The Irony of Kashmir

The irony of Kashmir is that it never fully integrated with rest of India. Part of Kashmir is with Pakistan, and a great chunk has been gifted to China. The remaining has special status vide Article 370 of Indian Constitution that is another dividing line with the rest of the country. The current government with its huge mandate and grit has the capability of resolving the Kashmir issue and must solve the same, once and for all. If in the 1980’s the Bhindranwale problem in Punjab could be resolved, there is no reason why the Kashmir issue cannot be. The latest provocation by the militants, the Uri attack, where 17 of our soldiers have been martyred may just give the Indian government sufficient political will to firmly move ahead on his issue.
Being a border State, with a Muslim majority, the irony of the State of Jammu & Kashmir has been that it has never been able to fully integrate with the rest of India.Since 1947, with the accession of Kashmir to India and the forceful occupation of a part of Kashmir by the neighboring country, South Asia has remained caught up in an environment of constant tension and conflicts. Neither of the two countries has gained anything by their continued hostilities over Kashmir whereas the clear “loser” has been the resident of the valley; on the trajectory of both economic and social gains.
3 major wars, the Kargil conflict, numerous skirmishes between the two neighboring countries have only led to the rise of “Kashmiri” nationalism, anger and militancy in the Kashmir valley.
While the accession of Kashmir to India had been on terms wherein the State would have considerable autonomy, in my opinion these very terms have been a reason for holding back its full integration with the rest of the country. Other reason being the constant interference and export of terrorists by the neighboring country for spreading radicalism and militancy in the valley. Some may argue that the religion followed by majority in the valley be a reason of its aloofness; however this argument does not hold good if one sees how the majority of the Muslims living in other parts of India have better integrated themselves in the country.
As per the terms of the accession, later enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the Central Government will look after only three areas – defense, foreign affairs and communication, whereas for rest of its affairs the State would have autonomy. Initially these accession terms may have been negotiated by the Kashmiri ruler Hari Singh to keep a “special status” for the State, while still being part of India and enjoying its protection. One must remember that the first choice of the ruler was to go Independent, hopes of which were dashed when troops from Pakistan attacked Kashmir and occupied a part of it. Continuation of this special status for the State however may have indirectly contributed in becoming a roadblock for its full integration with India and leaving the State economically and socially behind the rest of India. People from outside the State still cannot buy land in the State. Though it is a prohibition which precedes Article 370, such restrictions make it difficult for the State to economically grow along with the rest of India.
While it is imperative for the Indian Government to fully honor its constitutional commitment made to the people of the State, it is high time that the people of the State on their own accord review Article 370 for their own economic growth. The people of Kashmir need to take decisions for the betterment of their individual economic and social future without being influenced by some radical / separatist leaders who view the valley from the narrow prism of their own selfish interests.
The people of Kashmir have two paths to choose from a) Integrate with the rest of the country and embrace economic prosperity and peace b) Struggle with the Indian Government in the dream of a “separation” from India – either of becoming independent or becoming part of some other country. While a few Kashmiri’s may “romanticize” with the dream of separating from India, they must be foolish not to realize that there is zero prospect of India agreeing to give up Kashmir through any arrangement whether UN sponsored or bilateral, just like I cannot visualize the neighboring country giving up its control over Baluchistan. Even the world at large has now developed a fatigue and lack of patience over the Kashmir issue.
It is also clearly evident that there is no violent solution to the Kashmir issue. Violent tactics only aggravate situations, leading to enormous sufferings by the common Kashmiri people; as is being currently witnessed, where more than 80 common people have lost their lives and thousands injured in the series of clashes between protesters and government forces in the valley after the killing of Burhan Wani, a commander of the Azad Kashmir based Hizbul Mujahideen, in July.
The Indian government on its side must do everything to win over and heal the hearts of the disgruntled Kashmiri people. There is no point in controlling a piece of land, if the hearts of the people staying on it are not with the rest of the country. Simultaneously the Government must do some very tough talk with the militant / separatist factions, followed by tougher actions to restore long term permanent peace in the valley. The militant leaders need to be segregated, sources of their funding throttled and their narrow interests exposed to the Kashmiri people at large.
For far too long the successive Indian Governments have been soft-pedaling the Kashmir issue for political purposes. The Government must realize that the Kashmir problem is no longer a political issue; it is a militancy issue – an issue which needs to be tackled head on.

Look before you escalate

Let the surgical strike not evoke cry for war. War is not the option. Loud jingoism and war talk erode credibility, distract government from urgent task at hand. “Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!” exclaims Mark Antony at the funeral of Julius Caesar in an attempt to rouse feelings against the assassins and incite violence across Italy. While anguish over the loss of 18 jawans killed in the Uri terror strike was understandable, the sub-continental “dogs of war” were surely straining at their leashes in its aftermath, as our TV studios aired shrill, blood-curdling and often maniacal tirades, demanding instant revenge for the dawn attack on the Indian army camp.
The cacophony having subsided somewhat, one can hear oneself think. While participants in TV talk-shows speak in their individual capacities and carry no responsibility, even prominent public functionaries did not pause before making utterances which can only be described as provocative and “war-mongering”. At the risk of inviting the ire of “super nationalist” patriots baying for Pakistani blood, the author would like to highlight a few harsh military realities of the present situation.
Firstly, the euphemism cross-border terrorism, coined by Indian national security establishment to describe what were clearly acts of war by Pakistan has repeatedly come back to haunt. Following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, President Bush had declared that the terrorists’ actions were acts of war and gave the US the right to act in self-defence under the UN Charter. While dubbing these acts cross-border terrorism may have given India an excuse to exercise strategic restraint, we compounded this folly by describing the perpetrators as non-state actors, providing a cast-iron alibi for Pakistan, which went a step further and claimed they were Kashmiri freedom fighters.
Secondly, the attack having taken place at dawn on September 18, the window for retaliation against Pakistan had shut firmly by sundown that day. While an “instant response” has a certain justification, especially in the face of such provocation, a strike “at a time and place of one’s choosing” has an entirely different connotation as far as world opinion is concerned. However, it must also be borne in mind that the Indian system — in its present form — is not geared to deliver “bolt from the blue” retribution. Non-availability of up-to-date intelligence and accurate targeting data are just two of the many impediments.
Thirdly, our “hawks”, while demanding a “jaw for a tooth”, need to be clear that the Pakistan armed forces are no pushovers. They have a huge advantage that a major proportion of their hardware, spares and ammunition come from a single, reliable source: China. The Indian military, on the other hand, relies on 6-7 different countries — many of them notoriously unreliable. With China providing material, moral and even military support, our planners need to proceed with deliberation. While we may hope for a limited exchange, before placing our foot on the first step on the escalator, we must be prepared for full-scale hostilities.
Lastly, we must make a careful assessment of the Pakistani “deep state”, that unholy nexus of the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which calls the shots. The Pakistanis, while vigorously pursuing their low cost and deniable strategy of terror strikes on India, would like us to believe that their nuclear arsenal is in the custody of a bunch of “mad generals”. The threat held out is that these putative lunatics are liable to nuke a conventional Indian riposte which is seen to be crossing any of their self-designated “red lines”.
We must reject this thesis, knowing full well that every Pak general loves his life and would hate being vapourised in an Indian second strike. However, we also need to bear in mind that four Indo-Pak conflicts have shown the Pakistani military leadership to be intellectually mediocre. It has been their brash overconfidence and arrogance, coupled with poor staff work that has produced successive military disasters. It was also their savage and dishonourable conduct in erstwhile East Pakistan, that brought ignominy and disaster upon their nation in 1971.
Let us be quite clear that exaggerated posturing and jingoistic loud talk are unworthy of the great-power status that India aspires to; they only serve to erode our credibility. While a politico-diplomatic offensive has already been mounted and economic measures are being contemplated, it is the military “Brahm-astra” which will bring this rogue nation to heel. I list out a set of five actions that the government must initiate with the utmost urgency to equip the nation for the difficult days that lie ahead.
One, promulgate a security doctrine which will clearly define the nation’s vital interests, aims and objectives. Whether it is kidnappings, hijackings, terrorist strikes or any other assault on India’s sovereignty, we have been found wanting for a plan of action because there are no standard operating procedures. A doctrine will help formulation of strategies and also define the “red lines”. No notice will be required for punitive or retaliatory action for infringement of these red lines.
Two, replenish our depleted arsenal urgently. The armed forces are required to maintain a War Wastage Reserve (WWR) of weapons, ammunition, spares and fuel that enables them to wage war for a period specified by the government. As pointed out repeatedly by the Comptroller & Auditor General as well as the standing committee on defence of Parliament, the divergent pulls of capital and revenue expenditure have prevented the topping up of our war reserves. Let us recall that in 1971, it took nine months for the armed forces to build up WWR before operations could commence.
Three, implement long overdue reforms in the higher management of defence. The most important of these is the integration of the armed forces HQ with the MoD which will eliminate the friction that has delayed decision-making and stalled the modernisation of our military. The other is to put in place the most vital component of a 21st century higher defence management structure: A chief of defence staff or a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee. This will create a “single point source of military advice” so badly required by our political leadership.
Four, we must squarely face the imperative need for re-structuring of our laggard military-industrial complex. The “holy grail” of indigenisation can be attained only if the vast resources of the DRDO and DPSUs are disaggregated and re-cast on the lines of successful models elsewhere in the world. Continued reliance on imported military hardware constitutes an Achilles heel for India’s national security.
Finally, situations such as these call for all components of India’s national security; military, intelligence, bureaucracy, Central and state police forces to work in the closest synergy and coordination. Regrettably, civil-military relations have, of late, been vitiated and the resultant dissonance could have adverse consequences for the nation’s security. This needs urgent attention of the government.

War- The Last Option

Remember George Bernard Shaw’s famous quip to “Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
There appears to be a misunderstanding. We are not at war with the people of Pakistan. We never were. We are angry with the current regime there and the hotheads who run the army and the ISI. They are the ones who send militants across the border. We are angry with the JuD and the JeM for providing them foot soldiers. We are angry with Hafeez Saeed and Masood Azhar for making political capital out of the unfortunate conflict. Worse, they are taking this as an opportunity to provoke the people of Kashmir to rise in rebellion against the Indian state.
Everyone knows this. Yet why do we abuse the people of Pakistan every time a crisis flares up? The media is the first to go to war. Its hysterical pitch provokes the tone of the national discourse. Mothballed retired generals emerge from their closets to argue how the war must be fought. They are joined by the crackpots of different political parties, including the ruling BJP, who demand that all Pakistanis be beaten and thrown out of India even if they are here on perfectly valid visas issued by our own Government. Media baron Subhash Chandra, new in the Rajya Sabha, has declared that he will yank off all Pakistani serials from his channel Zindagi, a channel once created with the very intent to build bridges with our neighbour. And, as usual, every headline hunter has jumped on to the jingoistic bandwagon to grab a few seconds of media time.
But the problem is: Pakistani actors (or, for that matter, Pakistani singers or cricketers) are not exactly the enemy. The enemy is their Government, their army. And the mad men who run the JuD and JeM.
And no, I am not saying this. Our Prime Minister is saying this. Narendra Modi, while addressing the BJP conclave at Kozhikode, said it more eloquently than anyone else could have. In fact, he went a step further and directly reached out to the people of Pakistan, urging them to dump their current political leadership and seek change, not war. To quote him, if indeed a war is to be fought today, it must be fought against poverty, illiteracy, joblessness. With his usual rhetorical flourish, he said Pakistan must stop exporting terror and instead, like India, learn to export software. He urged the people of Pakistan to expect better from their rulers, expect more.
When we attack the people of Pakistan, when we attack their artistes, singers, actors, cricketers, we are actually subverting this message. That the people of Pakistan must now learn to stand up to their rulers, demand change. They must demand a climate for peace. For, without peace, there cannot be any growth, any economic well being. The 1000 year war against India that Bhutto once promised can only weaken Pakistan. It can no longer hurt India. That is what the message from Kozhikode emphasized. Exporting terror and raising the Kashmir issue in global forums may fetch a few brownie points for the Sharif regime but it will not give the people of Pakistan a better life, more jobs, or a stronger economy. Peace with India could.
And peace is only possible when the people of both nations learn to speak to each other in a civil manner, engage in serious dialogue, share cultural values, realise that they both benefit from living in peace even if they disagree on everything else under the sun. War is not the answer to disagreement. Nor is cross border militancy.
Right in the midst of all this remains Kashmir, a problem we have ignored for far too long. In JP’s famous letter to Indira Gandhi, he wrote: “the problem exists not because Pakistan wants to grab Kashmir, but because there is deep and widespread discontent among the people. The people of India might be kept in the dark about the true state of affairs in the Valley, but every chancellery in New Delhi knows the truth, and almost every foreign correspondent.” And the truth is not pretty. That is why it is important that a solution must be found in the Valley before radical Islam further complicates what is still, for all practical purposes, a political problem. Prime Minister Modi need not carry the baggage of the past. The Congress failed Kashmir. He does not have to.
All conflict is a byproduct of failed communication. Kashmir is a perfect example. This is the right time and right opportunity to set things right. If we can engage in a purposeful dialogue with the Kashmiri people, as indeed the Prime Minister is trying to engage with the Pakistani people, there is hope we may find answers no on till date has cared to look at.
For Modi, this is an opportunity to show that he can be the statesman India has been looking for. His tone on Pakistan is currently pitch perfect. Outrage tempered by wisdom. On Kashmir, he must engage in the same way. To show India that what the Congress could not fix for six decades, he is ready to try. That courage alone could be the ultimate success of his first term.
As for the BJP, they must decide whether they want to listen to JP or Modi or Sangeet Som.

Indian Media Making Public Delusional : US Not With India

The Indian media is misleading and making the Indian public “delusional” on Pakistan. While watching various Delhi TV channels on issues surrounding attack on Uri base, one gets the depressing feeling that we are being delusional. What is lacking is an ethical standard that the media should not incite the public opinion by feeding it with such patent falsehoods.
We are living in a fool’s paradise, being led up the garden path by a bombastic leadership and led to believe falsely that the international community is rooting for India, that thanks to our prime minister’s vigorous efforts, the country’s prestige is soaring sky-high. Therefore, we assume Pakistan stands ‘isolated’.
In reality, though, the readout of the US State Department on the meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York on September 20 should come as an eye-opener. The readout was a carefully worded document, drafted with the full knowledge of the horrific attack that took place on Uri base. Nonetheless, such manifestly effusive sentiments and fulsome praise for Pakistan have been attributed to Kerry.Notice the expressions that have been used in the document with great deliberation ─ ‘strong, long-term bilateral partnership’; ‘commended the Prime Minister’; ‘expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s cooperation’; ‘commending recent efforts by Pakistani security forces to counter extremist violence’ and ‘praised Pakistan for hosting Afghan refugees for over 40 years’.
The reference to Jammu and Kashmir was framed as the shared opinion of Sharif and Kerry. “The prime minister (Nawaz) and Secretary Kerry expressed strong concern with recent violence in Kashmir ─ particularly the army base attack ─ and the need for all sides to reduce tensions.” What does the above single sentence imply in plain language, shorn of diplomatic idiom? One, US is not willing to censure Pakistan. Two, US shares Pakistan’s ‘strong concern over recent violence in Kashmir’. Three, the Uri base attack is to be seen in the context of the two-month old upheaval in the Kashmir Valley. Four, US agrees with Pakistan on the need to reduce tensions.
Unless we shake ourselves free of the myopic vision regarding ourselves that has been systematically created by our ruling elites through the past two-year period, ably assisted by the unscrupulous TV channels in Delhi day in and day out, we will come to grief, sooner rather than later. This is all nothing but Goebbelsian lies that we are being fed. The result is that apparently almost two-thirds Indians are reportedly clamouring for military action against Pakistan. The ruling elites know they are riding a tiger and if they dismount at this juncture, the public opinion will devour them for not living up to the myths the credulous public has been led to believe all this while.”
Alas, the Indian public does not know that the realities of the security environment surrounding India today are pretty grim and we desperately need an exit strategy. India’s strategic choices are virtually nil today, due to the nuclear stalemate and Pakistan’s stockpile of tactical weapons which can neutralise Indian forces (on Pakistani territory) without even giving cause to provoke (or justify) a nuclear counter-strike by India.
These are theatre weapons which have limited and focused usage in a specific area, but will nnihilate the enemy in real time. Our public should realise that hot pursuit has become a sheer figment of imagination good for only TV debates.
Read an insightful perspective by the well-known US pundit George Perkovich on the strategic dilemma India faces today vis-vis Pakistan ─ Perkovich candidly says that India has run out of options and has no way of addressing the challenge of terrorism on an enduring basis except by engaging the people of the Kashmir politically, and the alternative will be a seamless asymmetric war.

Waiting for the next crisis?

It isn’t as if we haven’t been here before. We have, on far too many occasions to be comfortable. After all, Pakistan and India are both armed with nuclear weapons. So where do we go from here? The best answer has to be nowhere or back to where we were a couple of weeks ago.
Hardliners and their cheerleaders in the media can say what they want; social media warriors can launch imaginary punitive assaults. They can’t change the reality. A nuclear-armed subcontinent can’t be poised on a primed hair-trigger solely for their excitement as the cost of one ill-conceived decision could run into millions of lives.
I am not a nuclear expert but those who are paint a horrible, Armageddon-like scenario, if all-out war were to break out between the two countries. The deployment of nuclear weapons would be just a step away even if what was desired was a conventional conflict. One side could trigger a war but neither can control its direction if it got out of hand.
A similar stalemate was evidenced between the East and the West following the development post-Second World War of nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems in the shape of intercontinental ballistic missiles which could target rivals thousands of miles away.
India killing its own soldiers no matter what the gain sounds implausible as does Pakistan engineering the attack. It was called balance of terror, mutually assured destruction (MAD) and even described by the use of the analogy of two scorpions. Whatever it achieved, it prevented the nuclear-armed powers from locking horns with each other directly.
Rivalries — ideological, political and/or historical — did not go away. Neither could territorial disputes be wished away. There was though a realisation of what could happen if such differences spiralled into a conflict and that too a nuclear one.
Hence, the development and deployment of the so-called non-state actors to bleed the adversary, the enemy, which was so effectively put to use by the United States and its allies, most notably Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to counter the Soviet Red Army after it moved into Afghanistan in 1979.
As the Geneva peace agreement was beginning to take effect in the late 1980s and the Soviet Army had started its pullout from Afghanistan, there was no doubt about the efficacy of the type of ideology and its adherents, ie the militants, that had inflicted this ignominy on Kremlin.
In fact, the Soviet Union as the world had come to know it for a better part of the 20th century had started to crumble — such was the power of those who had bled it. Kashmir had remained disputed between Pakistan and India since Independence in 1947. The last of the two wars over the disputed territory had also happened in 1965 and now we were in 1989. Pakistan may have spent the intervening 25 years looking for a way to reassert its claim over the disputed region but opportunities had been few and far between, especially after the 1971 war ended in total disaster.
Then of course corruption in India-held Kashmir, mass discontent over it and a rigged election triggered a popular uprising. Pakistan, which had not flexed too many muscles for a number of years, saw a golden opportunity to ‘slow bleed’ India via a low-cost weapon, the non-state actor, to wreak havoc in the valley.
Personally, I believe that the introduction of these non-state actors motivated by an ideology that was mostly alien to Kashmir and their indiscriminate and brutal ‘jihad’ discredited the indigenous movement, even alienated many Kashmiris.
Varying degrees of violence were witnessed in the occupied valley but the huge presence of Indian security forces finally seemed to overwhelm the militants and contain rampant violence with some draconian measures. Also post 9/11 Pakistan had to take its foot off the non-state accelerator pedal.
Now of course an entire new generation of Kashmiris seems to be raising the ‘azadi’ slogan and are being punished for it. There, however, seems to be no let-up in the intensity of their demand, despite having to pay a price with over 100 killed, hundreds blinded by shotgun pellets deployed callously by security forces and injuries to thousands of others.
Then Uri happened. The Indians believe that Pakistan-based and backed terrorists carried out the attack in which 17 soldiers were killed. Many Pakistanis are indifferent as to who did it as they can only focus on the brutality with which the Kashmiri protesters have been dealt with since the start of the latest round of the Kashmir intifada.
Some Pakistanis close to the military also suggest that Uri was a ‘false flag’ operation ie Indian intelligence engineered it to change the narrative, to gain support as the perceived victim, ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting where it was inevitable that the Kashmir rights violations would resonate.
I have no means of ascertaining which view is correct but India killing its own soldiers no matter what the gain sounds implausible as does Pakistan engineering the attack as it would shift focus away from the oppression unleashed in the valley by Indian security forces.
What can’t be ruled out is India-based militants seeking retribution or Pakistan-based non-state actors seeing the ground situation ideal again for their brand of jihad. Whatever the case, the incident has triggered a crisis. Both countries aspire to attain rapid economic growth, tackle rampant poverty, hunger, disease. The present is hardly conducive to that.
For the subcontinent to get off the boil it is imperative that Pakistan pushes ahead with the trial of those accused of the Mumbai carnage. Any more delays will only weaken its case that it has abandoned the use of non-state actors for its policy goals. It needs to start to disarm all non-state players as well.
For its part, India has to see reason and be prepared to sit down and find a way forward on Kashmir so the people of the occupied valley can feel free and empowered to take their own decisions. This will lead to de-escalation. Otherwise we will visit, in fact revisit, crises after crises.

Not Terrorism, but an Act of Covert War

We must hope that the Defence Minister will now punish those who were careless enough to allow 18 Indian soldiers to be killed so easily. Open democratic societies have a perennial problem. That is to resolve quickly, in the face of an attack, what needs to be done. The news of the attack cannot be kept secret. Debates and discussions break out. Amateur armchair strategists expound their views. The amateur does not have to think beyond the next step. At the next step, he can forget what he said and take up the matter as if it is a new challenge.
Even responsible governments have problems. No one controls or coordinates the responses. If it is sudden, then there is a simultaneous, often contradictory, cacophony of views expressed. Why do three members of the Cabinet — the Home and the Defence Ministers as well as the Prime Minister — need to pronounce, and if so, why the banalities such as ‘the guilty will be punished’? Surely that is obvious. Does it need saying?
What happened in Uri last week was an act of war, but as usual we diminished it by describing it as terrorism. Ever since it was defeated in Kargil nearly 20 years ago, Pakistan has made it absolutely clear time and time again that it will wage a new kind of war against India, and yet the men in charge of India’s security remain in denial. If we had acknowledged at least after 26/11 that India was in a state of war, then it is possible that the urgency that wartime brings may have become evident by now, and it would not have been so easy for four men to inflict the damage they did at a brigade headquarters so close to the border.Once the Prime Minister had opened out the quarrel with Pakistan by putting PoK and Balochistan in the gambit, some retaliation should have been foreseen. Pakistan has two armies — a jihadi guerrilla army and then a conventional one. The jihadi army allows a flexible deniable response. At the very least, India should have anticipated the attack, in Uri or elsewhere.
One clear indication from Pathankot and Uri is that perimeter security is soft and that the enemy knows and relies on it. Our soldiers may be brave and hardy but if the fences have holes in them, they die in vain. One surprise attack is bad enough; two similar ones indicate breathtaking negligence. There seems to be a multiplicity of agencies in charge of security. They surface when there is a lapse, all at once, having implicitly failed in their job. So one long-run action is to examine all camps and their security arrangements. The jihadi with wire cutters should not get through.
The Defence Minister acknowledged later that mistakes must have been made for the attack to have been so successful. We must hope that he will now punish those who were careless enough to allow 18 Indian soldiers to be killed so easily. The horrible truth is that Pakistan’s military strategists seem to know exactly what they are doing while in India our strategists continue to deal with national security in a dangerously lackadaisical fashion. So as we approach the eighth anniversary of 26/11, we need to truthfully admit that neither Mumbai, nor the coast on which our commercial capital sits is any safer today than it was in 2008. It is true that armoured cars can be seen in the streets of Mumbai when there is a ‘high alert’ and true that there are patrol boats visible now and then in the waters that separate this island city from the mainland of India. But, it is equally true that the men involved in these operations have no special training.
So if the men spotted in Uran last week were Pakistani jihadists, it is very possible they will find it just as easy to hold Mumbai to ransom for as long as Ajmal Kasab and gang did. It is also possible that like last time, it will take 24 hours for trained commandos to be transported to Mumbai, and that after landing in this city, there will be the logistical delays we saw last time. If we want things to change, we will have to begin by acknowledging that we are not dealing with random religious fanatics but with Pakistani soldiers trained in a new kind of warfare. Jihadist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba are assets of the Pakistani army.
After 18 soldiers were killed in Uri, spokesmen of the government of India did an excellent job internationally defining Pakistan as a country that uses terrorism as State policy. This is good but unnecessary since Pakistan is already viewed as the headquarters of the worldwide jihad by almost every country except China. What we should be concentrating more on is strengthening India’s defences exactly as we would in a time of war.
Instead of dithering between dialogue and hostilities, we should recognise that the military men who control Pakistan’s foreign policy have a vested interest in hostilities. Tea parties with Nawaz Sharif will make no difference. What may make a difference is if we deal directly with the military men. Dr Manmohan Singh did this with Pervez Musharraf and, from all accounts, came closest to bringing about a Kashmir solution. Musharraf himself admitted at a press conference I was present at in Davos that a solution was possible if everyone took one step back from their stated positions. Then he lost his job and the rest is history.
Speaking of Kashmir, we need also to accept that Pakistan’s hatred of India is unlikely to end even if our Kashmir problem does. It is no longer the ‘core issue’ but merely an excuse to pursue the ultimate dream, which is to break India into pieces. It is frightening how many ordinary Pakistanis believe that this is one day going to happen. It seems to comfort them in their own failed Islamic republic to think that one day Pakistan will become India’s equal. India’s economic achievements since we abandoned Nehruvian socialism frighten Pakistanis almost more than our military strength. It is no accident that of all Indian cities it was Mumbai that was targeted in 2008.If the point is to be made that PoK is legitimately a part of India as a result of the original accession treaty, then it has to be followed through with action.
This can be done in a variety of ways.
The Chinese have the best military strategy in this area. They believe that the area disputed between India and China is theirs. In 1962, and subsequently several times, they have made powerful incursions. They prove the point that they have the capability of occupying the territory they think they have a claim on. But then they don’t carry through an occupation. Having proved they can do it, they withdraw.
When this happened in 1962, India was doubly humiliated. Firstly the Indian attempt to ‘throw the Chinese out’ was shown to be an empty boast. Then, by withdrawing unilaterally, the Chinese showed that they were in control. That was a statement of power. That has been repeated other times by the Chinese, also in their border dispute with the Russians.
India needs to learn the Chinese way of fighting. Demonstrate power as much by combat as by restraint. Establish the claim to PoK, but then leave it. Get to the other frontier and then withdraw.
The retaliation may come not in PoK but in Punjab. Lal Bahadur Shastri switched the area of battle around in 1965 very effectively. Think through the next few rounds. There will be many.
So we must accept that it is no longer just Kashmir that is the issue. And that we are at war. Pakistan does indeed produce an endless supply of recruits for the worldwide jihad but the men it sends to India to kill innocent people are a different breed. They may be soldiers of Islam like ordinary jihadists but they have also been trained to think of India as an ‘existential threat’. If we are to defend our beloved Dar ul Harb against Allah’s soldiers, we must begin by accepting that we are at war with Pakistan.

The Indian Higher Judiciary :A Self-Selecting Elite

At Independence, Indian institutions were dominated by a small elite. A key success of the republican project in the past 70 years has been the widening of this social base. The legislature is no longer the preserve of old aristocrats; it has room for those from a very humble background. The upper echelons of the army represent sons of poor peasants and former non-commissioned officers. The civil service reflects the diversity of India, both vertical and horizontal.
The one institution that has escaped this widening is the higher judiciary. It is important to understand this relative insulation while discussing the current crisis in the judiciary. Equally, this clash between democratisation and a self-perception of elitism cannot and must not be interpreted as a provocation to dilute standards in the judiciary, bring in a culture of reservations and so on. That is not the point at all.
The fact is the higher judiciary has become a sanctum sanctorum into which only the initiated or those in the networks of the initiated can get entry. Some would trace this to the 1990s judgment whereby the Supreme Court set up the collegium of judges, which now makes appointments to the higher judiciary and has senior judges choosing their successors. Actually, that collegium ossified a delicate mechanism going back to the earliest years of the Republic.
Writing on the process of judicial appointments in the 1950s, Granville Austin in “Working a Democratic Constitution” refers to an exchange of letters in 1957 between then home minister G B Pant and then Law Commission chair M C Setalvad. Pant cites two relevant examples. First, he lists 41 judges appointed to high courts since he became home minister in 1955: “There was not a single case among them where the final result did not follow the advice of the Chief Justice of India.”
Setalvad replies alluding to political interference in the pre-1955 period. Pant responds strongly. “Pant enclosed,” Austin writes, “a list of high court appointments from March 6, 1950, through 1954. He pointed out that, with two exceptions, all the 75 judges appointed during the period had been agreed to by the high court chief justice … and the Chief Justice of India.”
Broadly, this acknowledgement of the primacy of the leadership of the judiciary in making judicial appointments – but doing so without disturbing the institutional balance – has been there from the 1950s. It was mangled only in the 1970s by Indira Gandhi’s recklessness, in which sections of the judiciary colluded. What the collegium system, its overreach and its implications have done is seek to punish all governments for all times to come for Indira Gandhi’s actions in the early 1970s.
A corollary of the collegium has been self-selection and its twin, in-breeding. In practice, the pool for choosing judges is both narrow and shallow. It begins when personal connections lead to placing children and associates of influential lawyers and judges in chambers of senior lawyers. The naming of senior advocates, so controversial in certain high courts, is done from among those lawyers. As a next step, the selection of judges to the higher judiciary, with the transactionalism and trade-offs that have been hinted at by judges themselves, is confined to a pre-determined group that has already had the advantages of the previous stages described above.
If that sounds trivial, consider the near absence of promotions from trial and district courts to the higher judiciary. The hero of the Emergency and valiant dissenter in the Habeas Corpus case, Justice H R Khanna, began as a district judge in Punjab. By dint of merit, he made it to the Supreme Court and was (till superseded) expected to take the Chief Justice’s seat. Today, is that route realistically available? How would the current system of self-selection have treated the candidature of District Judge H R Khanna?
The obsession with appointments – as well as an attendant tendency for certain verdicts and obiter dicta to be either driven by media headlines or driven towards them – has crowded out much-needed debate about reform in the judicial and legal system. For instance, there is recognition that a generalist civil service is now unequal to the complexities of a sophisticated and globalised economy. What about a generalist judiciary?
The dynamism and evolution in business and trade law, in financial markets, intellectual property, technology, the digital sphere and internet law and governance, to quote but some examples, necessitate a re-imagining of the higher judiciary and greater room for judges’ in-service education and specialisation. The fact that Singapore is such a favoured arbitration destination for disputes related to investments in India is an example of the gap the Indian judiciary has allowed.
Unfortunately little of this is being discussed and the focus is entirely on appointments. As such, despite his unquestioned integrity and rich professional and personal experience (son of a distinguished judge who also served as a minister and governor), Chief Justice T S Thakur’s term is likely to end in January 2017 with a disappointing legacy and a wistful sense of underachievement. Hopefully his successor will signal a renewal.

Resolve and restraint

Pak wages its proxy war with impunity. India should avoid falling into the trap of impulsive indignation. The audacious terror attack on a brigade headquarters in Uri in the early hours of Sunday, September 18, that resulted in the death of 17 Indian soldiers and injured over 20 troops is a very serious operational lapse. That four armed terrorists could kill so many soldiers in a fortified army camp is an illustration of the asymmetrical advantage that has progressively accrued to the adversary.
The loss of uniformed personnel in this manner against a determined and opaque adversary in the proximity of the LoC (Line of Control) draws attention to two interlinked issues: The complexity of the proxy war that Indian security forces have been dealing with in Jammu and Kashmir for 26 years and the chinks that the enemy is able to periodically exploit with impunity.
The Uri attack follows Pathankot in January 2016 and the Indian security establishment will have to conduct the most rigorous internal review to identify tactical lapses that may have led to attacks of this nature. In both cases, armed terrorists/covert troops were able to enter fortified military camps. If some degree of insider collusion is established, then the nature of the challenge gets that much more tangled for the security forces. In relation to the Sunday attack, Uri, it may be noted, is about 20 km inside the LoC and hence the army will have to introspect candidly to introduce the necessary correctives.
The Indian response to the Uri attack has followed a familiar pattern of anger against the adversary, the state-sponsored terrorist — and the “deep state” represented by the Pakistan military. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has castigated Pakistan, called it a “terrorist state” and imprudently canceled his visit to the US and Russia. PM Modi has assured the nation that the perpetrators of this “despicable attack” will be punished. The dominant question that has been deliberated upon with anger and anguish across the audio-visual medium and in social media over the last 24 hours is: “When?”
Delhi’s response to the proxy war that began in January 1990, when Pakistan embarked upon its strategy of low-intensity-conflict (LIC) against India by supporting terror groups, has been tenaciously defensive. Operationally, this posture is inherently disadvantageous and costly, as the last 26 years have demonstrated. The adversary who is committed to audacious offensive initiatives has to succeed occasionally to claim victory, while zero-error in “defending” against every covert terror attack, or its variant, is a statistical oxymoron.
India’s strategic culture has been one of defensive diffidence despite the emphatic military victory of 1971, and the regional geo-political orientation has been exploited to the hilt by Pakistan. Consequently, the prevailing politico-diplomatic context wherein Rawalpindi, the GHQ of the Pakistan military, receives varying degrees of support from the major powers, constrains Indian options.
The US, even while being a victim of Pakistani perfidy, continues to pay treasure to Rawalpindi and in an inexplicable policy contradiction, the Pentagon is willing to be paid back in the blood of American troops. But as Delhi knows to its chagrin, US policy in relation to Pakistani support of terror groups will only go that far and the White House continues to turn a blind eye to the kind of transgressions that led to the US war against Iraq in 2003: A deviant regime using nuclear weapons as a shield to enable terror.
China’s uncritical support to the Pakistan military and the depth of the strategic cooperation is unprecedented in recent history. No other state has been enabled in such a manner in the acquisition of nuclear weapon know-how and missile technology and China has been inexplicably generous to Rawalpindi. Beijing’s reluctance to censure Pakistan in relation to terror has already been demonstrated in the UN and this is unlikely to change — unless China becomes victim to its own 9/11 trauma.
It is this global politico-diplomatic tilt in its favour that allows Rawalpindi to act with the impunity and audacity associated with its actions — from Kargil in 1999 and Mumbai 2008 to Uri now. Furthermore, the August 15 Modi initiative over Balochistan has clearly encouraged Pakistan to intensify the three-pronged offensive against India. Delhi will have to internalise the lessons learnt (or not learnt?) over the last three decades and find the most effective harmonisation of resolve and restraint in the face of such sustained provocation.
Uri is the military illustration of the Pak offensive and in all likelihood, the long drawn out proxy war will enter a phase of more such attempts that will have to be thwarted — each time. The second strand — the diplomatic offensive — has been revived, and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif will go hammer and tongs at the UN General Assembly to project Kashmir as a victim of Indian oppression and Pakistan as the victim being intimidated for providing “moral support” to the “freedom fighters”.
The third prong of the Pakistani offensive is the narrative-cum-perception about India and Kashmir that has been assiduously irrigated at every global forum. In today’s politico-military environment, while ensuring an operational military advantage is imperative, winning the “story” is equally if not more important — especially in LIC and proxy war exigencies. Here, India has a chequered track record in relation to how it has dealt with the Kashmir issue over the years — and the political management of the Burhan Wani-related violence and turmoil in the Valley have not helped matters.
Post Uri, and the righteous national anger that is palpable, India will need to avoid the temptation of falling into the trap of impulsive indignation whenever Pakistan plays the terror card. The pressure on the Modi government to act decisively “now” is visible but this should be tempered by objective cost-benefit operational analysis.
Politically, India must acquire the steely resolve to increase the cost to the adversary and the need for political consensus on such national imperatives is critical. Uri should not be allowed to become a divisive issue in the domestic debate and the Modi government must also demonstrate that its recent initiatives in relation to Pakistan have been well thought through — and that all likely exigencies have been anticipated.

Water Wrangles- Within and Without India

The violence-marred water feud between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu illustrates how water stress is fuelling bitter discord between states over sharing the most vital of all natural resources. The Supreme Court intervened this year too in the Punjab-Haryana dispute in the Indus Basin over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal.
The growing inter-provincial water wrangles draw attention to India’s great water folly in 1960: It signed a treaty that allocated to an enemy state, Pakistan, most of the Indus river system waters, without any quid pro quo. The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) reserved for India just 19.48% of the total waters of the six-river Indus system.
An emboldened Pakistan, having secured what still ranks as the world’s most generous water-sharing treaty, set its sights on capturing the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir through which the three large rivers reserved for Pakistani use by the IWT flowed. In more recent years, Pakistan has also found novel ways to turn the IWT into a weapon against India.
From waging conventional wars against India from almost the time it was created to sustaining a protracted proxy war by terror against it, Pakistan has for over a decade now been pursuing a “water war” strategy against India. This strategy centres on repeatedly invoking the IWT’s conflict-resolution provisions to “internationalise” any perceived disagreement so as to mount pressure on India.
In its latest move to corner India, Pakistan has initiated steps to haul it before a seven-member international arbitral tribunal in The Hague for pursuing two hydropower projects in J&K. Twice before in the past decade, Pakistan triggered international intercession by similarly invoking the treaty’s conflict-resolution provisions.
Pakistan’s strategy, coupled with its use of state-reared terrorists, could potentially force India’s hand. If India begins to view the IWT as a liability and sees itself as the suffering loser, little can save the treaty. After all, India has the option in international law to dissolve the lopsided but indefinite treaty. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was also of indefinite duration but the US unilaterally withdrew from it after Russia opposed its revision.
The withdrawal option, however, cannot be exercised by a risk-averse nation. India may be parched today but there is still no national discussion about how Pakistan is repaying India’s water largesse with blood by sponsoring cross-border acts of grisly terrorism. The water card is probably the most potent instrument India has in its arsenal – more powerful than the nuclear option, which essentially is for deterrence.
India’s belated moves to address the problem of electricity shortages and underdevelopment in J&K by building modestly sized, run-of-river hydropower plants have rankled Pakistan, although the IWT permits such projects (which use a river’s natural flow energy and elevation drop to produce electricity, without the need for any dam reservoir). The treaty requires India to provide Pakistan with prior notification, including design information, of any new project. Although prior notification does not mean the other party’s prior consent, Pakistan has construed the condition as arming it with a veto power over Indian works. To keep unrest in J&K simmering, it has objected to virtually every Indian project. Its obstruction has delayed Indian projects for years, driving up their costs substantially.
Not surprisingly, there have been repeated calls in the J&K assembly for revision or abrogation of the IWT. By gifting the state’s river waters to Pakistan, the treaty has hampered development there and fostered popular grievance.
J&K’s total hydropower-generating capacity in operation or under construction does not equal the size of a single mega-dam that Pakistan is currently pursuing, such as the 7,000 MW Bunji Dam or the 4,500 MW Bhasha Dam. Indeed, while railing against India’s run-of-river projects, Pakistan has invited China to build mega-dams in the Pakistani-occupied part of J&K, itself troubled by discontent, including against the growing Chinese footprint there, especially in Gilgit-Baltistan.
A 2011 report prepared for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the IWT “the world’s most successful water treaty” for having withstood conflicts and wars. The treaty has been a success mainly because of India, which has continued to uphold the pact even when Pakistan has repeatedly waged aggression and fundamentally altered the circumstances of cooperation.
International law recognises that a party may withdraw from a treaty in the event of fundamentally changed circumstances. Pakistan’s continuing use of state-reared terrorist groups against India constitutes reasonable grounds for the injured party to unilaterally withdraw from the IWT. Sustained sponsorship of cross-border terrorism over many years has created fundamentally changed circumstances that undermine the essential basis of India’s original consent to the IWT, while significantly altering the balance of obligations.
The Indus is Pakistan’s jugular vein. If India wishes to improve Pakistan’s behaviour and dissuade it from exporting more terrorists, it should hold out a credible threat of dissolving the IWT, drawing a clear linkage between Pakistan’s right to unimpeded water inflows and its responsibility not to cause harm to its upper riparian. A failure to respect that linkage should free India, for example, to link the Chenab (which has the largest transboundary flow) with the Ravi-Beas-Sutlej system to address water scarcity in its north.

Ethiopia on the Brink?

Civil unrest is growing in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation. Upset by inequality and systemic corruption, members of Ethiopia’s two largest districts have taken to the streets. Since November last year, the protesters have faced off against strong government crackdowns.
Eighty percent of the country lives in poverty. Famine threatens 15 million residents. Many are ready to take out their frustrations on the government. But instability fosters its own problems, and opportunists in the region are watching closely.
Complete Control
After Ethiopia’s current ruling party—the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—came to power in 1991, it segregated the country along ethnic lines, forming nine districts. But rather than maintain equal or proportional say among the various districts, most of the power has been gathered by just one—the Tigray district.
The Tigrans make up just 6 percent of the population. Yet over the last two decades, they have worked to seize absolute power—the Tigran-dominated EPRDF now controls 100 percent of the seats in parliament. As such, the EPRDF enjoys little to no political challenge or discussion, near-total control of the press, and strong sway over the judicial system.
Of course, gaining 100 percent of the vote has led many of the country’s larger ethnic groups to claim that the government is illegitimate and corrupt. They are not alone in this view. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, where 100 means clean and 0 means totally corrupt, Ethiopia recently scored a meager 33.
Terrorists or Protesters?
When riots first started in November 2015, the government was well prepared. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, sent in troops and the antiterrorism task force. Laws established in 2009 imbued the government with sweeping powers to combat anyone it deems to be a terrorist. Some analysts claim that the government has used these laws to justify the kidnapping, imprisonment and even torture of political opponents.
When the laws were being passed, Human Rights Watch said the legislation would “permit long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty for ‘crimes’ that bear no resemblance, under any credible definition, to terrorism.”
Since the November flare-up of protests, more than 500 protesters have been killed and thousands have allegedly been injured.
As Stratfor noted in an August 31 report, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has authorized the country’s armed forces to take “any and all” measures necessary to restore order. His comments echo one of his December 2015 speeches, when he said the government “will take merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilizing the area.”
No sooner had the riots began last year, than Amnesty International, a human rights movement against social injustices, was warning that government administrative expansion into the Oromia district was leading to cultural persecution. “The suggestion that these Oromo—protesting against a real threat to their livelihoods—are aligned to terrorists will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression for rights activists,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
No News Is Not Good News
There is a reason why these protests and human rights abuses rarely make the news. Ethiopian media is largely government censored. While not as stringent as many neighboring African countries, Ethiopia does wield tight control over the Internet and media.
The misuse of anti-terror laws has resulted in restrictions placed on a number of independent media outlets and nongovernmental organizations. The result is a media that turns a blind eye to heavy-handed government crackdowns.
The government has at times completely banned all forms of social media—effectively silencing any would-be critics. In 2015, U.S.-based NGO Freedom House reported that Ethiopia was blocking larger news websites such as BBC. Arguments can be made for temporarily blocking social media, which can pinpoint innocent people during an attack. But there is no risk to the public by allowing a reputable news source like the BBC to air. The only ones threatened by such a website would be the government.
With such tight and overarching control of the media, the full extent of the multi-district rebellion is hard to accurately gauge. Needless to say, with extensive troop deployments and a history of strong crackdowns, the likelihood is that the information reaching the Western media is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ethiopia has refused entry to special United Nations investigators since 2007, making the UN unable to report on Ethiopia’s domestic issues. The blocked investigations included inquiries into reports of torture and denial of freedom of expression and peaceful assemblies.
The West Looks On
News that does escape the country has been downplayed by much of the world. As Human Rights Watch explains, “Donor countries to Ethiopia have been largely silent about the brutal crackdown, presumably in part due to the Ethiopian government’s strategic relationships on security, peacekeeping, migration and development. For years, the U.S., the UK and other influential governments have basically rejected public condemnation of the Ethiopian government’s repressive practices.”
Ethiopia is a key security ally for America in the fight against the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. The country is also important economically. Guardian Unlimited called Ethiopia “an economic battleground with China.”
In July last year, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Addis Ababa. During his speeches and press conferences, he repeatedly referred to the landslide victory of Desalegn’s EPRDF as “democratic.”
Bekele Nega, the general secretary of the Oromo Federalist Congress (representing the country’s largest ethnic group), said, “I don’t know if democracy means robbing people’s vote and robbing their election result. They have killed people, and they have taken the ballot box with them in organized fraud.”
Faced with brutal retaliation and a lack of international support, protesters in the Oromia district and elsewhere are beginning to transition from relatively peaceful protests to acts of aggression. Last week, protesters burned a number of flower farms—flowers being one of the chief exports of the country.
Destabilization brings with it a whole host of problems, one of which is the opportunity for foreigners to exploit the situation. And one nation has gained a reputation as the opportunist of the Middle East: Iran.
Tehran has capitalized on unrest in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. In areas of civil unrest, radicals—and their sponsors—thrive. In Iraq, the rise of the Islamic State has afforded Iran the opportunity to be more involved than ever before. The same can be said for Syria. In Yemen, Iran is backing the Houthi rebels, aiding in the overthrow of the pro-Saudi government.
With the 2011 overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Iran was able to rapidly build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. In Libya, the removal of Muammar Qadhafi has led to the arrival of a number of extremist groups. One such group, the Free Egyptian Army, is being trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force. Its purpose is to overthrow Egypt’s current administration!
Trends Say Iran Will Get Involved
Across the Middle East and North Africa, Iran is getting involved. Ethiopia’s immediate neighbors are testimony to this policy. Egyptian newspaper El-Watan reported that Iran has deployed Quds Force personnel to Sudan to take advantage of the deteriorating Sudanese-Egyptian relationship. It also claims Iran is training Muslim Brotherhood troops in Sudan.
While the relationship between Iran and Sudan is frosty at the moment, the two certainly have a long history of partnership. As Haaretz notes, “For many years, Sudan was home to a Hamas command center, and it was also the military and political ally of Iran and Hezbollah. The Iranians used Sudan as a base for arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip and built a large factory near Khartoum for making long-range rockets for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
To Ethiopia’s north, Iran has had dealings with the reclusive Eritrea. While the Eritreans deny it, many opponents of the Houthi rebellion in Yemen claim that Iran is using bases in Eritrea to train and launch aid supplies to support the Houthi. Reports are now circulating that the IRGC is also training both Houthi and Iraqi militias in Eritrea.
Across the Red Sea, Iran is deeply entrenched in Yemen. While not as intimately tied to Iran as the Shia militias, Hezbollah or other terror groups, the Houthis have Iran to thank for the ongoing stand against the Saudi-backed government. Iranian weapons, training and aid afford the Houthis the chance to stand up to Saudi air strikes and otherwise superior forces. This benefits Iran by establishing a southern front against the Saudis, while simultaneously tightening the chokehold on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. For more on this strategically important sea lane, read our article “Iran: Sultan of the Red Sea.”
Then there is Somalia. The Somalian government cut ties with Iran earlier this year. The government accused Iran of establishing sects that pose a threat to national security in the Horn of Africa. Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke accused Iranian diplomats of being “directly involved in meddling with internal Somali affairs and have carried out measures that are a threat to our national security.”
As all of the above show, Iran wants to be involved in the region. Even within Ethiopia, Iranian involvement with al-Shabaab shows it is intent on destabilizing the nation. The octopus of Iran continue to extend and Ethiopia is the latest one to come in its grasp.

The Changed Soft Power Ranking

There was a time when the Sun never could set on the British empire. It was the real soft power. But as ‘the old orders changeth yielding place to new’ the supremacy that Britain at one time yielded slowly became a fading glory and the place was quietly taken by the US.
Power in international relations has traditionally been defined and assessed in easily quantifiable ‘hard’ terms, often understood in the context of military and economic might. Hard power is deployed in the form of coercion: using force, the threat of force, economic sanctions, or inducements of payment.
In contrast to the coercive nature of hard power, soft power describes the use of positive attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives. Soft power shuns the traditional foreign policy tools of carrot and stick, seeking instead to achieve influence by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules, and drawing on the resources that make a country naturally attractive to the world.
In short, “hard power is push; soft power is pull”. Joseph Nye, the originator of the concept, initially set out three primary sources of soft power as he developed the concept. Nye’s three pillars of soft power are: political values, culture, and foreign policy. But within these three categories, the individual sources of soft power are manifold and varied.
Soft power is the ability to persuade others to do what you want, without having to use force or coercion. Britain has lost its number one spot on the world’s ‘soft power’ ranking, ceding its place to the United States.
Portland Communications has compiled Soft Power30 that, ranks countries in order by the amount of ‘soft power’ they exercise. Soft power is the real power and it is the ability to persuade others to do what you want, without having to use force or coercion. Soft power uses persuasion – winning hearts and minds rather than wars.
The index uses objective metrics of countries’ soft power resources along with subjective international polling data.
Britain fell one place to number two in this year’s ranking, while the US moved up to the top spot from third position last year. Other fallers include Germany, France, and Switzerland. Upward movers include Canada and Japan. That said, the same countries fill the top five spots – albeit in a different order.
The report’s findings show that soft power capability is rising faster in North America and Asia than in Europe. Indeed, half of European countries have fallen in the rankings. The report cites Europe’s continued economic problems, the refugee crisis, and support for political parties outside the mainstream as having had an impact. In contrast, Asian soft power is on the rise with China, Japan, and Singapore all in higher positions than last year.
Soft Power resources
Part of the rankings methodology relies on objective data – looking at a range of different sources divided into six categories: Enterprise, Culture, Digital, Government, Engagement, and Education.
For instance, America’s ranking has been bolstered by President Obama’s efforts to use consensus as a means of exerting influence, rather than hard power. An historic visit to Cuba, the lifting of the decades’ old arms embargo on Vietnam, and diplomatic initiatives that resulted in the Iran nuclear deal are all examples of his foreign policy diplomacy.
In addition, America’s universities are among the best in the world, as assessed by several global university rankings. The US attracts more international students than any other country.
It also has cultural assets such as Hollywood, which influences opinions about the country of billions of people who have never been there.
The report does not suggest that the UK’s results have declined, but rather that the US’s have improved. The UK still maintains a strong balance across all elements of soft power, with institutions such as the BBC World Service, the British Council, the British Museum, as well as the UK’s higher education system, all held as pillars of soft power.
The UK’s work on the global stage, particularly its contribution towards global good is also mentioned. Major global organizations that contribute to development, disaster relief, and human rights reforms like Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty International are key components of Britain’s soft power prowess.
Britain’s medal haul in the 2012 Olympic Games is also a boost to its cultural soft power resources, and its record haul from Rio should contribute to its future rankings.
However, following Brexit, the report warns, there would likely be a negative impact on global perceptions of Britain.
How nations are viewed
The rankings also use subjective data gleaned from specially commissioned polling across 25 countries, as well as information from Facebook’s data-science team, which looks at the Facebook pages of national leaders and foreign ministries, assessing both followers and levels of engagement.
Germany is still widely admired for its advanced-manufacturing goods and engineering prowess, its ‘cool-headed’ approach to foreign policy and an economy that seems to translate growth into well-being better than most, says the report.
Canada’s soft power has received a significant boost this year with the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His social media savvy and general popularity have led to stronger polling results for the country.
Japan’s improved rank comes partly on the back of a higher score in the polling and higher scores in Engagement and Culture.
Future rankings
The report states that future success will depend more and more on collaborative working. And technology will be a driving force. At no point in history has the global public been better informed, more able to engage, or more keen to participate in public debate and policy-making, says the report. Governments harnessing the power of digital tools have proved most successful in the Soft Power 30.
As Professor Joseph Nye, who first coined the phrase “soft power” 26 years ago said, “power with others can be more effective than power over others.”

Sunday Special: And The World War III was just around the Corner, but…

There have been political turmoils, bad decisions, and adventurism that has often brought this planet to the brink of annihilation. Many a time it was felt that the total apocalypse was just round the corner and we are going to wake up to a barren landscape, because of World War III. But although the situation was tense beyond tolerance; most of the common people were not even aware of the impending danger.  And at least ten times, this happened, but the inevitable did not happen.
Here are 10 situations ( of course in ascending order of danger that they represented) when the whole world was watching the situation with bated breath for WWIII to happen, with the forefinger poised to press the button, the situation rooms around the globe in active mode and Defcon 9 already in operation.
World War 3 Close Call No. 10: The 1979 NORAD Training Program Mishap
On the morning of Nov. 9, 1979, technicians at Colorado’s North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) command center were shocked to see their displays light up with the ultimate horror: a full-scale Soviet nuclear attack bearing down on the United States.
NORAD was to launch 10 interceptor fighter jets, get the president on an escape plane, and prepare to launch a retaliatory strike in its initial response. But before the command center made any moves, one technician realized he’d accidentally activated a training program to simulate a Soviet attack.
It was a human error that almost lead to war.
World War 3 Close Call No. 9: The Attack on Yeonpyeong
In November 2010, North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing two soldiers and injuring civilians.
The United States and other countries around the world plead for restraint. Thankfully, South Korea heeded their calls. Speculation behind North Korea’s motives mostly focused on South Korea’s recent upgrade in global status that year, as the small island nation hosted the G20 Summit and gained international prestige for focusing its future agenda on global economics.
World War 3 Close Call No. 8: The Intruding Bear
In October 1962, a guard at a Duluth, Minnesota, air base saw a figure climbing the security fence. The guard shot at the intruder and set off the sabotage alarm, which automatically set off alarms at nearby bases.
But the wrong alarm went off at nearby Volk Field Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin. Instead of the sabotage alarm, the Klaxon sounded, signaling a nuclear war and ordering nuclear-armed F-106A interceptors to take off.
By the time communication with Duluth highlighted the error, aircraft were starting down the runway at Volk. A car racing from the command center successfully signaled the aircraft to stop.
And it turned out the intruder in Minnesota had been a wandering bear.
World War 3 Close Call No. 7: The 1995 Research Rocket
At dawn on the morning of Jan. 25, 1995, a Norwegian-U.S. joint research rocket, Black Brant XII, lifted off from an island off Norway’s northwest coast. Ninety-three seconds after launch, the rocket exploded upwards, hurling itself and its payload even higher into the air.
The rocket, designed to study the aurora borealis, wound up as a wholly different kind of experiment instead: a test of U.S.-Rusian relations, with the Cold War barely in the rearview mirror…
Upon spotting the rocket, Russian radar operators sent an alert to Moscow. Within minutes, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was brought his black nuclear-command suitcase, reported The Washington Post on March 13, 1998.
Yeltsin conferred with defense ministers by telephone for several tense moments until he learned the rocket’s actual intent.
World War 3 Close Call No. 6: The Soviet False Alarm
On the evening of Sept. 26, 1983, in a secret bunker operated by the Soviets, Commander Stanislav Petrov had just sat down when a loud siren went off, warning him that the United States had just fired missiles toward the USSR, according to a 2013 report from the BBC.
Petrov knew he only had a few minutes to respond and that the decision to fire back was left solely to his discretion.
The commander ultimately decided against. It occurred to him the computer system that had issued the warning was new and could be experiencing a glitch, the BBC report claimed. He chose to err on the side of caution — a decision that likely saved many lives.
World War 3 Close Call No. 5: The Middle East False Alarm
On Oct. 24, 1973, the United States sponsored a cease-fire to end the Arab-Israeli War. Still, further fighting between Egyptian and Israeli troops in Egypt’s Sinai Desert continued.
Several U.S. officials, including then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, entered “DEFCON Three” to warn the USSR not to intervene with the events in Sinai. A DEFCON Three warning requires troops to immediately prepare for war. Kissinger felt that Russia could not counter this tactic, reported The Christian Science Monitor in 1993.
The DEFCON alert system is used by the U.S. Armed Forces to assign levels of military readiness for possible attacks. There are five qualifying levels – with DEFCON Five being the least severe and DEFCON One the most.
Typically, only the U.S. president can declare a DEFCON status, but then President Nixon was asleep when Kissinger learned that the Soviet Union was considering interfering in Sinai. The president purportedly could not be bothered to wake up.
As a result of Kissinger’s decision, Russia’s Minister of Defense Andrei Grechko, and the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, claimed Russia felt threatened by the U.S.’ DEFCON status…
Ultimately, the Soviet Union decided not to retaliate because it was not prepared to engage in large-scale war.
World War 3 Close Call No. 4: The Faulty Computer Chip
On June 3, 1980, a simple algorithm that showed both the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force when nukes were en route to the United States, read “2222” instead of its customary “0000” — indicating 2,222 missiles were in the air.
Though that’s an insanely large amount of missiles, defense technicians at the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha, Nebraska, weren’t going to take any chances. SAC personnel called NORAD, which said it had no indication of an attack.
After a few minutes, SAC screens cleared. Another few moments and SAC screens reported that Soviet ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) had been launched toward the United States. The National Military Command Center in the Pentagon received a similar reading.
That’s when the SAC duty controller directed all alert crews at its post to move to their B-52 bombers and to start their engines, so that the planes could take off quickly and not be destroyed on the ground by a nuclear attack. Land-based missile crews were put on a high state of alert and battle-control aircraft prepared for flight. In Hawaii, the airborne post of the Pacific Command took off, ready to pass messages to U.S. warships if necessary.
Then the SAC screens cleared again — as did the Pentagon’s.
It was later discovered that a single integrated circuit chip in the defense system’s computer network malfunctioned, causing various command posts across the nation to receive readings that the United States was under attack.
World War 3 Close Call No. 3: The Accidental Emergency System Broadcast
In 1971, the Vietnam War was still in full swing, lending to mass confusion when America’s Emergency Broadcast System went off at 9:33 a.m on Feb. 20.
May Day, May Day: It’s been 20 years since TWA Flight 800 went down off the coast of Long Island. But there are many skeptics still out there who aren’t convinced it wasn’t the U.S. government’s fault. And the evidence gathered till date is meaningless. It turns out a teletype operator at the commencement of a regularly scheduled test inadvertently fed the incorrect punched tape into the transmitter. This sent out an emergency message to 5,000 radio stations and 800 television stations across the United States.
For the next 40 minutes, regular programming was put on hold as listeners and broadcasters anxiously waited to hear an announcement from the White House.
That announcement never came.
While the false alarm revealed the massive impact a simple human error can have, it also exposed just how unprepared the media truly was. You see, radio and TV stations did not know the correct procedures to follow after the broadcast. Some stations couldn’t find their verification codes that an emergency was actually in effect on their daily code word lists, while others simply couldn’t even find their lists. And some stations failed even to receive the alert at all.
World War 3 Close Call No. 2: The U2 Jet Flies into Soviet Airspace
On the night of Oct. 26, 1982, a U2 high altitude reconnaissance jet pilot was ordered to fly a new route over the North Pole.
That night the aurora borealis prevented the pilot from getting clear navigational readings and the plane strayed over the Chukotski Peninsula. Soviet MIG interceptors took off with orders to shoot down the U2. Meanwhile, the U.S. pilot contacted his command post and was ordered to fly due east towards Alaska. Unfortunately, he ran out of fuel while still over Siberia.
In response to his SOS, U.S. F102-A fighters were launched to escort him on his glide back to Alaska, with orders to prevent the MIGs from entering U.S. airspace. The U.S. interceptor aircraft were armed with nuclear missiles, and the pilots could have used any one of them at their own discretion.
World War 3 Close Call No. 1: The Poorly Timed Satellite
Just before 9 a.m. on Oct. 28, 1962, radar operators in Moorestown, New Jersey, informed NORAD that a nuclear attack was under way. A test tape simulating a missile launch from Cuba was being run while, at the same time, a satellite just happened to be passing over the horizon.
Operators reported to NORAD that impact was expected 18 miles west of Tampa at 9:02 a.m.
Under such circumstances, NORAD does not take action until impact has been made.
Since the area nearby Tampa didn’t explode that morning, NORAD deemed Moorestown’s warning a false alarm.

Chinese Desire to Dominate the South China Sea: A Search for Submarine sanctuary

President Barack Obama’s final address to the UN General Assembly featured a pointed swipe at Beijing’s aggressive moves to militarise “a few rocks and reefs” in the South China Sea. “A peaceful resolution of disputes offered by law will mean far greater stability,” he said. Indeed, installing airstrips and missiles on reclaimed land would represent a rather feeble effort to claim sovereignty – if that was actually China’s core objective. In reality, however, Chinese leaders have a much broader strategic objective, one which Obama cannot publicly talk about. Establishing dominance of the semi-closed South China Sea is but the first essential step in achieving China’s blue water ambitions, which Washington is unlikely to support.
By declaring the South China Sea as a “core interest” alongside Taiwan and Tibet – precluding the possibility of compromise or negotiation – Beijing is underlining the strategic value it attaches to the waters. On the surface, this deep commitment seems odd because, other than claiming ambiguously defined historic sovereign rights over a vast body of water (which was rejected by an international court) containing oil and fishing resources, China has not articulated what it seeks in the shallow waters of South China Sea.
Some of China’s interests in the waters are obvious: China has been drilling for oil and gas in the waters of South China Sea, it has sought to involve foreign oil companies by giving concessions and has diplomatically and physically obstructed other claimants like Vietnam from exploring. China has unilaterally banned fishing in the waters by other coastal nations at certain times of the year and has recently asked fishermen from other countries to seek permission before engaging in fishing. China has vastly expanded its coastguard fleet and armed it with powerful weapons, encouraging its fishing fleet to go out aggressively to neighbours’ exclusive economic zones.
The US and others have protested that China’s militarisation has the effect of impeding freedom of navigation, which China strongly denies. Indeed, restricting freedom of navigation would run counter to Chinese economic interests. After all, 80% of China’s oil imports are shipped through the South China Sea, not to mention its gigantic exports.
Instead, what China really wants is to block US naval and aerial surveillance over the South China Sea. Under the UN Convention on Law of the Seas, foreign ships and aircraft are allowed innocent passage through a country’s extended economic zone. Yet, since 2001 – when a Chinese jet crashed trying to interdict a US spy plane south of Hainan island – there have been several incidents in which the Chinese military has harassed US naval and oceanographic ships sailing through international waters. So why make such a determined effort to establish dominance in the area?
Experts studying military planning and force deployment have concluded that what China wants is to create a naval sanctuary to protect its fledgling submarine force. For the past two decades, China has been building a secure submarine base in Sanya, dug deep under the rocks of Hainan island. The problem China faces in deploying its nuclear-capable submarines from Sanya out into the blue waters of the Pacific is the shallow water of South China Sea.
Given that Chinese submarines are “noisy”, their westward journey through would be exposed to surveillance. There is only one deep channel, called Bashi, that passes between Taiwan and the Philippines at a depth of 4,000 metres but that is under near-constant watch by the US and other navies. By stationing aircraft and short-range missiles in the string of militarised artificial islands that it has built, China wants to make surveillance more difficult and potentially dangerous for its adversaries. The US of course, says it will continue to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations by sailing through waters China illegally claims. But in reality such symbolic moves have become few and far between, raising questions about US commitment in challenging China’s claims.
In the meantime China is steadily building up its naval strength, adding to its nuclear submarine fleet and sending its vessels out into the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Its recent agreement with Djibouti gives it its first overseas military base where it can shelter and resupply its blue water navy. The militarised “rocks and reefs” may be far more consequential than President Obama let on at the UN General Assembly

Bizarre Laws From Around the World

It is a crazy world out there and in this mad world you have to live by the rules. But there are some laws which are just plain bizarre, to put it mildly. If you’re planning you next vacation abroad, you might want to take a look at some of these laws.
1. Greece
Ever thought of a having a destination wedding which will be the talk of the town? But get this- anyone getting married in Greece is required to publish their wedding notice in the Greek newspaper or in the notice board of the City Hall. If you’re planning to get married there, we suggest you carry extra bucks just for the newspaper ad!
2. Switzerland
Did you know it is illegal to flush the toilet after 10PM in Switzerland? The reason? Well, apart from sound pollution, the Swiss have taken the ‘love thy neighbour’ commandment to the next level. So, if you’re planning to gorge on that Swiss cheese, make sure it’s for lunch.
3. Spain
Planning a road trip in Spain? Well, ditch those flipflops and pack in a pair of shoes. Driving with sandals/flip-flop is illegal. The traffic law states that a person needs to wear formal shoes while driving, failing which you can be fined up to 150 Euros.
4. Bolivia
Next time when you’re off on your Bolivian adventures, we suggest you go solo. Because if you’re a married woman in Bolivia, we got news for you – there’s a law that states that a married woman will be refused a second glass of wine. Perfect for a bachelorette, maybe not for your anniversary.
5. USA
Talk about specifics – if you’re in Oklahoma and your donkey decides to nap in the bathtub after 7PM-consider yourself a criminal. We are not making this up.
6. Denmark
Denmark could sell itself as the perfect destination for budget holidays. The Danish take their food servings very seriously. As a matter of fact, if you’re dissatisfied with the quantity of food served, you can walk away without paying the bill. It’s not something we recommend, but that’s the law.
7. Milan
We know the Italians to be loud, boisterous and way too expressive- but they aren’t showing any of this enthusiasm in Milan. It is illegal in Milan to frown. So when in Milan, remember to turn that frown upside down.
8. England
Imagine you’re breathing your last. Your life is flashing before your eyes. Just wait for a minute, look around you and make sure you’re not in the British Houses of Parliament – where, according to the law, it Is illegal to die. The last thing you want to do on Earth (quite literally) is do die illegally.
9. Tajikstan
Journalists in Tajikistan could be fined for using ‘incomprehensible’ words. If Shakespeare were a journalist in Tajikistan right now, he’d most likely be in very big trouble. Because, let’s face it, there are a LOT of words in his plays that would confound you… and that, according to news reports, is a finable offence in the central Asian state.
Reportedly, the Tajik government will start fining journalists who are caught using incomprehensible words in their writings. .

Weekend Reading: Transition of Beard — from ‘yuck’ to ‘ooh-la-la’

What made all those hunks unrecognisable to kids and sizzlingly hot to nubiles? Ah, their facial fuzz, of course! (Yeah, and I had a thing for Gulzar saab too, as much for his poetry as his signature 5 o’clock shadow, and he too is a Surd!) You see, those were the days when men with beards were not so common and the few who sported it were actually referred to as ‘beardie boys’!
But, today it’s a whole new story— unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll have noticed that beards have come sprouting back into fashion; sporting beards and twirling moustaches are considered fashion statements and a man’s ‘coolest’ accessories nowadays (think Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, for starters). The beard gives a man that strikingly macho look and the commanding presence. Period. But it also may make him look unkempt and come across as plain lazy (to shave every day). But this once-rare look definitely has become mainstream in just a few years—almost every male seems to be telling a beard fashion story these days. Come to think of it, after the rebellious hipster ’70s, clean-shaven was the uber cool look for almost two decades. Then came the metrosexuals, who dismissed the idea of even a careless stubble. But the lines between the proper executive look and a casual one have blurred in the 21st century. A stubble isn’t for weekends or a holiday anymore. In fact, beards are fashionable, wild and is the new cool.
Well, trends are trends and you are free to like them or lump them! But can a head shrink keep his/her proboscis out of matters that do not merit his/her concern? Of course not. A true-blue psychologist simply has to know the whys and wherefores of every goddamn thing— such as – are these men just copying each other; what does a beard do to a man’s attraction level? Does it make him look more macho or toe-curlingly sexy and so on? So here I go, sampling and savouring what my community has to say about this new trend of facial fur.
In fact, the beard trend is having such a global grip that Dr Alun Withey, an expert in medical history at the University of Exeter, decided to do a project entitled ‘Do Beards Matter’ on the basis of which he suggests that beards have become iconic because of a ‘crisis of masculinity’ that the contemporary man faces. Has women empowerment got anything to do with that, I wonder. Withey believes that men subconsciously use their ability to grow facial hair as a way of reasserting their masculinity, kind of publicly displaying their manhood, without getting thrown in jail for indecent exposure! Does that also mean that beards are now the new combat zone for male competitiveness? Oh wow! But that is not all, guys.
Author and history lecturer Christopher Oldstone-Moore writes in his book “Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair”: “Beards signify slow, seismic shifts dictated by deeper social forces that shape and reshape ideals of manliness.” Whew, that sure sounds stentorian! Let’s face it, there are certain characteristics that maketh a man—courage, strength, dependability, charisma, self-confidence (to name just a few – this is not a comprehensive list so those men who do not score on all the points need not feel disheartened), and now, a bad-ass facial fur has not only been added as an essential to this list, but has made other qualities seem actually inconsequential without it, almost as if to proclaim from the rooftops , “Hey you alpha male, if you don’t have a beard, you are nothing.” No wonder the guys are tripping over themselves to sport this must-have accessory.
The fact of the matter is that beards have seen a quantum shift in popularity since the about the 60’s, when beards were somehow thought to be a by-product of the hippie movement and, therefore, became associated with things such as dirtiness, lack of a job, sex, drugs, and just the mark of a person who was not in any way a helpful member of society. Ah, but today, it’s a whole new story—bearded guys are seen as mature (even actually wise), rugged, manly, caring and what not. Besides, the beard is now free the of all socio-religious subtexts.
Actually, a beard is a natural process of a boy’s growing up, isn’t it, and the ability to grow a beard is simply a rite of passage from boyhood into masculinity. But growing a full-fledged beard comes with its own nuances. While beards are associated with dominance, power, and maturity, the flip side of the same coin says that such a masculine (aka aggressive) image can make people feel a little intimidated. But I personally feel that breaking this down to any kind of alpha/beta male idea is oversimplifying —a beard is not really the hallmark of a real man; a clean-shaven guy is often as much of a man (caring, chivalrous, responsible and so on) as his bearded counterpart! But that said, it cannot be denied that while our mothers associated the clean-cut, well-groomed man with success and financial security, ladies of the millennial generation are finding themselves enticed by the burly, more rugged hairy men. A generous amount of facial fuzz is no longer seen as an indicator of the scraggy or unmotivated, but rather the strong, independent and wise. Times do change, after all. So whether it’s a Frenchie, goatee, wild goatee, stubble, sideburn, chin fuzz, chin strip, soul patch, balbo or a full beard, facial floss is now considered manly, sexy and absolute hotness! Is it a case of a regression to primal urges? Is the caveman making a comeback ? Ooh la la!
But jokes aside, let’s not get carried away here. A man can—and sadly, often does—go overboard with a beard. A medieval-era beard is not attractive and can actually turn off a modern woman instead of getting her pulse racing. Very few men can carry off a bearded look with panache, but the ones that do, have a sophisticated and mature edge to their character. The beard needs to be a fashion statement, not a sign of laziness. There’s a fine line between looking sexy and looking dishevelled. A well-groomed beard seems to say that a man takes care of his appearance, and that, trust me, definitely signifies authority.
A word of caution here though—what we are talking about here has to do with societal expectations, but overall, a beard does send a signal of masculinity. Period. But what about the expectations of employers? Does facial hair affect a guy’s employability? Is a guy with a beard eyed with suspicion, apprehension, dislike etc? Do employers and recruiters despise facial fuzziness or they don’t give a damn? Well, psychologists (may our tribe increase) have put their “wise” (ahem, I hope that applies to me too) heads together and pondered hard and long over the matter and decided that, well…no, they did not cinch an ambiguous black-and-white answer ; they simply said that it all depends on what kind of job you’re going after. If a conservative field like finance is your territory, or you are eyeing a management position, then it just might be a tad, just a tad, mind you, safer to sport the clean-shaven look; but even a beard can work for you, provided it is well-groomed—no stray hairs, please, (because that is surely going to project you as a slacker). By doing that, you can actually send a signal that you think a little bit outside the box and that may be to your advantage. The real bottom line is—being well groomed is key to making a strong first impression and yes, that’s over and above a firm handshake. So there you have it, both sides of the hairy argument, and the verdict is out! With a little bit of research, you can figure out the length and style of facial hair that’s right for your life, your career, and your goals.
Okay, now let’s move on to how the facial hair affects the guys sporting it. Psychologists had men put on fake facial hair and look at themselves in the mirror and rate themselves and they found that whenever a man had facial hair, he actually felt a little bit more assertive and more masculine; and as it happens, whenever he felt more masculine and assertive, he usually acted that way. In fact, not so surprisingly, guys who had a problem at work in the sense of having trouble standing up for themselves, or of getting up and making their point, felt that a beard would enable them to get a little more confidence to be able to be more assertive. The signed-sealed-and delivered fact of the matter is that a beard is a sign of active testosterone in the body, and human brains recognize that as coming with the potential for more aggression. As a result, men with beards are often seen as more angry, aggressive, or dominant, even if their personality has none of those traits! This is not a blanket statement, please, and there are all kinds of men (variety, after all, is the spice of life), with all kinds of ideas about what is macho and what is not. And it definitely does not mean that every man should run out and grow a large beard so that everyone will see him as a mature and “doesn’t take no for an answer” type of guy.
Another interesting nugget that behavioural therapists have come up with is that guys often want to grow a beard but are afraid to because of the societal responsibilities associated with it and their own fear of failure to live up to those expectations. It is not hard to understand that though. In a world where so much is expected of men, what man can genuinely say that he doesn’t fear coming up short? It is true that the ideas of “manliness” and “femininity” have been redefined over the last several decades, but many responsibilities are still the lot of boys and men.
Boys are often told from a young age that physical strength comes naturally to their form, because of which they have to don the role of protector of their own. In fact, they are often led to believe by their families that they are expected to remain stoic against their emotions, stalwart in their responsibilities. That’s a tall order and then, as one thing leads to another, a fear of failure sets in; these young guys start feeling that they are somehow, because of their gender, not allowed to fail in any way! And, get a load of this, since growing a beard is an essentially manly endeavour, why would he risk the embarrassment and potential rejection by his immediate support group by failing in this endeavour? The solution for many is to simply not try. Complicated, huh ? Aren’t all men?
So, after all this beard talk, what we really glean is that you should simply forget anyone who tells you that beards are a 100% guarantee to be an alpha male lady-killer. Also forget anyone who says they’re an automatic job-loser and impossible to pair with a business suit. It’s just not that simple. Period. So, does the cool dude go hirsute or depilated? Sorry guys. There is no definitive answer—just follow your own free will, ha ha ! Go and discover what works best for you and express yourself through your individual style choices.

Millennial Children Prepare for Your Career

Jobs are never available, as you might need or demand them. You have to have both short term and long term strategy to get a job that combines vocation with passion. In the most competitive era, new jobs are going to be there, but are you ready. You don’t need to tread in the Toms of a millennial for a week to know they are like any generation and not the homogenous set they’re often reported to be. I know too well there is no one answer, no one-size-fits-all approach and that the onus is on us, parent or employer, to understand what makes them tick. In my live comments- – today, I talked of this issue.
Let us not forget how much young people already know, that learning isn’t one way and that we should all be as curious to ask as many questions as we answer.
For me, people are my priority. There are a few shareables that helped us see a potentially uncertain future in a positive light.
Stick or twist? Just have a go and keep your options wide open
College is important educationally and culturally, but what young people learn at university alone doesn’t equip them for today’s job market and too many leave grad-ready, not job ready.
It’s important to get practical work experience early. Students who have four or more contacts with employers while in school are more likely to be employed at the age 19-24 and five times less likely to be jobless. Opportunities to engage with employers through junior achievement, work experience, weekend and temporary jobs nurture curiosity and the desire to explore new things. In doing so, they help you learn where your passion lies at a young age: what work you’d like to do and, importantly, what you’d like to avoid.
Learnability is the path to career security
In an environment where new skills emerge as fast as others become extinct, employability is less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn. By focusing on learnability – the desire and ability to adapt your skills to remain employable – millennials are redefining career security.
Ninety-three percent want ongoing skills development and four out of five say the opportunity to learn a new skill is a top factor when considering a new job. Employers would do well to listen up and consider how they create a learning culture that motivates and retains millennials, because what works for them works for the rest of the workforce, too.
Embrace disruption and take advantage of technology
It’s no secret that the job-for-life model no longer exists– but amazing that 65% of children starting their first year of school this year will eventually do jobs thatdonot as yet exist. So without a doubt today’s and tomorrow’s workforce will need to keep reskilling to stay relevant through longer working lives.
Some jobs will be significantly impacted by automation and robotics, and new jobs will be created in ways that are hard to predict, but what we know for sure is that the ability to adapt and learn will be a skill that will provide employment security for many as the environment changes.
What else do we know? We know that plenty of future employment opportunities will come fromSTEM-related jobs. Also, women are especially likely to be disproportionately affected by increases in automation, as their employment is concentrated in low-growth or declining industries and they are already underrepresented in fields such as computer science and tech.
We need to do more to remove the barriers for girls and women to study and work in high-growth sectors if we’re to continue to accelerate gender parity in their workplaces. One of my friend’s daughters, who is studying chemistry at university, is quite right when she tells me we need to act earlier and proactively encourage girls to pursue STEM subjects, if we want to train and tap the best talent.
Find out what you care about and try to align it with your work
It might sound clichéd and it’s not always possible, but it’s important to be interested – even passionate – about what you do. In this respect, we can learn a lot from the millennial generation. They care – about communities, about giving back – and they look for that in their employers too.
Eight in 10 millennials in Mexico, India and Brazil say working for employers who are socially responsible and aligned to their values is important. A majority of millennials everywhere say that purpose is a priority. Almost half of Generation Z (the generational cohort directly following millennials) go as far as saying that in choosing a job, working for a company that helps make the world a better place would be as important as the salary.
Don’t get me wrong: I know money matters too, but this is a nudge to employers that purpose is important, and we should be explicit about our responsibility to the communities in which we operate. This is a generation that wants to know that what they do matters. If that recognition cannot be expressed through a job for life, they will choose employers that reflect their personal beliefs and interests for the time that they are part of that organization.

Books That Created History

What’s the most influential book you’ve ever read? This is question I am often asked. My passion is reading and I read without discrimination. Some books are skimmed over, others read and some are digested. I find these books to be of everlasting value, but that does not mean, that there are no other books that cannot rival them.
Many of the books that make up the final 20 are hundreds – in one case thousands – of years old, proving that the best works really do stand the test of time. How many of these classics have you read?

1. On the Origins of Species
Author: Charles Darwin
Published: 1859
Why you should read it: It’s simple: “No work has so fundamentally changed the way we think about our very being and the world around us..
2. The Communist Manifesto
Author: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Published: 1888
Why you should read it, this is more than just a manifesto: “It’s not just a uniquely influential document in the theory and practice of revolutionary movements throughout the world; it’s also a work of history, of economic, political and cultural analysis, and of prophecy.”
3. The Complete Works
Author: William Shakespeare
Published: The plays were first published between 1594 and 1634
Why you should read it Shakespeare was “not of an age but for all time”. He wasn’t wrong. Centuries later, Shakespeare’s plays are still by far the most admired, read and watched plays in the English-speaking world and beyond.
4. The Republic
Author: Plato
Published: 380 BC
Why you should read it: Not only is it an important piece of work from one of the most influential philosophers, it’s also very readable. “Plato did not write philosophy like a dry textbook – he wrote it like a living conversation.
5. Critique of Pure Reason
Author: Immanuel Kant
Published: 1781
Why you should read it: It’s not an easy read. But the effort more than pays off: “Kant’s book requires a degree of concentration to be understood and appreciated, but it richly repays close study both for its own sake and because of the far-reaching nature of what it suggests.”
6. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Author: Mary Wollstonecraft
Published: 1792
Why you should read it: At a time when revolutionaries were demanding equal rights for all men, Wollstonecraft demanded those rights be extended to women: “The book laid out the tenets of what today we call ‘equality’ or ‘liberal’ feminist theory.
7. The Wealth of Nations
Author: Adam Smith
Published: 1776
Why you should read it: Smith’s book is the foundation of economics, the origin of econometrics and the intellectual cradle of capitalism, all of which are as relevant today as they were when he wrote it.
8. Orientalism
Author: Edward Said
Published: 1978
Why you should read it: Said’s book sought to reveal the West’s patronizing and largely inaccurate understanding of Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, and helps to mobilize fear, hatred, disgust and resurgent self-pride and arrogance – much of it having to do with Islam and the Arabs on one side and ‘we’ Westerners on the other. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since September 2001, you’ll understand why this book is as pertinent as ever.
9. Nineteen Eighty-Four
Author: George Orwell
Published: 1949
Why you should read it: It’s much more than a book – it’s a novel of huge social and political significance that’s never going to date, especially in an age of digital surveillance. Is Big Brother watching you?
10. The Meaning of Relativity
Author: Albert Einstein
Published: 1922
Why you should read it: Einstein said his goal with the book was to give an insight into the theory of relativity to interested non-experts. This work does exactly that: “Nobody is better at explaining relativity than Einstein himself; his account provides a combination of depth and clarity that only he could confidently produce..
11. The Second Sex
Author: Simone de Beauvoir
Published: 1949
Why you should read it: Times have changed for women since this book was first published. But Beauvoir’s central argument that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” and her detailed examination of women throughout history still makes for a compelling read.
12. The Rights of Man
Author: Thomas Paine
Published: 1791
Why you should read it: Paine was an original thinker, far ahead of his time. The Rights of Man, written while Paine was taking part in the French Revolution, addresses issues – poverty, inequality, welfare – that are still hotly debated today.
13. A Brief History of Time
Author: Stephen Hawking
Published: 1988
Why you should read it: It tackles one of the biggest and most intriguing questions: where did we come from and where are we going? “I wanted to explain how far we had come in our understanding of the universe: how we might be near finding a complete theory that would describe the universe and everything in it,” writes Hawkins.
14. Silent Spring
Author: Rachel Carson
Published: 1962
Why you should read it: When Carson, a former marine biologist, took on the chemical industry and revealed the damage pesticides were doing to the planet, she probably didn’t know how much of an impact her book would have. It is one of the most effective books ever written, it paved the way for the modern environmental movement.
15. The Female Eunuch
Author: Germaine Greer
Published: 1970
Why you should read it: Even to this day, both Greer and her book divide feminists. And perhaps that’s why it made it on to this list: it still gets people thinking about and debating important issues. Her insights, while not always strictly accurate, offer revelatory analysis, and in a language so searing it galvanizes us to reflect more deeply on the status of women and the nature of gender relations.
16. The Prince
Author: Niccolò Machiavelli
Published: 1532
Why you should read it: The Prince provided aspiring rulers with a guide on getting power and holding on to it. It may give readers an insight into the mindsets of leaders caught taking an ends-justify-the-means approach.
17. Ways of Seeing
Author: John Berger
Published: 1972
Why you should read it: Berger’s book, based on a BBC television series, explores the way women and men are represented in culture, and how these representations influence the way they act. Thirty years after its release is is still a rare example of that much-claimed title, the trailblazer.
18. The Making of the English Working Class
Author: E.P. Thompson
Published: 1963
Why you should read it: History is written by the victors, as they say. Which is why history books tend to be dominated by royalty and aristocrats. Thompson’s book departed from that tradition: The book set the terms of reference for much labour history that followed.
19. The Uses of Literacy
Author: Richard Hoggart
Published: 1957
Why you should read it: With all the talk of income inequality – how it’s increasing, the many problems it spawns – Hoggart’s book about the working class is well worth a revisit: Despite the social and economic transformations, thousands still recognize the life depicted – we should be closer to a classless society, but are not.
20. The Naked Ape
Author: Desmond Morris
Published: 1967
Why you should read it: In this bestseller, Morris, a zoologist and ethologist, explores the human species by comparing them with other animals. He’s published follow-up books, but it’s this first one, and its “irresistible blend of hard science and populism”.

Time & Need to Defang Pakistan

After every terror strike in India by some Pakistan-based outfit, the Indian elite fulminate, strain their vocal chords with war cries, stomp their feet in exasperation at India’s strategic restraint, wring their hands over Pakistan’s first-use nuclear doctrine, shake their heads in disbelief at China’s continued support for Islamabad and, tiring of these anatomical exertions, move on to the next scandal that qualifies for a more languid response.
This will not do. India has to have a grand strategy towards Pakistan. A war is best avoided. Even without a nuclear exchange, it can be very costly. The implication is that actions that can escalate into full-fledged war also call for circumspection. However, Pakistan cannot be allowed to wage its covert war against India. What can be done?
Pak Must Reimagine Itself
The solution is existential. The Pakistan that exists today must cease to be. This is not a call to annihilate the land or its people, but to seek its transformation from a state conceived in intolerance, and nurtured and sustained by hostility towards India. The people of Pakistan must reimagine their state.
This matters not just to India but to the entire world. Today’s Pakistan is a fountainhead of jihadi terror and provider of justification for a medieval, intolerant version of Islam incompatible with the modern world. A new, reimagined Pakistan matters to the entire world.
Pakistan sees itself as Islam’s sword arm, the only nuclear-capable Islamic country, with an army large enough to lend its forces to other Islamic countries. Pakistan is Islam’s fort — said Gen Musharraf, while announcing a policy about-turn on the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11. It was imperative for Pakistan to make that turnaround. Pakistan survives on external aid. The US, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries and, most importantly, China fund it. These funders have to be kept bamboozled, if not in good humour.
To be the sword arm of Islam, Pakistan needs to project force in excess of what its national economy, about an eighth India’s, and even smaller in terms of complexity, permits. This is where jihad comes in.
Training, equipping, funding and ideologically motivating terror groups gives Pakistan additional strategic depth and reach. It holds the power to destabilise Afghanistan, using terror groups. It has been playing the Americans successfully for decades, offering help to fight its own spawn. It has been harassing India continuously.
But Pakistan pays a terrible price for this additional strategic depth. Its society remains poor, politically disempowered and steeped in medieval tradition and beliefs, easily amenable to religious radicalism and, thus, a fertile ground for recruiting jihadis. All jihadi groups are not under Islamabad’s control and several of them attack the people of Pakistan.
Needless to say, it is not the elite with grandiose visions of saving Islam from imaginary dragons that bear the brunt of this strategy but the ordinary people of the country. How can Pakistan be induced to transform itself?
The cognoscenti know, from studying the scriptures or from didactic exchanges between Kung Fu Panda and Master Shifu, that inner peace enables the fighter to catch a falling droplet of water without breaking its spherical symmetry or, more to the point, devastate the enemy. Inner peace would work well for India.
The Power of Inner Peace
The nub of the two-nation theory that serves as the founding ideology of Pakistan is the notion that Muslims and Hindus cannot live together and that Muslims of South Asia needed secure homeland of their own, once the British left.
India, in contrast, saw itself as a diverse, multicultural country of equal citizens with democratic rights as individuals and as religious communities. According to India’s constitutional ideal, Hindus and Muslims, apart other present religious communities, can live together in harmony and dignity, and prosper.
If India were, indeed, to find inner peace, for, say, two decades, and a couple of generations of Muslims were to grow up educated, empowered and prosperous, untroubled by riots or insidious discrimination, that would disprove the two-nation theory.
Muslims of Pakistan would remain caught in a time warp and prone to fatal accidents, while the Muslims of India would be part of building the most dynamic nation on earth.
India has not found inner peace so far and cow-fascists and their cohorts push the target back. While this project gets underway, India must work on other fronts.
One goal is for diplomacy to choke off external funding of jihad. Nightmares of the sun and the wind drying up oil and gas fields haunt the Gulf nations. US schizophrenia on funding terror is amenable to cure. That leaves China.The Pakistani Army and its sidekick the ISI thought we would not react this time when 18 soldiers were killed and several others wounded in a terror strike in Uri by Jaish e Mohammed operatives, with guns, grenades, clothes and rations all with Pakistan’s markings on it. Yet Pakistan is in denial and why should we expect a different reaction?
This is a country that gave North Korea the bomb; harboured Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden; exports terror with impunity; still harbours the Haqqani network in Quetta; is in league with the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan – the list is endless—enough to label Pakistan a rogue state.
The world knows it but yet North Korea and Cuba and Sudan are considered terror harbouring states by the US and not Pakistan! In fact, it is because of the US that Pakistan gets away with terror strikes, again and again, even supplying arms and aid to the Taliban who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. One just wonders what US foreign policy is all about and whether it will change.
For the last 30 years, Pakistan has been using its terror proxies to wage war against India. They have hijacked planes; serial bombed Mumbai in the 1990s; sent huge sums of money to create radical Islam in parts of Kashmir that led to the ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits; attacked the parliament; and were responsible for 26/11 when ten terrorists from Pakistan killed hundreds over three days in Mumbai. The list is endless from creating havoc in Kashmir to arming and encouraging the Khalistan movement. It has cost India dear both in blood and treasure.
As I write this Pakistan sent another 12 groups of militants into Kashmir and we managed to stop them all but lost another soldier.
It almost seems like General Sharif wants a war with India, so he can take over the country. He is about to retire in the next few months and a war would likely help him to declare a state of emergency and take over. The Pakistani public would be all for it.
I am certain the Uri attack was an attempt to embarrass Nawaz Sharif before his address at the UN General Assembly and General Sharif has more aces up his sleeves. If India does not attack then he may even allow his proxies to stage a bigger attack on our country. After the Panama Papers that implicated the Pakistani PMs family of having huge amounts of unaccounted money, Nawaz has been a lame duck prime minister. It seems the Pakistan Army has a game plan and its government has none.
Though every single country has condemned the Uri attack, India will have to keep reminding the world that Pakistan is a terror state. Countries have their own problem and are apt to forget once the fuss is over.
The fact that PM Modi has spoken about the atrocities in Balochistan and PoK has also been an embarrassment for Pakistan.
In addition, the big five, France, Russia, China the UK and the US have all been firmly on India’s side and not even allowed Pakistan to bring up the Kashmir issue. It almost seems as if the world is tired of terror and this time Pakistan went too far.
India is in a position of strength now and the fact that at the UN General Assembly world leaders gather and Uri is very much news will help our case further with the world community.
Having taken the diplomatic route and alerted the world, what more can India do?
Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, wrote in Rediff:
“The army and the IAF should ‘hit to hurt’ the Pakistan army on the LoC where it is deployed in large numbers and can be easily reached. For every act of terrorism on Indian Territory for which there is credible evidence pointing to the involvement of the Pakistan army and the ISI, carefully calibrated military strikes must be launched against the Pakistan army. These should include artillery strikes with guns firing in the ‘pistol gun’ mode to destroy bunkers on forward posts with minimum collateral damage; stand-off PGM strikes on brigade and battalion HQ, communications centres, logistics infrastructure, ammunition dumps and key bridges; and raids by Special Forces and border action teams. Every Pakistan post through which infiltration takes place should be reduced to rubble by artillery fire.”
Personally, the Brigadier has made some good points but it would be taken as an act of war by Pakistan and they would retaliate hard but perhaps such actions if planned well can be done covertly as well. It would require Special Forces trained by the best. For this, I would choose Israel. We need commandoes that can strike valuable assets in the deep of the night and slip away.
We also have to strengthen the borders with Pakistan. Why are so many militants coming in even if they are shot? This would require the state of the art equipment and huge expense but would be worth it. The police in Punjab are compromised and our borders are still very porous. We need to stop trade as along with goods Pakistan sends in drugs and perhaps militants and arms to India. India exports 2 billion dollars’ worth of goods to Pakistan. This would hurt our exporters initially but there are many other countries that we can export to. We simply cannot have business as usual anymore.
Brahma Chellaney wrote a fantastic piece on how we should revisit the Indus Water Treaty, signed in 1960 by Nehru with Pakistan that gave the enemy state most of the Indus river water systems without any quid pro quo. This treaty reserved for India just 19.48% of the total waters of the six river Indus system! He says that we must revisit this issue. Water is a resource, which we also need desperately and it would prove to Pakistan that we are going to be tough on this issue as well.
Lean on countries that are exporting to Pakistan and want to do business with us. We may not be successful with all states but even if some refuse to do business with Pakistan it will hurt them.
Build up our intelligence and human assets on the ground in Pakistan and let Israel teach us how to take out militant outfits and the heads of it. They are especially good at this and this too can be done covertly. This will take time but it will have the maximum effect.
No more trains and buses to run between the countries. This is essential to show Pakistan we mean business.
As I said before, I say again, the drumbeat of atrocities by Pakistan in Baluchistan, Gilgit and PoK has to be loud and consistent. It should be part of every diplomatic effort in every country, every day till it gets into the very psyche of foreign diplomats and foreign media. For too long our governments have ignored this even while Pakistan kept bringing up India’s human rights violations in Kashmir.
We should not expect much help from America as they will not stop aiding Pakistan even though at a recent Senate Committee meeting in Washington every senator spoke about how Pakistan has always played a duplicitous game with the US and all options to punish Pakistan should be on the table including, stopping aid; cutting off the arms supply; terming it a state sponsoring terror and even bringing in sanctions.
But even they agreed that the government may not accept their suggestions.
The only way we can arm twist the US is trying a quid pro quo as they want us to buy their arms, Boeings, cars, burgers and so much else. They need our huge market for their goods. This endeavor will have to wait till we see who comes in as the new US President.
In the end, India has to depend on itself to make its move. I agree it must never be a knee jerk reaction as it will only serve Pakistan’s purpose. All the government needs to do is strengthen our borders on a war level. Isolate Pakistan as much as possible and give our armed forces and intelligence agencies the best equipment.
The rest should be strategic, and very, very secret and not even involve the opposition parties as I do not trust them as they gave Pakistan too long a rope for too long and none of them have the best interest of India at heart or they would not have said that they are pained by the death of our soldiers but and then came to a political angle. This is so disgusting that it is sickening. To think they wanted to score brownie points at a time like this!
Thus I advise my Prime Minister to keep every action that will be taken a surprise— A surprise for the media; a surprise for the political parties and most of all a surprise for Pakistan.
Unrest in Balochistan, where China is building the Gwadar port, and in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), through which its road and rail links to Kashgar in Xinjiang have to pass, will offer India some leverage. India must use it.

We believe more in myths than in reality

The first thing that tourists do when they get to the northern Italian city of Verona is to rush to see Juliet’s balcony, Juliet being the significant other of Romeo, the ‘star-crossed lovers’ immortalised by Shakespeare. The handsome city of Verona has several sights more worthy of seeing than Juliet’s balcony, from which she is supposed to have made her famous speech: ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’
There is the 1st century AD Roman arena, said to be the oldest in the world and which today plays host not to bloody gladiatorial combat but to opera concerts, for which its admirable acoustics made it perfect.
There are a number of magnificent cathedrals, perhaps most notable among these being the Basilica San Zeno, built between the 9th and the 12th centuries and a notable example of Romanesque architecture.
But almost all visitors first head for Casa di Giulietta, the House of Juliet. In the nondescript courtyard of the small building is a bronze statuette of Juliet, its right breast polished bright by tourists who rub it for luck.
Half a million people flock here every year. But did Juliet even exist? Doubtful. The municipal authorities bought the place in 1905 and turned it into a shrine to one of the most famous, and tragic, love affairs of folk lore. Local rumour has it that it was really once a brothel.
Juliet’s balcony bears witness to the power of myth. Myth, manufactured by our imagination, is far more compelling than reality.
The realm of reality is restricted by the factual; unfettered by facts, the domain of myth represents an enchanting landscape in which we can escape the humdrum banality of everyday life.
Myth is not about what really happened, but what ought to have happened. Myth is truer than truth. Which is why we find it so alluring.
We create our myths as we go along. And, for all we know, sometime in the distant future people will throng to a dusty town in Gujarat to gaze reverentially at a small roadside stall which was the origin of one said to have begun his meteoric and mythic career as a humble chaiwala.

Burqa, Veil and Bollywood

Way before the burkini ban, Hindi cinema has been lifting and dropping the veil. It appears that the act of retaining or removing a woman’s modesty sheath is loaded with romantic and social consequences. It is relevant in the charged political atmosphere where burqa has come under attack (rightly so) and even burkini has been banned, or is proposed to be banned (wrongly so). Some French towns may have banned the burkini from their beaches, but veils have always appeared in Indian films in many avatars. Indian films perform gymnastics with them, incorporating veils into narratives in deliciously diverse ways.
Veils in their most obvious incarnation, the burqa, were central to the plots of classic Muslim socials. Although the name of the genre attracted considerable debate, these films generally focused upon the social upliftment of Muslims through education, while asserting the importance of tradition.
In Chaudhvin ka Chaand, Nawab Sahib falls in love with Jameela when he accidentally catches a glimpse of her. When his mother tries to convince him to marry a woman of her choosing, he requests his friend Aslam to marry her instead. Unknown to him, this woman is Jameela. Her burqa prevents Nawab Sahib from recognising Jameela as the woman he is in love with.
There are many parallels between Chaudhvin ka Chaand and Mere Mehboob. Several comic scenes are woven around the burqa in both films. In Mere Mehboob as well, Anwar falls in love with the veiled Husna. When he sings a ghazal composed for her to a large audience, Husna’s burqa causes an interesting shift in power – while she is aware he is singing for her, he doesn’t know the identity of the woman he is singing for.
When Anwar finally speaks to Husna from the opposite side of a purdah, he doesn’t know he is speaking to the woman he loves. The lies they tell each other lead Anwar to believe that he is in love with Husna’s friend.
The purdah plays an interestingly versatile role in Muslim socials. It allows characters to eavesdrop, even as it affords privacy. In Mughal-E-Azam, the jealous Bahar often hides behind veils to observe meetings between Salim and Anarkali. When Salim languidly and erotically strokes a feather across Anarkali’s face in the iconic lovemaking scene, the feather doubles up as a veil, allowing him to kiss her without being spied upon by Bahar.
Purdahs and burqas also subtly communicate the division between social classes. In films like Najma, Benazir, Bahu Begum, Chaudhvin ka Chaand, Zubeidaa and Jodhaa Akbar, socially privileged women (and never servants or courtsesans) are behind the purdah. In Mughal-E-Azam and Paakezah, the faces of Anarkali and Nargis, both courtesans, are covered by veils only after they are betrothed to a man of high social standing.
In Pakeezah, when Salim first asks Sahibjaan who she is, they are separated by the fabric of the tent. Sahibjaan, who is afraid of the censure Salim would heap on her if he knew of her past, says that she has no recollection of who she is. The untruth transforms her into an entirely different woman and she appears to Salim as a magnified silhouette on the surface of the tent, which almost functions as a screen. Conversely, a makeshift screen doubles up as a veil in the more recent Swades, when it separates people from different castes in the village.
Muzzafar Ali’s Umrao Jaan, another courtesan film, uses multiple veils in one scene. When Nawab Sultan’s father comes to see his wife, from whom he has separated, they sit on different sides of the purdah. While the purdah makes a visual statement about the relationship between the couple, Nawab Sultan, from behind yet another curtain, overhears their conversation.
Jodhaa Akbar, on the other hand, attaches multiple metaphors to the veil. In Akbar’s first interaction with Jodhaa, she makes her demands from behind a veil, which stands for the difference in their backgrounds and the disagreement brewing between them. When Akbar is asked to identify his ghoonghat-covered wife from a bevy of similarly clad women, it signifies a challenge. And it functions as a barrier when Jodhaa places curtains between them as she insists that Akbar has not yet captured her heart.
In most Indian films, the act of unveiling indicates a sense of familiarity as well as possession. While Jameela and Aslam are happily married in Chaudhvin ka Chaand, she appears before him without a veil. However, when he comes home after deciding to give up his wife for his friend, Aslam finds her with a veil covering her face.
The moments of unveiling in Indian films are also particularly instructive. In Chaudhvin ka Chaand, Aslam convinces Jameela to unveil herself with sweet friendliness. In Mere Mehboob, Anwar cajoles Husna into looking up at him with a couplet. And in Mughal-E-Azam, when Salim unveils Anarkali while believing her to be a statue, he eloquently praises her beauty. However, Nikaah (1982) features Wasim unveiling Nilofer himself with unabashedly erotic words.
In Nikaah, the lines of the famous ghazal ‘Chupke Chupke Raat Din’, “Khench lena woh tera parde ka kona dafwatan,” also picture Wasim unveiling Nilofer in many ways. The veil appears most conspicuously in the song ‘Purdah hai Purdah’ from Amar Akbar Anthony, in which Akbar cajoles, challenges and threatens Salma into unveiling herself. In ‘Dekho Chaand Aaya’ from Saawariya, Ranbir gushes over a veiled Sakina.
In the song ‘Tu Hi Re’ from Bombay, when Shaila breaks free of her inhibitions and runs to Shekhar, she sheds her burqa. It is a symbol of her entrapment in social constraints and family obligations- a metaphor that has invited considerable criticism. However, when Shekhar is disguised in a burqa, it is an indication of the depth of his love for Sheila.
Veils worn by men are different from the ones worn by women – they mostly make for effervescent, comic moments in Hindi films. However, Fiza offers a scene brimming with angst when the titular character recognises her brother Altaf in the eyes of a veiled terrorist. When she unveils him, only their eyes are focused upon – her transmitting disbelief and his full of anguish. The moment is a powerful subversion of the man-unveils-woman trope in Hindi cinema.
Veils frequently appear as comic devices in contemporary Hindi films. In Bobby Jasoos, for instance, Bobby appears disguised – quite transparently – in a burqa during a job interview. Burqas have also featured as handy disguises in films like Jolly LLB, Delhi Belly and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, often making for some wonderfully funny moments. In 3 Idiots, Raju disguises himself with the veil afforded by the traditional sehra and spirits Pia away from her wedding.
The significance of the veil may have shifted and diluted over the years, but it continues to appear in Indian films. As long as Indian cinema retains its penchant for revealing characters and plot twists with visually grand statements, its love affair with veils will endure.

‘Economy is not Boosted by Innovation Alone’

The biblical injunction is that Man does not live by bread alone, similarly, economy of any country is not boosted by innovation alone We seem to be living in an accelerated age of revolutionary technological breakthroughs. Barely a day passes without the announcement of some major new development in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, digitization, or automation. Yet those who are supposed to know where it is all taking us can’t make up their minds.

At one end of the spectrum are the techno-optimists, who believe we are on the cusp of a new era in which the world’s living standards will rise more rapidly than ever. At the other end are the techno-pessimists, who see disappointing productivity statistics and argue that the new technologies’ economy-wide benefits will remain limited. Then there are those – the techno-worriers? – who agree with the optimists about the scale and scope of innovation but fret about the adverse implications for employment or equity.
What distinguishes these perspectives from one another is not so much disagreement about the rate of technological innovation. After all, who can seriously doubt that innovation is progressing rapidly? The debate is about whether these innovations will remain bottled up in a few tech-intensive sectors that employ the highest-skilled professionals and account for a relatively small share of GDP, or spread to the bulk of the economy. The consequences of any innovation for productivity, employment, and equity ultimately depend on how quickly it diffuses through labor and product markets.
Technological diffusion can be constrained on both the demand and supply sides of the economy. Take the demand side first. In rich economies, consumers spend the bulk of their income on services such as health, education, transportation, housing, and retail goods. Technological innovation has had comparatively little impact to date in many of these sectors.
Consider some of the figures provided by the McKinsey Global Institute’s recent report Digital America. The two sectors in the United States that have experienced the most rapid productivity growth since 2005 are the ICT (information and communications technology) and media industries, with a combined GDP share of less than 10%. By contrast, government services and health care, which together produce more than a quarter of GDP, have had virtually no productivity growth.
Techno-optimists, such as the McKinsey authors, look at such numbers as an opportunity: There remain vast productivity gains to be had from the adoption of new technologies in the lagging sectors. The pessimists, on the other hand, think that such gaps may be a structural, lasting feature of today’s economies.
For example, the economic historian Robert Gordon opines that today’s innovations pale in contrast to past technological revolutions in terms of their likely economy-wide impact. Electricity, the automobile, airplane, air conditioning, and household appliances altered the way that ordinary people live in fundamental ways. They made inroads in every sector of the economy. Perhaps the digital revolution, impressive as it has been, will not reach as far.
On the supply side, the key question is whether the innovating sector has access to the capital and skills it needs to expand rapidly and continuously. In advanced countries, neither constraint typically binds much. But when the technology requires high skills – technological change is “skill-biased,” in economists’ terminology – its adoption and diffusion will tend to widen the gap between the earnings of low- and high-skill workers. Economic growth will be accompanied by rising inequality, as it was in the 1990s.
The supply-side problem faced by developing countries is more debilitating. The labor force is predominantly low-skilled. Historically, this has not been a handicap for late industrializers, so long as manufacturing consisted of labor-intensive assembly operations such as garments and automobiles. Peasants could be transformed into factory workers virtually overnight, implying significant productivity gains for the economy. Manufacturing was traditionally a rapid escalator to higher income levels.
But once manufacturing operations become robotized and require high skills, the supply-side constraints begin to bite. Effectively, developing countries lose their comparative advantage vis-à-vis the rich countries. We see the consequences in the ” premature deindustrialization” of the developing world today.
In a world of premature deindustrialization, achieving economy-wide productivity growth becomes that much harder for low-income countries. It is not clear whether there are effective substitutes for industrialization.
The economist Tyler Cowen has suggested that developing countries may benefit from the trickle-down of innovation from the advanced economies: they can consume a stream of new products at cheap prices. This is a model of what Cowen calls “cellphones instead of automobile factories.” But the question remains: What will these countries produce and export – besides primary products – to be able to afford the imported cellphones?
In Latin America, economy-wide productivity has stagnated despite significant innovation in the best-managed firms and vanguard sectors. The apparent paradox is resolved by noting that rapid productivity growth in the pockets of innovation has been undone by workers moving from the more productive to the less productive parts of the economy – a phenomenon that my co-authors and I have called ‘ growth reducing structural change”.
This perverse outcome becomes possible when there is severe technological dualism in the economy and the more productive activities do not expand rapidly enough. Disturbingly, there is evidence that growth-reducing structural change has been happening recently in the United States as well.
Ultimately, it is the economy-wide productivity consequences of technological innovation, not innovation per se, that lifts living standards. Innovation can co-exist side-by-side with low productivity (conversely, productivity growth is sometimes possible in the absence of innovation, when resources move to the more productive sectors). Techno-pessimists recognize this; the optimists might not be wrong, but to make their case, they need to focus on how the effects of technology play out in the economy as a whole.

A Tale of Three Women:Two Collapse & Third Becomes a Saint

The last two weeks saw two first ladies collapsing with exhaustion during political rallies. Hillary Clinton left the 9/11 function early, and sort of collapsed while getting into her car. She had been harbouring pneumonia for a while as per medical reports.
A week earlier, Sonia Gandhi probably could not bear the heat in Varanasi, and fell injuring her left shoulder. Both these world personalities have been first ladies at least two decades ago, and since, waiting in the wings to occupy the top spot. Great zeal, enthusiasm, and following, but held back by similar circumstances. Mrs. Gandhi was kept in waiting because the Indian markets feared a setback by a coalition formed with the Left, and her trusted lieutenant Dr. Manmohan Singh, was still the most acceptable candidate from her party.
Clinton was presumably the popular candidate in her first Presidential election, but the big boss of Democrats, Ted Kennedy, who had about ten months to live due to a brain condition, had something else in his mind; giving the first African-American President to the US. Probably Obama was also favoured as a choice, due to the aftermath George Bush was leaving behind, with the American soldier battling in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ben Ghazi, and economic disturbances persisting with China, not to mention the deep account deficit due to unprecedented subprime lending. The Federal Reserve finally had to release unprecedented stimuli to revive industry, and reduce unemployment. Obama learnt as he went along, and perhaps knows the global game being played in many parts, as his daily diary!
The few pages that may be worrying him is the recent unrest in the South China Sea, IS, Syria, Turkey, and changing equations with Russia’s Putin. If he could solve them in the last lap of his tenure, he may probably claim the second Nobel Peace for not adding to the global and domestic mess he received from his predecessor. One admires the persistence of Clinton. The battle is still on.
This brings us to the crux. Has the politics of major countries become too taxing an expedition to achieve, and twice as much to hold on to? Mrs. Clinton’s ill- timed and ignored pneumonia has now raised speculations about each candidate’s health during the campaign, and later on to survive at least the first tenure. Sure, years ahead, a President may be asked to be fit as an astronaut to hoist a flag on the Moon or Mars on the fourth of July.
For the time being, not much is amiss. As declared Clinton has seasonal allergic lung infections, once or twice a year, the rigors of canvassing having led to the present one. Importantly, her popularity base remains unaffected, and even if they are friends beyond the political platform, Mr. Trump did not sneeze, though no one could prevent him from uttering, “she’s lying in bed”!
As for Trump’s health report, his BMI (body mass index), edges into what is classified as “obesity”, though like thirty per cent Americans in the age group, he is on statins.
No anxiolytics, binges, mood elevators (if an American hopeful still requires all that, then surely the world is not enough).
One can see, though, that to catch up with the stress of sprinting around the globe, the running mate should be someone in the category of Usain Bolt, and the legendary Phelps as Secretary of State if war lines are to be drawn over seawater. Obama, keeps the lean and fit Mr. Kerry when New Delhi is flooded, and as for George Bush (shall smoke them out of their holes), he landed in Baghram, the American Base in Afghanistan, to celebrate Christmas with his troops.
Putin, probably requires no security, not even bodyguards, though a popular insinuation of Trump towards his local rival is that the “gun law” and keeping armed security is the same as far as arguments go.
Time has come to unclutter politics. Public engagements and roadshows should be confined so that those with public support, and political acumen, need not also have to qualify for the “heats”. One may lose a wise restful mind for a punch-throwing agitated soul. I am not decrying the latter, but the essence of choice need not be overshadowed due to lack of herculean stamina.
Nevertheless, American elections shall continue to be demanding in their own way. The difference, may I say is like the differing styles in which you play soccer and American football. I suppose, the Presidents should be the quarter–backs. They can keep their chosen helmet bashers, for the excitement the Americans are used to. It is a great strategy of brain and brawn and is conveniently wrapped within the short attention spans of the viewers.
Cricket? That’s Indian elections. Two active players on the crease, eleven doing minor sorties for five days, one rest day, mostly it is a draw, that too fixed several times. That attention span over five days, remembering the play, not the result each day could be the reason why software comes naturally even to the uninitiated.
Elections are rituals for forming governments on the sound basis of Constitutions. Human beliefs, service, and sublimation, go hand in hand. It’s another stream of life. During this very period, Saint Teresa, the Albanian-Indian Missionary was canonized for her service to mankind, her base being Kolkata. She was Catholic like the other two, but there is a path for everyone. No comparisons, but it is nobility as nobility is defined. It would be fair to say that Bengal, and its culture, is just the right medium for noble philosophies to thrive. Mother Teresa who formed the “Missionaries of Charity” decided that taking care of the poor, the ill, the dying, even the “disposables” were the recipients of the service of her missionaries.
Saint Teresa got her world fame, when, in 1960, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote a book and a documentary on her, titled, “Something beautiful for God”.
Religion and politics sometimes forget to notice that they run on the same expressway!
Both need to be made less stringent for masses to realize that one is “homework”, the other “classwork”. You may even have substitute correspondence classes to avoid exhausting schedules.
“It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving”-Saint Teresa

The Tyranny of Numbers

When I was growing up, numbers were just numbers. They were limited to maths classes and occasionally, quiz questions. In those days, novels were novels. Music was music. Art was art. Movies were movies. Spring was spring and winter was, err, winter. Even Madhubala was Madhubala: hot, wet and unforgettable as she sauntered into that car repair garage in the rain. And God, how much we loved her!
Yes, I was scared of maths. It was, I felt, a dark, secret gateway to philosophy, fantasy, fear, my idea of a gorgeous hell full of wonderfully clever people with beautiful minds. But being young and always in love with life and women who were larger than life, there were many other things I found instant joy in. Magic was one of them. Poetry another. You must remember that the computer was still being built then. And the internet no one had heard of.
But as the years went by, numbers began to sneak into every sphere of our life. Novels are no more bought and read for sheer pleasure. They are ranked by the number of copies sold and advances fetched by their authors. Soon Harry James Potter left Alice Pleasance Liddell way behind. Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop replaced the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Music fled from its vinyl albums. It’s now stuck in a virtual world where only the number of downloads make a difference. Elvis has left the music shop. Mozart has escaped the concert hall. You now look for them in the iTunes Store. Rhythm House has shut down.
Art is no longer serendipitous. A canvas is only as good as its auction price. Last week the listing order toppled. With a buyer paying Rs 19 crore for his canvas Greek Landscape, Akbar Padamsee suddenly found himself way ahead of many of his contemporaries. Last December Gaitonde surprised us all when an untitled painting of his fetched Rs 29 crore at Christie’s. I knew Gaitonde when he lived in a barsati in Delhi, flat broke and long forgotten by the world. Movies too are remembered, and awarded, not for the joy they bring to our lives but for their box office numbers. Everything but everything has a number attached to it today. That number determines its fate.
Even doctors I notice are often ranked by how much they charge, not how good they are. Just like movie stars. Who cares if they can act or not? As long as they charge Rs 50 crore a movie, there’s always a taker. And sports people are ranked by how much sponsorship fees they command. There’s a number to everyone and everything. That number defines you.
And I? I am supposed to have an Adhaar number, a PAN number, a DIN number, a cell phone number, a ration card number, a driver’s licence number, a passport number, a VAT number, a Service Tax number, a Professional Tax number, and God knows what more, all of which need to be KYCed every few months if I want to use my own bank account which has also a number, to access which I need my Customer Identification number. All these numbers add up to who I am. One slip and I could be an exile from my own identity.
Like people, nations too are no longer judged by their familiar attributes. Japan is not known by its cherry blossoms. Nor is Egypt by its Sphinx. Or France by Audrey Tautou, New York by Woody Allen playing his clarinet at Cafe Carlyle. Nations are rated today by their GDP. So while the quieter, wiser nations of Europe still bask in the warm glow of their slow growth, we Asians battle it out for more FDI. And there’s Bhutan which often heads the happiness index that tells us how delighted we should be with the quality of our lives. I recall Bangladesh heading it some years back. Now they count body bags there.
Even beauty is judged by numbers. Any plastic surgeon on Harley Street will tell you the size of the perfect breast or hips just as that spa outside Vienna where our heroines go to keep their BMI and waist size right. Go to any GP down the road and, instead of trying to diagnose what ails you, he will first write you a series of tests. Those tests will throw up a whole set of new numbers that will haunt your life till you arrive at the median figure that is considered normal. For normalcy today is also a set of numbers. And those numbers keep changing as medical science keeps reinventing itself. All things change except 98.6 and 120/80, the two constants we are stuck with.
And as my phobia for numbers grows, I find it more and more difficult to keep up with what’s happening around me. As long as Bofors was Rs 64 crore it was fine. I could count up to that much. At Rs 100 crore, the hawala scam outscaled it. At Rs 1000 crore the fodder scam went one step further. The Harshad Mehta scam busted my imagination with Rs 4,000 crore. But then came the 2G spectrum scam, Rs 176,000 crore. The coal allocation scam, Rs 186,000 crore. Now enough is enough, I have stopped counting…

Constructive Populism Can Deliver

We often deride populism. Is it really bad? Agreed that some manipulating persons do indulge in cheap populism to mislead people for their own ends and exploit the sentiments to further their own interests. But is it always detrimental to the society? The Brexit vote has unleashed a huge amount of commentary on anti-establishment politics, the failure of experts, the flight of the left, and much else. Juxtaposed to the presidential campaign in the United States, Brexit is regarded by many as a wake-up call.
In response, former US Treasury Secretary and former president of Harvard Larry Summers is calling for ‘responsible nationalism’ to counter the often chauvinistic, anti-immigrant, and protectionist language of the populist right. It would be “understood that countries are expected to pursue their citizens’ economic welfare as a primary objective but where their ability to harm the interests of citizens elsewhere is circumscribed.” We would judge international agreements “not by how much is harmonized or by how many barriers are torn down but whether citizens are empowered.”
As Summers and others argue, globalization has brought large gains to the world economy as a whole, but seldom have the winners compensated the losers, directly or indirectly. Moreover, lately the winners have often been much smaller in number than the losers, particularly in a given geographical area, or because of winner-take-all markets. Finally, the economic policies preferred by the winners– and adopted under their influence – are usually far from beneficial for all.
All of this is correct. Unfortunately, these arguments often lead political moderates to retreat under the pressure of nativism, aggressive nationalism, and incoherent economic slogans. Those who shout or tweet one-liners and promote narrow identity politics have forced those who believe in a global human community, one bound together by shared interests, to fight a rearguard battle to articulate why the one-liners make little sense.
But this counterattack, if it can be called that, seems unable to formulate even two-liners capable of refuting populist tendentiousness. There are of course decent economic analyses and sensible policy proposals that are being put forward by the moderate camp; but the debate is usually in the language – and body language – of technical experts, inciting yawns, not popular support.
There is an urgent need for a moderate, humanist, global, and “constructive” populism that can counter the extremists, not with complicated mathematical models of, say, the employment implications of Brexit, but with simple yet powerful ideas that resonate with millions. Liberal democracies, when faced with dire challenges, have found such voices before. Think of the rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, or of the founding fathers of the European Community.
What makes “constructive” populism constructive is that it simplifies what is known with a reasonable degree of certainty. By contrast, “destructive” populists consciously distort what is known and have no qualms fabricating what isn’t.
This kind of destructive populism is far less common at the local level, where debate focuses on concrete solutions to citizens’ real problems. This does not mean that local politics is easy; witness today’s fraught relations between police and racial minorities in US cities. But, as Bruce Katz and Luise Noring have documented, in many cities in America and around the world, elected officials, civic organizations, and private business often unite beyond party lines to design and find funding for innovative projects in public transport, housing, or economic development.
Where constructive populism is most needed is at the national and international level, because many problems cannot be addressed locally. Consider foreign policy. There is a strong trend in many countries toward the aggressive nationalism that has led to so many catastrophes in history, not least during the first half of the twentieth century.
Some dismiss the dangers of this nationalist resurgence, arguing that economic interdependence will protect us from our own atavistic urges. But this was not the case in the past. After all, the three disastrous decades that started in 1914 followed a period of rapid and deep globalization.
A political message embodying a commitment to constant vigilance in support of peace has again become essential. But it must be made concrete. In the world’s liberal democracies, such a message should emphasize three components: strong defense and intelligence capabilities; the legitimacy of negotiating with friends and foes alike to find common ground; and the understanding that lasting alliances and friendships will be built around shared democratic values and support for human rights.
Short-term commercial or other interests should not be permitted to undermine core matters of principle. If human rights, including women’s rights, for example, are indeed a key element of democratic values, we can negotiate on all kinds of issues with those who suppress them; but as long as there is no progress on these rights, we cannot be true friends and at the same time claim to uphold universal human values. Constructive populism cannot be cynical; it must be realistic, and it must recognize that progress may be gradual and take different forms in different places.
On economic policy, many reasonable disagreements rule out consensus. But it can be argued in simple language that markets work for all only if they are regulated in the interests of all; that public expenditures that create productive assets can reduce the ratio of public debt to national income; and that performance should be measured by how widely the fruits of growth are shared.
The way to overcome identity politics and irresponsible populism is not to meet it in the middle or to fight it with detailed technical analysis. The way to avoid disaster is constructive populism: simple, accurate, and always sincere.

Overdue fourth phase of India’s engagement with the East

When he took charge two and a half years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that his government will do more than “Look East”. It will “Act East”. Sceptics in Delhi saw it as a mere slogan. The PM, who had traveled extensively in the region as the chief minister of Gujarat, however, was committed to bringing new energy and a fresh perspective to India’s eastern strategy.
As he sits down this week with leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and joins the broader East Asia Summit that brings the 10 member-states of the ASEAN with leaders of Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Japan and the United States, Modi has an opportunity review the progress in India’s Act East policy.
At the dawn of independence, uniting Asia was the first big idea that animated Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This focus on Asia arose naturally out of the movements for solidarity with other Asian nations during the struggle for independence in the first half of the 20th century. If Nehru believed that India was bound to lead Asia, the idea ran headlong into the complex realities of post-colonial Asia.
Not everyone in the region liked the idea of India “leading Asia”. The continent was deeply divided on issues ranging from the approach to Cold War blocs to the choice of economic strategy for national development. Although there is much retrospective romanticisation of the Asian Relations Conference held in Delhi in March 1947, any perusal of its proceedings would reveal how divergent the views of the participants about the future of Asia were.
If the Delhi conclave could not paper over differences, the conference a decade later at Bandung, Indonesia, revealed deep cleavages in Asia. A deeply disappointed Nehru would turn his back on Asia. Thus began the second phase — “leaving Asia” — in India’s engagement with the East. As it drew closer to the Soviet Union, India became distant from its historical partners in the region. India’s inward economic orientation resulted in active commercial dissociation from Asian markets. So self-possessed was India that it had a hard time figuring out how rapidly its weight and influence was declining in Asia during the 1970s and 1980s.
The economic reforms of the 1990s pushed India back into Asia. After the ambition of the first phase and condescension of the second, a chastened India was “returning to Asia” in the third phase. When they accepted India as a partner in the early 1990s, the ASEAN leaders advised India to lie low and adapt. Although the growth in India’s ties with the region was impressive the pace and intensity of Delhi’s engagement with the region left many Asian leaders disappointed. If the ASEAN was talking of an “India fever” in the early 1990s, it seemed reconciled by the mid 2000s to Delhi being the laggard on Asian regionalism.
Modi’s arrival in Delhi coincided with an uncertain moment in East Asia’s evolution. China’s rise made it the most important economic partner for the region, but it also tested the internal coherence of the ASEAN as Beijing began to assert its power in pursuit of expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. Nearly four decades of harmonious relations among the US, China and Japan came to a close in the 2010s. Russia’s strategic embrace of China amid Moscow’s deteriorating relations with the West and growing concerns about America’s staying power added to the nervousness in the region.
India’s expanding economy and growing defence capabilities have made India an even more attractive partner for Asian nations. The ASEAN which warned India not to overreach in the early 1990s was now complaining that India was too passive. Modi’s domestic political strength, diplomatic activism and the affirmation of the Act East policy generated much enthusiasm in the region.
Two and a half years later, there is no doubt that Modi’s India has begun to overcome Delhi’s tentativeness on defence and security cooperation under the Look East policy. Delhi has begun to discard the historic hesitations on security partnership with America and Japan. Modi’s recent decision to extend a defence credit line of $500 million to Vietnam is part of this policy.
Connectivity has been a major theme of India’s Look East policy; but its implementation has been deeply disappointing in the third phase. Modi has promised to change this by revamping India’s approach to overland and maritime connectivity. At a time when China is pushing ahead with its Belt and Road initiative, Modi needs to get at least a couple of major connectivity projects off the ground to demonstrate the credibility of the “Act East” policy.
It is on trade and economic engagement that the PM has not been able to break from the past. If the Look East policy did not live up to the commercial possibilities between India and Asia, the NDA government appears to have reinforced the reluctance with its anti-free trade thinking. One hopes the PM can signal much-needed change in Delhi’s approach in Vientiane this week.
Seven decades ago, India’s ambition to lead Asia turned out to be utterly unrealistic. Neither India nor Asia were ready for it. Today there is a nice fit between a growing Asia’s demand for economic and military balance in the region and Modi’s Act East policy. Realising at least parts of it under the present government would launch the long overdue fourth phase — “balancing Asia” — in India’s contemporary engagement with the East.

Pseudo-secularism & Pseudo-nationalism

Winston Churchill once famously quipped to say that India is a nation is to say that the equator is one. This facetious comment was undoubtedly motivated by the need of a colonial government to argue that India was nothing but a random collation of diversities, and that it was the British who forged her into a nation.
The truth, however, is that while India became a nation in the modern sense only in 1947, it had a millennia-old civilisational unity that both preceded British rule and transcended it. Multiple examples can be given to show that people who have evolved in the same civilisational crucible for thousands of years acquire a distinctive sense of ‘nationhood’.
For instance, over 20 different languages with their own scripts and hundreds of dialects resound in a seemingly maddening Tower of Babel, but Sanskrit is the basis of almost all of them. Similarly, hundreds of festivals are celebrated all across the land, but the same mythologies or beliefs or harvest rituals animate them. More examples abound. One must never be so mesmerised by the surface multiplicity as to ignore or dismiss the underlying unity.
The sentiment of Indian nationalism is, therefore, not only a political construct somehow conjured into being after 1947. And, precisely for this reason it can be used to evoke very strong emotions.
In part this is a good thing. Nations need a sense of patriotism, which is a natural corollary to nationalism. But powerful instruments are also liable to powerful misuse. And, to my mind, there are three principal areas where this misuse has become conspicuous today.
Firstly, nationalism cannot become a reason to stifle dissent and debate that is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy. To conflate any critique of the government or the state with anti-nationalism is to devalue nationalism itself to the level of lumpen evangelism. The conflict between democracy and nationalism should never arise in a mature republic.
The Constitution, in Article 19, guarantees freedom of speech and expression. It circumscribes this fundamental freedom by reasonable restrictions, but the key word is ‘reasonable’. This reasonable-ness cannot be hijacked by what the BJP-RSS considers to be anti-national by its standard of political jingoism.
The reflex invocation of the outdated law of sedition in spite of the Supreme Court’s clear pronouncement that it has application only if a person ‘incites people to violence against the government established by law, or with the intention of creating public disorder’ is now plain ludicrous. If Kannada actor Divya Spandana, aka Ramya, can be accused of sedition for saying that Pakistan is not hell, then Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who must have made a record of sorts for the number of times he has embraced Nawaz Sharif, should have been placed in the dock long ago.
Secondly, nationalism cannot become a reason to cynically deflect attention from matters of concern to citizens. To run with the tricolour away from legitimate issues relating to failures in governance, in the hope that this act of ultra-nationalism will silence critics, is an expedient attempt to overarch ineptitude, inequity and mal-governance.
You cannot push Dalit protests aside by saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Nor can you cover up the fact that farmers are in deep distress by shouting ‘Vande Mataram’. If your handling of students and universities is ham-handed, you cannot take the law in your own hands to beat up protesters in the name of the ‘motherland’. It is ironical, indeed, that this new ritualism around the tricolour is being pushed by BJP which draws its inspiration from RSS, which did not believe in the tiranga and preferred the bhagua dhwaj instead.
Thirdly, the invocation of ultra-nationalism cannot become an excuse to justify the deliberate targeting of minorities. India’s legitimate sense of ‘nationhood’ is imbedded in a multi-cultural, multi-religious plurality. This vibrant plurality is the glue that holds our country together. All the people of India are participants in this shared sense of nationhood, and any attempt by one group to claim a monopoly on nationalism by doubting the nationalistic bona fides of the ‘other’ is to deliberately equate nationalism with a deeply corrosive majoritarianism.
In a speech on August 23 this week to the BJP’s core group PM Modi is reported to have said that winning elections was for the BJP ‘an exercise for strengthening the cause of nationalism’. According to him, the recent Tiranga Yatras were meant to ‘unite India against forces that were trying to disturb the social fabric’.
Inadvertently, perhaps, the PM has let the cat out of the bag. We can expect an artificially drummed up hyper nationalism to be an intrinsic part of BJP’s strategy for winning elections. It will be used as an electoral bulwark to counter all criticisms about breach of promise or delivery. Those who have the temerity to make this critique could well be called anti-national. Even worse, those who do not mend their ways could well be booked for sedition. The BJP-RSS combine will hand out certificates to others for their nationalistic credentials.
The nation will need to keep a close watch on the consequences generated by this pseudo-nationalism, for it is of vital importance to the future of India as a democracy.

Doctors And Saints: Miracles in the modern world

What Mother Teresa’s elevation from ‘Mother’ to ‘Saint’ brought to our notice is that tireless and selfless work every day is not as important as the performance of a ‘miracle’ or two. Interestingly, in the 20th century, 99% of miracles deserving of sainthood were medical in character. This is how seriously God takes health.
Preventing earthquakes, floods or epidemics may help hundreds and thousands, but will not count in the making of a saint. What matters are two, discrete and separate, grand acts (or, miracles) that have saved two identifiable people from diseases considered ‘incurable’ at the time.
As far as making the grade to sainthood is concerned, this far outweighs any amount of service rendered in routine. That may be more demanding, needing greater dedication, but to be a saint, and get in through the door, it is two miracles or nothing. To this there is an added rider; the beneficiary of this miracle must have prayed to this one religious person and to no other.
Likewise, going to a doctor. If there is a team at work, no single doctor gets the credit, hence doctors like to be loners. A doctor’s reputation rests on a patient’s complete trust, and second opinions are usually frowned upon.
The parallels between doctors and saints do not end there. It is not just that saints must perform medical miracles, but there must be a certified team of physicians to vet such claims. This is not very different from being inducted into the Royal College of Surgeons. It does not matter as much if the candidate sits up nights healing the poor and the needy, what is needed is that one ‘skill’, that one ability, that this person must possess in a superlative way.
In ancient and medieval times, the professionalisation of doctors was not quite as tight as it became in later years. The barber often doubled up as a surgeon and a philosopher too might salve wounds with oils and herbs. In fact, Pope Gregory IX (1227-41) could be a doctor and a priest with equal felicity.
Not surprising then that medieval canonisation was also messy. Crowds of people came with their testimonies and often the cluster of devotees became unruly in a way that was hardly appropriate. Slowly at first, in the 15th century, and then more rapidly in the 18th century, the evidence of physicians began to matter a lot in the making of a saint. It became, from now on, a tasty matchup between professionals.
From the 19th century onwards, medicine turned increasingly professional and so did the canonisation process towards sainthood. Pope Benedict XV made a medical person’s presence on the Jury a must; later Pope Pius XII (1939-50) even created a medical commission. The canonisation process culminated not with devotion, but with science.
It is people of science, doctors trained in allopathy (not homeopaths and naturopaths) who had to give the final nod. They had to be satisfied that the cure the saint elect was being credited for happened in spite of current medical evidence to the contrary. The emphasis on ‘current’ science and the specific branch of medicine, should not be overlooked.
Curiously, even in matters of God, the Catholic Church actually submits to science and gives it the benefit of first refusal. This is professionalisation in every sense of the term. The doctors on the board do not have to be believers, or say that a supernatural entity actually interceded, or that such a phenomenon even exists.
All that they need to attest is that the cure is not explicable according to the sciences they know, and are qualified in. Even if the cure was on account of natural causes, it still counts as a miracle because real doctors cannot explain it.
Such is the despair of ill health, so compelling is the promise of healing. This drives roughly 39 million in India to poverty every year; medical expenses often get you before the disease does. Consequently health, not GDP numbers, should be top priority for any democratic state. Everything can be accommodated, a number of misfortunes can be absorbed, but death and illness are so terminal that it drives people to extremes.
When that happens, a patient wants and wills to ‘believe’ in a doctor, and not just visit one. It is only after the doctor fails you that you have little option but to turn to a ‘Saint’.
Mother Teresa’s transition from ‘Motherhood’ to ‘Sainthood’ is akin to the way we look at medical specialists. Public health doctors may do a lot to prevent diseases; they knock on your door, help with nutrition and parturition, but none of that really counts.
After all is said and done it is the ability to ‘cure’, even better, the cut and thrust of a surgeon, that makes for a doctor’s reputation and charisma. As a Mother, Teresa helped in ways, big and small, but that only needed heart and commitment. But once she became St Teresa she was sharing airspace with God; only a miracle can light up that staircase.
Now you must go to her in supplication; she no longer comes to you.

Churchill and the Islamic World

For the past several years, contours of the global map are being radically, and often violently, challenged. The border between Iraq and Syria, for example, has been rendered meaningless as those states collapse, endangering the lives of millions who live within them. Hundreds of thousands of their citizens have chosen to risk their lives on sea rather than on land, culminating in the largest refugee crisis Europe has seen since the Second World War.
The crisis is creating palpable anxiety among European states about future demographic shifts and the social consequences of “letting them in”. Right-wing parties throughout Europe seem to capitalise on this anxiety and xenophobic propaganda has become a legitimate part of political discourse. The borders of the Global North, as a result, are being reinforced: considered ever more important, policed ever more closely, subject to ever more vigilance. The loudest manifestation of this phenomenon comes from across the Atlantic where the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential candidate publicly talks about banning the entry of Muslims into the United States along with putting those Muslims under surveillance who are already American citizens.
This angst is fueled further by the tremors caused by radical Islam and felt across the world — from Brussels to Dhaka and from Paris to Peshawar. These tremors are capable of creating deadly ripples anywhere — at sunny beaches and football stadiums, busy airports and busier streets, even children’s parks and their schools. As city after city mourns the loss of human life at the hands of Islamist bombers, hundreds of young men – many of them European citizens – see things differently. They make their way to the Middle East, seeking to construct (or reconstruct) the borders of a new political utopia — an Islamic caliphate. To do so, they want to unravel what they consider Western machinations on lands once pure and perfect. Such visions of an idyllic past are not unique to the followers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) but are a characteristic of most Islamic fundamentalist movements. All these movements feature, in varying degrees, animosity towards Western values, culture and/or imperialism.
Reading the history of the European – and later the American –engagement with the Middle East and parts of West, Central and South Asia, indeed, shows that there is some truth to the notion that the Muslim states in these regions suffer seriously as a result of colonial and neocolonial policies of the West. While many commentators trace multiple crises these states face to the start of the War on Terror and America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, historians stress at looking much farther back. In this context, the general, non-specialist reader may turn to either of two types of history books — the ones that shock or the ones that comfort.
The ability of a work of non-fiction to disturb is often considered a good marker of its quality. Provocative works lead readers to revisit and reimagine previously believed narratives and the assumptions that underpin them. Many people seek the latter category of history: the kind that adds a nice doze of facts and stories to an already established worldview, giving it a sort of hollow profoundness but nothing more. This is particularly true of those societies, including the British, where there is a genuine public interest in popular accounts of historical events and personalities. A reader interested in Islam, browsing in a bookshop in north London, might seek to learn about this obviously troublesome phenomenon through the life and work of a trusted historical figure. Such an audience would be glad to be in the company of Warren Dockter’s new book Churchill and the Islamic World.
The book takes us through Winston Churchill’s many physical and intellectual journeys to places where Muslims resided, ruled or rebelled between 1895 and 1955. The author challenges the notion that Churchill was an “ignorant imperialist” and instead seeks to present him as a nuanced thinker who was “relatively progressive”.
The book does not intend to be creative non-fiction or popular history but a work of academic scholarship. “The effects of British imperial policy continue to resonate in the Islamic world and analyzing its origins is crucial in understanding the current geopolitical context of the ‘Arab Spring’, ‘the War on Terror’ and the rise of ISIS,” reads the introduction. “Such an analysis must include the role of Winston Churchill,” it adds. It is in this promise to serve as an illustration of the making of the modern Islamic world that the book becomes deeply problematic.
The fundamental problem with this work is the author’s anachronistic method of historiography. For several decades now, historians have eschewed – with considerable vigour – the belief that world history is the story of great men. Considerations of space prohibit me from listing all the challenges posited to this erroneous and archaic methodology. Suffice it to say that the history of any subject – particularly one as large and complex as the Islamic world – comprises myriad processes and actors that operate within the bounds of certain structures and paradigms. While the life, actions and ideas of a particular statesman may be important, they could only be so if put into dialogue with these structures and paradigms.
Biographical accounts can, indeed, matter if the author can demonstrate why a protagonist’s ideas, interventions or imagination matter to the history of a certain area or time. Muhammad Qasim Zaman and Roxanne L Euben, both eminent scholars, have, for instance, argued that examining the thought of Islamist ideologues and leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden and Hassan al-Banna can depict both the ‘commonalities among Islamist thinkers‘ and the ‘heterogeneity between Islamist arguments and ideas‘. Such an examination can reveal the heterogeneous and contested nature of Islamic political thought and the various contexts through which it has evolved over time.
But why should we be interested in how Churchill alone, and especially, came to impact self-perception among Muslims and the opinion of the rest of the world about them? Dockter provides no satisfactory answer except asking us to subscribe to the implicit assumption that he is important just because of who he is.
This is not to suggest that looking into the historical imagining of a group of people is not important from an academic angle. At least since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism, historians and theorists have taken on innumerable projects that unpack the construction of Western conceptions of the East. Although, the overuse of this perspective has sometimes led historiography into a cul-de-sac, many works have successfully illustrated just how empirically inaccurate Western – particularly imperial – depictions of the rest of the world were.
To take just one instance, consider the popular notion of the Orient as an overly sensualised space. The image of an Ottoman harem was long used as proof of the debauched and corrupt nature of all Turkish rulers. In her widely acclaimed study, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Leslie P Peirce challenges the idea that the harem represents the absolute subordination of women to an all-powerful sultan. Critiquing many Western representations, Peirce shows that many imperial women in the Ottoman court in the 16th and 17th centuries were able to expand their roles beyond the household, shaping decisions on war, peace and succession. The rigid male/female, private/public – even sultan/subordinate – binaries were little more than facades. The way in which political privilege was actually distributed and exercised was much more complex.
Other historians have brought to our attention the means through which certain types of knowledge are produced by the colonisers. A classic, though admittedly rather inaccessible, text is Bernard S Cohn’s Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India. Cohn argues that the way in which the British conceived of and studied colonised people and their languages, cultures and religions determined how these colonial subjects were to be regulated and controlled. Thomas Metcalf in his book, Ideologies of the Raj, discusses how the British sought to legitimise their imperial pursuits in India by propagating the idea that the Subcontinent needed to remain forever under the colonial tutelage if it wanted to realise its potential to transform itself.
Apart from poking holes in Western imagination(s) of the East, such works show the impact and legacy of colonial ideas on state policies and laws as well as on societies at large. They make us realise the cultural and political contexts through which imperial states see and act (or react). Churchill and the Islamic World does not endeavour to make any such connections though. It is a simple delineation of how one man understood Islam and Muslims through the course of his career. Through this, the author hopes to prove that though Churchill might have been wrong about many things, he was not as wrong as one thinks; there were others who were perhaps more wrong.
Is the book successful in this, somewhat unnecessary, endeavour? Was Churchill, indeed, a nuanced thinker when it came to understanding the Islamic world? Dockter leaves one unconvinced. Chapter after chapter, the author tries to show that his subject was a consummate 19th-century statesman, possessing all the requisite qualities. His loyalty to the British Empire reached romantic proportions and he was to remain a quintessential Victorian even when that era was well and truly over. While Dockter repeatedly alludes to Churchill’s orientalist ideas, he simultaneously insists, without providing sufficient reason, that these ideas should not be seen as having resulted from his colonial haughtiness.
This notion was informed by a hierarchal worldview which placed various races and people at different stages of the civilizational ladder with Europe, particularly Britain, at its apex.
In the first chapter – titled Early Encounters – we are taken to the frontier of the Indian subcontinent, now in Pakistan, where Churchill served as a junior officer in one of the many expeditions against Pakhtun uprisings in the early 20th century. Dockter shows how the time Churchill spent here shaped his view of Islam and Pakhtun society, resulting in the writing of a book, The Story of Malakand Field Force. This “Churchillian view” of the “tribesmen” was, however, no different from the ones articulated by his contemporaries.
Since the last quarter of the 19th century, British colonial administrators had been overwhelmed by the difficulty of managing the border between ‘settled’ and ‘tribal’ Pakhtun populations. Magnus Marsden and Benjamin Hopkins examine this problem in their work, Fragments of the Afghan Frontier. They show how no tribal belt separated the border of British India from the foothills of the Kingdom of Kabul. The British referred to the territory beyond the administered border as ilaqae ghair (alien territory) or yaghistan (the land of the rebels). But though the British made this distinction, the boundary between Pakhtun areas under their control and those under Afghan rulers largely remained a notional one. The tribal links across that hypothetical boundary were extremely strong. People crossed the border regularly and with ease and could not be considered socially or economically different from each other. This also led to the frequent disregard of laws since fugitives from British India could easily find refuge across the border.
Debates on how to control this situation were frequent, with colonial administrators discussing various strategies to impose order. Thus, when Dockter points to Churchill’s critique of British policy, it is hardly symptomatic of his uniqueness. Ultimately, Churchill wanted what every other administrator wanted — a cheap and effective way of controlling the frontier. This would ultimately be the basis for the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation which instituted, among other things, collective punishments and forced enclosures — something the book makes no mention of.
Dockter does discuss Churchill’s worries about pan-Islamism and “fanatical tribesmen”. This is also very reflective of general British fears which could be traced to the 1820s when Sayyid Ahmed of Raebareli led the call for jihad against the Sikh suzerainty. The British were well aware of the presence of these jihadis when they annexed Punjab (which then also included most of present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in 1849. Colonial administrators would warn the central government in Delhi about “mullahs and persons belonging to the obnoxious class known as talibul ilm roamed about the Peshawar and Kohat Districts, exciting the villagers and preaching the doctrines that the service of Government of India was heresy … The presence of the dangerous fanatic and the dangerous alien in our border villages promotes disloyal excitement which leads men [to] espouse the cause of our enemies or to commit murderous outrages upon British subjects.”
Dockter also argues that Churchill’s orientalist views worked in tandem with his magnanimous opinions about the Islamic world. Here, the author begins to resemble the nostalgic anglophile members of his audience. Tutelage of the Muslims of India and later also those of the Middle East under the British colonial rule was an unqualified good in his eyes. This notion was informed by a hierarchal worldview which placed various races and people at different stages of the civilizational ladder with Europe, particularly Britain, at its apex.
Rather than debunking this dangerous way of thinking, Dockter maintains that Churchill was a man of his times and should not be judged by today’s standards. Even more worryingly, he keeps pointing to what he considers progressive elements in Churchill’s thinking. For example, the third chapter of the book features a discussion on the Hunter Commission formed to inquire into the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place on April 13, 1919. Brigadier General Reginald Dyer had ordered his troops to close the exits of a public park in Amritsar and open fire on an estimated 10,000 non-violent protestors that day. In the inquiry that followed, Churchill strongly condemned Dyer’s action, stating how the British “reign in India or anywhere else has never stood on the basis of physical force alone … The British way of doing things …has always meant close and effectual cooperation with the people of that country”. This condemnation notwithstanding, Churchill would go on to stress, against the wishes of Edwin Montagu, the then Secretary of State for India, that Dyer should not be punished severely.
For Dockter, this apparent contradiction is caused by Churchill’s Victorian chivalry towards fellow officials of the state existing side by side with his “distinct concern for the well-being of the Indian subjects”. Such paternalistic conclusions are perilous at many levels, perhaps most importantly because they preclude readers from appraising the nature of colonial violence — both intellectual and physical.
Taylor C Sherman’s book, State Violence and Punishment in India 1919-1956, offers a poignant insight into the whole range of techniques and punishments that made the colonial state’s “coercive repertoire”. Colonial violence, she argues, was meted out not through a single institution but also through a network of collaborators, quasi-official outfits and private persons. She goes on to argue that such penal practices as the mass shooting that took place in Amritsar were intricately connected to the larger imperial aims and anxieties. The physical violence, thus, also operated at a cultural and symbolic level.
Dockter’s contention about Churchill’s concern for Muslims, especially Indian Muslims, makes repeated appearance in the book. As evidence, the author provides detailed accounts of Churchill’s affinity with prominent Muslims like the Aga Khan, Baron Headley and Waris Ali who was a senior executive of the Indian Empire Society and later worked with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The author deems it unnecessary to clarify that all these men represented a privileged socio-economic class, and their exalted political status was secured by the continuation of British colonial rule. Instead, he uses Churchill’s interaction with them to exemplify the consolidation of his relationship with Islam and all Muslims of the Subcontinent.
Even more space is spent depicting his unrestrained hatred for the Indian National Congress, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Hinduism in general. Foreshadowing the narrative propagated in Pakistani textbooks today, Churchill is shown to be a firm believer in the two-nation theory and the irreconcilable difference between Hindus and Muslims. Most contemporary observers, including British ones, are, however, cognisant of the ahistorical nature of this politicised dichotomy. Muslims of India were not – and had never been – a homogenous national group. As Ayesha Jalal points out in The Sole Spokesman, the divisions and not the unity among Muslim population of India drove the story of the making of Pakistan. The All-India Muslim League that claimed to be representing all the Indian Muslims did spectacularly badly in all electoral processes before the 1945 election.
Churchill also subscribed to what is the mainstream Indian view today: that the Congress leadership did not want the partition of the subcontinent. On the contrary, leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were among the main proponents of Partition after the Second World War. Its strongest opponents were Gandhi and a former president of the Congress, Abul Kalam Azad. In his biography, India Wins Freedom, Azad narrates how hard he had to fight within his own party against those who favoured Partition which he believed would sentence the subcontinent to endless communal strife. These nuances were obviously lost on Churchill. What is egregious is that they also seem to be lost on Dockter who offers no contestation of Churchill’s simplistic and inaccurate ideas. Instead, the reader is invited to believe that Churchill was progressive when it came to Muslims because he frequently exchanged letters with Jinnah.
This brings us to the heart of the problem: this is a book on the sources of Churchill’s worldview yet the author never interrogates the problems with those sources. Most of Churchill’s conclusions about Muslims were based on his personal relationship with a very limited number of people. This comes across most potently in parts of the book which deal with the Middle East. Churchill’s major sources on the Arab world included people such as T E Lawrence and Wilfrid S Blunt — both considered British spies. Through discussions with them, he developed his incredibly incorrect ideas about “bedouin culture”, sectarian differences within Islam, pan-Islamism and the politics of the Middle East in general.
Churchill entertained several absurd ideas about who could be categorised as an Arab. Dockter himself notes this when discussing his subject’s views on Palestinians who Churchill believed did not quite qualify to be Arabs. He was a strong proponent of the 1917 Balfour Declaration for the establishment of a Jewish nation state within the Middle East. Interestingly, this was due to his deep anti-Semitism. Like many prominent anti-Semites, Churchill believed that the “international Jews” had an important role in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and that they wanted to create similar revolutions all over the world. He supported the Zionist project of establishing a Jewish homeland so as to distract Jews from working for an international revolution. Yet, Dockter argues that Churchill’s support for Israel “did not necessarily contradict his view on Islamic Arabs. He believed that the shared history of the two groups, based on similar religious origins and shared Semitic ethnicity, would unite them in symbiotic relationship.” This is a clear indication of how remarkably little Churchill understood the two people, and yet, for the author, it is an example of how committed he was to finding a solution that suited everybody.
In reality, considerations of realpolitik mattered significantly more to Britain and to Churchill than any imaginary progressive ideas about durable peace in the Middle East and considerations about Muslims. The British had been in Egypt since 1882 and officers like Sir Henry McMahon were deeply invested in fostering an Arab unity against the Ottoman Empire. This was the basis of their support to Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, whose sons Faisal and Abdullah would eventually lead the revolt against the Turks during the First World War. In return for their support to the British, the Sharif and his sons were promised an Arab kingdom in the event of an Ottoman defeat. In 1916, however, Britain and France secretly entered the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement and divided the Arab provinces into their respective “spheres of influence”.
The celebration of a pompous imperialist’s worldview, on the other hand, is unwarranted at any given moment, including and especially now
In a white paper he wrote in 1922, Churchill argued that “the whole of Palestine west of Jordan” was not part of McMahon’s pledge. Yet Arab writers contended otherwise, proving that Palestine was not included in areas excluded from the pledges in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, and the British had actually gone back on their promise. Their arguments were strengthened by the fact that the British authorities refused to publish the correspondence. Like many of his contemporaries, Churchill also believed that assuaging French ambition in the Middle East was far more important than placating the Arabs. Dockter’s claims that Churchill was invested in making all treaties and promises work in tandem with each other is simply unfounded.
Churchill and the Islamic World covers a vast geography and a lengthy time period. Given its scope, many interesting stories could have been told here — stories which illuminate the past and hence explain the present. Yet, the book leaves one unimpressed and somewhat concerned. Works which avoid confronting the problematic nature of imperialist thinking and its outcomes implicitly give credence to that thinking. They run the risk of fostering misrepresentations of not only history but consequently of the present as well. In refraining from taking apart Churchill’s understandings not only of Islam and Muslims but also of statecraft, diplomacy and war, Dockter tacitly agrees with him.
In order to fulfill his aim of providing insight into the world today, the author should have provided the readers with an account which grapples with the heterogeneity of Muslim state, societies and cultures as well as the multifaceted ways in which these were created and recreated over time. The celebration of a pompous imperialist’s worldview, on the other hand, is unwarranted at any given moment, including and especially now.

Have Homo Sapiens Reached the Plateau in Innovation, productivity and growth?

Has the Human creativity reached a plateau? Is the process of evolution- at least in enhancing inventive capabilities over? Have the Homo Sapiens reached the limit of getting more productive? Some people think so. If you have been listening lately to Robert ‘Bob’ Gordon, an economics professor at Northwestern University, he will tell you that the days of great inventions are over. This, in turn, has led to a significant slowdown in total factor productivity – a measure that economists use to measure innovation and technical progress. Falling productivity is one of the main reasons for growth shortfall in advanced economies like the United States.

Eager to know more about this seemingly worrisome and pessimistic thesis, which has attracted a lot of attention among economists and the media, we invited Gordon to give a talk at the World Bank.

Gordon’s basic idea is that “economic growth is not a steady process that creates economic advance at a regular pace, century after century.” According to him, the pace of total factor productivity (TFP) – which statistically measures total growth in output relative to the growth in labor and capital – has grown slower since 1970 (at a rate which is roughly a third of the rate achieved between 1920 and 1970). Recognizing that the digital revolution has made progress in the fields of entertainment, communications and information processing, he claims there have not been many meaningful advances in basic areas that are critical for most individuals, e.g., food, clothing, shelter and transportation. For example, Gordon argues that even when cars today are safer and more comfortable than 50 years ago, they still perform the role of transporting people as they did back in 1970. Regarding the much-hyped invention of driverless cars, he quips: Does it really matter whether one has to drive his own car or whether the car drives itself?

Fortunately, Gordon indicates that it is not an end to innovation, but a decline in the usefulness of future inventions that is taking place. Documenting the impressive rise in standards of living between 1920 and 1970, with rising TFP, he claimed that it will be more difficult than before to replicate such improvements in advanced countries like the United States. In the earlier period, the American standard of living doubled every 35 years; in the future, this doubling (for most people) may take a century or more. Moreover, the newer innovations do not seem to be benefitting all segments of society, which in turn reflects rising inequality in the advanced countries.

Gordon’s thesis raises many questions: Is he correct in saying that the era of rising labor productivity associated with innovation and technological change over? Will the digital economy imply a new rise in the standard of living? From a development perspective, what implications does his thesis have for middle- and low-income countries?

My sense is that many countries in the developing world still have a lot of catching-up to do – from providing the basics (e.g., access to water and sanitation through indoor plumbing, to electricity for all) to more advanced (e.g., central heating, cleaner environment) – as they are still far from the levels of living standards achieved in the advanced countries. For example, while India is rapidly developing, close to 50 percent of Indians still lack indoor plumbing. One could argue that in the process of attaining “catch-up” growth – by simply learning and adopting the newer technologies already adopted in the advanced countries – they will continue to raise the standard of living of their citizens.

I am not so pessimistic about the impact of the digital economy in promoting development and standards of living. In his remarks at Gordon’s seminar, Deepak Mishra, co-director of World Development Report 2016 “Digital Dividends” highlighted that the digital revolution has just started and still needs to be more inclusive in order to see the impact it will have. Globally 6 billion people don’t have access to broadband, 4 billion to the internet and 2 billion to mobile phones. Widespread benefits of digital technologies come from their extensive adoption (such as e-commerce in China and business process outsourcing sector in India) and this process has not finished. Finally, he believes that rapid spread of digital technologies is important but not enough; it also requires strengthening the “analog complements”—better regulations, skilled labor force, and accountable institutions to make it available for all.

Yet Gordon’s thesis raises an important question: Can productivity be increased forever? He believes it cannot. But other economists like Joel Mokyr — another Northwestern economics professor and historian — believe it can.

Curious to learn his counterpoints to Gordon’s slower and less useful innovation thesis, we invited Mokyr in the early part of the summer for a seminar. Speaking on “Is Technological Progress a Thing of the Past?” he noted that while the relatively “easy” inventions (running water, electricity, antibiotics etc.) that have substantially changed our lives have been picked, there has been major scientific progress in the past decades that are equally impactful– from astronomy to material science to molecular genetics and immunology. His view is that it is more important to look at what the digital revolution does indirectly for productivity through its effect on science. According to Mokyr, technological progress still has a long way to go.

Only time will tell whether innovation will continue to be impactful in raising productivity and standards of living in the future. I tend to be in the Mokyr-Mishra camp and believe that technological progress will continue and it will stimulate new discoveries. Currently, there are over 2 billion smartphone users worldwide. While it is difficult to measure the collective increase in their welfare from using smartphones, suffice to say that it has been huge. At least in my circle of friends, members are so enamored with the digital revolution that if forced to pick between their smart phones and indoor plumbing – a question that Bob Gordon asks — they might not have an easy choice and I suspect, it could go either way.

Burkini Vs Bikini: Secularism Indian rather than French style

Charlie Hebdo, yes that French satirical magazine which was attacked by Islamist terrorists for publishing a cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad, has been on overdrive lately lampooning the decision of a few French towns to ban the burkini from their beaches. A French court has declared any such ban unconstitutional but the controversy over women’s beachwear rages on.
Romania once banned playing Scrabble because it was “overly intellectual.” In Monza, Italy, it’s illegal to keep a goldfish in a bowl, and in Iran, gelling your hair into spikes is prohibited. If you’re a monk in Tibet, you must have government permission to reincarnate yourself. And as of August 2016, about 30 French towns have made it illegal to wear a burkini on the beach.
Burkinis are a type of female swimsuit designed to conform with Islamic traditions of modest dress. Logically, they are most often associated with Muslims, although designer Aheda Zanetti estimates nearly 40 percent of her customer base is non-Muslim. Burkinis aren’t being banned because they are dangerous. The problem is secularist France saw burkinis popping up on its beaches a month after a terrorist attack in Nice killed 86 people.
By now most of us know what a burkini is. It isn’t a burkha nor is it a bikini. It’s a swimsuit created by an Australian designer for Muslim women who would like to go to the beach but wouldn’t like to expose as much of their body to the public eye as a bikini would.
The French municipal bodies that have banned the burkini from their beaches have declared the outfit to offend French culture, to symbolise the subjugation of women, and maybe even pose a threat to public safety. We could argue reasonably that certain styles of the bikini, which expose nearly all of the female body, can be a potential threat to public order on beaches where there are drunken or otherwise unruly men around. Mais non, burkinis are simply not French. Purists of French culture argue that such austere and overtly religious dressing goes against the French version of secularism or laicite, which requires a strict separation of church and state.
Beginning on July 28, Cannes, a resort town on the French Riviera, banned the burkini. Those caught wearing it would be fined $42. Approximately 30 towns joined in on the ban, including Nice. Dozens of women received tickets for not wearing an “outfit respecting good morals and secularism,” and protests and debates ensued. Human rights and anti-Islamophobia associations argued the bans breached the French Constitution. In one town, the ban was taken to court.
France’s highest administrative court ruled against the burkini ban on August 26, saying it was “a serious and manifestly illegal attack on fundamental freedoms.” Mayors could only put a ban on the burkini if there was a “proven risk” to public order. The court said there was no proven risk. But the majority of mayors who banned the burkini have refused to lift the restrictions. They will not enforce the ruling in their own towns. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy called instead for a nationwide ban on burkinis.
For those who look at the burkini case from a localized and legal standpoint, the decision is clear: France protects religious freedom, burkinis are not dangerous, therefore, it should not be banned. Those who favor the ban don’t see burkinis as an isolated incident. To them, burkinis are part of a clash of civilizations.
Jean-Louis Harouel, professor emeritus of the history of law at the University of Paris, summed up the thinking of the growing right-wing movement in France when he criticized the court’s decision: [T]he Conseil d’Etat [the court] failed to take into account the fact that France is now engaged in a clash of civilizations, that just in the past year has cost it hundreds of deaths on its own territory, and which made it necessary to maintain the state of emergency. “Islamism” is now making war on France, and there is no real boundary-line between Islam and Islamism.
The Conseil d’Etat failed to take into account the shock felt by the French people on seeing burkinis deliberately appearing on the beaches so soon after terrible massacres had been committed in France by Muslims acting in the name of their god. So soon after the carnage on the promenade in Nice and the slitting of the throat of a priest while he was fulfilling his priestly duties, such an increase in the flaunting of Muslim identity is truly indecent. Harouel went on to say the problem with the “rule of law” was that it meant “condemning the peoples of Europe to helplessness when confronted by the mass immigration that is submerging them.”
If you’re a safe distance from Europe, you might think the burkini ban is ridiculous. But if your child didn’t come back from celebrations in Nice on Bastille Day, you might think differently. You might be, as France is, getting desperate.
Really? One cartoon in Charlie Hebdo shows a scene on a beach in 1966: A couple of cops are ordering a topless woman to cover up; the next panel is in 2016, the same cops are asking a burkini clad woman to take it off. Austerity is often in the eyes of the beholder as well as in the mores of the times. French law, however, continues to dictate what a woman can or can’t wear.
Would the secular-moral police stop a Catholic nun in a habit from visiting a beach in Nice, where the burkini is forbidden? Unlikely. Or, why does secular France officially grant so many Christian holidays in a year while in secular United States Christmas is the only national holiday to mark a religious occasion? Laicite, it seems, can be selective.
France during its Revolution in the late 18th century originated secularism as a constitutional feature in a nation-state. The founders of the US, Thomas Jefferson in particular, were influenced by French ideas; and the US became a constitutionally secular nation in 1791. The ideas came from groundbreaking French thinkers, Voltaire prominent among them.
Voltaire advocated three principles for society: freedom of religion, freedom of expression and separation of church and state. Among his numerous essays was a Treatise on Tolerance in which he asked: “There are about 40 millions of inhabitants in Europe who are not members of the Church of Rome. Should we say to every one of those ‘Sir, since you are infallibly damned I shall neither eat, converse, nor have any connection with you?’” Laicite was born of such ideas.
Radical ideas like keeping religion out of public life didn’t strike Voltaire overnight. In fact, he was prudent in expressing views on religion. But he edited and arranged to publish the writings of an obscure but extraordinary 17th century parish priest called Jean Meslier, who was an outright though surreptitious atheist in priest’s clothing. Voltaire redacted Meslier’s atheist views.
Influenced he was, however, by Meslier’s writings enough to publish them posthumously in edited form. Messlier had nothing but contempt for Christian sanctimony. His diatribes against manipulative religion and the sheer injustice in exploitative societies influenced many radical thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries. His writings are now available in an English translation in a 2009 book, Testament. Meslier was a grandparent of laicite. Neither he nor Voltaire would probably approve of laicite as it’s rigidly defined today.
French secularists seem to demand an arbitrarily defined French identity, much like religious ideologues in India who assume a singular Indian, implying Hindu, identity. But India’s constitutionally enshrined secularism is unlike France’s. It’s less laicite, more laissez-faire.
In Indian secularism, anything goes. If your religious group has a demand, just rally up some public disruption and the government will soon bend to your will. But that’s another story

The 17th SDG – Most Essential & Challenging

Sometimes our priorities are apparently so odd that they appear to be contradictory, and sometimes they are haphazard, The placing of goals in SDGs is no different. The last goal should have been the first one, and arguably the only one that encompasses all others. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the 17th is the odd one out. As “Partnerships for the Goals”, it is a goal that helps you get to the other 16 goals. For most businesses committed to sustainable development, however, this 17th goal may be the most essential – and challenging — one to accomplish.
Consider a company such as Unilever , routinely considered among the most sought-after of employers. According to CEO, Paul Polman, Unilever is so in-demand because it is perceived to be a “place of purpose.”It turns out, much of the company’s “purposeful” activity is done in collaboration with employees of organizations outside Unilever. In addition to the extensive list of partners and consortia cited on its website, it steadily continues to add new partners with a variety of specialist areas of expertise — a consultancy,2degrees, to achieve zero-waste in its supply chain, International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. to enhance the livelihoods of Haitian smallholder vetiver farmers, the environmental charity, the Hubbub Foundation, and food waste specialist, Wrap, to help cut food waste in the UK, to pick three very recent examples.
It can not be easy for large globally dispersed corporations, such as Unilever, to work with such a disparate network of partners ranging from businesses, large and small, to NGOs, foundations and governmental organizations. Each has very different goals, structures, incentives and cultures. Unilever is exceptional in its management of an extensive partner network, a hard act to follow. As we learned from ourInclusion Inc. research initiative, for most companies with more limited resources, the key to success would be to invest deeply in fewer partnerships to focus on strategic relationships, establishing trust and building bridges across natural organizational chasms. Dan Henkle, Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility at Gap spoke of the benefits of consolidating their supplier base, for example – increasing leverage, the ability to share knowledge and conduct more thorough monitoring. “Back when we had 3,500 factories and thousands of vendors, we had less of a partnership,” he said.
Our research reveals five principal criteria to strategically select partners based on how they can create value for companies investing in sustainable development:
As companies expand into disadvantaged and underserved market segments, they confront significant gaps in the value chain. Partners with specialized local expertise are, often, essential for closing the gaps.
According to Rodney Hines, Director of Community Investments at Starbucks , the company planned to open “new stores in economically challenged communities where [Starbucks] will be a part of the continued economic development of those communities, but not in an effort to move those communities further along towards gentrification.” The company contributes to economic development by hiring locally and sourcing local products. To this end, Starbucks has a partnership with YouthBuild USA, an NGO that helps low-income youth gain the skills they need for employment, and the Shultz Family Foundation, to create a career development program for at-risk youth.
For a strategic partnership to work, the benefits must run in both directions. Sangeeta Tyagi, President of YouthBuild USA, explained that the partnership is valuable to them because “One of the elements of all our corporate partnerships, including with Starbucks, is that the companies have workforce needs. They need workers who […] have the skills and training coming into the company.”
Extending Reach into Local Contexts:
While a company’s vision for sustainable development might be set at the center, the execution happens at a hyper-local level. Large companies do not have natural advantages in serving disparate communities that require a highly customized on-the-ground presence. This explains why Barclays partners with local NGOs with a better understanding of the needs of customers in its inclusive business activities. Rural farmers, for example, are not the natural clientele for Barclays. Moreover, there is plenty of skepticism to overcome – of an international bank interested in making a profit, rather than investing in social impact for its own sake. Barclays’ strategic partnerships with NGOs are useful in confronting this perception problem as well, because if NGOs are trusted in the communities in which they operate that trust is extended to Barclays, as well.
The partnerships may be jeopardized as Barclays consolidates its global operations and reduces its activities in key developing regions, such as Africa, to re-focus in the near-term on more immediate imperatives. On the other hand, if it wishes to retain an option to expand in the future, sustaining the partnerships could prove to be an essential vehicle.
Considering the magnitude of the problems in the developing regions, the solutions that companies offer must be scalable – otherwise, they are likely to remain purely token gestures. Essilor, for example, relies on a partner network to implement its inclusive business initiatives at scale. Greater awareness of vision-correction issues is essential to promoting Essilor’s eye-care products to new demographics; therefore, it works with NGOs and other multinationals to raise awareness of access to eye-care as a key health issue.
Essilor’s network includes NGOs with local expertise and access; advocacy organizations and multilateral organizations to promote the “vision” agenda; academic institutions, which provide useful research and talent; and private sector companies, governments, and development banks with shared interests, that can run programs and share costs. It even views cross-industry private-private partnerships as opportunities for scalability. For example, insurance, automobile, and eye-care companies could create joint initiatives to raise awareness of eye-care, as accidents could be avoided with good vision.
De-risking and Making the Business Model Work
Building a business in the developing world is particularly challenging for companies in industries where shareholders expect high margins. For example, bio-pharmaceuticals for developing world populations are limited by scarce R&D resources, where drugs have to be paid out-of-pocket by consumers. Given China’s improving healthcare system and increasing presence of payers, Genzyme, for instance, is looking for ways to engage in the market for the longer-term. It has partnerships with local entities to ensure treatment delivery and product affordability for patients. Genzyme Humanitarian Programs provides therapies free of charge, while simultaneously working with governments and other local entities to identify sustainable, long-term financial resources for treatments.
A key objective for Genzyme is to find ways to subsidize the cost of treatment for patients with the help of partners until the market develops. According to Genzyme CEO, David Meeker, “It’s not until a government, no matter how poor, how big, or how small, makes a commitment to these areas that you begin to move to sustainability. They begin to pay attention, the disease gets championed, and the right things begin to happen.”
Mitigating a Free-Rider Problem
One of the reasons why companies under-invest in sustainable development is because it creates a “public good”: even competitors in the industry can get to free-ride on benefits created (e.g. more robust supply chains, distribution systems to hard-to-reach consumers, substitutes that compensate for institutional voids). A possible approach to mitigating such concerns is to launch industry-wide initiatives that involve all beneficiaries to jointly make public commitments, which reduces the incentives to free-ride.
Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, Gap Inc., Inditex and Primark have signed up to The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, two multi-stakeholder groups set up to tackle health and safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry. For its part, BP is a sponsor of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a collaborative industry initiative for best practices and information sharing to deliver practical solutions to climate risk. Olam helped coordinate the Building Sustainable Futures Forum in Singapore, where it brought its entire industry together to address the issue of investing sustainable development.
Companies have traditionally been optimized around business units that carry out contractual transactions with parties on the outside. The pursuit of SDG 17 raises the bar on what companies need to get better at: managing a diverse network of partners to accomplish sustainable development. Unilever’s Paul Polman said it best when he spoke to us: “We are creating a much stronger ecosystem that takes our risk away, but it also creates enormous opportunities to broaden our products. Because once you work in partnerships often with governments or with civil society, it creates other opportunities to grow your business.”
Others can follow Unilever’s lead. Even with more limited resources, if they focus and strategically invest in these partnerships, there are payoffs not only in terms of advancement of the sustainable development goals but also for the companies themselves.

Liberals drop the ball on Ring of Fire development

“The Ring of Fire is a provincial initiative that the previous federal government was extremely detached from and uninterested in.” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. When a local reporter went digging for answers from Justin Trudeau about stalled development in the so-called Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, the prime minister went panning for political points.
Far away from where he stood in Sudbury lies one of the world’s largest undeveloped deposits of chromite — a key ingredient in stainless steel — as well as deposits of nickel, copper and platinum. But development hasn’t budged in the last 10 years.
Trudeau pointed the finger at the previous Conservative government.
“The Ring of Fire is a provincial initiative that the previous federal government was extremely detached from and uninterested in,” Trudeau said after a cabinet retreat in Sudbury, one of the cities that could benefit from Ring of Fire development.
A nugget of truth, or political fool’s gold?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).
This statement gets a ranking of “some baloney” — the previous government wasn’t as involved as people in the region would have liked, but for key procedural — as opposed to political — reasons.
Time to go down into the burning ring of fire. Mind the flames.
It is estimated that there could be between $31 billion and $54 billion worth of minerals in the area that shares a name with Johnny Cash’s hit 1963 single.
Federal spending in the area has been largely focused on skills development for local First Nations.
The previous Conservative government tasked Tony Clement in 2013 to co-ordinate federal efforts on the file that were — and remain — spread across multiple departments. (There remains a federal inter-departmental working group tapped with designing a co-ordinated approach to the Ring of Fire.)
The Ontario Liberals promised to spend $1 billion on infrastructure in the area, and asked for the same pledge from the federal Conservatives in 2014, only to be turned down. The money would help pay for a costly road to finally connect mining sites deep in the boreal forest to highways farther to the south.
Briefing material for Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, says the province has been told repeatedly that “transportation infrastructure for the Ring of Fire region should be supported by the private sector interests involved in the project.”
In March 2015, the federal government gave $393,814 to a road study, but that report has yet to be submitted to Infrastructure Canada. The CBC reported the study concluded that there needs to be more study. In the meantime, one of the mining companies in the region, KWG Resources Inc., announced this week it is partnering with a Chinese company to study the possibility of building railroad access to the Ring of Fire.
Mining is an area of provincial jurisdiction, leaving the federal government with little room to help on that front, said David Robinson, an associate professor of economics at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. What the previous government could have done was help build relationships between companies and the First Nations in the region, but the Conservatives themselves had a “crummy” relationship with aboriginals, further constricting their capacity to help.
The previous federal government was not really involved in the region, said Chief Bruce Achneepineskum from Marten Falls First Nation, whose traditional lands include the Ring of Fire.
Achneepineskum said the province has not been overly helpful either, citing ongoing concerns from the band council that it doesn’t have enough funding to help it pay for things like business planning and company background checks required before signing agreements with mining companies.
Federal infrastructure money can’t flow to the region without a specific funding request from the provincial government, and so far the Ontario Liberals haven’t filed the necessary paperwork: Infrastructure Canada said it has yet to receive any applications for projects in the Ring of Fire, and the provincial auditor general criticized the Ontario Liberals for failing to apply for funding.
Laure Paquette, an associate professor in the department of political science at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., said companies can’t push ahead with mining operations until they have a way to get their metals to market, and the federal and provincial governments have continually pointed the finger at each other over why no road has been built.
“It’s sort of like the Chip ‘n Dale, ‘You first,’ ‘No, no, you first,’ ‘No, no, please, you go first.’”
Complicating matters is the fact that there aren’t many votes to be had in the region for either government, with more seats — and infrastructure like highways to fund — around southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area, Paquette said.
The previous Conservative government didn’t do as much as people in the area would have liked, but did more than what Trudeau suggested, landing his statement firmly in the category of “some baloney” — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.
Will things change with the Liberals in power in Ottawa?
Trudeau said the federal Liberals “look forward to being positive partners on resource development” and “continue to look forward for opportunities to invest in the kinds of things that are going to bring jobs” to the region.
Robinson said the Liberals are stuck in the same situation as the Tories.
“The current government claims to be more activist. It still is in the situation where (mining) is a provincial jurisdiction and they’re talking about infrastructure projects, but they don’t actually have a plan as nearly as I can tell” for the area, Robinson said.

The myth of soft targets

Why do terrorists choose to strike soft targets? The conventional answer would be because they feel hitting hard targets is becoming increasingly difficult. So what constitutes a ‘soft target’?
Security experts are trying to understand the issue of soft targets from a variety of perspectives. There are still many unanswered questions. For instance, do terrorists really consider it a soft target — as described by the state? Do they randomly hit so-called soft targets, with less strategic thinking and planning? And, most importantly, how do terrorists define their enemies or attack targets?
These are genuine queries for both practitioners and academics. But it appears as if the state and its security institutions are deliberately maneuvering the ‘myth’ of soft targets to cover up their weak responses.
Usually, non-combatants, civilians and unarmed individuals, groups and communities are considered ‘soft targets’. The recent spate of terrorist attacks across the world indicates a disturbing trend of a visible increase in attacks targeting non-combatants. Many experts link this increase to the emergence of the militant Islamic State group, its affiliates or inspired groups, which are innovative in their strategies and tactics, and are expanding the range of their targets. The terrorist attack on crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, the suicide attack on a Kurdish wedding ceremony, and the suicide attack in Madina, are just some examples of terrorists expanding the range of their targets.
Weaknesses of the government and security establishment are the terrorists’ strength. At the same time, militants are exploiting security gaps to execute tested terrorist strategies. Taking people hostage and mass shootings are dangerous practices that they have applied in many operations, including in the attack on a café in Dhaka and on Kabul’s American University a few days ago.
Many security experts assume that terrorists target non-combatants to divert the attention of security institutions from conventional security targets. Then, an attack on civilians increases the impact of terrorism and puts states on the defensive due to public pressure. However, if we look at the patterns of attacks, terrorists continuously target specific non-combatant individuals and groups. With little variations in different regions, terrorists mainly target sectarian and religious minorities, intellectuals and sociopolitical elites and other groups that hold divergent views from those held by them.
Terrorists consider these segments their enemies. But in most cases, security institutions prioritise securing state infrastructure and power elites. Militants take the same amount of time in planning and executing their operations to hit both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ targets. The state and its security institutions may have an excuse that they lack human resources, logistics, and even capabilities, but terrorists exploit these same weaknesses.
Collateral damage is another myth directly linked to the notion of a soft target. While counterterrorism operations might cause collateral damage, terrorists are also least concerned about the casualties of ‘neutrals’ and even, in some cases, their sympathisers. A recent report by Action on Armed Violence revealed that during the last five years, 77pc of the total number of deaths and injuries (145,565) recorded in armed conflicts were ordinary people going about their daily business. According to the report Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen were the countries that saw the highest levels of civilian harm in this period. These figures include both ‘collateral damage’ and non-combatants who have been deliberately targeted.
However, terrorists always prioritise important strategic security installations and targets that have national and international significance — ranging from diplomatic missions to religious and cultural heritage sites. Although they continuously focus on their non-combatant enemies, their prime objective remains to hit hard and cause maximum casualties. Globally, attacks on non-combatants constitute 30pc of all terrorist attacks, but these attacks cause more human losses compared to others.
In many cases, the perception of state and society about militants — that they are not rational actors — complicates the situation. People get confused when terrorists target segments of a society holding views different from that of a country’s establishment. This happened recently when IS attacked a Kurdish wedding ceremony in Turkey.
In such situations, it becomes difficult for the victims to rationally analyse the situation. This is a war on another level, where terrorists can trigger anger potentially more explosive than the physical sort.
The security institutions’ weaknesses are the strength of the terrorists. The government and establishment should not expect that the mantra of ‘soft targets’ will absolve them of their responsibility to protect the people.

The roots of religious radicalism

In his 2011 book Pakistan in Search of Identity, veteran historian Dr. Mubarak Ali wrote that the roots of Muslim religious radicalism in South Asia can be found in what came to be known as the Khilafat Movement (1919-1922).
Eminent scholar and professor of political science, late Khalid bin Sayeed had suggested the same in his 1968 book Pakistan: The Formative Years. The book was recently republished by Oxford University Press. But to Sayeed, the aforementioned movement not only stirred religious passions of the region’s Muslims, but also of the Hindus. Thus, in view of Sayeed’s assertions in this context, one can conclude that the roots of Muslim and Hindu militancy sprouted from the seeds first sown during the Khilafat Movement.
In 1919, when the already depleted Ottoman regime in Turkey was defeated by a British-led alliance during the First World War, the ulema of India who till then had largely remained stationed in their mosques and madressahs poured out to agitate against the possible dismantling of the Ottoman Empire.
Did the Khilafat movement sow the seeds of militancy in the subcontinent? The resultant ‘Khilafat Movement’, which had begun to ferment during the last years of the First World War, managed to capture the attention and interest of a large number of Indian Muslims.
Pan-Islamists, many of whom were also operating from within the secular-nationalist Indian National Congress (INC), and ulema groups were at the forefront of the movement. The All India Muslim League (AIML), a moderate Muslim-centric party which had emerged in 1906 from progressive educationist and reformer Syed Ahmad Khan’s Muslim Educational Conference, was still struggling to find its feet.
One of its leading members, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a dispassionate but astute lawyer, advised the League to stay out of the movement. In a letter to INC’s revered figurehead, Mahatma Gandhi, Jinnah wrote that the movement was bound to stir up untapped religious passions of the masses and would be a disaster to the fate of the Hindus and Muslims of India.
Gandhi disagreed. In November 1919, after being approached by some leading members of the Khilafat Committee, he decided to make the INC part of the movement. Both Mubarak Ali and Sayeed maintain that Gandhi did this to bolster the anti-British movement that he was already planning to launch.
On the other hand, a senior member of the Muslim League, Dr Ansari felt that the League was being sidelined and overwhelmed by the rising religious passions of the movement (which also became apparent within the party’s main Muslim urban middle-class constituency). He headed a special party convention in Delhi and invited a group of ulema to the session. This created a rift within the League. Jinnah’s group opposed the movement along with Gandhi’s ‘non-cooperation movement’. It was taking place in concert with the Khilafat Movement.
Jinnah insisted that the result of both the movements would be disastrous and chaotic. INC leader Jawaharlal Nehru later wrote that Jinnah saw the commotion (created by the Khilafat and non-cooperation movements) as ‘mob hysteria.’
The first major event which substantiated Jinnah’s concerns took place in Amritsar in April 1919. Mobs of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh protesters attacked a few banks and killed two British men. The colonial government responded by mercilessly massacring over 350 Indians gathered in a small garden (Jallianwalla Bagh).
The incident seemed to have consolidated Hindu-Muslim unity against the British but Jinnah continued to insist that the movement was bound to bring the two communities into serious conflict. He was ignored and, thus, his group in the League remained aloof throughout the movement.
To appreciate INC’s decision to participate in the movement, the conservative Islamic party the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind issued a fatwa sanctioning Gandhi’s non-cooporation movement. Pan-Islamists such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Muhammad Ali Jauhar were the most vocal proponents of the movement. Their fiery articles and speeches urged the Muslims to quit their schools, colleges and jobs ‘for the sake of Islam.’ Many did. The INC sectioned the move.
Jinnah was livid. He questioned the wisdom of such a move. ‘What are their replacements?’ He asked. ‘Where else would the students go, if not to schools and colleges?’
Then, Azad and another prominent member of the Khilafat Committee, Maulana Abdul Bari, declared India as darul harb (a house of war). They encouraged Muslims to migrate to Afghanistan which at the time was being ruled by a Muslim ameer. Hundreds of Muslims (mainly from Sindh and former NWFP) sold off their belongings and headed for Afghanistan. Most were robbed on the way, and the rest were turned back by the ameer. They found themselves homeless and jobless when they returned to India.
The anarchic route that the movement had taken and its violent currents further mutated it when, in the Malabar area, Muslim peasants began to attack Hindu landlords. The uprising was followed by bloody communal riots in Malabar and Multan. The riots were brutally crushed and Malabar’s Muslim peasant community never fully recovered from them.
Then, in 1922, a mob of Hindus and Muslims burned alive 21 policemen (all Indian). The incident took place in the Chauri-Chaura area. This is when Gandhi pulled the INC out of the movement.
Finally, the movement suddenly collapsed when Mustafa Kamal, a charismatic secular-nationalist general in Turkey, ousted European forces from much of Turkey and abolished the Ottoman caliphate.
By the end of it all, the INC was weakened; the League was severely fragmented; and thousands of Muslims were out of educational institutions and jobs. Large sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities had been radicalised. This eventually gave birth to militant outfits such as the Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam and the Hindu Shuddhi movement, whose sole purpose was to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. The influence of the Hindu nationalist outfit, the Hindu Mahasabha, also strengthened. The apolitical but deeply ritualistic and conservative Tableeghi Jamaat and, later, the quasi-fascist, Khaksar Movement, also emerged from the fragments of the fallen movement.
Jinnah’s caution and position were vindicated. But the tradition of politics done on the impulse and emotion of the mindless mob had been established in the regio

India Take Heart: Pakistan’s Help is – Kiss of Death for Kashmir Separatist Movement

Kashmir Valley is boiling again, a sorry teardrop on the proud face of the Indian Union. About the size of Kuwait or Swaziland, it is home to a small but noxious school of separatists who have made “azadi” a life calling, sometimes turning it into a business proposition, going by how well some of the leaders are thriving while serving up their followers as cannon fodder. Happens with a lot of “liberation movements”.
But with each passing year, their movement finds less traction in the world, even as it remains the self-proclaimed core of Pakistan’s existence, expressed in the slogan “Kashmir banega Pakistan”. Why doesn’t the world care, they wonder, as do their Pakistani patrons. Loose figures such as “1,00,000 killed” in two decades of insurgency (which would break down into some 400 people killed every month, or 14 every day) are bandied about in the hope that it somehow catches world attention.
Not happening. Even the periodic, egregious and acknowledged excesses of Indian armed forces, which shouldn’t be entrusted with policing duties in the first place, barely elicit a flicker of concern in human rights circles. Of course, that is hardly a reason for the Indian state to feel smug. If anything, it should alert New Delhi to the window of opportunity to quickly resolve the issue.
India’s growing strategic, diplomatic and economic heft, the ability this gives New Delhi to fashion the narrative, and its capacity to both absorb insurgencies and successfully integrate them into the Indian Union, is just one reason why the world is largely cool to the Kashmir issue.
The other reason is there are more than 100 separatist movements across the globe, including a dozen major ones, and there is little appetite or bandwidth in world capitals to entertain another one from a much-admired democracy, warts and all. Compared to civil wars in the Middle East and Africa, Kashmir is a walk in the park, its tragic individual dimension apart.
But by far the biggest advantage India has on world stage is Pakistan’s association with Kashmir – a kiss of death for the separatist movement. Kashmiris may have legitimate grievances, as do people without adequate voice and opportunities anywhere in the world, whether it is blacks and Native Americans in the US, Baloch and Hindus in Pakistan, Adivasis and Muslims elsewhere in India.
However, to believe their salvation lies in sustenance from a state whose public record of grooming terrorists groups and hosting them, and of disenfranchising and exterminating minorities – even Muslim minorities – discredits their “azadi movement” like nothing else. Doomed by association, you could call it.
Irredentist and separatist Kashmiris, and for that matter Pakistanis themselves, have no idea how badly off Pakistan is in the international arena. The latest edition of G20, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi implicitly raised the issue of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism, offers a pretty stark idea of Pakistan’s marginalisation. Modi’s assertion brooked no challenge or response because Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous country, does not make the G20 cut, and the nearly score of countries there, including Pakistan’s self-proclaimed allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China, did not find it worth defending.
In fact, Pakistan does not even make observer status at G20 (Kazakhstan, Egypt and Chad were invitees this time; Nigeria and Azerbaijan have attended previous G20s). The reason for this is fairly simple. Pakistan has nothing to offer to the world except trouble – usually in the form of terrorism and mostly in the form of belligerent expansionism.
It has smeared the Kashmir movement and its own reputation with its toxic sponsorship of terrorism not just in India, but also across the region in pursuit of “strategic depth”. It stands condemned across the world on account of a mindset created by its official and constitutional slide into extremism. It is a state in terminal decline. Soon Maharashtra will have a larger economy.
Small wonder hoots of laughter followed reports that Islamabad is dispatching 22 of its parliamentarians to world capitals to lobby on the Kashmir issue, after television interviews showed some of its lawmakers hadn’t the foggiest idea of the subject, not even the falsified UN Resolution that Islamabad cites so often.
Pakistan has never told its people – and nor has India told the world – the truth: that the UN Resolution was not only non-binding to begin with, but it has been rendered infructuous since because Pakistan never fulfilled its obligation to vacate its occupation of Kashmir as it was called upon to. It also compounded the violation by parcelling off a large part of the state to China. End of resolution.
Many Pakistanis believe, under state tutelage, that it has endured India’s depredation; that the four wars it fought with India were inflicted by New Delhi. No word about Indian magnanimity in sustaining it with not just water but engaging it on equal terms because New Delhi believed – correctly – that we are people of common ancestry.
That forbearance may now be drawing to an end. Developments over the last few weeks suggest New Delhi will adopt a more robust diplomatic approach on Kashmir, including of naming and shaming Pakistan in international fora where Islamabad has no credibility or clout because of its embrace of terror groups and its faltering economy. Isolating Pakistan and relieving Kashmiris of the odium of any association with a withering state may provide a different route to resolution of the issue.

A Notice to the Upcoming African Leaders

Some time back, the continent of Africa was called The Dark Continent. Like the Dark Lady of Shakespeare, this continent always has a certain attraction, especially its natural resources attracted rapacious imperialists and equally exploitative investors. Now the resurgent continent needs a leadership to steer it. Demographic change, rising inequality and a fragile global macro economy are arguably our greatest challenge for the next century. While in the past, the fight to tackle these challenges took place at the national level, today, it’s cities that will determine how much progress we make.

Good leaders do not fall from the sky. The experience of successful nations, the world over, emphatically points to the centrality of strong education institutions, and particularly robust higher education systems in deliberately training the leaders who take societies to great heights. In the best of these institutions, leaders are not only impacted with the hard skills of leadership but also socialized on value systems that make them the creators and custodians of social ideals.

There is a most compelling argument for the continent’s prosperity. Investments in traditional sectors are necessary to realize its promise, as is the imperative to build robust enterprises and institutions. But the glue that cements all this together is good leadership. Therefore, there is an indisputable imperative to build a new generation of dynamic leaders with the skills to be effective and with the values to ensure the socio-economic transformation of the continent.

By 2030, a bulk of the world’s workforce will live in Africa. Already, experts project that at current rates, Africa’s population will snowball to 2.5 billion by 2050, which should translate to a demographic dividend which will feed the continent’s growth. Yet it is clear that without certain investments in policy and education, this dividend along with the benefits of hosting the world’s workforce will remain elusive.

A threat to the vision

Running against the Africa Rising narrative is the continent’s soft under-belly: a frayed higher education system that is buffeted by a combination of resource constraints, limited university places, declining quality, and a growing rift between academic education and the hard skills that the labour market demands.

Africa’s imperative to invest in education raises several questions. How can we ensure that the education Africa’s burgeoning and young population receives prepares them to tackle the challenges of tomorrow’s economy? Indeed, given the continent’s resource constraints, can Africa’s higher education system provide quality education at scale? If not, as the evidence suggests, can Africa quickly build internationally recognized capabilities for excellence within education?

Simply put, the current state of higher education across the continent is a real threat to the dream of an African Century. Access to university education is limited for many. For perspective, Africa’s tertiary enrollment rate today stands at an average of 7%. The American tertiary enrollment rate is just over 72%, while China’s sits at about 30%. This means even if Africa builds 200 new Harvard-sized universities each year for the next 15 years, it still will not close its prevailing skills gaps with India, and will have barely impacted the lot of its young population. Which is poignant if you consider that 70% of the global labour force in 2050 will be African. At the same time, the workload for teaching staff is unsustainable, with lecturers having to teach classes of up to 500 students. It is a system at breaking point.

That’s because many of these challenges are affecting cities. In cities across the Western world, shrinking and ageing populations contribute to a diminishing tax base, and an erosion of the social compact between retirees and young job seekers. This in turn distorts fiscal and labour practices.

In cities of the global south, collapsing to non-existent infrastructure buckles under the pressure of an exponential youth bulge, and political elites struggle to carry their manifestos across ever wider generations.

The ‘African Way’

While these trends are so familiar as to constitute a new global normal, African cities have an extra challenge to contend with: that of a post-colonial imaginary. This imaginary is defined in part by several features, including a desire to reclaim pre-colonial autonomy by promoting alternative forms of governance – something that has been referred to as an “African Way” – that often sit outside Western conventions of leadership.

A second feature of the post-colonial imaginary involves an assertion of African interests (or disinterest in global geopolitics) and increased national chauvinism. At the same time, it also involves an emergent youth that is both agile and increasingly technocratically-equipped in ways that the African “Liberation Generation” were not.

The third feature of the post-colonial reality is a dissonance between narrowly assumed traditional African values, and a cosmopolitan African identity, which embraces minority, gender, orientation and cultural complexity as positive vectors for growth and wellbeing.

Clinging on to power

The desire to follow this African Way raises challenges and opportunities. This binary world view – which sets up African as “Other” or “contrary to” – produces unclear conclusions, and perverse forms of tradition become proxies for cultural authority and governance.

This tension has often allowed more problematic actors to monopolize various social and political spaces, imposing their worldviews and fostering various forms of domestic or political abuse under the guise of culture.

It’s perhaps for this reason that many African nations continue to be led by septuagenarians who often claim their political agency and legitimacy from their role in liberating their nations from colonial or neo-colonial forces. Instead of departing office when their term ends, many of these leaders have chosen to stay on a little longer – in some cases much longer.

Tomorrow’s leaders

While there was a time when these leaders were idolized as liberation heroes, the tide is turning. With the emergence of a well-informed and ambitious youth population, all countries on the continent will soon start seeing the full impact of this dynamic between a powerful, old elite and the next generation of aspiring leaders.

In response to this often opaque political world, where access involves compromising patterns of patronage – or is simply not conducive to safe, alternative forms of political expression – many young people are instead turning to entrepreneurialism.

As political elites have much better access to all kinds of resources, new forms of tension and opportunity will arise, creating different instruments of leverage. These might range from new political parties to novel forms of geopolitical and economic alliances forged by African youth as they create their own supra-national identity.

Two possible futures for Africa

While other countries or regions find themselves tackling issues such as the technological revolution, climate change and religious conflict, Africa’s biggest challenge over the next five years will be how it reconciles the demands of its strident youth – and their take on how to shape the post-colonial continent – in the face of established and entrenched power structures.

I see two possible futures. In one, a technocratically-empowered youth have enough agency and ethical nous to interpret leadership as a form of limited and selfless service. In the other, these same people instead use their agency to entrench and reinforce inequality through more sophisticated and resilient means, and in so doing ossify various undesirable post-colonial practices of governance.

I see the African Way as a legitimate instrument to forge an ontologically unique manner of being in a global and increasingly homogenized world. But it will be up to Africa’s young people to ensure that this approach does not replicate the same policies that have stalled the democratic and economic growth of many African nations.

Telling Africa’s story

Africa has many fantastic stories to be told: growing economies, an increasingly sophisticated and educated workforce, dynamic sparks of entrepreneurial and cultural creativity. While the “Africa Rising” narrative is a long-term process, and not a short-term outcome, Africa is far from the lost continent some people still see.

But there is much at stake. The big story, in my mind, is about which direction Africa will take, and how this will exacerbate or ameliorate the challenges of radical demographic change. To misquote Bill Clinton, “It’s the leadership, stupid.” Afro-pessimism, be damned: I believe in the youth of the continent. We just have to be given the chance to lead.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of young African students and graduates who are eager to create change. They want to be entrepreneurial – to earn money through hard work and innovation, rather than connections and corruption. They want to be more ethical than the world they grew up in. But they often have a hard time seeing themselves as “leaders”, and they are uncertain as to where to begin.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned that I’d love to share with Africa’s future leaders.

1. Africa urgently needs new leaders in every sector, not just in government.

Africa has many needs: more jobs, better educational opportunities, affordable solutions in sanitation and electricity. There are opportunities for leadership in engineering. We need ethical business leaders and lawyers who will resist corruption, and citizen leaders to pitch in to help their communities. What’s critical is the attitude that leadership is service, not entitlement.

Future African leaders should develop the strongest mix of skills that their educational opportunities permit. Creating change starts with analysing problems, but you can’t stop there. To actually create change, we need young leaders who can combine their concern for the greater good with excellent, in-depth understanding of how to run a business or how to create and deploy new technology. We need leaders with courage who can think broadly and who excel at teamwork and communication.

2. Fighting corruption will require ethical courage.

Africa needs leaders who will do the right thing, even when no one is watching, and who will refuse to tolerate wrong-doing in others. But ethical courage cannot be imposed; it is fostered through an honest exploration of values.

Discussing real-life examples often brings clarity to the consequences of corruption. Would you want your sick mother treated by doctors who had cheated through medical school? What are the myriad costs of bribe-seeking and fraud to society? If we tolerate cheating now with our peers, how will we stand up to corruption in the future?

If you want to lead, develop your own ethical courage; then help others find theirs.

3. Try, try and try again. 

World-class innovators and entrepreneurs become so through experimentation. In labs, projects and community service, students must strive to try new things, fail quickly, learn, iterate and persist. Be flexible, but never give up. Through this process, one discovers that effective problem-solving, on any scale, requires listening and collaboration. Which brings me to my fourth point.

4. Africa needs the voices of women, minorities and the poor at every leadership table.

Without diverse perspectives, we cannot develop broadly useful solutions to the problems of our communities. We need to strive to ensure that our college classrooms have gender parity, and reflect socio-economic, religious and ethnic diversity. Only 6% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa attend college. By definition, Africa’s future leaders are today’s college students. Our emerging leaders need to be as diverse as our countries, so that the perspectives of women, minorities and the poor are incorporated into future products, policy and infrastructure.

People with great leadership potential are everywhere. We must recognize them, encourage them and give them the tools they need to succeed.

5. You too must pick up the litter. 

If you want to lead, set an example of service. As a professor, I maintain an open-door policy and encourage students to call me by my first name. But often our unofficial actions are stronger than our formal policies. “I never saw myself as a leader,” one graduate said years later, “until I saw Patrick bend down and pick up a piece of litter.”

Before that moment, this young African thought that leaders were politicians and chiefs, ensconced in the visible manifestations of power. Seeing a university president pick up litter showed that every person has the power to lead by example, and that everyone can and should pitch in. “That day,” he said, “I became determined to be a leader myself, helping do something to make Africa a better place.”

Danger zone for OPEC: The Imminent Arab Spring II

I often speak on the subject of “failed states” – countries in which the government had become so weak, while the economic and social problems grew so strong, that governance was no longer possible. The danger then – and now – was from the power vacuum created by the absence of any real ability for central decision-making. Decades ago, the problem of failed states was a fixture in Cold War thinking.
But over the past several years, the topic has become relevant for a different reason: It’s now a chief concern in the fight against terrorist groups. The lack of any leadership is an enticing invitation for other groups to take over.
Today, for the first time, we’re seeing the two previously separate spheres of collapsing governments and states with (apparent) raw mineral wealth merge, especially failed states that are the members of the OPEC oil cartel. The impact of this is going be extremely serious and will be felt globally.
Saudi Arabia has split OPEC down the middle and the crude oil prices continue to range between $45 and $50 a barrel, something disconcerting is developing within OPEC. This has more to do with the unraveling of domestic authority than it does with the international price of oil.
The cartel is rapidly dividing itself into its own version of the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. With the split almost irreversible already, the future of OPEC is colliding head-on with the realities of the market. Lurking in the shadows is another onslaught of violence and attempts at regime change.
All 14 OPEC members are busy revising their national budgets, readjusting expenditures, and raising taxes. All of this flows from the Nov. 27, 2014 (yes, it happened on Thanksgiving) OPEC decision to hold the line on production, despite increasing U.S. shale oil output. That meant sacrificing price for what the cartel hoped would be protected market share.
However, almost immediately, the “haves” in the cartel –Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait – effectively began taking market share from the rest of OPEC. Perhaps they intended it as a short-term exercise to show the rest of the world who’s boss. Unfortunately, we are now 21 months into the process and everyone is still waiting for Saudi Arabia to blink.
Driving prices down made it so that nations that had tied their economic stability to the sale of a raw material (“rentier nations” in the pure sense) suddenly found themselves unable to pay bills or set their domestic agenda. In fact, this was never really about OPEC as a whole retaining market share…
Saudi Arabia is competing with the rest of OPEC – and is winning. Instead, keeping up production was about the top three members (the “haves”) in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, gaining a greater slice of a diminishing pie. When it became clear that maintaining production would give way to expanding sales, the OPEC monthly quota system was shelved. In the past, the cartel had followed a monthly routine of: (1) determining global demand; (2) subtracting non-OPEC production; (3) calculating the resulting “call on OPEC;” and (4) dividing that call into quotas for each member.
But now, the quotas were suspended and a free-for-all replaced them. At that point – with prices continuing to drift down – two facts became clear to everyone in the oil business. First, there was no longer any justification to keep oil in the ground.
In the past, withholding from pumping up oil had maintained a price floor, guaranteeing higher profits on whatever one did pump today – and in the future. That was no longer the case. Remember, the fight now is about market share, not about price.
Second, in this environment, improving market share can come (almost) only at the expense of somebody else’s market share. Now, as global demand continues to rise this is not quite a zero-sum gain.
But it’s close. As other OPEC members ramped up production in an increasingly desperate pursuit of declining revenue from more sales, Saudi Arabia opened up the flood gates of new oil unto the market.
That made the plight of “lesser” OPEC countries even more desperate, bringing us back to the problem of failed states. and several OPEC members are now failed states. OPEC-member Venezuela is, by every indication, well on its way to becoming a failed state. In this case, this has been “accomplished” without the presence a civil war or any significant domestic terrorist movements.
Libya, on the other hand, already is a failed state. There, a civil war has rendered the central authority unable to govern. Meanwhile, in Nigeria a major terrorist insurrection in the north coupled with serious popular uprisings in the oil-rich Niger Delta has paralyzed the central government.
Angola and Ecuador, while both experiencing political paralysis resulting from ongoing economic problems, are still not failed states. But they are weakening.
Similarly, Iraq’s government is having more and more difficulty in keeping control of – both as a result of its ongoing conflict with Daesh (the regional, derogatory term for the self-proclaimed “ISIS”) and the intensifying sectarian animosity between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.
And Saudi Arabia’s main competitor inside OPEC isn’t much better off…
Arab Spring II Is round the Corner – and OPEC Is in Dire Straits
As for Iran, its economy remains in shambles even as it attempts to use post-sanction oil sales as a way of clawing back. Of course, low oil prices make this even harder. There are also signs that both Iran’s bad field conditions and its many infrastructure deficiencies block any hope of reaching the country’s ambitious production goals.
In fact, the rumors that Tehran is interested in discussing an oil production cap – another sign of the country’s internal mess. There is, after all, no likelihood of any “breakthrough” emerging next month at the biannual session of the International Energy Forum in Algiers.
But the stage may be set for a Saudi-led move in that direction later this year. I’ll have more to say on this in a few weeks. In the meantime, here is the most acute problem for this split between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in OPEC: Arab Spring II is approaching.
During the first Arab Spring in 2010-2012, governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) “bought off” popular unrest. Social programs and grants were significantly increased. The countries that didn’t, or were too slow, collapsed.
The same situation hit in Venezuela, where the Prado unrest mirrored what was happening in MENA nations. Back then, OPEC nations had the luxury of high oil prices to subsidize the massive domestic spending binge. They bought time by spending more of their oil export revenue flows.
Not this time, with low oil prices and weakened governments, OPEC is bracing for a much more protracted Arab Spring II. This one is going to get ugly. Even the Saudi push to rein in production towards the end of the year (rather than soon, in Algiers) will be too little, too late. This will have huge implications for the region and for global energy markets

Canada’s Role Redefined by 9/11

It was fifteen years back that the world changed and so did the perception regarding Canada’s role in the world order. This change was so subtle that a very few discerning people could understand the change. For Canadians, the attack and the 13-year war it spawned in Afghanistan changed our understanding of the world and our place in it. Those four planes — American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93 — and the 2,996 people killed because of their hijackings changed the world as it had been until then, with consequences that still reverberate through global defence and security policies.
For the Canadians, the attack and the 13-year war it spawned for Canada in Afghanistan changed our most fundamental understanding of the world and our place within it.
The lessons of that mission were sorely received. As Roland Paris, former PMO advisor and recently-returned University of Ottawa International Security and Governance Research Chair, wrote in a March 2014 policy brief for the Centre for International Policy Studies, “tactical gains, while often hard won, were rarely sustainable” — particularly once the enemy switched their focus to guerrilla insurgency and forced the military to rethink how it could deal with unconventional conflict.
As Canada prepares to embark on a new, still-to-be-determined peace support operation in Africa, that decision-making process is still hazy with the fumes of Afghanistan’s legacy — that of a mission that became a quagmire and that ushered Canadians into the bloody realities of unending, asymmetric conflict against a constantly shifting enemy.
“That’s something that also is tied to 911. With terrorists, we’ve started engaging in endless wars because we never really hit the enemy,” said Ferry de Kerckhove, formerly Canada’s ambassador to Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan, and now a senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. “That’s what scares us today in deciding where we’re going.”
As Defence Minister Harjijt Sajjan has warned repeatedly in recent months, the peacekeeping legacy Canadians cherish has no place in the middle of modern conflict.
Instead, “peace support operations” will require the public to be willing to spill blood in countries where there is no peace to keep and hope that a Canadian contribution can help stabilize and contain conflict on the ground.
But understanding the legacy of 9/11 and the wars it sparked in Afghanistan and also in Iraq means understanding that this new mission will not come neatly wrapped with clear objectives, a clear enemy and, most critically, a clear end game.Everyone remembers where they were and who they were with the morning of September 11, 2001. The horrific sight of planes flying into buildings out of a clear blue sky.
That day marked the end of the ten years of Pax Americana that followed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the 15 years since, America and the West have struggled in their ‘War or Terror’ — a war that may not be winnable and which clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, has not been well-waged.
It is a war without rules or conventions, against an enemy whose cruelty knows no bounds, whose murderous ways have only been enabled by the spread of social media.
Hijackings used to be pretty simple. A guy with a gun would break into the flight deck and say to the pilot: “Take me to Havana.” On 9/11, al Qaida operatives hijacked four planes simultaneously and diverted them towards New York and Washington, flying into the towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the very heart of American economic and military power. The fourth plane, United Flight 93, was heroically re-taken by its passengers (“Let’s roll”) and crashed in a farm field in Pennsylvania. Their sacrifice may have prevented an attack on the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Since the Air India and Pan Am 103 explosions of the 1980s, airport pre-boarding clearance has become state-of-the-art. But in remarkably similar recent attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, suicide bombers identified with ISIS have triggered explosions in accessible lobbies ahead of check-in counters.
The 9/11 attacks remain the defining negative event of the 21st century. Speaking into a megaphone at Ground Zero, George W. Bush promised that “the people who knocked these buildings will hear all of us soon.”
No one could have imagined then that, 15 years later, the Americans and their allies would still be in Afghanistan — by far the longest war in American history. Having peaked at 100,000 troops during the Bush years, with 40,000 deployed there where Barack Obama took office, nearly 10,000 American troops are still on the ground. As recently as Friday, the U.S. conducted three air strikes against Taliban positions. As for al Qaida, it took nearly 10 years for U.S. special forces to corner and kill Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan. All of these unhappy events had their origins in the 9/11 attacks, and the choices made by the second President Bush, notably supported in both Afghanistan and Iraq by Britain’s Tony Blair. The ripple effect of bad policy is with us still.
Some 2,200 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan, as have nearly 160 Canadian soldiers. Canada was part of the U.S.-led NATO mission from the beginning in October 2001 until the end in 2014. Over the duration, 40,000 Canadian troops deployed to Afghanistan. Casualties were light as long as the Canadians were standing guard in the capital of Kabul, but intensified when they were re-deployed to Kandahar, the home of the Taliban, in 2005.
Canada was in Afghanistan in such numbers because it wasn’t in Iraq. In 2003, Jean Chrétien refused to join Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing”, some 33 nations, in the invasion of Iraq. It was the smartest thing Chrétien ever did. Or never did.
The pretext for the U.S.-led invasion was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — which were never found. The Americans got Hussein, but they also got a decade of trouble and are still paying for Bush’s policy blunder. The invasion was followed by a decade-long occupation and an Iraqi insurgency in which around 4,500 American troops were killed, along with an estimated half a million Iraqis.
The 2003 invasion destabilized Iraq and the Middle East in a way that is still playing out today. The invasion gave birth to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and allied air and ground forces are deployed on the ground in Iraq, with Canadians training Kurdish troops to push back ISIS from northern cities. In Syria, millions are homeless and millions more have fled the civil war between dictator Bashar Al-Assad and an array of rebel forces that includes ISIS.
All of these unhappy events had their origins in the 9/11 attacks, and the choices made by the second President Bush, notably supported in both Afghanistan and Iraq by Britain’s Tony Blair. The ripple effect of bad policy is with us still.
There are few happy passages in this story — with the possible exception of Gander, Newfoundland, a town of 10,000 whose people are still remembered and thanked by Americans for taking in nearly 7,000 passengers from 37 flights bound for the U.S. after they were diverted there when American airspace was closed down. In all, 224 flights and 33,000 passengers were diverted to Atlantic and Pacific Canadian airports. Before the jet age, Gander was a trans-Atlantic refuelling stop for turbo props.
Though the passengers were from “away”, Gander residents took them into their homes and schools and looked after “the plane people” because that’s what Newfoundlanders do. Passengers were also put up in the nearby fishing community of Lewisporte, population 3,000, whose residents refused any payment for their help.
While flying out afterwards, as the Washington Post reminds us, the Lewisporte passengers took up a collection on their flight to establish a scholarship for local high school graduates. They raised $15,000 that day, and today the Lewisporte Area Flight 15 Scholarship fund stands at more than $2 million, with 228 students having attended college as a result.
“There’s not going to be a clear victory parade to any of these missions,” said Steve Saideman, the Norman Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University and author of the book NATO and Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone. “It’s more just ‘well, we’ve done our share for long enough, it’s time for us to go.’”
That’s not to say warfare before Iraq and Afghanistan was neat and tidy, Saideman says.
But with the length, complication and cost in blood of that mission, Canadians saw firsthand the demands of engaging in conflict where the actors are no longer traditional states and instead focus on murky, shifting targets who don’t abide by the conventional laws of war.
The conflicts in Libya and Syria have driven that point home even more, he says, and that legacy has shaped how politicians frame the discussion around where to go next.
“I think it made Canadians clear about the stakes of international relations, the stakes of intervention,” Saideman said. “I definitely think that Canadians are going to be more reluctant to do anything like that again and so that’s why you have politicians promise that whatever interventions we’re doing, we’re not engaged in combat, which of course creates more confusion.”
The protestation that Canadian Forces troops will not be engaged in combat is one that has dogged the current mission against the Islamic State — which the government now refers to as “Daesh” — in Iraq.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper faced criticisms for calling the mission a non-combat operation after news broke that some of the 69 Special Forces soldiers stationed in Iraq to advise and assist had engaged in multiple firefights after being confronted by Daesh militants.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government faced the same debate earlier this year when it withdrew Canada’s fighter jets from the bombing mission in Iraq and Syria and refocused the mission to one that tripled the number of soldiers on the ground and was criticized for increasing the potential for those troops to be in harm’s way.
Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance has also stressed that the current mission is not a combat one. “We are using a technique that is relatively new, borne of the lessons of Afghanistan,” Vance said in February 2016. “A ‘train, advise and assist’ mission clearly falls into the non-combat realm, whereas a combat mission is largely distinguished by the fact we are the principal combatant.”
Under the new government, the approach is increasingly to focus less on a purely military response and instead incorporate a whole-of-government approach to tackling an issue.
Given the complexities and multi-layered nature of modern conflicts, that’s critical, said one former military member. “The game has changed,” said Tony Battista, CEO of the Conference of Defence Association Institutes and a four-time Canadian defence attaché who spent 40 years in the Canadian Forces. “You cannot deal with them only with the military.”
Recognizing the adaptability of new enemies like Daesh, as well as their lack of centralization and ability to influence others to act on their behalf around the world, means conventional strategies won’t work and no one can expect to just step into the fray and not get stuck.
“I have learned that when you step on a pile of manure with your boots, a number of things happen. First of all, you spread the shit all over the place. Secondly it stinks even more. And third, you get your boots dirty,” Battista said. “You have to learn to use policies —what I call the anaconda policy — that constrict the enemy.”
But the messy, if pragmatic, realities of containment and mitigation don’t always make for an idea that can win over hearts and minds, or spark support among a country where the sacrifices of a 13-year war are still keenly felt in a new generation of veterans and a public for whom the attack that triggered it is still seared into both collective and personal memories.
Adjusting hopes and expectations to that mentality — that there will be no victory parade for whatever mission we embark on next — is the lasting takeaway from the attacks of September 11 and needs to be top of mind as Canadian politicians steer the country into new and equally dangerous conflict zones.
Fifteen years later, we still don’t know how to defeat the enemy and in fact we’ve got to cope rather than defeat. We’ll never decimate these guys and it’s nice for us scholars to say, ‘Oh, but there’s a political solution. Bullshit. There’s no such thing as a political solution —it’s fending off the most dangerous and trying to learn how to live with that, and that is the legacy of 9/11.”

‘Why the supposed Islamophobia?’

The oft-repeated dictum regarding the three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and half-truths. is self-evident. They can be in the form of statements or even questions such as the chorus led by President Bush after 9/11 on ‘why do they hate us?’ Questions are premised on assumptions that are often implicit rather than explicit. Politically motivated questions are designed to insinuate assumptions and elicit answers premised on such assumptions even when they do not agree with the question itself.
Nevertheless, much of the criticism directed at contemporary Muslim society and Islamist or Takfeeri (anathema) ideology is not without basis. It is largely true that Muslim societies need to deal head on with the image of Islam their political, social and religious leaders have helped to project. Their willing or unwilling tolerance for extremist misinterpretations of specific Islamic injunctions has provided space for individual or group acts of terrorism in response to Western excesses. Nevertheless, these terrorist acts, even when in response to acts of state terrorism, flagrantly violate the tenets and purpose of the Quranic message that is embodied in the injunction that “there is no hate or compulsion in faith because what is righteous (ar-rushed) has been made clear from what is sinful (al-ghayy)”.
However, corrupt and fearful leaders in the Muslim world simply cannot summon the courage to stem the tide of ideological extremism that is engulfing the world of Muslims today. It is their greed and disloyalty to the people they govern as well as their collaboration with external exploiters and transgressors that have exacerbated the fissures and fractures in Muslim societies.
The truth is Muslims do not hate America or its people. What they do hate are its policies. The first four rightly guided Caliphs of Islam made clear that polarising extremists who don the attire of uncompromising faith (the ‘Khwarij’) have no place in the ummah ie the community of the faithful. To pronounce anathema and death upon anyone, especially one professing to be Muslim, is an arrogation of divine authority which is the gravest sin in Islam.
Why Muslims supposedly hate America has been asked many times before 9/11. Today, however, the question informs the political discourse of the West to an unprecedented degree. It contextualises so many political issues Europe and America are faced with. The driving political motivation behind the question is an adamant refusal to discuss either ‘root causes’ of the mindsets that led to 9/11, or the contagion of terror let loose by the so-called war on terror.
Even so, there are still voices of sanity and wisdom in the West. According to them four fundamental questions arose in the aftermath of 9/11: who is responsible? What are the reasons? What is the proper reaction? What are the longer-term consequences? The US and its allies never made an honest effort to answer any of them. The recent Chilcot report is just another confirmation of Western impunity. Instead, George Bush and his ‘Beagles’ posed the disingenuous and dishonest question: why do they hate us? This allowed the US to self-righteously act as a wounded and enraged superpower that would not tolerate any question that might imply its own actions, including state terrorism, over decades contributed to such a desperate and heinous response.
Almost half a century earlier, president Eisenhower reportedly discussed “the campaign of hatred against us” … in the Arab world … “not by the governments but by the people”. The US National Security Council advised him the answer lay in “the Arab people’s recognition that the US government supports corrupt and brutal governments that block democracy and development, and does so because of its concern to protect its interest in Near East oil”. This was a precursor for American car bumper stickers as the US prepared to invade Iraq which read: ‘kick their ass and get their gas!’
But American and Western commentators prefer ‘comfortable’ explanations. Accordingly, Muslim anger and alienation is rooted in resentment of America’s freedom and love of democracy. The failings of Muslim culture and religious doctrine have prevented Muslim societies from participating in contemporary modernisation and globalisation. These are indeed half-truths. But there is no recall of the scars of imperialism and colonialism, the betrayal and trauma of the Sykes-Picot agreement, the even greater trauma of the creation of Israel which according to former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir was merely the “creation of a state for a people without land in a land without people!” Etc.
Can all this ever justify acts of terrorism? Never. But they do explain why this menace has spread. The truth is Muslims do not hate America or its people. What they do hate are its policies which have devastated their lives and societies for so long. Unfortunately, this is carefully ignored in contemporary Western discourse. Western liberals may defend Islam and Muslim societies against the fulminations of the anti-Muslim lunatic fringe which have entered mainstream discourse. But it consciously fails to condemn the US and its allies for their wars and destruction of political and civil society; their interventions and contempt for international law; and their abhorrence of the strategic independence of strategically important developing (including Muslim) countries if it clashes with US strategic interests.Recent terror attacks in the month of Ramzan in Dhaka, Baghdad and Medina by Islamist extremists have again brought to light the question of vilification of the entire Muslim community in social media and in a section of mainstream media. Though we do not have firm evidence of the hand of Islamists in the July 14 attack in Nice in France, Islam might still be blamed for the carnage. There is an increasing trend to blame Islam for producing “jihadi” terrorists. However, the Muslim ulema’s critique of terrorism as antithetical to Islam (which, like many religions, spreads the message of peace) is rarely highlighted by the media. Is this a new trend of Islamophobia in the media?
The global phenomenon of Islamophobia is a product of hundreds of years of Orientalist discourses constructed by the Western colonial education system. The dominance of many parts of the medieval world by Islamic cultures is described as “dark ages” in such discourses. In one of his celebrated essays, ‘The Campaign Against ‘Islamic Terror,’ Edward Said has shown how the depiction of Islam as a threat to the West is largely a discourse that was produced by mainstream American academia and journalism in search of a new “manufactured enemy” in the post-Soviet world order. Said, in his book Covering Islam, has also argued how the western media and academic experts in the West have often produced biased, stereotypical and mythical representations of Islam.
Such discourses produced the phenomenon of “Islamophobia” that was reproduced in media caricatures and stereotyped political cartoons. Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg’s, Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy shows that media caricatures and political cartoons showing Muslims as “terrorists”, “irrational”, “violent”, “evil”, “oppressive” and “fanatics” date even further back. Political caricatures of Muslims and Islam in the Western media are as old as the Suez Canal crisis of 1956-1958.
They made an appearance during the 1974 oil crisis, the revolution, the hostage crisis of 1979-1980 and Gulf war of 1990. The 9/11 incident followed by the Afghanistan war in 2001 and the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 saw such imagery acquire a sharper edge. The prejudicial view of Islam and Muslims as backward and fanatical and not compatible with modernity slots Muslims — and Islam — into a homogenous, essentialist and unitary category without acknowledging the multiplicity of Islamic groups and the heterogeneity of the Muslim world.
Popular cinema in Hollywood and, to an extent, Bollywood, have also contributed in reinforcing stereotypical images of Muslims as terrorists. Many Bollywood films make a direct connection between Muslims and terrorism, and stir up sentiments against Islam and Muslims. The community is rarely shown as a victim of terrorism, which threatens lives of both Muslims and non-Muslims. The profile of the victims of terrorist attacks in Dhaka, Baghdad and Medina shows that terrorism makes no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims.
It is well-known that numerous terrorist groups have organisational bases among non-Muslims. According to the Forbes’ latest list of the world’s top ten richest terrorist organisations, two are non-Islamic outfits — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Real Irish Republican Army. The Aum Shinrikyo in Japan and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army in Myanmar claim to be inspired by Buddhism. The Maronites in Lebanon and Syria, Orange Volunteers, Loyalist Volunteer Force and Red Hand Defenders in Northern Ireland, the anti-abortion Army of God in the United States, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and various neo-Nazi groups in Europe claim to follow Christianity.
In 2011, Anders Behring Brieivik, a neo-Nazi, carried out the horrendous attacks that killed 77 and injured 319 in Oslo in Norway. Not many decades ago, Zionist groups like Jewish Underground, Brit Hakanaim and Kingdom of Israel, as well as certain anti-communist outfits, took part in terrorist activities. Some left-wing groups, including the Maoists in India, have been designated as terrorist outfits. Hindutva activists are alleged to have organised the Malegaon, Nanded, and Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid blasts.
However, it is noteworthy that there is an increasing trend of Arabisation and Wahabisation among South Asian Muslims. Changing dress codes and changing mannerisms reflect the growing Arabisation of Muslims. This tendency is detrimental to the otherwise plural character of South Asian Muslims. Islamic theology needs to address the core problems of the religion; these pertain to gender inequality, unequal property rights for women, discrimination against women after divorce and the right to use contraception. This is only possible through democratic movements in the Muslim community: Moderate Muslims should take charge and not become passive spectators and victims of Islamist extremism.
Westerners, however, sometimes ask that given that the US has devastated so many people around the world why is the Muslim response so particularly ‘hateful’? In my view it has a lot to do with the specific failure of contemporary Muslim governance to provide essential public goods and the range of human and political protections to the governed which is essential to deal with contemporary challenges. Instead of taking up this challenge, narratives are developed to distract public attention from the betrayals of their elected and unelected elites at home towards the excesses of external powers. Moreover, some of our ‘brother-benefactors’ have cynically fattened our leaders while financing the spread of an alien puritanical extremism that ensures an all-consuming instability at home and a debilitating hostility with most of our neighbourhood.

Brazilian coffee

How do you take your Olympic coffee — white, or black? In Rio, coffee is prepared from beans imported from countries across the world — Bolivia, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Kenya, Australia, even Thailand. Its percolating machines filter them, a metaphor for the transient internationalism of the Olympic Games themselves.
Never before, though, in the history of the Olympic Games has the subject of colour and race been given such inordinate exposure by sports commentators. Until Rio 2016, certain categories of sport were reserved, like the poorer seats at the back of a segregated bus, for people of colour. It has been a given that any sport requiring equipment or facilities could be pursued only by those who could afford it.
Sports such as “archery, canoe/kayak, cycling, equestrian, rowing, modern pentathlon, sailing, shooting and triathlon squads” were, as one commentator put it, “blindingly white”. Black people were good for running and boxing.
Nothing proved this point more than the statistic that out of all the gold medals won by runners, over half have been by ‘African’ athletes, and in boxing ‘Africans’ alone have won 40 medals. Or that, in the 1960 Rome Olympics, the winner of the showpiece marathon Abebe Bikila, an Ethiopian, ran his race barefoot.
Rio 2016 has changed that, irreversibly. Black is the new gold. The Western media crew of voluble sports commentators have yet to adapt to the new paradigm. A young American girl wins a gold medal in the 100 metres freestyle swimming, and she is touted as the first black/Afro-American girl ever to win such an event. Her compatriot, Simone Biles, wins four gold medals in gymnastics and the media marvels at how a black girl can break the colour bars, horse and rings. Daryl Hanes gains a silver medal in the men’s sabre fencing, and his achievement carries the addendum that it is the first time in 112 years that a black/Afro-American has won in this category. Never before in Olympic history has the subject of race been given such exposure as was done in Rio 2016.
Almaz Ayana secures the gold for 10,000 metres long distance run, but then, she is from Ethiopia. And when a young woman, Ibtihaj Muhammad, appears — in a hijab — to compete in a fencing match, the attention of the viewers is drawn not to her skill with an épée but her decision to hide her hair.
No hijab will ever be large enough or thick enough to hide the bias of some of the more raucous elements of the reporting media. Their remarks about black/Afro-American female sportspersons remind one of Dr Samuel Johnson’s famous observation about female preachers. Told by James Boswell that he had heard a woman preach, Dr Johnson’s retorted: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
For one particular contestant — Yulia Refomiva, from cold-shouldered Russia — the Rio Olympics were another battlefield. “Rio was awful,” she lamented, “it was war.” To be booed after four years of preparation, effort, training and high-pressure performance was more than a waste of adrenalin. It was a negation, a perversion of the Olympic spirit. The spectators became judges, and the judges spectators.
If the Russians are to be believed, the United States has conspired to hamstring Russia. Whether Russia could have posed a serious challenge to the US, or for that matter Great Britain, in the medals table is now a matter of Monday morning conjecture. It would appear, though, that both Russia and China have lost interest in the Olympics. They no longer see it as an arena in which they need to prove themselves. In Beijing 2008, China could not afford to lose.
In Rio, China did not care if it did not win. That is not to say its Olympic team did not give their best. They did. But the embers of Beijing had been banked, its fire tempered. The colour of the medal no longer drove the Chinese.
India had sent the largest Olympic contingent in its history to Rio. Over a billion Indians hoped for a richer trawl of medals than one silver and a single bronze — the first for badminton and the second for wrestling. The silver came as a hard-won surprise. The latter was to be expected.
After all, India has had enough practice. It has wrestled with Pakistan for 69 years over everything — Sir Creek, Rann of Kutch, a seat in the UN Security Council, a place in the ECO, and perennially Jammu & Kashmir.
If only the statue of Christ the Redeemer above Rio could be transposed to Wagah border. With one arm outstretched into Pakistan and the other into India, who knows? He might perform the miracle for them he did for the Brazilians. They are still celebrating their soccer gold by crying into their coffee.