaginative. Assessments of his performance in mainstream Western media have been consistently dismal.

Governments have not been too thrilled with him either. Earlier this year, a leaked memorandum to her capital from the Norwegian Ambassador at the UN portrayed him as virtually useless. In Afghanistan Ban has been caught between British ambitions to play a larger role and determined opposition to that from Prime Minister Karzai (read Washington), a no-win situation the Secretary-General has handled with his usual ham-fisted skill.

The latest indication of how little he is valued has come in the leaked “Danish Document” at the Copenhagen talks on climate change; it contains a plan by the industrialized countries to sideline the United Nations in dealing with an issue Ban has trumpeted as his highest concern.

None of this is definitive. A good performance record and the support of world media have never been necessary to get and hold the UN’s top job. Ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim almost got a third term despite his well known corruption and incompetence. To be appointed Secretary-General only one thing has been essential, the support of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, Britain, France, Russian Federation, United States).

In the past the Five have not been hard to please; but unfortunately for Ban, that might no longer be the case, now that Washington has signalled its intention to make serious use of the UN. The growing expectation at the UN is that he and his little mafia of operatives from the South Korean Foreign Office will have to take their congee in 1911.

Ban’s most visible competitor for the post of Secretary-General is Helen Clark, the new Administrator of the UN Development Programme. A former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Clark has a bluff political persona and would probably make a good “first woman Secretary-General.” But who exactly is backing her is murky. It is unlikely to be Washington, for Clark was decidedly anti-American as Prime Minister, opposing the entry into New Zealand waters of American ships carrying nuclear weapons, and pulling out of ANZUS, the defence agreement with Australia and the United States. It is probably Britain, and if so Ban might as well give up the game, for it was a deal with London that put him on the 38th floor.

The guessing game got more complex last week with the announcement that Ban had picked Rebeca Grynspan, former Vice-President of Costa Rica (1994-1998), to be Associate Administrator of UNDP. In doing that he ignored representations from the African Group that it had a claim on the post, having been promised it when Clark was appointed Administrator.

Why would Ban offend a group of 51 member States to give a high-level post to a Costa Rican? It is certainly not merit, for the Secretary-General has made it very clear during his three years in office that he is not swayed by that consideration. Representations from the Latin American Group could not have been the reason, for most of its members are middle-income States with tiny UNDP aid allotments; none is an influential donor.

It is fair to speculate that the push for Grynspan came from Washington, and that she is now positioned to join Helen Clark as a viable woman candidate to replace Ban Ki-moon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Missing the Chinks in the Chinese Wall

I’m beginning to wonder if the entire Indian foreign affairs commentariat shouldn’t be hauled off to a Chinese re-education camp.

Not a single pundit got it right in parsing the joint statement issued by Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao at the end of the American leader’s visit to China on 18 November.

All of them were hot and bothered by a paragraph in the statement that said the US and China “welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia,” supported “the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan,” and were “ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.”

Why did they find that disturbing?

Swapan Dasgupta, The Times of India’s dependably obtuse analyst, explained it all in a column titled “China Tames India With Help From Obama.”

According to him Obama had “repuidiated the Bush doctrine of nurturing India to offset China’s dominance in Asia” and was “a giant step forward” for Beijing, which had “secured United States endorsement for taking an active interest in South Asia, including India.” The two presidents, had “agreed that India for all its potential as a rising economic Power, doesn’t yet qualify for a place on a high table; it remains bound in a hyphenated relationship with an imploding Pakistan.”

I wonder if he actually read the statements, joint and individual, made by Obama and Hujintao.

If he did, how could he miss the numerous and clear indications that the two presidents were not sitting comfortably at a “high table” dispensing the order of Asia?

China is still nervous about Taiwan, American criticism of its human rights record, and about being pressured to depart from to its own “development model” (as if enslaving its population to foreign corporations is a viable “path” of its own choosing).

Obama rubbed Hujintao’s face in the human rights and sovereignty issues by telling him to begin a dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Can you imagine such fundamental differences in any Indo-American statement? The basic reality of the US-China relationship is that it is adversarial. America has embraced China in order to push it towards democracy, a prospect the ruling "Communist" clique can hardly view with enthusiasm.

The reference to South Asia should be seen as Washington telling Beijing in the most diplomatic way possible to stop supporting Pakistan against India.

We should give it a round of rousing applause.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Feelbad Journalism

In a piece titled "Superpoor India" DNA columnist Venkatesan Vembu writes pompously about the "triumphalist chest-thumping" in Indian newspapers about the country’s ranking in the recently published "Prosperity Index."

He thinks that is “solely” because “India came in at 45th place, whereas China -- our civilizational "twin brother" who (we fear) has made good and moved out of our league in the past 30 years -- came in at a distant 75th place.”

He dismisses that as an editorial attempt “to lace your morning cup of filter coffee with a healthy dose of feel-good decoction” and an adolescent "mine's bigger than yours" response to an ideologically biased analysis. The Prosperity Index, he informs us, “has been devised in such a manner as to balance a country's economic prosperity with "political and individual liberty". And that, in his eyes, reduces the measure to irrelevance.

“India's aspirations of becoming a superpower will never be realized unless we can look ourselves in the unflattering mirror of reality” Vembu writes, quoting a book by an American to assert that the Chinese don’t think of themselves as a Super Power.

“Similarly with India, only if we begin with an honest appraisal of ourselves and work earnestly to remedy our failings that make us seem 'superpoor' can we over time become a genuine superpower -- one that doesn't have to claim it is one, and, or seek validation and solace in pseudo-scientific indices of prosperity.”

Vembu is typical of the Feelbad school of Indian journalism, which specializes in compounding insecurity with ignorance and passing it off as fair and balanced.

The article makes it clear that he doesn't have a clue about how India can make an "honest appraisal" of itself. The tip-off on that comes in his reference to China as "our civilizational twin brother."

China is not India's civilizational twin. Except for a variety of technological innovations China as a civilization has been creatively sterile. It has nothing to compare to the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, no cosmology comparable to India’s, no mathematical tradition such as ours. Compared to India's monumentally influential international role in matters ranging from the conceptualization of God to Non Alignment, it has been a an insular, inward-looking, oppressive society throughout history.

Nowhere are our national differences more apparent than in the different response of the two countries to European domination. India reached into its spiritual core and produced Gandhi. China produced Mao, who made his grisly way to power only because another great tyrant, Stalin, provided him with the means to do so.

The poor Chinese people were made to give up the only source of spiritual comfort they ever had, Buddhism imported from India. (Confucianism is little more than an elaboration of good manners.) In return they were forced to pretend that the insane theory of a distant German intellectual, Marx, was a credible guide to their future.

Mao killed some 40 to 50 million people in the effort to make Marxism work, while we built up a democratic system that has slowly but steadily attacked the massive iniquities of our society and empowered the least among us.

China has staggered from Marxism into an obscene "capitalism" dominated by foreign corporations that works only because its people have been enslaved to the global market. But that is effective only if the global market is functioning well, which it is not. Unless the world economy picks up very soon, China will face a major internal crisis.

That will not be pretty to watch, especially from our front-row seats; but while waiting for the coming troubles, let's at least get our strategic thinking right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Danny Boyle "Tired" of Slum Kids

Danny Boyle, the Director of Slumdog Millionaire the Oscar winning dump on India, is reported to be "tired" of dealing with the financial "demands" of the families of the two slum kids whose acting made his movie a hit.

Boyle paid the kids a pittance for their heavyweight roles purely because they lived in a slum. He was shamed by pre-Oscar publicity into announcing that he intended to set up a Trust for their education.

Action on the Trust was slow and it took months of complaints by the kids (who continued to live in the Mumbai slum in which the casting people found them), to get any action. Finally about a year after the movie raked in its multi-millions they were moved to cheap apartments appropriate for the poor.

The kids were also admitted to school, and "over 70 per cent attendance" was made a condition for them to continue receiving the $110 monthly stipend the Trust agreed to pay each. Evidently that condition has not been met, and now there is a publicized threat to stop making the payments.

The kids have also been promised a lump sum when they complete school, but no one knows how much. The amount in the Trust is also a secret. Why exactly no one has bothered to explain.

Meanwhile, the boy has lost his father to tuberculosis, and the girl has been embarrassed by a British reporter's stupid sting operation: he rang up her father posing as a rich Arab Sheikh who wanted to adopt her. The father was reported to have agreed to "sell" her to the Sheikh. It later turned out the reporter had spoken to someone other than the father.

If anyone has a right to be "tired" of the way things have gone it's the kids.

How to flip the Taliban

Foreign Affairs, the magazine of the influential Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has just circulated an article titled "Know thine enemy: why the Taliban cannot be flipped."

It is by Barbara Elias, who directs the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Taliban Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. She argues that the "main Taliban leaders will never abandon al-Qaeda " because they are too invested in their Islamic identity and that more moderate leaders have no chance of replacing the hard core Islamists because "Pakistani intelligence services will not support governments in the tribal areas or in Afghanistan that do not help it in its campaign against India."

It sounds credible enough until one stops to consider that in the entire article she never once mentions the drug trade out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda cannot be taken seriously as Islamic, for they are both up to their necks in the entirely un-Islamic drug trade, Also, they have done more damage to Muslims globally than America could ever do. It is quite clear that the drug trade is what they are about, and profit their only motive; it is the only thing that holds them together.

The real reaaon the Taliban cannot be “flipped” is that the United States cannot hope to bribe them more than what they get from exporting opium and heroin.

The only chance of winning the war against the Taliban-Al Qaeda combination is to cut off their income from drugs – and that means action against the money launderers in developed countries, especially Britain, which provides the nexus of institutional intelligence, money and elite criminality that makes illicit trafficking possible

Shobaa De - What a "Gal!"

Just finished reading Superstar India (Penguin 2008) by Shobaa De. It was written to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Indian independence, but is an all round dump on the country. Consider this near gibberish:

“We want foreigners (read Westerners) to like us ... admire us. When we are disappointed with our present (oh please, forget all that rah-rah India Shining rubbish. It’s more like India Bullshitting), we fall back on the past.

“A very distant past.

“When all else fails we pull out Gandhi. The Mahatma has saved India’s ass in more ways than one. If he only knew how frequently and arbitrarily we use the Gandhi trick to impress outsiders He is our trump card in any argument. We invoke his name when no other name rings a bell.

“If even that fails to impress, we begin boasting about our amazing ‘culture’ (our civilization is 5000 years old we tell awestruck Americans). We play the Heritage card as well when it suits us. Especially in the presence of ignorant, semi-educated visitors who don’t know better.”

The “culture blanket” she writes, “covers up our ugliest flaws and wounds. Ignorance breeds insouciance as we glibly brag away, not stopping to examine the half-baked theories being trotted out in a sad attempt to ‘explain’ social blights like dowry, casteism, sati...”

After a few more lines of such nonsense she gets to Gandhi again: “If you can cleverly combine a ‘Gandhi’ (to rhyme with ‘randy’) story, that’s India in a nutshell. By the way, Paris has four Indian restaurants with names ranging from Gandhi to Gandhiji”

When a Yemeni taxi driver tells her she is lucky to live in a country that had Gandhi as leader her “heart did a somersault. How bizarre this conversation sounded ... everything was strange. The setting, the context, the man behind the wheel.”

Later in the book she notes that Gandhi has become newly popular and has this to say: “If Gandhi is being positioned as ‘Daddy Cool’ and being transformed into a ‘Youth Icon’ ... there must be a valid reason. In India we are seriously short of heroes. We try and create them artificially in order to fill the empty slot. Gandhi is perfect for that. Besides he is a caricaturist’s delight.”

Surely, I said to myself, she must know Gandhi is as genuine a hero as you can get, but evidently not! She advises Indians not to take umbrage at the commercial use of Gandhi’s image: “What’s the point of achieving an iconic position if it can’t be flogged?”

De dismisses “traditional Indian values” as “bogus;” “what exactly are these mysterious ‘values’?” she asks, and “how different are they from the world’s?”
Indians make too much of sacrifice she writes: “Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!” ... ‘I sacrifice therefore I am an Indian’ could well be our motto. And it impresses nobody.” Indian feelings of “superiority comes from some ancient notion about our great and good civilization.”

Her view of the country is grim indeed. “We believe we are essentially calm, spiritual, evolved, superior, patient and wise. But none of these is true.” She knows of no other country where people “rush to strip dead bodies of whatever there is – ornaments, cash, anything of even the smallest value, sometimes before the body is cold.”

She’s “heard of villagers scampering to mutilate bodies of air crash victims before the arrival of fire brigades, often tearing earrings and rings of a person who may still be alive, or chopping off hands to get to the gold bangles.” (That “often” really got to me; makes it sound as if air crashes are a matter of routine.)
To see “scenes of rioting in any corner of the country,” with people turning into “blood-thirsty animals” she declares that “all you have to do is switch on your television set at prime time any day, every day.”

We can see mobs burning “cars, shops and residences” as they are overcome by an “inexplicable madness” and “rush from locality to locality burning and killing strangers without qualm.”

Watching The Last King of Scotland the Hollywood film about Idi Amin’s murderous tryranny in Uganda, she “felt numb just connecting with the mirror images. It could’ve been a portrait of any politician in India.” At one point in the film “I forced myself to keep watching, telling myself, ‘it’s about Idi Amin and Uganda – don’t take it so personally.”

It is not till page 427 of the 456 page book that she thinks to mention India’s democratic system as a “triumph;” and that, without any effort to square it with her moaning about India being the mirror image of Amin’s Uganda!

What a “gal” as she would say.

It is one of the most preening, egotistical, ignorant books I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Catching Two Birds With a Stone

Whoever writes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speeches is going to need therapy after his/her assignment is over. The speeches Ban delivers give every indication of – how shall I put this delicately – of being Asianized.

Take the speech Ban delivered to the University Presidents’ Forum on Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Asia and Africa, at Korea University in Seoul, on 17 August. It was titled “We can catch two birds – climate change and economic growth – with one stone.”

The text was interesting too.

“Asia’s scholars should be taking their rightful place under a larger sun” the Secretary-General said, adding: “And to the presidents of Africa’s great universities, I would say the same.”

“Your voices should be heard. Your influence should be felt, far and wide. You are a force for social, economic and political advancement -- a force for change -- at home and within our world community at large.”

“Let me begin by telling you a bit about how I see the world and its challenges.

“Then I would like to invite your support and ask for your help in dealing with them, first as individuals, as opinion-makers and influencers, and second as Asians and Africans.

“Because I see this as your moment.

“We meet at a critical time -- a moment of profound challenge and change.

“I often describe this as the age of multiple crises. Food. Fuel. Flu. Financial.

“Each is something not seen in years, even generations. But now they are hitting all at once.

“These crises are compounded by others of greater human dimension and consequence.”

As someone who drafted statements for Kurt Waldheim I feel the speech-writer’s pain.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Coming War

The New York Times has a front page story saying that President Obama is considering expanding the "American covert war in Pakistan" from the "unruly tribal areas" to Baluchistan, "where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan."

I'm sure a diligent researcher can find an exact analogy to that story in the Vietnam era: President Kennedy/Nixon/Johnson considering expanding the war to get at an elusive enemy.

For India, the story is the clearest warning yet that a generalized war is coming. If we want to avoid it, we'd better start paying attention to some ground realities.

The "Taliban" in Pakistan exists only with the help of the faction of the country's power structure that is in cahoots with Afghan drug traffickers. That is to say they have very poweful links to the part of the British Establishment that has traditionally been enaged with drug trafficking (they started the business back in the 19th century and merely took it underground at the beginning of the 20th century).

The British control Helmand province, the main opium producing area of Afghanistan. They laid claim to it as soon as the NATO force was introduced into the country after the 2001 invasion. In that position, they have been key to the amazing capacity of the Taliban to sustain fearsome losses and keep coming back. Unless they are removed from that province, and preferably from Afghanistan altogether, the Taliban cannot be controlled.
Neither India nor the United States can be shy of raising this issue publicly. Britain is angling to humble both countries, as it feels it was itself humbled after the end of Empire. Speaking out on this issue might be the cheapest option to head off the war that that is otherwise certainly coming.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Clinching Evidence of Slumdog Malice

Here's the clincher that Slumdog Millionaire deliberately sets out to be poverty porn. The scene in which the kid dives into a pool of shit is not in the original book by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup. it was invented for the film by the Brits who directed the movie and wrote its script.

In fact, the kid's early childhood is not spent in Mumbai at all but in a Delhi orphanage run by an English Catholic priest.

Some other interesting departures from the Indian story-line that indicates prime facie malice.

The children's "Muslim" mother is not killed by "Hindus" in a "communal riot." Her religion is unknown, and she abandons the newborn at a church.

Torturing Ram Mohammad Thomas (the name of the protagonist in the book), is not the idea of
the Indian talk-show host. The suggestion that the boy cheated comes first from an American representative of the game show, and that mainly because the Russian who owns the franchise does not have the prize money. (In real life the franchise owner is British, and he bankrolled the movie.)

The heart-rending scene of the three abandoned children in the pouring rain is also not in the book. In Swarup's story the hero and heroine do not meet till they are teenagers, and then they're not living in a slum but in a tenement.

The book does not have any of the gratuitous slanders laid on India in the film (eg: "This is the heart of the new India" says the gangster Salim surveying the high-rises that have replaced the slum of his boyhood; "and I am at its heart").

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

3 Reasons to Boo Slumdog at the Oscars

I hope Slumdog Millionaire gets booed at the Oscar ceremonies on 22 February. Here are three reasons why.

REASON 1
The movie is poverty porn, titillating affluent audiences with a bizarrely unrealistic presentation of the lives of the poor. The so-called "feel-good" element of the young hero winning out at the end is like dabbing on icing on a piece of shit (to use the movie's own idiom) and declaring it cake

REASON 2
The British producers of the movie have been overtly exploitative of the poor children they hired. The girl in the role of the young heroine was paid $500; the boy who takes the memorable dive into a pool of shit got $1500. The explanation for these miserable wages? "It's far more than adults in their neighborhood would make in an entire year." Sounds like something Mr. Krup might have said about slave labor his company used in Nazi concentration camps.

REASON 3
The movie is anti-Indian propaganda of a style the British perfected during a century of colonial rule to convince the world that the country needed civilizing European supervision. During the six+ decades of Indian independence the propaganda has continued unabated. As India surmounted unbelievable odds to maintain an open and free democracy, as it doubled life expectancy and halved the share of the population living in the worst poverty, the British have done everything possible to see that the world's view of the country remained dark.

Just one example of how this has been done: each of the four "Man Booker" prizes for literary excellence given to Indian authors -- an award that raises its recipients to global prominence -- has gone to deracinated individuals whose perspectives have been quintessentially British. Salman Rushdie (now "Sir"Salman), presented India as a huge and dissipated freak-show in Midnight's Children. Arundhati Roy set her affecting love story of characters disempowered by gender and caste in Kerala, the one part of India where advances on both fronts have been revolutionary. Kiran Desai's Remembrance of Loss told of post-colonial angst in the Darjeeling hills; every single character in it comes to a sad and dispiriting end. Arun Adiga's The White Tiger is an open and unmitigated assault on India's hard-earned image as a country undergoing rapid economic and social progress.

Slumdog continues that assault. Boo it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Miliband And Root Causes of Terrorism

Last week Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband visited India and took time off from his diplomatic work in Delhi to spend a night in Amethi, the parliamentary constituency of Congress heir apparent Rahul . Himself the Labour Party's heir presumptive waiting in the shadow of the dour Gordon Brown, Miliband slept on a charpoy in a Dalit hut and told reporters that except for some restless cows in the next room, the night was uneventful. (The Indian side was, as ever, clueless that the Brits were using the opportunity to continue denting the India Shining image. Thank God they didn't have a kid jump into the local dung heap a la Slumdog Millionaire.)

The visit to the village was ostensibly to show Miliband in a context appealing to the "ordinary Indian". But the sight of him with cows and a charpoy failed to charm many Indians, especially after it got around that Miliband had published an article saying the resolution of the Kashmir issue would end terrorism in India. In fact, the responses from Delhi were decidedly tetchy. A Congress Party spokesman asked reporters rhetorically if Britain, when it suffered terrorist attacks, looked to its own policies as the source of the trouble. A BJP spokesman dubbed the minister's visit to India a "diplomatic disaster".

Both comments were apt, but inadequate, for neither took into account that Miliband's egregiously stupid statement was not meant for the audience in Delhi but in Islamabad, his next stop. It was meant to signal one thing very clearly: Britain will continue to back Pakistani terrorism against India. With that in mind, the political response from Delhi should have been something along the following lines:

"The situation in Kashmir is not the root cause of terrorism in South Asia. The dispute over Kashmir was deliberately created by the British to promote hostility and conflict between India and Pakistan. The root cause of terrorism in South Asia is the British attempt to continue manipulating the region more than six decades after the end of colonial rule.

"Initially the British propagated terrorism to drive Indian Muslims into supporting the partition of their country, a process that killed a million people and made 14 million refugees. After the independence of India and Pakistan, the British have used terrorism to keep both countries in a state of hostility towards each other.

"Pakistan has been more of a victim of this terrorist policy than India. While India has managed to make substantial economic and social progress, Pakistan has found itself reeling from one political crisis to another, becoming progressively weaker and more divided as its military leaders serve Western strategic interests.

"The Pakistani military created the Taliban and Al Qaeda movements to serve Western interests. Both movements have been responsible for the most reprehensible actions in the name of Islam, bringing into disrepute not only Pakistan but the entire Ummah. In addition, their actions have provided the justification for Western intervention in oil-rich and strategically important Muslim countries and the continued theft of their natural resources.

"As the leaders of Pakistan look to the future, the hope of all political parties in India is that the civilian and military authorities in Islamabad will weigh very carefully the wisdom of continuing to cooperate in policies that serve Western strategic interests but not those of the Pakistani people or the global Ummah."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Apocalypse 2009

This post is covered by the "January License" which allows a journalist to prognosticate freely about the coming year without being called a doofus if things don't turn out exactly as he said (or even if they turn out to be dead wrong).

Barack Obama warned the American people last week that the economic situation would get much worse before it got better. He did not say how exactly things would get worse. The general expectation is that the current economic downturn will turn into a severe recession, maybe even a prolonged 1930s type Great Depression.

I think not. Something much more apocalyptic might be in the cards. Here's why.

Ever since a German academic, Oswald Spengler, published The Decline of the West in the wake of World War I, fear of losing global dominance has been an active concern of European-American strategists. In the United States in recent decades, it has been regularly addressed in official and unofficial reports.

In 2005 the US Central Intelligence Agency produced a report, Mapping the Global Future, in which a group of senior intelligence analysts concluded that the rise of China and India would have as great an impact on world order as the emergence of a united Germany in the 19th century, and that of the United States in the 20th. The report projected that by 2010 the Chinese economy would be the second-largest in the world, after the United States. While the Indian economy would be smaller, New Delhi would be a significant influence in Central Asia, Iran, and the Middle East, all areas of critical interest to Washington. The only thing that could prevent the rise of the two countries, the report said, was "an abrupt reversal of the process of globalization or any major upheavals in these countries."

That's exactly what will happen in 2009; and this is how I think it's going to happen.

The United States has an unsustainable burden of debt, personal, corporate, and official. In addition to an unprecedented level of individual credit card debt and the trillions Washington has raised from foreign creditors through the sale of Treasury Bills (to meet massive budget deficits), Wall Street has a little understood burden of "collateralized debt obligations," estimated to be over $3000 trillion. (Total world GDP is some $60 trillion).

With personal bankruptcies, home foreclosures and business failures all at record levels, the country is headed into a deep recession that will collapse all debt pyramids. When that happens, there will be a downward spiral of all prices, commodities, manufactured goods, services and real estate. Even the most efficient businesses will find it impossible to make a profit. As businesses go under, millions of people will be thrown out of work, causing further demand destruction and accelerating the downward spiral. As in the Great Depression of the 1930s, world trade will collapse and globalization as we have known it will stop, and perhaps even go into reverse if nations seek unilaterally to protect their markets.

The path out of the crisis will be as hair-raising as the descent into it.

To escape deflation the United States will have no option but to deliberately hyper-inflate the dollar (by printing its currency without restraint). That will collapse its value at home and abroad and cause unprecedented socioeconomic turmoil. The life savings of millions of retirees will become worthless in short order; workers on fixed salaries will find it impossible to make ends meet; the unemployed will have to depend on soup kitchens. World trade, monetary and financial systems will be reduced to chaos as no market will be able to function properly.

The effect of all this will be quite different in each of the world's regions. The United States itself will emerge cleansed of debt and internationally more powerful than before the crisis.

Western European countries, with their well-developed capacity for mutual cooperation, will probably be best able to fend for themselves (although it would be a minor miracle if the Euro survived). Eastern Europe, Russia and the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union will remain extremely vulnerable to Western pressures, and most will probably be shorn of much capacity for independent international action. African and Arab countries will also be more firmly under the heel of those who want their resources. The Asian situation will depend on two countries mainly, China and India.

China
China will probably face the most severe challenges, for its economy is deeply dependent on Western investments and markets. With about 40 to 50 per cent of GDP tied to exports; a deep global recession will hit it hard. Millions of people are already out of work, and as Xinhua warned in an unprecedented editorial last week, 2009 will see an increase in "mass incidents" that would "test even more the governing abilities of all levels of the [Communist] Party and government". In Xinhua jargon "mass incidents" means public demonstrations and riots. Peasant rebellions.

Economic pain will translate readily into a political threat to Beijing because the Chinese population is deeply divided between the rural poor, who number nearly a billion and have a per capita income of about $400, and an urban population of about four hundred million, with a per capita income more than ten times as much. The latter are predominantly members of the Communist Party, their relatives and friends, and are cordially hated by those who have not been able to milk the system. Chinese history is replete with peasant rebellions leading to the withdrawal of the "mandate of heaven" from the ruling elite; in 2009 we could see that ancient drama replayed.

India
With less than 10 per cent of GDP linked to the export sector India is much less vulnerable to foreign shocks than China. But the slowdown and possible reversal of globalization will hit the country hard. In addition, we can expect intensified efforts to destabilize the country by the Pakistan-British complex of ISI-MI6 "jihadists" and "Naxalites." Assassination of key politicians during the forthcoming elections should be expected. (By "key" I do not necessarily mean important. If a "North Indian" kills Raj Thackeray, the fallout would be disastrous for national integrity.)

We can also expect an intensified British effort to drive Brand India into the dirt. (Or should I say shit, in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire?) The rape of a British teenager in Goa last year is to be made into a film by Warner Bros. It's to be called Goa. No word yet of the filmy future of 2008 Booker prize winner Aravind Adiga's sulphurous dump on India, but Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is to become a Hollywood product. "Sir" Rushdie's novel of India-as-freak-show-and-failure is back in the elimelight, selected as the "Best of the Bookers;" better than Kiran Desai's tale of post-colonial angst and general hopelessness, The Inheritance of Loss, and Arundhati Roy's caste-is-king-in-Kerala story, The God of Small Things. (All the Booker-prize winning Indian novelists portray our country from such a pucca British viewpoint and are so unformly anti-Indian in attitude, that I wonder sometimes if they've been ghostwritten.)

Asian Responses
Both China and India can be manipulated only with the connivance of their own nationals. In China's case the collaborators have been members of the overwhelmingly corrupt Communist Party. If the CP tries to remain in power by using violence (2009 is the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen massacre), it could set off a process that will destabilize much of Asia. If out of the chaos a xenophobic demagogue comes to power with the backing of the military, we could be headed back to the days of Mao. Of course, the CP leadership (a national gathering is set for March), could decide to defuse and manage the rural unrest by calling multiparty elections and arranging for a smooth transition to democracy, but that would be a break from China's long tradition of leadership without vision or trust in the Chinese people.

In India the collaborators have been people hungry for success at any cost. They range from the habitually corrupt deal-makers in political parties who subvert the democratic system, to policemen without the integrity to do their job, to the deracinated Rushdies and Adigas who trash their country without thought of its strengths or achievements.

There is no simple policy prescription for this situation. Perhaps a first step would be for the leaders of India Inc. to sit down together and decide what they want done in the country. They bankroll the politicians and have the power, if they act together, to insist on minimum standards of performance in law enforcement, urban management and rural development. Reducing the British capacity to manipulate the Indian intelligentsia will take longer, but just acknowledging the problem might be a good first step. (More on this in a later post.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On "Elite" Indian Journalism

I've been reading the Times of India and the Economic Times for the last three months in Mumbai, both papers with a long and honorable record of excellence in journalism.

It's not been a happy experience.

Back when I used to write for the TOI from New York in the early 1990s it was a serious paper; it is now a mishmash of shockingly low editorial quality.

Both the TOI, in full color, and the ET on salmon paper, are attractive in design and layout. They look professional; but both seem to be caught in the same strange cultural warp as the latest Bollywood song and dance numbers in which leggy blonde dancers cavort alongside the Indian hero and heroine. The print equivalent is the use of photographs of Western models to illustrate news stories on everything from carcinogens (a blonde chomping on a hamburger), to the revenue expectations of the Finance Ministry (a blonde with deep cleavage). Rarely, it is possible to see a semblance of wit (half-wit?) in the selected graphic; the ET had the photograph of a shapely white woman to illustrate a story entitled "CEO, CFOs Asked to Explain Reasons for Low Tax Payments." But generally the only justification for these pix seems to be to titillate male sensibilities shaped by Western advertising agencies.

(Except for an image of a man kissing a woman's foot, which the TOI used to illustrate an article that made reference to effeminacy, all the eye candy is female.)

The fixation on curvy blondes in the most widely circulated gerneral-interest and special-interest English newspapers in India would be no more than an aesthetic foible if it did not reflect a more serious phenomenon, the lack of a coherent national perspective in either paper. Other than report New Delhi's international interactions, neither seems to have any notion of what is important for Indians to know in world affairs.

The TOI's international coverage is a stupefying exercise in irrelevance. Its daily page of "Trends" and column on "Around The World" offer a bizarre selection. One recent "Around the World" column had the following items: Palin's daughter gives birth to son. Terminator added to US National Film Registry. Slumdog Millionaire honored by the American Film Institute. Kylie Minogue (who is evidently a celebrity in Australia) to sell her house at half price. A British school teaches its pupils how to blow their noses. "Fireman breaks down door of the wrong house in Hamilton". (No mention of the country in which that happened.) "Imbruglia plans comeback." (Natalie Imbruglia, an Australian singer I've never heard of, is shown in a revealing lace shirt, hands at the hip, index fingers pointing to her crotch.)

The opinion columns of both papers make more of an effort to cater to their Indian readership, but there is a brainwashed quality in what the editors choose to offer. The TOI devoted much space to the latest James Bond movie, treating it as a significant cultural phenomenon. It carried an article on expectations from the Obama presidency, written by a Brit, which offered up the hope of stricter adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an instrument that Delhi has long decried as grossly prejudicial to Indian interests.

At a time when the United States effort to move out from under its mountainous debts has set off an international crisis with profound implications for India, neither paper has done much more than print agency coverage of developments as they occur.

When the resident pundits of the TOI do venture an opinion on international affairs, they have an alarming tendency to miss the wood for the trees. Swaminathan Aiyar headlined one recent column "26/11: Buying Opportunity, Not Economic Disaster." It told how foreign institutional investors had followed "Nathan Rothschild's maxim that the best time to buy shares is when blood runs in the streets." Foreigners had bought $159 million net of Indian stocks and bonds on 28 November; in December there had been a net inflow of $589 million. He concluded that if indeed "the attack aimed to hit stock markets and foreign confidence in India, it failed dismally." It was as if Aiyar was providing cricket commentary for a football match. The game afoot is not about investors making a quick buck; it is about India's image as a stable and secure country, a place where investors can park their money in times of economic crisis in the West. The 26/11 attack revealed to a watching world just how insecure India really is, how unprepared its government is to meet threats or even protect its own people. (And by the way, can you imagine anyone in the United States labeling 9/11 a "buying opportunity" weeks after the event?)

TOI commentaries on the death of Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor who authored the 1993 Foreign Affairs treatise on "The Clash of Civilizations," provide another example of quantum incomprehension. Swapan Dasgupta, in a piece titled "There's a Clash, Don't Deny It," wrote of Huntington as a latter-day Cassandra denied by "politicians, international bodies and the interfaith industry." The epitaph of the man who had anticipated "the barbarians at the gate," Dasgupta wrote, would be "In your mind you know he was right." An anonymous TOI editorialist (30 December 2008) was less approving of Huntington's thesis, but in explaining why, got it spectacularly wrong. He/she saw Huntington as "pessimistic because from his point of view, the only antidote to conflict would be if each civilization were to retreat into itself and stop interacting with the rest of the world. Only like should interact with like; that's a static and boring view of global geopolitics." Huntington said none of the above; his interest was continued Western domination of world affairs.

Neither Dasgupta nor the editorial writer seemed to be aware that Huntington was a long-standing mouthpiece for American military interests, a role he claimed with his first book, "The Soldier and the State," which argued that democracies were ill-suited to conduct foreign policy without the guidance of men in uniform. It was written in the wake of President Harry Truman's famous confrontation with an uppity General Douglas Macarthur over Korean war policy.

The "clash of civilizations" thesis was not brilliant academic prognostication; it emerged from a seminar that brought together a hush-hush list of Washington movers and shakers, people representing what President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 dubbed the "military-industrial complex." That nexus of interests profits enormously from global tensions and conflict; it needed new enemies after the end of the Cold War, and Huntington's seminar identified them. In all the controversy that followed the publion of his essay, no one paid much attention to the fact that the "bloody borders of Islam" he highlighted -- Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan -- were the result of deliberate Western policy. (Incidentally, Fareed Zakaria, currently Newsweek International editor, was the rapporteur of that seminar.)

A general assumption in India's English-language media seems to be that the country is destined to be a global Power. That was never more naively expressed than on the front page of the Economic Times on 5 January: an all-caps headline over-the-masthead screamed "INDIA, THIS IS YOUR CENTURY. JUST GRAB IT WITH A BILLION HANDS AND HAND IT HEROICALLY AND HANDSOMELY TO HISTORY." Under the masthead another all-caps headline proclaimed "THE INDIAN CENTURY: LET'S ALL GO TO BAT FOR OUR COUNTRY," followed by an even larger line of type that said simply "GATEWAY TO THE WORLD," presumably referring to a photograph of the reopened Taj hotel. Under the photograph was more squirm-inducing text. The terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26/11 had tried to destroy the "IDEA OF INDIA. By maiming and mutilating our bodies. How poorly ignorant they were. How abysmally little they knew. They didn't know every Indian carries within him an undying idea. An idea alive with numerous possibilities. Together on this foundation of a billion ideas, India builds itself anew every day. Ideas swirling, ideas speaking. Ideas skirmishing ideas squabbling. But they all coalesce to form THE IDEA OF INDIA. In this grand dance of ideas, India retains not only its footing but takes the global center stage."

Right alongside that blather was a sober piece by Sunil Khilnani, Director of South Asia Studies at the Johns Hopkins University and author of The Idea of India (written on the 50th anniversary of independence). In stark contrast to the editorial call for action by a billion people, he argued the need for "political realism." That would require "the accurate identification of the threats, external and internal, that a political community faces; the creative pursuit of power in order to combat such threats; and a balancing of the claims of identity, the requirements of justice, and the compulsions of security in order to further the ends of individual freedom." Elite Indian media have a critically important role in identifying the threats of which Khilnani writes, but there's little indication they're aware of that responsibility at the Times of India or the Economic Times.