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 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.

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.