Saturday, July 31, 2010

US trapped by ISI; advantage Taliban

The leakage of 92,000 secret military intelligence documents is sensational anywhere any time. When the documents pertain to the war against Taliban-Al-Quaida, it is also disturbing because it shows (a) that America is in a trap and is unlikely to win this war, and (b) that India is in for trouble, big trouble.

Let's not forget that the information now leaked is new only to us, the lay public. To the top echelons of leadership in America, the facts were known all along. They also knew that the records had leaked. Two months ago, in May, the US Army Criminal Investigation Command had arrested an intelligence analyst in the army and charges were filed against him early this month, well before the leaked documents hit world headlines.

The arrested man, Bradley Manning, is 22 years old. If he is indeed the man who leaked the secrets, he must have done so as a matter of conscience, appalled by the atrocities American troops were committing. This is a “problem” with American democracy. One man with conscience will always be around to do the unexpected. Remember those pictures of Iraqi citizens being humiliated and tortured by fun-loving American soldiers? Earlier Vietnam war secrets were published by Daniel Ellsberg, another military analyst then working for the Rand Corporation.

The latest documents had much to reveal about Pakistan's complicity in terror network in the region. This led to some patriotic drum-beating in India – as if Pakistan had been caught with its pants down and now America would be forced to act.

Nothing of the kind will happen. America has been seeing Pakistan with its pants down for quite a while. For example, it said more than once in recent weeks that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan. Blandly Pakistan denied it. And America let it rest at that. Pakistan is for America a pill that is too bitter to swallow and too sweet to spit out, a classic diplomatic trap.

Pakistan's military leaders, especially the smart strategists of the ISI, know this very well, hence their audacious policy of helping al-Quaida and the Taliban. Some of the terror outfits the ISI trains and equips are fighting America. Knowing this, America goes on giving Pakistan one billion dollars in aid every year. That is how smart the ISI is.

By contrast, India gives America everything America wants – nuclear treaty clauses as stipulated by the American Congress, favouritism to companies like Union Carbide, virtual immunity clauses in the event of future industrial accidents, even a false declaration to ex-President Bush that the people of India loved him. What does India get in return? Repeated verbal declarations that Pakistan must do more to contain terrorism. Why doesn’t America do more to contain Pakistan?

The fact is that today's political dispensation in India has no clearcut strategy about countering Pakistan's known terror tactics. It does not know how to call Pakistan's bluff or how to tell America and its allies that enough is enough.

There are unofficial strategic experts in India who have been proposing covert action to counter Pakistan's covert action. This makes sense in a volatile theatre where everyone is engaged in shadow-boxing. If India can mobilise the kind of strategic brilliance the ISI displays, it can hit Pakistan where it hurts. It may even get the tacit support of the CIA and M16. What is required is an iron will on the part of policy makers. Perhaps Indira Gandhi would have found that will.

If softness and diffidence continue in Delhi, eventually the Taliban will replace the Americans in Afghanistan, then the Taliban will have a say in the running of Pakistan, then Pakistan will become the operational headquarters of al-Quaida and all allied groupings. When someone finally scores a hit in New York or London, the West will wake up – too late of course. What of Mumbai and Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad? The ISI’s singleminded focus is India and that’s where the maximum danger lies.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Railways: Conspiring against the people ?

Even human lives are but an item for our politicians to fight over. The first lot of 62 bodies had hardly been taken out of the collided trains in Sainthia station when Mamata Bannerji and the West Bengal CPM came out with their blood feud. We are used to our politicians being unconcerned about the public good. But such open cynicism in front of human body parts was something new.

Neither side had the patience, let alone the decency, to wait for some indications of what actually happened. Before any evidence was collected and before any expert spoke, Mamata B. came out with the proclamation: “We have some doubt in our mind”. CPM publications came out with editorials squarely blaming the Railway Minister for neglecting her portfolio and condemning her obsession with “conspiracy theories”.

Given the levels of political hatreds between opposing groups in West Bengal, conspiracies are entirely plausible – from both sides. But the safety of the travelling public cannot be something for conspirators to play with. There have been 161 accidents since Mamata B. became Railway Minister and 16 of them were major ones costing the lives of 269 people. This is an inexcusable record, with or without conspiracies. The real conspiracy is against the people.

It is too late in the day for Mamata B. to pretend that she pays due attention to her portfolio. She certainly does not She is a fulltime Kolkata politician, fighting Kolkata politics, her eyes fixed firmly on Kolkata seats of power. A key and complex ministry like Railways is functioning without a minister and that is no CPM conspiracy.

In fact this is a feature of the Manmohan Singh Government. The so-called coalition dharma allows some rajahs of corruption to ply their trade from the chambers of the cabinet. In more than one instance it allows ministers to make a mockery of their portfolios while putting their hearts and minds in their “side business”.

Sharad Pawar has been doing this with impunity for a long time. The result is that the Food and Agriculture Ministry has become one of the most ineffective and badly managed ministries in the Government. Farmers’ suicides have been maximum in Vidarbha, lakhs of tons of stored foodgrain have perished, the distribution system is in tatters – but the Food Minister has hardly any time to notice such small things as he is busy running world cricket with headquarters in Dubai.

Mamata B. has been neglecting her portfolio with a hauteur only she is capable of. Asked about her not attending cabinet meetings in Delhi, her reply was that her home was not in Delhi. If this arrogance persists after she becomes chief minister of Bengal, the long-suffering people of Bengal will have gained nothing from the change of government they seek so badly.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has come out with a report itemising the areas of importance the Railway Ministry has neglected. Will the Minister say that the CAG also is part of CPM conspiracy? CAG has found that safety plans approved for implementation by 2008 have not been implemented. Safety is perhaps the most basic issue that should get the ministry’s attention. But there is no leadership in the ministry to do the basic things.

A former managing director of Konkan Railway, Rajaram Bojji, had invented an anti-collision system and implemented it in the K R network. Using both radio frequency and GPS technology, the anti-collision device brings a train automatically to a halt if the track ahead is not clear. One excuse for not introducing this system countrywide is that it is expensive. Certainly the Railway Minister can find the money to introduce it at least in and around West Bengal so that the treacherous CPM’s conspiracies can be defeated once and for all?

Mamata Bannerji is like a train that has gone off the rails. It is running on rail-less surface. There is danger ahead.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

From Cicero to Sushma (via Bellary)

Cicero was a Roman orator and statesman of the 1st century BC whose writings deeply influenced modern thought. He was once retained by Sicilians to prosecute the Governor of Sicily, C.Verres, who had become unbearably corrupt and cruel. Cicero prepared the first of what was to be a six-part chargesheet against the Governor, analysing the evils of greedy administrators. That first part was so powerful in its logic that Governor Verres gave up his post and retired into exile.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the same Sicily gave birth to a secret nationalist society called the Mafia which in the 19th century turned into a collection of hired thugs specialising in blackmail, protection rackets and murder. Marlon Brando etched it into the world's memory with The Godfather.

So why bring it up now? To remind us that good history does not repeat itself. There was a time when people could prosecute the head of their government for corruption. That cannot happen now. There were heads of government who would be shamed into voluntary exile when people filed charges against them. That is unthinkable today. Bad history alone repeats itself. People who once had the power to prosecute their political boss later fell prey to the mafia. This is happening again and again around us.

Consider Karnataka, once one of the best governed states in India and led by some of best political minds in the country. Can that history repeat itself? Far from it. Go into ancient history and we find rajahs losing their right to rule if they violated rajneeti; Sri Rama himself chose to heed public opinion even if it meant losing his wife. How different it is today? A. B. Vajpayee did accuse Narendra Modi of violating rajneeti, but it was Vajpayee who had to swallow his words while Modi went on with his violations.

Karnataka has hit national headlines for the wrong reasons. (Typical headline: Nataka in Karnataka). The Governor donned the battle dress, the Legislature became a war zone. All because of three ministers, the Reddy brothers.

A number of facts have turned public opinion against the Troika.

Fact. In 2008 a minority BJP Government was turned amorally into a majority with money provided by the Reddys.

Fact. In late 2009, under pressure of public opinion, the Chief Minister tried to curb the Reddys' highhandedness; he transferred out of Bellary several officers who had been acting according to the orders of the Reddys and Reddys alone.

Fact. Within a month the Chief Minister cancelled the transfer of officers and withdrew criminal cases filed against the Reddys.

Fact: Under party pressure to placate the Reddy Troika the Chief Minister dropped one of his closest colleagues from the Cabinet, removed his capable and faithful Principal Secretary and withdrew a tax he had imposed on iron-ore trucks.

Fact: In the midst of the ongoing controversy, one of the Troika spends two hours in private conference with notorious criminals in a Bangalore Jail.

What gives the Reddys the power to run a state so haughtily? The obvious answer is their limitless “purchasing power” gained from the exploitation, without heed to laws and regulations, of the natural resources of Karnataka and Andhra. Less obvious is the unstinted support they receive from the BJP top brass in Delhi.

What motivates the BJP top brass when the Reddys are (a) not BJP-wallahs in any ideological sense and (b) an obvious liability to the party? The short answer to that one is: Sushma Swaraj.

The Reddys publicly worship SS as their mother. Sushma Swaraj ignores their sins, ignores their unpopularity and gives them full support because perhaps she sees a day when brazen Reddy money can install a BJP government in Delhi as it did in Bangalore. No prices for guessing who will be the prime minister in such a government. Thus does private ambition carry our country from misfortune to misfortune.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When leaders fail, tragedy follows

Abnormal situations are the tests of leadership. In Kashmir the situation has been abnormal for a long time and no leadership came up that could meet it with imagination. Hopes were kindled a year ago when elections in Kashmir saw the highest turnout in its history and eventually Omar Abdullah became the youngest chief minister in that history.

He quickly became the biggest disappointment as well in Kashmir’s history. Astonishingly the Chief Minister continued to live in Delhi for months on the plea that his family was settled there and his kids were going to school there. With that kind of mentality, it was no wonder that the law-and-order situation in ever-explosive Kashmir deteriorated and the Chief Minister seemed to have no clue as to what to do. Speaking articulately on national television appeared to be his way of handling crises.

Actually the last election was a historical opportunity for Kashmir to turn a new leaf towards peace and progress. Orders by separatist groups to boycott the election were largely ignored by people. Prominent among the voters were young people. It was suddenly there for everyone to see that a new generation had come of age who had seen only violence and unrest and who did not share the political, communal emotionalism of the earlier generation. They longed for peace and opportunities to catch up with other young people in the rest of India and the world.

That new generation was let down by all the political groupings. While Omar Abdullah exhibited both his inexperience and his tendency to take his position for granted because of his heredity and wealth, other political leaders were just as self-obsessed. The main opposition leader, Mehbooba Mufti, is one of the most negative personalities in politics. In power she offered nothing; out of power she agrees with nothing. Other group leaders have small private constituencies to nurture and don’t seem interested in looking at the larger picture.

In the current situation of hightened tension and civilian deaths, the very emergence of a new class called “stone pelters” should have opened the eyes of these leaders as well as the authorities in Srinagar and Delhi. These are not the usual terrorists, suicide bombers and foreign agents. These are the local boys of local families who are angered that, in the name of security, the security forces are killing unarmed boys and girls. This was a time for political leaders to get together in a show of solidarity for the sake of peace. But the Abdullahs and the Muftis and the faction leaders do not have the leadership to understand that.

Do the big leaders in Delhi have that quality? The Prime Minister visited Kashmir recently. That was another good opportunity to announce a policy shift or two that would have reassured the ordinary citizens. The opportunity was missed. All that Delhi could think of was a march by the army and an exhortation from Home Minister Chidambaram to parents in Srinagar to keep their boys home.

In the case of the Naxals, Chidambaram has shifted from his earlier move to use military force against the rebels to accepting the importance of local economic-social development as part of the required solution. In the case of Kashmir, it is time to devise ways that would encourage at least new-generation Kashmiris to think that India and Indians are on their side. The current sentiment of locals looking upon India as an unwanted presence is no compliment to Delhi or to the dynasties that have been ruling Kashmir. In the northeastern states, they still see India as a foreign country.

The priority that Delhi gives to cultivating the US abroad and the likes of DMK and Trinamool at home may be inevitable. But to deny high priority to people’s welfare in important border states is to reinforce their sense of alienation. That is Pakistan’s work, not ours.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Turkey beckons, not just Orhan Pamukh

With our Government keeping all its oranges and papayas in the American basket, we lose sight of big things happening elsewhere. Big things have been happening in Turkey with implications for the Arab-Israeli imbroglio, for the European Union's fundamentals, for America's global strategy, for the general idea of religion in politics – in short, for the whole world. Is India anywhere in this picture? If it is, our Government is keeping it a secret.

In some ways Turkey is a wonder of history. It is the only Islamic country that was constitutionally de-Islamised by Kemal Ataturk, president from 1923 to 38. It was also the only Muslim state to recognise Israel, under American influence of course, and even sign a military treaty with it. Turks, who are non-Arab like Iranians, ruled all Arab lands including holy cities like Mecca and Medina under the Ottoman Empire (which once extended from Spain to the Hindu Kush).

Winds of change began in Turkey after Ataturk's CHP party lost power in the 1980s because of corruption. The mildly Islamic AK party then came to power, first with the help of other parties and, from 2002, on its own. Its leader, Erdogan, is now in his second term as Prime Minister. He is charismatic not only because he was a member of the Turkish national football team, but also because he launched far-reaching economic reforms and various programmes to build schools and hospitals.

Above all, he distanced Turkey from Israel, becoming an instant hero of the Arab world. An Arab editor even compared him to the legendary Gamal Abdel Nasser, the nationalist icon of Egyptians and all Arabs. At first Turks were confused by this newfound friendship; traditionally Turkey had looked down upon Arabs. But the Israeli attack on Turkey's aid ship to the Gaza Strip in May changed everything. Israel's solitary Muslim backer is now its sworn adversary.

A major fallout of this development is that Turkey has become, for the first time in its history, a player in West Asian affairs. It reinforced that position by becoming an interlocutor, along with Brazil, in Iran's nuclear argument with the West. The result is that the importance of traditional ringleaders like Egypt and Saudi Arabia has decreased.

That worries America. For one thing, its client state of Israel has lost the only friend it had in the neighbourhood. For another, its old-time ally, Turkey, is turning eastward, setting aside its long-term ambition to join the European Union. Objections to its membership of the EU, primarily from Germany and France, have offended public opinion as well as the political parties of Turkey.

These historical shifts may take firm shape after next year's elections. For all his populism, Erdogan cannot be sure of victory. Ataturk's CHP has found a fresh lease of life with the election last month of a new leader. This former civil servant, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is so clean and sage-like that he is known as “Gandhi-Kemal”.

That alone should inspire India to get closer to Turkey. The new Kemal has mentioned India and China as two countries Turkey should focus on. Besides, Turkey's best known writer, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamukh, will be a natural if unofficial brand ambassador for India given his friendship with our own quiet young novelist Kiran Desai. Turkey's economic potential is yet another attraction.

All that aside, it is a great country. They are a friendly people and there is no city in the world – in beauty, historical richness, variety and colourfulness – as Istanbul. Of the country's 60 million population, 15 million live in this astonishing city. But don't venture into the streets when a football match is ending. The crowds spilling out of the stadium have a tendency to take over all streets. Turks are crazy about football.