Obama Made Iran More Powerful Than Ever

When Iran test-fired ballistic missiles, United States President Donald Trump angrily tweeted that “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE.” The era of American appeasement toward Iran that took place under the Obama administration appears to be over. But, as the Washington Post noted this weekend, the U.S. faces an Iran “that is now more powerful than at any point since the creation of the Islamic republic nearly 40 years ago.”
Iran now stands at the apex of an arc of influence stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, from the borders of NATO to the borders of Israel and along the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It commands the loyalties of tens of thousands in allied militias and proxy armies that are fighting on the front lines in Syria, Iraq and Yemen with armored vehicles, tanks and heavy weapons. They have been joined by thousands of members of the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s most prestigious military wing, who have acquired meaningful battlefield experience in the process.
If the Trump administration is serious about confronting Iran, it will soon discover that, thanks to former President Barack Obama, this will be a task that is easier said than done. The Post wrote:
So pervasive is Iran’s presence across the region that it is hard to see how any U.S. administration could easily roll it back without destabilizing allies, endangering Americans, undermining the war against the Islamic State, and upsetting the new regional balance that emerged during the Obama administration’s retreat, analysts say.
Under the Obama administration, Iran enjoyed a virtually unimpeded expansion of power into Syria, Yemen and Iraq. The Post wrote that Iran “has developed missiles capable of hitting U.S. bases and allies across the Middle East and built a network of alliances that have turned it into the most powerful regional player.”
It was welcomed back into the international community when sanctions were lifted on Jan. 16, 2016, which gave it a hefty allowance of nearly $100 billion in unfrozen cash. Many international corporations have already signed business deals with Iran amounting to billions of dollars. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has seen a nice increase in its budget.
Iran has also entrenched itself into conflicts where it cannot be easily dislodged. In Syria, it is allied with Russia. Getting Iran to back out of that region also means the U.S. has to put up with Russia. In Iraq, U.S. troops are fighting alongside the IRGC in the battle against the Islamic State. Iraq presents the most troubling scenarios for the United States. The Post continued:
Iranian-backed militias are deeply embedded in the overall Iraqi effort to wrest back territory from the militants, one that is also being aided by the United States. In the Mosul offensive, hundreds of U.S. advisers are working alongside Iraqi troops advancing from the east, among about 6,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq. Thousands of Iranian-backed militia fighters are meanwhile advancing on the city from the west, among a force of tens of thousands that answers mostly, though not exclusively, to Iran.
Being so intertwined with Iran is extremely dangerous for U.S. troops. One Iranian-backed group fighting alongside American troops is called Kitaeb Hezbollah. Less than 10 years ago, this group was killing American troops with roadside bombs and mortars. A spokesman for the group said that if the United States even attempts to diminish Iran’s role in Iraq, its soldiers will not hesitate to attack U.S. troops, stating, “American interests in Iraq are within our sights and our fire range. If they act foolishly, their interests will be wiped out … and we can target their bases whenever we want.”
Iran is holding a gun to American troops in Iraq. The Obama administration put the U.S. in this weak position, and undoing it will not be easy. The Post wrote that the Trump administration “will be facing down a far stronger Iran, one that has taken advantage of the past six years of turmoil in the Arab world to steadily expand its reach and military capabilities.”
The Institute for the Study of War wrote on February 3: Iran is transforming its military to be able to conduct quasi-conventional warfare hundreds of miles from its borders. This capability, which very few states in the world have, will fundamentally alter the strategic calculus and balance of power within the Middle East. It is not a transitory phenomenon.
Do not expect to see Iran’s power subside from this point forward. These aren’t just blips of power spurting from Iran. It has become the Middle East hegemon.
In an interview with ABC shortly after his inauguration, President Trump prided himself on predicting that Iraq would fall to Iran: And by the way, and I said something else, if we go in and do this. You have two nations, Iraq and Iran. And they were essentially the same military strength. And they’d fight for decades and decades. They’d fight forever. And they’d keep fighting, and it would go—it was just a way of life. We got in; we decapitated one of those nations, Iraq. I said, “Iran is taking over Iraq.” That’s essentially what happened.

Possible Right Swing in Europe & Desirable Indian Reaction

Elections are due in 2017 in three of the founding member countries of the European Union – The Netherlands, France and Germany. The Netherlands holds a parliamentary election already on March 15. It is expected that Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) is set for a historical win with nearly a fifth of the voters in the polls showing a willingness to vote for his party.
In the smaller countries in Europe, there are often coalition governments and therefore it might not sound big to win a fifth of the popular vote cast, but it matters if you emerge as the largest party. At present, Geert Wilders’ political agenda includes a complete ban on mosques and the Quran, and he wants to curb immigration, especially from Muslim countries.
It is very important, though, not to bundle together the far-right movement in USA with the right-wing parties in Europe. Wilders’ Party for Freedom expects immigrants to assimilate into the Dutch culture, which in the case of Holland means accepting women lying naked on the beaches or in bikinis, accepting gay marriages, the use of abortion and even euthanasia.
If immigrants are not willing to accept and adopt these core Dutch values, then they should leave the Netherlands, is their new demand. You will find a milder a version of this political demand from many far-right parties in Northern Europe, with one exception. Only Wilders demands a ban on mosques and the Quran.
Compare this with Trump voters, of whom a significant number are opposed to abortion, do not believe in gay rights and believe in the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian culture. So even though there are similarities in the far-right movements across the Western world, there are also differences.
What is common, though, is the desire to curb immigration. A recent survey conducted by a London-based think-tank, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, found that more than half of the population eligible for voting in ten European countries thought that further immigration from primarily Muslim countries should be stopped.
This research was carried out before the much-discussed presidential executive order, banning refugees from seven Muslim nations, was signed by Donald Trump in the United States. The Netherlands was not included in the research, but the average skepticism does reflect the political mood of the countries to a large extent.
In Austria, 65% of those who participated in the research were in favor of a ban similar to the one that was recently proposed by Donald Trump. These are the stark facts, revealing how the rank and file in Europe and the common voters are revolting against the leftist elites, who, they believe, have not addressed their immediate needs.
Another election is due in France, and it is possible that Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right party, the National Front, might emerge as the front runner in the polls. Even though Marie Le Pen admires Donald Trump, her party wishes to decrease her country’s dependence on oil, advocating the use of environment-friendly sources of energy. Something Trump´s voters are not really fond of.
So once again, even though there is a similarity in the demands of restricted immigration from primarily Muslim countries, the approach in France is different. The presidential election in France is a rather complicated affair consisting of two rounds, so it is expected that she might win the first round and might not fare well in the second. Yet, her chances are improving day by day, as the left is utterly divided and not able to address the central issues concerning the population at large.
Both Marie Le Pen and Geert Wilders are demanding referendums similar to that of the United Kingdom, expecting France and the Netherlands to leave the European Union. Add to this the demand of Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, to trigger the famous Article 50 starting the process of UK´s Brexit this month. Adding up all these political events indicates that the European Union is headed for major political upheaval.
Finally, there are elections in Germany, and here it is expected that Angela Merkel might win her fourth term as the Chancellor after the parliamentary elections. In a politically volatile situation, another terrorist attack like the one we saw at a Christmas market in Berlin can make the situation suddenly topsy-turvy.
In Germany, too, the anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany, which is not yet represented in parliament, is improving its chances of winning big in the federal elections due on September 24. So in seven months from now, even Germany will have an anti-immigrant party in parliament, and it is expected to become the third largest party in Germany. Its focus is, like that of Geert Wilders and Le Pen, on curbing migration from Muslim countries. Its sudden surge can be explained by a backlash in Germany after it received more than a million migrants and refugees in 2015 alone.
The immigration rules have already been tightened several times in most of the countries of the European Union. The rules for family reunification, allowing spouses to migrate, student visas, and work permits have already been tightened so much that further restrictions would start bordering on a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.
What explains the rise of far-right parties is the understanding that immigrants from some cultures easily integrate, assimilate and adapt to the liberal traditions of Europe, whereas some other cultures tend to ghettoize and form parallel societies, giving rise to discrepancies.
A fact most people in India do not know is that the Indian culture is fortunately considered compatible with that of Europe. India is not on the list. Neither Donald Trump nor the far-right parties of Europe are demanding any restriction against highly skilled labor from India. It was a Democratic congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren, not a Republican, who demanded the raise in the minimum wage of H-IB visas holders to $ 130,000. One may hope that she, being a Democrat, will not succeed in this legislative proposal, as long as the Republicans are in power.
The bottom line is that we are entering a new age of bilateralism, and therefore it is important that India´s Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes an extensive tour of the EU countries and the United States so as to renegotiate the deals of trade and immigration favorable to India. India is an investor like Japan, especially, in the United States.
India has already invested close to $ 30 billion dollars and Indian IT companies are creating and sustaining several hundred thousand jobs in USA alone. Indian IT companies paid a whopping tax of $ 22.5 billion dollars in a period of five years alone.
As both Europe and the United States are lurching to the right, India needs to make some new bilateral deals. We could also indulge in the swing dance of criticizing the new political parties, but another feasible and tangible approach is to adjust to the arrival of a new political reality. Far-right parties may not be able to form governments but in the near future they will form a coalition of some sort of center-right governments, as is already the case in Denmark.
Maybe, India should also put the interest of its citizens first. India first, could be a good way to approach the Western world, where America first and the Netherlands first are becoming popular slogans. Instead of joining the chorus of criticism, it is after all the peoples of the US and Europe that decide their future in democratic elections, we need a new pragmatism to adjust to the new political reality, irrespective of who is at the helm of power.

That Night in Sweden: Leveraging Political Pessimism and a Dystopian Worldview

In a charming parable that many Indians hear in their childhood, the divine couple Shiva and Parvati settle a row over a heavenly fruit between their sons Ganesha and Kartikeya by telling them the first one to circle the world three times will get it. Kartikeya sets off instantly on his peacock and gets a head start in the race. The slow-moving Ganesha, the God of intelligence and wisdom, ponders over the challenge awhile. He then walks around his parents three times, and declares the job done; he has won.
The allegory establishes in an enchanting way the centrality of parents in our lives and our love for them. In a less obvious way, it also demonstrates that metaphorically, the world can be whatever we decide in our mind, in whatever way and form we see it. This has been celebrated in song and idiom. From “you are my world” to “this is my world”, to the world being one’s oyster or one’s playground, to the world being in one’s hands or in one’s pocket, we have many didactic ways of reducing our eminent domain to suit our needs, our vision, or our agenda.
Politicians and leaders across the globe are constantly promising a better world, telling people how bleak their current situation is and how they will take them to a better place. President Donald Trump is not alone in painting a dismal, dystopian view of the planet, one wracked by violence, terrorism, hunger, pollution, lack of opportunity, ill health, disappearing wealth, etc. Across the globe, it is a politician’s treasure trope.
But the reality is the world is a better place than most people believe it to be. Several major studies, based on empirical evidence and exacting data, show that the world has never been so good – better fed and clothed, better educated, freer, healthier, wealthier, and yes, more peaceful than at any time in history.
If it appears otherwise, embracing the Hobbesian thesis that the life of man, beset by “continuall feare and danger of violent death,” is “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short,” it’s because the human mind is genetically programmed to be pessimistic. Vast improvements in the human condition in the nearly 350 years since those words appeared in Leviathan have not registered among the Cassandras who form the majority. A tonsil-like brain part called amygdala has apparently been fine-tuned for human early warning functions, so we’re hard wired to look out for negative signals, for danger.
Earlier this week, the US president went so far as to invoke this danger in distant Sweden, one of the healthier, wealthier, happier countries on the planet, referring apparently to a non-existent terror attack in the Scandinavian country, just as his associates had cited fictional terrorist incidents in the US to justify their demonisation of migrants and minorities. Called out on the fake news, he then explained he was referring to a broadcast on FoxNews concerning migrants and Sweden, and conflated it to insist that large scale immigration is not working out for Sweden, notwithstanding protests from the country’s prime minister and other public intellectuals that they are doing just fine, thanks for the concern.
As the hashtag #LastNightInSweden began to trend on Twitter, ridiculing the sweeping and ad hoc assumptions about their country from 6,000 km away, the president’s troll patrol struck back, challenging the Swedes’ own insistence, backed by data, that crime had fallen, murder rates had dropped, and immigration had not turned Sweden into hell overrun by murderous migrants (just as it has not in the US too). How then, asked the president’s supporters (including Brexit nativist Nigel Farage), does one explain Sweden being the “rape capital of the West” – based on one study – which they attributed to migrants?
Hot emotion (even when it is laced with selective data), rather than cold analysis, informs raw politics. The fact that Sweden has a wider legal definition of rape (it need not amount to intercourse to be considered rape), with its police recording each instance of sexual violence in every case separately, easily explains the rape statistic. There is also greater awareness and a shifting attitude towards sexual crimes in a country that is also ranked #1 in gender equality.
But wait: the #1 position in rape (and blaming it on immigration) fits in so much easier in humankind’s gloomy outlook (and the headlines) than cheery appreciation of gender advancement or integration. Ergo: “Sweden – the rape capital of the world.”
As it turned out, it was a Swede who spent a lifetime heroically trying to tell us how the world is a better place than we believe it to be and is getting better all the time. Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, academic and statistician, who travelled the world (including India, which he loved, having studied public health at St John’s Medical College, Bangalore) hammering away at his elegant pollyanna presentations backed by copious data that showed a constant improvement in the human condition across the world.
Like Ganesha, Rosling used unique ways to make his point, once ending his presentation by swallowing a sword (he had learnt the difficult feat of sword-swallowing) to show that the seemingly impossible is possible. “I am not an optimist. I’m a very serious possibilist,” he once said. “It’s a new category where we take emotion apart and we just work analytically with the world.” He passed away on February 7, just 10 days before Trump tore into his beloved Sweden, a lifetime’s striving set about by political pessimism.

2017 Likely to Witness some Pleasant Economic Shocks

Two months back the year 2016 witnessed some political earthquakes that upended conventional thinking about the global economy and have – ironically – brightened the outlook.
The expectation that the incoming Trump administration will enact sizeable fiscal stimulus has increased optimism about the United States and global growth. This, in turn, has pushed US stock indexes to record highs, while pushing up both interest rates (with a resulting rout in the bond market) and the dollar.
A stronger dollar is mostly good news for Europe and Japan, helping to boost both export growth and inflation expectations. On the other hand, much higher US bond yields are bad news for the emerging world, where currencies have already taken a beating in recent weeks, significantly reducing the scope for further monetary easing.
Fortunately, these financial-market gyrations are occurring at a time when commodity prices are rising and both consumer and business sentiment have improved. IHS Markit believes that the balance of these trends will be moderately positive for global growth, which is expected to increase from 2.4% in 2016 to 2.8% in 2017, and 3.1% in 2018. That said, high levels of political and policy uncertainty could hurt growth in 2017 and beyond.
These are our top 10 risks for the economy:
1. The US economy will accelerate – even before any Trump stimulus. During the coming year, a much smaller drag from inventories and a rebound in energy-sector capital spending will boost growth to 2.3%, from 1.6% in 2016. Moreover, with tax cuts and infrastructure spending likely to be enacted next year, growth will pick up to 2.6% in 2018. Consumer and business confidence, which rebounded right after the election, are likely to be boosted further as growth improves. On the downside, the rise in both interest rates and the dollar, in anticipation of stimulus, will erode some of the positive effects of stimulus.
2. Europe’s economic momentum will slow a little, primarily because of Brexit and political uncertainties. A contentious Brexit, the fallout from the recent referendum defeat in Italy, and upcoming elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands could all hurt growth next year. In particular, the political turmoil in Italy could trigger a crisis in the banking sector, which is already in dire straits. On the positive side, the European Central Bank has extended its bond-buying programme (albeit at a more modest pace), and a weaker euro will help to lift export growth and (along with rising oil prices) raise inflation rates. IHS Markit continues to believe that these conflicting forces will weaken Eurozone growth from 1.7% in 2016 to 1.4% in 2017.
3. Japan’s economy will gain a little traction, thanks to a weaker yen. In recent years, Japan’s economy has struggled. Going forward, a weaker yen will help boost exports and lift the economy out of deflation. The demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership diminishes the chances of meaningful structural reforms in Japan. On the other hand, the fiscal package passed by Japan’s parliament in October, albeit modest, will provide earthquake relief and more infrastructure spending. On balance, IHS Markit believes that Japanese growth will stabilize at around 1.0% in both 2017 and 2018.
4. China’s growth will grind down further, led by a housing construction slowdown. The Chinese government is in the process of removing stimulus. This will hurt the housing sector, construction and heavy industries, lowering real GDP growth from 6.7% in 2016 to 6.4% in 2017. China also faces another source of stress because of capital flight. Foreign exchange reserves are at a five-year low and the renminbi is back to 2008 levels. In response, the government has already imposed some capital controls and will likely do more soon – in an attempt to relieve pressure on the currency and limit annual depreciation to no more than 5%.
5. Emerging markets will do better, despite recent financial market pressures. With moderately stronger US and global expansions and rising commodity prices, emerging markets should do better over the next year. However, capital flight and depreciating currencies are creating headaches for some central banks. On the downside, plunging currencies are unwelcome for at least two reasons. First, to prevent further capital flight, central banks have to pursue more restrictive policies than they would like. Second, dollar-denominated debt in the emerging world has risen rapidly in recent years, reaching around $3.5 trillion. As the value of the dollar goes up, so does the burden of these debts. The good news is that the economic fundamentals (e.g. current-account deficits) in most emerging markets have improved in the past couple of years.
6. Commodity prices will continue their upward trend. A gradual acceleration in demand and more supply restraints mean that commodity prices will keep rising over the next year – the recent OPEC agreement on production cuts will help. Between January and September of 2016, commodity prices (as measured by the IHS Markit Industrial Materials Index) rose more than 40%. Subsequently, they retreated a little through early November and then surged after the US election. Perhaps even more important, rising oil prices will encourage more US production, which will dampen any future price increases.
7. Inflation rates will move up in many parts of the world. After many years of facing the threat of deflation, the world economy is poised on the threshold of an increase in inflation. With the US economy at or near full employment, wage inflation is already beginning to rise and is set to climb even faster with the implementation of fiscal stimulus. Along with increases in commodity prices, this will translate into faster price inflation (exceeding 2% in the coming two to three years). A similar upward trend is also evident in other parts of the world. Mounting inflationary pressures in the US economy, accompanied by a stronger dollar, means that the United States will be “exporting” inflation.
8. US interest rates will keep rising – also pulling rates up in some emerging markets. With expectations of stronger US growth and inflation, the Federal Reserve will raise interest at least three times in 2017. This has already forced some emerging-market central banks to raise interest rates and others to halt any further rate cuts. Elsewhere, anxiety among central banks has risen recently. Both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank have warned that higher interest rates in the US and political uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic could “reinforce existing vulnerabilities” in the global financial system, especially in the emerging world and Europe. Higher US interest rates have also triggered a run on emerging-market currencies, forcing some central banks (e.g. Mexico and Turkey) to raise interest rates and others to halt any further rate cuts (e.g. India, Indonesia and Malaysia). In Europe, there are concerns about banking problems and a new round of sovereign-debt pressures.
9. The US dollar will appreciate more. An already-strong dollar climbed even higher in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory. By the end of November, the dollar had risen to an eight-month high against the yen and a 20-month high against the euro. Some of this was because of the US election, but some was also due to anxiety about the Italian referendum. Emerging-market currencies were also hit hard. In Asia, exchange rates fell between 2% (offshore Chinese renminbi and Thai baht) and 7% (Japanese yen). In light of expected stronger growth in the US economy and higher interest rates, IHS Markit predicts that the greenback will keep appreciating over the next year. On an effective (trade-weighted) basis, we expect the dollar to rise another 2-3% against key trading-partner currencies in 2017. By the end of 2017, the euro will briefly touch parity and that the yen will fall to around 120 per US dollar.
10. The level of uncertainty has risen, but the risks of recession remain low. The risk of either a US or global recession in 2017 is no more than 25%, according to IHS Markit. The usual “recovery killers” are in abeyance. To begin with, even with the Fed expected to raise interest rates over the next year, global monetary conditions remain extremely accommodative. Thus, chances of central banks killing off the recovery are slim to none. Second, despite the recent OPEC agreement to cut production, global oil markets are well supplied. This means that the risk of an oil shock is low. Finally, notwithstanding the recent euphoria in US equity markets, there is little (if any) evidence of asset bubbles in most parts of the world. In other words, the odds of a repeat of the 2008-09 financial crisis are also pretty remote. Unfortunately, political and policy uncertainties (and risks) are higher now than they were a year ago. The rise of anti-globalization movements in the US and Europe could result in policies that hurt growth. In particular, a trade war could push the US and global economies into recession.

Sunday Special: Three Asian Political Families Seek Closure

Preserving the memory of departed ancestors is a key Asian trait. Different societies have various means to commemorate the dead. Many a times, the progeny of a wronged leader strive to correct historical injustices meted out to their ancestor/s. Or in cases try to uncover facts surrounding their death. In Asia three political families are seeking closure. There are times this crusade is passed on from generation to generation.
Efficient reformer
China’s Zhao Ziyang is one such condemned soul. Rising from the ranks, Zhao became one of the youngest party secretaries in Guandong in 1965. However, he was publicly humiliated during the Cultural Revolution and banished to work in a factory. Being at the receiving end of Mao’s excesses, Zhao saw the horrors of the ideology. Later in 1975, Zhao was brought back and made party secretary of Sichuan. In what was then China’s most populated province, Zhao initiated a series of market-friendly reforms that made him a hero and he caught the eye of another rising reformer, Deng Xiaoping. Zhao got a seat in the Politburo, China’s highest decision-making body, as an alternative member. Zhao presided over the disassembling the socialist system. He liberalized industrial production and agriculture, set up special economic zones in coastal provinces, which later became engines of growth. However, his belief in political reform was seen as a threat to the Party. Deng later appointed him general secretary of the Communist Party and he was seen as a successor to the Paramount Leader.
However, his fall was swift. His handling of students’ protests at Tiananmen Square proved to be his undoing. He paid a visit to the site and made a tearful appeal to students, who were on a fast, to abandon their protest. In the immediate aftermath, martial law was declared in Beijing and Zhao disappeared from public view. He remained sequestered in his courtyard home due to his opposition of the use of military force to end the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square during 1989. The man who heralded China’s economic miracle became persona non grata, with his name purged from all official statements to this day. He died unsung in 2005.
In China, last month the family home where Zhao spent his time in captivity was inundated with wreaths on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of his death. The quite ceremony in the house was conducted under the heavy glare of security personnel, reported the South China Morning Post. The kin of the late leader have been spearheading a campaign to rehabilitate him posthumously, perhaps, it rankles them that he was not given a funeral accorded to senior Chinese officials.
The Chinese leadership seems to be in no mood to relent, especially in the year in which the 19th Party Congress takes place. Moreover, any public discussion of the events connect to the 1989 students’ uprising is forbidden in the Middle Kingdom. However, Zhao’s kin will keen pursuing their crusade.
While Zhao died of natural causes, in India, there is a cloud over the deaths of two stalwarts of the Freedom Struggle. Their descendants have been trying to convince the Indian government to come clean on the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
The son of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Sunil, wants the central government to declassify all files related to his death so that no mystery remains around the circumstances of his passing away. In the pantheon of Congress leaders, Shastri had the briefest stint as PM, but his tenure is remembered even today even five decades of his death.
The mysterious death and cover-up
Rising from a poor family, Shastri succeeded Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after his death in 1964. Janardhan Thakur’s book ‘Prime Ministers’ records how the Nehrus derisively nicknamed him ‘The Sparrow’ – a reference to his diminutive stature. Shastri inherited a nation plagued by food shortages. He tackled it by promoting better means of farming, setting up the Food Corporation of India. His call to the people to forgo one meal resonated with the public and as a result eateries in Mumbai (then Bombay) downed shutters for a day every week. A poster boy for probity, he did not own a house although he had been a minister.
However, the minnow was to put to test during the 1965 war with Pakistan. Trying to capitalize on the demoralisation in the Army after its rout in the 1962 China war and to test Nehru’s new successor, the Pakistani Army crossed the border. It was his finest hour and Shastri’s slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kishan’ (Hail the soldier, hail the farmer) electrified the nation.
The three-week-long battle ended with a UN-mandated ceasefire. Shastri went to Tashkent in the Soviet Union to sign the treaty, where he died of a heart attack a day after inking the deal. Doubts persisted in connection with his death till this day. When his body was brought to India, some mourners, including journalists, said his body had turned blue, indicating poisoning. A cook in Tashkent had been arrested initially, but released later. There were mysterious cuts on his body, yet no post-mortem was done. Journalist Kuldeep Nayyar, Shastri’s former media advisor, claimed in his 2009 book that the leader had been poisoned.
Activist Anuj Dhar had filed an information-request application in 2009 seeking the correspondence between the Indian embassy in Moscow and the external affairs ministry and between the two countries after Shastri’s death. The plea was turned down at the highest levels of government, eventhough the Congress to which Shastri belonged was in power. According to the Outlook magazine, the first inquiry into his death was instituted by the Janata Party government after the Congress lost power in the late 70s. However, there are no official papers of the same with the government. But curiously two witnesses, who were to appear before the inquiry panel, were involved in strange mishaps. One witness, Shastri’s personal physician, died after being hit by a truck, another lost his memory after a road mishap.
Last month, director Vivek Agnihotri announced that his new film would try to raise questions about Shastri’s mysterious death and if there was a cover-up. In the 90s, Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ that alluded to a conspiracy in the death of President Kennedy led the US government to pledge that all documents related to the assassination would be released in a phased manner. Let’s hope Agnihotri’s movie has the same effect.
What happened to Netaji?
Subhas Chandra Bose needs no introduction. He was the leader of the radical wing of the Congress party who rose to become its chief. He was among the few who did not walk on the path of non-violence laid down by M K Gandhi, but made most of the axiom ‘enemy’s enemy is a friend’ and sought the help of the Axis powers at the height of World War II. Bose was nothing short of Bond, James Bond. His feats read like a novel, but Bose was indeed in flesh and blood.
A gadfly of the British, he was placed under house arrest by the British in 1940. He outwitted his captors by simply walking out of captivity dressed as a Muslim cleric. Bose resurfaced in Berlin at a time when Europe was in conflict. He met the Fuhrer and mobilized resources to wage war on an Empire whose Sun never set. Doubting Adolph Hitler’s sympathies, Bose travelled to Japan in a submarine. From Japanese soil, he cobbled up the Azad Hind Fauj, which liberated a part of India briefly. However, reverses forced Bose’s army to retreat. However, till this day what happened to Bose after that is shrouded in mystery. One version goes that he died in an air crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945, another one claims he lived on in Soviet Russia, yet another says he lived in cognito in India. While the Indian government tried all along to bolster the first version of events, it also placed under surveillance Bose’s family in India.
In 2015, the government led by Narendra Modi declassified old documents and it transpired that previous Congress governments had been spying on Bose’s kin. A tantalizing question arouse as to why did the government need to snoop, if it believed that Bose was dead? Why was the Indian government collaborating with UK’s MI6 and sharing info on Bose? Why has the government withheld some files on the pretext that its revelations can harm relations with foreign powers?
Conclusion
It’s strange that a one-party state and a multi-party democracy can go to such lengths to obliterate the memories of some of the leading lights in public life. Till Zhao is restored in the Party’s pantheon and the circumstances around the deaths of Shastri and Bose are made public, three families in Asia will not get closure.

Journalism and Objectivity

A neutral media takes no sides, it remains balanced. The trapeze act is a popular feature of any circus. When the artist flies through the air, grabbing the trapeze stick suspended from ropes only to fly back gracefully to his perch high above the floor, it all seems so easy. But the artist knows that the feat is possible only because he maintains his balance. Even if sometimes he seems to lean left or right, he braces himself, distributes his weight evenly and stays balanced, his centre of gravity and credibility intact.
Similarly in journalism, it is crucial to resist taking sides, for if you do, then you are likely to lose balance. Media is like a mirror that reflects events and trends without distorting what is — whether good or bad. Following  data or neutrality, you are on no one’s side. To put it obversely, you are on everyone’s side! The reader has access to all viewpoints and reports, and ultimately it is the reader who will exercise his choice as to whether he wishes to take this side or that – or remain unaffected by it all.
When a newspaper or channel takes sides, it becomes vulnerable to value judgements and is likely to be vilified by those who are on the other side of the spectrum. And it risks losing credibility among readers who wish to be informed of all truths. Giving a one-sided perspective would mean you are not presenting the whole story; half-truths can be dangerous, both to the one presenting it and to the one consuming it. Taking sides would drive a wedge between two sides, leading to attacking personalities rather than highlighting issues, fuelling exaggerations to impress rather than provide right information, and encourage sensational debates rather than intellectual discussions.
Rather than being led by media, and being told what is good or bad for them, or faced with a biased media blanking out certain news and views, readers and viewers have the right to all news and perspectives so that they can take their own informed decisions. Seen from a philosophical perch, there are no sides to take. As for a worldly perspective, an evolved country like the neutral Switzerland, evolved newspapers like The Times of India and evolved readers refrain from taking positions.
Biased journalism could create a situation where it is reduced to giving handouts, or presenting only one part of the issue, thereby stifling all opposition and discourse. Altruistic media apart, if a media group wishes to have commercial viability, it needs to appeal to a large cross-section of readers holding diverse opinions and ideological beliefs. This would ensure greater reach for advertisers. Neutral media is synonymous with independent media, signifying that having raised itself above partisanship, it stays unaffected by any kind of popular or official bias. Hence the media would have malice toward none, conducting itself with loving detachment, operating from a state of complete equanimity – from or neutrality.
How can media remain in that state of neutrality? Journalists need to be cautious to not fall into the trap of the senses – howsoever emotional an issue might be, it is in the best interests of the media and society to remain detached and report and write from that prism rather than turn crusaders who will then find themselves unable to turn back. Readers look to the media for information and knowledge; they are not looking to be drawn into a crusade or witch hunt.
When a newspaper or talk show presents a view and counterview as part of its discourse, the idea is to present two sides of an issue, displaying a certain sense of fair play. But it is also necessary to convey the truth that an issue may have more than two sides; in fact it may have scope for multiple standpoints — and as far as possible an attempt could be made to serve up as many viewpoints as possible by inviting articles from diverse thinkers.
The dharma of a journalist could be best described as the striving to evolve into a stithaprajna, one who operates from a field of perfect neutrality and balance, being aware that whatever the nature of news and views, he remains untouched by the dynamics of it all even as he is actively involved in writing and reporting about the happenings all around him.
Objective journalism stays above the hurly burly of news and ideologies; this way one gains a bird’s eye view that affords the cultivation of a wider perspective that puts everything in its rightful place. Media could be likened to the ocean that embraces everything – flotsam and jetsam; clear or murky waters from rivers that flow into it; oil spills and climate change; sacred offerings like milk, honey and flowers, and chemical pollutants – yet it does not lose its intrinsic nature of being vast and deep, completely unbiased on what it accepts into its fold.
A mother does not love any of her children less, nor does an individual show preference for one limb or organ over another. Balance is inbuilt in nature; the rain, sun and air are available to all. Similarly a neutral media would be accessible to all, and whether it offers good or bad news, it stays above it all, unsullied and balanced.

Many Presidents Have Condemned Judges: then Why Blame Trump

The guys who came before Trump didn’t have Twitter, but they found ways to make it clear.
When President Trump called Senior District Court Judge James Robart “this so-called judge” after the issuance of an order temporarily restraining Trump’s executive order on immigration, the response from all sides of the political spectrum was immediate and alarmed. It was called “bone-chilling” and “authoritarian.” Some even compared Trump to Hitler.
However, it was not only relatively mild for Trump but positively tame in comparison with past conflicts between presidents and judges. Even so, Trump might want to consider history before he follows the lead of his judge-trashing predecessors. Article III, the part of the Constitution that gives judges their power, is designed for days (and presidents) like this. It is why presidents have largely found that attacking judges did more to destroy their own credibility than that of their judicial antagonists.
Undeterred by the firestorm over his criticism of Robart, Trump then attacked the three-judge appellate panel after the 9th Circuit hearing as “disgraceful” and described the hearing a “sad day” for the United States. In a particularly curious distinction, Trump added, “I won’t say the court was biased. But so political.”
While these comments were unfounded and decidedly unhelpful to the government case, they are not necessarily outside of the norm for presidents in criticizing judges. In 2010, President Obama criticized the justices sitting in front of him at the State of the Union for their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
At the start of the republic, most judges were highly political — often moving freely between political and judicial offices. Presidents saw justices particularly as political threats, and they were.
The first chief justice, John Jay, ran for elected office twice while keeping his seat on the Supreme Court and left in 1795 to become the governor of New York. John Marshall openly opposed Andrew Jackson for the presidency. Charles Evans Hughes challenged Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and then returned to the court in 1930.
Modern justices have largely (and wisely) set aside such ambitions, but our history is replete with bare-knuckled fights between presidents and their judicial antagonists.
For example, that paragon of U.S. democracy, Thomas Jefferson, and Chief Justice Marshall wholeheartedly disliked each other despite being third cousins once removed. Marshall expressed “almost insuperable objection” to Jefferson as “totally unfit for the chief magistracy of a nation which cannot indulge these prejudices without sustaining deep personal injury.” Jefferson referred to Marshall as a man of “lax lounging manners … and a profound hypocrisy.” Jefferson viewed Marshall as a Federalist hack, particularly after his decision on the right of Congress to charter the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland.
Of course, the most infamous attack of a president on the authority of the judiciary is attributed to Andrew Jackson. After Marshall’s ruling against the right of Georgia to restrict the Cherokee in Worcester v. Georgia, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley quoted Jackson as saying, “Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
Like Trump, Jackson might have been the victim of his own reputation. In reality, there is no evidence that Jackson uttered those words. He did, however, question the decision in a letter: “The decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.” In reality, Jackson was right. There was little the Supreme Court could do, and Georgia largely ignored the decision.
Abraham Lincoln also did not hide his contempt for Chief Justice Roger Taney after his infamous ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford supporting slave owners. Not only did Lincoln criticize Taney on the campaign trail, he did so at his first inauguration. Before Taney gave him the oath of office, Lincoln proceeded to eviscerate the decision with Taney sitting like an errant child behind him as Lincoln decried the opinion as “erroneous” in its reasoning and “evil” in its impact.
Other presidents took a more personal tack. After Theodore Roosevelt’s nominee to the court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, ruled in Northern Securities Co. v. United States in favor of a railroad, a furious Roosevelt declared, “I could carve out of a banana a judge with more backbone than that.” Dwight Eisenhower attacked his nominee, Chief Justice Earl Warren, as the “biggest damn fool mistake I ever made.”
Of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not one but four justices who drove him to distraction in their invalidation of his New Deal measures. The “Four Horsemen” — Pierce Butler, James McReynolds, George Sutherland and Willis Van Devanter — stood between him and his effort to address the Great Depression. Just as Trump goes to Twitter, Roosevelt went to the newest technology of his time to speak directly to the public: radio. In his “fireside chat” March 9, 1937, he called for the expansion of the court by one new justice for every justice older than 70 (a clear reference to the gray-haired horsemen). Roosevelt lamented how such old justices are often “not so fortunate … to perceive their own infirmities.” His court-packing plan would ultimately die with the switch of Justice Owen Roberts in favor of a New Deal case — a move later characterized as “a switch in time saves nine.”

Saturday Special : The Reality of Truth & Alternate Facts

“What is truth”, Jesting Pilate would ask? And he would not stay for the reply. Beauty, they say, is in the eye of beholder and truth in is the belief of a person. And yet, when Trump’s spokesperson talked of alternate facts, a volcanic fury erupted. Is truth a single absolute, or has it myriad connotations. Let us think of this case. There is a girl who heard from all her relatives that her father was a loving and kind husband, father, son and friend, who died young under tragic circumstances. She grew up adoring this absent father.
During her teenage years, the girl learned the police had killed her father in an encounter. That he was a murderer who tried to escape from jail during his trial. What was the truth, she wondered: was her father the good person of the stories she heard as a child, or was he the criminal as per all newspaper reports?
Then, as an adult, she learned from various activists and politicians of the dominance of certain privileged communities who controlled the state police and legal apparatus, who branded those who spoke up against the system as criminals, and shot them if they did not submit. Suddenly, the girl realised her father was a revolutionary, a misunderstood hero, who sought the betterment of society and was crushed by evil forces.
What is the truth? The family memory, or the newspaper report, or the narrative of the activist or politician?
The family memory, where the father is the hero, is pre-modern truth. The newspaper report, where the father is the villain, is the modern truth, based on facts. The activist or political narrative, where the father is the victim, is the postmodern truth that locates fact in an ecosystem of power. Things get even more complicated depending on whether the girl is Dalit, Rajput, Tamil, or Muslim. For who is allowed to be a victim?
Who decides what is truth?
Academicians and journalists typically have strong views on what is truth, who should be victims, and so are shocked when the electoral process unfolds a worldview quite contrary to their own. As words like post-truth and alternative-facts emerge after the US presidential elections, truth has clearly become a territory. And it is evident the world is being divided into two groups, each one accusing the other of propagating falsehood, or should we say myth-making. Underlying this accusation is the rather contentious word, truth.
In my work as a mythologist, the idea of truth has always fascinated me. For this word is a religious concept, not a scientific one. In science, there is no truth, there are only measurable and verifiable objective facts that inform knowledge. Facts are always located outside the human mind, untainted by human perception, hence the value placed on measuring instruments and the disdain for subjectivity. As more facts are gathered, knowledge expands. And since the universe is infinite, a good scientist knows that all knowledge is incomplete, valid only in a certain frame of reference, and based on certain assumptions. In fact, new facts can render old facts, and old knowledge, invalid. We are constantly learning.
The words “knowledge” and “truth” are used interchangeably. But knowledge is fluid and truth is seen as fixed. Initially, the source of truth was the mother who gave birth and nurtured the child. Then it was the alpha male who provided for the family. Then the leader behind whom the tribe rallied itself to ensure survival, then the shaman whose visions located truth outside humanity in something supernatural. The shaman became the priest who legitimised the king’s rule, by making him the representative of the supernatural on earth. But then came the philosopher, who rejected the mystical visions, and the supernatural, and saw reason as the source of all understanding.
The scientist eventually replaced the philosopher. Scientists gave greater value to measurable facts than rationality, for clever people can rationalise anything. Facts work well in the realm of material sciences, but not in the realm of social sciences (politics, economics), which is why social sciences are no longer referred to as sciences but as the humanities. Today, technocrats are replacing the scientist. We are being told that artificial intelligence will solve our problems, as a machine is far more objective than any human can be. The politician, activist, priest, shaman is fighting back.
How did truth become singular?
The idea of truth as something singular and definitive can be traced to Middle Eastern tribes, and to urbanisation in Egypt and Mesopotamia. As multiple tribes with multiple gods and multiple customs sought shelter in crowded cities, the most efficient way to regulate them was with one law coming from one god. To make this happen, the chief god of a tribe taking shelter had to submit to the chief god of the tribe who controlled the city. Thus in early cities, while every clan or tribe or community or group had their own god, there was a main dominant alpha city god. Later, to avoid quarrels, only one god was allowed to exist, and his customs and beliefs were allowed to prevail. Thus polytheism gave way to monotheism, to create an efficient society.
Secular societies may have abandoned god but not truth. To create efficient urban spaces, secular societies see the value of getting everyone to align to one truth. This truth is not supernatural – it is of people, by people, for people. It is democratic and common truth.
But what if different people want different things in the same city?
This is most obvious in Singapore, which though controlled by the dominant Chinese community, plays down Confucian culture behind the steel-glass façade of financial secularism. People are expected to merge into the system, abandoning individuality, focussing on stability and efficiency, like bees in a beehive collecting honey, restricting all cultural activities to carefully regulated spaces. But Confucian secularism, which works so well in the financial world, is being threatened by Christian radicalism that encroaches into the private world. Though highly westernised and developed, Singapore is uncomfortable with LGBTQ rights, as Jesus allegedly forbids it. Of course, this is not presented as religious dogma, it is marketed as traditional cultural values.
When truth becomes singular and definitive, truth invariably becomes territory – a battlefield. The warriors here are not just religious radicals, but also politicians fighting to make India or America or Britain great again, and of course, academicians and activists and journalists, armed with facts.
Why can’t truth be plural?
In the last few years, diversity has reared its ugly head. The doctrine of equality is increasingly seen as malevolently homogenising. We want everyone to move from a developing economy to a developed economy: we want Mumbai to be Shanghai, and Shanghai to be New York. But when an aboriginal tribe resists this idea and points to its grotesque nature, we wonder: can there be development without cutting down those trees of that sacred mountain, or mining those hills where ancestors reside, or polluting the river which is the goddess? Whose view should prevail? Surely there is one truth. Or is there?
Take the case of Islam. Does Islam mean the religion of submission, or the religion of peace? Can submission lead to peace? Of course, it can. It does. Can the two meanings co-exist? Of course, they can. But what motivates people to choose one translation over the other. It is often politics. For embedded in meaning is power. The word “submission” carries the connotation of Islam as a dominating religion. The word “peace” grants Islam nobility. Whose view should matter, the insiders or the outsiders? Can there be an objective academic view of religion that is purely ontological (devoid of subjectivity)?
Take the case of Hinduism and India. A large number of scholars, often seeking grants from European and American universities, and validation from Western institutions, write tomes informing us that Hinduism and India did not exist before the modern era, and that these are unifying constructions of colonial and post-colonial forces. This confuses the average Hindu who has spent all his life performing the ancient sankalpa ritual before any ceremony, which continuously refers to ancient India as Jambudvipa, Bharata, and Aryavarta. Surely, the idea of India predates colonialism. But when they speak up and share the transmitted cultural memory they are contemptuously silenced as upper caste Hindu supremacists. Why can’t the two views coexist?
Take the word mythology. In the 19th century, European Orientalists used it to mean false faiths. They used the word to describe polytheistic faiths (Greek, Roman) to distinguish them from monotheistic faiths (Christianity, especially).
Mythology was defined as falsehood, monotheism was equated with religion and study of God (singular and definitive) became theology, distinguishing it from mythology.
In the 20th century, as rationality made atheism the dominant discourse, religions were put on the backfoot with monotheism, religion and theology also being classified as mythology, which is now defined as subjective truth of a community expressed through stories, symbols and rituals.
However, by this definition, in the 21st century, even ideology – the faith of atheists, born of reason, materialism and measurement – is just another mythology, without god.
This is problematic. We cannot accept that justice and equality and human rights are just human assumptions, at best aspirations, hardly real or rational, that manifest only when believed in, like any god or goddess. As realisation dawns, the rationalist, the secularist, the atheist – ever eager to give up gods – stakes a claim to the truth, and finds himself contending with traditionalists, supremacists, scientists and shamans.
Looking at truth quantitatively
Hindu ideas challenge all conventional dominant notions of justice and equality, confounding the Western scholar, who takes refuge in reducing Hinduism to casteism, feudalism and Brahminism.
The thought that distinguishes Indian philosophy is the idea of infinity (ananta). Infinite space, infinite time, infinite matter, infinite forms. The world is infinite. Infinite things constitute it. It goes through infinite transformations. It is perceived by infinite beings. Each being can perceive it in potentially infinite ways. So truth is infinite. And because truth is infinite it cannot be fixed, made singular or definitive. It always exists in context.
This framework can accommodate multiple truths and so Hinduism can be simultaneously polytheistic, monotheistic and atheistic. It is what makes Hinduism so difficult to define.
So while in English the words “satya” and “mithya” were translated as “truth” and “falsehood” using a 19th-century understanding, today we realise that the more appropriate meanings for these words would be “limitless” and “limited truths”. One who has access to limitless truth is bhagavan, a title given to the Buddha, to the great tirthankaras of the Jain faith, and to god in the Hindu faith.
This paradigm is excluded from global conversations, and is dismissed as exotic by Western discourse that seeks centre stage as well as complete territorial control on what truth should be. Yet, it offers a way out from the combative and confrontational nature of world politics today.
It allows for mutual respect for alternate truths, and alternate facts, that is held in contempt by intellectuals today. Different people do see the world differently today, and that is okay.
The same Quran can be read differently in different parts of the world, and Wahhabism is just one form of Islam that seeks to dominate. And simply because it seeks to dominate does not make it valid or invalid. It needs to exist in relationship with other views on Islam. Just as casteist Hinduism will always exist but will be contained by other forms of Hinduism that are agnostic about caste. Confucian secularism must coexist with radical Christianity if Singapore has to thrive. It is not about either/or in the new world order. It is about and. If we want to believe in a diverse world, we have to make room for diversity, and diverse views. Keeping alternate views out of universities, or gagging them in press, is certainly not the way forward.

Trump and Anti-Russia Frenzy

The distaste for U.S. President Donald Trump is understandable — his correct, but seemingly ugly attacks on critics, politically incorrect language, grandiose promises, honesty in swamp of dishonesty. But that should not blind us to the content of the policies he promises. He is a creature of instinct, and sometimes instinct can be closer to the truth than the dogmas of our allegedly better educated elites.
Take his protectionist trade policies for example. Free trade only makes sense when the partners enjoy a similar level of prosperity. That is certainly not the case when the United States trades with China or Mexico for example. Ditto for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that imperious successor to a failed APEC.
Trump is criticized for not sharing the current anti-Russia hatred and hysteria. But is it really a sin if his business experience in Moscow taught him that Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, do not have two horns and a tail? Just listen to the lengthy Putin news conferences and you will discover a man of intelligent moderation, ready and able to handle all questions thrown at him, with a preference for Western journalists whose weak and ignorant questions, often delivered in English, he sets out politely to demolish.
Moscow’s alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee materials during the recent presidential campaign was supposed to undermine U.S. democracy. And the content of those materials? They showed the levels to which the Clinton campaign would sink to destroy the candidacy of the one man, Bernie Sanders, who far and away was the moral victor in the Democratic Party primaries. So who has been undermining U.S. democracy?
Does anyone imagine the U.S. with its multi-billion dollar National Security Agency is not doing the same around the world? For more than half a century the U.S. and the other Anglo-Saxon nations have been running an elaborate spy operation, formerly called Echelon and now Five Eyes. Japan was included in Australia’s bailiwick. I know for a fact that in the past a major aim was gathering the data needed to prevent the Japan Socialist Party from gaining power. Beneficiaries from the hacking into Japanese commercial data used to joke how the material “fell of the back of a truck.”
True, the Obama regime did try to endorse pro-Moscow understandings and policies with its 2009 “reset” of relations. But the critics say Putin has since blotted the reset copybook with Crimea takeover, the hostilities in eastern Ukraine and the vicious bombing attacks on rebels in Syria, Aleppo especially. Moscow must pay for its sins.
And the reality? Crimea was never part of Ukraine, other than for purely administrative purposes back in Soviet days and only after 1954. The population is almost entirely non-Ukrainian. Today with the Ukrainian economy in near collapse no one I spoke to in a 2015 visit would want to be reunited with Ukraine. But in the West our hawks threaten fire and brimstone unless it is returned, forcibly if needed.
Putin has trampled on the golden rule that national sovereignty should not be violated, we are told. In that case how about the use of NATO force to detach Kosovo from Belgrade’s sovereignty? The justification for Kosovo is that it was sui generis — one of a kind or unique. Well, now there are two of a kind, and two equally unique, and in the case of Crimea the justification did not require a vandalistic three-month bombing campaign.
The attempt to label Moscow’s aid to separatists in eastern Ukraine as aggression turns logic on its head. Under the 2015 Minsk agreement both Moscow and the Ukrainian government in Kiev agreed the Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine should have autonomy within the borders of Ukraine. Kiev has since reneged on that agreement and has sent in battalions of Russian-hating, including some pro-Nazi tainted, troops to lay waste to the area. Some 2 million have been forced to flee — ethnic cleansing if ever there was. Moscow’s intervention to prevent this growing tragedy is “aggression,” while the West does all it can to arm and encourage the real aggressor — Ukraine.
Eastern Ukraine with its heavy industry is like Crimea in that it was given to Ukraine by Moscow back the 1920s for arbitrary political purposes, namely to add an industrial proletariat to balance the rural bias elsewhere in Ukraine. I visited the place in 1969 and like Crimea, which I also visited then, it was totally Russian.Over Syria the anti-Russian hatred comes close to hysteria. Yet but for Moscow’s intervention there, cruel though inevitable as it was, the nation would have suffered the same fate as Libya and Iraq. The original high-minded U.S. support for anti-regime rebels there had morphed into support for Islamist fanatics and, as in Mosul today, the only solution was to attack building by building, even if civilian casualties are inevitable — especially if the rebels stop civilian flight. The squalid Pentagon attempt (since claimed as “accidental”) to kill the September 2016 cease-fire negotiated by the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers by bombing a large and unsuspecting Syrian Army base at Deir ez-Zor with hundreds of dead and wounded, and then leaving the base open to Islamic State occupation, ranks as one of the more evil acts of that war. Yet it finds hardly any mention, let alone criticism, in the U.S. media.
Trump dislikes the U.S. intelligence agencies. I do too. Over the years I have had to deal with many of these people — the Australian variety especially. Their incompetence, vindictiveness and willingness to say anything to ingratiate themselves with higher authority is disgusting. According to former CIA operative John Nixon, the CIA is so eager to please the president in power that “it will almost always give him the answers he wants to hear.” Trump’s dismissal of these people for inventing the weapons of mass destruction pretext to invade Iraq was more than justified.
Then there is NATO. Trump is totally correct in dismissing that piece of Cold War uselessness. With its troops now on Russia’s borders, contrary to past promises, its rules allow any tin-pot dictator within its ambit (and already there are a few) to goad Moscow into trying to defend say a persecuted pro-Russian minority (of which there are many and not just in Ukraine) and NATO can then use this as a pretext for an assault against Russia. It is both ridiculous and dangerous.
NATO fans say it has given Europe 70 years of peacefulness. They forget about the cruel and highly unjustified war NATO waged against Serbia in 1999.
Ultimately the problem owes much to the ignorance of our chattering classes. Ask them to find pro-Russian Transnistria on a map and they would not know where to start. Tell them a pro-Russian grouping has just gained power in nearby Moldova and they will phase out.

Contradictions of Free Speech in the U.S.: A Tale of Two Talks

During his talk at Georgetown University, Jonathan A.C. Brown condemned slavery when it took place historically in America and other Western countries, but praised the practise of slavery as it happened in Muslim societies, explained that Muslim slaves lived “a pretty good life”, and claimed that it is “not immoral for one human to own another human.” Regarding the vexed matter of whether it is right or wrong to have sex with one of your slaves, Brown, who is director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said that “consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex”.
No mob of anti-sharia people has gone to Georgetown, torn up telephone poles, set fire to things or smashed up the campus, as mobs did at Berkeley.
Milo Yiannopoulos has never argued that the Western system of slavery was benevolent and worthwhile, and that slaves in America had “a pretty good life”. He has never argued against consent being an important principal in sexual relations. If he had, then the riots at Berkeley would doubtless have been far worse than they were and even more media companies and professors would have tried to argue that Yiannopoulos had “brought the violence upon himself” or even organized it himself.
Sometimes the whole tenor of an age can be discerned by comparing two events, one commanding fury and the other, silence.
To this extent, February has already been most enlightening. On the first day of the month, the conservative activist and writer Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak at the University of California, Berkeley. To the surprise of absolutely no one, some of the new anti-free speech brigade attempted to prevent the event from happening. But to the surprise of almost everyone, the groups who wish to prevent everyone but themselves from speaking went farther even than they have tended to of late. Before the event could even start, Yiannopoulos was evacuated by security for his own safety. A mob of 150 people proceeded to riot, smash and set fire to the campus, causing more than $100,000 of damage and otherwise asserting their revised version of Voltaire’s maxim: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to your death my right to shut you up.”
When conservative activist and writer Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak at the University of California, Berkeley on February 1, a mob of 150 people proceeded to riot, smash and set fire to the campus, causing more than $100,000 of damage. (Image source: RT video screenshot)
The riots at Berkeley caused national and international headlines. Mainstream media, including Newsweek, also attempted to do their bit for an event they would ordinarily deride as “fake news.” Following a segment on CNN, Newsweek ran a piece by Robert Reich, the chancellor’s professor of public policy at Berkeley and a former Clinton administration official, arguing that “Yiannopoulos and Brietbart [sic] were in cahoots with the agitators, in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding.” This conspiracy theory would involve Yiannopoulos arranging for 150 masked fanatics not merely to trash a campus on his orders, but to continue to remain silent about it in the days and weeks after the event.
In Newsweek, Reich wrote, “I don’t want to add to the conspiratorial musings of so many about this very conspiratorial administration, but it strikes me there may be something worrying going on here. I wouldn’t bet against it.” And so, a tenured academic made an implausible as well as un-evidenced argument that his political opponents not merely bring violence on themselves but actually arrange violence against themselves.
All of the violence and all of these claims were made in February in the aftermath of a speech that never happened. But consider how little has been said and how little done about a speech that certainly did go ahead just one week later at another American university — not by a visiting speaker but by a resident academic and teacher.
On February 7, at the University of Georgetown, Jonathan A.C. Brown, the director of the entirely impartial Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, gave a 90-minute talk entitled “Islam and the Problem of Slavery”. Except that the white convert to Islam, Jonathan Brown, apparently did not think that there is a particular problem with slavery — at least not when it comes wrapped in Islam. During the talk (which Brown himself subsequently uploaded onto YouTube) the lecturer condemned slavery when it took place historically in America, Britain and other Western countries, but praised the practice of slavery in Muslim societies. Brown explained how Muslim slaves lived “a pretty good life”, claimed that they were protected by “sharia” and claimed that it is “not immoral for one human to own another human.” Regarding the vexed matter of whether it is right or wrong to have sex with one of your slaves, Brown said that “consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex” and that marital rape is not a legitimate concept within Islam. Concepts such as “autonomy” and “consent”, in the view of the Director of the Alwaleed Center at Georgetown, turned out to be Western “obsessions”.
Of course, Jonathan Brown’s views on Islam are by no means uncommon. One could easily demonstrate that they are all too common among experts in Islamic jurisprudence. Among such people, debates over where and when you can own a slave and what you can or cannot do with them are quite up to the minute, rather than Middle Ages, discussions to have. But until this moment, there have been no protests at Georgetown University. Under a certain amount of online pressure, from the few websites to have reported Brown’s talk, Brown has attempted to clarify or even reverse some of his views. But no mob of anti-sharia people has gone to Georgetown, torn up telephone poles, set fire to things or smashed up the campus, as mobs did at Berkeley.
Here is a stranger thing. Nothing that Yiannopoulos ever said as a visitor speaking to a room full of people has ever come near the level of what Brown said to his ordinary class of credit-seeking students. Yiannopoulos has never argued that the Western system of slavery was benevolent and worthwhile, and that slaves in America had “a pretty good life”. He has certainly spoken out vociferously against the claim that there is a “rape culture” on American universities. But he has never argued against consent being an important principal in sexual relations. If he had, then the riots at Berkeley would doubtless have been far worse than they were, and even more media companies and professors would have tried to argue that Yiannopoulos had “brought the violence upon himself” or even organized it himself.
The proximity of these two events, the difference in the arguments and the vast chasm of difference between the outrage and violence against one, and the great silence and complicity with the other, tells us much about Ameican thought as about the dissonance therein.

NATO to be Relevant Must Confront Islamic Terror

NATO has become a bug bear after President Trump wanted to either abolish it, or make it equally burdensome. For five decades NATO was necessary to, as its first Secretary General said at the time, “keep the Soviets out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
The Atlantic alliance was indeed instrumental in deterring the USSR and keeping the European continent in peace. There were many discussions as to how to achieve its goals, including major disagreements, but with America providing leadership, taking a big portion of the economic burden, and being willing to station hundreds of thousands of GIs in Europe, the allies were able to overcome all problems and stay highly successful during the Cold War.
The collapse of the Soviet Union left NATO with both the sweet feeling of having won the Cold War without a real fight and the sour feeling about what should come next.
In the early 90s there were voices calling for the dismantling of NATO as well as voices arguing in favor of retaining it as a safety net, just in case things went once again in the wrong strategic direction. In any case, the civil war in the former Yugoslavia offered NATO defenders a new option: to move from a territorial defense of the members in case of a Soviet invasion to a multinational body able to act on its periphery to enforce peace among rivals and contenders. More than a mission, peace enforcement was adopted as a salvation philosophy to keep NATO alive and well.
Thus, in 1995 allied forces bombed Serbian forces to force the Dayton agreement and put an end to the war over Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1999 they mounted a bombing campaign to guarantee the independence of Kosovo, a territory controlled by Serbia. That campaign lasted for 81 days, far longer than expected, and was full of questionable tactics, generating intense debates about its conduct and efficiency.
There is no clear consensus in NATO on how to use military force in combating terrorism. After the dramatic attacks of 9/11, NATO activated, for the first time in its history, Article 5, the clause that determines an attack against one member is an attack against all. Unfortunately, there were no capabilities to really help the US in such a far place from Europe as Afghanistan.
Actually there was no clear consensus on how to act with military forces to combat international terrorism. NATO was profoundly divided concerning the intervention in Iraq in 2003, and was only able to agree, once the combat phase of the invasion was over, on a training mission that proved to be marginal in its achievements.
Later, in Afghanistan, NATO finally got involved in a stabilising mission which was very restrictive in its use of force. On March 2011, NATO started a new military air operation in Libya in order to avoid a potential massacre by Gaddafi’s forces. The operation lasted until October and, as we know, evolved from a purely humanitarian intervention into a regime change campaign, ending Gaddafi’s rule but leaving the country in a state of chaos till this day.
The bombing campaign in any case proved politically divisive, since only a few members took an active role, and can be considered a strategic disaster by its consequences. NATO must be revamped entirely, from its strategic concept to its membership.
So it can be said that NATO from 1989 to today has basically opted out of the major strategic issue of our time, Islamic terrorism, and generated mixed results at best in its out-of-area operations without becoming more efficient in its traditional mission to keep peace in Europe.
Indeed, NATO has proved to be less powerful as a collective entity than some of its individual members. It is time to change that. Relying on the success of the Cold War past is not enough. The Atlantic alliance needs to be revamped and reformed entirely, from its strategic concept to its membership. The alternative is an accelerated obsolescence.
In 2005, in a study called “NATO: An Alliance for Freedom,” a few ideas on how to close the gap between the NATO we have and the NATO we need were provided. Some of them are still relevant. For instance, forget all the bureaucratic jargon about “capabilities-based alliance,” “stability operations,” or “operations other than war.”
NATO must make the fight against Islamic terrorism its core mission. NATO should accept that we are all under attack by Islamist extremist forces of all kinds. President Hollande said that France was at war, and the rest of the allies cannot sit idle by his side. NATO must make the fight against Islamic terrorism its core mission.
Second, we are clearly not in a time to expand freedom in the world – a point British Prime Minister Theresa May made in Washington last week. On the contrary, we need to defend and preserve freedom in our lands.
In order to reinforce our Western world, NATO must extend membership to countries that are alike in the defense of our values and with the willingness to share the burden in this civilizational struggle. NATO should invite without delay Israel, Japan, Singapore and India to become members.
Defense expenditures should be revised and increased, but ceilings and burden sharing are not the problem. We don’t expend more because current leaders do not feel compelled to do so. Furthermore, to spend more on the same will not change our ability to confront the threats and challenges we face.
There is a myriad of things that can be done to put NATO back on track. Interior ministers should join defense ministers at council level and in summits. That’s easy. But above all, what NATO needs is a vision and an impulse to transform from the new US President and administration. Yes, Mr. President, we agree with you that NATO has become obsolete. But we believe you can make it relevant again. Your allies will follow.

The Trump Factor in the French Presidential Election

There is a link between the upsurge for Trump, which surprised even the Republican establishment, and the tide of French voters for the National Front and its vocal candidate, Marine Le Pen, who just launched her raucous campaign. Each combines disaffection from the established parties – all liars, damn liars – a sense of dispossession where one cannot separate economic and job safety issues from wider cultural insecurity, which leads to a reversal of attitude towards newcomers and foreigners. Voters come from both the right and left.
The reversal towards foreigners is particularly telling. France alone in Europe shares a unique characteristic with the US: It has long been an immigrant country. Millions of Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Poles, north and west Africans came to France in the heyday of economic growth, and while there was friction, xenophobic groups were not a significant force. In fact, the strongest discrimination targeted competitors from within – antisemitism defined the French far right more than xenophobia in the pre-WW2 era. Republicanism was the functional equivalent of “In God we trust,” also serving to paper over obvious inequalities and common prejudice.
Post-war, immigration turned to non-European newcomers. Still French speaking for the most part, and despite of racism, they gradually integrated in what was, until a decade ago, the world’s most functional melting pot, as measured, for example, by the rate of intermarriage. Two events tipped the balance: a generous policy adopted in the late 1970s, allowing family relatives to join immigrants already in place, at the same time that unemployment rates began an inexorable rise.
The French-born children of the previous generation of immigrants are not integrating and often revert to imagined communities from their countries of origin. The simultaneous shift of policy from integration to multiculturalism transformed into a political disaster. Communitarianism and destitute ghettos are worse in the US, but fear pervades France too: Marseille’s roughly 30 violent murders per year are talked about as much as Chicago’s 700 victims.
This suggests that France could be sensitive to the Trump vote effect. Here is a brash celebrity from New York who battles the status quo with plebeian appeal, whose money largely originated in the building industry – the brick and mortar economy. In France, too, there is widespread suspicion, especially in “la France périphérique” of the “elites”: journalists, who rate even lower than politicians in opinion polls, high civil servants with their revolving door from politics to large companies and finance. With the largest percentage of Muslims of all EU countries except Bulgaria, the prospect of another wave of Muslim newcomers, combined with an immediate terrorist threat, has tipped public opinion against immigration.
But there are also great differences. In the US the wage decline of blue collar as well as many white collar employees is as undeniable as the record breaking surge of a small class collecting the benefits of globalisation. In France, wages have continued to rise, and an extensive tax system targets the rich. A majority of Americans still rejects universal health care, but the French seem ready to go to the barricades if it is withdrawn for French citizens – they are less touchy about foreign residents.
The Christian right exists in France, but has less influence. Part of the radical right in the US rejects the federal government, almost unknown in France. In the US, the 65+ age group voted predominantly for Trump, and Democrats still hold on to the youth vote. In France, the National Front is the leading party among young voters, while retirees still vote for traditional conservative parties.
The real political crux is that it’s hard to find someone as different from Donald Trump as Marine Le Pen. The family business she inherited is a political party. While Trump may have taken a leaf from Bernie Sanders, he admires entrepreneurs and business people, naming more billionaires to cabinet positions than any of his predecessors. Marine Le Pen, instead, has an economic programme that seems a resurrection of the old 1970s French Communist platform with systematic opposition to bankers, Europe and any economic reform.
Whatever superficial similarity there might be between the movements of Trump and Le Pen, their rise in power would produce very different result

Manipulated Global Warming Data Dupes People

The lies, damn lies and statistics is old dictum, and Statistics becomes worse when it is manufactured and it was manufactured to create an image of impending disaster by suposed global warming. Climate and satellites Consultant John J Bates, who blew the whistle and exposed facts. He has revealed, what I have been saying Global warming is a well-designed hoax for mercernay benefits and for enabling politicians to closet bureaucracy for extending patronage to NGOs. The Mail on Sunday today reveals astonishing evidence that the organisation that is the world’s leading source of climate data rushed to publish a landmark paper that exaggerated global warming and was timed to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.
America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) breached its own rules on scientific integrity when it published the sensational but flawed report, aimed at making the maximum possible impact on world leaders including Barack Obama and David Cameron at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015.
The report claimed that the ‘pause’ or ‘slowdown’ in global warming in the period since 1998 – revealed by UN scientists in 2013 – never existed, and that world temperatures had been rising faster than scientists expected. Launched by NOAA with a public relations fanfare, it was splashed across the world’s media, and cited repeatedly by politicians and policy maker.
But the whistleblower, Dr John Bates, a top NOAA scientist with an impeccable reputation, has shown The Mail on Sunday irrefutable evidence that the paper was based on misleading, ‘unverified’ data. It was never subjected to NOAA’s rigorous internal evaluation process – which Dr Bates devised.
His vehement objections to the publication of the faulty data were overridden by his NOAA superiors in what he describes as a ‘blatant attempt to intensify the impact’ of what became known as the Pausebuster paper.
In an exclusive interview, Dr Bates accused the lead author of the paper, Thomas Karl, who was until last year director of the NOAA section that produces climate data – the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) – of ‘insisting on decisions and scientific choices that maximised warming and minimised documentation… in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming pause, rushed so that he could time publication to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy’.
A blatant attempt to intensify paper’s impact is evident. Official delegations from America, Britain and the EU were strongly influenced by the flawed NOAA study as they hammered out the Paris Agreement – and committed advanced nations to sweeping reductions in their use of fossil fuel and to spending £80 billion every year on new, climate-related aid projects.
The scandal has disturbing echoes of the ‘Climategate’ affair which broke shortly before the UN climate summit in 2009, when the leak of thousands of emails between climate scientists suggested they had manipulated and hidden data. Some were British experts at the influential Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
Data published by NOAA, the world’s top climate data agency, claimed global warming was worse than previously thought. The information was published to coincide with the Paris climate change conference in 2015, where world leaders agreed that…
$100bn be given every year in extra ‘climate-related’ aid to the developing world by rich nations
2 degrees C be set as the limit for maximum temperature rise above pre-industrial times
40% of CO2 emissions would be cut across the EU by 2030
£320bn… what the UK’s pledges will cost our economy by 2030
NOAA’s 2015 ‘Pausebuster’ paper was based on two new temperature sets of data – one containing measurements of temperatures at the planet’s surface on land, the other at the surface of the seas. Both datasets were flawed. This newspaper has learnt that NOAA has now decided that the sea dataset will have to be replaced and substantially revised just 18 months after it was issued, because it used unreliable methods which overstated the speed of warming. The revised data will show both lower temperatures and a slower rate in the recent warming trend.
The land temperature dataset used by the study was afflicted by devastating bugs in its software that rendered its findings ‘unstable’. The paper relied on a preliminary, ‘alpha’ version of the data which was never approved or verified.
A final, approved version has still not been issued. None of the data on which the paper was based was properly ‘archived’ – a mandatory requirement meant to ensure that raw data and the software used to process it is accessible to other scientists, so they can verify NOAA results.
Dr Bates retired from NOAA at the end of last year after a 40-year career in meteorology and climate science. As recently as 2014, the Obama administration awarded him a special gold medal for his work in setting new, supposedly binding standards ‘to produce and preserve climate data records’.
Yet when it came to the paper timed to influence the Paris conference, Dr Bates said, these standards were flagrantly ignored.
The paper in the journal Science. Entitled ‘Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus’, the document said the widely reported ‘pause’ or ‘slowdown’ was a myth. Less than two years earlier, a blockbuster report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which drew on the work of hundreds of scientists around the world, had found ‘a much smaller increasing trend over the past 15 years 1998-2012 than over the past 30 to 60 years’. Explaining the pause became a key issue for climate science. It was seized on by global warming sceptics, because the level of CO2 in the atmosphere had continued to rise.
Karl’s ‘Pausebuster’ paper was hugely influential in dictating the world agreement in Paris and sweeping US emissions cuts. President Trump, above right, has pledged to scrap both policies – triggering furious claims by Democrats he is a climate ‘denier’ and ‘anti-science’. Thanks to today’s MoS story, NOAA is set to face an inquiry by the Republican-led House science committee.
Some scientists argued that the existence of the pause meant the world’s climate is less sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought, so that future warming would be slower. One of them, Professor Judith Curry, then head of climate science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said it suggested that computer models used to project future warming were ‘running too hot’.
However, the Pausebuster paper said while the rate of global warming from 1950 to 1999 was 0.113C per decade, the rate from 2000 to 2014 was actually higher, at 0.116C per decade. The IPCC’s claim about the pause, it concluded, ‘was no longer valid’. The impact was huge and lasting. On publication day, the BBC said the pause in global warming was ‘an illusion caused by inaccurate data’.
The paper as a ‘science bomb’ dropped on sceptics.
Data was changed to make the sea appear warmer. The sea dataset used by Thomas Karl and his colleagues – known as Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperatures version 4, or ERSSTv4, tripled the warming trend over the sea during the years 2000 to 2014 from just 0.036C per decade – as stated in version 3 – to 0.099C per decade. Individual measurements in some parts of the globe had increased by about 0.1C and this resulted in the dramatic increase of the overall global trend published by the Pausebuster paper. But Dr Bates said this increase in temperatures was achieved by dubious means. Its key error was an upwards ‘adjustment’ of readings from fixed and floating buoys, which are generally reliable, to bring them into line with readings from a much more doubtful source – water taken in by ships. This, Dr Bates explained, has long been known to be questionable: ships are themselves sources of heat, readings will vary from ship to ship, and the depth of water intake will vary according to how heavily a ship is laden – so affecting temperature readings.
Dr Bates said: ‘They had good data from buoys. And they threw it out and “corrected” it by using the bad data from ships. You never change good data to agree with bad, but that’s what they did – so as to make it look as if the sea was warmer.’ ERSSTv4 ‘adjusted’ buoy readings up by 0.12C. It also ignored data from satellites that measure the temperature of the lower atmosphere, which are also considered reliable. Dr Bates said he gave the paper’s co-authors ‘a hard time’ about this, ‘and they never really justified what they were doing.’
Now, some of those same authors have produced the pending, revised new version of the sea dataset – ERSSTv5. A draft of a document that explains the methods used to generate version 5, and which has been seen by this newspaper, indicates the new version will reverse the flaws in version 4, changing the buoy adjustments and including some satellite data and measurements from a special high-tech floating buoy network known as Argo. As a result, it is certain to show reductions in both absolute temperatures and recent global warming.
The second dataset used by the Pausebuster paper was a new version of NOAA’s land records, known as the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN), an analysis over time of temperature readings from about 4,000 weather stations spread across the globe.
The unstable land readings: Scientists at NOAA used land temperature data from 4,000 weather stations. But the software used to process the figures was bug-ridden and unstable. NOAA also used ‘unverified’ data that was not tested or approved. This data as merged with unreliable sea surface temperatures
The ‘adjusted’ sea readings: Average sea surface temperatures are calculated using data from weather buoys. But NOAA ‘adjusted’ these figures upwards to fit with data taken from ships – which is notoriously unreliable. This exaggerated the warming rate, allowing NOAA to claim in the paper dubbed the ‘Pausebuster’ that there was no ‘pause’
This new version found past temperatures had been cooler than previously thought, and recent ones higher – so that the warming trend looked steeper. For the period 2000 to 2014, the paper increased the rate of warming on land from 0.15C to 0.164C per decade.
Not only had Mr Karl and his colleagues failed to follow any of the formal procedures required to approve and archive their data, they had used a ‘highly experimental early run’ of a programme that tried to combine two previously separate sets of records. This had undergone the critical process known as ‘pairwise homogeneity adjustment’, a method of spotting ‘rogue’ readings from individual weather stations by comparing them with others nearby.
However, this process requires extensive, careful checking which was only just beginning, so that the data was not ready for operational use. Now, more than two years after the Pausebuster paper was submitted to Science, the new version of GHCN is still undergoing testing.
Moreover, the GHCN software was afflicted by serious bugs. They caused it to become so ‘unstable’ that every time the raw temperature readings were run through the computer, it gave different results. The new, bug-free version of GHCN has still not been approved and issued. It is, Dr Bates said, ‘significantly different’ from that used by Mr Karl and his co-authors.
Dr Bates revealed that the failure to archive and make available fully documented data not only violated NOAA rules, but also those set down by Science. Before he retired last year, he continued to raise the issue internally. Then came the final bombshell. Dr Bates said: ‘I learned that the computer used to process the software had suffered a complete failure.’
The reason for the failure is unknown, but it means the Pausebuster paper can never be replicated or verified by other scientists. The flawed conclusions of the Pausebuster paper were widely discussed by delegates at the Paris climate change conference. Mr Karl had a longstanding relationship with President Obama’s chief science adviser, John Holdren, giving him a hotline to the White House.
They were forced to correct it: 18 months after the ‘Pausebuster’ paper was published in time for the 2015 Paris climate change conference, NOAA’s flawed sea temperature dataset is to be replaced. The new version will remedy its failings, and use data from both buoys and satellites (pictured) – which some say is the best data of all. The new version will show both lower temperatures and a lower warming trend since 2000
Mr Holdren was also a strong advocate of robust measures to curb emissions. Britain’s then Prime Minister David Cameron claimed at the conference that ‘97 per cent of scientists say climate change is urgent and man-made and must be addressed’ and called for ‘a binding legal mechanism’ to ensure the world got no more than 2C warmer than in pre-industrial times.
President Obama stressed his Clean Power Plan at the conference, which mandates American power stations to make big emissions cuts. President Trump has since pledged he will scrap it, and to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Whatever takes its place, said Dr Bates, ‘there needs to be a fundamental change to the way NOAA deals with data so that people can check and validate scientific results. I’m hoping that this will be a wake-up call to the climate science community – a signal that we have to put in place processes to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t happen again.
Dr Bates said: ‘How ironic it is that there is now this idea that Trump is going to trash climate data, when key decisions were earlier taken by someone whose responsibility it was to maintain its integrity – and failed.’ NOAA not only failed, but it effectively mounted a cover-up when challenged over its data. After the paper was published, the US House of Representatives Science Committee launched an inquiry into its Pausebuster claims. NOAA refused to comply with subpoenas demanding internal emails from the committee chairman, the Texas Republican Lamar Smith, and falsely claimed that no one had raised concerns about the paper internally.
It was time that politicians and policymakers took these uncertainties on board. Karl admitted the data had not been archived when the paper was published. Asked why he had not waited, he said: ‘John Bates is talking about a formal process that takes a long time.’ He denied he was rushing to get the paper out in time for Paris, saying: ‘There was no discussion about Paris.’
They played fast and loose with the figures. He also admitted that the final, approved and ‘operational’ edition of the GHCN land data would be ‘different’ from that used in the paper’.
It’s not the first time we’ve exposed dodgy climate data, which is why we’ve dubbed it: Climate Gate 2. Dr John Bates’s disclosures about the manipulation of data behind the ‘Pausebuster’ paper is the biggest scientific scandal since ‘Climategate’ in 2009 when, as this paper reported, thousands of leaked emails revealed scientists were trying to block access to data, and using a ‘trick’ to conceal embarrassing flaws in their claims about global warming.
Both scandals suggest a lack of transparency and, according to Dr Bates, a failure to observe proper ethical standards. Because of NOAA ’s failure to ‘archive’ data used in the paper, its results can never be verified. Like Climategate, this scandal is likely to reverberate around the world, and reignite some of science’s most hotly contested debates.
Has there been an unexpected pause in global warming? If so, is the world less sensitive to carbon dioxide than climate computer models suggest? And does this mean that truly dangerous global warming is less imminent, and that politicians’ repeated calls for immediate ‘urgent action’ to curb emissions are exaggerated?

America vs America

Trump presidency deepens the inherent clash, the clash within: Ideals of equality and freedom vs its pre-1965 history. “Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment.
But it can be disappointment only because it is also a hope.” These epigrammatic lines, written in 1981 by Samuel Huntington, are hugely pertinent today. Trump’s rise and his first policy pronouncements are intimately connected with contestations over America’s identity.
Huntington’s epigrams expressed a long-held view of America’s national identity. Being American was not an ethnic identity. Rather, Americanness symbolised a political creed, or a set of ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence, 1776, which laid the foundations of the American Republic.
Three ideas were critical: Equality, freedom and republicanism. Unlike the “old world” Europeans, the “new world” Americans were free, not chained by historical tradition; they would be equal, not ranked by birth-based, ascriptive hierarchies; and they would govern themselves via elected representatives, not be ruled by a dynastic monarch.
In Europe, only one nation approximated these ideals, France, but only after the French Revolution, and not entirely resolutely. Elsewhere in Europe, ethnicity, linguistically expressed, was the foundation of nationhood (with the exception of Switzerland). Both the US and France were civic nations, not ethnic nations.
The dilemma, Huntington argued, was that societies can’t easily achieve these ideals in their fullness. Given human imperfections, these ideals, especially equality and freedom, were much too lofty. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, African Americans were neither free nor equal. Their slavery ended in 1864, terminating America’s founding contradiction between the ideal of freedom and the fact of slavery. But intense racial discrimination and violence continued. Only in the mid-1960s did African Americans achieve legal parity.
America is not a “lie”, said Huntington, because genuine progress towards freedom and equality had been made. But the pace of progress was “disappointing”. However, precisely because more progress can be made towards those ideals, “hope” would mark America’s evolution. The ideals of freedom and equality, though tough to attain, were far too deeply ingrained in the American psyche to be tossed permanently aside.
Huntington was not the only scholar to make these arguments. Moreover, the arc of agreement did not stop at American shores. Several major European scholars, most prominently Alexis de Tocqueville, had made similar claims.
How do these foundational ideas apply to Donald Trump? They do not. In his world, and that of his supporters who got him elected, an alternative conception of American identity exists. In his influential book, Civic Ideals, Rogers Smith argues that the Huntington-Tocqueville idea of America is not the only idea that has reverberated in American history. Investigating more than a century of American legislation and judicial decisions on immigration and citizenship, Smith argues that these laws “manifested passionate beliefs that America … was a white nation, a Protestant nation, a nation in which true Americans were native-born men with Anglo-Saxon ancestors.” These “inegalitarian ascriptive traditions of Americanism” were not only used against blacks and indigenous Americans, but also against Irish and Italian immigrants, who were Catholic, and against Jews, all of whom were viewed as “inferior races” when they came to the US.
With respect to some non-white immigrant groups, American laws became especially draconian. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, later expanded into exclusion of all Asians, ensured that migration into the US was overwhelmingly white for many decades. Essentially, resentment against each new wave of migrants has repeatedly appeared in American history.
America’s national identity is thus not only about a set of ideals, especially freedom and equality. It is also about what Smith calls the ascriptive white superiority. It is against this long-standing duality that the Trump moment is to be viewed.
Though not without flaws, post-1965 US has been closest to the American ideals that the US has ever been. Externally, the immigration reform of 1965 ended national/racial quotas. As a result, after 1965, most immigration into the US became non-white. Hispanics from central and south America have been the biggest immigrant group and Mexicans the largest among them. Muslims from various parts of the world also arrived after 1965 (as did, incidentally, the Indian Americans, most of whom came to the US after the mid-1960s, as a new book, The Other One Percent, by Sanjoy Chakraborti, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh, meticulously documents).
Internally, the Voting and Civil Rights Acts, passed in 1964-65, severely undermined state laws that licensed racial discrimination, especially against African Americans. While the racial situation is far from ideal, it is noteworthy that at no point in American history have African Americans acquired such prominent positions in public life. In Obama, America had a black president for eight years, something inconceivable until some time back. Hispanics too have risen to the highest levels of the polity.
Census specialists now predict that by 2041, the US will cease to be a white-majority nation. It is this racial anxiety and the impending loss of white privilege that forms the bedrock of Trump’s base, strewn widely over middle America, as also in the smaller towns on the two coasts. It is especially concentrated among the non-college educated whites. The Protestant-Catholic divisions are no longer salient. A new white nationalism is reborn. The proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and a ban on Muslim migration is the contemporary incarnation of white nationalism.
Against white nationalists are fighting those who defend the deepening of post-1965 American politics. Institutionally, the courts thus far are leading this fight (they did not always, and they may not). And in terms of mass support, hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of Americans who have come out in protest, represent the post-1965 charge.
Notably, Trump’s temporary Muslim ban did not provoke only American Muslims to protest. Large numbers of non-Muslims, including thousands of whites, have come out in support of an American ideal they hold dear. Moreover, we also have the strong voice of women defending women’s dignity, mocked in such an unseemly manner by Trump.
In sum, the US is witnessing a deepening clash between those who wish to take the country to its political ideals of equality and freedom regardless of race and ethnicity, and those who wish to drag America back to its pre-1965 history. A political battle is underway.

Family Day Special: Welcome Lagom & Hygge Lifestyle Trend

On this family day, let us indulge the new life trend that should become a standard. It is Lagom is the latest Scandinavian lifestyle trend to hit the lifestyle. It, along with Hygee, should be a norm – at least, on a day, when you want to let your hair down. No one knew how to pronounce it but hygge – or the Danish art of living cosily – took over the winter of 2016.

Now, there’s another Scandinavian lifestyle trend to jump on to. Forget hot chocolates and layers upon layers of knitwear and enter the time of ‘lagom’. The idea of being frugal and creating balance, lagom translates to ‘just the right amount’. It’s a state of having “not too much of one-or-the-other, but more a Goldilocks ‘just right’,” according to Kathleen Bryson, a PhD student in evolutionary anthropology.

If this is the first time you’re hearing the word, you may be surprised to find that it’s the title of a Bristol-based magazine celebrating people with a good work/life balance, the name of a Korean beauty brand and the inspiration behind IKEA’s latest project. Live Lagom is a three-year initiative aiming to teach people “how to make sustainable living easier, more affordable and attractive.” The furniture giant is handing out gift vouchers to customers to encourage them to purchase IKEA’s range of eco-friendly products.

“This is a way of life for most households in Sweden. Scandinavians are greener than Britons because there’s a feeling of collective action – everyone’s doing their bit,” IKEA’s head of sustainability, Joanna Yarrow told the Evening Standard.

Although the word is seen as being pretty dull in Sweden, it seems a sense of stability in post-Brexit Britain is what people are really looking for. Lagom’s focus on environmentalism and reducing waste will appeal to those already embarking on the clean living hype.

“We think lagom will become even bigger than hygge. In a world of extremes and contradictions, a calm, soothing promise of a happier, more balanced way of life is very attractive,” said the founder of UK-based fashion brand, LAGOM. According to the BBC, the term has seen a steady increase in Google searches and has been tweeted over 13,500 times in the past three months alone.So how can you get involved? It can be a simple case of watching your spending and researching the brands that you buy. Instead of handing over 5p for a plastic bag, why not bring a reusable one with you every time? After all, it’s the little things that count.

How to ‘Hygge’: 8 ways to master the Danish art of living cosily

Winter might spell drizzly, pitch black mornings and a general dampening of our spirits. But thanks to our Danish counterparts, the hibernating season is looking up. Surely you’ve heard of ‘Hygge’ the buzzword sweeping the lifestyle world and promising to transform our winter for the better?

While the phrase is tricky to translate into English, it can loosely defined as a sense of cosiness. It’s all about contentment achieved from small, fulfilling pleasures and quality time with friends and family. And the Danes strive to achieve it all year round. It’s pronounced “hoo-guh” – a lot like the sound you might make when clearing your throat.

Confusingly it’s an adjective, verb and noun all in one. But put aside your reservations, because considering the Danish are the happiest people in the world, there’s obviously something in it. Especially as a staggering nine new books dedicated to the topic have been released this year (from The Little Book of Hygge to Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness).

“The rest of the world seems to be slowly waking up to what Danes have been wise to for generations – that having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul,” Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country told the BBC. “Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself – indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything.”

So how can we achieve this elusive sense of Hygge? Here are 8 simple tips to live more Danishly this winter.

Grab a hot drink

Fika (”to have coffee” – usually with cake) is another Danish word that doesn’t have a direct translation, but it’s definitely something we want to get on board with. There’s no easier way to feel warm and cosy then by clutching a warm cup of coffee, or hot chocolate if you prefer – Hygge is all about small indulgences, after all.

Eat more baked goods

Now for the second course of that Fika. The Danes are pastry pros, but there’s no reason we can’t attempt to rival them in becoming cinnamon bun connoisseurs. Baking your own will also add to that elusive sense of warmth and cosiness

Burn more candles

“No candles, no hygge,” Meik Wiking author of The Little Book Of Hygge writes in his book. Simple. And it makes sense – after a long day in a harshly lit office, curling up by candlelight will make you feel instantly at ease. Pick up plenty of tea lights and light them in clusters for a soft, atmospheric light.

Layer up

Bare ankles and soggy clothes don’t exactly lend themselves to feeling cosy and content, so do as the Danish do and dress for the weather. This doesn’t mean compromising on style – the Scandinavians are of course, one of the world’s chicest nations, thanks to their love of minimalist, high-quality designs. Layer up those knits and cosy basics whether you’re out and about or snuggling up in bed. Ahhh.

Go outside

Hygge isn’t all about curling up on the sofa – balance and a good healthy lifestyle are key. So wrapping up and going for a hearty walk is key, or at least taking those blankets and sheepskins outside for your Fika once in a while.

Entertain at home more

The Danish are more likely to gather in their Hygge-perfected homes with friends than dine out. Entertaining isn’t about splashing the cash or slaving away on a stressful menu, however, it’s the thought that counts and making guests feel welcome. Grab some candles, flowers and cook a simple, favourite dish.

Turn off the telly and watch the fire instead

Hygge is all about the simple pleasures and avoiding modern stresses and over stimulation, so switch of the tech and turn on the fire instead. In fact, why not go the whole hog and lock away your mobile – maybe just for one night.

Leave work on time

The Danes are encouraged to leave work on time every day, and women work on average just 35 hours a week. Maximising your work hours and clocking off on the dot will ensure you have more time to spend with your loved ones, or a good book, if you prefer.

The Pak-Bosnia Connection

A nation divided, and another seeking leadership of the supranational ummah. One can understand the warmth between the two PMs in Bosnia last month as Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif visited with his wife.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s three-day visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in December 2016 was hardly noticed internationally. This was the first time since the tragic 1990s that Pakistanis heard Bosnia mentioned in the national media. But there is much between the two states which shall be remembered.
In 1991, the population of the collapsed confederal Yugoslavia trifurcated before throwing themselves into a bloody civil war. The Muslims as an ancient minority were different from the other two, Serbs and Croats. Under Tito’s communism, the 1948 census didn’t allow the Muslims to register as Muslims, because religion didn’t form nationality then, and asked them instead to name themselves either Serb or Croat. Eighty-nine per cent of the Muslims registered themselves as “nationality undetermined”, 8 per cent as Serbs and 3 per cent as Croats. They were a useful make-weight in the Serb-Croat nationalist drives which gave them importance. In the 1953 census, the Muslims were allowed to register as Yugoslavs. All of them did while most of the Serbs and Croats preferred to register as ethnicities. In this pattern one can discern the disaster that struck Yugoslavia in 1991.
In 1991-5, the world was savagely reminded of the Balkans’ capacity to harm itself through nationalism when the Serbs of Yugoslavia started butchering Muslims in Sarajevo. A batch of early Bosnian refugees was made to land in Pakistan where they were looked after despite the “cultural gap” felt by the Europeanised Bosnian Muslims.
According to Hein G. Kiessling in his book Faith, Unity, Discipline: the ISI of Pakistan (2016), Pakistan assisted Bosnia, in cooperation with Iran, supplying small weapons, “flown to the Balkans by the Pakistan Air Force”. Under General Zia, Pakistan was already looking for causes to defend abroad and seeking leadership of the supranational Muslim ummah. Kiessling writes: “Former DG ISI Hamid Gul, who travelled to Bosnia himself, assisted in the training in the Harkatul Mujahideen. Besides Gul, another former ISI chief too was active in the Bosnian operations. Retired Lieutenant General Asad Durrani, by then Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany, coordinated from Bonn teams of young Muslims from the ummah for the Bosnia assignment.” NATO and CIA saw Pakistan transporting men and material by air and looked the other way.
One can understand the warmth between the two PMs in Bosnia last month as Nawaz Sharif visited with his wife. It was a gesture not only to the Bosnian Muslims but also to the army back home whose brave effort in the Balkans was appreciated by Pakistanis not able then to grasp the long-term effect of this adventure. It was one of the most transformational factors in the evolution of Pakistan: It changed the thinking of the officers who later took command of the Pakistan army. But the most important factor was the “return of the warrior” from proxy adventures abroad and the way it affected the internal sovereignty of the state.
The example of the British national Umar Sheikh is instructive. He was among the 200 British Pakistanis who trained in Pakistan and fought in Bosnia. He left the London School of Economics in 1993 for Pakistan where his ISI handling officer was Brigadier Ejaz Shah, also the ISI contact for Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden. Umar Sheikh was to later gang up with Jaish-e-Muhammad to trap and help kill American journalist Daniel Pearl for al Qaeda.
According to Daily Pakistan (April 16, 2006) Umar Sheikh had conspired in 2001 to kill President Musharraf while the latter was taking a 23 March Pakistan Day salute in Islamabad. But the plan backfired, Umar Sheikh was arrested in 2002. He is today imprisoned in Pakistan waiting to be hanged for the murder of Daniel Pearl. The media has reported that he is lionised by the jail wardens as a true Muslim, even allowed once to use a cellphone to threaten Musharraf.

How I Predict State of the Economy in 2017

The new year is going to run in the third month on a few days, and the portents, based on politico-economic scenario makes one safe predict. Economic pundits traditionally offer their (traditionally inaccurate) New Year predictions at the beginning of January. But global conditions this year are anything but traditional, so it seemed appropriate to wait until US President Donald Trump settled into the White House to weigh in on some of the main surprises that might shake up the world economy and financial markets on his watch. Judging by current market movements and conditions, the world could be caught off guard by three potentially transformative developments.
For starters, Trump’s economic policies are likely to produce much higher US interest rates and inflation than financial markets expect. Trump’s election has almost certainly ended the 35-year trend of disinflation and declining rates that began in 1981, and that has been the dominant influence on economic conditions and asset prices worldwide. But investors and policymakers don’t believe it yet. The US Federal Reserve Board’s published forecasts suggest only three quarter-point rate hikes this year, and futures markets have priced in just two such moves.
As Trump launches his policies, however, the Fed is likely to tighten its monetary policy more than it had planned before the inauguration, not less, as the markets still expect. More important, as Trump’s policies boost both real economic activity and inflation, long-term interest rates, which influence the world economy more than the overnight rates set by central banks, are likely to rise steeply.
The rationale for this scenario is straightforward. Trump’s tax and spending plans will sharply reverse the budget consolidation enforced by Congress on Barack Obama’s administration, and household borrowing will expand dramatically if Trump fulfills his promise to reverse the bank regulations imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. As all this extra stimulus fuels an economy already nearing full employment, inflation seems bound to accelerate, with protectionist trade tariffs and a possible “border tax” raising prices even more for imported goods.
The only uncertainty is how monetary policy will respond to this “Trumpflation.” But whether the Fed tries to counteract it by raising interest rates more aggressively than its current forecasts imply, or decides to move cautiously, keeping short-term interest rates well behind the rising curve of price growth, bond investors will suffer. As a result, yields on ten-year US bonds could jump from 2.5% to 3.5% or more in the year ahead – and ultimately much higher.
In Europe and Japan, by contrast, monetary conditions will remain loose, as central banks continue to support economic growth with zero interest rates and quantitative easing (QE). And this policy divergence suggests a second potential shock for which financial markets seem unprepared.
The US dollar could strengthen much further, especially against emerging-market currencies, despite Trump’s stated desire to boost US exports. The catalyst for exchange-rate appreciation would be not only higher US interest rates, but also a dollar squeeze in emerging markets, where foreign debts have increased by $3 trillion since 2010. A confluence of dollar strength and excessive foreign borrowing caused the debt crises in Latin America and Asia in the 1980s and 1990s. This time, Trump’s protectionism could make matters even worse, especially for countries such as Mexico and Turkey, which have based their development strategies on rapidly expanding exports and have financed domestic business activity with dollar debts.
So much for the bad news. Fortunately, a third major development that is not priced into financial markets could be more favorable for global economic conditions: the European Union – an even more important market than the US for almost every trading country apart from Mexico and Canada – could do much better than expected in 2017.
Economic indicators began to improve rapidly in most EU countries from early 2015, when the European Central Bank stopped the fragmentation of the eurozone by launching a bond-buying program even bigger than the QE pioneered by the Fed. But this economic recovery was overwhelmed last year by fears of political disintegration. With the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Italy all facing populist insurgencies – and at least the first three holding elections this year – the Brexit and Trump shocks have naturally provoked anxiety that the next domino to fall will be one of these EU founding members, followed perhaps by the entire EU.
These expectations create the possibility of the biggest surprise of 2017: instead of disintegrating, the EU stabilizes, facilitating an economic rebound and a period of strong financial performance similar to the US “Goldilocks period” from 2010 to 2014, when the economy recovered at a pace that was neither too hot nor too cold. The key event will be France’s presidential election, which will most likely be decided in a second-round runoff on May 7. If either François Fillon or Emmanuel Macron wins, France will embark on an economic reform process comparable to Germany’s in 2003, undertaken by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Even a mild foretaste of such reforms would encourage a relaxation of the austerity terms demanded by the new German government that emerges from the general election there on September 24. A more cooperative and constructive Franco-German relationship would, in turn, erode support for the populist Five Star Movement in Italy.
The risk to this benign scenario is, of course, that Marine Le Pen wins in France. In that case, a breakup of the EU will become a realistic prospect, triggering panic in European financial markets and economies. Every opinion poll and serious analysis of French politics indicates that President Le Pen is an impossible fantasy. But isn’t that what every opinion poll and serious analysis of US politics indicated last year about President Trump?

Islamist May not be Terrorist, But What About Muslim Brotherhood

President Donald Trump is not done issuing executive orders, however. According to reports from the new White House, one of the orders under consideration for issuance in the near future would designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.One executive order under consideration by the new White House would designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.
Those in favour of the designation, which include former presidential contender Senator Ted Cruz, have argued that the group, which operates primarily in Egypt and Jordan, “espouses a violent Islamist Ideology with a mission of destroying the West”. Cruz has also introduced a bill in the United States Senate that aims to do the same thing. Supporters of the bill and the executive order under consideration have further argued that diaspora American-Muslim organisations such as the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the North American Islamic Trust are all front organisations for the Muslim Brotherhood, suggesting that restrictions may also extend to these groups within the United States.
While many Trump advisers and supporters, notably those featured on Breitbart, a website run by now senior White House adviser Steven Bannon, have long opposed the Muslim Brotherhood, the new move has caused concern. Opponents of such a move stress the following: first, equating the group with actual terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group casts too broad a net and deflects attention away from actual terror groups that should be the focus of anti-terror efforts.
Second, the broad transnational and loosely connected group has long participated in elections and supported results. Its candidate Mohammed Morsi won the 2012 presidential election in Egypt before he and his allies were swept from power in a military coup. It is because of this that the previous two US administrations, one led by Republicans, the other by Democrats, have both refused to apply the designation.
Third, given that the Muslim Brotherhood has offshoots beyond Egypt, in countries like Morocco, Jordan and Turkey — countries in which the US has interests — the designation would imperil alliances in which America needs cooperation from allies.
Good reasons, however, are not going very far these days in Washington, D.C. Like the content of most of the other executive orders issued in recent days, the debate on designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation has long galvanised anti-Islam politicians and thinkers, many of whom now enjoy plum posts within the administration.
Among policy experts in Washington, there is widespread disagreement. One of them recently wrote that not a single Muslim Brotherhood expert supported designating the group as a terrorist group. Author Eric Trager took the strongest position, saying that the most he could do is describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a “hate group”, which while repugnant and illiberal is not the same thing as a terrorist group.
The issue of the Muslim Brotherhood’s designation is likely to put American Muslims, particularly those from Arab countries where the Brotherhood has a strong presence, more on edge. With the terrorist designation, money that is sent to people or charities or any entity associated with the Muslim Brotherhood would come under greater scrutiny. Disbursements and connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, even vague ones, could be prosecuted under the US ‘Material Support for Terrorism’ statute, which criminalises any support (even unintentional) to terrorist groups. While there may little truth to the premise that American-Muslim organisations are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood, it is quite likely that the latter’s designation as a terrorist organisation will affect a good number of American Muslims.
While the Muslim Brotherhood does not itself have a presence in Pakistan, several other Islamist political parties do. If the Brotherhood is designated as a terrorist organisation, it indicates the Trump administration’s willingness to cast a very broad net and equate ‘Islamist’ with ‘terrorist’. While this may not be correct, it is worthy of note since what applies to the Muslim Brotherhood may soon be applicable to other groups as well. Even if this does not impact the leadership of these Islamist political parties, it will likely have an effect on all those loosely affiliated or connected to these parties or even sympathetic to their views. Combined with the new ‘extreme vetting’ of all visa applicants and even green card holders entering the country, this would mean that anyone who sympathises with these organisations, in letter or spirit, can expect to be barred from entering the US or be deported following visa revocations if they are already there.
An Islamist political organisation like the Muslim Brotherhood is not the same as terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan or IS. At the same time, one does wonder why those having Islamist political beliefs that do not square with liberal constitutional principles are interested in travelling to and living in the United States.
Still, the overly broad nature of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation is unlikely to accomplish any security objectives for the US. In the near term, it is likely to enable all sorts of wrongful prosecutions of Arab-Americans; in the long term, it will likely make the American-Muslim community even more insular, increasing the possibility of alienation and ultimately radicalisation.The Trump administration is considering designating the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a foreign terrorist organization, and Human Rights Watch is outraged.
“Designating the Muslim Brotherhood a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ would wrongly equate it with violent extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and make their otherwise lawful activities illegal,” said Human Rights Watch. The press release went on to repeat the old claim that “…the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt officially renounced violence in the 1970s and sought to promote its ideas through social and political activities”.
Adding its voice to the Muslim Brotherhood’s apologists, the New York Times wrote: “A political and social organization with millions of followers, the Brotherhood officially renounced violence decades ago and won elections in Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Affiliated groups have joined the political systems in places like Tunisia and Turkey, and President Barack Obama long resisted pressure to declare it a terrorist organization.”
For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood has pushed a specific public narrative, intended exclusively for Western consumption. Just how extremely effective the MB has been was demonstrated in 2011, when then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, unbelievably, claimed that the MB was “… largely secular… has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam…They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt…there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence”.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna made jihadist violence a focal point of his movement. He wrote, “Death is art” and “Fighting the unbelievers involves all possible efforts that are necessary to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam.” The MB inducts members into its deliberatively secretive and opaque network with the pledge that “Jihad is our way” and “Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
It is, in fact, difficult to overstate the importance of the MB in promoting and spreading jihad in the 20th century and onwards. As the UK government’s expert review of the MB, published in December 2015, concluded: “[The Muslim Brotherhood’s] public narrative — notably in the West — emphasized engagement not violence. But there have been significant differences between Muslim Brotherhood communications in English and Arabic; there is little evidence that the experience of power in Egypt has caused a rethinking in the Muslim Brotherhood of its ideology or conduct. UK official engagement with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood produced no discernible change in their thinking. Indeed even by mid-2014 statements from Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood-linked media platforms seem to have deliberately incited violence”.
The UK review goes on to say: “The Muslim Brotherhood at all levels have repeatedly defended Hamas attacks against Israel, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians. The Muslim Brotherhood facilitate funding for Hamas. The leadership of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, its Jordanian counterpart and Hamas are closely connected. There are wider links with Muslim Brotherhood affiliates throughout the region and senior Muslim Brotherhood figures and associates have justified attacks against coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood not only funds one of the most virulent terrorist groups, Hamas, but there is barely any daylight between the various leaderships of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan and Hamas. (According to article two of the Hamas Charter, “The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times”).
The indictment could not be more damning. Another terrorist group rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood is Egyptian terrorist group Jamaat al-Islamiyya. This group came into existence, conveniently, when it broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood, after the latter denounced the use of violence in the 1970s. Creating a new terrorist organization was a brilliant strategy, which allowed for the Muslim Brotherhood to polish its image as a peaceful organization, leaving the dirty terrorist work to so-called “offshoots” or proxies. Indeed, Jamaat al-Islamiyya used the writings of the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, as an ideological basis. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and jailed in the United States as the perpetrator of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, was the spiritual leader of Jamaat al-Islamiyya.
The New York Times itself featured a lengthy article called “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror” about Sayyid Qutb in its magazine in March 2003, stating that he was “…the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into Al Qaeda, their Karl Marx… their guide”. Most of the terrorists who later founded al Qaeda were rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. Osama bin Laden was apparently recruited as a young man to the MB, whereas Ayman al-Zawahiri joined the MB at the age of 14 and went on to found the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, “an organization that holds many of the same beliefs as the MB but simply refuses to renounce violence inside Egypt”, according to The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). It subsequently merged with bin Laden’s organization. The lead hijacker of 9/11, Mohammed Atta, was also a member of the MB. The list goes on.
“The objective, then, is to strike terror into the hearts of God’s enemies, who are also the enemies of the advocates of Islam…” — Sayyid Qutb, chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. In January 2015, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt released an official statement calling on its supporters to “prepare” for jihad: “It is incumbent upon everyone to be aware that we are in the process of a new phase, where we summon what is latent in our strength, where we recall the meanings of jihad and prepare ourselves, our wives, our sons, our daughters, and whoever marched on our path to a long, uncompromising jihad, and during this stage we ask for martyrdom.”
The statement also quotes at length the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, disproving the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has broken with its violent past: “Imam al-Bana prepared the jihad brigades that he sent to Palestine to kill the Zionist usurpers and the second [Supreme] Guide Hassan al-Hudaybi reconstructed the ‘secret apparatus’ to bleed the British occupiers.”
After the official statement was released, Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), stated: “Muslim Brothers have been committing violent acts for a very long time. Under [Egypt’s former president, Mohamed] Morsi, Muslim Brothers tortured protesters outside the presidential palace. After Morsi’s ouster, they have frequently attacked security forces and state property… But until now, the official line from the Brotherhood was to support this implicitly by justifying its causes, without justifying the acts themselves. So the Brotherhood’s open call to jihad doesn’t necessarily mean a tactical shift, but a rhetorical one.”
Terrorism expert and national security reporter Patrick Poole added: “It [the call for jihad] invokes the Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorist past, specifically mentioning the ‘special apparatus’ that waged terror in the 1940s and 1950s until the Nasser government cracked down on the group, as well as the troops sent by founder Hassan al-Banna to fight against Israel in 1948. It concludes saying that the Brotherhood has entered a new stage, warns of a long jihad ahead, and to prepare for martyrdom… What remains to be seen is how this announcement will be received inside the Beltway, where the vast majority of the ‘experts’ have repeatedly said that the Brotherhood had abandoned its terrorist past, which it is now clearly reviving, and had renounced violence,”
There is nothing peaceful, lawful or democratic about the Muslim Brotherhood. It believes today what it has always believed and openly stated: that a caliphate, where sharia law will rule, must be established through jihad. Refusing to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization would be a grave mistake, playing straight into the strategy of the Brotherhood and, once more, revealing to the world the extreme gullibility of the West and its boundless willingness to believe anything the Muslim Brotherhood throws its way.

Losing Solitude, & Discovering the Joy of Selfies

A little solitude now and then is good for the soul and good for the pen. And it is not only writers who need it. We could all do with a few hours of solitary confinement — not in a jail cell but in a room or quiet corner of our own choice. How else can we get to know ourselves?
Not everyone is in a position to renounce the material world and live in a humble dwelling on the banks of the Ganga above Rishikesh to meditate and ponder upon the meaning or absence of meaning in our transitory existence in a world that has been mismanaged by its human tenants.
Children have to be fed, marriages brokered, and cars topped up with petrol. The great saints and sages looked to the mountains for solitude. The great poets and prose-writers — Tagore, Wordsworth, Stevenson, Melville, Conrad —turned to the rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. The mountains are static, but water is always on the move, there is no stopping it.
Probably the best work in solitude was Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Here was an intelligent man who, shipwrecked upon an uninhabited island, had solitude forced upon him. Most men would have gone mad after a year or two of complete isolation. But Crusoe learnt to adapt to the conditions and even appreciate his enforced solitude. The arrival of Man Friday proved at first to be unsettling, but their chemistry proved to be just right, and loneliness became companionship.
Solitude is a condition appreciated only by a small minority. It seems to me that most people are scared of being left on their own, for almost every human activity is carried out on a crowded scale.
As a boy, inspired by Thoreau’s Walden, I sought out a Walden pond for myself, and discovered a wilderness outside Dehradun where a hot spring emerged from a dry river-bed. I would go there often on my bicycle. There were no other visitors, just occasionally a village boy grazing his cows.
Last year I visited the same spot, although no longer on a bicycle. Hotels, restaurants, a veritable bazaar had come up on the banks of a tiny stream, but of the original hot spring there was no sign. In shock, it had probably gone underground.
In order to protect yourself from solitude or finding yourself on your own you can now equip yourself with a ‘selfie’ and take pictures of yourself with waterfalls and cheering crowds in the background; but take care you don’t step backwards into the waterfall.
Strangely along the road below my mountain home I encountered a smart young person who wanted to take a picture of both of us with her ‘selfie’. I could hardly object. So we sat on the parapet, cheek to cheek, while she attempted to get us both in the frame of her camera. All she got was her pretty left ear and my red nose, but I didn’t mind, it was a long time since I’d sat cheek to cheek with a pretty young thing on a parapet wall. There’s something to be said for ‘selfies’.
And so I take issue with a gentleman on a TV programme who maintained that ‘selfies’ were a form of narcissism, denoting some form of psychological deficiency in the owner’s make-up. To me, they appear to be quite harmless fun things, provided you don’t fall off a cliff or a high-rise building.
The mirror — especially that dressing-table mirror — is probably the most addictive form of narcissism, and it has been around for centuries. “Get away from that mirror!” my aunt would scream at me whenever I lingered in front of it for several minutes, trying my best to train my hair into a puff similar to the one sported by Dev Anand or Alan Ladd or whoever was the big male star that year. Nowadays you don’t see stars with puffs, possibly because they go bald rather early. Must be all this pollution.
But to return to solitude, the only place where I can find it is in my own small room looking out over the mountains. But even here I must keep my windows closed if I am not to be joined by the monkeys.
There’s one particular monkey that has been looking at me speculatively through the window glass all morning. Being short-sighted I can’t tell if it’s a male or a female, but it makes no difference, they all have a strange desire to make off with my pyjamas. Is it because I like brightly coloured pyjamas? Or is it some sort of Freudian simian obsession which can only be explained by that psychologist on the TV channel?
Anyway, my pyjamas disappear at the rate of one a month. I have only to leave the window open for half a minute, and away goes my pyjama, over the trees and far away.
There must be a part of the forest where a whole tribe of rhesus monkeys is prancing around in my many-coloured pyjamas. They are probably having their own fashion show.

Saturday Special: Insane Race in South Asia-Destroy Young Minds

They are really Siamese twins as far as their destructive actions are concerned and this was so beautifully explained in a Pakistani poem about India: Tum bhi hum jaise nikle( You are like us). If they are not a spitting image of each other they are at least joined at the hip, these inspired people who are rewriting history textbooks in India and Pakistan.
The inevitable target of their bogus and potentially violent writings are the minorities — non-Hindus in India and non-Muslims in Pakistan. Consider the latest attempt at subversion from India. According to reports on Thursday, ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled (BJP) Rajasthan state have proposed that the outcome should be rewritten in the medieval battle of Haldighati that was fought between the forces of Mughal emperor Akbar and Rajput chieftain Rana Pratap.
It ended in a stalemate with the latter retreating deeper into Mewar, but Hindutva historians are determined to show him as the clear victor. It is less widely admitted that his Rajput General Mansingh led Akbar’s 1576 campaign. If Hindutva historians have their way they would project even Alexander of Macedonia as an anti-India Muslim marauder.
Cinematic versions of Alexander’s war with King Porus have already attempted this in a way, showing the foreigner speaking in Urdu, implying a Muslim language, while the vanquished Indian ruler spoke chaste Hindi, erroneously projected as a Hindu language.
It would be equally embarrassing for Hindutva historians to admit that Maratha king Shivaji communicated with his arch-foe Emperor Aurangzeb in Persian while conducting his Maratha empire’s administration in Modhi, a less discussed precursor of Marathi.
It is routine among Hindutva historians to claim mediaeval monuments as Hindu structures grabbed by Muslims. According to P.N. Oak, an early myth-maker in this genre, Taj Mahal was a Hindu palace as was the Asafi Imambarha of Lucknow. According to Oak, Christianity is Chrisn-nity, an ascription to Lord Krishna. “Christianity is in fact a popular variation of the Hindu, Sanscrit [sic] term Chrisn-neety, i.e. the way of life preached, advocated or exemplified by the Hindu incarnation Lord Chrisn, spelled variously as Crsn, Krsn, Krishn, Chrisn, Crisna or Krisna also,” Mr Oak wrote.
To keep the spirit from flagging, even Wagner’s theory of continental drift was harnessed to claim that light-skinned Indians originally came from the border of Bihar and Orissa. Later, the border drifted away to form the North Pole, thus implying that Caucasian and Central Asian genes travelled from India to their current abode, not the other way round.
As in India, rigging the chronology of history has been honed into a craft in Pakistan too, and it is difficult to say who between the two is better in conjuring myths that exhort young minds to violence. A recent study in Pakistan found that the country’s public school textbooks negatively portrayed religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis, as “untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming”.
The report, “Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public School Textbooks”, analysed 78 textbooks from all four provinces covering grades five through 10. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sponsored the study, which was conducted by a Pakistan-based NGO, Peace and Education Foundation (PEF). The study found 70 new instances of bias in addition to finding that some problematic content found in a 2011 study conducted by USCIRF had remained and even been expanded upon.
“Pakistan’s public school textbooks contain deeply troubling content that portrays non-Muslim citizens as outsiders, unpatriotic, and inferior; are filled with errors; and present widely-disputed historical ‘facts’ as settled history,” USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George said in a statement on the report’s release. “Missing from these textbooks are any references to the rights of religious minorities and their positive contributions to Pakistan’s development.”
“These textbooks sadly reflect the alarming state today of religious freedom in Pakistan,” he concluded. “A country’s education system, including its textbooks, should promote religious tolerance, not close the door to cooperation and coexistence.”
The 52-page report contains many examples of a troubling portrayal of religious minorities in the public school textbooks. A passage in an eighth grade Islamic Studies book, published in 2015 as part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa curriculum, describes Jihad in a fraught way. “Jihad will continue till the end of times. Jihad is going on in different parts of the world. Many Mujahidin of Islam are participating in Jihad for sake of Allah, for protection of their religion, to help their oppressed brothers, and to get freedom from tyranny,” it read. “As a student if you cannot practically participate in Jihad you can at least financially help in preparation of Jihad.”
A passage from a tenth grade Punjab textbook, also published in 2015, states: “Because the Muslim religion, culture and social system are different from non-Muslims, it is impossible to cooperate with Hindus.”
The subversion of textbooks, and thereby of young minds, inevitably point to violence as the way forward. The Indian move to alter the result of Haldighati came days after violent protests broke out in Rajasthan over a coming film, Padmavati, a quasi-mythical elegy written by Malik Mohammed Jaisi in 1540. The poem in Awadhi eulogises the Rajput princess to surpass Helen of Troy.Would this insane war to warp minds never end?

India Battling Deglobalisation

India needs deeper engagement between politics, business, science to manage disruptions of new technologies, Trump presidency.
As Rex Tillerson, until recently the head of one of the world’s largest companies, Exxon Mobil, settles down as America’s secretary of state, one wonders if Delhi might ever appoint a businessman as its top diplomat. Can you imagine Mukesh Ambani running India’s diplomatic business and sitting in the Cabinet Committee on Security? Quite unlikely; for Delhi has long kept Mumbai at arms length from the mechanics of governance.
The unproven but powerful argument in Delhi has been that businessmen would bring their “narrow commercial interests” to national governance that ought to work for “public good”. The Raj was not very different. Great Britain might have been called a “nation of shopkeepers”, but in running the Raj, its civil servants kept the merchants at some distance. In the foreign office, both before and after Independence, political work was more valued than the commercial and consular. The “politicals”, as the officers dealing with geopolitics in and around the Subcontinent came to be known, always had the faster track.
Delhi’s unwelcome attitude was not limited to businessmen. The powerful permanent bureaucracy was wary of allowing any “alien bodies” into the government. Over the decades, the economic ministries did learn to induct a few technocrats, but the security sector — foreign, defence and home ministries — was kept tightly shut to outsiders.
Unlike in Delhi, senior and middle-level slots in the national security establishment were always open to outsiders in Washington. President John F. Kennedy brought Robert McNamara from the Ford Motor Company to head the Pentagon in 1961. Most middle-level officials in Washington’s national security bureaucracy come from the private sector; they serve for a while in the administration and move out of the revolving door.
Despite that tradition, Tillerson has been subjected to some serious questioning on his business connections with Russia. The national security adviser, General John F. Kelly, too has come scrutiny for his contacts with Russian officials. Over the last two centuries, the US has developed a system for letting outside professionals into the middle and senior-levels of bureaucracy. There are rigorous checks on potential conflict of interest for those nominated to man the government posts. Brutally tough screening seeks to eliminate those that might turn potential national security risks.
In India, there indeed were attempts to break the fortress of the security establishment. Delhi sniggered quite a bit when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi brought Arun Singh and Arun Nehru from the private sector to run the defence and home ministries respectively. Those were exceptions rather than the rule.
Beyond the question of businessmen joining the government, the real issue is whether Delhi and Mumbai can work together in promoting India’s national interests. In the era of reform that began in the early 1990s, there has been sustained effort to connect diplomacy with business. With the pressure to attract foreign capital and technology and explore markets for Indian goods, there was a new emphasis on economic diplomacy. Embassies were asked to step up commercial work and the business chambers became a visible part of the diplomatic process. CEO forums were set up to strengthen key bilateral relations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was more direct in demanding that diplomacy serve economic interests of the nation.
Big problems, however, remain. While Beijing continues to stun India by building ports and pipelines all across South Asia and the Indian Ocean, Delhi and Mumbai have struggled to implement infrastructure projects beyond borders. If the Indian business has seemed risk-averse, Delhi seemed unwilling or unable to support them. When the Maldives chose to scrap the airport contract with the GMR in 2012, and handed it over to a Chinese company, Delhi seemed helpless.
Meanwhile there are much bigger challenges — the political backlash in the West against globalisation and the fourth industrial revolution — awaiting Delhi and Mumbai. As the certitudes of global political economy begin to wither under US President Donald Trump’s assault, India must act quickly to cope with the massive disruptions that are likely to unfold. Over the last quarter of a century, both Delhi and Mumbai thought they had the luxury of reacting at their own pace to the imperatives of economic globalisation. This time around, the devil of de-globalisation is bound to consume the hindmost.
As the so-called fourth industrial revolution — involving robotics, artificial intelligence and synthetic biology — promises to upend multiple modern sectors of economic activity, Delhi and Mumbai will also need to act in concert with Bengaluru. Until now, Delhi has relied on a handful of science czars and senior civil servants to devise policies for promoting science, regulating the commercial application of new technologies, and negotiating the terms of international regimes. Mumbai was quite happy to be the last in adapting its business models to technological change.
Today, Delhi and Mumbai look out of touch with the technological revolution, a large part of which is driven by innovators in places like Bengaluru. Without a deeper and dynamic three-way engagement between politics, business and science, India might find itself losing ground in the new era of de-globalisation and technological transformation.

War & Peace: Lines Blurred by Technology

Uniformed bands with weapons but no insignia roam the streets. Unexplained explosions and failures in energy and communications networks might be accidents, or might be part of an attack. Amid the confusion, news reports and social media spew a mass of contradictory information about what is going on. One side asserts that the other has effectively declared war. The alleged aggressor consistently denies any responsibility.
Commonly described as “hybrid warfare”, this description of the current situation involving Russia and Ukraine could be a foretaste of future conflict around the world. But what makes “hybrid” warfare different, why does it matter, and what should we do about it?
Blurred lines
What makes the hybrid model of conflict distinct is the way it seeks advantage by blurring the lines. Armed groups in uniform but without markings blur the line between civilian and military. The use of proxies blurs the line between national conflicts and regional or even global rivalries. Disinformation operations blur the lines between advocacy and propaganda. State-sponsored hacks into industrial “national champions” and economic sanctions blur the lines between economic competition, crime and geopolitical rivalry. In short, the hybrid approach blurs the lines between war and peace.
Blurred lines offer an advantage to those who are prepared to use force to gain a political objective, but are not prepared to handle the fallout (economic or otherwise) that would be triggered by a large-scale conventional or nuclear retaliation. In that sense, hybrid approaches are a logical choice for a globalized economy, overseen by an exclusive club of rival powers armed with weapons of mass destruction, and challenged by the proliferation of destructive technologies.
At first glance, none of the elements of hybrid warfare look particularly new – throughout history, conventional military campaigns have been augmented by other tactics from misinformation to economic coercion to manipulation of proxies. However, many new opportunities for waging war with the explicit purpose of blurring lines are now being created by the ongoing explosion of connectivity and technological innovation. The accelerating pace of technological change and modern life is evolving in ways that make it all the more dangerous for all of us.
An expanding battlefield
To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in hybrid war, but hybrid war is interested in you. This becomes more obvious as the battlefield for hybrid warfare expands into areas like the internet and commercial jet travel, where ordinary people spend increasing proportion of their work and leisure time. Alongside cyberspace, frontiers of future hybrid wars may increasingly include space and the seabed, where satellites, fibre-optic cables and energy pipelines are vulnerable to attack.
When you put big actors’ preference for proxy conflict together with the fact that there are more “lone wolf” participants or small groups on the battlefield, we may see the lethality of inter-state conflict combine with the fanatical fervour of irregular warfare. Adversaries may be a shifting and confusing mix of states, state-sponsored groups and self-funded actors with overlapping strategic aims, between them using a mixture of modern conventional weapons and insurgent tactics such as ambushes, improvised explosive devices, assassinations, cyberattacks to steal data and destabilize infrastructure, and propaganda through social media. With the democratization of access to destructive power to more individuals and groups, doctrines of mutually assured destruction become useless.
The possibility of containing security activity in the public sector institutions, like the military and intelligence services, is diminishing. From finance to energy to transport to communications networks, much of the connectivity-dependent and critical infrastructure that now underpins modern economies is privately owned and controlled. More than half of all satellites orbiting Earth are already commercial. Private companies are at the forefront of developing and marketing technologies, which are intended for civilian use but also have uses in hybrid war – such as civilian-use drones, around 200,000 of which are being sold worldwide every month. Hybrid war is also blurring the normative delineation between public and private sectors.
At the same time, the advantages offered by blurring the lines are set to grow further still. For one thing, the spread of networked technology is lowering entry barriers. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will give more people the ability to do more bad things, from manufacturing weapons locally using online instructions to remotely bringing down essential services or potentially even triggering ballistic missiles. Much of the networked infrastructure was designed in an era (the peaceful post-Cold War decade) when we were less concerned about security. Technological advances and greater connectivity has created more vulnerabilities and opportunities for sabotage. Attacks in cyberspace can be difficult to detect, defend against, or attribute responsibility for without controversy. As attribution becomes harder, deterrence is less effective. The networked nature of systems like infrastructure can be turned into a “force multiplier” for someone who understands how to coordinate attacks to create a cascading crisis effect.
If hybrid approaches have succeeded in blurring lines, maybe the response should be to redraw them, but not necessarily in the same places.
Redrawing the lines
As intelligence, situational awareness and early warnings grow in importance, we need to find new ways to increase trust among entities whose combined resources and expertise are needed to keep people safe and economies functioning.
What is beyond a doubt is that states cannot manage the growing level of hybrid threats on their own. Collaboration among states and with private enterprises is not only required – it’s essential.
Redrawing the lines on attribution, for example, require investment in intelligence and surveillance to achieve early warning. Doing so enables the preparation of a response that could either deter the attack or reduce its chances of success. One implication of this new reality is that the lines that separated the military, police and intelligence agencies – and increasingly private sector companies – will need to be redrawn.
Some areas are so new they need new lines where none existed before. For instance, cyberspace or the internet of things urgently requires clearer rules of engagement in the context of international security, analogous to the treaties and conventions that have long been sought to govern the use of conventional arms in physical frontiers of war. One example would be discussions among governments and leading private companies to define a common understanding and nomenclature of the circumstances in which it is considered acceptable and unacceptable for states to break encryption on private electronic communications.
Failure to respond to this blurring of lines will result in the current multilateral system and rules of war becoming gradually outdated. As geopolitical power shifts to emerging states and non-state actors, and strategic competition for regional spheres of influence returns, the aspirations which informed the UN Charter – of a world defined by universal values of democracy and rule of law – seem increasingly hollow. But what new principles and values should underlie the ways in which disputes are resolved? As the incentives for hybrid warfare grows inexorably wider and more complex, we either redraw the lines, or face a future of warfare where there is no distinct or real peace.

India Needs Not Committees, but A New Ministry

Interests of national security demand the urgent creation of an overarching Ministry of Defence Technology & Industrial Production, and other reforms
In 2012, former Indian defence minister, Jaswant Singh, had reportedly told American journalist Tom Hundley, “There is no Cold Start doctrine… It was an off-the-cuff remark from a former chief of staff. I have been defence minister of the country; I should know.” India’s new army chief, by boldly shattering the wall of silence that surrounded the “Cold Start” concept for over a decade, and articulating his views regarding some other sensitive issues, may have triggered an era of “glasnost” in India’s defence discourse leading, hopefully, to a “national security renaissance” in the form of overdue reforms.
The year 2015 saw China issue a National Military Strategy, Australia putting out a Defence White Paper and the US delivering a Military Strategy as well as a Maritime Strategy. Amidst all this glasnost, India’s national security establishment has maintained a deafening silence for 70 years. This inexplicable reticence is ascribed, by some, to India’s pacifist tradition that has now mutated into “strategic restraint”, and by others, to political disinterest and bureaucratic indifference.
A facile excuse offered for this caginess is that open public discussion may compromise national security. In actual fact, it is obsessive secrecy, coupled with the accretion of power, that leads to what is known as a “security dilemma”. In this phenomenon, actions by one state, intended to heighten its own security, lead other states to respond with similar measures, resulting in heightened tensions and possibility of conflict. The perilous India-China-Pakistan triangular rivalry is rooted in many security dilemmas that have arisen from the unstated arms race — conventional as well as nuclear — currently underway. As a status-quoist power sandwiched between two revisionist neighbours, it is in India’s vital interest to initiate a bilateral or triangular security dialogue that will encourage transparency, build confidence and cool temperatures, especially in the nuclear domain.
The Cold Start issue, apart from its own salience, has implications for the long-awaited reforms in India’s national security arena that call for reflection at this juncture. The provenance of this concept goes back to the December 2001 terror assault on the Indian Parliament. In an uncharacteristic show of resolve and muscle, the government of the day ordered the mobilisation of its million-strong armed forces in the hope of coercing or compelling a recalcitrant Pakistan to behave. However, a three-week delay in positioning the Indian army’s “strike corps” at their launch pads not only revealed the ponderous nature of India’s mobilisation plans, but also permitted Pakistan to counter-mobilise, draw international attention to the South Asian “hotspot” and thwart an angry India.
Subsequently, army planners came up with an innovative concept that would forward-locate key units and enable full mobilisation within 48-72 hours from a “cold start”. At the heart of this concept was restructuring the strike corps into smaller “integrated battle groups” (IBGs) — compact, highly mobile formations with their own armour, artillery and aviation support — that could respond swiftly to Pakistani provocations without crossing the “nuclear threshold”.
Apart from the political resistance that it evokes, the Cold Start concept will make gut-wrenching demands on an army still steeped in World War II paradigms of attrition warfare, hamstrung by an antiquated higher defence organisation. The IBGs will employ “manoeuvre warfare”, whose essence is agility and flexibility in planning as well as execution. This will demand dynamic leadership at all levels, as well as radical changes and the shattering of many shibboleths within our conservative army. Perhaps it is in acknowledgment of these challenges that the army had, so far, remained coy about taking ownership of this concept. In this regard, the new army chief seems to have taken the bull by the horns and may be contemplating a fresh start for Cold Start.
Cold Start represents a compellence strategy, meant to deter Pakistan from continued violations of Indian sovereignty by sponsoring cross-border terrorism. However, it has been deliberately misinterpreted by wily Pakistani generals, who now brandish tactical nuclear weapons, such as the Hatf IX missile — a dangerous stratagem, discredited and discarded by the nuclear powers during the Cold War.
As the Indian army’s September 2016 cross-border raids proved, Cold Start remains a practical proposition that needs to be adopted wholeheartedly, even as we acquire the complete wherewithal for its implementation. While more Indian glasnost about Cold Start would bolster deterrence and dissuasion, the formation of IBGs would transform our large armoured and mechanised forces and keep them in an offensive frame of mind. However, the political establishment needs to clearly understand that Cold Start could lead to full-scale war and contains the possibility of “deterrence breakdown” — contingencies they must acknowledge and prepare for, in all seriousness.
This discussion takes place at a juncture when India’s security faces grave perils — both internally and externally. The discourse will, however, remain purely academic unless India’s national security structure — anachronistic in the context of Cold Start — undergoes a virtual renaissance in three crucial areas.
Firstly, decision-making in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) continues to be languid and capricious, mainly because it is manned exclusively by an itinerant, generalist bureaucracy, unqualified to manage the complex issues of defence and security. The answer lies in integrating the three armed forces HQs with the MoD, so that expertise is pooled and civil servants and uniformed personnel work harmoniously, side by side. Decision-making will, automatically, see a dramatic transformation.
Secondly, the three armed forces badly need integration with each other, not just to enable implementation of modern warfare concepts like Cold Start, but to engender commonality in training, planning and equipment, as well as synergy or “jointness” in war-fighting. As experienced worldwide, the essential prerequisite for initiating jointness is the institution of a functionary — Chairman Chiefs of Staff or Chief of Defence Staff — who will, in consultation with the three service chiefs, provide military advice to the Raksha Mantri (RM) and PM. He will work alongside his co-equal, the defence secretary, who will constitute the source of advice on defence policy and finance to the RM and PM.
The third area that needs to be addressed is India’s half-empty arsenal, which calls for a drastic restructuring of India’s military-industrial complex. The feckless bureaucrats and scientists, entrusted for 70 years with defence production and defence R&D, have reduced the nation to the status of a supplicant where military hardware is concerned. Neither grandiose-sounding schemes, nor tinkering with procurement procedures will help — major surgery is the need of the day.
Interests of national security demand the urgent creation of an overarching “Ministry of Defence Technology & Industrial Production”, consisting of three departments (headed by a junior minister) charged with the development and production of land systems, maritime systems and aerospace systems. Each department should oversee many “clusters” composed of research laboratories (re-assigned from DRDO) coupled with appropriate production units (ordnance factories as well as defence PSUs). Each cluster should represent a “public-private partnership”, with FDI being sought wherever necessary.
The time for committees and task forces is long past because the way ahead is quite clear. A resolute political leadership should be able to overcome resistance from entrenched bureaucracies — civilian and military — and push through the renaissance that will place India’s national security on a sound footing and justify our colossal defence expenditure.

Future of Our Workplace: Urban Farm in Japan Show the Way

The human workplace is always designed to optimise our scarce resources for optimum returns. The increasing population needs a definite integration of  agraraian economy and office work-place and Japan leads the way. In face of depleting water reserves, unsustainable farming practices and the growing need to reduce our food miles – urban farming is emerging as a powerful alternative -thanks to reduced prices of indoor farming tech. Today there are well over 200 vertical farms operating around the world.
With tomato vines suspended above conference tables, lemon and passion fruit trees as partitions for meeting spaces, salad leaves grown inside seminar rooms and a rice paddy in the main lobby – Pasona Group in downtown Tokyo has an active Urban Farm growing in their HQ.
Pasona HQ is a nine story high, 215,000 square foot corporate office building. It is home to the largest and most direct farm-to-table of its kind ever realized inside an office building.
The Design
Spanning over 20% of their office area, the green space totals over 43,000 square feet, with crops and office workers sharing a common space. Using both hydroponic and soil based farming, over 200 species including fruits, vegetables and rice farmed, harvested, prepared and served at the cafeterias within the building.
Ducts, pipes and vertical shafts were rerouted to the perimeter of the building to allow for maximum height ceilings and a climate control system is used to monitor humidity, temperature and air flow in the building to ensure it is safe for the employees and suitable for the farm.
These crops are equipped with metal halide, HEFL, fluorescent and LED lamps and an automatic irrigation system. Tech to manage an intelligent climate control system to monitor humidity, temperature and breeze to balance human comfort during office hours and optimize crop growth after hours.
Seasonal flowers and orange trees are planted on the balconies between the deep double skinned facade. Partially relying on natural exterior climate, these plants create a living green wall and a dynamic identity to the public.
The lighting has been designed with hidden lights on the bottom vertical edge of the beams creating a large lit cove in the space between the beams. This method used throughout the workspace achieves 30% energy saving as compared to the conventional ceiling mounted lighting method.
The Benefits
As the crops harvested in Pasona HQ are served within the building cafeterias, it highlights ‘zero food mileage’ concept of a more sustainable food distribution system that reduces energy and transportation cost.
Though the farm is a loss to the net rentable area for a commercial office, Pasona believes in the benefits of urban farm and green space to engage the public and to provide better workspace for their employees.
Beyond aesthetic and visual improvement, it exposes city workers to growing crops and interaction with farmland on a daily basis and provides improvement in mental health, productivity and relaxation in the workplace.
Studies show that most people in urbanized societies spend over 80% of their time indoors. Plants are also known to improve the air quality we breathe and a sampling on the air at Pasona HQ has shown reduction of carbon dioxide where plants are abundant. An improvement on the air quality can increase productivity at work by 12%, improves common symptoms of discomfort and ailments at work by 23%, reduce absenteeism and staff turnover cost.
Employees are asked to participate in the maintenance and harvesting of crops with the help of agricultural specialists. Such activity encourages social interaction and improves teamwork. It also provides them with a sense of responsibility and accomplishment in growing and maintaining the crops that are ultimately prepared and served at the building’s cafeterias.
Urban Farming
Also opportunities for job placement into farming are very limited because of the steady decline of farming within the country. Pasona focuses on educating and cultivating next generation of farmers by offering public seminars, lectures and internship programs. The programs empower students with case studies, management skills and financial advice to promote both traditional and urban farming as lucrative professions and business opportunities.
In two years, the program recruited 150 and 200 students respectively, aiming to reverse the declining trend in the number of farmers and to ensure sustainable future food production.
Currently, Japan produces less than 1/3 of their grain locally and imports over 50 million tons of food annually, which on average is transported over 9,000 miles, the highest in the world. Japan’s reliance on imported food is due to its limited arable land. Merely 12% of its land is suitable for cultivation.
Farmland in Pasona HQ is highly efficient urban arable land, stacked as a vertical farm with modern farming technology to maximize crop yields..
This Urban Farm is a unique workplace environment that promotes higher work efficiency, social interaction and engages the wider community of Tokyo by showcasing the benefits and technology of urban agriculture.
The project believes in the long term benefits and sustainability in recruiting new urban farmers to practice alternative food distribution. Thereby creating more urban farmland and reducing food mileage in Japan.

Not Islamophobia, but Islamo-catatonia

What is Al Walaa wal Baraa? I see awareness of it as the magic pill that will awaken non-Islamics to violent aspect of Islam’s having no place in the civilized order of society, while accepting the peaceful style Islam as another religion like Christianity that has come to terms with new norms, shedding its violent core. In brief, it’s against one of the things most valued in the West: tolerance. Al Walaa wal Baraa, a core concept of Islam, demands the hatred and denigration of non-Islamics.
And Al Walaa essentially is brainwashing. Have you been brainwashed? Two big signs of brainwashing: over-reaction (often massive) and certainty of one’s rightness. Harder to spot, if you’re looking for signs of your being brainwashed: illogical arguments. These tend to sound logical to the brainwashed.
And how is brainwashing best countered? With facts – which brainwashing builds a wall against. We can also directly address that we see evidence of brainwashing.
Why focus on brainwashing? The inroads by Islam – such as the bill coming before the Canadian parliament – depend on the brainwashing of non-Islamics, including members of parliament.
Now, more detail regardings signs of brainwashing. When I was asked if there is some way you can tell if you’ve been brainwashed, I had an almost instant answer. I thought of my inside hissing, for instance before I watched FrackNation, a pro-fracking film. I’d seen Gasland, an anti-fracking film, a couple of years earlier, and was sure the evidence proved conclusively that fracking was destructive of human health and the environment in general. But I was at an event where FrackNation was being shown, so I watched – nice and relaxed on the outside – while having a hissy fit just under my calm exterior. I ended up being astounded at the evidence presented – and my inside hissing subsided.
So how can we tell if we’ve been brainwashed? One answer: our response is out of line – emotionally over-intense. Instead of checking into what is being claimed, and exploring the evidence, we’re sure we’re dealing with someone on the side of evil. Another answer: the best way may be to look back at brainwashing that we’ve somehow managed to escape – like by somehow coming to learn facts that brainwashing makes it hard for us to hear.
If we’re open to exploring, we’re not brainwashed. The brainwashed mind is closed – it is, in essence, akin to the mind of a religious fundamentalist. I Know The Truth. I have Right on my side. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic philosopher from the Middle Ages, held that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature and can be reached universally through human reason. Aquinas was for questioning everything.
So if you’re not open to questioning something, if instead you respond vehemently, there’s a good chance at least some brainwashing has happened. Still, many times, we aren’t willing to go over the same terrain yet another time. No, the earth isn’t flat. No, Islam isn’t a religion of peace. Islam means submission. Being unwilling to repeat facts we’ve presented a hundred times isn’t evidence of brainwashing. If we’re dealing with someone brainwashed, chances are they won’t hear whatever we have to say anyway. And even if the person is asking sincerely, we may want to pass on some resource (a great post or video), instead of repeating ourselves.
For the outsider, another common sign of brainwashing is the illogical stuff people utter, as if these were words of wisdom. For instance, at least one Canadian MP, Deepak Obhrai, has claimed that all religions should be respected. What? What about the Greek religions, where many of the gods went around raping? What about the Aztec religion, which practiced human sacrifice? The problem with this sign of brainwashing: most of those who utter illogical nonsense as if it made sense are unable to see that their thinking is severely flawed (to put it politely). They’re also likely to disappear when confronted. For instance, when I sent an email to Obhrai, asking him to explain how one is to respect some verses from Surah 9 – verses such as “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5) and “Idolaters (including Jews and Christians) are filth – najisun.” (9:28) and “Islam must be triumphant over all other religions” (9:33) – he did not answer.
Sometimes, by the way, someone does concede something is amiss, when brainwashed nuttiness is pointed out. A few days ago, I was chatting with a university student, when she started going on about how she would love to get rid of money and go back to the old barter system – so much better – more humane and connected. Like you have a chicken and . . . “Well,” I answered, “I do stuff like web design. How am I supposed to trade that for, say, lunch? I need to find someone who has lunches and needs web design. That may take all day, and I will end up very very hungry. As for the person with lunches – they can’t sell them. They get offered socks and books and web design and maybe a spare tire. Really time consuming and cumbersome and generally ineffective for everyone.”
The shocking thing: the person who wanted to revert to the barter system was, as I’ve said, a university student, not someone with a severe intellectual disability. It seemed that no one had presented her with my very elementary thoughts on the subject. She also clearly hadn’t thought about what her vision called for. In this case, she didn’t refuse what I said. Instead, confusion.
Why this interest in recognizing brainwashed-ness, starting with our own? It may help us figure out how to reach others. Perhaps most, instead of trying to counter the specific indication of brainwashing – like blanket horror at the thought of Trump – we can say: hey, do you know that you’re showing a major sign of brainwashing? We can talk about the signs of brainwashing, and our own experience of being brainwashed, and what helped. We can tell the person they seem to be having difficulty hearing what we’re saying – an almost sure sign of brainwashing.
Is this likely to help? Or will it just lead to more upset? I don’t know. Right now I’m faced with the fact that almost the entire Canadian government is showing signs of brainwashing: they’re likely to pass a bill in just a few days – February 16 – against Islamophobia. As everyone at all alert to the threat posed by Islam knows, this is yet more groundwork for imposing what is essentially a Sharia anti-blasphemy law on all of Canada. If that happens, criticism of Islam would constitute a speech crime in Canada – though, according to what I’ve read, there are twice as many anti-Semitic incidents than incidents against Islam.
Really, I see signs, not of Islamophobia, but of Islamo-catatonia. That is, most people don’t react to the content of Islam, don’t explore, don’t read the Quran. They appear catatonic in the face of islam. They spout inanities about the virtues of tolerance, totally disregarding, for instance, that Islamic ideology is inherently intolerant, and stops all and any tolerance of non-Islamic ideologies when it has the power to do so.

Sci-fiction Closely Linked with Economic History

The fiction of today is the fact of tomorrow, as the facts of today were the fiction of yesteryears.The dreams and nightmares of science fiction tell us a lot about our times. Exactly 200 years ago, in 1816, a teen-aged girl called Mary Shelley began writing the story of Frankenstein in a villa in Cologny, a short walk from where the World Economic Forum now has its offices. Her ghoulish but subtle tale featured a scientist bringing a sentient, suffering creature to life from parts found in the “dissecting room and the slaughter-house”.
“Frankenstein” was written at the end of the First Industrial Revolution, capturing the fears and squeamishness of a society going through massive transformations whilst making its first forays into surgery. The book took inspiration from earlier critics of the dawn of industrialisation, among them John Milton and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
How writers predicted propeller planes and the iPad
Today, Shelley’s Frankenstein is seen as the start of a genre, the first work of science fiction. By imaginatively combining the rigour of science with the freedom of fiction, the genre plays a big role in expressing the hopes and fears we project into our creations.
The best sci-fi stories mix two ingredients. The first is great science which sometimes leads to surprising accuracy: Jules Verne imagined a propeller-driven aircraft in the early 19th century, when balloons were the best that aviation had to offer. In the 1960s, Arthur C. Clarke envisioned the iPad, and Ray Bradbury the Mars landing. It may just be a matter of time until “Samantha”, the AI voice in Spike Jonze’s film Her, will be real, or until we bump into a version of “Ava”, the humanoid robot from Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina”.
The second ingredient is a keen understanding of contemporary hopes and fears. This is what makes these books and films great tools for dissecting the sentiments of an era. The two most successful sci-fi stories ever, George Lucas’ Star Wars and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, are amongst the best examples of how pop culture combined perceptions of technological progress with contemporary hopes and fears.
The idealism of the Star Trek universe
The first episode of Star Trek came out in 1966. At this time, the first two and a half decades after the Second World War which are sometimes referred to as the “golden quarter”, growth in Europe and the United States exploded, Germany experienced its Wirtschaftswunder, and Japan grew into an industrial powerhouse.
The fruits of the so-called Second Industrial Revolution – electricity and the internal combustion engine – produced a slew of new technological wonders. The Concorde may have been the most iconic. For most of modern history, the top speed of passenger travel had been 25 mph. By 1900, some pioneers accelerated their vehicles to 100 mph. When the Concorde took off in 1969, it speeded up to over 1,400 mph. The developed world seized progress, unleashing far-reaching changes not only in technology, but also in politics, society and culture; the UN came into being, millions of colonized peoples in Asia, Africa and the Middle East won political independence and the civil rights movement was born.
The Star Trek universe was not only a world of wondrous technologies; it also was a world of high-minded idealism, absent of social classes and divisions of gender and race, a planetary federation governed by the rule of law. Infused with the enthusiasm of its era, the series embodied a deep belief in technology as an engine for societal progress. Yes, the quest for progress involves significant risks, but the potential for advancement are more significant. As Captain James T. Kirk enthusiastically shouted out in the second Star Trek season: “Risk! Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about!”
Big progress inspired even bigger dreams. Force fields and warp drives became common expressions, and reputable magazines assured readers that the future would bring colonies to Mars and devices to transform matter. But the fervour did not last. On 15 August 1971, US President Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold; the post-war Bretton Woods system collapsed. Shortly thereafter, the world economy was rattled by an oil crisis that further depressed growth and employment. The twin crisis of high inflation and low employment demolished trust in markets and the ability of governments to correct them.
After two decades of breakneck growth, pressures on natural resources also began to show. A year after the Nixon Shock, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth, a now famous report that warned of environmental catastrophe unless leaders radically cut the use of resources; the green movement started to form. Suddenly, technology was part of the problem, straining the limits of the planet and the mind. Alvin Toffler’s 1970 bestseller Future Shock hit a nerve when it stated that our brains were ill-prepared for such a pace of change.
Star Wars as a canvas for our nightmares
These developments were the backdrop for the first Star Wars film. When it came out in 1977, it quickly became a box office hit and the highest-grossing film ever made. Comparing the visual language of both blockbusters is revealing: the flashy colours of the Star Trek fleet turn into the dark tones of Darth Vader; coexistence turns into civil war; dreams turn into nightmares. While Star Trek continued to attract a large following, a new generation of science-fiction turned space from a source of wonder and adventure into a canvas for our worst nightmares. In 1979, Alien finally made space the place where “no one can hear you scream.”
The Nixon years have much in common with today. The threats we face, from climate change to overpopulation, resemble dangers highlighted by the Club of Rome. Now as then, economic and political uncertainties abound: trust in markets is down since the 2007-09 financial crisis; trust in governments is battered by rising inequality and geopolitical insecurity; technology is disrupting the job market in both advanced and emerging economies.
The World is flat: Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book title, celebrating globalization as a force for progress and the Foreign Affairs magazine contemporary interpretation
In the heady globalization years after the Collapse of the Soviet Union, technological progress made the world more flat and egalitarian; now it makes it more spiky and risky – and Star Wars is again the highest grossing film ever.

Trumpism and Moditva: A Parallax View of Past, Present and Future

There are some remarkable similarities – and dissimilarities – between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Both men ran insurgent presidential campaigns that upended conventional political structures (I use ‘presidential’ advisedly for Modi; does the Bharatiya Janata Party matter any longer to our prime minister, when all around us people refer to his government as ‘Modi sarkar’?). Both men were swept into power by the disenchanted, the disgusted and the disgruntled. Both men share a healthy contempt for journalists, calling them liars and ‘news traders’. Both men prefer to communicate via social media, though Modi is suave and Trump savage. Both men named singularly incompetent education ministers. Smriti Irani has already exited that role, and we will see how long Betsy DeVos lasts. Both men swore to stamp out corruption (although one of them has clearly cleaner credentials for this). Both have rubbished the systems they inherited; although Trump went too far in painting a dark picture of ‘American carnage’, and Modi has lost no opportunity to colour the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the Congress legacy in lurid hues. Both men have railed against the elites they want to demolish – Trump versus the ‘inside the Beltway’ cabals, and Modi versus the ‘Lutyens Delhi’ denizens. At heart, both men are populists, quick to please their constituencies.
Both men swear they will transform the lives of the poor. Trump spoke at his inauguration of ‘mothers and children trapped in poverty’, and Modi has become progressively more stridently pro-poor in his agenda. He hammered this in again on Tuesday in parliament, saying “However big you are, you will have to give back their rights to the poor, and I will not turn back from this path…I will continue to fight for the poor.”
The dissimilarities are interesting too. Trump is a ruthless businessman who knows how to cut corners in order to cut deals; Modi is a battle-hardened politician who had already run a state government before moving to the nation’s top job. Trump came from a privileged background; Modi rose from a hard-scrabble past. Modi has pursued an assertively friendly foreign policy, even, initially, with Pakistan. Trump is poking fingers in the eyes of both America’s friends and foes. Although both men were labelled right-wing, Trump and his alter ego Steve Bannon represent the extremities of a bigoted, xenophobic and protectionist world-view, while Modi has ploughed a more inclusive and globalized furrow. Trump is now supreme in Fortress America, while Modi is unchallenged in an India that is eager to look beyond the ramparts as it competes in an increasingly polarised and slowing global economy.
There is another striking similarity between Modi and Trump. Both men have issued executive orders that alter their countries’ immigration policies. Trump’s order, issued a few days after he took power, banned all immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries for 90 days and suspended all refugee arrivals for 120 days. Modi’s government issued an executive order in September 2015 granting unconditional citizenship to illegal Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Christian, Jain and Buddhist immgrants from mostly-Muslim Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Trump has also said Christians from the six targeted Muslim countries can enter the United States. Both orders have been questioned on their constitutional validity. While a U.S. appeals court is about to rule this week on a federal judge’s staying of the Trump order, an Indian parliamentary panel is wrestling with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which has been pending in parliament since August last year (the panel is due to submit its report by the last week of the current Budget session of parliament). At issue is whether the Indian bill will violate Article 14 of the Constitution, which confers equality before low to all religions.
This tricky question will rear its head when the BJP government that won power in Assam last year is presented with the results of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) sometime this summer. The antecedents of millions of Muslim immigrants whose papers are suspect are being vetted by a huge team of officials backed by data-parsing technology. Prateek Hajela, the official heading the NRC mission, told me over 50 million documents have been verified so far by his team, which works out to about 90% of the total. About 350,000 documents have been sent to other states to track down immigrants, and 402 to other countries. The NRC team is now picking apart hundreds of thousands of family trees; 95% of that work is complete. In other words, the NRC should be complete by this summer. At that point Modi and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal will be confronted by the Hobson’s choice of what to do with those Muslims identified as illegal immigrants. It is easy to vow, as Sonowal did on the campaign trail last year, that the illegals will be thrown back into Bangladesh. How will it all pan out?
All this turmoil over inclusion and exclusion reminded me of William Wilson Hunter, the 19th century English bureaucrat who wrote, among several other books on India, ‘The Indian Empire: Its People, History and Products’, published in 1892.
Hunter saw a commonality between peoples of different countries and continents. “The forefathers of the Greek and the Roman, of the Englishman and the Brahman, dwelt together in Asia, spoke the same tongue, worshipped the same gods,” he wrote. “The languages of Europe and India, although at first sight they seem wide apart, are merely different growths from the original Aryan languages, whether spoken on the banks of the Ganges, the Tiber, or the Thames.”
Hunter, a prodigious administrator who arrived in Bengal in 1862, is remembered chiefly for the nine-volume The Imperial Gazetteer of 1881. Twelve years earlier he was asked to conduct a Statistical Survey of British dominions in India, one-third of which were in the hands of hereditary rulers. Already by 1891 India’s population was 288 million, which Hunter notes was more than double the people in the Roman empire at the height of its power. The Statistical Survey filled 128 printed volumes aggregating 60,000 pages.
Hunter also wrote about the political structure in late 19th century India: “[The] Government, as suzerain in India, does not allow its feudatories to make war upon each other or to have relations with foreign States. It interferes when any chief misgoverns his people; rebukes, and if needful removes, the oppressor; protects the weak; and firmly imposes peace upon all.” Interesting insights here in a cooperatively federal India where states do feud with one another over issues like water, and are allowed to have ‘relations’ with foreign nations if they promise large investments at events like Vibrant Gujarat.
And talking of insurgent campaigns, the Aam Aadmi Party has just waged just that in Punjab and Goa. I believe Goa is a battle exercise for AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal, and it will be a surprise if he wins there. But Punjab is another matter; there, AAP and Congress are likely to split the anti-incumbency vote, and the BJP and the Akali Dal both look like they are headed out the door. But why insurgent? Especially in Punjab, AAP has attracted the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and the dissatisfied from both the religious right as well as the disappeared left. If Kejriwal indeed emerges as the new leader in Punjab, at the head of a ‘full state’ rather than the clumsy hybrid of Delhi, we will see interesting times.

The Age of Plenty is Here

One of the first things my uptight father taught me (and I guess most parents taught their children in those days) was never to borrow money. In today’s terminology, that would mean: Avoid debt. This is almost the same as saying: Stop doing all business. For the world we currently live in is driven by money, usually borrowed. And, as we all know by now, it’s no longer possible to do any kind of business today without going out and borrowing money. Tata Steel has a debt of Rs 75,000 crore. The local grocer might get by on a debt of Rs 7000.

We have now gone a step further and made debt not just a part of our business but also a part of our everyday lives. So, when someone comes to me for a job these days, the first thing she or he says is: I have EMIs of around so much to pay each month. So please ensure my net take home takes care of that.

In short, debt rules our lives today. We are all neck deep in it. From paying EMIs for our cars and flats, smart phones and gaming laptops to the myriad monthly bills for newspapers and magazines, electricity, groceries, laundry, wifi, DTH or cable, Amazon or Netflix. Even the ecommerce sites are now making it easier for us to buy all the stuff we no longer need (like watches, cameras and TVs that are getting bigger and bigger as more and more people switch over to watching content on cell phones) by offering them on, yes, you are right, all kinds of fancily described EMIs. I have still no idea what the acronym stands for but I know it’s hugely burdensome for those who live under its dead weight.

Debt, wise economists say, is on the verge of bringing mighty China to its knees. And, in recent years, India, with a population once famous for their propensity to save money from their meager incomes, has now chucked all discretion to the winds and is on a huge buying spree. This, in turn, has brought all kinds of products and brands to a marketplace very different from what we grew up in.

Today the sex toys market is $230 million, growing at 34.8%; higher than the growth rate for the $140 billion education market. And yes, debt drives them both. People are borrowing money from wherever they can to learn, travel, have fun, dress better and eat enough to make bariatric surgery a huge business. No one cares that every spend they incur has an agonizing indirect tax component which hurts the poor as much as the rich.

The Government knows this. They know how much we love our debt. So, to further encourage it, it has been hurrying to bring down interest rates. Home loans are now 20% cheaper than when I bought my flat some years ago. I can buy my car (and drive it around) on a loan that charges me no EMI for a full year. My iPhone offers me enough seductive deals to want to upgrade it every year. And for every other need of mine, there’s a credit card ready to lend me money instantly. (Though it does require some gumption, and I guess stupidity, to borrow money at 3% a month. Shylock would have been more reasonable.)

My father (had he been alive) would have been surprised to know that saving money is now considered seriously infra dig. The Government actually discourages it. So if you save money from your tax paid income and earn some interest on that saving, you pay tax again on it at exactly the same rate. My wife learnt a lesson recently when the so-called big currency notes were demonetized. She had squirreled away some petty cash over 35 years from her monthly kharcha and, like most women do, hidden it. The moment demonetization was announced, she nearly collapsed.

Luckily, a kind-hearted grocer gave her a year’s stock of provisions for her old notes, at a premium. A medical store also helped. So now we have two years’ stock of medicines that we may or may not use and a vast stock of groceries stacked at home (for us and the rats) instead of a few fully tax paid notes she had hidden from us.

I guess it all began because some bureaucrat told the government that saved money is actually black money if it is not kept in a bank. It’s a silly argument. I know many people, not necessarily from small towns or villages, who like holding cash and never realized that one day we would have a regime that so hated cash it was ready to hurt millions of innocent Indians in the attempt to catch a few tax evaders who are possibly sitting overseas and laughing. For no serious tax evader keeps cash idling at home.

As for the poor, they keep cash because they have no real option. Have you seen how banks treat them when they go to open an account? And even if they manage to open an account with your help or mine, the annual KYCs are meant to kill. Even I, after years of frustration, have finally hired a full time guy to take care of our KYC requirements.

The truth is the Rs 6 trillion crore bad loans in our banks come from a mere handful of willful defaulters. They need to be taken down. Not the whole economy

Canada Can Trump ‘America first’ – The Way Out

Listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural speech, and his various remarks, comments and tweets about China, Mexico, Germany, Russia and international trade, among other topics, it is clear he has in mind a very different international order from the one the West designed and created in the past half-century – one based on free trade, openness, liberal-democratic values and freedom of movement of people. Now, at the core of the new Trump international order, we have the United States as victim, the United States that has been treated unfairly by most of the world.
In his inaugural address, the U.S. President put it this way: “We assembled here today, are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”
If words are what they mean, the President of the United States is putting protection at the heart of his new international order. I doubt any presidential statement has been as fraught with negative implications for America’s friends and allies.
As America’s largest trading partner, historic ally and the world’s largest export country into the United States, no country could be as damaged as Canada by a U.S. embrace of protectionism. Yet, the United States has no legitimate grievance against Canada or cause to say we have been treating them unfairly.
The rise to power of Mr. Trump is not just an aberration. He did not invent the nationalist, isolationist, nativist, populist mood in America. The fires of protectionism in the U.S. Congress have been stoked by the same nativist America First sentiments that brought Mr. Trump to the White House and are now glorified by him.
With an anti-free-trade President in the White House, with strongly committed protectionists occupying key positions in the cabinet with their hands on the levers of power, with powerful protectionist lobbyists at work in Congress, with an ideological assault on the very notion of free trade, the spectre of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 is beginning to cast a very deep shadow over the world trading order.
Canada’s concern about our dependency on a single market has long been a priority theme of our foreign policy. When the government of Pierre Trudeau came to power a half-century ago, approximately half of our total exports went to our southern neighbour. To counter this, the government proposed the diversification of our exports to Europe and Japan (the “third option”). But our dependency on the U.S. market continued to grow dramatically – to 75 per cent of our total exports.
In the face of this failure to diversify, the Mulroney government switched direction and sought secure access through deep integration with the United States. Our exports to the United States then grew to the 80- to 85-per-cent range. In some sectors, (e.g. oil and gas) close to 100 per cent of our exports go south.
After two generations of trying to reduce vulnerability to the U.S. market, it cannot be said we have succeeded. What we have long feared could happen tomorrow. Canada will soon learn from the new representatives of America First what complaints they have against us and what changes they wish us to agree to in the North American free-trade agreement. It is possible they may be marginal but it is more likely they will not.
Our economy could be seriously damaged or devastated by a U.S. border tax or other protectionist measures. What can Canada do to protect ourselves against the apostles of America First?
These should be the priorities:
⦁ We should use our influence in the White House corridors of power, at the highest levels, to deepen the U.S. understanding of the great damage it would do to its own interests by restricting trade with Canada. Personal relationships are of critical importance.
⦁ We should engage in vigorous public diplomacy to carry this message directly to the U.S. Congress, state governors and officials, the media and business leaders; diversification of our trade must be of the highest priority. Canada has made significant progress in building economic relations with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and others. The free-trade agreement with Europe is a major step forward. Similar agreements should be made with China, India and Japan.
⦁ We cannot deepen our trade with foreign customers if we do not have the products to sell. We must overcome domestic political obstacles to the creation of the infrastructure to carry our products to tidewater and beyond; we should seek to renew the special relationship Canada and the United States have enjoyed for much of our history. We should seek to invigorate our bilateral institutions and create new ones.

Sunday Special: As ‘We’ Face ‘Them’ The Walls Break Down

Today’s elite unease comes from having had little exposure to other kinds of thought and life. India, alongside much of the world, seems to be in a state of alarm about “people like that” who are propelling political and social change. The disruption of the old social order seems to have created for many a “tyranny of the masses”, a sudden pervasiveness of “inferiors” — apparently an intellectually, socially, culturally deficient lot, conservative, brash and lacking in the upper-class lingua franca. Confusion prevails in trying to define this phenomenon though. Much like with the definition of the “common man”. Whilst the phrase has expansive prevalence in India, with entities across the continuum brandishing it, who exactly is the saadharan aadmi or aam aurat, the aam vyakti? Those barely above the shameful poverty line, the “middle class”, the powerless, the ones moving up the ladder, all of these — or someone altogether different? Over the years, I have felt the distance, between those defined as the “common person” and those who use this definition, only increase when it comes to relating. The only common thread that seems to run through these categories is of an absolute disconnect.
There is a historical backdrop to the sudden clashes we see. For centuries, our ruling class was not connected with the masses. In that scenario, the real was often used as a mere prop. If Slumdog Millionaire or Peepli Live become the passport, the defining lens to view how much of India lives, then that is indeed quite a few degrees of separation.
However, to bracket this purely as “elites” now clashing with “commoners” would be simplistic. At a recent literature festival, many were lamenting the loss of poetry and the emergence of a lewd lexicon in the songs of our contemporary popular culture. A Bollywood song like “Munni badnaam huyi” makes the genteel uneasy. But the origin of this song can be traced back to “Launda badnaam hua”, a Bhojpuri song sung in small nautankis for scores of years before the reel version happened.
The unease comes from having had little exposure to that part, that kind of living. A few of us were leading a culturally shielded life, where every linguistic morsel was carefully chosen and placed tastefully on our seasoned palate — music, art and poetry were inculcated and a wall existed between the elite and the rest. The food, music, clothing, sensibilities of each were at complete odds.
But there also existed a parallel world, surviving with a simmering sensibility. And in reality, finesse was not the prerogative of a subset of society.
Perhaps we have lost the appetite, the courage, the honesty to see that, creating cosy versions and convenient windows, instead, through which we can peek at a sanitised version of the real, be it films, theatre, books, travel. An interesting example is the proverbial “Ramu kaka” figure in our films — the trusted man-nanny of the elite world. But how many times did we know Ramu kaka’s life’s truths, share his reality, know his surname, the food he enjoyed or the language he spoke in his village? We simply used a narrow media lens to observe a much broader reality.
However, media is two-way traffic. As one lot was peeking into a larger culture, the larger culture too stared back and consumed and tailored the codes of the other side. The signs are telling. Pasta and soup are now mass-marketed; art, music, clothes and travel are now consumed by the larger section of society too. The media’s dark era, where luxury, opulence and creature comforts resided in tales that were far from the grasp of the multitude, and democracy was just a term, has given way. Sometimes, the sacred, repeated too often, becomes placid and a “-cracy” or “-ism” or philosophical belief can find itself locked in a language capsule. It is only when the capsule breaks, and is ingested by an ecosystem, is this a felt reality.
Thankfully, that is happening to democracy now. The walls are more permeable than ever before. Social and status mobility can now be either way — upwards and downwards. And this is not easy to come to terms with. The resistance to change is palpable, at times covert, or else stated with warnings of impending doom.
But we have to be ready to shake ourselves out of a comfort zone and realise that status quo is never the answer. The choice, not to be victimised by change but contribute to and design it, will need to be made.
Change should also not imply throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are immensely far-sighted intellectuals in our country who can clearly see the contemporary picture. Their views should be asked. For one can’t always make it about black or white and be forced to decide once and for all. Us vs them; class vs mass, sane vs the “mindlessly” angry, liberals vs conservatives, ethnicity vs multiculturalism, folks vs trolls, patriotism vs nationalism, futurists vs navel gazers, globalisation vs localisation. We simply have to find an equilibrium. For, at times, the truth is in-between two sharp notes. A “teevra madhyam” (a sharp middle), as one would call it in Indian classical music.
The substance is not in the “or”. It’s in the “and”.

Citizens are not Subjects

SC’s mandating of nationalism and patriotism threatens to turn the wheel of constitutional history backwards. The enterprise of teaching and instilling patriotism is fast picking up. India has fought wars before and both during those wars and in peace time, the citizens of this country have never shown any trace of disloyalty or disaffection toward this country. But suddenly, we seem to be collectively succumbing to this phobia about a shortage of nationalism and patriotism among the public. And so, pills and injections containing vitamins N and P are being forced on to the unsuspecting citizenry.
Every day, there is a new demand on our patriotism. If you complain of the queues at ATMs, you are reminded of the soldier and told that standing in a queue is the measure of your loyalty to the nation. Recently, the UGC issued a fatwa that on November 26, Constitution Day, all educational institutions must instill knowledge of not the Constitution generally, but of Fundamental Duties specifically. Now, the Supreme Court has chosen to instruct the government on how to ensure that nationalism and patriotism are instilled in the citizenry — playing the national anthem at the beginning of movie screenings in cinema halls with the national flag displayed on the screen.
The politics of patriotism and nationalism is not new and in many countries across the world, it has unfolded at different points in time, but often with very similar effects — harassment of minorities, blackmailing of dissenters and closure of intellectual freedoms. But what happens when the highest judiciary also begins to believe that the vital vitamins are in short supply and need to be injected forcibly?
Playing the national anthem in cinema halls is not a new move. Judicial overreach, too, is not a new phenomenon. In this case, for instance, the court could have chosen to wait till the government responded (the next hearing on this petition is scheduled for February 2017). Instead, it chose to hurriedly pass this order. In giving an interim order, the SC bench has sought recourse to three interconnected arguments and it is the logic employed by the court that merits critical discussion.
First, the court has transformed the national flag and national anthem into fossilised and statist signatures of power and authority instead of allowing these to be imbricated in popular affection and creative imagination. Because the court says that dramatisation of the national anthem is “inconceivable”. Also, it says that those using the national anthem should not derive any benefit from it. While this would only give rise to controversies over the use of the flag or anthem in creative performances, including their depictions in “commercial” cinema, the idea of transforming symbols of affection and pride into the legal-bureaucratic fangs of the state is equivalent to turning love into fear. Nationalism grounded in a punitive bureaucratic mindset often tends to give way to unruly vigilantism or authoritarian state machinery or both. The court arrives at this statist interpretation because it concludes that the notion of “protocol” is associated with the anthem and flag. It is a pity that popular symbols are thus turned into instruments to frighten and discipline the citizen.
Two, the bench chose to rely on Part IV A of the Constitution, the Fundamental Duties, in order to justify a forced show of respect. This is an explosive arena as far as interpretation of the Constitution is concerned. So far, rights constituted the core of the Constitution. Now, both inside the courtrooms and outside them, a shift in the discourse seems to have begun by invoking “duties”. In this order too, the court chooses to counterbalance rights with duties. This is unfortunate and problematic. Does the order imply that duties are more sacrosanct than rights? Does it imply that rights are conditional on fulfilling certain moral obligations? In fact, the court order has literally thrown open the doors for a new phase in interpreting the Constitution. While the order makes a reference to the “ideals engrafted in the Constitution”, it turns to the Fundamental Duties as instances of those ideals. Showing respect to the national anthem is one such ideal. While there cannot be two opinions on the importance of the anthem or the flag, to state that showing respect to them constitutes “ideals” enshrined in the Constitution is almost rewriting the document; changing it from a document based on welfare and liberalism to one based on authority, patriotism.
Three, the order mentions in passing the idea of constitutional patriotism. It is not clear from the short order of the bench what exactly the honourable judges mean by it. Constitutional patriotism could be seen as a great idea, exhorting citizens to commit to a liberal democratic ethic. It could, alternatively, be seen as an ideological tool for reordering the cognitive universe of citizens and thereby leave behind other loyalties — linguistic, ethnic, regional, etc and place national loyalty above everything. In the former sense, it would operate in the realm of values and moral principles — that citizens must abide by the fundamental values of the Constitution above all. It is doubtful if contemporary proponents of majoritarian nationalism would endorse this idea of constitutional patriotism.
In its latter sense, the idea of constitutional patriotism could privilege uniformity of ideas and ways of life — something Indian nationalism and constitutionalism sought to avoid. From the wording of the SC order, it can be deduced that the honourable judges have probably leaned on the latter meaning of constitutional patriotism. Why else would they say that, “It (constitutional patriotism) does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.”
This approach of the court might not be very surprising. The courts have normally given rulings and interpreted the Constitution in tune with the overall political-moral ethos of the time. So, the thinking behind the order is consistent with the current ethos.
These three arguments of the bench make for disturbing reading. The order engages in a redefinition of citizenship, wherein the holding of rights is not the hallmark of citizenship; the discharge of certain obligations is the new sine qua non of being a patriot-citizen. Their lordships have taken away from us our cherished right to love our country, our society, our right to be nationalistic and patriotic; in one stroke, our rights are converted into legally enforceable duties — nationalism as compulsion is indeed a pitiful condition. The order of the court has pushed us into that pitiful condition. This is not exactly in tune with the specific history of India’s constitutionalism nor with the more general history of constitutionalism.
Constitutionalism evolved through struggles for rights of ordinary men and women. But when state appropriates the language of nationalism and blatantly sets aside citizenship rights in favour of duties, the wheels of history turn backward. India’s nationalism gave us democracy and converted subjects into citizens. Are we now contemplating to turn citizens into subjects?

World Take Care- Hekmatyar The Warlord Returns

The return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps, the most notorious Afghan warlord, may significantly influence power dynamics in war-torn Afghanistan, initiating a new alignment of political forces and provoking old rivalries. Once declared a ‘global terrorist’, the insurgent leader was pardoned by the Afghan government as part of a peace deal formalised last September. The UN last week lifted the sanctions on him paving the way for his return to public life.
While the government of President Ashraf Ghani has described the peace deal as a major breakthrough in the effort to find a political solution to the Afghan crisis, some analysts believe that Hekhmatyar’s return could complicate the situation even more. The amnesty has further divided the fractious ruling coalition in the country and provoked protests from human rights groups.
Once dubbed the ‘butcher of Kabul’ for bringing death to thousands of people in the relentless bombing of the capital by his fighters during the Afghan civil war in the mid-1990s, Hekmatyar remains one of the most hated warlords. The civil war is reported to have resulted in the deaths of around 50,000 civilians in Kabul alone. Ironically, all those warlords responsible for the mass murder are now part of the new order.
Hekmatyar’s re-emergence is likely to intensify the power struggle in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar’s re-emergence is likely to intensify the power struggle in the country that is facing a rising Taliban threat. His inclusion in the fold may further prove a disincentive for the Afghan Taliban’s coming to the negotiating table. Despite their common cause against the American occupation, the two insurgent groups have been extremely suspicious of each other.
It was once the most powerful force fighting the former Soviet occupation forces, but the influence of the Hezb-i-Islami has been reduced to a few provinces in recent years. The group had been dormant for quite sometime with little to show for its success on the battlefield. Hekmatyar himself kept moving between Afghanistan and Pakistan where he had some support particularly among the Afghan refugees living in the Shamshatu camp in the outskirts of Peshawar.
The ISI’s blue-eyed boy during the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, Hekmatyar lost the support of the Pakistani military establishment after the rise of the Taliban to power in Kabul. Earlier, he was made prime minister in the transition government comprising various mujahideen groups after the fall of the Najibullah government in 1992. But he never took charge and, instead, kept bombing Kabul from his headquarters in Sarobi.
He moved to Iran after his fighters were routed by the Taliban where he aligned himself with the same mujahideen commanders he had been fighting against for years. That devastated Afghanistan and paved the way for the emergence of the Taliban. He returned to Pakistan after being expelled from Tehran in 2002 and declared war against the US occupation forces.
In 2003, the State Department designated Hezb as a terrorist group and froze all its assets for the group’s alleged links to Al Qaeda. In an interview in 2006, he boasted that his group helped Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri get out of the caves and led them to a safe place, though he later denied having any Al Qaeda links.
Hekmatyar’s relations with the Pakistani military establishment during that period remained ambiguous though he was reported to have spent most of his time in Pakistan. His links with some of his old allies among Pakistani religious groups like the Jamaat-i-Islami, however, remained intact, providing his group logistic and material support.
Over the years, a number of prominent Hezb leaders deserted the party and joined the government; some of them even held senior positions in former president Hamid Karzai’s administration. The split is believed to be one of the reasons why Hekmatyar opted for reconciliation. The agreement was reached after protracted negotiations that led to the release of many Hezb fighters from Afghan prisons.
Under the agreement, Hekmatyar has agreed to cease hostilities, cut ties to extremist groups and respect the Afghan constitution in exchange for government recognition of his group. Hekmatyar has also been promised an honorary post in the government, but it is not clear whether he will accept the offer. This reconciliation, however, remains rocky because of the strong opposition within the ruling coalition. Many of the Hezb commanders were reportedly arrested on their return.
For sure, reconciliation would help reunify the party and allow it to regain political space. Some observers believe that the former prime minister could even emerge as one of the strongest forces in the fractious political landscape. Being a Pakhtun may also help him get the support of some tribes in eastern and central Afghanistan that are the main centres of the insurgency. But it is highly unlikely that Hezb would be able to make inroads into Taliban strongholds.
A shrewd political operator Hekmatyar will be looking to forge alliances with other warlords and former mujahideen commanders whom he fought during the civil war. Everything is possible in the shifting sands of Afghan politics. But his return could also revive old rivalries and bitter animosities.
This reconciliation came as the United Nations called on all warring parties in Afghanistan to take urgent steps to halt the killing and maiming of civilians. A UN report released last week revealed that 2016 was the worst year for civilian casualties and had record figures for children killed and injured. The report said the harrowing murder and maiming of thousands of Afghan civilians were largely preventable.
“Unless all parties to the conflict make serious efforts to review and address the consequences of their operations, the levels of civilian casualties, displacement and other types of human suffering are likely to remain at appallingly high levels,” warned the report.
Surely the peace deal between Hekmatyar and the Kabul government is seen as a positive move, but it is not likely to end the violence in Afghanistan. There is a need for a more serious approach to reach wider reconciliation with all the groups in the conflict.

Saturday Reading: The Containers Galore!

“Brown paper packages, tied up with strings….” Be wise. Be otherwise. Content marketing is just forgetting the significance of the container. You got to like one, in order to get a look at the other. Add to that, how many actually go to the extent of appreciating the “content”, which means enough knowledge to assess the ingredients, which means to have enough attention span for that sort of analysis, and which also means a prophetic insight into the long-term benefits or losses. So, in a way “content is what is portrayed” and finally it is marketing still.
Coke, the top selling fizz so far, has never advertised its contents. But the bottle in which it is packed, does the rest. In fact, was central to the theme of two block busters (The God’s must be crazy). But for the shape, the village nomads would not have found it so mysterious. The same applies for urban nomads for generations. Its close competitor, Pepsi, played around with the colours, but not much with the essential shape.
In traditional India, tea is best tasted in an earthen cup, with steam rolling out on a chilly evening, leading to the natural “slurp”, which is part of the exercise of appreciation. Milk for the lad going to school is always in a glass, so that he knows and the mother knows how much he has taken, and how much is left behind! Champagne is not offered in anything else, but a wine glass. Contents aside, you have to hold the base in your palms, letting in the body warmth, so that it gets your feeling. The ritual of gently stirring it, is a subtle one-upmanship, of who amongst the partakers is more seasoned. Contents being the same, people shall go where it is served more suitably. But it may not be forgotten, whether the contents be such, or the cork be loose, the winning property is, that after two rigorous shakes, it fizzles out at a Formula I prize ceremony!
For the Bavarian having beer, you better know the size of the beer glass. There is not much talk of content here, because there are so many top selling brands in each region. But do not forget the pub-going populace in London, who insist on “tap beer”. The “lassi tha glass, and sarson tha saag” of Jalandhar, both of which run on quantity can’t be talked much here, with the election code in operation but one can mention the banned “pouches” of Bihar, along with numerous self-confessions by my Gujarati friends. What is necessary is that you are at least one foot outside the state border. The brand and quality if reasonable, shall do!
Though a teetotaller (can’t give advice I don’t follow, and to preserve the moral grounds to pardon for those who know not what they do), I admire the carton of a Chivas Regal. The “twelve year” mentioned sounds an understatement. The glitter makes the believer presume that it must be at least another six months when it occupied various shelves to reach him.
Generally speaking, a man is what he drinks, what he consumes, and the company he keeps or avoids.
Content marketing, to an extent involve one of these. Drinks, the starters and interims of so many meetings, took the “starter” space here. But there is more to the message.
Besides, what may be the real content, or intent, it finally needs a well selected wrapper. I rarely use a Mont Blanc, as I lose a pen every two days in the “rounds”. I am quite okay with a dozen gel ones. But I know, more than half the glamour of the Mont Blanc is in the shape, hold, and the marvellous packing.
The great Apple, undeniably so, is rather possessive about the display of the insignia, dark or translucent, so that it shows even if a channel anchor is using it. Plus of course if it doesn’t have its wayward gadgetry of inserting a pin (too sharp and small to scratch your ear canals, though I saw my secretary effectively cleaning the underside of her nails with it) to push out the SIM rack, you would not appreciate how much you spent for it. Please also remember, the necessary insecurity of buying something precious. Every time you see you see your phone, you check the box if the pin is still there!
This Diwali, the gifts were slightly less, but the packages the same size. The bystanders saw one walk with a chest-full each day to the car park. Packaging worked both ways. It sort of retained your social standing, and finally when you opened the packs in layers and layers, not more than one-fourth kgs. of cashew and almonds were found. They went to the maid anyway!
Most medical men feel elated in their white coats. I have seen the surgeons walk around in their greens, caps, slippers and all, as though they had just left the OT for a pee, and another patient is lined-up for anaesthesia to be nibbled by their gentle scalpels. The message to those in the lobby is, meet me if you so want, and book yourself for the next date, for I have so less time.
I know, beyond a certain level all stethoscopes give the same quality of sound. But you can have the ones with long tubes that sway as you walk. There are those which have gold plated chest pieces. Finally, the gadget is redundant. You won’t be sure, or enjoy extra perks till you do an x-ray of the chest, and an echo-cardiogram. The ethical exit is that neither would the patient be satisfied till you have carried out the investigations
Dress codes, formal shoes fall are all forms of the “container”. Imagine Einstein, with his fuzzy hair (who would notice the unique brilliance in his eyes), go past a regular professor with a show-piece monocle, and get a job as his assistant.
Don Trump surely must be a master strategist. He couldn’t be a realty Moghul without that. Did the works of “container”, preceding held back content, did the job for him!
“Main Khayal hoon kisi aur ka, mujhe sochta kpi aur hai.
Sarey aina mera aqs hai, pasy aina koi aur hai”
(I dwell in longings of one while another keeps me in his ambitions I am only an image in the mirror, behind the mirror is someone else)

Will US-UK Combine Lead the World Once Again?

Donald Trump and Theresa May want to revive the closeness their countries had during the 1980s. But will a “special relationship” halt the decline of these once-great nations?
British Prime Minister Theresa May met with United States President Donald Trump for face-to-face talks inside the Oval Office, making Mrs. May the first foreign leader to visit the White House since Mr. Trump’s inauguration last week. Both leaders have vowed to make the relationship between their countries special again.
Conservative Party M.P. Iain Duncan Smith told USA Today that Britain has the opportunity to “reinstate” what it once had with the U.S. That relationship has taken a beating in recent years. President Barack Obama, Smith explained, spent time forging relationships with everyone else—meaning everyone except Britain.
President Obama, after moving into the Oval Office in 2009, replaced a bust of Winston Churchill on loan from Britain with a bust of Martin Luther King, and his aides announced that America’s so-called special relationship with Britain was actually more of partnership—not unlike the many partnerships America had with other nations.
In 2010, British M.P.s responded in kind. The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee announced that the term “special relationship” should be avoided. Great Britain should be close to the United States, it concluded, “but there is a need to be less deferential.”
In 2011, President Obama said, “We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people.” And last year, Germany was Mr. Obama’s best pal. Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama said, had been his “closest international partner.”
During those same years, the once “special relationship” with Britain was repeatedly REASSESSED and DOWNGRADED. As one secret memo, prepared by a congressional think tank in 2015, revealed, “the UK may NOT be viewed as centrally relevant to the United States in all of the issues and relations considered a priority on the U.S. agenda” (emphasis added throughout).
And then, there was Brexit. Prior to the historic vote last June, President Obama told Britain that if it didn’t stay in the European Union, it would end up at the “back of the queue” on any future trade deals with the United States!
Last year, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said President Obama was the most “anti-British American president there has ever been.” Even though George Washington might lay claim to that particular title, there is no doubting that during the Obama years, the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain completely unraveled.
So what are we to make of these recent diplomatic overtures between the United States and Great Britain? President Trump has congratulated Britain for voting to leave the EU. He’s promised to reward Britain with a favorable trade agreement. He invited Theresa May to be the first international leader to visit the Trump White House. At a Republican congressional retreat yesterday in Philadelphia, Mrs. May said it was time to “renew” the special relationship. “We—our two countries together—have a joint responsibility to lead,” she said.
Is this, then, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher all over again, as the USA Today column suggests? Will the United States and Britain rise together and again lead the world?
Now that the United Kingdom has decided to break away from Europe, it will be desperate to trade with the U.S. One British commentator put it this way in the above-mentioned USA Today article: “[Theresa May] has few friends because of her determination to push ahead with Brexit (Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union). And Trump is also, quite deliberately, alienating the world with his ‘America first’ talk.’”
These two historic friends desperately need each other right now because the 70-year-strong, post-World War II order has been violently shaken to the core! But it’s not going to work out the way these two nations hope.
“It is possible that Prime Minister Theresa May, by throwing in her lot with Mr. Trump, could ride out any changes to the international order,” wrote the New York Times. But if that approach does not succeed, it could have severe consequences both for her nation and for the world that Britain plays a role in keeping together.”
Darkness is descending on the long, historically extraordinary Anglo-American age. Britain, once a globe-girding empire, is now being bullied by a growing European superstate. America, once the greatest superpower on Earth, is economically battered and is losing its global influence. History teaches that world orders don’t last. They come and they go. This present one is giving way to something very different—and it truly will be the world’s loss. However, Britain and America’s brightest days are not history. Glowing within their remarkable past is the promise of a far more luminous future.

India: The Country With Largest Number VIPs

A former US official described her country as the only indispensable nation in the world. While we might not be able to make such hyperbolic claims for India – no matter how patriotic the heart we wear on our tri-colour sleeve – we can certainly affirm that ours is, literally, a Very Important Polity, in comparison with other countries.
We base our scale of importance on importance itself, by showcasing how many VIPs, Very Important Persons, we can lay claim to in our public life.
Britain reportedly has a total of 84 officially designated VIPs. The French republic boasts 109 such personages, Japan 125, Germany 142, Australia 205, the US 252, South Korea 282, oligarchic Russia 312, and China 435.
Leaving such stragglers far behind and in the dust, India has taken an unbeatable lead in what might be termed the Dignitaries Derby by fielding no fewer than 5,79,092 front-runners, and still counting.
Besides the president and the vice-president, these include, among others, the governors of all the states, the Speakers of Parliament and assemblies, MPs, MLAs, MLCs, corporators, taluk/ gram panchayat members, party leaders, the chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.
Indeed, the creation of VIPs is a growth industry in the country where the diktats of dynastic rule create their own hierarchies – or higher-archies – by the elevation of kith and kin – or should that be kith and king? – to positions of power and prestige.
Sceptics might ask how come, with so many very important persons in our midst, we aren’t world leaders in all spheres of activity, from economic and social uplift to sports. Could it be a case of too many cooks – too many crooks? – spoiling the broth?
Such questions miss the point, which is that only too often importance feeds on itself and creates a culture of competitive self-importance, with each contender preoccupied to the exclusion of all else with scoring points over others, be it in a parliamentary logjam over demonetisation or in the impasse as to who calls the shots in poll-bound UP, Number One Son or Number One Uncle.
All of which ensures that, our grand panjandrums apart, all the rest of us can also collectively claim another sort of VIP status: Very Insignificant Priorities.

Capitalism in Big Trouble, & the Beijing Consensus isn’t Working Either

The liberal democratic order, which won a fabulous victory over communism and fascism in the 20th century, is in trouble. Slow economic growth, stagnant wages and the failure of conventional economic stimuli have led to a general resentment against ‘the system’, an attempt to pin all ills on foreigners and immigrants, and a search for non conventional ways forward.
Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump in the US and Marine Le Pen in France, and the emergence of new political parties across Europe show that voters are disillusioned with conventional politicians and experts.
Who Gets More Marx?
Indeed, in student circles, Marxism is once again rearing its head, something I thought impossible after communism’s collapse in 1991.
The financial crash of 2008 and Thomas Piketty’s theory of entrenched inequality have spurred a look for alternatives. Remarkably, no credible rival model has actually emerged. There was a time when the state-led model of China looked a plausible alternative. After all, it had enabled China to register double-digit growth for more than a decade. Indeed, some economists (and leftist columnists like Pankaj Mishra) started hailing the ‘Beijing Consensus’ as an alternative to the ‘Washington Consensus’ that represented the liberal market model.
Ruchir Sharma recalls in his book, The Rise and Fall of Nations, that the buzz at the 2011 annual meeting of the global business elite at Davos was about the Beijing Consensus, and the belief that China was on its way to overtaking the US economy and becoming arole model for others. But, although the capitalist world is struggling today, China is struggling just as much.
The Beijing Consensus does not look like a model to emulate. China’s GDP growth has sunk to 6.7 per cent, below India’s 7.5 per cent. Even this Chinese growth figure is viewed as artificially inflated. Wang Baoan, head of the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, has been accused of several sins, including data fraud. Prime Minister Li Keqiang was earlier a provincial party chief and rejected official data as “man-made”.
He relied on other indicators such as rail freight electricity and bank lending, and this came to be known as the ‘Li Keqiang Index’. This suggests that China’s GDP growth is below 5 per cent. Investment bankers like Sharma believe it is even slower. However, optimists like economist Yukon Huang say China’s data are okay and the slowdown is a planned one, aiming to rebalance the economy away from industry to services and from exports to domestic consumption.
This shift to services (especially financial services), say the optimists, means that the Li Keqiang Index, with its emphasis on indicators of industrial growth, is obsolete. Maybe so. But a recent blog in the Financial Times and a Goldman Sachs study suggest that industrial growth is close to zero, and it seems unlikely that services growth can more than offset this.
In any case, Sharma has rubbished the notion that China’s golden period of doubt-digit growth was government-led. Since 1980, the share of GDP produced by state companies has fallen from 70 per cent to 30 per cent, and private sector output is up 300 times. Between 1993 and 2005, public sector enterprise sacked no less than 73 million workers. So, rising wages are due entirely to a buoyant private sector. China’s success has been private sector-led, not government-led.
If at all there is something different called a Beijing model, it is the huge expansion of credit after 2008 to keep the economy buoyant.
This succeeded in the short run in saving China from the worst of the financial crisis fallout, and in keeping GDP growth fairly high. But it meant runaway credit to state entities to build infrastructure to nowhere and ghost cities. This debt binge carries the seeds of a future disaster. Sharma noted during a recent Chinese trip that the entire 110 miles from Shanghai to Hangzhou was marked by two to three rows of empty houses. The total debt-to-GDP ratio has shot up from 150 per cent to 250 per cent. History suggests that such debt-fuelled upsurges will ultimately end in tears.
Productivity is key to economic success. The debt-fuelled Beijing Consensus has been marked by plummeting productivity. China’s investment rate of 40 per cent of GDP is down only modestly from a peak of 46 per cent. But this now generates half the growth it used to. The incremental capital-output ratio — the amount of additional capital needed to generate one unit of output — has shot up to 6.0, double its old ratio.
This is worse than even the 5.3 ratio India logged during the dismal ‘Garibi Hatao’ decade of the 1970s. In sum, whatever the current travails of the world economy, neither Marxism nor government-led approaches offer a credible alternative. India’s emphasis must be on maximising the advantages of liberal democracy, warts and all. The last 25 years of economic liberalisation in India have been an era of private sector success, government failure and eroding institutions.
India needs to deepen economic reforms, revolutionise the delivery of government services, and create strong, independent institutions that are meritocratic and not political playthings.

Kashmir: Link Between South & Central Asia

India, Pakistan, India-Pakistan, Mehbooba Mufti, India-Pakistan conflict, India-Pakistan free trade, South Asia, Central Asia, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Kashmir conflict, India news, Indian Express The invitation was sent a few days after Pakistan sent back Chandu Babulal Chavan, an Indian soldier who had crossed the Line of Control last year.
The chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had proposed the opening of a new trade route that would negate regional conflict. The route would connect diverse communities now suffering under the long-simmering India-Pakistan conflict. She held up Kashmir as the most game-changing trading nucleus connecting South Asia with Central Asia. Mufti must have pondered long because her statement contains a lot of detail about the route that is supposed to deliver “regional cooperation, energy transformation, trade and transit” with Kashmir as its central point. “Such an arrangement will supplement the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, through this part of Kashmir”, she said. Clearly, her idea derives from the history of old routes people took to supply goods across civilisations.
According to Mufti, the Partition cut off trade routes to Central Asia. But the fact is that the Cold War put an end to the period of exploration the British Raj had initiated in India. Partition blocked road connections between India and Pakistan carrying goods westwards. Kashmir was the most affected by this closure. It is possible that she has been encouraged by the opening of some trading contacts between the two Kashmirs and wants to take them forward.
She was dreaming of connecting the two Kashmirs divided between Pakistan and India (Suchetgarh-Sialkot, Kargil-Skardu, Bandipora-Gurez-Gilgit and Nowshera-Mirpur) with roads for free movement of people and goods. Specialists in Indo-Pak relations, on both sides, will be dismissive of Mufti’s idea. But if you took Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi aside and gave them this idea, they would probably buy it — but tell you not to go public with it. Sharif wants trade and trade routes, and Modi knows it.
Mufti has put her finger on what India and Pakistan should be doing. He wrote: “Those thriving politically and financially from the continuing tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan would do well to understand Pakistan’s geostrategic logic behind its efforts to launch road and rail projects linking with Afghanistan and Central Asian states.”
A hostile Pakistan has stood between India and its potential trade partners in Central Asia. The roads that once linked the two are now corridors of conflict: Pakistan is fighting with itself, instead of terrorists, along the Chaman and Khyber Pass posts. Trade that passes through is mostly heroin from poppy grown in Afghanistan. Pakistan sees India’s hand in its trouble with Afghanistan. India sees threats from the trade corridor China is building in Pakistan. It exited the Iranian gas pipeline because it couldn’t trust Pakistan as the transit state. It seems trade threatens war instead of spreading peace where economies can’t grow on their own.
That Prime Minister Modi may be attracted to the trade prospects in the region would appear natural. The more roads are opened allowing movement of goods and people, the better it would be for India, now that it is no longer a state-dominated economy. That the idea of free trade with India should appeal to Sharif appears odd. Many Pakistani commentators don’t tire of castigating him for “prostrating” himself “before Modi” on trade. Perhaps Sharif is motivated by the idea of getting rid of the issues that threaten all elected leaders in Pakistan when they think of achieving economic growth by eschewing confrontation. There are countless reasons behind peripheral states seeking peace with, or subordination to, the big power in the region. If nuclear power is an “equaliser”, then Sharif and Modi have a chance at opening up together with “peripheral” Central Asia to enrich the region.
But all that is not going to happen yet. At the centre of this potential maelstrom are the twin extremisms of Islamist and Hindutva impulse, both powered by non-state actors and both allied with deep-state players. Clearly, in the interests of regional peace, the two extremisms need careful study, objective analysis and common sense prescriptions to avoid the abyss that South Asia could be confronted with very soon.

Trump Embodies Need to Act Tough & Talk Straight

It has become a practice to hide behind the curtains of philosophy and diplomacy to put across your point of view. Traditions of International Conversations, vocabulary and protocols has been evolved by the graduates of top Universities. Well, that is appreciated but sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. That is what Trump is doing and I like that.
I will go a step further and will request Indian politicians that they should learn something from POTUS. Instead of wrapping your words into philosophical and cultural mythology combined with storytelling; you should learn to come out with your clear stand on various issues concerning the nation.
Let us take the example of ban on seven countries for a short duration of time. Try to think of a similar situation in the Indian context. If all the attacks, conspiracies and vandalism against your village happening for many years are being orchestrated by the people originating from a particular village then how you as a Sarpanch of that village react to the people from that village. Nobody from your village will establish a matrimonial relationship with the family of that village. Nobody will hire the people from that village for farming and other jobs. Nobody will call the players from that village to play with them in the competitions. It will be a kind of unstated social boycott of that village along with other measures to protect your village.
However, there is a catch here. If the general public of that village strongly opposes those criminals or terrorists, then the situation will be different. In that case the good people from both the villages will unite and try to overcome the evil forces.
But in the case of banned nations or communities which are put under scanner; it is very ironic that no one from the peace-loving majority openly condemns terrorist organisations and tries to take some initiatives to stop these tendencies of the youth to take extreme path of terror. The silence and inaction of good people from these banned nations and communities in preventing the youth to adopt such destructive philosophy like ISIS is most shocking. In that case no one has any right to stop Trump in protecting his own nation from such people.
Many CEOs, Officials and organisations are talking of the difficulties being faced by the genuine people due to these executive orders of Trump. Was it not the responsibility of these people who have reached to the highest positions or working for top tech companies; to act proactively with their community leaders to stop such practices and elements which are luring their youth into extremist activities. Silence of the elders and leaders of these banned nations is more alarming than the actions of Trump. In some cases the preachers of these communities has been found to be themselves
involved in spreading hatred and propagating hate content. Has these communities risen up and voiced their concerns against these people. Did these communities tried to socially boycott such people. It makes everyone else believe that either they are too selfish to speak out or they are also supporting the acts of those young terrorists and their backers who are originating from their countries and communities. In both ways, they deserve to face such consequences as outlined by Trump.
Similarly, whether it is the issue of Iran or South China Sea or North Korea or Pakistan, we have seen that soft diplomacy, in the last few decades, has failed to produce results. But these countries are still going ahead with their expansionist and destructive ideologies. We should appreciate the statements of Trump, which are the true picture based on the facts of current state of affairs. In fact, India needs to come more openly regarding its stand on China in context of different issues. India has more stakes being a close neighbour to many of these countries. So, it is time that NaMo quickly learns few tips from Trump and stops issue-based reactions to China, and rather come out with a comprehensive policy to deal China.
I will also complement Trump on H1-B Visa issue. We should try to see it from the American perspective. For any country it is paramount to secure their own interests. Salary threshold for H1B workers was set more than three decades ago and it is not suitable as far as the salary packages for higher order skills of todays are concerned. So, it is in the interest of the highly skilled workers, that they are paid their rightful salaries. IT companies of other nations were actually misusing the provisions of H1-B Visa and trying to make profits out of it. We should not see it from the narrow perspective of short term gains in Indian share market, but look at it from the world view perspective.
We can always say that Trump can be a little more balanced when speaking or tweeting, but every human being has unique traits. We cannot expect Trump to change his habits at this age. We should look beyond the words and see his intentions. Till now, I have found him doing a good job in the right direction. Whenever you try to do something right; there will always be some genuine people who will face the difficulties in the short term. We need to bear with such consequences in the short term for long term gains.

Oxford University shows ze way to political correctness

I thought India was the country where it’s become very fashionable to have one’s sentiments ‘offended’ by what somebody else said, as a way of curbing free speech. It’s shocking to see, however, that the madness has now extended to the august portals of Oxford University.
Its student union has instructed students to refer to each other with the gender neutral pronoun ‘ze’, in place of ‘he’ or ‘she’. Student union officials hope this practice will also spread to lectures and seminars.
Using an inappropriate pronoun will be seen as an offence under the university’s behaviour code. Apparently, Cambridge University is moving in the same direction. If you think I’m pulling your leg, see this report in The Independent.
Now this sort of thing will be red meat for the Trump crowd, it’s bound to confirm their prejudices about the ‘liberal elite’. Is assuming there’s a difference between the sexes a discriminatory thought, do women feel offended if referred to as ‘she’?The Stalinist thought police are at it again, tyrannising us with their edicts. Not even Oxford University, alas, has stood up to their decrees. It has banned the pronouns he and she in favour of ‘ze’ because use of the incorrect pronoun might offend transgender students.
The order is part of the latest student guidelines. It is already an offence under Oxford’s code of behaviour to use, even accidentally, the wrong pronoun for a transgender person. Transgender students are demanding a ban on he and she in lectures too.
The correct response from Oxford should have been ‘bog off’. For some weird reason – perhaps because political correctness has already infiltrated gender, race, religion and gays, leaving only transgender people – transgender sensitivities have come to dominate public discourse. These days, everything is about this LGBT demand or that LGBT demand.
It’s time this pandering stopped. No one, apart from a few fogies, minded when gays appropriated the word ‘gay’. Who could be so churlish over losing one word in the language to a community that numbers millions? No one, except troglodytes, minded when feminists proffered ‘Ms’ instead of Miss or Mrs because the reasons were of profound importance for half the world.
Gay was just one word. It cost no effort to ditch its earlier meaning. A title like ‘Ms’ is only used occasionally. But to ban pronouns, that you use in every other sentence? If transgenders (who constitute an infinitesimal fraction of the population) are uncertain about their precise sexual orientation, why should that confusion disturb the language of the majority? Among themselves, such rules are fine. The problem is when you impose them on everyone.
At the very least, Oxford should have said ‘deal with it’. If transgender students happen to be addressed by the wrong pronoun, let them deal with this little mosquito bite of an irritant, the way we all deal with difficulties.
It’s one thing to demand, rightly, an end to discrimination but another to foist your every foible or wish onto others. Such demands militate against free speech and the expression of divergent views at the very places – universities – where ideas are meant to be freely exchanged.
The thought police tried to prevent Germaine Greer from speaking at Cardiff University last year after saying that there was a lot more to being a woman than having a penis surgically removed, a ‘transphobic’ observation for which she had to be silenced.
The culture in American and British universities of molly coddling everyone, tip-toeing around their sensitivities, and protecting them against the slightest offence has gone insane. Its most ludicrous manifestation is ‘safe spaces’. Earlier this used to mean a place where students could seek refuge from sexist or racist behaviour. But it has evolved into a place where they go bolt if they hear an upsetting comment or gesture.
Last April, a female student at Edinburgh University who waved her arms in exasperation over a claim made by another speaker inside a ‘safe space’ was almost expelled by the students union.
At Brown University, the safe space for women apparently looks like a nursery, with cookies, colouring books, bubbles, calming music, and a video of frolicking puppies.
The latest piece of political correctness is ‘trigger alarms’. Lecturers are meant to warn female students beforehand that they might use certain words lest these ‘trigger’ distress. The word ‘violate’ is one such word. Coddling young women in this way is a stupid thing to do when the world is a dangerous place. The sooner they learn to deal with it, the better, for the world will never be totally safe for anyone.
Moreover, feminism is about empowering women, not infantilising them. It is about giving them more freedom, not locking them in the nursery. What a sad, sad trajectory we are witnessing, from the sublime – those magnificent and strong suffragettes who braved jail and force-feeding – to the ridiculous, whiny, wimpy, effete people today who demand protection against the slightest whiff of offence like the white, entitled and privileged bourgeoises they are while elsewhere, in Asia and Africa, women fight with spirit and determination for real rights rather than frivolous indulgences.
Surely, if transgender persons are strong-minded enough to challenge society’s sexual categories, they can handle a wrong pronoun? Can’t they … dare i say it … here goes … man up?
The basic fallacy here is that equality ought to mean sameness and a flattening of all differences. Moreover free thought relies on free speech, and a university is a place for liberating one’s thinking. How can a university proscribe free speech?
After having done the rounds of Indian universities, Oxford is the first foreign university I ever visited. I was struck by the glorious sight of a young man and a young woman kissing intensely and entirely unselfconsciously in broad daylight under a tree, a sight one is unlikely to encounter in any Indian university.
One assumes both the young man and the young woman were intensely aware of the difference in gender between them. In any case one is a college student at a time when one’s hormones are raging and one is typically hyperconscious of gender; it is unclear to me what sense it makes to ask them to drop gender altogether.
Some of the online comments following Independent’s report just about sum it up. One guy says “Right … that’s sorted out. Now …. Who are we likely to offend next?”. And this one must be an old person, who’s seen it all: “A world going mad. I am so glad I am not on this planet for much longer.”

Russia Again Comes to Afghanistan

The gathering in Moscow — the third in the series of consultations between Russia, China and Pakistan — underlines growing concern about the spillover effect of the Afghan crisis in the region. The initiative is the latest example of Russian assertion of its diplomatic power amidst growing frustration over the American failure to deliver peace in Afghanistan.
An underlying cause of anxiety is the growing threat of the militant Islamic State group spreading its tentacles in the war-torn country. But it is still unclear whether the new alliance will be able to help reach a negotiated political solution to the Afghan conflict. Although the Kabul government has now been invited for the next round of talks, its exclusion from the earlier meetings cast a shadow over the process.
Not surprisingly, the United States was not invited to the Moscow initiated process. It is, however, premature to assume that the new nexus could replace the quadrilateral forum that included the US along with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. The quadrilateral talks have been suspended for almost one year after the collapse of efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban insurgents to the negotiating table. The killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Taliban chief, in a CIA drone strike last May has further diminished hopes for the talks to resume.
It is quite apparent that no peace effort could succeed without the tacit support, if not active participation, of the US, which still has about 10,000 troops involved in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. Things have become more complicated with the political transition in Washington. Like other foreign policy issues, there is complete confusion over the Afghan policy in the soon-to-be installed Trump administration.
Moscow’s initiative to build a regional alliance against IS points to a changing geo-political landscape. That has perhaps compelled the three countries to find a regional solution to the Afghan crisis that directly affects their own security. It remains to be seen whether the Kabul government accepts the invitation to join the forum and whether it is willing to show some flexibility in its approach on the peace talks. The Moscow trilateral meeting has called for lifting of the travel ban on the insurgent leaders, one of the major demands that the Taliban had presented as a precondition for talks with the Kabul government. The Taliban are obviously pleased by the Moscow meeting endorsing its demand. But lifting of the ban requires US consent.
China has for some time now been actively involved in the Afghan peace efforts, being a major investor in mining and infrastructure development projects in that country. Its good relations with both the Kabul government and the Taliban have helped Beijing facilitate a few rounds of informal talks between the two warring sides. Beijing has also been gravely concerned about the increasing instability in Afghanistan and recent reports of growing IS activity in the country.
Although Russia may not be a fresh entrant on the Afghan scene, its initiative to build a regional alliance to counter the IS threat points to a new alignment of forces in a changing geo-political landscape. Interestingly, the meeting on Afghanistan followed another set of trilateral talks in Moscow that included Turkey and Iran on the settlement of Syrian crisis. The US was excluded from that meeting too, indicating that Moscow is taking a lead in settling the Syrian and Afghan crises, thereby considerably altering the balance of power in the international arena.
This Russian assertiveness seems to be driven by the Obama administration’s inaction and in anticipation of expected changes in US foreign policy under the incoming Trump administration. Though the US president-elect has openly castigated the Obama administration’s approach on Syria and Afghanistan, there is no clarity on future US policy, especially on Afghanistan. That has also provided Moscow an opportunity to alter the current negotiating format and try to break the persisting deadlock in the diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan conflict.
Indeed there is also serious concern among the three countries over the deteriorating situation in the proximity of their borders. Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan with the Taliban intensifying their attacks considerably. What has been more perturbing, however, is the expanding footprint of IS, apparent in several terrorist attacks in Afghanistan that took a huge toll on the civilian population.
Moreover, the increasing activities of the group in northern Afghanistan, close to the borders of the Central Asian countries, are particularly alarming for Russia. There is also growing fear in Moscow of IS making inroads in the Muslim population, especially as the Chechens form one of the largest foreign contingents in the IS war in Iraq and Syria. That has also been a reason for Russia to establish contacts with the Afghan Taliban who have been fighting IS.
Both China and Pakistan share Moscow’s concerns and hence have decided to join the new regional alignment. Islamabad particularly sees some hope of the new regional format being in a better position to persuade the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table. However, it will certainly not be easy to make a breakthrough given the complexities involving the problem. Most importantly, it requires some serious efforts to remove the reservations of the Kabul government over the new format that involves Pakistan.
Moreover, there is no unanimity within the fractious Afghan administration, even on the issue of negotiations with the Taliban. There is also a question mark over the Taliban agreeing to formally sit across the table with the Kabul government without any preconditions, particularly at a time when they have achieved significant success in the battlefield. According to some reports, the Afghan officials have informally met the representatives of the Taliban’s Qatar office. But formal peace talks are a completely different ballgame.
To bring the Afghan peace process out of the deep freeze, it is most important to end the frosty relations between Islamabad and Kabul. There has been some breaking of the ice with the recent telephonic contact between Afghan leaders and Pakistan’s new army chief. But is this enough to clear the huge wall of distrust between the two countries?