Disruption isn’t just a buzzword. If you don’t disrupt your own business, someone else will

Not too long ago, a leading Indian telco approached to deliver a keynote address. The brief: to motivate executives in the wake of reddening bottom lines and imminent layoffs induced by the ‘Jio effect’. We marvelled at how lethargic these leading telcos had become, even though they were cognisant of the Jio launch a year earlier. What is visible, clearly, is the ineptitude of Indian companies to lead disruption from inside out. While all the existing players imagined Jio to commence a price war, they were struck by a disruptive vicissitude in the unit of business itself.
Disruption is everywhere. From telecom to retail, financial services to IT, and pharma to travel. Take, BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance). With the regulatory thrust for better liquidity and digitisation post-demonetisation, financial institutions need to think differently now more than ever.
The sector is also seeing incursions into its traditional businesses by new entrants offering services that are either cheaper or delivered differently. Payments, share-trading, money management, forex and investments are all seeing the impact. From Bitcoin and Paytm to BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) and Freecharge, India is following the world.
Disruption is at its everyday best in another industry: travel. Technology is making it easier for travellers to get information, compare prices and make their own arrangements. Third party advice sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp and Zagat make and break businesses: a few bad reviews can radically trim business. At the same time, new entrants such as Airbnb, Uber and Lyft have the potential to replace today’s middlemen at the centre of the most critical transactions.
In the developed world, there is a continual decline in ROA (return on assets) in the last 40 years. The ‘topple rate’ — a measure of the rate at which companies lose their leadership positions — has increased by 39%.
Share buyback and stock incentives are creating ‘profitless prosperity’ in which executives and investors reap rich rewards, while corporations are hollowing out basic capabilities.
The tenure of companies on the S&P 500 has declined from 61years in 1958 to 18 in 2012. Two decades from now, 75% of the S&P 500 companies will have turned over. Company leaders understand they need to innovate and adapt, but they seem to be stumbling on just how to make this happen.
Tomorrow is Another Day
Most companies in India stick to a business model and execute against it repeatedly, although shoddily. Worse, they pay only lip service to corporate entrepreneurship in finding ‘transient advantages’, while their employees continue to ignore competition from other industries, the need to manage both cyclical and structural changes, and obtain early warnings and make decisions faster.
The remedy to ride the disruptive wave is to mount disruption itself. Discovery-Driven Disruption (DDD) is a means to scout for opportunities or ‘transient advantages’ and frame options. For most firms, the core business is largely about today’s offerings for today’s customers.
The idea is that ‘Platform Launch’, or ‘Horizon 2’, is tomorrow’s potential core businesses. In the outer edges of uncertainty, or ‘Horizon 3’, lies ‘options’. These options are small investments an organisation makes today that give them the right, but not the obligation, to make future investments.
DDD will help firms to draw their new strategy playbooks that will continually reconfigure, engage and disengage in new opportunities for Horizon 3, allocate resources between projects deftly as options evolve, build innovation proficiency and entrepreneurial mindset. This will also lead to managing careers of employees in radically different ways.
DDD uses a five-step process: creating a climate supporting continuous opportunity-hunting; establishing the entrepreneurial frame; creating a well-stocked opportunity register; building real options; and driving adaptive execution.
Just as entrepreneurs orchestrate opportunity search and scale up personally, DDD will pave way for ‘intrepreneurship’. The process for establishing a frame involves working through certain expectations of various stakeholders and looking at what minimum revenue and ROI targets the firm will consider as a major win.
Reverse income statements will analyse resultant possibilities. The opportunity register will inventory all new business ideas identified for funding and it will have a rich set of prioritised items.
Real options reasoning involves making small investments that give you the right to make a decision later. The idea is to limit your downside exposure until the upside potential of the opportunity is demonstrated. In conjunction with limiting risk, an options approach allows one to create focus and strategic alignment across a portfolio of initiatives.
Coming Apart at the Teams
One would imagine a group like, say, Tata, which has been ‘experimenting’ with innovation in multiple ways, to lead disruption in many industries globally. Instead, 70% of its profits come just from TCS. The trouble is that most companies invest in setting up innovation teams, building incubation centres, sending teams to Silicon Valley, but don’t follow a seamless approach. Instead, they address systemic issues unique to India, such as risk-aversion, a copy and paste culture and jugaad.
DDD adapts the ‘If you have to fail, fail cheap and fast’ policy that encourages more disruptive initiatives at lower downsides. Bottomline: if you don’t disrupt your own business, someone else will

Weekend Special: Bin Laden’s Son Poised to Unify Terrorists Worldwide

Hamza bin Laden isn’t just being prepared for a leadership role in his father’s organization. He’s now the figure best placed to reunify the global jihadi movement.
One day in early November 2001, on a hillside south of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden bade farewell to three of his young sons. In the shade of an olive tree, he handed each boy a misbaha—a set of prayer beads symbolizing the 99 names of God in classical Arabic—and instructed them to keep the faith. The scene was an emotional one. “It was as if we pulled out our lives and left them there,” one of the boys would later recall in a letter to his father. Having taken his leave, bin Laden disappeared into the mountains, bound for a familiar redoubt known as the Black Cave, or Tora Bora in the local Pashto dialect.
The three boys who received the prayer beads that day would face three very different destinies. One, Bakr (also known as Ladin), would distance himself from al-Qaeda, both geographically and ideologically. Another, Khalid, would die protecting his father at their compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. The third, Hamza, would vanish for years before reemerging in 2015 as the most likely candidate to reunite a fractured jihadi movement and lead al-Qaeda to a future still more violent than its past.
Groomed to Lead
Despite al-Qaeda’s generally dim view of women, it appears that Osama bin Laden respected and valued each of his wives. But he was surely familiar with the Qur’an’s warning that, “Try as you may, you cannot treat all your wives impartially.” It was well known that bin Laden had a favorite. This was Hamza bin Laden’s mother, Khairia Sabar, a child psychologist from the respected al-Hindi family of Saudi Arabia. The pair had been introduced when Saad, one of bin Laden’s sons by his first wife, Najwa al-Ghanem, had attended Khairia’s clinic to receive therapy for a mental disorder. Khairia was single, in her mid-30s, and in fragile health—an unpropitious situation for a woman in a conservative kingdom where teenage brides are far from uncommon. Bin Laden, by contrast, was seven years younger, the son of a billionaire, and already making a name for himself as a fundraiser for the mujahideen struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Moreover, by this time, bin Laden already had two wives. But Najwa, the first of them, encouraged him to pursue Khairia, believing that having someone with her training permanently on hand would help her son Saad and his brothers and sisters, some of whom also suffered from developmental disorders.
Not surprisingly given Khairia’s age and state of health, she and bin Laden struggled to conceive. Over the first three years of their marriage, as bin Laden moved back and forth between Saudi Arabia and the theater of war in Afghanistan, she endured miscarriage after miscarriage. During this time, bin Laden added a fourth wife to the family—another highly educated Saudi woman, Siham Sabar. Then, in 1989, both Siham and Khairia bore him sons. Siham’s was called Khalid, a name that in Arabic means “eternal.” Khairia’s boy was named Hamza, meaning “steadfast.” Thenceforward, in accordance with ancient Arab custom, Khairia became known by the honorific Umm Hamza, the Mother of Hamza. The boy would remain her only child by bin Laden, but that fact has by no means diminished either Hamza’s importance or Khairia’s.
In 1991, reeling from a series of bloody embarrassments in Afghanistan and dismayed by the Saudi government’s increasing hostility toward him, bin Laden moved al-Qaeda’s base of operations to Sudan, just across the Red Sea from his home city of Jeddah. Among bin Laden’s inner circle of top lieutenants and their families, Umm Hamza soon developed a reputation for level-headedness and wise counsel. As bin Laden’s longtime bodyguard Abu Jandal put it, she was “respected by absolutely everyone.” In Sudan, Khairia set up an informal school to teach the wives and children of al-Qaeda members about Islamic theology, gave advice on religious matters, and from time to time even offered marriage counseling. At a time when al-Qaeda could easily have disintegrated under the weight of its forced exile and bin Laden’s growing fear of arrest or assassination, Khairia’s calm and optimistic influence played an important role in holding the organization together.’
Jihadis in Europe appear to be linked up with well-organized criminal networks—a nightmare scenario for future carnage.
Hamza was seven years old when the regime of Omar Bashir finally caved to international pressure and expelled al-Qaeda from Sudan. bin Laden and his entourage decamped to Afghanistan, where they were offered safe haven first by local warlords and subsequently by the Taliban movement, which overran most of the country within a few months of bin Laden’s arrival. Al-Qaeda’s new hosts gave bin Laden the choice of several desirable residences, including a former royal palace. Characteristically, however, he chose instead a base in the mountains near Jalalabad consisting of concrete huts lacking power, water, and in many cases even doors. bin Laden eventually moved to Tarnak Farms, a camp complex outside Kandahar with almost as little in the way of creature comforts. Not everyone relishes this kind of austerity; while bin Laden was still in Sudan, his second wife, Khadija Sharif, had divorced him, citing the hardships of life in a militant camp. His first wife, Najwa, would finally leave him on the eve of 9/11. But Khairia and Siham—the mothers of Hamza and Khalid, respectively—were ready to go through significant privations for their husband, and both would be with him at the very end.
The Tehran Years
In Afghanistan, Hamza emerged as one of bin Laden’s favorite sons. Still not yet a teenager, he appeared in propaganda videos alongside his father, underwent assault training with al-Qaeda fighters, and preached fiery sermons in a young boy’s helium voice. In December 2000, aged 11, Hamza was chosen to recite a poem at the wedding of his 15-year-old brother, Mohammed. His assured performance transfixed the other guests; bin Laden family members would talk about it, and even have dreams about it, for years to come.
But already, Hamza’s time with his father was drawing to a close. On September 10, 2001, anticipating the backlash that would follow his latest and most outrageous assault on the United States, bin Laden ordered his wives and their younger children out of his Kandahar compound—a conspicuous target and one that had been bombed before—to seek shelter in Jalalabad, 350 miles northeast. There, al-Qaeda’s propagandists shot one last video featuring Hamza, in which the boy can be seen reciting a poem praising the bravery of Kabul’s Taliban defenders and handling wreckage claimed to be from a downed U.S. helicopter.
The video was, of course, a travesty. The Taliban, far from mounting a stalwart defense, were already being routed up and down the country, and the helicopter wreck, certainly not American, was most likely that of a Soviet gunship shot down before Hamza was born, probably with surface-to-air missiles supplied by the United States. As bin Laden made ready to ride south for his last stand at Tora Bora, he ordered his family east, over the border into Pakistan. This decision made sense. Al-Qaeda had found shelter there during and immediately after the war against the Soviets, and operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had long lived with impunity in Pakistani mega-cities like Karachi.
But 9/11 had changed this picture along with everything else. General Pervez Musharraf responded to the attacks by turning Pakistan into an enthusiastic supporter of the United States’ efforts against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Faced with a rapidly narrowing range of risky options, al-Qaeda decided that its people, including bin Laden’s family, should leave Pakistan and seek refuge in the neighboring country of Iran.
The world’s foremost Shi`a stronghold may seem an odd destination for an organization populated by Sunni extremists, men who pepper their public utterances with slurs against Shi`a Muslims, calling them “rejectionists” and “apostates.” But in the fall of 2001, with support for the United States at an all-time high, Iran suddenly became the one place in the Muslim world where America’s writ could be counted upon not to run.
Inside Iran, Saif al-`Adl, a wily Egyptian ex-soldier who had been a pivotal figure in al-Qaeda since its inception, oversaw a secret network of safe houses. In the beginning, it seemed as if al-Qaeda had found at least temporary sanctuary. But Hamza nevertheless chafed against the constraints of this life in the shadows. In July 2002, he wrote a poem to his father, bemoaning the “spheres of danger everywhere I look” and asking, “What has happened for us to be chased by danger?” In his response, bin Laden did not sugar-coat matters for his 12-year-old son. “I can see only a very steep path ahead,” he wrote. “A decade has gone by in vagrancy and travel, and here we are in our tragedy… for how long will real men be in short supply?”
Further hardship lurked just over the horizon. For if Hamza and his family thought they had evaded detection, they were wrong. In fact, it seems that Iranian intelligence knew of al-Qaeda’s presence on the Islamic Republic’s soil right from the start. Around April 2003, the al-Qaeda members in Iran realized they were being watched and began to take steps to thwart Tehran’s monitoring. Fearing that al-Qaeda might slip through their fingers, the authorities initiated a dragnet that pulled in practically every al-Qaeda operative and family member in the country.
For the next few years, Hamza and his mother were held at a succession of military facilities in the Tehran area, some cramped and dingy, others spacious and relatively comfortable, but always separated from the outside world by high walls, razor wire, and surveillance cameras. Despite their tribulations, Khairia remained adamant that her son should receive the best possible education under the circumstances. Her own pedagogic efforts continued, and to supplement these, she solicited a group of bin Laden’s top lieutenants being held in the same facility, including al-`Adl, to educate Hamza in Qur’anic study, Islamic jurisprudence, and the hadith(alleged deeds and sayings of the prophet). Hamza is said to have become learned in each of these subjects.
Hamza matured in other ways, too. While still in captivity, he married the daughter of one of his teachers, the longtime al-Qaeda military commander Abu Mohammed al-Masri. Hamza’s new wife soon gave birth to a son and a daughter, whom they named respectively Usama and Khairia. Hamza told the elder bin Laden that “God created [my children] to serve you.” And he longed to rejoin his father. “How many times, from the depths of my heart, I wished to be beside you,” Hamza wrote in 2009. “I remember every smile that you smiled at me, every word that you spoke to me, every look that you gave me.”
Neither captivity nor fatherhood could dim the desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, which Hamza had shown from a precociously early age. On the contrary, as time went on, he grew ever more desperate to re-enter the fray. His greatest frustration, he told his father in a letter smuggled out to Abbottabad, was that “the mujahidin legions have marched and I have not joined them.” But bin Laden was determined to ensure a different destiny for his favorite son.
Waziristan
With so many senior al-Qaeda members in custody, Iran possessed huge leverage over bin Laden’s organization. By 2010, however, al-Qaeda had acquired a bargaining chip of its own in the shape of a captive Iranian diplomat sold to them as a hostage by Pakistani tribal elements. With the Haqqani Network acting as go-between, a prisoner swap was arranged. In August 2010, at the beginning of Ramadan, Hamza was released along with his mother, wife, and children. Two of his older brothers, Uthman and Mohammed, soon followed along with their own families. All those released made their way to Waziristan, where a sizable al-Qaeda contingent lived under the protection of various Pakistani militant groups.
The bin Laden family was spread across several countries. Abdullah, Usama’s eldest son, was living a “quiet life” as a businessman in Saudi Arabia. Another son, Ladin, previously imprisoned in Iran, had gone to stay with his grandmother’s side of family in Syria. Another, Omar, lived in Qatar for a time before moving to Saudi Arabia. bin Laden therefore had a number of possible places to send family members freed from Iran. He wanted his sons Uthman and Mohammed to stay in Pakistan, provided a “safe place” could be found for them. His initial plan on hearing of Hamza’s release was to try to have him sent to Qatar. Given that Hamza had been imprisoned in Iran from around the age of 14, it would be “difficult [for the United States or other countries] to indict him and to ask Qatar to extradite him.” Moreover, in Qatar, the home of Al-Jazeera, Hamza would enjoy relative freedom of speech, which he could exploit in order to act as a spokesperson for bin Laden’s brand of Islam, to “spread the jihadi doctrine and refute the wrong and the suspicions raised around jihad.” But Mahmud, bin Laden’s Libyan chief of staff—also known as Atiyya Abdul Rahman—balked at the idea of Qatar as a destination, on the basis that the small Gulf state, a U.S. ally, would hand Hamza over to the Americans. Ultimately, as will be seen, bin Laden followed Mahmud’s advice; but the suggestion that Hamza should act as a mouthpiece for jihadi dogma indicates that, despite their long separation, the father had more than an inkling of his son’s rhetorical abilities.
In Abbottabad, five hundred miles northeast of al-Qaeda’s Waziristan powerbase, bin Laden already had one grown son with him—Khalid, the son of his fourth wife, Siham, born in the same year as Hamza. Khalid served as the compound’s resident handyman and plumber. He also kept a cow he had bought from a local farmer and, like all of the men around bin Laden, was prepared to defend his father with deadly force. Khalid was useful to have around, to be sure, but hardly suited for leadership. Now, however, three more adult sons hid in Waziristan, awaiting their father’s call: Uthman, aged 27, Mohammed, 25, and Hamza, just 21. bin Laden made his choice. He ordered Uthman and Mohammed to go to Peshawar, 100 miles from their father. Khalid was to do the same, having been betrothed to a girl whose family lived there. But Hamza was to come to Abbottabad as soon as he could safely do so. As Khairia told him in a letter, “The father … asks God that he will benefit from you … He has prepared a lot of work for you.”
For a while, the portents seemed encouraging. Siham, Khalid’s mother, told Hamza of a “very good” dream in which “you were conducting Adhan [the Muslim call to prayer] from atop a very high building, in the same voice in which you said, ‘Stay strong my father, for heaven awaits us and victory is ours if God permits.’” This was a reference to the poem that Hamza had recited at his brother Mohammed’s wedding more than a decade previously.
As ever, security was the overriding factor, and bin Laden had already lost one son in Waziristan. Saad, a decade older than Hamza, had been imprisoned in Iran alongside his brothers, but by mid-August 2008, he had been set free (or had escaped, depending on which account one believes). Like Hamza, he made his way to Waziristan. Saad, characteristically, grew restless, perhaps as a result of the mental problems treated by Khairia back in Jeddah. Whatever the cause, Saad apparently behaved recklessly, showed his face once too often in public, and sometime in the first half of 2009, was killed by a U.S. missile. Mahmud, bin Laden’s chief of staff, told his commander in a letter that “Saad died—peace be upon him—because he was impatient.”
“We pray to God to have mercy on Saad,” bin Laden wrote. “And may He reward us with a substitute.”
For Hamza, Mahmud had nothing but praise. “He is very sweet and good,” he told bin Laden. “I see in him wisdom and politeness. He does not want to be treated with favoritism because he is the son of ‘someone.’”
Eager as he was for Hamza to join him, bin Laden was not going to allow the younger son to meet the same fate as the elder. He therefore issued operatives in Waziristan with strict instructions to keep Hamza indoors unless absolutely necessary and insisted on personally vetting the man assigned to guard his son. Under these strictures, which Mahmud likened to a “prison,” Hamza—usually as patient and level-headed as his mother—began to exhibit some of Saad’s petulance. Bin Laden relented a little, allowing Hamza to undergo shooting practice.
Bin Laden agonized over the decision to bring his son to his side. On the one hand, Hamza was the heir presumptive—the son of his favorite wife, charismatic and well-liked. He could be a great help to the organization. On the other hand, bin Laden’s own security situation, already precarious to begin with, had recently become yet more delicate, for the two Pakistani brothers who protected him and his family were dangerously close to burning out from stress. One of them, Ahmed, had contracted a serious illness that bin Laden feared might relapse at any time. They could hold out, bin Laden estimated, at most another few months. bin Laden needed to find replacements for the brothers as soon as possible, but his requirements were exacting. In order to blend in, the new protectors would need to be Pakistanis, fluent in local dialects. To avoid raising suspicions about the unusual size of the compound, they would need to have large families. And, of course, they would need to be absolutely trustworthy and relentlessly committed to the cause.
Mahmud would have his work cut out fulfilling such a tall order. In the meantime, however, bin Laden finally decided, despite the obvious danger, to have Hamza join him. By early April 2011, Mahmud had hatched a plan to make it happen. Hamza, with his wife and children, traveled south, through the badlands of Baluchistan. This was a roundabout route, to be sure, but it was safer than heading directly toward Abbottabad over the Khyber mountain passes. Once in Baluchistan, the plan was for Hamza’s party to rendezvous with Azmarai, one of al-Qaeda’s most seasoned and trusted fixers. Azmarai would arrange forward passage through Karachi and then by air or train to Peshawar. There, Hamza would meet another al-Qaeda operative who would send him on to Abbottabad when the time was right. To ease his brother through the inevitable checkpoints along the way, Khalid lent Hamza his fake ID and driver’s license. By late April 2011, plans were afoot, and Hamza waited only for a cloudy sky to speed him on his way. But it was not to be. Within a few weeks, his father was dead.
Heir Apparent
Hamza may have avoided death or capture in Abbottabad by weeks or even days. His brother Khalid was not so lucky; he died wielding an assault weapon in a futile attempt to defend his father against the superior numbers, tactics, and technology of the U.S. Navy SEALs. Hamza’s mother, Khairia, was taken into Pakistani custody in the early hours of May 2, 2011. Around a year later, she, Umm Khalid, and a dozen other bin Laden family members were deported to Saudi Arabia, where they live to this day in a compound outside Jeddah under what their lawyer describes as “very tight restrictions and security arrangements made by the Kingdom’s authorities,” including a ban on speaking publicly about their time in Pakistan.
Over the next four years, while Ayman al-Zawahiri took over as permanent emir of al-Qaeda, Syria and Iraq descended into barbarism, and the Islamic State spun out of al-Qaeda’s orbit, Hamza bin Laden remained silent. Then, out of the blue, in an audio message released in August 2015, al-Zawahiri introduced “a lion from the den of al-Qaeda”—a play on the name Usama, which means “lion” in Arabic. The next voice on the tape was that of Hamza.56 He hailed the “martyrdom” of his father and his brother Khalid; praised al-Qaeda’s leaders in Syria, Yemen, and North Africa; lauded the attacks on Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon; and called for jihadis to “[t]ake the battlefield from Kabul, Baghdad, and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv.”
Further statements appeared in May, July, and August 2016, prompting the U.S. State Department in January 2017 to place Hamza on its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Two more messages then emerged in May 2017.
The theme of encouraging attacks on Jewish and Western interests is one to which Hamza has returned again and again in his messages. For example, the first of his May 2017 statements is entitled “Advice for Martyrdom-Seekers in the West.” Over footage of the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, a television reconstruction of events leading up to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and images connected with other attacks, Hamza encouraged jihadis all over the world to “Sell your soul cheaply for the pleasure of [God]” and urged them to read Inspire magazine, the online publication of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that taught the Boston bombers how to turn a pressure cooker into a weapon. A caption in the video montage encourages “stabbing with knives and using vehicles and trucks” as an alternative to guns and bombs.
Strikingly, Hamza directs followers not to travel to theaters of war within the Muslim world, but instead to attack targets in the West and Russia. “Perhaps you are longing for emigration,” he says. “Perhaps you yearn for sacrifice in the battlefields. Know that inflicting punishment on Jews and Crusaders where you are is more vexing and severe for the enemy.” He urges “martyrs” that “the message you intend to convey through your blessed operation must be explained unequivocally in the media” and suggests talking points to align these explanations with al-Qaeda’s own propaganda.
In the same statement, Hamza sets up a hierarchy of targets to be attacked, starting with those who “transgress” against Islam (such as the editors of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo), followed by Jewish interests, the United States, other NATO member states, and, lastly, Russia. It is noteworthy that Hamza accords attacks on Jewish interests a higher priority than those against Americans, whereas Osama bin Laden in his 1998 fatwa relating to “Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” depicted them as coequal targets. This hierarchy may reflect Hamza’s renewed emphasis on the Palestinian cause, dramatically stated in the title of his May 2016 statement, “Jerusalem Is a Bride and Our Blood Is Her Dowry.” However, this should not be taken as evidence that al-Qaeda is about to begin attacking Israel directly. It should be recalled that Osama bin Laden himself was quite cynical about the matter, admitting privately to his lieutenants that al-Qaeda’s rhetoric about Palestine was no more than “noise” designed to drum up popular support in the Arab world.
In two of his statements, Hamza, like his father before him, urges regime change in Saudi Arabia. The first, released in August 2016, bemoans AQAP’s ouster the previous April from Mukalla in Yemen, alleging that it was accomplished “with direct American participation.”63 (In fact, Mukalla was liberated by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab forces.) The second statement was released during U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, although Hamza does not mention the trip in the text itself. In the latter statement, Hamza reiterates his call for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, claiming that the House of Saud has been doing the bidding of foreigners ever since the Kingdom’s founder, Ibn Saud, received British aid during World War I.
Hamza’s messages frequently repeat, almost word-for-word, sentences uttered by the elder bin Laden during al-Qaeda’s heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This tendency can be heard, for example, in Hamza’s diatribes on the Palestinian Territories, on what he calls the “occupation” of Saudi Arabia, and on the idea that the United States is “stealing” the wealth of the Muslim world. (President Trump, no doubt unwittingly, played into the last of these narrative strands on his visit to Saudi Arabia, when he thanked King Salman for his “massive investment in America, its industry, and its jobs” and boasted of a new arms deal that would transfer a further $110 billion to U.S. companies.) Hamza even makes an effort to sound like his father, intoning his words with the same quiet intensity.
In his first statement, Hamza speaks of “following my father” by pledging allegiance to the leader of the Taliban. This is noteworthy in itself; whereas al-Qaeda’s other senior leaders pledge bayat to the emir of the organization (currently al-Zawahiri) who then swears fealty to the Taliban on behalf of al-Qaeda as a whole, Hamza gives his bayat directly to the Taliban leader, suggesting that, as the heir to bin Laden, he belongs to a higher class. Other aspects of the statements confirm the impression that Hamza is being elevated to leadership. In his earlier messages, al-Qaeda’s media arm referred to Hamza as a “Brother Mujahid,” a rank-and-file designation. But beginning with his two statements released in May 2017, the organization has started calling him “Sheikh,” a title reserved for its topmost brass.
None of Hamza’s messages have been accompanied by pictures of the man himself. In fact, the most recent known images are still those of Hamza sifting through helicopter wreckage in the weeks following 9/11, when he was just 12 years old; today, he would be 27 or 28. For a recent episode of 60 Minutes, CBS News commissioned a forensic artist, Stephen Mancusi, to take images of Hamza in his boyhood and subject them to an age-progression technique. The resulting portrait is of a young man who looks unsettlingly like his father around the same age, when he was raising money for the Afghan struggle against the Soviets. Another clue to Hamza’s appearance may come from the fact that he seems to have borrowed his half-brother Khalid’s Pakistani ID card for the abortive journey from Waziristan to Abbottabad. Khalid, as depicted in grisly photographs of his corpse lying on the stone floor of the Abbottabad house, shared his father’s long, thin nose and full lips. If Hamza does indeed resemble his father, and is willing in due time to show his face, no doubt the likeness will prove an asset in rallying jihadi support around al-Qaeda.
When Hamza’s first statement came out in August 2015, confidence in al-Zawahiri had reached an all-time low. It had just emerged that Mullah Omar had died in 2013, a year before al-Zawahiri had renewed al-Qaeda’s bayat to the Taliban leader. In other words, either al-Zawahiri had been unaware of Omar’s death—in which case he was too far out of the loop to lead—or he had known about it all along and had intentionally sworn allegiance to a dead man—a grave sin in al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam. This revelation brought dismay and ridicule from jihadis all over the world, at a time when the Islamic State was still capturing all the headlines and attracting the lion’s share of recruits. Raising the profile of the heir to bin Laden was thus an inspired move on the part of al-Zawahiri and the other al-Qaeda top brass. But Hamza’s return will have far broader and longer-term repercussions.
Future Standard Bearer of Global Jihad?
As the Islamic State continues to crumble, many of its adherents will be looking for new banners under which to fight. They are unlikely to pledge allegiance to al-Zawahiri, whom they see as an interloper unworthy of bin Laden’s legacy. It would be an understatement to say that al-Zawahiri lacks the charisma of his predecessor. Moreover, as an Egyptian, he will always struggle to inspire loyalty among other Arabs, especially those from the Arabian Peninsula.
Hamza, by contrast, suffers from none of these handicaps. His family pedigree, not to mention his dynastic marriage to the daughter of an al-Qaeda charter member, automatically entitles him to respect from every jihadi who follows bin Laden’s ideology, which includes every Islamic State fighter. As a Saudi descended from prominent families on both his father’s and his mother’s side, he is well-placed to pull in large donations from patrons in the Gulf, particularly at a time when sectarian fervor is running high in Saudi Arabia. It is significant in this regard that Hamza has returned to his father’s rhetoric castigating the House of Saud. As with bin Laden’s 1996 declaration of jihad, this is not just a political message; it is designed to inspire potential donors.
One final aspect of Hamza’s messages is noteworthy here. Unlike other leading al-Qaeda figures, he has never once explicitly criticized the Islamic State. True, he bemoans “strife” between the various groups fighting in Iraq and Syria and calls repeatedly for unity among jihadis to face down what he describes as a “unified enemy” of “Crusaders, Jews, Alawites, rejectionists, and apostate mercenaries.” But he carefully avoids naming the self-styled caliphate or its leaders. The Islamic State, for its part, reciprocates the favor; even as its propaganda castigates al-Zawahiri as a traitor to the cause, it never directly references Hamza. It is significant, too, that many Islamic State supporters who denounce “al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda” nevertheless profess admiration for Osama bin Laden. This is the best evidence that Hamza could be a unifying figure.
It is true that Hamza has never fought on the frontlines—something of which, as is seen in his letters to his father from captivity, he himself is painfully aware. This distinguishes him from the elder bin Laden, whose warrior myth was built on his exploits against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But it is not as much of a weakness as might be thought. Hamza is not coming out of thin air; he is the favorite son of the most famous jihadi in history. And in a culture where leadership typically descends through a bloodline, pedigree trumps experience. Moreover, while Hamza has not actually fought, he has been featured in al-Qaeda propaganda from a very young age, in videos that depict him as having been very close to his father. Perhaps most importantly of all, Hamza clearly has al-Qaeda’s senior leadership behind him. During his Iranian captivity, Hamza received training from some of al-Qaeda’s top operatives, including al-`Adl and al-Masri. Both of these men are now reportedly free and presumably available to give Hamza their counsel, something bin Laden himself lacked during the last nine years of his life.
Hamza’s ascendancy comes at a moment when al-Qaeda affiliates are growing in resources and influence across the Islamic world. Al-Nusra, the Syrian franchise now nominally subsumed into Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, may have more than 20,000 militants under its command. AQAP controls or has a presence in large swathes of Yemen’s coastline and highway network. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently concluded a merger with several other factions, creating a jihadi conglomerate whose constituent groups collectively carried out over 250 attacks in 2016 alone. However, since AQAP’s threats against U.S. embassies in 2013, these franchises have apparently not sought to use their power to mount attacks against the West. While al-Zawahiri has mostly limited himself to threatening the United States rhetorically, if Hamza takes the reins, there is reason to think that could change, given that his messages repeatedly call for more attacks on American soil, praising previous atrocities like the Fort Hood massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing. As has been seen, Hamza has turned to his father’s well-worn anti-American rhetoric, accusing the United States of “occupying” the Arabian Peninsula and “stealing” Muslim wealth.
Many factors suggest that Hamza could be a highly effective leader: his family pedigree, his dynastic marriage, his longstanding jihadi fervor and obvious charisma, and his closeness to al-Qaeda’s most senior operatives. It remains to be seen how, exactly, the organization will make use of him, but it is clear that his star is on the rise. That should worry policymakers in the West as well as in the Muslim world.

Stairway to prosperity

India’s record of reducing poverty pales in comparison to China, Brazil and Mexico. It needs to build social infrastructure capable of providing quality education, health, and nutrition to buck the trend.
The World Bank’s Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals paints a striking image of India’s poverty reduction record in the past 25 or so years. India extricated 120 million people from extreme poverty between 1990 and 2013. However, this process was relatively slow. Over the same period, China reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty from 756 million to 25 million.
If we factor in economic growth, between 1995 and 2012, the growth elasticity of poverty reduction for India is just over 0.12. By contrast, countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, and Thailand — that witnessed relatively low economic growth rates — emerge as positive outliers, exhibiting higher growth elasticities of poverty reduction than many high-growth countries, including India. While the growth elasticity of poverty reduction for China is a little over 0.28, the numbers for Mexico and Brazil are 3.28 and 1.14 respectively.
In the popular children’s game Snakes and Ladders (now called Chutes and Ladders), rapid upward mobility is matched by equally rapid descent. This is an apt metaphor for the resistance of poverty to rapid growth. Growth — the ladders — is an uncertain process for many individuals; benefits are elusive and, if attained, always at risk. Therefore, an essential element in any enduring poverty alleviation strategy is the prevention of large declines in household incomes that are caused by a variety of shocks — in effect, blocking off the chutes.
In each of the positive outliers mentioned above, state-sponsored anti-poverty and social protection schemes have played a significant role in reducing poverty. The World Bank’s Francisco Ferreira estimates that in the absence of redistributive transfers, the headcount index in Brazil would have been higher by approximately five percentage points in 2004. Research — most notably by Martin Ravallion — also contrasts Brazil’s experience with that of India, where rising inequalities have been found to dilute any impact growth had on poverty reduction. Studying poverty reduction in Kazakhstan, Kudebayeva and Barrientos (2017) find that growth was responsible for about four-fifths of the poverty reduction between 2000 and 2009. But, when the “poverty gap”, which takes into account the distance of households from the poverty line, is considered, the contribution of redistributive social assistance measures increases to nearly one-third of the reduction in poverty.
Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) have been proposed as an effective instrument in this situation. An added attraction of such schemes is that, beyond the immediate safety net objective, they could also serve longer term objectives through behavioural changes in households. Explaining the channels through which CCTs can reduce poverty, Ferreira and Robalini (2010) explain: “The objective is to alleviate current poverty while simultaneously seeking to break the inter-generational transmission of poverty by encouraging investment in the human capital of poor children.”
But do the desired behavioural changes actually take place? In Declining Inequality in Latin America, editors Lopez-Calva and Lustig conclude that while education attainment among the poor has increased, the redistributive momentum is at risk of being lost due to persistent divergences in the access to quality education: “The poor and middle ranges of the distribution receive an education of significantly lower quality than the top 10 per cent, members of which usually attend better-quality private schools.” Research from Brazil similarly estimates the failure to advance is higher by four percentage points for CCT-covered children than others.
india poverty, india poverty alleviation, poor in india, india poor, india economic growth, india news, indian express news C R Sasikumar
Even for health outcomes, research finds that the Brazilian CCT Bolsa Familia has failed to increase child immunisation rates, and has had no impact on health indicators of children between 12 and 36 months. Similarly, the impact of Mexico’s Oportunidades on health outcomes has been inconsistent, owing to variations in the quality of health infrastructure, scarcity of medicine, low level of care, and discourteous treatment by health professionals.
The lesson that emerges is the ability of cash transfers to serve as both “ladders” and for blocking off “chutes” depends on how education and health outcomes for the poor change, which in turn is predicated not just on the behavioural changes the transfers induce, but also on the quality of social infrastructure. Cash transfers are able to act as effective ladders and reduce long-term poverty only as long as they are supported by a social infrastructure that facilitates an improvement in outcomes. As Fiszbein and Schady (2008) write: “Policy makers and program managers for CCTs in Latin America, the region where such programs have the longest tradition and the most established status, increasingly are casting CCTs as part of a broader system of social protection.”
India’s strategy to address both persistent and recurring poverty among households would be well served by addressing both the ladders and the chutes dimensions of the problem. India’s latest Economic Survey has mooted a Universal Basic Income as a “safety net against health, income and other shocks.” The UBI has been hotly debated on both feasibility and desirability considerations. However, drawing on the discussion above, at a conceptual level, it focusses squarely on the “chutes” aspect of the poverty problem.
The Survey makes clear that the primary function of the UBI is to block the chutes that threaten to subsume the poor. While blocking the chutes smoothens the consumption curve temporarily, even the most ambitious cash transfers will fail to reduce poverty permanently, unless they are complemented by a well-functioning social infrastructure that is able to provide quality education, health, and nutrition, across the board.
To maximise the bang for the buck, an effective poverty strategy should pay attention to the short-term safety-net aspects of any transfer-based programme, the medium-term behavioural effects, and perhaps most critically, the longer-term changes in outcomes.
The aim therefore should be to minimise the chutes and maximise the ladders — for this, access to the right mix of social services is critical.

Canadians are no less racist than Americans, We’re just quieter about it

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, it’s worth asking: Are Canadians really less racist than Americans?
A recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine — with a photo of a smiling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the cover – asks: “Why can’t he be our president?” It’s just the latest example of the global media’s current fascination with Trudeau and Canada and their supposed stark contrast to Donald Trump and the United States.
As a Canadian scholar at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I’ve watched with fascination for months as media pundits both abroad and back home have promoted the idea of “Canadian exceptionalism.”
They argue that Canadians are especially tolerant, diverse and committed to multiculturalism. Many believe that Canada — with our self-described feminist prime minister and our compassionate approach to refugees — should show other countries how it’s done.
In the the Walrus, author Stephen Marche argued that Canada is the last defender of multiculturalism on Earth. Canadian novelist Charles Foran claimed that Canada is a “post-nationalist state.”
“Call it post-nationalism, or just a new model of belonging,” he wrote in the Guardian. “Canada may yet be of help in what is guaranteed to be the difficult year to come.”
More recently, Adam Gopnik wrote in the New Yorker: “Canada is the model liberal country.”
But pundits are forgetting that historical circumstances — rather than an exceptional tendency to be nicer or more tolerant — are what truly made Canada what it is today.
‘Myopic gaze’ from Americans
In Gopnik’s New Yorker essay, “We Could Have Been Canada,” he wonders why Canadians are not more similar to Americans. After all, both countries were settled by Europeans who relied on Indigenous knowledge about the land. Indigenous peoples in both places also taught settlers how to live amid different cultures and identities. So why did multiculturalism and liberality supposedly take hold in one place, but not the other?
Some writers believe the key difference is the two different systems of government in Canada and the United States — a republic south of the border versus Canada’s constitutional monarchy — and the circumstances in which those governments emerged and evolved. Americans birthed their nation-state out of violent disobedience; Canadians, out of a conference on Confederation.
Gopnik agrees. He blames the American Revolution for denying Americans the opportunity to end slavery “more peacefully, and sooner.” Americans, he says, could have developed their country in an orderly and peaceful fashion, as Canada supposedly did.
But historians know this is a simplistic narrative. In Borealia, a blog about early Canadian history, Jerry Bannister, an associate professor of history at Dalhousie University, writes: “American liberals’ gaze towards Canada may be rose-coloured, but more than anything it’s myopic.”
Gopnik assumes that without the American Revolution, slavery would have ended in 1833 when the House of Commons passed a bill to abolish slavery in the British Empire.
Perhaps so. But maybe not. And even if it did, that doesn’t mean Canadians are any less racist.
Critical Differences
It’s a common myth that Canada didn’t have slavery. It did. As historians like Brett Rushforth, Marcel Trudel and Charmaine Nelson point out in their scholarship, thousands of Indigenous people and enslaved Africans were held captive in Canada by merchants, traders and settlers.
Canada had slavery. But because of the colder climate, it did not have the conditions to grow profitable crops that relied on slave labour, including sugar, rice, tobacco and cotton. Consequently, Canada never developed a slave system akin to the entrenched and all-encompassing institution that many Americans implemented and protected for so long.
As in Canada, white settlers in the U.S. invaded Indigenous lands. But unlike in Canada, those people then settled that land with a significant population of enslaved Africans and African-Americans. This is a critical difference between the two countries.
Even as slavery bolstered the American economy, founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson recognized that it would be difficult for future generations to create a multicultural nation from one founded on chattel slavery and settler colonialism.
Much of the white supremacy and xenophobia that Canadians deride in American culture, and overlook in our own, can be traced to the racism that developed alongside the federally protected slave system in the U.S. Given this history, it’s not surprising that the overwhelming majority of white voters in former slave states voted for Trump.
As Joseph Crespino, a historian at Emory University, notes in his book In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution, white southerners have succeeded in shaping the United States based on their own values.
Canadians are also fortunate to have avoided trying to claim a mantle of exceptionalism, as Americans have done for so long. From the very beginning, Americans believed that they had a duty to spread, or impose, their values on others; many still do. Canada hasn’t shared that belief.
Puritan piety
The idea of “American exceptionalism” can be traced to the arrival of Puritan settlers in Massachusetts in 1620 who promoted the idea of a white American settlement as the “city upon the hill.” Puritans hoped that their piety would serve as an example to the supposedly corrupt, luxurious Europeans and “savage” Native Americans.
The 1776 Declaration of Independence, and America’s victory in the War of Independence, further spurred American exceptionalism, as did key 19th-century concepts like the Manifest Destiny, which declared that American colonization of North America was justified and inevitable.
But the hubris of American exceptionalism has rendered the country rife with hypocrisy. In the 20th century, critics noted that the self-described “leader of the free world” was defeating fascism in Europe while propping up racial segregation at home.
The idea that Americans needed to spread liberty and democracy around the world led the country into catastrophic conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq. At home, it helped promote the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in residential schools, which Canada also enacted.
As the counter-protests in Charlottesville and against Trump this week demonstrate, many Americans recognize their nation’s racism and bigotry, and are working to show their skeptical countrymen that diversity is an asset.
Look inward
This kind of work only happens when Americans drop the self-congratulatory plaudits, look inward, and acknowledge their own flaws, which is exactly what exceptionalism discourages. Instead of asking: “How can we be better?” exceptionalism asks: “How are we the best?”
Canadians know that Canada can be better. It’s nonsensical to suggest that Canadians know compassion better than any country when international agencies like Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Commission slam Canada for failing to alleviate the systematic discrimination of Indigenous peoples, and especially violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Canadians have a tendency not to be less racist than Americans, but less loud about it. As Charmaine Nelson, a professor of art history at McGill University, wrote recently in the Walrus, Canadians are “more insidious and covert” in their racism. This is where the notion of exceptionalism fails.
There is much to celebrate about Canada, which undoubtedly remains more tolerant and just than many countries. But Canadian patriotism should be about gratitude, not hubris.
Gratitude appreciates good fortune and breaks down pride. By taking off the blinders and revealing our collective ugliness, of which there is a lot right now, a Canadian patriotism rooted in gratitude can help initiate progressive change —which is exactly what Canada, as wonderful a country as it is, still needs.

China’s past affects its present

Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power by Howard W French is a timely account to help China watchers understand the manner in which China and the Chinese Communist Party looks at the past to justify as well as support some of its decisions and actions it sees necessary in its rise to become a Global Power. This piece uses French’s work to understand why such a phenomenon is taking place, how the state is using history to justify its positions, a few lines on how this historic conception affects China’s relations with India are also included at the end.
Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in China in 1949, China’s foreign and domestic policies have both served the same goal: to maintain internal stability under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From 1949 until Mao Zedong died in 1976, the CCP was the revolutionary party consistently waging class struggle through political campaigns under Mao’s leadership. However as China transitioned from the 1949-1976 phase through the Deng Xiaoping era into the period of consecutive years of 10% GDP growth, the CCP’s social contract with the people (renmin) changed from that of a comrade, waging class struggle together to a different relationship that has been maintained on two planks. The first and most important is successive years of economic growth, that has lifted upwards of 800 million people out of poverty and considerably improved living standards for both urban and rural populations. And the second has been a kind of revivalist ‘rally around the flag’ nationalism. The roots of this lie in the party’s response to the numerous uprisings against the state in 1989. The Party desperately needed time and political space to renew its ideological credibility with its own population, especially in the big, relatively prosperous cities of the country’s east. French writes, it was toward this end that that Jiang Zemin introduced his patriotic education campaign that sought to focus attention on the nation’s youth, especially on the humiliations of the century that preceded Communist rule. Beginning from the Opium wars of 1842 and continuing through the numerous ‘unequal’ treaties (inculding the 1914 Simla Agreement that decided the border between India and Tibet at the McMahon line) signed between a divided and feeble China and aggressive imperial powers. Right from the start, Japan was indeed given pride of place among chosen villains. Under the present dispensation, anti-Japanese sentiments have been generated under an almost state-wide initiative.
China in recent years under Xi Jinping has hosted a number of military parades to celebrate their victory of Japan during the second world war, inviting numerous foreign leaders as well to be present. Such occasions also turn into moments for the Chinese to showcase their advances in military weaponry and technology. In addition to these parades, Xi Jinping has declared two annual holidays the first to celebrate the day China attained victory over the Japanese in 1945 as well as to remember the day Nanjing was sacked by Japanese forces. The Orwellian internal security apparatus has also been seen to turn a blind eye to times when mass protests are staged against Japan. Anti-Japanese military parades, state holidays as well as protests can all be seen as a way the state is channeling the popular anger, possibly resulting from a slowing economy, in a manner in the CCP can show that it is in solidarity with the people. China’s economy for the past 3-4 years has been staring at a middle-income trap, where they need to transition from a labour intensive economy to a more capital and knowledge intensive one. In the eyes of the people, slowing economic ascendancy most certainly threatens the CCP’s legitimacy, therefore such nationalism as illustrated above allows people to vent their frustrations. By default, the concept of national humiliation has slowly gotten ingrained in the national psyche. While Japan has been the visible recipient of this national venting, the concept of a century of humiliation applies across the board. The best barometer for such feelings would be discussions on Chinese social media about China’s historic rights claim in the South China Sea, as well as China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Therefore while every nation’s past events most certainly do affect its present, in China we do see a new kind of assertiveness that is resulting from tacitly state supported nationalism.
While the border dispute with India most certainly isn’t a front and center issue for the Chinese state and people, given that they have numerous pressing disputes on their eastern borders, it most certainly is important to understand this attitude of national humiliation among the Chinese to understand a part of their approach to the Sino-Indian border. India’s favorable upgradation of relations with Japan under the deep personal chemistry of Modi and Abe too can be viewed at with suspicion from the Chinese citizen mindful of national humiliation. Its important to understand that this is just one factor that influences or is in the background of Chinese strategic thinking, but in statecraft it is important to be aware of all moving parts that help one form a particular strategy. Howard French’s work has given China-watchers perspective and added another piece to the puzzle to help us better understand not only China’s outlook to the world but its conception of its place within it.

The Altered Geopolitical Landscape of Asia Pacific

The result of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), led by President Xi Jinping, and US President Trump’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is that many Asian states are re-orientating their long-held policy towards the two giants.
Vague commitments by the US towards its traditional Asian allies, coupled with offers of billions of dollars in infrastructural investments by cash-rich China, have the potential to disrupt the usual order of things in Asia.
Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, and Xi’s policy of ‘deep pockets’ for China’s neighbours have already made several US loyalists recalibrate their alliances.
The starkest shift has come from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Despite having long-standing issues with China after a standoff over Scarborough Shoals in the South China Sea, and the Philippines being one of the US’s trusted allies in Asia, Duterte has publicly shunned the US and signed multiple bilateral treaties with China.
Chinese support
China has donated a $7.35 million shipment of more than 3,000 assault and sniper rifles along with ammunition to the Philippines, weapons that are likely to be used in Mindanao against radical militants. Even five years ago, the world would have expected the US and the West, not China, to have supported the Philippines’ fight against radical militants.
Duterte’s fallout with the US can be attributed to the US being critical of his hardline policies against drug dealers. Duterte has said on several occasions he does not like the US military presence in his country. By contrast, China is unlikely to infringe upon Duterte’s strong leadership, nor will it be critical of him over human rights.
Thailand and Malaysia, too, have been pulled closer towards China’s orbit of influence.
Thailand’s military government did not have especially comfortable relations with the Obama administration anyway; and now China and Thailand are pursuing a planned high-speed railway project worth $5.15 billion. Thailand’s junta has targeted infrastructure spending as a long-term means of boosting the economy, with China offering billions through BRI.
If the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia also move closer to China, this all has the potential to shake the fundamentals of the geopolitical orientation of ASEAN nations.
ASEAN driving forces
When ASEAN was formed 50 years ago, there were two driving forces. One was to make economic gains through better trade among member states, and the second was to form an alliance against the spread of communism in the region, led by the then Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Today the Soviet Union has ceased to exist, and communism is dead. China is not interested in exporting ideology, but in expanding trade in the region. The inevitable question is, “Will economic gains create sticky-enough glue to hold countries in the bloc together as they tread unchartered territories, and respond to a surging China and a waning and unsure US?”
One probability is that ASEAN will form its own defence pact to avoid being caught in the China-US regional power play, and to retain regional peace and stability.
Contention in the South China Sea has exposed potential rifts, with countries like Cambodia reluctant to upset China, while others express support for the ruling of the International Arbitration Court in the Hague.
In spite of lingering doubts about continued US engagement in the region, a US Navy destroyer early this month sailed close to the disputed island in the South China Sea; and the US has proposed increasing its naval presence from 272 vessels to 350.
As it celebrates 50 years, ASEAN leaders can’t deny or defer forever the inevitable geopolitical realities and the implications for the bloc’s ability to remain united over the next 50 years in the fast-changing security dynamics of the region.
An increasingly aggressive North Korea led by Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. Already, 16 missiles have been fired during10 tests in 2017, and the country’s ultimate goal is to produce a missile capable of reaching the US, topped with a nuclear warhead.
An end to patience
North Korea’s sabre rattling makes Japan and South Korea uneasy. The Trump administration has announced an end to the “era of strategic patience” and declared that “all options are on the table”.
The US military build-up on its Asian bases, the deployment of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system across the Korean border, and China’s anxiety because of this deployment, along with US frustration with China’s inability to contain the erratic North Korean leader – all these factors are leading to a number of possible eventualities.
The likelihood of a US attack, with the resulting impact on the region, is no longer improbable. No matter how unlikely it may have sounded even a year ago, the emergence of “One Korea” in the aftermath of the chain of events that may happen if the North Korean missile tests continue, is no longer an impossibility. That is, of course, a debate requiring separate analysis and argument.
An increasingly powerful China is showing signs of assertiveness in the neighbourhood, including the South China Sea. While joining celebrations on the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, President Xi Jinping had strong words of caution: “The central government will unswervingly implement the policy of “one country, two systems and make sure that it is fully applied in Hong Kong without being bent or distorted”.
The general mood of resignation is echoed in the words of Carrie Lam, the newly appointed Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who told the BBC that she cannot guarantee that freedom of speech will protect those who call for independence. These developments will certainly not offer any reassurance to Taiwan, considered by China as a “breakaway province” to be united with the mainland in the future.
Old rivalries persist
In South Asia, there is little hope for any amity between India and Pakistan, or of them reaching a solution to longstanding issues such as Kashmir and border disputes. Indeed, matters have taken a turn for the worse following the attack last year on Indian border guards in Pathankot, and subsequently Uri, by alleged Pakistani militants.
Rivalry between the two largest countries in South Asia has undermined regional cooperation, and South Asia continues to be one of the least integrated regions of the world, with trade between its countries not even amounting to 5% of the total trade that countries of the region conduct with the rest of the world.
With a population of about 1.7 billion, South Asia houses two nuclear-armed, mutually hostile neighbours; any misjudgement or miscalculation by either side could have catastrophic consequences, not only for the two countries, but the region as a whole.
While the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is virtually a dysfunctional body – particularly when compared to ASEAN – the Indo-Pak rivalry is also impeding other regional and sub-regional initiatives, like the BRI and The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM). The China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor runs through the contentious Kashmir region, making India a non-participant in the BRI and sceptical of BCIM.
In June, Chinese troops started building a road towards India’s border, onto Bhutan’s Doklam plateau, which is claimed by the Chinese as its own enclave. Bhutan, in turn, has sought help from neighbouring India, which sent troops across the border from the northeastern state of Sikkim.
India’s chicken’s neck
The standoff between China, India, and Bhutan began because of India’s sensitivity to Chinese building activity in the region. While the Doklam plateau is not Indian territory, activity in the region gives the Chinese access to the “chicken’s neck” corridor that connects India to its remote northeastern states. It is suspected by China, and many in Bhutan, that Bhutan’s assertion of its claims may be prompted by New Delhi because of the corridor’s strategic importance to India.
The inability of these two Asian giants to have some form of minimal strategic relationship for mutual economic, trade, and connectivity advantages, not only continues to deprive them, but other countries in the region as well.
A reorientation by India is seeing Prime Minister Modi moving closer to the US and Japan, as a US-India-Japan-Vietnam regional alliance is in the offing.
The visit to Israel by PM Modi – the first by an Indian prime minister – and the signing of a defence deal worth billions of dollars between the two countries, reflects a shift from India’s traditional dependence on Russia as its major supplier of military hardware.
The joint military exercise last year between Russia and Pakistan, and Russia’s flirting with the Taliban, as insurgents in Afghanistan launch increasingly bold attacks, and a new branch of Afghanistan-ISIS is taking control of Afghanistan’s fortified territory, previously considered to be a Taliban stronghold, are all changing the dynamics of regional power play.
US troop withdrawal, Pakistan’s uncertain commitment to eradicating the Taliban, and now Russia getting involved, does not bode well for the region.
Even Australia had a fallout with the US after the botched phone call between Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over questions of refugee asylum. And Turnbull publicly said he was open to the idea of China taking the place of the US in leading Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, following Trump’s withdrawal.
Today, China is Australia’s largest market for merchandise exports. Turnbull is also in consultation with other nations to forge ahead with TPP minus the US, and he is in talks with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
New ways
As traditional US allies find ways to come together without the US, and China continues its drive with trade regimes, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), as well as mega infrastructure projects like BRI, the geopolitics of Asia Pacific are going through realignments and changes not seen since the end of the World War II.
As the Asia-Pacific region navigates through unchartered waters, it will test the strength of old economic alliances like ASEAN, as well as challenge the conventional wisdom that used to see countries with democratic credentials and free markets politically and militarily aligned to the leader of the free world, the US.
Economics, politics, and military alliances may no longer follow the same trajectory as before. The future of the region is fraught with challenges and uncertainty that require a much better understanding of both the strategic issues and economic interests, along with the forces that are either uniting or driving a wedge between countries.
Complex issues need mature understanding, which at this moment seems to offer the Chinese an edge over the Americans, as anxious Asians wait and watch events unfold. One thing is for sure, things will never be the same.

 

Doklam: How India refused to play Chinese checkers, and won

The successful resolution of the over two-month-old stand-off on Bhutanese territory brought the two Asian powers back from the brink — if the standoff had tipped over into military conflict, it could have escalated beyond control.
The Doklam issue was common to the 2013 incident at Depsang and the 2014 one at Chumar in one respect — in all three, China sought to change the ground reality to use it for a new boundary claim.
The difference was that in Doklam, China was doing it on Bhutanese territory, but with an eye to reshape the boundary and the security matrix with India. For India too, it was a first of sorts, where troops were sent to a third country — to uphold Bhutan’s territorial rights and India’s security interests.
Having successfully stopped China’s road-building efforts, India had three tasks — hold the line on the ground and prepare for a military retaliation by China; maintain Bhutan’s interests and territorial integrity, and brave the inevitable Chinese pressure.
On the ground, India ramped up its military presence, prepared to sit there through monsoon and winter. Having learnt many bitter lessons from 1962, India also beefed up its presence on other parts of the LAC, fearing China might expand the theatre of conflict to a sector where India wasn’t in such an advantageous position as it was in the Doklam-Chumbi Valley area.
Diplomatically, things were much more tough — China unleashed a verbal barrage and psychological warfare intended to get India to back off unilaterally.
It was a mind game Beijing has perfected with its ‘Three Warfares Strategy’ devised by its Central Military Commission in 2003 and refined in 2010, and involves a triad of media war, psychological war and legal war.
In recent years, China has tried it out successfully with Philippines which gave in to Chinese domination even after winning a historic victory over China at the UNCLOS tribunal.
The external affairs ministry started with a detailed statement on June 30, which should be read along with the Bhutanese statement of June 29.
Unusually, the government reached out to commentators and talking heads, requesting them to tone down the public rhetoric.
For the next two months, the Indian government was unusually quiet and restrained — not reacting to Chinese verbal abuse of Sushma Swaraj, Ajit Doval or threats that China could basically ‘vaporise’ India with its superior economy and military capabilities.
The state-owned Chinese media was allowed free rein against India, a tactic sources said they believed India would use — in the two previous instances, China has upbraided the Indian government for not “controlling the Indian media” where public anger ruled the waves.
The Chinese strategy of cowing India into submission would have been easier if India had responded in kind. India’s silence coupled with its increasing military preparedness on the ground was evidence that India would not play the Chinese game.
Indian and Chinese officials began negotiations almost instantly both in Beijing and in New Delhi led by Doval, Jaishankar and Vijay Gokhale.
A short meeting in Astana and then in Hamburg between Modi and Xi yielded little, except a photo-op. However, foreign secretary Jaishankar coined an “Astana Consensus” where both leaders agreed to not let differences become disputes.
The initial conversations between officials too yielded nothing as an enraged China continued to hold out for an unconditional Indian withdrawal. But in early August, Sushma Swaraj gave an indication of where the negotiations were headed when she announced in Parliament that a simultaneous withdrawal by both sides would be acceptable to India.
In other words, India wanted China to go back to status quo ante, to a position before June 16, but without China changing ground realities by building roads in disputed territories.
“India always believes that peace and tranquility in the India-China border is an important pre-requisite for smooth development of our bilateral relation. We will continue to engage with the Chinese side through diplomatic channels to find a mutually acceptable solution on the basis of the Astana Consensus between our leaders,” she said.
Both sides were careful to not arm their soldiers against each other; neither in Doklam nor in Pangong. So, where both sides engaged in a pub brawl, no shots were fired. That indicated strongly on both sides as no one wanted to take this battle to the next level.
While the standoff was on, the world was watching the region like a tense tennis match. India was clear that if it capitulated, it would lose all credibility in its neighbourhood and in the ASEAN region where India is positioning itself not only as a major player but as a net security provider.
China is generally seen as an aggressive bully in the region and India’s skills as well as its commitment to its allies and neighbours on matters of sovereignty were put to test.

What a Fall!

“…from the point of view of court management, mastery of law, and judicial capabilities, “What a fall my countrymen” VR Krishna Iyer, ex Chief Justice, India. The phrase however has been variously used, including Will Durant after the historical flop of the movie: The fall of the Roman Empire
September-end is autumn or “fall” in New York. Further north in the state, nearby Cleveland, Michigan the leaves of the tall trees are aflame with fiery, yet spectacular maroon, yellow, fading green, as though giving a last gush of energy-a promise of return, before the tree shall turn into barren trunk and branches in a prolonged winter. On the East side avenue, in the UN arena, the same, indeed more colours are seen much bolder in content and contours, fluttering as flags, innocently trying to outsmart each other in their design, as they have done every year, little knowing that their innocent gaming, is wild friction inside the stately building.
The 72nd UN General Assembly Debate shall be ending in a debate or two, followed by a high level meeting on human trafficking, and protection of the economically backward among women and children across the world.
A UN General Assembly Debate, run by foreign ministers, head of states, diplomats, is not a debate. It is more of an abuse for abuse session. The consequences, or implementation of which is null, but perhaps the only scoring that can be done, provided there were judges, is who was most threateningly abusive, who was absolutely off the rocker, and who was successfully vehement in accusing on basis of lies.
The desk above the green stone lined speaking podium does not have a wooden hammer even the size of a magistrate’s court, though many believe that the monitoring desk should be a bit lower and a minimal injury long hammer be provided to be able to gently tap the speaker’s head. There is no term as “disrespect to the chair”, perjury, contempt, as you speak all under your own self enunciated oath! The first part of the general debate is so themed so as to be able to vent your feelings, whichever way you wish.
Lately people have learnt to take it less excitedly, for instance, N Korea’s, “America shall have to bear the consequences”, and the Pakistan PM’s tirade against India (I am with him, because his government shall not allow him to speak anything else). Indeed, the debate is designed to aggravate, rather than to palliate. That indeed is what bags the TRPs. That is also the news flashed by the media all over, and still is the delight of the common man.
Actually, no war was won or lost, and no issue ever solved by the UN. But it is a great meeting place for those who juggle in power, and the media who does not mind a free ride and stay, partly at the mercy of the powerful ones. So, goes the chime of every other organizational gathering to a greater or lesser extent. The Indian Foreign Minister, Ms Swaraj, one of the known natural and quick-reflexed speakers, hit back in the progress and development session, the brunt of her tirade being, “whereas we made educational institutions and advances in technology, you made safe havens for terrorists…”
Again, the occasion demanded a fitting retort, and she did it well enough. That is to perform well in this reality show, and must have pleased many hearts in this country, in asmuch the Pakistan PM, and the Korean PM must have pleased his own people.
Since contingency addresses are replacing real global issues, top world organizations structured on visions conducive to peace and harmony of the human race are just places to show solidarity, retain a formal platform for talks, whereas no agenda shall be set for settlements of issues on the ground. Those wars shall continue.
A glaring and dangerous trend that goes beyond resolutions of any debate is nuclear proliferation. Decades ago the two superpowers were so seriously engaged in arms and nuclear non-proliferation, and the rest of the world watched with arms crossed round their chests. Now, it has become a toy in very country’s hands.
No question of restraining proliferation any more. The scary proposition now is whether or not it shall be used. With missiles being fired into the air and sea, scathing a country’s borders, there was no session to put global binding orders on any such hint or activity.
Whereas terrorism is a common word used in any speech related to global reforms, there was not even half a day’s session on the topic, to push the larger agenda. There would be reasons, and if they are classified, let that be sorted out by those who classified them.
Reason never ruled the world. But there was a time one could get a glimpse of it in International treaties and transactions. We all strived for an equal world. The UN was structured with sensitive arms as UNICEF, UNDP, WHO……We hear much less about them.
The peace-keeping forces, to which India has contributed the most, are hardly monitored for their own safety and purpose of deployment, leading to more carnage, and that too of innocent soldiers.
Equality that has come, and where it has come, has come in the form of ability to destroy. Economically, to buy out the rival, and geographically to plunder the other’s resources.
On an optimistic note that takes effort to assemble, maybe we are passing through a phase of metamorphosis, where the ugly chrysalis transforms into a lovely butterfly, where a bee that bites you so hard does so because it carries honey in its belly, and an incessantly barking dog saves one from a poisonous snake just a foot away! With a new President in Mr Paul Biya, and general secretary Antonio Gutteres, let’s hope there is a chance that they may start a new innings, back to the path of recovery!

Revive the Abandoned Road through India, China and Myanmar

A derelict border crossing steeped in history cuts across the rolling mountain ranges from India to Myanmar. It is at the junction of three distinct geographical regions: the Eastern Himalayas; the verdant floodplains fed by the Brahmaputra river; and the Patkai hills. This route meanders towards the Chindwin river, the largest tributary of the Irrawaddy, which defines the plains of Myanmar.
The Pangsau Pass stands at this border crossing between India and Myanmar, bearing witness to waves of migrations over the centuries. Across the Pangsau Pass, in the Sagaing region of present-day Myanmar, lies Pangsau village.
The residents there are a mix of ethnic Bamars, mainly considered Burmese (the dominant ethnic group in Myanmar), ethnic Tangsa Nagas who also inhabit parts of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and some other Eastern Naga tribes.
The nearest proper town inside Myanmar from the village is about 60km away. It is connected by a dirt road, the old Stilwell Road, which is now almost inaccessible during the rainy season.
At Pangsau Pass, every Friday is designated as “Burma Day”, when the villagers can cross to India. They visit the market in Nampong to buy essential items for the week. Some people cross on foot, others on rickety motorbikes.
Indian citizens are allowed to visit Pangsau village on the 10th, 20th and 30th day of every month, on what are known as “India Days”. Most Indian visitors are tourists, and there is a market held in Pangsau village on these days.
The Arunachal Pradesh state government and the local market coordination committee decide on these access days in consultation with the Indian Army, which patrols the border. Pangsau market sells a host of local Burmese products and vegetables, and there are local eateries with Burmese delicacies. These are mostly local leafy vegetables with sticky rice and rice noodle soups.
Burmese sticky rice is very popular among the border communities in India. Many Indian tourists also visit the Lake of No Return, where several Allied Forces warplanes crashed during World War II.
Men roam in longyi (male attire), trying to sell their products. Women and children wear bright patches of thanaka on their faces, a yellowish-white cosmetic paste, made from ground bark, a common sight in Myanmar.
The Stilwell Road was constructed under the leadership of General Joseph Stilwell of the US Army between 1942-45. It began in Ledo, Assam, and ended in Kunming, in the southwestern province of Yunnan in China, spanning 1736 kilometres. This provided an alternative route for Chinese soldiers fighting the invading Japanese during the concluding stages of the war.
The section of the road that links India and Myanmar has been disused ever since the war ended, and is described by the Chinese as “barely usable”.
But the origins of the route go back long before Joseph Stilwell. This was the way Chaolung Sukapha, the first Ahom king, entered the plains of Assam in 1228 AD. He established the Ahom kingdom (1228-1826), which began a period of stability and prosperity in present-day Assam. Several waves of migration happened after that, and they included the six major Tai groups of Assam. The Singphos have also used the route for centuries.
The many ethnic groups of the region have this route etched in their collective imaginations. The Tai-Phakey community, which numbers about 2,000 people in Assam, migrated from Hukawng Valley in Myanmar through the Pangsau Pass. They have managed to preserve the old form of Tai language, and medieval scriptures in their Budhhist monastery.
According to several members of the community that I met during fieldwork, they have been able to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage because the closed borders make them feel isolated from their culture. So they preserve all they have left.
As you approach Ledo, a huge billboard announces the beginning of the Stilwell Road to Kunming, installed by a former Assam minister.
This is indicative of the shared aspirations of the people of this region to open up to Myanmar and southwest China. The Pangsau Pass Winter Festival, held intermittently over the past few years, has also demonstrated strong cultural links across the region.
The main rationale for re-opening the road is connecting people across these shared borders, along with the exchange of ideas and goods. But there is less interest shown by the Indian government.
The presence of several insurgent groups in northeast India deters New Delhi from restoring the road. Some Indian insurgent groups are based across this border in Myanmar, with active cross-border operations. The Kachin insurgency against the Myanmar government is also based there.
China has shown interest in opening up the route, but India’s hesitation is also based on the fact that some part of it involves the contested territory of Arunachal Pradesh. Boundary talks between India and China about the status of Arunachal Pradesh have been going on for years now, with 19 rounds of talks completed in 2016.
It may be complicated, but it is imperative for both New Delhi and Yangon to work towards opening up the road, given China’s continued strategic engagement in the Kachin region of Myanmar.
A joint development of these borderlands, which have historically been hubs of migration and exchange, will augur well for the region as a whole.

The Probable Economic Impact of North Korea’s Threats

Every political action does impact economy of the countries involved and also that of the global economy. The recent rising crescendo of insults in the US-N.Korea relations could impact the US economy and all those countries connected to the US economy. The North Korea and the United States tension has had real effects on the US economy in the short to medium run.
Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship has grabbed the attention of the whole world with its nuclear brinkmanship. On 28 July, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit Los Angeles. The North Korean dictator threatened to target Guam, the US territory, with a missile. On 29 August, it fired a ballistic missile, Hwasong-12, over Japan. The launch prompted a stark warning from China that tensions on the Korean peninsula had reached a ‘tipping point’.
US President Donald Trump stated that all options to respond to North Korea are on the table. Mr Trump said in the statement released by the White House: “The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: this regime has signalled its contempt for its neighbours, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behaviour”.
Global markets reacted to the escalation in tensions, buying safe-haven assets such as gold, the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen, and selling stocks. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell almost 1% to a near four-month low, while South Korea’s KOSPI index was down by a similar percentage.
In recent work, we show that such escalation in tensions can also have real effects for the US economy in the short to medium run (Ben Zeev and Pappa 2017). We show that announced changes in US public spending on defence have a significant impact on the economic behaviour of firms and households.
In particular, anticipated increases in defence spending induce a significant and persistent increase in output, hours worked, the interest rate and inflation, as well as significant impact responses for consumption and investment. A key characteristic of such shocks is that they increase the excess returns of military contractors long before the actual increase in defence spending is realised.
There has recently been a renewed interest in theories of expectation-driven business cycles, focusing especially on the effects of news shocks: shocks that are realised and observed before they materialise. These types of shocks are of certain importance for fiscal variables, where there is a natural lag between policy decisions and implementation.
Studies that attempt to measure the effects of news shocks empirically have so far used narrative identification of expectational shocks. This methodology, though, is time-consuming to implement, and requires the availability of detailed historical records. Our research proposes an alternative methodology to identify fiscal news in the data, which is easier to implement and can be used in situations where narrative evidence is unavailable.
By its nature, measuring news in the data can be difficult, but in recent years some studies have identified news using the timing of specific events in the context of fiscal changes. A study by Valerie Ramey (2011) constructs two measures of news about changes in defence spending:
The first uses narrative evidence, based on information in Businessweek and other newspapers, to construct an estimate of the change in the expected present value of government spending.The second is constructed using the Survey of Professional Forecasters: changes in government spending are measured as the difference between actual government spending growth and the one-quarter-ahead forecast of government spending growth.
Our approach is different. It identifies defence news shocks as the shocks that best explain future movements in defence spending over a horizon of five years, and which are orthogonal to current defence spending. In other words, using the defence spending series, which are assumed to be exogenous to the state of the economy, we characterise as defence spending news any disturbances that can forecast defence spending movements in five years, but do not relate to current movements in defence spending. We call our shock series MFEV, which is an abbreviation for maximum forecast error variance shocks.
The identified defence news shocks are correlated with the news shocks of Ramey (2011), but explain a much larger fraction of the variability in all real variables at business cycle frequencies. They also generate more significant demand effects by inducing significant and persistent increases in output, hours worked, the interest rate, and inflation. The identified shock using this methodology significantly increases the excess returns of large defence contractors, while Ramey’s news shock does not. According to the estimates, news about future changes in defence spending accounts for a non-negligible share of US output fluctuations at business cycle frequencies.
What is important is that the defence news shocks we identify increase on impact the excess returns of large US military contractors. Thus, according to Ramey’s methodology, the latest provocations of Kim and Trump’s responses to them could be considered news about future increases in defence spending in the US, and according to our methodology this news could be ‘real’ defence news if they are combined with increases in the returns of US military contractors. In such case, North Korea’s insistent and rapid test-firing missiles could paradoxically boost the US economy.
The policymakers should be cautious about announcing policy changes that can affect people’s expectations about future government spending. Or, reversing this argument, policymakers can use policy announcements as a tool for responding to the cycle when constrained by budgetary or other types of restrictions.

 

Fourth Industrial Revolution Needs Address Some Challenges

Rapid change and rampant inequality are testing the resilience of economies and societies. It is in our hands to ensure that the potentially disruptive shifts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution not only herald a change of guard in the highest echelons of the global economy but also rebalance opportunities and outcomes across geographic, generational and gender boundaries.
The growth patterns of the past decades showed both the equalizing and dividing forces of economic and technological change. In 1988, a lower-middle-class US citizen had more than six times the income of a well-off middle-class citizen in China. Today, both earn almost the same amount. Similar leaps happened in other economies, from Turkey to Viet Nam. Yet, in the same period, half of the world’s wealth went to the top 5% of the population, and almost one-fifth went to the highest 1%.
Further tumultuous changes lie ahead as the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, characterised by ubiquitous digitization and technologies that narrow the gap between man and machine.
Yet, whilst it will profoundly shape our future it is far from determining it. Every industrial age found its expression in human values, norms and institutions. In the wake of the First Industrial Revolution, poor working conditions gave birth to socialism and social capitalism; the green movement beginning in the 1970s was a response to the nuclear age and the age of mass production and consumption enabled by the Second Industrial Revolution; in the late 20th century, new global multi-stakeholder governance models gained traction in response to rapid globalization, a result of the Third or “Digital” Revolution which radically lowered communication and transportation costs.
What protocols, partnerships and practices can address the policy dilemmas and unintended consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Answering this question will require the courage, thought leadership and entrepreneurial spirit of the leaders gathering at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions. This annual meeting in China brings together scientists, the leaders of up-and-coming companies, social entrepreneurs, political leaders and others to discuss the coming waves of change.
We cannot abandon forces of income, wealth and opportunity concentration, but we can mobilize forces that work against them, from investing into education and entrepreneurship to shaping the governance of emerging technologies. Concretely, an inclusive Fourth Industrial Revolution will require vision and leadership across four domains.
Scaling Up Human-Centred Technology
Technological innovations – from exponential increases in computing power and data to the CRISPR method in gene editing – create not only phenomenal opportunities for human progress, but also serious societal challenges. If we are to seize the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must consider the moral and ethical questions it raises with regard to economic and social development, value creation, privacy and ownership, and individual identity. In this context, how do we design human-centered products and services?
Leading Continuous Reinvention
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is shaking up old business models and presenting strategic options that enhance efficiency. On the supply side, developments in energy storage, grid technologies and realtime processing of customer and asset performance are transforming operating models. On the demand side, customers value and expect personalized interaction at all points of their consumer experience. Facing an exponential speed of change in technology, how can leaders recognize adaptive challenges to their organizations and build resilience?
Creating Sustainable Systems
Massively expanding economic activities are placing irresistible pressures on social and planetary systems. At the same time, new technologies are making possible a transformation in almost all spheres of economic and social life. There is a better future to be had in terms of prosperity and quality of life that can also radically reduce pressure on the global commons. How do we seize such opportunities and create more sustainable systems in areas such as energy, mobility, production, health, education, gender and work?
Responding to Geo-Economic Shifts
The erosion of the middle-class is reframing the political economy of slower-growth countries. In faster-growth economies, avoiding the “middle-income trap” is an increasing strategic concern. Common to both is that technological innovation is creating newly advantaged and disadvantaged stakeholders during a period of increasing geopolitical uncertainty. How can communities, companies and countries better prepare for the coming economic changes?
Achieving progress across these four domains is not only a matter of developing new technologies, business and governance models; it also challenges us to reassert fundamental values that serve as a compass and radar at times when old maps no longer serve us well. Achieving Inclusive Growth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require the power of imagination to see everything in our present world anew; a deep commitment to diversity as our best – if not only – chance to escape the echo chambers of our biases and beliefs; and a collective capacity for empathy as the glue that holds humanity together.

India, Japan and Africa

The Joint Statement issued after the recent summit meeting between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated the resolve of the two countries to “develop industrial corridors and industrial network for the growth of Asia and Africa.” India-Japan economic engagement of Africa, under the rubric of Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), is based on the recognition that the locus of global economic activities is increasingly shifting towards the Indo-Pacific region. India and Japan as two democracies and robust economies are working together to shape the economic, political and security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region. The AAGC is a natural outcome of the evolving strategic partnership between India and Japan.
The AAGC Vision Document has been developed in collaboration between the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in India, The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Institute of Developing Economies and Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-JETRO). The vision document notes that the AAGC would be based on four pillars: “enhancing capacity and skills; quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity; development and cooperation projects; and people-to-people partnership.” These principles, such as quality infrastructure and people-to-people partnership, should be understood in a larger political context.
Two centuries ago, the emergence of Europe as an economic power-house resulted in the colonial exploitation of Africa. China, one of the new rising powers today, is often accused of not adopting a radically new approach to Africa. On the other hand, the AAGC in its conceptualisation sees Africa as a collaborator as well as an equal partner. This is evident from the fact that the Vision Document of the AAGC notes that the conceptualisation of the proposed growth corridor will be conducted by constituting “a joint study team with other think tanks and organisations in Asia and Africa.” In addition, the vision document also states that “contribution to the local society and economy” will be an important aspect that is going to define the operationalisation of the economic corridor. A similar emphasis could also be seen in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech, in Kenya last year, wherein he emphasised the importance of quality, resilience and stability in Japan’s engagement in Africa.
India is the most important pillar in the proposed corridor because of historical connections, maritime contiguity, and thelarge presence of an Indian diaspora. It has a long history of supporting anti-colonial movements in Africa and enjoys robust government-to-government relations as well. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted recently, India has been awarding thousands of scholarships to African nations under the ITEC programme and numerous current and former leaders in Africa, including military chiefs, have attended educational and traininginstitutions in India. These interactions give India considerable social capital that can be leveraged. In addition, India is planning to invest $10 billion in Africa in the near future. Many of the Indian Ocean littoral African states host an Indian diaspora in large numbers. The AAGC can build on the business networks of this Indian diaspora as well.
The AAGC will seek to synergise two different sets of competencies of India and Japan. Japan can deploy substantial financial and technological resources, and India can bring its government-to-government relations and business networks of its Diaspora to the table. The AAGC will not be a state-funded enterprise. As scholars note the AAGC seeks to evolve based on healthy financial practices with the private sector playing a predominant role. There are many reasons for the emergence of the AAGC: First, India and Japan cooperation, in addition to abilateral component, has now acquired a broader third country and regional dimension, and the AAGC is a manifestation of such a dynamic. Second, both countries are keen on developing economic architectures that are based on the principles of equity and transparency. Africa, which has the potential to emerge as an economic power-house, is a natural candidate to partner in building this new economic architecture. Third, the AAGC may not have been conceptualised as a direct response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Nonetheless, the AAGC and BRI represent distinctly divergent methodologies towards promoting connectivity, infrastructure and local capacity, and are thus likely to impact regional geopolitics.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in spite of a strong maritime component, is largely a continental framework. The probability of Gwadar, Hambantota and Kyauk Phyu ports in the Indian Ocean Region evolving into vibrant and diversified economic hubs seems to be limited at the moment. Therefore, speedy operationalisation and consequent success of the AAGC will result in two spheres of connectivity, viz. China’s BRI connectivity, which would traverse continental Asia to reach Europe and the AAGC, which will be predominantly maritime.
The AAGC can also explore the possibilities of building on complementarities with the G-20’s Compact with Africa (CwA). The Compact with Africa seeks to build infrastructure andpromote private investment, and currently, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tunisia have joined the initiative. In the coming years, India and Japan can also work with the other G-20 countries in building connectivity infrastructure based on the principles of openness, inclusivity and transparency involving the Indian Ocean littoral African States.
The multiple partnerships that India and Japan are building are indicative of the growing confidence and mutual trust in the bilateral relationship. By expanding the bilateral relationship to cooperation in other regions/continents, India and Japan are working to strengthen the multi-polarity in the world politics.

What Future Might Look Like

Emergent technologies are poised to radically change how we work and live. They will transform our cities and workplaces, shifting jobs and entrepreneurship in new directions, and spur new ways to manage our lives. All of society will be affected, up to and including how we interact with machines themselves.

Sophisticated machines and applications that communicate online will accelerate demand for broadband internet and challenge existing information and telecommunication norms.

All of this will require ongoing discussions about security, infrastructure and open-data policy and planning. We now need action. We must move past: “We know it’s coming and have to do something” to “Here is how we can implement and collaborate to make it happen.”

Here’s why I believe we’re about to start turning these visions into reality:

Robots and AI

Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will “permeate a large part of our daily life by 2025 and affect most of our industries,” according to the Pew Research Center. We see some of these changes today.

Robots already perform tasks as diverse as dispensing frozen yogurt in malls, monitoring rail systems and keeping millions of elevators running smoothly. IBM’s Watson AI technology is used in health care to analyze DNA and help us determine trends and future options for our health.

Wearable fitness devices with personal plans link us to team members to set and achieve group goals (I call these personal nagging devices). I have a robot to vacuum my floors (I love it) and I am closely watching the progress of personal robot assistants with amazing capabilities already being showcased around the world.

I’d love to have Honda’s ASIMO at my front entrance to answer questions and be a tutor for students.

Mobile devices and Internet of Things

Over the next five years, more than a million new mobile broadband subscribers will be added per day worldwide, Ericsson’s 2017 mobility report estimates. More people have multiple mobile phone subscriptions, and more will choose mobile instead of conventional wired, landline phones.

Desktop computer demand is now flat in contrast to growing demand for tablets, laptops, drones, smartphones and other mobile gadgets, causing broadband internet subscriptions to increase exponentially. This will strain our broadband infrastructure as we expand the Internet of Things, in which every object has a wireless chip that connects it to everything else.

The number of connected objects — including sensors in cars, wearable devices, electricity and gas meter readers in homes, point-of-sale terminals in businesses and drones — grew 31 per cent between 2016 and 2017, to 8.4 billion devices, according to Gartner analysts. And the number of devices is forecast to grow to 81 billion by 2025, according to IDC research.

Demand for sensors in fixed locations such as our homes (security cameras and motion sensors, smart fridges, meter readers, etc.) continue to increase. They save money and labour, and make our lives easier and safer.

That volume of devices will give us a lot of data to analyze, which calls for improved policies on security and privacy as mobile sensors monitor our personal spaces and bodies for our activities and health care.

Population, urban and automation growth

The proportion of the world’s population living in cities is expected to grow from 54 per cent to 66 per cent by 2050, adding another 2.5 billion people to urban areas, the United Nations predicts. We must prepare by creating high-quality, sustainable communities through smart use of technology.

For example, we’re finally seeing more telework or home-based work. This has been possible for 20 years but slow to take hold, mostly due to our desire to hang on to old paradigms despite an increasing proportion of knowledge workers. Telework can limit stress on roads, families and result in decreased operating costs while lessening our carbon footprint.

AT&T’s predictions for automation, growth and change are staggering. Tasks performed by bots grew 200 per cent over the past year and are expected to triple this year. This could be scary for cities that are job creators, but bots could also improve quality of life, acting as personal robot assistants.

Of course, technology has good and bad sides. Drones can pose threats to privacy but also have benefits: AT&T uses them for cellphone service in disaster areas, new four-rotor “quadcopter” drones safely provide imagery to firefighters and Airbus uses drones for airplane safety inspections.

These applications can be extended to communities and to meet industrial challenges in many sectors. Cities concentrate talent, which will bring new innovations, and we will need them to deal with the negative effects of expanding cities and the side-effects of increased technology use.

These trends suggest a third industrial revolution. Are our infrastructure and policies ready for it, and our industries prepared to innovate?

Are we ready for the future?

The Conference Board of Canada identified lags in innovation, with Canada ranking 13 out of 16 in our peer group of industrialized countries. Much of that evaluation was based on our use of information and communication technologies (ICT), the main element in the next wave of change. Clearly, we can do better.

Canada must evolve its policies if it’s going to develop new entrepreneurial ventures, infrastructure and help its citizens to adjust to the changes while sustainably managing our cities.

This isn’t only a government responsibility. It requires leadership at all levels that collaboratively plans for efficient, effective and safe use of automated systems such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, driverless cars and more.

For example, at least 33 U.S. states have passed or are considering driverless-car legislation, and Michigan had its first driverless pizza delivery in a public-private partnership with MCity. In Europe, Eindhoven already has driverless buses, and fleet transport trucking will be among the first to use the technology. Some technologies and applications will evolve on their own, as Uber did, but others will need concerted planning and action to flourish.

Some of the most interesting machine-learning applications will only be successful if we’re more open to sharing data. As a society, that’s been difficult. Canada has some of the world’s toughest spam regulations (CASL), which limits our ability to use data. Most of our data is in private databases with little open access.

International leadership

Canada has been a leader throughout the short history of digitalization, with pilot projects in every province as early as the mid-‘90s to demonstrate what smart communities could look like.

Despite a lack of a strong national agenda, Canadian communities have punched far above their weight, receiving international awards from the Intelligent Community Forum every year since 2002. Now, new federal leadership and initiatives promise to reignite a Canadian vision of digitalization.

Ottawa recently announced a Smart Cities Challenge that could help the country improve and innovate along with technology accelerator programs and geographic “technology super-clusters.”

The Macaulay we don’t know

Reading him out of context robs his writings of the lessons they hold for modern-day reformers. Macaulay is much abused by trolls on social media. Unfortunately, people who should know better sometimes succumb to diatribes. I don’t mean Macaulay Culkin. I mean Thomas Babington Macaulay. Macaulay was no mean historian, of England, though not of India. Anyone who knows a smattering of Indian history should know about the Law Commission (Macaulay was chairman) of 1834, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1861. In spite of amendments, the core of the IPC, 1860, is still in the statute books. Not unlike today, there was a time lag between the draft legislation in 1837 and its enactment — the IPC was enacted in 1860.
Despite a Second Law Commission in 1853, the IPC was the single-handed work of Macaulay. His imprint can also be seen in the CrPC, the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) and the Indian Evidence Act. Cast your mind back and imagine the prodigious task of harmonising and unifying criminal law. In pre- and post-Independence India, no other individual has had that kind of impact on law reform. Macaulay never married and had no offspring. But these statutes are his progeny and we can’t wish them away.
What about the infamous February 1835 Minute on Education, then? That does make the blood boil: “I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.” People who take seconds to pillory Macaulay refer to this quote, or another bit I will mention later. Had they spent a few minutes reading the Minute, instead of selected excerpts floating around on the internet, they might have had a different take. The paragraphs in the Minute weren’t numbered. There were 36 paragraphs. This quote is from paragraphs 10 and 11.
To clarify the context, here are quotes from a few other paragraphs. The Minute hadn’t been penned in a vacuum. “The grants which are made from the public purse for the encouragement of literature differ in no respect from the grants which are made from the same purse for other objects of real or supposed utility. I hold this lakh of rupees to be quite at the disposal of the Governor-General in Council for the purpose of promoting learning in India in any way which may be thought most advisable. I hold his Lordship to be quite as free to direct that it shall no longer be employed in encouraging Arabic and Sanscrit, as he is to direct that the reward for killing tigers in Mysore shall be diminished, or that no more public money shall be expended on the chaunting at the cathedral…We now come to the gist of the matter. We have a fund to be employed as the Government shall direct for the intellectual improvement of the people of this country. The simple question is, what is the most useful way of employing it?…This is proved by the fact that we are forced to pay our Arabic and Sanscrit students while those who learn English are willing to pay us. All the declamations in the world about the love and reverence of the natives for their sacred dialects will never, in the mind of any impartial person, outweigh this undisputed fact, that we cannot find in all our vast empire a single student who will let us teach him those dialects, unless we will pay him.” Therefore, this was about the opportunity costs of public resources and linking expenditure to outcomes. Modern-day proponents of reform should applaud Macaulay.
Let me now turn to the other “offensive” quote. “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”
This is normally equated (incorrectly) with teaching of English and intended output of the education system. If 70 years after Independence, the education system still churns out clerks who cannot think, it seems odd to blame a man who died in 1859. As for teaching English, there is a Dalit group that celebrates Macaulay’s birthday (October 25), because access to English reduced asymmetry in access to education that older forms of education possessed.
There can be a debate on teaching English versus the vernacular, though I think the postulated trade-off is non-existent. To return to the issue, it seems more odd that, as a country in a globalised world, we flaunt our pool of English-speaking population and also conduct the anti-Macaulay discourse in English. That being said, we must save people from the false Macaulay “that wrought the deed of shame”. Incidentally, that’s a Macaulay quote

Face Off Rocket Men: Escalating Insults Could Lead to Annihilation

President Donald Trump heightened fears of a nuclear confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, which had been building for weeks, up a few notches with his blunt threat to “totally destroy” North Korea. Ironically, his concurrent threat to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal helped to remove any incentive for Kim Jong-un to come to the negotiating table.
Defence secretary Jim Mattis hinted that Trump’s threat may not be mere bluster when he refused to deny reports that the Pentagon was considering using tactical nuclear weapons against Pyongyang. Other sources have hinted about an unspecified “sharp, short warning shot” at North Korea – a limited application of military force that would ideally not trigger a devastating response.
Trump may be trying to scare the North Korean leader, whom he mocks as a “Rocket Man” on a suicide mission, into joining talks aimed at compelling him to abandon his nuclear weapons. But the salutary example of Muammar Gaddafi – who had voluntarily surrendered his nuclear weapons programme – is a chilling reminder to Kim that denuclearisation is the surest path to an ignominious demise. And, as Trump’s current hostility to the Iran nuclear deal vividly illustrates, there are no guarantees that disarmament would preclude further demands from the US and its perfidious allies.
Having defied countless unanimous UN Security Council resolutions, Kim is unlikely to give up the only weapon that ensures his survival. He also knows that his closest neighbours China and South Korea oppose a US-led military solution that would engulf the entire region. As such, the net result of Trump’s threat might well be to encourage Kim to speed up building his nuclear-tipped ICBM and force Washington to accept the reality of a nuclear-capable North Korea.
It was acceptance of the unpalatable reality of Iran’s nuclear capability that led the Obama administration, UK, France, China and Russia plus Germany to enter into negotiations with Tehran. The 2015 agreement essentially stopped development of Tehran’s bomb and sharply constrained its nuclear programme for 15 years in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. The agreement was premised in part on the hope that, by the time the agreement terminates, Iran would have discovered that the benefits of global engagement were more attractive than being a nuclear-armed international pariah.
Many Western and South Korean analysts believe that North Korea is so far ahead of Iran in its nuclear and missile development that it is well past time for an Iran-like deal. At this stage, Kim would not likely be satisfied with anything short of a grand bargain in which Washington and the international community recognise North Korea and offer economic aid in exchange for a freeze on its weapons and missile programmes.
Trump has at times hinted that he is impressed by the young dictator, stating that “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, i would absolutely, i would be honoured to do it.” This was a course suggested to him by Chinese President Xi Jinping during their first meeting. To assure Kim, Washington has stated that it does not seek regime change – only abandonment of the nuclear programme. But North Korea’s series of missile tests and apparent testing of a hydrogen bomb provoked Trump to increase his own insults and threats. With Kim returning the favour it is increasingly difficult for either side to de-escalate without losing face.
With a majority of Americans favouring military action against Pyongyang, a diplomatic grand bargain could come as a major disappointment to Trump’s fired-up base. China and Russia, conversely, would support negotiations, which would inevitably weaken US-South Korea military ties and reduce American influence in the region. South Korea’s left-of-centre new administration too would warmly welcome a move towards peace and stability.
But with relations between two nuclear powers descending into a schoolyard brawl between bullies, the time for grand bargains is fast disappearing against the gathering threat of mushroom clouds over the Pacific.

Everything is offensive: Here are Canada’s other politically incorrect place names

A couple of weeks back, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called on all school districts to strip the name of Sir John A. Macdonald from all Ontario public schools, reasoning that he was the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.”
They’re not wrong that Macdonald has a pretty dismal record on Indigenous relations, but if Canada is going to be pulling down every name associated with some uncomfortable aspect of history, the purge has only just begun. It turns out that, when judged through the prism of our enlightened era, almost everybody from Canada’s past — from famed reformers to Indigenous icons to notable women — comes off as an extremist maniac.
McGill University (Montreal, Que.)
James McGill was a particularly successful fur trader who founded the university that now hosts a charming statue of him nears its front gates (as well as his grave). McGill also owned six African slaves. Although Canada would ultimately become the first North American jurisdiction to peacefully outlaw slavery, in McGill’s era enslaved black house servants were a common status symbol among Montreal’s merchant elite. Another slave owner? The namesake of Toronto’s Jarvis Street.
British Columbia
One of Canada’s most left-leaning provinces also has its most blatantly colonial name. The “Columbia” part is derived from Christopher Columbus, who had barely finished discovering the New World before he started kidnapping Indigenous Cubans. The British part, meanwhile, is a vestige of the province’s days as a far-flung British colony. The B.C. flag even includes a giant sun as a nod to the maxim that the sun never sets on the British Empire.
Brantford, Ont.
Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, the namesake of Brantford and Brant County, usually gets cited on lists of “notable Indigenous Canadians.” He’s most remembered for siding with the British during the American Revolutionary War, but his legacy is still controversial among many Mohawk. Brant owned slaves, he murdered his son and he was accused of selling out his own people for personal gain.
Victoria, B.C.
The B.C. capital is among the hundreds of Canadian places named after Queen Victoria, including Victoriaville, Que., and Victoria Island in the Arctic. Despite being the most famous woman of her era, though, Queen Victoria was an unabashed sexist. As the women’s suffrage movement took flight under her reign, she accused suffragists of “mad wicked folly” and said they needed a good “whipping.” Women, she added, were a “poor, feeble sex” who “would surely perish without male protection.”
Chateau Laurier (Ottawa, Ont.)
Wilfrid Laurier famously said that in the ethnic mix of Canada “there is no longer any family here but the human family.” But he was remarkably selective about who got to join that family. He opposed Indo-Canadian immigration to Canada, reasoning that they couldn’t handle the cold. Laurier also raised the Chinese Head Tax and saw it as a righteous thing for Canada to settle land taken from “savage nations.”
CCGS John G. Diefenbaker
Still under development, the next icebreaker to join the Coast Guard fleet will carry the name of the only Canadian prime minister with a four-syllable last name. John Diefenbaker still has a relatively solid record on civil rights, but he didn’t care for gay people. Under his watch, the RCMP orchestrated a purge of homosexuals from the civil service, and Diefenbaker was an open opponent of Canada’s 1969 decriminalization of homosexuality. “Some say there is no God, that each man should be able to live his own life as he wills as long as he does so in private,” Diefenbaker said at the time. “I do not find any support for that philosophy in the scriptures.”
Jacques Cartier Bridge (Montreal, Que.)
Jacques Cartier mapped much of what would become New France, but his navigation relied an awful lot on kidnapping Indigenous people to be his guides. In one particularly egregious episode, he took a party of 10 Iroquois back to France, where they soon died. When Cartier returned to the St. Lawrence River without the Iroquois, he lied and told the locals they were all “living as great lords; they had married and had no desire to return to their country.”
Bell Canada
With a deaf wife and mother, it was Alexander Graham Bell’s research into hearing devices that would profoundly influence his invention of the telephone. But he also had eugenicist leanings, particularly his fear that the hearing impaired would have children and form a kind of deaf fifth column, complete with their own secret language. Although Bell never considered mandatory controls on human breeding, he did press for governments to take steps against what he called the “Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race.”
Anything named after the Famous Five
The Famous Five are a group of Alberta women who spearheaded a 1929 legal appeal to have women recognized as legal “persons” in Canada. Between them, there’s a least a baker’s dozen of schools, streets and libraries named in their honour. But, as energetic activists, they also embraced a host of contemporary causes that seem wrongheaded or even evil by modern standards. This included eugenics, prohibition, bans on non-white immigration and the criminalization of marijuana.
Tommy Douglas Collegiate (Saskatoon, Sask.)
Tommy Douglas was another eugenics supporter. The iconic founder of the NDP wrote his master’s thesis on the “problems of the sub-normal family,” in which he argued that poverty could be solved if mental defectives were weeded out of the gene pool. However, as premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961, Douglas never implemented the eugenics laws adopted by other prairie provinces. The reason was likely a 1936 visit to Nazi Germany in which Douglas saw firsthand the stirrings of history’s greatest eugenics crimes.
Mount Douglas (Victoria, B.C.)
As the son of a black woman, Sir James Douglas attained a staggering degree of success for his era, becoming the influential first governor of what would become British Columbia. His mistake, though, was allowing settlers to flood onto untreatied land — a legal situation that persists to this day. While Douglas signed some early “postage stamp” treaties for small plots of land around Victoria, he had effectively given up by the time gold rushes started to hit the B.C. interior in the mid-1800s.
Dalhousie University (Halifax, N.S.)
While Governor-General of Nova Scotia in the early 1800s, Lord Dalhousie objected to accepting an influx of emancipated slaves freed by the War of 1812. “Slaves by habit and education, no longer working under the dread of the lash, their idea of freedom is Idleness and they are altogether incapable of industry,” he wrote to the colonial office in London. It’s that letter, in fact, that prompted Dalhousie University to convene an academic panel to examine their founder’s prejudices and “recommend actions.”
Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, B.C.)
The artist Emily Carr has a couple libraries, a handful of public schools and an art college to her name, as well as a prominent statue in Victoria. However, due to the frequent depictions of First Nations totem poles and longhouses in her art, Carr has been accused of stealing Indigenous culture. “I believe that there are elements of cultural violence … in the way Carr effectively seized control over the public representation of the First Nations people and their totem poles of the British Columbian coasts,” wrote B.C. academic Janice Stewart in 2005.
Anything named after Winston Churchill
Alberta, in particular, has named dozens of things after the stalwart leader of Second World War-era Britain, most notably Churchill square in Edmonton. But one doesn’t need to go far to find something dark in Churchill’s long career. He was an unashamed white supremacist, he boasted about personally killing “savages” in Sudan and it was under his government that two million people died in the 1943 Bengal famine.
Louis Riel Day (Manitoba)
While most of the rest of Canada is celebrating Family Day, Manitoba marks Louis Riel Day in honour of the Métis leader whose 1869 rebellion helped to create their province. While Riel’s political exploits are well-remembered, less known is how he viewed himself as a religious prophet divinely ordained to start a new religion. Much like another North American religious prophet, Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Riel believed this religion should include polygamy. Plural marriage would “teach women once again that the only way for them to be pleasing to God and their husbands … is to sincerely practice the virtues of modesty, thriftiness and kindness,” he wrote.
Mount Mackenzie King (British Columbia)
Much like the $50 bill, this B.C. mountain honours Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving prime minister. Probably the biggest black mark against King is his anti-semitism. In addition to King’s open admiration for Nazi Germany during the 1930s, he was against admitting Jewish refugees from Europe. “We must nevertheless seek to keep this continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood,” he wrote in a 1938 diary entry.
Kitchener, Ont.
The city of Kitchener, of course, has already gone through one politically correct name change. In the anti-German fervour of the First World War, the city’s original name of Berlin was stricken from the record and replaced with the most British-sounding word imaginable. But the city’s namesake, Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener, has also been called a war criminal. As commander of British forces during the Boer War, he oversaw the establishment of civilian concentration camps to combat the Boer insurgency. More than 26,000 women and children died of disease in the camps.
Lake Champlain (Quebec)
After returning from his first trip up the St. Lawrence River in 1603, French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s account of the voyage was entitled “On Savages.” Later, as the unofficial governor of New France, Champlain followed the typical path of a 17th century colonial governor: Trying to convert the “heathen” natives and helping to spark a wave of local conflicts.
Pearson International Airport (Toronto, Ont.)
Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s record still holds up pretty well; particularly since he is the de facto inventor of peacekeeping. But the committed activist could still tarnish him with this particularly outdated quote from his 1957 Nobel lecture; “we prepare for war like precocious giants and for peace like retarded pygmies.”

A farewell to qualms

There must be a reason why Attenborough’s multi-Oscar “Gandhi” has an opening scene with the Mahatma’s ashes being immersed in the Ganges. There must be yet another important reason why he quotes Einstein in the background, “…a few hundred years from now people shall wonder whether such a man ever existed…” The times and events we are passing through each day, makes true greatness, even if a couple of centuries old, appear as mythology!
One wonders, how at the epitome of greatness, one in metaphysics, the other in physics, two minds could identify each other’s excellence. It could be partly because Einstein had started facing the heat of animosity for his works- actually just equations on a paper and pencil, that were far ahead of time and comprehension (the multi billion dollar CERN collider is still working on the veracity of the derivatives). The other, the heat of racial bitterness, that was turning into maddening extermination, from what he could gather from news that would reach an overworked, pre-occupied and secluded genius. It is somewhere here that he must have been quick to realize how one man, who had not given up his belief in humanity, had discovered for his impoverished people the weapon of non-violence. Gandhi, true to his belief, held his tumultuous “Quit India Movement” at bay, not out for diplomatic strategy or hope of alliance, but because he felt that withdrawal of support to the Allies would be to strengthen Nazism, which he could never support.
The aftermath of his faith in his promise, for that matter, the aftermath of freedom and security understood for the world communities was a betrayal overlooked, or even partly intended.
Today being the aftermath of yesterday, shows the uncertainties in the making on skewed laws laid down at the end of that era. Too many short-cuts taken without a second thought often land you on the spot from where you once fled, with the added shock, that the spot has crumbled further!
Despite the eternal debate on “means” and “ends”, today, quite clearly the “ends” seem to matter. Any misgivings, on this, and chances are that the community or nation would face its own perish.
To achieve spot “workability” at the cost of a well laid global working system, many nuts and bolts were tampered. Historical, even tribal folklore of some violence were vociferously publicized into doctrines culminating into wars, whereas historically these were to lay dormant.
It was easy to revive communal divides for the susceptible, leaving no space for conciliation or co-existence. Trace it to the North England-Ireland crises (to make it sound balanced), or west Asia, and what the world has heard at every UN meet, the Indo-Pak settlement.
Ample psychoanalysis must have contributed to extract insoluble filtrates out of beliefs and religions, to make them impermeable to any negotiations. That saw the beginning of many non-state outfits that came under no law and today are the terrorist outfits that graze across the world, changing war fronts and tactics, making them unbeatable enemies, that may strike any country no matter how neutral to the world situation, with un-estimable damages.
So there are mini skirmishes, acrimonious interactions, nuclear threats that may keep on changing their targets at any angle in the 360 degrees circle. The reason- I believe the threat itself is enough. It’s too late to ask for a reason when a gun points at you. You either beg, or duck, or……! I mean hope it is a dummy bullet.
To name instances would be trite. Firstly, they are everyday news, and secondly the article is not to point fingers, but to enumerate how we came to be the way we came to be.
The somewhat good news is that the world is more on speaking terms now than before. For instance, great solace the two Super Presidents talk to each other, even accepting that the translators are not angels, and there are many ways to translate, to convey different meanings. Yet none is anyone’s bride or groom!
The North Korean threats, that have a long history, are being tackled. That India and China could talk themselves out of a crisis, is a good beginning if God forsake there are some more between neighbours.
A persisting concern is non-state terrorist agencies that have to be tackled. Confrontation as a method is too obvious to be stated. If there be nations more conversant for (I have no reasons to name any), diplomatic and other persuasions that can be used to order such outfits to disarm and then be kept under scrutiny.
Communal distortions brought to the forefront to enthuse violent aggression, can be taken by scholars within their particular beliefs, to bring forth the true message of peace and care for humanity, which undoubtedly is the essence of every religion. Passages on “fundamentalism” if any, may rightly be shifted to the back-pages where they belong.
The ray of hope for humanity is that positive science, as healthcare, means of improving quality of life, agricultural growth, interactions of citizens through social media, healthy trade and economy, are likely to occupy the agenda of bilateral or international meets, rather than other petty disputes that assure power to the negotiators by irrigating the stat instincts of strife so well instilled in our times.
During my entrance exam for studies in the US, I cannot forget the words of the supervisor. We were at the fag-end of two days of marathon MCQs. What he said to a tired batch was, “remember, nine-tenths of the way is still half the way!”
That, I believe is the truth behind all negotiations, treaties, diplomacy, wars, even day to day projects!
The world has slipped from a higher summit of conscience, commitment, and brotherhood. Hope the lowly plateau we have slid into gives enough space for redemption, and the wisdom to start living peacefully, for this is the only world and the only life we can experience- till artificial intelligence takes over!

 

Ikat: The weave that binds India to a vast swathe of Asia

It is not uncommon for China to claim that just about everything was discovered, created, evolved or invented there, from astronomy to gastronomy, technology to culture. India has been remarkably reticent about asserting its own considerable claims, much less challenging China’s claims of preeminence on the continent. Maybe the resolution of the Doklam standoff will mark a change in this curious Indian pusillanimity.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal noted in a recent article that the unmistakable evidence of Indian culture around Asia as well as the distinct lack of Chinese influence on India –the only other Asian civilisation of similar size and antiquity –belies China’s assertions of historical dominance. And an excellent exhibition and seminar on ikat weaving in New Delhi last week reiterated India’s sustained soft power. Scholars have propounded many theories of where the amazing technique of ikat –where the threads of the warp and/or weft are tied and pre-dyed before being woven – originated.
Some averred that the distribution of an ancient type of Vietnamese drum in some ikat areas point to that region as the fount. Others say it developed on its own in different places, from central Asia up to the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines. My own theory is fanciful but cannot be discounted given that no scholar has much by way of conclusive proof otherwise. Ancient Indian kingdoms along the east coast had navies and went to the farthest reaches of East Asia. Hinduism, and later Buddhism, were also carried along with them, as existing temples prove.
It is entirely possible then that Indian cloth caught on over there so local weavers improvised and then innovated. Weavers and designers from as far apart as Kyrghystan and Sumatra came to New Delhi’s Bikaner House at the invitation of the World Crafts Council to showcase their ikats—each with its own name (like abr-bandior “tied cloud” in Central Asia) and lore. This underlines the irresistible appeal of this technique for weavers and people.
Ikat is indeed a tie that binds us as the doyenne of textiles Jasleen Dhamija said so aptly. India has no conclusive dates for the genesis and spread of ikat weaving. But the distinctiveness of our three major ikatweavingareas– Odisha’s intricateandfine curvilinear style, Telangana’s geometric ‘telia rumal’ geometrics and Gujarat’s superb Patan and Rajkot patolas–indicates Indiahasalways beenapowerhouse of ikat techniques and technology.
So the theory that we exported our ikat textiles and knowhow cannot be ruled out. Given its location, India has always been a land where innumerable foreigners came in search of many things since time immemorial. Some came merely to trade, others to learn; still others stayed back or travelled onwards or homewards carrying knowledge and goods gathered here. Indian rulers were remarkably open to new influences and opportunities too, domestically and abroad, which led to more mutually beneficial interactions. One of the least known facets of ancient India’s accomplishments is steel technology.
When Europe was struggling with rusting iron weaponry, south India had already developed “ukku” – a high-carbon crucible steel with tremendous tensile properties which made it a coveted export. Alexander the Great was said to have been floored by ukku and even the fabled Damascene swords of ‘watered’ steel used Indian metal! This legacy of ancient interactions is what India should leverage now to reactivate civilizational links in our region, though not necessarily at the official level. Ikat is only one of the ties that bind India to so much of Asia.
Buddhism and Hinduism—in their characteristically glorious diversity–still hold sway in precisely the areas China covets, for instance. Spices, food, other textiles customs and music, among others. But the lessons of Doklam must be applied.
Chinese-style bellicose assertions of dominance will be counterproductive. India has seen the benefits of calm, quiet, genteel yet knowledgeable persistence. The seminar and interactions on ikat went a long way in quietly “tying” India to a vast swathe of Asia. Many more such discussions and exhibitions are needed, and the sheer depth and diversity of India’s legacy offers many option

 

If Angela Merkel loses the German election, Is Guttenberg the solution to Germany’s AfD problem

I’m not saying she will lose. I’m not even saying it’s probable. But we’ve seen so many election upsets in the last few years that prove this improbable outcome is certainly possible. And it might be more likely than we’d like to think. A recent poll found that half of German voters are undecided, so there is plenty of scope for an upset.
But even if it never happens, considering the scenario gives us important information about German politics. The first thing to note is that a Merkel defeat would be felt around the world. As Geopolitical Futures founder George Friedman wrote last year, Germany is “the foundation of European stability.” “If Germany weakens or destabilizes, Europe destabilizes, and it is not too extreme to say that if Europe destabilizes, the world can as well,” he continued.
If Ms. Merkel loses or barely scrapes by, suddenly Europe’s rock of stability will be shaken. If the election produces no clear winner, Germany will face months of complex coalition negotiations. If her challenger pulls off the upset, even with a clear majority, Europe will have an unproven captain at the helm as it continues to face the storm of the euro crisis and the immigration crisis.
Matthew Lynn described the possible meltdown in an article for the Telegraph last month: “The impact of Merkel losing would be huge—and very unpredictable. But there are three big ways it would immediately impact the markets. First, expect a sudden reversal in equities. Over the last six months, Europe has become the top destination for global money managers.
“With the removal of political risk and the threat of a chaotic breakup of the currency receding, cash has been flooding into undervalued, ignored European markets. … All of a sudden, however, political risk would be right back on the table. And a lot of that money would suddenly start returning home again. The markets would get slammed.”
The euro crisis would be back with a vengeance. Only this time Germany would be mired in complex coalition negotiations with no leader to step in and stop it—or even to slap on yet another sticking plaster. But if coalition negotiations ultimately determine the leader of Germany—and Europe—who will end up in charge?
Ms. Merkel is obviously the favorite to be Germany’s next chancellor. Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats, is her main rival. Who else has a realistic opportunity of becoming the next German chancellor? One of the main names is a man who will already be very familiar to regular readers of this newsletter. There’s no way to deduce who could come out on top after coalition negotiations by looking at polling data. But to get a sense, we can look at the bookmakers’ odds.
Many of Britain’s top political betting sites imply that the person third-most likely to be the next challenger is former defense minister Karl-Theordor zu Guttenberg. In fact, almost all sites that allow people to place a bet on Guttenberg put him in third place. Admittedly they give him only a 40 to 1 or even 60 to 1 chance of being the next leader of Germany.
Yet Guttenberg—who is not even running for office, who holds no position in the cabinet, who is not a member of the legislature, and who is not even a local elected official—is the individual third-most likely to find himself running Germany by the end of the year.
If Merkel or Schulz do not emerge from the election as a clear winner, very awkward coalition negotiations will have to determine the next chancellor. And according to the bookies, Guttenberg is the one most likely to rise to the top in these circumstances.
I don’t want to read too much into political betting odds. I’m sure many vote for whom they want to win, not whom they think will win. But they have provided a useful forecast of elections in the past. But now that we’ve examined our “what-if” scenario, think about this. Germany is heading for a political crisis. It might not come during this election, but it is coming. The dissatisfaction and anger among German voters guarantees it. TheTrumpet.com managing editor Brad Macdonald explained this in his article “A More Powerful, More Assertive, More Terrifying Germany Is Coming”—it’s a must-read for anyone who is at all interested in the future of Germany.
When that crisis hits, what will happen to Europe? What will happen to the global economy? The same type of tumult that will happen if Merkel loses. At the same time, if Ms. Merkel is forced out after some months into her new stint as chancellor and there’s a power vacuum and coalition negotiations, who would rise to the top? The same individual who’s projected to rise if we see political uncertainty after Sunday’s vote: Guttenberg.
Germany’s far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), wants to lock down Germany’s borders, ban the burka and minarets, purge Germany of Islam, and return to the deutsche mark. The AfD believes Germany needs to stop repenting of its Nazi past and stop feeling shame and guilt for the war.
Oh, and analysts forecast that the AfD will win 11 to 13 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, becoming Germany’s THIRD-LARGEST political party.
I wonder if the AfD might even outperform expectations. There could be a large number of closet AfD supporters—Germans who identify with the AfD but don’t talk about it publicly (or admit it to pollsters). After all, the AfD has a lot of Nazi supporters and some of its leaders have come awfully close to openly championing Nazi views.
If the AfD does as well as expected on Sunday, it will mark an epic moment in postwar Germany. It will be the first time in almost 60 years that a party more right-wing than the Christian Democratic Union has won seats in the Bundestag. If it gains 50 to 70 parliament seats, the AfD would also have strong influence in the Bundestag. And it has already promised to make Chancellor Angela Merkel’s life miserable.
If you’d like a more detailed understanding of the AfD, you can read its party manifesto here. In short, the AfD wants to fix the migrant crisis (something mainstream parties won’t even admit exists). It wants to lock down Germany’s borders, deport more people, and pass much stricter immigration laws. Its manifesto explicitly states, “Islam does not belong in Germany.” The AfD also opposes the European Union: It wants bailouts stopped, Germany out of the EU, and the deutsche mark reintroduced as the nation’s currency. Finally, the AfD is staunchly nationalistic. It believes Germans should stop apologizing for what Nazi Germany did during the war and stop carrying around guilt and shame. It wants Germany to unashamedly act in its own interests.
The popularity of the AfD speaks to Germany’s quiet crisis. The party’s rise from obscurity over the last four years shows that there is a lot of anxiety, fear and frustration among the German public—and it’s becoming more and more willing to do something about it. It’s a sign that Germans are concerned about the destruction of German heritage and culture. It’s a sign of a reviving nationalist spirit.
The rise of the AfD obviously has a lot of people concerned. Many are wondering, How can we stop this? There might be a solution. Guttenberg comes from Bavaria, is a member of the Christian Social Party, and has spent the last two weeks running around Germany campaigning for Angela Merkel.
This man could be the ideal antidote to the rise of the AfD. Guttenberg has a lot to say about the migrant crisis, about Islam and about Germany’s Christian heritage. He too believes some migrants need to be tossed out, and he believes Islam’s presence needs to be curtailed. He also believes that Germans need to “stand up for their culture.” His speeches nearly always have a distinct nationalist tone.
Yet while Guttenberg communicates intelligently, forcefully and patriotically about these issues, he isn’t too extreme. He doesn’t make overtly racist remarks. He’s not unreasonable, and he doesn’t condone extreme solutions. He doesn’t look or sound like a Nazi.
For Germans who are anxious and frustrated, yet who don’t want to go so far as to vote for the AfD—or for AfD supporters uncomfortable with the extreme views of the party—Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is an attractive alternative. He is the kind of politician Germans can support with a clean conscience. They have done so in the past—electing him to the Bundestag at age 30 (with 60 percent of the vote), reelecting him in 2009 with the highest percentage of all elected officials (68 percent). That summer, he passed Chancellor Merkel to become the most popular politician in Germany.
Of course, there’s an obvious dilemma: Guttenberg doesn’t hold political office and he’s not a candidate for election. But this could easily change. There are already rumors that Guttenberg will be offered a cabinet post in Germany’s new government. This makes a lot of sense and would be a politically expedient move by Angela Merkel (assuming she is reelected). Having someone like Guttenberg in government could mitigate the impact of the AfD, giving disgruntled Germans a much more palatable alternative.
Germany’s national election is now less than one week away. The rise of the AfD has a lot of people very concerned. As Richard Palmer wrote yesterday, it is by no means certain that Angela Merkel will win easily. And even if Merkel does win, she will then have to form a coalition government. Many things could go wrong and create a political crisis. Events in North Korea are getting a lot of attention right now, and they are interesting. But don’t forget Germany’s election this Sunday. It could be the most significant event of the year—and 2017 has been filled with significant events.

Bangladesh Overtakes Pakistan: Lessons for India

So the debate rages in India: Should it follow liberal, multicultural values, or norms that assume a uniform, homogeneous culture treating dissent as anti-national and minorities as second class citizens?
One way of settling the issue is to look at two of India’s south Asian neighbours. Pakistan and Bangladesh are both Muslim majority nations, which had once been together and hewed out of pre-independence India, creating a uniform frame of reference. But among them Bangladesh is relatively more liberal, multicultural, hounds minorities less, allows women a greater role in public life and cracks down on religious zealotry more effectively.
Bangladesh is also now richer than Pakistan in terms of per capita GDP (see this Economist article). This is a historic milestone, comparable to Ireland – once an impoverished British colony – leaving its colonizer in the shade in terms of prosperity. Pakistanis had once considered Bangladeshis their poor cousins who they ruthlessly exploited. As the article says, industry accounted for only 6-7% of its GDP as opposed to 20% of Pakistan’s GDP when the two separated in 1971. Moreover Bangladesh’s battle for independence itself left the country devastated and millions killed.
But Bangladesh has come from behind like a meteor, it seems. Its GDP per capita was $1538 the past fiscal year, compared to Pakistan’s $1470. Industry now accounts for 29% of Bangladesh’s GDP. It has achieved impressive reductions in fertility (by contrast, Pakistan has crossed Brazil in terms of population). Bangladesh does far better than India, let alone Pakistan, on infant mortality rate. This means, to put it in plain terms, that a child born in Bangladesh today has much better chance of survival than a child born in India (think Gorakhpur).
What’s significant is that Bangladesh now exports more ready-made garments than India and Pakistan combined. That is surely something to celebrate if one is Bangladeshi. But India is so much bigger than Bangladesh, and from an Indian point of view it is a tragedy.
Textiles are a labour intensive industry particularly conducive to a low skilled workforce and can thus be a job spinner in a South Asian context. They are how industrial revolutions get started. But India appears to have missed this bus even as it is able to offer few jobs to its young people today. This is testimony to the poor quality of its economic policies, particularly shameful if you consider that in pre-industrial times, say around 1700, India was indubitably the world’s textile superpower.
But congratulations where it’s due: to Bangladesh. Among other things it has settled an Indian debate decisively: it offers food for thought to those super-nationalists and hyper-religionists who want to convert India into a Hindu Pakistan (assuming, of course, that they are capable of thinking).

The case for alliance

Rise of China and uncertainty over America’s role in Asia has brought Japan and India closer. Modi and Abe can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the relationship’s possibilities.
That Japan was the only nation to extend public support to India during the Doklam confrontation with China is symbolic of the extraordinary transformation of relations between the two Asian powers over the last few years. Two decades ago, in the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests, Tokyo was at the forefront of the international condemnation and the imposition of collective economic measures against Delhi.
Today it is quite tempting to suggest that Japan has come closest to being India’s natural ally in Asia. Purists will certainly question the idea of an “alliance” between India and Japan. India’s international identity, after all, has long been articulated in terms of “non-alignment”. Japan, in contrast, swears by its lone alliance with the United States.
The emerging Asian dynamic, however, suggests that Delhi and Tokyo must necessarily draw closer. Whether the relationship between Delhi and Tokyo will eventually approximate to an alliance is likely to be determined less by tradition and more by the current convulsions in their shared Asian and Indo-Pacific geography.
Two factors are threatening to unravel the post-war order in Asia. One is the rapid rise of China and the other is the growing uncertainty over America’s future role in Asia. Nearly 40 years of accelerated economic growth has helped China inch closer to the aggregate GDP of the United States. Purposeful military modernisation over the last few decades has given Beijing levers to contest US military dominance over Asia.
As China closes the gap with the US, the imbalance between Beijing and its Asian neighbours has grown massively. Rising China has dethroned Japan as the number one economic power in Asia. It has also shattered the broad parity with India that existed until the 1980s. China’s GDP is now five times larger than that of India. Beijing outspends Delhi and Tokyo on defence by more than four times.
According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, China’s defence budget ($216 billion) is more than twice that of India ($56 billion) and Japan ($46 billion) put together. As they wake up to strategic diminution vis-a-vis China, India and Japan are also buffeted by the unprecedented political turbulence in the United States. President Donald Trump is challenging the two foundations of America’s post-war primacy in Asia — the willingness to act as the market for Asian goods and bearing the main burden of defending its allies in the region, including Japan.
There is undoubtedly much resistance from the establishment in Washington to Trump’s heresies on free trade and Eurasian alliances. But the tussle in Washington has begun to induce both Delhi and Tokyo not to take America’s political trajectory in Asia for granted. As they cope with China’s assertiveness, India and Japan also worry about the consequences of a potential American retrenchment or a deliberate decision in Washington to cede more space to Beijing in Asia.
While they hope for an enduring American role in stabilising Asia, Delhi and Tokyo also need to insure against wild oscillations in US policy. One way of doing that is to move towards a genuine alliance between India and Japan. America may have no objections to such an alliance. It has, in fact, actively encouraged closer cooperation between Delhi and Tokyo.
A potential alliance between India and Japan can neither replace the American might nor contain China. As Beijing’s neighbours, Delhi and Tokyo have a big stake in a cooperative relationship with Beijing and at the same time a strong incentive to temper some of China’s unilateralism through a regional balance of power system.
While the objective case for an alliance is evident, can Delhi and Tokyo overcome their strategic inertia and take the necessary subjective decisions? To be sure, Delhi and Tokyo have come a long way since the tensions over India’s nuclear tests in the late 1990s. But there is much distance to go before they can showcase at least an alliance-like relationship.
Successive prime ministers in Delhi and Tokyo contributed to this transformation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in Ahmedabad this week for the annual summit with the Indian PM, deserves special credit. During his brief first tenure as PM during 2006-07, Abe outlined the broad framework for a strong strategic partnership with India.
Luckily for India, Abe has had a rare second shot at leading Japan since late 2012. He achieved the near impossible by getting the Japanese bureaucratic establishment to negotiate a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India and the political class to approve it. The conventional wisdom until recently was that Japan’s “nuclear allergy” will never allow Tokyo cooperate with India on atomic energy. On his part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had put Japan at the very top of his foreign policy agenda. Like Abe, Modi continuously nudged the Indian establishment to think more strategically about cooperation with Japan — from high speed railway development to the modernisation of transport infrastructure in the Northeast.
Under Abe and Modi, Tokyo and Delhi have expanded their maritime security cooperation, agreed to work together in promoting connectivity and infrastructure in third countries in India’s neighbourhood. They are pooling their resources — financial and human — to develop the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.
While all this is impressive, sceptics will argue that without a significant defence relationship, the talk of an alliance between India and Japan remains meaningless. Although military exchanges between Delhi and Tokyo have expanded over the last few years, the two sides are far from a credible defence partnership that can shape the regional security architecture in the coming decades.
That negotiations on India’s purchase of Japanese amphibious aircraft, US-2i, have been stuck for years underlines part of the problem. The time is now for Modi and Abe to demonstrate that they can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the defence possibilities between India and Japan. Modi and Abe have certainly raised the expectations for a potential alliance between Delhi and Tokyo. But they can’t afford to fall short on implementation amidst the current geopolitical churn in Asia.

Government Running Hindu Temples-A Selective Secularism

One of the first statements you come across on the website of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department’s website is this one: “The management and control of the temples and the administration of their endowments is one of the primary responsibilities of the state”
The irony of the government of a “secular” state running religious institutions is obviously lost on HR&CE. More so when we note that the state has been intermittently ruled by parties like DMK whose leadership has, in the past, formally professed rationalist and atheist beliefs
But we shall let that pass and presume that, despite top-level political antipathy to Hindu religion, HR&CE is willing to hold its nose and do everything it can to run the 38,481 temples and endowments under its control fairly and efficiently.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case. When you put the fox in charge of the hen-house, you don’t get better protection of your millennia-old spiritual and historical heritage, but wayward behaviour by officialdom. Beneath the surface, corruption festers, and priceless idols and valuables are bartered away for filthy lucre.
This is apparent from a recent Madras high court judgment in two cases (Crl OP Nos 8690 and 12060 of 2017), where the petitioners had complained about officials being careless in protecting idols worth crores of rupees, and possibly acting in cahoots with idol smugglers.
In the first case, petitioner R Venkataraman alleged that ancient idols from Chola-era temples in Thanjavur district were moved and “stocked unofficially, against the HR&CE norms, and the trustees, along with the Executive Officers of the HR&CE department, created records as if the idols are intact, when factually six idols, of which five belonging to Sri Viswanathasamy Temple at Keelmanakudi, and one Vinayagar idol belonging to the Arulmigu Sri Idumbeswarar Temple, were missing.” The petition alleged that instead of keeping the idols at the Icon Centre, they were kept in an “unauthorised tunnel and also in a scrap room belonging to the Public Works Department.”
In the other case, filed by public interest litigant Elephant G Rajendran, it was alleged that a senior police officer, I Khader Basha, now DSP, and two other police personnel, who were earlier part of the Idol Wing, came into possession of six idols while investigating a case involving one Arokiaraj. Two of these were allegedly sold to a noted smuggler in Chennai for Rs 15 lakh, who then resold them for an alleged sum of Rs 6 crore. But despite an FIR being filed against the police officials concerned, they were promoted, and “no further action, either by way of arrest or by departmental proceedings, was initiated.”
The high court, in an order dated July 21, 2017, by Justice R Mahadevan, had no hesitation is saying that the state was wayward in its defence of priceless heritage assets and roasted HR&CE for its failures. After noting that Indian temples had been ravaged by invaders for centuries, he added: “For the past several years, a new form of attack is carried out by smuggling the ancient idols. Foreigners and disbelievers see the idols as antiques worth only … in terms of money, but the people of this country see them in the semblance of god, culture and identity.”
The court castigated the department in no uncertain terms, pointing out that HR&CE is the custodian of most of the state’s temples and their properties, but has clearly failed to do so despite controlling large revenues. “It is startling to find that the HR&CE department, with all its income from major temples, has not been able to maintain historical temples and safeguard the idols … many temples constructed at least 1,500 years ago or much before … are in ruins. Even the daily rituals are not performed. Some temples remain closed throughout the day with no one to even lighten (sic) the lamps … this has also come to the advantage of the miscreants, who have laid their hands on the idols.”
Having come to this conclusion, the court ordered the obvious remedies: departmental action and FIRs against the alleged culprits, moving all idols to strong-rooms or Icon Centres, creation of a list of all temples managed by the state and number of priests they employ, computerisation of records and 24×7 video and electronic surveillance of these idols and other valuables.
But the scale of loot and irresponsibility goes beyond mere smuggling and illicit sale of idols. Some time ago Subramanian Swamy, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP, alleged in a newspaper article that the Tamil Nadu HR&CE controlled “more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples.” These temple-owned properties should have been earning revenues in thousands of crores, but the government collected barely Rs 36 crore.
It is difficult to authenticate these figures from three years ago. But if they are anywhere near correct we have the makings of a gigantic scandal, at the expense of Hindu devotees who contributed to this wealth. But it’s not about Tamil Nadu alone. In the five major southern states over 1,00,000 temples are being run directly or indirectly by governments, making a mockery of the idea of the secular state where separation of religious from temporal activity ought to have been a central principle of governance.
This separation is all the more important when you have cases of gross negligence, where the guardians of temples are also its predators. The fence is eating the crop.

Divided They Stand: India Stands Frozen at Partition, & America at the Civil War

Did the Civil War ever really end in America? Did Partition settle the national identity question in India? Or do they remain open wounds in the world’s largest two democracies?
Those who live in India would agree that the issue of what exactly should be the nation’s primary identity is hardly a settled matter. That might be the only thing the two sides in the argument would agree on. One camp insists that the Partition of India was a defining moment at which the Muslims chose to have a separate nation carved out for them and therefore the remaining portion of India that is Bharat should be an unapologetic Hindu nation. The other side says the Constitution of India was drawn up in the manner it was because the Republic of India would affirm a kind of secularism that would continue to accommodate Hindus and Muslims, as well as Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and what have you, in direct contrast to the religion-defined profile of Pakistan.
Between the two nations, the argument has continued for seven decades, violently, over the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Within the Indian republic, it is a critical fault line between major political parties and ideological camps. Who do we call an Indian? What truly is the idea of India?
Today the argument, which has waxed and waned over the decades, is at a high pitch. Subsets of questions keep surfacing: Who is a true Hindu? Do Dalits accept they are part of the Hindu family? If they do, why are so many fleeing to Buddhism? Does Hinduism have a fixed contour defined by the Vedas or is it a collection of traditions and practices which some 18th and 19th-century scholars and nationalist leaders defined as a collective identity? Should Muslims have personal laws in a secular state? Must all Hindus be vegetarian? Do all Hindus share a singular identity? Do all Muslims? The argument, often violent, is not over.
In the United States, the northern states and the south fought violently in the 19th century over the southerners’ assumed entitlement, in the name of states’ rights, to own slaves and to continue treating African Americans as less than human. Around seven hundred thousand died in the Civil War which ended in 1865. But did the argument end with the North’s victory?
No. Without going into details that can be found in history books, the southern states of the so-called Confederacy quickly established a system of effective apartheid. The southern states, after a period of reconstruction following the war, imposed local and state laws that from 1896 ensured continuing racial segregation. The system was not fully undone until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1963 and ’64. But that was hardly the end of racial hatred in America.
To cut the story short, hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi white nationalists, who were presumed to be on the fringes of the socio-political spectrum, are openly enjoying a revival. After many had prematurely assumed that racism in America had been buried once for all by the election of Barack Obama as president, several observers now feel that the spell of eight years under an African American leader heightened fears among those who felt that their vision of a white America was rapidly fading, a fear deepened by the continuing influx of brown immigrants from south of the border and other parts of the world.
So they put in power a man who spoke their language of intolerance of minorities punctuated by racist dog whistles. The Klan and the so-called alt-right have welcomed his tone on racial matters and assemble now in public without face masks. Meanwhile, an anarchist “Antifa” or anti-fascist movement on the far left has become a source of gratuitous violence that has alarmed moderates and quickly been denounced by the president and his supporters as pre-planned leftist disruption of law and order.
In short, the world’s two largest democracies are straining at the seams. How they tackle the rise of violently divisive intolerance might affect the future of democracy across the world.

Take your pick: Chick, Swine or Dung

Inaction is the widest form of corruption that goes unnoticed. Yet it is the real, disastrous, and the most prevalent form.
Welcome to the Indian capital’s annual 2017 celebration. It has all the known varieties, and each one at its highest. There is almost a bonanza—try one, get the other two free. Call it a lackadaisical attitude, call it deliberate, or dampen the brunt by saying, “looked the other way”.
Around three months back, the Delhi government had announced that it is arranging extra beds in each hospital to accommodate these deadly epidemics that have become an annual celebration.
It would be stupid to be sore or disgruntled over the present and predicted situation. It’s for Lady Macbeth to wash her hands, because she was so directly involved.
The common may suffer, but disharmony shall not come to them. That the top is so completely revealed, at least puts the common man’s heart to rest to blame his indiscretions! Not this door to knock the next time! There is no follow-up on the given word. Integrity, commitment, and matters of conscience perhaps belong to the administration of a different country!
It is rather enlightening to learn, that the country has survived, and has no alternative but to persist under an unscrupulous, inefficient system, which is not answerable to man nor to nature.
I do not know about the ratio of instant or long- term components of deviations that are supposedly essential to governance, but in today’s nuclear, space-age, and economically rising India, if an annual epidemic cannot be mitigated, (if not nipped in the bud), the question of answerability does arise, and there is a need to know the report in full transparency regarding action taken (which is not the money spent, but a summary of composite unit actions taken).
This better be clarified by the government in a day or two, because the popular phrase, “the worst is still to come” has already been copy-pasted from last year to today’s print. It is time that the necessary change in strategy is spelt out immediately. Having been warned by the High Court, months ago, the judiciary in its wisdom, may feel it mandated to ask for a full report right now, even hold open session hearings.
To put it simply once again, all that is required is vector control. With a month’s rain, logging of water in pot holes, wayside, a full breed of vectors are already in the air. All they have to do is to pick up their cargoes from blood of humans already effected(chikungunya, dengue), and from animals (swine, bird, other), and transmit it to a human.
Two principles, by efficacy that come to the fore are, to defog those places which report a higher incidence. That indeed is a reason, that more often than not one finds more than a member of a family affected.
It would be the same area, where mosquito repellent creams (generics would be rather cheap, and should be in surplus, as they don’t seem to have addressed the estimates), as well as mosquito killer sprays (a part of the transparency required is how many are in stock, how many distributed, and a confirmation from the user). Subsequent monitoring of the incidence from the same area is the only yardstick that epidemiologic brakes are working. Why shouldn’t they?
The second, again no atomic science, is to clear up all the logged water in the streets, playgrounds in the same place. That would require just a tanker with a broad mouth suction tube. One can have smaller ones, for smaller by-lanes. At the same time, disinfectants may be sprayed on the cleared- up water pools. The “safai karamchari association”, know it all at the back of their palms, to guide one to the hotspots and do need a seasonal bonus for that.
In politics, to be clever, one has to be clever! Imagine a structure of a government dispensary with four A/Cs installed for the last four months, bearing the leaders’ photographs, but no dispensing! One can’t fool all the people all the time!
Way side Ads, “This year the people of Delhi shall fight dengue on their own”, showing a family, and a small mosquito, that actually scares, because there is another one that intermittently sits on it, and takes-off as you slide your car under the hoarding. The fleeting impression that passes your mind is whether mosquito on the hoarding has actually gone live, and inspires thousands of others to repeat the said act, with a full family drawn on the same hoarding! (hint: Metro pedestrian over-ridge crossing, near a large South Delhi hospital.)
Now this is serious business, which can only be revealed with some confidentiality. The first patient who succumbed to a vector borne virus bite was two days earlier than the child reported at another major hospital in central Delhi. This particular man hailed and had been to Sultanpur (UP), just two to three weeks earlier. I suppose there are cases of infection reported in people, in those who frequently visit to entertain people from such areas.
This triple bug epidemic is likely to cause expenses in terms of hospitalisations, loss of man hours (take ten days to a fortnight, for work fitness), morbidity, associated arthralgia that take months to go. Blood products as platelets are expensive, and many a time not well screened to cause other chronic infections as hepatitis, keeping in hold other dreaded ones.
An immediate action plan needs to be put into place, with a vector control agency taking charge of the protocol to be followed, and an epidemiological department to note the reduction in incidence.
The whole episode throws a suspicion as to how true, sincere, and responsible are we as a race, when it comes to pick up a responsible job!
That lack of doggedness to pursue a promise given from a chair of responsibility, when one is under oath.
Is this the weak gene of an ancient Indian Civilisation?
Are “cuts” and “shortcuts” inherent in our psyche?
We still have two months to turn the tide!
See you at the Delhi marathon, if you manage to escape the sting!
“Hamney maana ki tagaful na karogey lekin,
Khaakh ho jayengey ham tumko khabar honey tak
-Ghalib
(I know you shall not ignore me,
But I shall be close to ashes, by the time you learn of it)

1947 and Bangladesh

Question was, did Bangladesh come out of 1947 or was it already there but delayed by the birth of Pakistan that year?. The Lahore resolution was ‘adjusted’ in 1947 from ‘states’ for Muslim majority areas of India to the ‘state’ of Pakistan. But what did ‘Pakistan’ mean to future Bangladeshis ?
The Muslim peasantry in Bengal suffered under zamindars, mostly Hindus, for a long time and the emerging Muslim middle class wanted more jobs and less competition. The 1946 vote was for the end of zamindary oppression and more economic space for the middle class, not about the assertion of political identity as Muslims leading to Pakistan. At best it was for an independent state as mentioned in the Lahore Resolution of 1940, not the revised One Pakistan of 1947 as announced by Jinnah.
The Pakistan of 1947 not only delayed Bangladesh but planted the bitter tubers that bred the killing fields of 1971. It was inevitable. East and West Pakistan had very different histories of identities. To Bengali Muslims, being a Muslim mattered as much as being a Bengali, a point raised even when Muslim League was formed in 1906.
Unhappiness with the centralized Pakistan of 1947 began early in East Pakistan and protests were widespread as early as 1948 on the critical issue of language. These protests turned into rebellion and ultimately the war of 1971.
Such a not-so-long journey
Pre-1947 Bengal was ruled by the Kolkata-based Bengali Hindu elite. They were educated, well off and collaborators of the East India Company. In 1793 when zamindary was established, they had become the majority of the landlords. Peasants under them hated all zamindars, Hindu or Muslims, but most were Hindus so the class/economic hatred turned into community hostility.
The older lot displaced zamindars of the Mughal era –mostly Muslims — resisted British rule and used peasants to fight back turning resistance into a community response that influenced community participation. But the Hindu peasantry had no champions, least of all in the Kolkata elite. It took a hundred years before the British became oppressors in Kolkata’s eyes.
Bengal politics versus ‘all Indian’ politics
By the mid 19th century, the Bengali Muslim middle class began to emerge looking for jobs and professions in return for loyalty, copying what the Kolkata babus once did. As the contest between the two middle classes sharpened, so did politics.
The partition of Bengal in 1905 was a good example. East Bengalis were mostly peasants, mostly Muslims, mostly resentful of Kolkata and popular with the newly arriving Muslim middle class. In 1906 the Muslim League was formed in Dhaka which gave Indian Muslims a political voice.
But the Kolkata elite responded with the Swadeshi movement which went national and partition was annulled in 1911. Both Swadeshi as well as the Muslim League meant that there was a greater influence on Bengal politics by these organizations located outside Bengal.
Community hostility became political after 1905 but attempts to forge inter-community politics in Bengal continued almost till flag hoisting in 1947. In 1924, the visionary Chittaranjan Das proposed the Bengal Pact hoping to encourage great social harmony through affirmative action but it was rejected by the Kolkata elite and the Congress Party.
In 1937, attempt to form an alliance government also was shot down as a ‘regional’ not a national formula. Finally, the United Bengal Movement (UBM), a plan to set up an independent Bengal state outside India and Pakistan, moved by both Bengal ML and Congress also died in 1947.
But when UBM collapsed, several young Bengal Muslim League activists formed a secret group to work for an independent Bengal. All were admirers of Subhash Bose and the person they thought of as the leader of the would-be new state was a charismatic young man from East Bengal called Mujibur Rahman. He would become the founding leader of Bangladesh.
The language of violence
The decision to declare Urdu as the sole national language was not a cultural but an economic policy to cut off middle class Bengalis from seeking employment. It was met with immediate resistance by the Bengali middle class, those most affected by it.
By 1948, Dhaka observed the first protest hartal on the issue and Jinnah’s pledge to make Urdu the sole national language led to more protests. By 1952 Dhaka University protests turned militant and the consequent police firing delivered martyrs, essential ingredients for a national movement.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Bengal Provincial Muslim League fully transformed into the Awami (Muslim) League in 1949 ending any significant presence of ‘Pakistan’ in the province. In the election of 1954, East Pakistan-based parties won almost all seats. The Pakistan Muslim league was wiped out and with it went the flag-bearers of Jinnah’s Pakistan. By 1958, when the army took over, many parties had secret ‘independence ‘ groups. East Pakistan was firmly on its way to becoming Bangladesh after a detour.
In 1970 Hindus and Muslims voted together to make Awami League the winner in elections in Pakistan but that also signed a death warrant for many. It was impossible for the Pakistan army to hand over power to a man who prioritized provincial autonomy over the ‘liberation of Kahmir’, the army’s main reason to exist. He was the man they had accused of treason in 1968 and hoped to hang. East Pakistan had become a proxy India.
When it cracked down on March 25th night, few armies had acted so sufficiently to destroy the very objective of the attack. But the journey to the final humiliation in December 1971 in surrendering to India and Bangladesh had begun long before, back in 1947, when Pakistan was born. Bangladeshis have paid a high price for both partition and unification.

The moral consciousness

We live in times where there seems to be a fracture between consciousness and morality. But an expansion of the former leads to a deepening of the latter
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam (1.13.47), composed over a thousand years ago, we find the following verse:
Ahastani sahastanam
apadani catus-padam
phalgani tatra mahatam
jivo jivasya jivanam
Those without hands are prey to those with hands
Those without legs are prey to those with four legs
The weak are food for the strong
Life feeds on life
This verse observes the ways of the jungle, where might is right. The phrase used for this in ancient Vedic literature is matsya nyaya, or fish justice. This is not supposed to be the way of culture. For humans have the wherewithal to overturn the ways of the jungle.
In culture, the mighty must not feed on the meek; the mighty take care of the meek. This is dharma. When the mighty feed on the meek, when humans behave as animals do, adharma is said to prevail. This is Hindu morality. We find the first glimpse of this idea in the 3,000-year-old Shatapatha Brahmana (11.1.6.24) where the gods establish dharma in the northern direction, which is indicative of stability owing to the presence of the pole star, with waters, which is indicative of fecundity and economic prosperity. “When the waters come, there is abundance and dharma. When the waters do not come, there is scarcity, the mighty prey on the meek, and there is adharma.”
In the 2,500-year-old Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.11-14), we learn, “A weaker man demands of the stronger man through dharma just as one appeals to the king.” Thus, the king’s role in establishing dharma, and creating an ecosystem where the mighty do not exploit the meek, is established. Rules and traditions, niti-riti, are simply tangible manifestations of the idea of dharma. A rule or a tradition is in line with dharma only if it keeps the way of the jungle out of society. In the Ramayana, the mighty Ravana succumbs to adharma, when he abducts Sita and keeps her in Lanka against her consent. In the Mahabharata, the mighty Duryodhana succumbs to adharma, when he refuses to share a needlepoint of land with his five orphaned cousins, the Pandavas.
Hinduism also recognises that the world is not static or homogenous. Everything is constantly changing (anitya). Hence, rules and traditions cannot be static. Just as Vishnu takes a different avatar in the different yugas, as per the Puranas, the Dharmashastras say that all rules and tradition must be contextualised to place, period and people (desha-kala-patra).
The ability to do this requires that one expands one’s consciousness, and outgrows the ways of the jungle. This means while an animal is driven by the instinct to see other creatures as predator, prey, rival or mate, humans have the ability to outgrow such instincts, and empathise with the other. This allows for emotions such as compassion and actions such as generosity. Greater awareness means one can see, without feeling threatened, the hunger and fear of oneself (sva-jiva) and of others (para-jiva).
This expanded consciousness allows one to adapt rules and traditions as per context, while still being true to dharma. This is how Vishnu is able to function differently in the Treta yuga, when rules are respected, as Ram, the eldest son of a royal family, and in Dvapara yuga, when rules are manipulated, as Krishna, the youngest son of a cowherd family. The 3,500-year-old Rig Veda refers to the society it observed as an organism made up of four groups of people (chaturvarna). The 2,000-year-old Manusmriti, however, uses it as a justification for social hierarchy and casteism. This came to mean that the brahmana (priests) is superior to kshatriyas (landowners), who are superior to the vaishyas (general public) who are superior to the shudra (servants). This has been used to justify Dalit exploitation and indignities. This goes against the morality of an expanded consciousness described in the Bhagavad Gita (5.18).
Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini
shuni chaiva shva-pake cha panditah sama-darshinah
The wise one, full of humility, views equally a brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.
Here, there is awareness of the different groups (jati) of humans and animals but one looks beyond the physical, psychological and status differences at the common soul (atma) that enlivens all beings. This is what is alluded to as a single social organism in the Rig Veda. In this state of self-realisation (atma-gyan), one is secure enough not to feel the urge to venerate the “superior”, or humiliate the “inferior”. One realises only insecure minds need to dehumanise others to feel good about themselves. Binaries such as superior/inferiority are delusions born of a crumpled consciousness. The desire to destroy diversity, and replace it with homogeneity, is also a sign of crumpled consciousness. Thus, morality is expressed in the expansion of one’s consciousness. The more expanded one’s consciousness is, the more moral one is.
This is embodied in the idea of a raja-rishi, a king-sage, like Janaka of Mithila, who has expanded consciousness and so is able to uphold a moral code of rules and traditions.
We live in times where there seems to be a fracture between consciousness and morality. Consciousness has become the realm of the guru and morality the realm of the activist and the policeman. This has perhaps the result of making consciousness expansion a private activity, rather than a social one. Consciousness is expanded not just by shutting our eyes in dhyana (contemplation) but by opening our eyes to darshan (insight) into the ways of nature and culture, animal and human. Failure to see the other leads the inflated, rather than expanded, self to be self-indulgent at the cost of the other, encroach lands (as in case of Duryodhana), and disregard consent (as in case of Ravana).
In the world of expanded consciousness, one is deeply aware of the web of causality (karma) woven by each action. After Lakshman cuts the nose of the belligerent Surpanakha, neither Ram nor Sita know happiness for the rest of their lives. Calamity follows calamity. And Krishna, though he establishes dharma, has to accept the curse of Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, as collateral damage. This is what makes dharma, hence morality and consciousness, a subtle (sukshma) idea, not simply an act of being good or bad, in the eyes of an approval-bestowing judge.

Saturday Special: King Without a Crown: The story of a king being reclaimed by a new generation of Sikhs

It is a bit of a mystery as to why it has taken over a century for Duleep Singh’s tragic life to come into mainstream narratives. Director Kavi Raz, whose film The Black Prince, the first feature film on Duleep Singh’s life, set to release in July, believes it is down to the belated interest in Sikh ancestry and the quest for identity through history. “The Khalistan separatist movement may have fuelled the fire and aroused interest in the mighty kingdom of Punjab or the Khalsa raj. It was the last stronghold against the encroaching British Empire and it was stolen from the Sikhs by the political manoeuvre of divide and rule,” says Raz.
At the age of 15, in 1853, the then rightful heir of the kingdom of Punjab received a gift from the Viceroy of British India, a book that would forever change the course of his life — The Bible. Maharaja Duleep Singh was thrust into power at the age of five by the death of his father, Ranjit Singh, who left behind a kingdom both feared and courted by the British. What followed was a tragic journey that, in the eyes of many Sikhs living in Europe, has still not ended, even 124 years after his death.
The Bible that Lord Dalhousie gave to army surgeon John Spencer Logan to hand over to his ward, Duleep Singh, marks a significant moment that altered the history of not only the kingdom of Punjab, which was soon annexed by The East India Company, but that of colonial India as well. After winning the First Anglo-Sikh War, the British had imprisoned Maharani Jind Kaur, but retained Duleep Singh as the nominal ruler. The young prince was separated from his mother and taken far away from the kingdom’s seat of influence in Lahore. He lived in exile in Fatehgarh, in present-day UP, in a camp built specially for him, under Logan’s guardianship. In April 1853, Duleep Singh set sail for the United Kingdom, having converted to Christianity. He was promised an elite education and a noble life in the Queen’s court, as well as a standard pension in exchange for his treasures, including the famed Kohinoor, that he had been forced to bequeath to the crown. Duleep Singh never returned to the land of his birth, and in having the young boy convert to Christianity and shipped to the Britain, Dalhousie had achieved what he brazenly remarked in a letter to a friend: “it destroys his influence forever”.
Upon arrival in mainland Britain, and especially in the courthouse of Queen Victoria, the young Maharaja found himself at the centre of attention. A young boy, adorned with jewellery, a talwar (sword), a pagdi (turban), a rajah like no one had seen in Britain, Duleep Singh was the first Sikh to step on the Raj’s home turf, and also the first one to never return.
Even before Duleep Singh was lifted off his homeland, his image of an enigmatic, young and handsome prince had grown within English circles. In 1852, artist George Beechey, painted the first ever “foreign” portrait of the young king. It depicts Singh, clad in royal jewellery, looking regal and unlike a prisoner, which he was. Before Beechey came along, Duleep Singh had been painted on canvas and carved in stone, like any other prince in the land. His earliest known portrait dates back to the year 1843. But when the squint-eyed, yet innocent-looking prince arrived on the shores of the British mainland, it aroused in the people a certain curiosity. As early as 1854, Queen Victoria commissioned a portrait of the young Maharaja, done by in-house artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and so began the Maharaja’s tryst with attention and objectification that would eventually contribute to his downfall.
By the time the young Maharaja came to terms with the way the world looked at him, he had begun to grow disenchanted with his gilded life. As early as 1857, Duleep Singh, having heard of the rising number of mutinies back in India, expressed his desire to go back to his homeland. But in line with Dalhousie’s initial plans, the Empire acted in acknowledgement of what it would mean to those fighting against the British if the true heir of the kingdom of Punjab were to return. The young, disillusioned king remained under the Queen’s watch. Part of the reason why he could never fight his way out or rebel was his relatively lavish lifestyle that he was allowed to afford from a young age. But that would change, when the young Maharaja would meet his mother Jind Kaur after 13 years abroad, a meeting that Raz says is “the most powerful moment in his life and in the film.”
The story of Maharaja Duleep Singh, despite being so vital to India’s colonial history, remains relatively unknown in India. It was the same for about a hundred years after his death in the UK as well, until in 1993, the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust was formed, and as its first order of business, it commissioned a portrait of the Maharaja by British artist Anthea Durose. In a phone interview, Harbinder Singh Rana, chairman of the trust, says, “We commissioned the portrait because we wanted to claim him from the British. In 1997, we also commissioned a sculpture of him that stands in Elveden in Suffolk where he lived. It is an attempt to reclaim from the empire what is an important part of history of the Sikh community, not just in the UK, but related to India as well. There have been a number of events over the years that the trust has done to remind people of his legacy”.
Like Rana, historian and writer Peter Bance has been on the trail of the Maharaja’s story for almost 17 years now. “You need to understand that this was a young boy — a delusional young prince that the Queen presented or displayed like a trophy. He was bound to have an effect on the British. People started to talk about him in elite social circles, and even though he neither had his kingdom, nor its glorious riches, what he did have was the attention of the English folk and a lavish lifestyle that he couldn’t really complain about,” says Bance, when we meet in Delhi.
Bance, a Sikh whose family shifted to the UK in 1936, and who released a book on the Maharaja, Sovereign, Squire and Rebel, five years ago, says that his own first encounter with the little known legacy of Duleep Singh, was accidental. “I was driving through Elveden (between Norfolk and Suffolk) with some friends when we heard of this ‘Black Prince’. When I saw his home and the museum in Thetford, a few miles from his estate, where the painting by Durose was hung, I was stunned. He was one of us and I did not know of him. It prompted me to start inquiring about him,” he says. Bance began collecting information on him, talking and writing to people in and around the community in Elveden. Soon, letters and information started to pour in. In no time, he had turned collector and now owns nearly half of the available visual evidence of the Maharaja’s life in Britain.
In 1861, Duleep Singh, then 22, was finally allowed to travel to Calcutta to meet his mother, who came from Kathmandu, where she had been living in exile. The meeting between the son and his ailing, nearly blind mother, Bance believes, was the turning point in Singh’s life. “Jind Kaur was a woman proud of her history and she despised the British. She was shocked to see that her son had become one of them, and it is safe to say that she let him know how delusional his new avatar was. Imagine meeting your son after 13 years, and not being able to identify with the boy you gave birth to. When Sikhs who were serving in the army around Calcutta learned that the Maharaja was in town, they gathered around the premises where he was staying, and raised slogans in his support. Duleep Singh felt, at least momentarily, that he belonged. His life would never be the same again,” says Bance.
The Maharani accompanied her son to the UK, but died a couple of years later in 1863. Though the British wanted to give her a Christian burial, dissenting Sikhs within the British ranks — the Maharaja included — ensured that she was cremated in Bombay.
The Maharani had left her mark on her son. However, Duleep Singh’s actions were never decisive. During his trip to India to cremate his mother, Singh stopped in Cairo, Egypt, where he regularly visited the missionary schools. He met and married his first Bamba Muller, daughter of a German merchant there. They settled in England, but Singh was torn between his life there and fulfilling his mother’s wish to return to his homeland and reclaim his throne.
“The pension that was promised to him was never fully paid. When he got married and had children, he got more and more delusional. Financial constraints stopped him from revolting outright. He was balding, growing fat and losing his influence. He kept churning the pot through bureaucracy — writing letters to rajas back in India, to kings in Russia, seeking help. But that was never going to be enough,” Bance says. By the 1870s, the Maharaja was growing old and had lost his influence in the British community. An 1871 caricature of him by Spy in an issue of Vanity Fair shows a Maharaja on the decline, at least physically.
Eventually though, the son in him got the better of the family man, and he announced that he would return to India. In 1886, the Maharaja tried to escape to India, but was stopped. He was forced to return from Aden in Yemen by the British. A defeated and resigned Duleep Singh did not return to England. He lived on quietly in Paris until his death in 1893.
But before he went to Paris, Singh had allegedly converted back to Sikhism, an act that has given rise to the debate on whether his body, buried in Suffolk, should be exhumed and returned home for a proper Sikh cremation. “I would love to see Maharaja Duleep Singh receive a proper cremation according to Sikh rites, but the question that troubles me is that who will be in-charge of this, if it were to happen — the Punjab government or the government of India or even Pakistan? Where will he be cremated? Where will the mausoleum be built to honour his memory?” asks Raz. Bance disagrees with the idea of exhumation. “His will clearly stated that he wanted to be buried. Why would you then disturb a grave? He is buried beside his son and wife. What will be done about them? Besides, Punjab was partitioned long after Duleep Singh died. Technically, he was the King of Lahore, so are you going to distribute the ashes in half? I think it is a little pointless, and, maybe, politically motivated,” he says.
In 2009, Liverpool-based Rabindra and Amrit Kaur, popularly known as The Singh Twins, were commissioned by The National Museum of Scotland to draw the Maharaja again. The painting was a landmark, not only for its brave depiction of the things that were taken from the Maharaja — including the Kohinoor — but because it was the first portrait to be drawn by artists from within the Sikh community. “Duleep Singh’s life is a fascinating tale of tragedy, political intrigue, manipulation and struggle. It has all the ingredients of a great drama that is compelling and appeals emotionally to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. It makes his story a perfect subject and inspiration for artists, writers and filmmakers. But, it is also inextricably linked to key aspects of Anglo-Sikh relations and the global history of colonialism, as well as the wider story of British migration and multiculturalism,” they say. Such has been the potential of this compelling material that the Maharaja made his debut in popular culture in 2016 as part of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed: The Last Maharaj.
Bance largely concurs with the Twins on the belated interest in the Maharaja. Duleep Singh’s story, Bance says, has resonated with third generation Sikhs in Europe, primarily because their previous generations were too busy settling down and making a living. “The Sikh diaspora probably identifies with him a lot more than Sikhs in the homeland because they feel equally displaced by the idea of home. As for India, it is probably a sad case of people thinking that he betrayed the Punjabis and fled to Britain,” he says.
In the eyes of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, however, the story still has a missing last chapter, one that Rana believes they will help write. “We have proof that he converted to Sikhism before he died. His last rites, therefore, have simply not been performed. It was his right to be cremated with honour back in India and we are doing every thing to get it done. Bureaucratic hurdles will be there, but we are preparing ourselves for the long haul,” he says-

Swami Vivekananda and food

In a recent speech Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded students of the achievements of Swami Vivekananda. This column, written some years back, explored a lesser known area of the Swami’s life, but one that perhaps people can relate to more easily – his love of food.
I had a small book of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and found the maxims sounded worthy, but also a bit bloodless, more resonant than real and touching, at least for me.
And that was the impression I formed of Vivekananda, from what I read of his teachings, from the museums and monuments devoted to him, and the way he was treated in popular culture. They all seemed to show him as a heroic, yet rather remote reformer and defender of Hindu values.
The one exception is a book by Sankar, the Bengali novelist, originally published as Achena Ajana Vivekananda in 2003, and brought out by Penguin India in an English translation as The Monk as Man.
It’s subtitle ‘The Unknown Life of Swami Vivekananda’ might seem to hint at lurid revelations, but in fact it is a very effective attempt to bring Vivekananda to life, depicting the context he came from and the contradictions that he, like anyone, was full of, but which did not come in the way of, and may even have aided, his ultimate achievement.
Perhaps a novelist was needed to pull off such an act of imagination that involves neither hagiography nor denigration. Sankar writes in the introduction that he went through approximately 200 books on Vivekananda, and in particular drew on letters and reminiscences by his associates. No sources are cited and the stories sometimes verge on wishful anecdotes, but overall it hangs together, as a vivid portrait of Vivekananda’s character, if not entirely orthodox history.
Sankar treats his life through themes. The first is Vivekananda’s family problems, including the endless property related court cases that caused him much stress through his life. The details can get as tedious as these cases were, but they do give a realistic image of Vivekananda’s family life. The fact that he never quite escaped his family’s demands on him makes one appreciate the real-life basis of his teachings.
But much more entertaining are the next two chapters which deal with Vivekananda’s love for food and cooking, and his passion for tea. The big surprise here is that Vivekananda wasn’t vegetarian and didn’t just eat fish, but also mutton (though he drew the line at beef).
This is less surprising when one leans he came from the cosmopolitan Kayastha community and while his mother’s family was vegetarians, his father’s family was not. The Ramakrishna Mission, which he set up, mostly serves vegetarian food in its different centres, but this is more reflective of what people who go there expect from such places, and also the practicalities of running large kitchens. There was no original decree about vegetarian food, and the decision on what to serve is left up to individual centres and monks.
Sankar writes that in his youth Vivekananda set up a ‘Greedy Club’ and did “extensive research on cooking.” He bought books on French cooking and happily invented new dishes, one of which Sankar describes as a dish of khichuri (rice and dal) to which eggs, peas and potatoes are added.
One of his brothers, who was then vegetarian, recalled being forced by his brother to eat meat for the experience. All this was from the happy eating phase of his youth, which then gave way to long periods of near starvation, when he became a wandering monk, not begging, but accepting whatever was given to him.
Sankar devises an engaging way of conveying all this information, which also conveniently blurs the distinctions between strict facts and vaguer anecdotes. He puts it in the form of conversations between himself and an older, rather overbearing friend, who wants him to write a six-volume book on “Swami Vivekananda and Contemporary Eating Habits.”
This friend has apparently been researching Vivekananda’s love for food, and also tea, particularly in his years abroad and imparts the nuggets of his research to Sankar. This includes Vivekananda’s observations on foreign eating habits, and his attempts to get Indian ingredients to cook dishes for his hosts, though they tend to be appalled at the levels of spiciness that he loved.
All this parallels the experiences of other Indians abroad at that time, though Vivekananda was rather more open than most – an aspect, perhaps, of his practical approach to life. It probably also helped that in crucial aspects he was able to find acceptable alternatives abroad, most notably for the hilsa that he adored.
This was almost definitely shad, an American fish of the same family which was as relished on the East Coast of the USA, as hilsa is in Bengal. He wrote from New York to his gurubhais in Calcutta, “These days you get hilsa in abundance and one can eat to one’s fill…. They use a variety of spinach which tastes like nate, and what they call ‘asparagus’ tastes like the young stalk of dengo.”
Being able to find hilsa and Bengali-like greens was vital since Sankar concludes by debating which was Vivekananda’s favourite food. The ice-cream that he encountered and loved in the US comes close, but doesn’t make the final cut “because, after Swami Vivekananda developed diabetes, he could no longer have it.”
It comes down to shukto, the characteristic Bengali dish of bitter greens, with banana flower curry (mochar dalna) and hilsa with Indian spinach, which is the creeper called pui-shaak or Malabar spinach. Sankar decides that the latter wins, due to an incident when Vivekananda was traveling down the Ganges and found hilsa, but insisted on looking for the spinach as well. One man said he had some and would happily give it, if he could get some wisdom from the Swami, who willingly gave him some in exchange for the leaves.
There’s a lot more of interest in the book, including Vivekananda’s thoughts about the healthfulness of Indian food which, like Gandhi later on, he would come to question after exposure to the health food movement in the West.
It all adds up to a suddenly vivid picture of Vivekananda which, frivolous as it may seem, does more to interest me in larger teachings than all the lifeless memorials to him.

The Never Ending War

Trump has come down hard on Pakistan. Of course Pakistan is coddling jihadis who have rendered untold damage to American forces. But what exactly has it done now that has made the Americans so irate?
Left to themselves, the Americans would have been long gone from Afghanistan. But, heck no, Trump’s appears set to be the third presidency to be consumed by the “forever” war. The constant concern has been what will happen if Kabul were to fall to the Taliban. Once again the sheltering of jihadis like ISIS and other Al-Qaeda variants?
That is probably going to be the case. Jihadis worldwide are seething with America at what it’s done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, et al. So there is every chance of retribution.
But what irks America so much is not just that Pakistan has brought it to its knees in Afghanistan, but that it is gloating over its impending victory. Pakistan has left out the Americans from Afghan talks, but has included China and Russia.
Neither country is contiguous with Afghanistan. China one can still understand, given how close Islamabad and Beijing are, but Russia? Putin is loathed among vast swathes of American policy makers; one of the few who does not despise him is Trump, which makes Trump himself despised.
This is the same Russia that Pakistan kicked out of Afghanistan. It’s never been clear why Brezhnev decided to wade into Kabul. The Russians have had an enduring fascination with Afghanistan for a long time, and perhaps Brezhnev, in one of his drunken stupors, deluded himself to conquer the unconquerable.
There is a theory that the Russians were after the warm waters of Pakistan but it has remained just that, a theory. Even in 1979, when the Soviets invaded, and the Yanks panicked, offering Zia-ul-Haq four hundred million dollars for his support, the Pakistanis laughed off the figure, calling it peanuts. Only when it climbed to well over a billion dollars did Zia bite the bait.
With so much money flowing in from America and Saudi Arabia, even if much of it was going to line the pockets of the generals in Rawalpindi, the country’s economy stayed robust. The educated middle-class Pakistani did not see the downside of victory: millions of Afghan refugees on her soil, the fabric of what was once considered a progressive Muslim nation soiled by the stains of jihadism, the Yanks upping and leaving as soon as the Soviets fled.
But the generals in Pindi exulted. They now had Afghanistan under their control, which they would use to export “non-state actors” to India. Now, actually for the last decade or so, Pakistan stands at the cusp of victory but on the horns of a dilemma as well. The victory is sweet but its taste is bitter. Pakistan has become a pariah in the West. India has not relinquished its grip on Kashmir one bit. The only thing that prevents a full-scale assault on Pakistan are its nukes.
Its nukes are what much of the world is terrified of. In the wrong hands, they would prove a catastrophe not just for the world but also for Pakistan. The West has inflicted such pitiless damage on Afghanistan and Iraq that jihadis would have no qualms in detonating something nuclear in the West. America would rather believe that it has safeguarded Pakistan’s nukes; it knows that such is not case. Beyond a close look, Pindi’s generals will not let the Yanks anywhere near their crown jewels.
Trump wants India to get more engaged in Afghanistan. India is already training the Afghan national army, but the sad truth is that put an Afghan in uniform, and he loses all his fighting instincts. Leave him be in his shalwaar-kameez, and a warrior emerges. Perhaps India will send special forces to Afghanistan to lessen the burden on the Yanks. Nothing will make Pindi’s generals see more red.
Pindi’s generals will not give up their nukes. They fervently believe that the West, India, Afghanistan, and Iran have hatched Plan B: that of dismembering Pakistan. Balochistan has been on the boil for decades. The Pakistani Baloch has his cousin across the border in Iran. The Pakistani Pathan his counterpart in Afghanistan. Sindh is always unhappy with Punjab, and the Muttahida Quami Movement looks to India (funny how those who fought for India’s partition now want to kiss and make up).
Left is Rumpistan, in other words Pakistani Punjab. Over fifty percent of Pakistan’s population, much of it’s territory, with most of its military originating from there. Rump it might be, but a pretty big rump it would be. Would Plan B then succeed and neuter Pindi?
No one knows the answer to that one. Each country is going along its merry way. Even if Trump wins reelection, Afghanistan promises to continue being the forever war. His will then be the third presidency that Afghanistan would have trumped.

 

Victimizing Women: Islamic Laws vs. Multiculturalism

In a recent landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court followed the lead of 22 Muslim countries — including Pakistan and Bangladesh — by outlawing the Islamic practice according to which a husband is able to divorce his wife instantly by uttering the word talaq (Arabic for “divorce”) three times — including by text or voice mail. The decision was not unanimous. A minority of the judges argued that banning “triple talaq” would be a violation of the Indian constitution, which protects religious freedom.
The majority of the judges nevertheless determined that “triple talaq” was actually “against the basic tenets of the Holy Quran,” and “what is bad in theology is bad in law as well.” According to the decision, the practice was in violation of Article 14 of India’s constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
The verdict was the result of a petition filed by five Muslim women whose “triple talaq” divorces left them destitute, all because of undue powers bestowed upon their husbands by radical clerics. The verdict was an enormous relief to them, and other women like them across India. Its broader message, however, needs to serve as a road map. And a warning. In the West, the supposed dangers of multiculturalism are still regarded as more important than human rights.
In Britain, abusive practices against Muslim women are still undertaken by Sharia Councils with impunity. These practices include “triple talaq,” halala (a ritual enabling a divorced Muslim woman to remarry her husband only by first wedding someone else, consummating the union, and then being divorced by him) and iddah, a mandatory waiting period of three menstrual cycles before a divorced woman is allowed to remarry.
These Sharia Councils in the U.K. have been running unofficial parallel justice systems “everywhere in the country,” performing weddings and decreeing divorces according to the strictest interpretation of Islam.
In spite a liberal marriage contract issued in 2008 by the Muslim Institute, guaranteeing equal rights to British Muslim women (including the banning of forced marriages) — which was endorsed by the Muslim Council of Britain, the Islamic Sharia Council and other prominent Islamic groups — virtually nothing has changed. Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit reported 1,428 cases of forced marriages in 2016 alone. All Britain would need to do is enforce its own laws.
Haitham al-Haddad is a British Sharia Council judge, and sits on the board of advisors for the Islamic Sharia Council. Regarding the handling of domestic violence cases, he stated in an interview, “A man should not be questioned why he hit his wife, because this is something between them. Leave them alone. They can sort their matters among themselves.”
The U.K. is not the only Western country afflicted by and succumbing to such practices. In Australia, for instance, a self-appointed arbitration group called Sharia Mediation has been handling family disputes on issues covered by Australian law. In other words, as in Britain, Australia has a parallel Islamic legal system operating under its nose.
In the United States, as well, a body was established in 2015 in Dallas, Texas to arbitrate disputes among the area’s growing Muslim population. Although this Islamic “tribunal” is said to issue nonbinding decisions — and is being likened to Jewish rabbinical courts and Catholic tribunals — its opponents fear it will mimic Sharia courts in the Middle Eastern countries.
In Canada, the practice has been going on for more than a decade. In 2004, the province of Ontario authorized the use of Sharia arbitration in matters of “property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance.” The law enabling this — the Arbitration Act — was passed in 1991, to ease the “overloaded court system.”
What supporters of this form of multiculturalism fail to realize — or refuse to acknowledge — is that the very existence of Sharia-compliant tribunals is not only a threat to modern justice, but necessarily abets the abuse of Muslim women, lack of equality, and the total lack of equal justice under law.
It is crucial for Western democracies to outlaw archaic practices that rob women and others of their rights, and to cease enabling these laws in the name of “religious freedom.” In truth, justice is denied. India just took a stand in the right direction. Britain, Australia, the U.S. and Canada can and should follow.

Who’s afraid of Pakistan?

It’s remarkable how US President Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy has energised the Afghans and disoriented the Pakistanis. The balance has shifted and it shows. Exaggerated notions of US dependence on Pakistan to win either war or peace in Afghanistan are being tested.
The Afghans are filled with a newfound enthusiasm, even hope that their country may now have a fighting chance to recover and rebuild. That they are no longer the “secondary” concern in American calculations but the primary one has raised the happiness index. Telephone lines between Kabul and Washington have been busy since Trump’s speech.
Ahmad Daud Noorzai, head of the office of the Afghan president, says the new US policy had a huge “psychological impact” on everyone from Afghan security forces to ordinary citizens on the street. Trump’s decision to abolish deadlines for US troops to return has removed uncertainty from the equation, he told a small gathering at the Afghanistan Embassy last week.
“We didn’t feel as good with a 100,000 US troops as we do now because of the new US commitment. We used to look at the war in six-month periods, but no longer,” said the irrepressible Noorzai, rapid-fire and bullish about the future. Now he talks of a “culture of peace”. Of course, he wants Indian companies to invest in a big way in Afghanistan.
The enthusiasm, while infectious, can and will bang against a wall called Pakistan, a wall the Americans paid for. But Pakistan also knows it has lost ground in Washington over time and Trump’s new policy poses a huge challenge. Pakistan’s reputation is mud and it hurts the establishment more than a cut in military aid. Even its all-weather friend China and new-ish friend Russia are sending signals. Their signature on the Brics declaration “expressing concern” at Pakistan’s infrastructure of terrorists was significant, notwithstanding the hand-holding afterwards.
Chinese finger-pointing is driven by multiple compulsions, not just by its (sudden) discovery of terrorist groups in Pakistan. Beijing is under pressure from Trump to deliver on North Korea, it’s other best friend and a certified global menace. With the tiny friend’s circle squeezed, Beijing’s delicious dilemma boils down to this: who should be saved and by how much while maintaining its own centrality.
Rawalpindi may threaten to shut down US supply lines into Afghanistan to assert its relevance, but here’s the thing: the US is no longer as dependent on Pakistan as it once was.
The Pentagon hasn’t been using the Pakistan land routes as much because it only has to supply 8,000-12,000 troops, which is not the same as feeding 100,000 men and women. Heavy lift aircraft can do what’s needed. Besides, the Americans are sourcing more and more locally: Afghans are making uniforms and shoes, and local bottling plants are ensuring cheaper water supplies.
Some analysts ask if the newly established India-Afghanistan air corridor can serve as a backup if New Delhi wanted to raise its stakes and make Pakistan more redundant. It would certainly challenge the Pakistanis to see US goods flying from India. Supplies could land at an Indian port, take the train to the airport and fly out.
But even as Pakistan’s instruments of blackmail decrease, the White House must continue raising the costs. The ouster last week of Habib Bank —Pakistan’s largest — along with a $225-million fine for “financing of terrorist activities” was significant. It is the first time US regulators have ordered a bank to shut down.
Even though the investigation of Habib and Al Rajhi, a Saudi bank, began more than a decade ago, it stalled without anyone in the US administration or the Congress pushing it to a conclusion. If every bank in Pakistan that opens accounts for terrorists to move their money is targeted, it’s going to hurt.
Then there is the question of the IMF and the US leverage therein. Pakistan is reportedly headed for an IMF bailout, its 12th since 1988 and the highest number for any South Asian country. Nepal, by comparison, has had only two IMF rescues. The US and its allies have enough votes at the IMF to force a rethink in Pakistan.
In fact, there are a host of ideas in a report by the Hudson Institute and Heritage Foundation that came out earlier this year. Both think tanks are connected to the current administration and the report, “A New US Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions Without Cutting Ties”(goo.gl/u7t5my) is a ready reference.

 

‘Lips and teeth’ no more: China’s Ties with North Korea deteriorate

When Kim Jong Un inherited power in North Korea in late 2011, then-Chinese president Hu Jintao was outwardly supportive of the untested young leader, predicting that “traditional friendly cooperation” between the countries would strengthen.
Two years later, Kim ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek, the country’s chief interlocutor with China and a relatively reform-minded official in the hermetic state.
Since then, ties between the allies have deteriorated so sharply that some diplomats and experts fear Beijing may become, like Washington, a target of its neighbour’s ire.
While the United States and its allies – and many people in China – believe Beijing should do more to rein in Pyongyang, the acceleration of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities has coincided with a near-total breakdown of high-level diplomacy between the two.
Before retiring this summer, China’s long-time point man on North Korea, Wu Dawei, had not visited the country for over a year. His replacement, Kong Xuanyou, has yet to visit and is still carrying out duties from his previous Asian role, travelling to Pakistan in mid-August, diplomats say.
The notion that mighty China wields diplomatic control over impoverished North Korea is mistaken, said Jin Canrong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University.
“There has never existed a subordinate relationship between the two sides. Never. Especially after the end of the Cold War, the North Koreans fell into a difficult situation and could not get enough help from China, so they determined to help themselves.”
A famine in the mid-1990s that claimed anywhere from 200,000 to three million North Koreans was a turning point for the economy, forcing private trade on the collectivized state. That allowed the North a degree of independence from outside aid and gave credence to the official “Juche” ideology of self-reliance.
Avoid chaos
China fought alongside North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, in which Chinese leader Mao Zedong lost his eldest son, and Beijing has long been Pyongyang’s chief ally and primary trade partner.
While their relationship has always been clouded by suspicion and mistrust, China grudgingly tolerated North Korea’s provocations as preferable to the alternatives: chaotic collapse that spills across their border, and a Korean peninsula under the domain of a US-backed Seoul government.
That is also the reason China is reluctant to exert its considerable economic clout, worried that measures as drastic as the energy embargo proposed this week by Washington could lead to the North’s collapse.
Instead, China repeatedly calls for calm, restraint and a negotiated solution.
The North Korean government does not provide foreign media with a contact point in Pyongyang for comment by email, fax or phone. The North Korean embassy in Beijing was not immediately available for comment.
China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment. It has repeatedly spoken out against what it calls the “China responsibility theory” and insists the direct parties – North Korea, South Korea and the United States – hold the key to resolving tensions.
‘Feudal ages’
Until his death in 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il made numerous entreaties to ensure China would back his preferred son as successor.
While then-President Hu reciprocated, the younger Kim, in his late 20s at the time, began to distance himself from his country’s most powerful ally.
“There’s a lot of domestic politics in North Korea where this young leader who isn’t well-known, he’s not proven yet, especially has to show that he’s not in the pocket of Beijing,” said John Delury of Seoul’s Yonsei University. “I think he made the decision first to keep Hu Jintao and then (current President) Xi Jinping really at bay.”
Within months of coming to power, Kim telegraphed North Korea’s intentions by amending its constitution to proclaim itself a nuclear state. The execution of Jang in 2013 sealed Beijing’s distrust of the young leader.
“Of course the Chinese were not happy,” said a foreign diplomat in Beijing focused on North Korea. “Executing your uncle, that’s from the feudal ages.”
In an attempt to warm ties, Xi sent high-ranking Communist Party official Liu Yunshan to attend the North’s October 2015 military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Liu hand-delivered a letter from Xi praising Kim’s leadership and including congratulations not just from the Chinese Communist Party but Xi’s personal “cordial wishes” in a powerful show of respect.
Xi’s overture has been repaid with increasingly brazen actions by Pyongyang, which many observers believe are timed for maximum embarrassment to Beijing. Sunday’s nuclear test, for example, took place as China hosted a BRICS summit, while in May, the North launched a long-range missile just hours before the Belt and Road Forum, dedicated to Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative.
Misreading lips
Mao Zedong’s description of North Korea’s relationship with China is typically mischaracterised as being as close as “lips and teeth”.
His words are better translated as: “If the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold,” a reference to the strategic importance of the North as a geographical security buffer.
Despite its resentment at the pressure North Korea’s actions have put it under, Beijing refrains from taking too hard a line.
It said little when Kim Jong Un’s half-brother was assassinated in February at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. The half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, had been seen as a potential rival for power in Pyongyang and had lived for years in Beijing, then Macau.
An editorial in China’s influential Global Times warned after Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test that cutting off North Korea’s oil would redirect the conflict to one between North Korea and China.
Zhao Tong, a North Korea expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing, said North Korea was deeply unhappy with China’s backing of earlier UN sanctions.
“If China supports more radical economic sanctions that directly threaten the stability of the regime, then it is possible that North Korea becomes as hostile to China as to the United States.”

Economic Myths that Need to be Dispelled

Economic myths are either based on miscalculations or misrepresentations or wrong deductions and can either be deliberate action or an honest mistake, However, they come to assume the shape of unalterable truth. Many of the economic development ideas the West believed to be long-held truths and major Western contributions to modernity no longer seem so accurate. From the unorthodox rise of China and the increasing economic heft of the developing world, through Brexit and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, to the continued futile search for market-driven solutions to tackle climate change, the tenets of neoliberalism and “the Washington Consensus” no longer seem like good predictors of where the world is going, or pathways to a safer and more equitable world.
The developing world, which has long unthinkingly followed the lead of the West, needs to take the lead in challenging these ideas and devising new approaches.
Many of the economic development ideas the West believed to be long-held truths no longer seem like good predictors of where the world is going.
They are past their sell-by date, and preserving them is the cause of many of the major challenges of the 21st century. They distract us from making the political and economic shifts needed to survive in a crowded, hot, techno-charged and resource-constrained future.
If fresh ideas are to emerge, these five neoliberal myths need to die.
Myth 1: Free market-driven development is the best mechanism to build vibrant economies, using the private sector to encourage growth and more opportunities for all, including the poor.
Whether this comes in the form of deregulation for business, tax cuts for the rich or slashed and privatized public services to limit “dependency,” these policies are the centerpiece of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus,” promoted the world over by Western institutions and development experts. They form the core of the trickle-down economics school of thought.
But the results from this widespread adoption have not all been positive. Growing global inequalities are a stark reminder that the gravy is too thick to “trickle down.” This has fueled social unrest and the global rise of populism, which has caught the imagination of the international media by upturning politics in the West.
Cut government services have entrenched deep poverty amongst the very poor, who lose access to basic needs. Deregulation has led to less security for labor, great consumer risks, significant environmental damage and exhausted resources. Nor do governments give enforcement and monitoring agencies enough resources to do their jobs (leading to tragedies like the London apartment fire) — or, worse, are co-opted by business-friendly interests (as evidenced by politicians and urban regulators actively enabling the likes of Uber and Airbnb whilst being aware that their operations break existing laws) — meaning that regulations may not be worth the paper they’re written on.
Growing global inequalities are a stark reminder that the gravy is too thick to ‘trickle down.’
There is ample evidence that the so-called Washington Consensus is harmful: countries that aggressively deregulated and liberalized their financial sectors were later hit by major financial crises, as happened in Southeast Asia in 1997, and in the United States in 2008. We also know that countries which pursue austerity politics and deregulation in the aftermath of economic crisis tend to do worse than countries that use direct government spending and intervention: compare the post-2008 performance of China (which launched a massive stimulus) and, to a lesser extent, the United States (which pursued a more limited stimulus and government intervention albeit to save its “too big to fail” banking and automotive sectors) with the sluggish performance of Europe (which largely slashed government spending).
Many successful countries have bucked the prescriptions of the Washington Consensus. Even small ones like Malaysia challenged the International Monetary Fund free-market prescriptions during the Asian financial crisis and imposed capital controls that were successful. China, with its more state-driven development strategy and management of markets, has achieved economic success far faster and far more broadly than any other developing countries, although significant economic and environmental challenges remain. Singapore, despite being portrayed as a utopia by conservative economists, supports its public services through forced savings and government management of socially important sectors of the economy, such as health care and housing.
On the other hand, Hong Kong’s adherence to free-market principles with regard to land and housing has created an untenable situation in which it is near impossible for ordinary people to buy or rent an affordable home.
Then you have the Nordic states, which have smartly invested the revenue from their stocks of natural capital into high-quality and universal public services, creating a higher average standard of living than their more free-market Western counterparts.
Myth 2: Countries should sustain their development through foreign direct investment.
The unquestioned assumption is that this investment would rapidly improve productivity in these emerging markets, leading to high growth, more jobs, increasing wages and a growing manufacturing sector with all the trickle-down benefits.
However, the concept of foreign direct investment, or FDI, is fickle and predatory by nature. The reality is that developing countries can end up becoming dependent on this type of investment, and foreign investors can put pressure on and extract outrageous concessions from government and local administrations to ensure they remain. The controversial inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement courts, whereby multinational companies can sue governments often of poorer and weaker nations if their businesses are affected, in multilateral trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one such example of foreign governments and companies pushing through self-serving regulatory change. Often these dependent countries accept them as it is the only way to survive in an FDI-focused world.
FDI is also not targeted at sectors of the economy that foster long-term economic development or meet the needs of the majority, take low-cost housing, sewerage and infrastructure, for example. Foreign investment often concentrates on specific products not meant for the wider population, and also can push countries to focus on extractive primary resources that increase inequality and environmental damage, dangerous manufacturing with low safety standards, or a premature move to a service-based economy which, as the economist Dani Rodrik notes, can have significant economic and political consequences.
It is not perhaps surprising to note that when developing countries were depending on Western FDI, there was often little concern expressed about these countries becoming too dependent on a powerful economic player. Yet, when Western investment is replaced with Chinese investment, as has happened in some regions such as Southeast Asia and Africa, there is sudden concern that China is practicing “neocolonialism.” And when Chinese FDI targets key assets in the West, such as the attempts by Huawei, a Chinese telecommunication firm, to enter the United States, it is seen as a “national security threat.”
The argument is not that FDI is innately bad in all circumstances, but rather that it should be seen as a means to the intended end, rather than as an end in itself.
For a long time, Western-led FDI has in effect been a threat to the natural economies of many developing nations, given the non-level playing field written into contracts. But beggars could not be choosers. The argument is not that FDI is innately bad in all circumstances, but rather that it should be seen as a means ― and only one means, at that ― to the intended end, rather than as an end in itself.
In China, the government did use FDI as it opened to the outside world, but it used it to quickly get experience with foreign practices and technology. China then understandably used that knowledge for its own factories and companies helping to give it a globally competitive manufacturing sector. By virtue of its size, Beijing was thus able to wed its FDI to an industrial policy with an objective, and not be at the mercy of foreign investors.
Such a policy was often accompanied by accusations of infringing copyrights and patents: both China and India still remain on the United States’ “watchlist” for countries not protecting intellectual property. China has recently been accused of “stealing” tech from clean energy companies, while India is routinely pressured to implement American-style drug patents and clamp down on affordable generics.
Patents, copyrights and other intellectual property protections have become legal tools that seek to lock in a market advantage and try to prevent others ― usually less developed countries ― from progressing with their own innovations on the back of existing global advances. It is a form of using FDI to keep recipients dependent on foreign capital and technology, especially as countries like America start putting more and more things, from business practices to design choices, under the umbrella of protected intellectual property.
Myth 3: Large-scale urbanization is necessary and an inevitable step for developing countries seeking to modernize through industrialization, manufacturing and sustained productivity growth.
This myth argues that migrants from underproductive rural communities would enhance economic productivity by being employed in the urban manufacturing and service sectors. This conveniently ignores the policies and decisions that deliberately help make rural life untenable and unproductive. Throughout the developing world, there has been massive overinvestment in urban areas aimed at fostering economic growth, along with a corresponding massive underinvestment in rural areas. Chinese policy in the 90s, for example, often favored cities over the countryside, which widened the ratio between urban and rural incomes later on in the early 2000s. While government programs over the past decade have narrowed the gap slightly, it remains true that urban employment opportunities and social services such as education are better in cities than in the countryside.
There is also the continued failure to pass land reform in many countries, which concentrates land in a few rich landholders. This leads to situations like India, where studies show that 5 percent of India’s farmers control about one-third of the country’s farmland. In many developing countries, critical rural investment to enhance economic activity, such as irrigation, transport and health care, have lagged far behind what has been invested in cities. These policies depopulate the countryside, and lead it to be put to work by large agribusiness and primary resource companies, as most of the economy and jobs are increasingly centered in a few major cities.
In reality, this massive wave of migrants is stretching developing cities to their breaking point. Roads are congested, with traffic jams lasting for hours. There is not enough housing, leading to rapidly growing slums and dangerous, cramped and illegal apartments. Those living in insecure housing have poor access to electricity, clean water, sanitation and waste disposal. What is obvious is that the basic infrastructure to house tens of millions in crowded cities in the developing world is simply unaffordable. We need to stop pretending that these monster cities will magically get richer and fix these challenges.
Our warming climate hurts these cities even more. Combine the effects of global warming and the urban heat island effect, and tropical cities are ending up being around three degrees higher than their surroundings. They are becoming unlivable. Urban dwellers who can afford it are being forced to shelter inside climate-controlled homes ― which will consume more electricity and emit even more heat ― while the majority swelters in an uncontrolled, unbearable environment, with noise and sleep deprivation having a serious impact on the productivity and health of citizens.
The lesson is not that urbanization is bad on the whole, but rather that it should be managed more carefully, with interventions and brakes as necessary.
Uncontrolled urbanization also hurts rural communities. The lack of economic opportunities hollows out the countryside, as the best and brightest leave for better jobs in the city. This leaves behind the old, the young and the unskilled, leading to stagnation and decline. This can result in entrenched poverty for those who remain, with worse social, health and educational outcomes. The region may become more desperate for investment of any kind, leading to riskier and more environmentally damaging economic activity, such as extractive farming, unsafe manufacturing or polluting resource extraction. If urbanization becomes too centralized in a few cities, small towns and secondary cities are underinvested in and can suffer the same fate as rural areas.
This has led to political resentment against the city ― much of the rise of populism around the world can be seen in this light. Nor is this solely apparent in advanced economies, where urbanization is largely irreversible. Thailand’s politics have been rocked by Bangkok’s urban elite trying to preserve their political and economic privileges against a rural population that largely feels it has been ignored yet toils on the land to feed the urban masses.
The lesson is not that urbanization is bad on the whole, but rather that it should be managed more carefully, with interventions and brakes as necessary. Developing countries should pursue a managed urbanization ― one that spreads economic activity across multiple cities and a network of secondary towns (up to 1 million people) ― that does not corrode the countryside and that keeps rural areas economically viable.
Myth 4: The best way to understand productivity so as to grow economies is to measure it as how quickly and how cheaply we can produce something.
High “productivity” — the ability to produce a lot of goods cheaply, efficiently and quickly to promote relentless consumption — has led to a vast increase in the amount we can produce and consume and has improved, in theory, average living standards around the world.
However, this narrow definition of productivity misses the huge external costs to the environment and the effects on the poor majority in the developing world, and it does not reflect the realities of our time. It might have been an appropriate measure around 100 years ago when the world had over 1.5 billion people and natural resources were abundant. But we live in a very different world today, one with 7.5 billion people and one in which abundance has been replaced by scarcity. If these external costs were instead paid by businesses, many of the world’s major industries could no longer make a profit.
An illustrative example is a comparison between industrial farming and organic farming. The former, by relying on chemical fertilizer, economies of scale and mechanization, has driven its business costs down far enough to undercut other farmers on price. This has made small-scale farming uneconomical in many parts of the world. However, industrial farming has a high external cost and results in the scourge of over-consumption and food wastage (which, if it were a country, would be the third largest emitter of carbon emissions). It has transformed diets and eating habits: industrial corn and soya bean farming in the United States is the classic example of this, which led to the world being flooded with junk snacks. Organic farming, on the other hand, relies on intense labor and natural inputs to achieve smaller yields than industrial farming, with higher business costs yet lower external costs.
If we are to understand how our economy actually consumes resources, we need a more honest assessment of how ‘productive’ it actually is.
Our narrow view of productivity would deem industrial farming more productive than organic farming, due to its ability to produce more food for less. However, industrial farming has significant social and environmental repercussions. Fertilizer runoff can pollute water sources, endangering sources of drinking water and encouraging the growth of harmful algae blooms. The monocultures grown by industrial farms — necessary to achieve scale — lead to soil exhaustion, requiring agribusinesses to use even more fertilizer to replenish the soil. The mechanization and automation of some farming tasks lowers employment in the area, which in turn has economic effects on the wider community. Finally, large industrial farms need more and more land to lower costs even further, pushing smallholder farmers off their property (sometimes illegally). If any of these costs were tabulated and included, the industrial farm would no longer seem as “productive” as the smaller and slower, yet cleaner and employment-generating, organic farm.
This is true of the entire economy. The only reason some industries and sectors appear productive is that they make other people pay some of the costs, selectively removing them from their business models. It is the same with carbon emissions, whose effect is only now more widely understood. If we are to understand how our economy actually consumes resources, we need a more honest assessment of how “productive” it actually is.
We need to challenge the continuous drive for productivity increases in developing country factories by replacing people with automation. This is another example of an inappropriate definition of productivity resulting in social consequences that governments need to take action about. Why would a large country like India, with so many still seeking work, look to displace labor with mechanization, just for the sake of lowering the cost of production? Even some technology business leaders are starting to worry about the social repercussions of automation and digitization. Bill Gates, for example, has called for a tax on robots.
Myth 5: We can fight climate change through the free market and technological innovation instead of actual hard limits on carbon emissions and consumption.
The argument is that market forces will encourage sustainability: as resources become scarcer, they will increase in price, encouraging energy- and resource-efficiency, lowered emissions and, thus, lowered resource use. Market-driven approaches would, in theory, allow everyone to preserve their high living standards while protecting the Earth.
While we can understand why those working against action on climate change would subscribe to these views, even supporters of action on climate change are unwilling to speak plainly. They justify action on climate change by referring to “green jobs” or “the renewable economy,” and criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement as much on lost economic opportunities than any social or environmental damage.
This turns climate change action into an economic cost-benefit analysis. It would deem action on climate change a failure if it shaves, say, 1 percent off of economic growth even though from an environmental and social stability standpoint, that is a small price to pay for a sustainable planet.
The only way to reduce carbon emissions is not to consume and produce more efficiently, but to actually consume and produce less.
The only way to reduce carbon emissions is not to consume and produce more efficiently, but to actually consume and produce less. Neither the free market nor a faith in technological development will encourage the restraint we need. Companies will also not be a vehicle to a more sustainable lifestyle, as their businesses are predicated upon people consuming more, not less.
These myths all serve to sustain an economic model that does not distribute wealth creation equitably and is at the same time at war with the planet. Yet the developing world is rushing to embrace them, often faster and on a bigger scale than even the developed world.
The effects of these neoliberal myths have already caused a great deal of harm, but it would catastrophic if they are embraced by the world’s largest economies ― all of which, with the exception of the United States, are in the developing world. If this happens, the world will continue to see an escalation of social unrest and will face a bleak future as it continues to pursue a resource-intense economic model. It’s time for these myths to die, and for the developing world to create bold new ideas that better fit its circumstances.

 

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Bigot or bigoted against?

It had to happen, sooner than later. It’s just weird that it’s taken thousand of years for it to happen.
First, Tom Pereillo, a major US politician, denounced white idolatory and white supremacy as the work of the devil himself. For this he was met with an avalanche of rabidity from the Republican party which told him to get out of the country.
He called them bigots; they returned the favour. Fair enough, or should I say, white enough.
It was the nineties. India was exploding as a consumer market. L’Oreal needed an Indian face. Who did it turn to but the fairest of the fair — Aishwarya Rai. Now Pantene needs an Indian face. It turns to a ‘darker’ Priyanka Chopra, who seems ‘fairer’ in the ad than she actually is.
All this lusting for ethnic faces has resulted in a big fiasco — the axing of black trans model Munroe Bergdorf by L’Oreal. What led to this? Well, Bergdorf had some quite harsh words to say about white racism post-Charlottesville. She is British and typically, didn’t mince words.
First, she said that it is white people who have been causing mayhem in the world for hundreds of years through slavery, colonization, and what have you. But this is a historical fact. Why get mad over it? Instead of going into a tizzy, if white people would calmly reflect what they have been up to all these years, the world could be a calmer place.
Any dispassionate debate over the current West versus Islam divide will show that at its very heart it is a White Christian vs. Brown Islam fight that has been going on for fourteen hundred years. When a few white people die in the Boston marathon, or a dozen or so are killed in Barcelona, the world erupts in fury. Terrorists, terrorists everywhere they see.
But when the “mother of all bombs” kills hundreds if not thousands in Afghanistan, or a renewed American campaign in Iraq knocks out thousands of civilians, such tragedies merit barely a line in Western media, or even media that feeds off Western media, such as the Indian media. Are you trying to say that all these Afghani and Iraqi civilians bombed to death and maimed beyond repair were terrorists?
See the hypocrisy of it all. ISIS might have its tentacles spread across the West, but these are weak and shadowy at best. It is the West, and the white Russians, who are all over the Islamic world, invading, looting, killing without reason, except perhaps to teach brown Muslims who is boss.
Bergdorf makes another interesting point. She says that L’Oreal only hired her because it saw a hole in the market and money to be made from people with darker skin tones. L’Oreal of course came up with a stock response — that the company champions diversity and that Bergdorf is wrong and therefore out she goes.
Bergdorf’s comments may be a bitter pill to swallow for many, but are they wrong?
Coming closer home, some years back, a public figure suggested that if Rajiv Gandhi had married an African, she would never have occupied the pedestal that Sonia Gandhi had. Predictably there was a furor, and if memory serves one right, the claimant was made to recant and apologize. It was postulated by Gandhi supporters that the claimant had made a racist comment against Sonia Gandhi.
But is it fathomable that if Rajiv Gandhi had married a black Nigerian or even an Asian (Oriental), she would have risen to the pinnacle that Sonia Gandhi has.
We in India have our constant fair skin-dark hue tension. Dark women complain that there are few takers for them, but when given a chance, they too tend to opt for fair spouses. Our inner angst will continue no doubt. Ram, Krishna, Sita, Draupadi were all dark, but are never portrayed so, except maybe Krishna, but he too is toned light.
Our independence struggle was a grim and straightforward struggle against the pale phirangis and us dark indigenous people. Our freedom-fighters were under no illusions about that. When the Brits first came to our shores in the eighteenth century, they call us natives. In the nineteenth century, we became coolies. And in the twentieth century, plain nixxxrs. When Edward VIII visited India as Prince of Wales along with close friend Lord Louis Mountbatten, he used the N word for Indians so openly and freely that some Brits had to caution him.
One could say that he didn’t typify the British monarchy, but he does. One need only look at the long list of aphorisms issuing forth from the mouth of the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of the Queen of England.
Jesus was dark-skinned, with the hair of a ram. The Bible says so. But white people seem to love their own looks so much that they have made Jesus, the Lord who has become God, in their own spittin’ image — blonde and blue-eyed.
Pereillo and Bergdorf are two brave people who are willing to challenge the status-quo and call things as they see them. In the twenty-first century, the status-quo practiced by the white world is no longer maintainable. That’s why the West (and Russia) is taking such a beating from the Islamists. China, Japan, Korea, even parts of Africa have risen.
Has India? Will Rai and Chopra cancel their contracts with brands who use them to just fill holes in attractive markets? Or will fortune and fame stay their hearts and hands?

Hating Religious Freedom

There is a dogma in the minds of many the youth the world over is: Tolerance is a virtue. It is preached in the halls of schools, on the streets at protests, and in the editorials of media. People that that higher education can lead the way to a more tolerant society In fact, it may very well be the number one societal good higher education has to offer.
There is, of course, a limit to the tolerance. “[T]here should be no tolerance for the intolerant,” Alan Bloom reminded us in The Closing of the American Mind. This leads us to an exception. Since the American Christian is an absolutist, he is intolerant of certain ideas. Because he is intolerant, he must not be tolerated. When the right to tolerance meets the right to religion, something must budge.
To more and more North American youths, it is religious freedom which must give way. Religious Freedom vs. the Right to Cakes and Abortion Pills
Pew Research Center has published two studies which, if placed side by side, show how North America’s disrespect for religious freedom hits at the core of its founding.
The first study was called “Where the Public Stands on Religious Liberty vs. Nondiscrimination.” It showed that Americans under 30 care less for religious freedom than the rest of the country, especially when it conflicts with other rights. The second study was about America’s state constitutions. Unlike the federal Constitution, every single one of America’s 50 states mentions “God or the divine” at least once.
The juxtaposition is shocking. In the first study, Pew asked whether “employers who have religious objections should be required to cover contraception” in health insurance plans. Of those under 30, 75 percent believed the employers should be forced to violate their religious conscience. This was higher than any other group. Pew then asked whether “business owners with religious objections to homosexuality should be required to provide services to same-sex couples.” Of those under 30, 59 percent—again, higher than any other age group—agreed the government should force businesses to comply.
Americans may recognize these scenarios as real-life court cases that have already been occurring. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 required employers to provide contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations to their employees. The Obama administration refused to exempt religious organizations. So a group of Catholics, backed by Hobby Lobby, sued. The Supreme Court gave them an exemption. But the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu) tries in all other areas to prosecute such religious excuses to “discriminate.”
In June, the Supreme Court announced it would hear a more notorious case—involving a bakery refusing to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker, Jack Phillips, believes that he is “serving Christ” with “every cake he designs.” As National Review’s Ryan T. Anderson described, “He had previously turned down requests to create Halloween-themed cakes, lewd bachelor-party cakes, and a cake celebrating a divorce. Yet Jack was never reprimanded over those decisions. He found himself in hot water only with the same-sex-wedding cake.”
“Younger people now tend to be a little less religious, which makes them less sympathetic to religious freedom claims,” Michael Moreland, a professor of law and religion at Villanova University, told Deseret News.
If the Supreme Court suddenly consisted of the American public under 30, Jack Phillips would be immediately condemned and Christians would be forced to violate their religion. Tolerance, or nondiscrimination, would trump religious freedom. Meanwhile, same-sex couples could simply choose another bakery.
Destroyed for Lack of Knowledge
“We’ve seen evidence that younger Americans don’t hold religious freedom in the same high esteem that generations before them have,” Roger Gannam of Liberty Counsel told Deseret News. “We have our work cut out for us to educate them.” Some of the intolerance of religious freedom comes from a hatred of religion itself. But much of it, as Gannam said, comes from a lack of knowledge.
Some of those in the majority of under-30s who support nondiscrimination over religious freedom would point to the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Those amendments limit the federal and state governments in discriminating against citizens. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t deal with discrimination in the private sphere. Meanwhile, the First Amendment dogmatically protects the freedom of religion.
This is where the second Pew study is so instructive. Religion was so foundational in crafting America’s state constitutions that every state mentions God or the Divine. Pew counted nearly 200 mentions in all, including “Supreme or Sovereign Being,” “Creator,” “providence,” “divine” and “Almighty.”
In fact, the reason Founding Father Thomas Jefferson had so much trouble getting Americans to accept a “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedoms” was because of the supporters of the established church. They believed the only way to establish a virtuous population and government was by promoting religion through an established church. Abolish the established church with a “Freedom of Religion” bill, they thought, and religion would lose its influence; morality would free-fall.
Today, our most recent generation knows little to nothing of the Bible—53 percent of Americans have read little to none of it. Without that knowledge, they have little sympathy or sense of importance for the “freedom of religion” enshrined in the Constitution.
Far gone is the biblically literate generations of the Founding Fathers. The book that kick-started America’s independence, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, is littered with biblical references. In arguing against the English monarchy, he draws on the sayings of Jesus Christ, allusions to the patriarchs, and in-depth readings of Israel’s rejection of Samuel for a “king to judge us.” Now the average American isn’t biblically literate enough to comprehend Paine’s angle.
Even Benjamin Franklin, who was not even a Christian, testifies to America’s biblical literacy. When he agreed to translate a Boston minister’s sermon for a European audience, he “told the minister he would have to insert scriptural citations for the biblically illiterate non-Americans”:
It was not necessary in New England, where everybody reads the Bible and is acquainted with Scripture phrases, that you should note the texts from which you took them; but I have observed in England, as well as in France, that verses and expressions taken from the sacred writings, and not known to be such, appear very strange and awkward to some readers; and I shall therefore in my edition take the liberty of marking the quoted texts in the margin.
It is common today to hear of a dominant “religious right.” To take one example from Aeon magazine, we are supposedly in a time where “religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy.” This is absolute nonsense. American religion has been fighting a losing battle for decades, with victories going to a biblically illiterate, pro-tolerance movement in everything from same-sex “marriage” to drug laws to educational policy to abortion “rights.”
Among America’s youth, there is a loathing of religious freedom when it comes up against tolerance. A lack of knowledge deceives them—and it is destroying both their morality and respect for religious freedom. Both are scary, and either one of them can crumble a republic, when, as George Washington explained, “religion and morality are [their] indispensable supports.”

 

Papa Don’t Preach: US getting out of democracy promotion is welcome news

In what could be a significant development, the US state department is reportedly redefining its mission to issue a new statement of purpose that will exclude any mention of promoting democracy across the world – a long-standing objective of the US government. Accordingly, a draft statement being circulated states that the US will aim to promote the security, prosperity and interests of the American people globally and the mission of the state department will be to lead America’s foreign policy through global advocacy, action and assistance to shape a safer, more prosperous world.
The omission of democracy promotion is in line with US President Donald Trump’s inauguration address where he said, “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.” This is a welcome approach. For, history is replete with examples of US efforts to promote democracy creating havoc across the world. From the Middle East to South America, promotion of democracy has repeatedly given Washington a pretext to undertake military or political interventions with nasty consequences for all. The situation in Iraq today is a direct result of this.
Ironically, US interventions have also resulted in the opposite of democracy just because it suited American economic and strategic interests. Who can forget America’s role in removing the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh? Or America’s propping up of autocratic military regimes in South America? Or the US support for the Saudi Royal family? The truth is the US has used democracy as a convenient tool to further its economic and strategic interests in an underhanded manner. And this fact has given rise to resistance movements which today, in many instances, have morphed into extremist groups.
Hence, the US getting out of the business of promoting democracy through direct interventions is indeed good news. However, this doesn’t mean that democracy as a global principle should be abandoned. On the contrary, with many parts of the world today receding into right-wing nationalism, it is all the more necessary to protect democratic values such as human rights, freedom of speech and equality. But this has to be done in the right manner. It is here that the utility of the UN comes into play. As the world’s premier international body, the UN is imbued with authority to uphold human rights and safeguard democratic values. The reason the UN hasn’t been able to exercise this authority is that the US has constantly subverted the international body to serve its own political and strategic interests.
Thus, the US would do well to work through the UN to protect and promote democratic values. It should never have left this route in the first place. A US that plays by the rules and enhances international law is certainly good for the world.

India’s civilizational legacy: Needs Equidistance from Uninformed Evangelism & Westernised Disdain

Did ancient India have remarkable achievements covering almost the entire spectrum of cerebral creativity? The answer is a categorical ‘yes’. Is there a need to let Indians, especially the young, become aware of these, so that they are less ignorant about their own civilisational legacy? The answer is, again, ‘yes’.
Can this exercise of recall and inform, that all post-colonial societies need to do, be done intelligently by those who do not know the difference between science and mythology, philosophy and ritual, fact and faith, and history and propaganda? The answer is a categorical ‘no’.
Traditional branches of Indian medicine need revival. They embody centuries of careful clinical observation that treats the human body (and mind) holistically. Anyone familiar with the medical achievements of the sixth century surgeon Sushruta would think twice before dismissing India’s ancient medicinal wisdoms.
The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy is, therefore, far from being an act of misplaced nostalgia. Why then did AYUSH do such a clumsy job of advising pregnant women on the wisdoms of yoga and naturopathy?
The answer lies in not knowing the difference between what needs to be salvaged from the past and what needs to be updated in light of contemporary knowledge. Such knowledge need not entirely invalidate our ancient wisdoms but it may require an intelligent incorporation of what other branches of modern medicine rightfully tell us today.
Thus, instead of only advising pregnant women to keep away from ‘lustful thoughts’ and non-vegetarian food, the booklet produced by AYUSH, entitled Mother and Child Care, could have also emphasised the need for adequate nutrition rich in protein, iron, calcium and iodine, especially since half of all expecting mothers in India suffer from either malnutrition or anaemia.
Incidentally, not everything the booklet says is obscurantist rubbish as some excessively westernised observers seem to think. Why must much of our intellectual class wait for some foreign scientist to proclaim that an atmosphere of serenity and harmony is good both for the expectant mother and the child? Modern medicine is increasingly acknowledging the power of the mind over the body, and pregnant women who strive to shun mental agitation could well be doing themselves and their future child a favour.
Equally, what is wrong in the advice for expectant mothers to try and avoid “refined flour, fried items, coffee, sugar and garam masala”? Such advice, now offered ubiquitously by western medical practitioners, is, in fact, a validation of our yogic forebears.
The key is to find the right balance between over-glorifying everything about our past and dismissing everything about it as ‘obscurantist’ or ‘communal’ or ‘xenophobic’ or even ‘unnecessary’. One example of the former approach is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment that plastic surgery of an advanced order must have existed thousands of years ago if an elephant head could be transplanted on a human body as is seen in Ganeshaji. He also said that the manner in which Karna was conceived by his mother in the Mahabharata showed that advanced genetic sciences existed in ancient India.
Such comments devalue both ancient India’s real achievements and the delicate, symbolic meanings of mythology. Moreover they blur the lines between science and mythology, thereby caricaturing both. Lord Ganesha, with his elephant head, was not an advertisement for advanced genetic science. He symbolised, depending on individual interpretations, the imagination buttressing religious beliefs, in which man and nature were intertwined and representative of the one supreme energy called Brahma.
Perhaps he was a haiku, where the sheer profiling of a riddle catapults the human imagination beyond the routine to the possibilities beyond. Similarly Karna represents a certain human predicament, which is far more important than the mythological representation of how he was conceived.
There is also a great deal of illiterate aggression today in interpreting our past. Members of Bajrang Sena recently protested against the sale of Kamasutra books in Khajuraho. These ‘high minded’ individuals have no idea of the pragmatic acceptance in Hindu tradition of the sensual as part of a balanced life, best represented in the four purusharthas or goals of life: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
Ethics, materialism, sensuality and salvation have philosophical validity in the canvas of human endeavours – and therefore Khajuraho and the Kamasutra, as also the Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita, are part of the many-splendoured fabric that constitutes the Hindu world view.
Vatsyayana, author of the Kamasutra, himself says that dharma, artha and kama, pursued in proportion and not in exclusion, lead automatically to the fourth purushartha, moksha. The self-righteous and ignorant prudishness displayed by Bajrang Sena is thus more representative of Victorian morality and the general colonial view that the ‘natives’ were heathens with ‘unmentionable’ carnal thoughts, than of the wisdom and balance of the Hindu vision of life.
The remarkable refinements of ancient India need to be saved from the uninformed evangelism of self-anointed arbiters whose ignorance is only matched by their aggression. Equally, the disdainful dismissal by westernised critics of anything that pertains to our ancient past is misplaced. Great civilisations need the right balance between both these extremes.

 

Christianity & Islam in ‘Perpetual Conflict’?

Is Europe ever going to come to grips with its terrorism crisis? At first glance, it appears not. Just this morning Dutch police said they had prevented another terrorist attack, this time at a rock concert in Rotterdam.
You have to look carefully, but if you do, you will discover that Europe’s attitude toward terror is fundamentally changing.
In “Where Europe and the Middle East Meet,” Geopolitical Futures analyst Jacob Shapiro noted, “These two regions have always been connected to each other, and what happens in one affects the other. Instability and violence in the Middle East has led to Muslim migration to Europe. Muslim migration has, in turn, stoked nationalism, sometimes to electoral effect, and has even led to limited European involvement in Muslim wars.”
Terrorism, he pointed out, has been rising in Europe since 2005. Nationalism began rising at almost exactly the same time. That terrorism is already transforming Europe. “The age-old conflict between Europe and the Middle East, Christendom and Islam, is simmering once more” (ibid).
The transformation and “simmering” tensions are most clear in Eastern Europe. In response to the twin—and related—crises of mass immigration and terrorism, leaders from Central and Eastern Europe are embracing their Christian heritage.
“I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country. We do not like the consequences of having a large Muslim community that we see in other countries, and I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see.” (Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Sept. 3, 2015)
“Let us not forget that those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”
“I do not want to see a Muslim community in Slovakia. I do not want there to be several tens of thousands of Muslims who gradually begin to promote their ideology. We do not want to change the traditions of this country, which are built on the Christian tradition. It has been like this for centuries.” (Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, May 25, 2016)
“It needs to be said clearly and directly: This [European Union plan to force Poland to take in more migrants] is an attack on Europe, on our culture, on our traditions. Do we want strong politicians who can see the danger and can fight against it efficiently?”
(Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło, May 24, 2017)
In making these kinds of statements, these Eastern European leaders have the support of the Catholic Church in their region (if not of the pope in Rome). The leader of the Czech Republic’s Bishop’s Conference, Archbishop Jan Graubner, has said his country should take only “Christian refugees.”
“The larger the Muslim community, the likelier the violence—in such a situation, it’s legitimate to ask about the religion these people profess, and how beneficial it is to our society,” said Archbishop Stanislav Zvolensky, the leader of the Slovak’s Bishop’s Conference. “We shouldn’t forget that Christianity and Islam are, despite all efforts at dialogue, in permanent conflict. Once one side gains the upper hand, there’s always conflict”.
Those are fighting words!
These bishops have a few colleagues in the West who speak in a similar way. “Will there now be a third attempt at an Islamic conquest of Europe?” asked Cardinal Christopher Schönborn last year. “Many Muslims want that and say: Europe is at its end.”
Luc Ravel, was made Archbishop of Strasbourg by Pope Francis back in February. Last month, he said that “Muslim believers know very well that their birth rate is such that today, they call it … the Great Replacement. They tell you in a very calm, very positive way that, ‘One day all this, it will be ours.’”
Geopolitical Futures is right: “The age-old conflict between Europe and the Middle East, Christendom and Islam, is simmering once more.”
This clash is exactly the “age-old conflict between Europe and the Middle East, Christendom and Islam” that is “simmering once more.” We see the early signs of it in the “limited European involvement in Muslim wars.”

Political Deuce

Not a coincidence that the ‘US Open’ is in its penultimate stages. No harm ascribing “open” to that country, though the “Iron curtain”, and “The wall” are used for others. One may add “Fission land” to North Korea, after a recent declaration that an “H bomb” was tested, including the Richter magnitude of 5.8 of the artificial earthquake caused.
Surprisingly, though in no way acceptable, Gen Mc Arthur, the hero of the Pacific theatre of the war, who later took duties in the Pacific, particularly was at his wit’s end in tackling N Korea. Being an iconic General who changed the outcomes of the Pacific theatre, he shot a letter to president Harry Truman (typical American dialogue, remarking Truman’s installation to his wife, ‘He’ll make a good President, because he was the best steno I ever had’), explicitly stating, and this is where it gets abhorrible, that the only solution he could see for that country was a nuclear bomb. General Mc Arthur was asked to step down instantly.
This story adds, to the present world political scenario. The word “Deuce” from tennis is particularly applicable, because this is the only stage in fast moving tennis, where one has to take two consecutive points, to take the match. Rather appropriately, one first has to win an “advantage”, and then top it up with another point. More often than not, these are points that may hold further progress for long, shifting advantages on both sides. It is some sort of sporting justice, that the winner has to show twice the prowess to confirm the win.
Politics a present is at deuce. The last six weeks were so eventful, that it is still difficult to draw a graph as to the way global politics shall move. There was the Doklam impasse, out of the blue, thankfully settled. The BRICS summit takes over, mainly on an economic and trading agenda. President Putin has made a statement of further help and economic parity for developing nations. China would not take up any discussions on “Jihad”, which certainly is not India’s obsession, having changed its terror tackling strategy, within and without, with a knowledge that the phenomenon is pretty universal, the recent events in Spain not excluded.
Russia did have a foray in Syria, and recently the US countered. That brings the ISIS in the picture, but though the larger question of world peace remains, it is by no means the agenda of BRICS.
North Korean activities, of having fired a missile at Japan last week, and the present announcement of the H-Bomb, is a matter that would concern the US directly, and in a way the US may like to impose some resolution from its diplomatic ties with Russia and China.
Though, having the best of peaceful relations and economics with our western neighbour, has been this country’s endeavour, there is an announcement from the White House, asking assistance from the neighbour in mitigating terror activities. It is crucial that all terror hotspots be nipped, and US is concerned about its own prolonged and tiring stay in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Modi must be reckoning, that despite accolades from international lobbies, agencies, including the IMF, on demonetization, there is now a timed tirade on his policy. The hitches have been crossed, but there is a tuned chorus against it. Forbes, ex PM Man Mohan Singh, and ex RBI chief Rajan, widely appreciated in India, coming up with detailed objections. It is only the timing and the common-speak that raises a suspicion.
Is there to be an Indo-Sino pact on trade, that may upset the cart of trade flow elsewhere? Amongst other reasons I would not know of, was China signalling more convenient trade pacts with India? Some of this was obvious when it pressed the other shoulder and talked about intervention in J+K, and CPEC? In the absence of further back-up from other interested lobbies, a developing India has to accept the regional reality of its neighbourhood.
If you see, the crucial BRICS, is surrounded by a whole lot of world events and opinions, North Korea not excluded. Being an economic forum, with two super-powers, and three crucial countries stacked up in a row, any internal economic pacts (India, China, being substantial contributors to world trade, India’s potential being the one to be tapped), would be under the hawk’s eye. Nuclear bombs are devastating toys. Economy, however shall remain a permanent obsession in today’s world.
That’s where we are, –a “Political Deuce”. With so many players in the arena, and un-named issues as ISIS, good and bad Taliban, nations which colluded and collided, it is no longer a one- step answer.
One can have an “advantage”, surrender it. Shift it to the other side, and come back to deuce. But it is difficult to think that one can walk away with the game with a single ace! And when you are at deuce, it is generally a prolonged labour, a fluctuating pendulum, and even the linesman may have to be tapped for break point.
It’s all a part of the game!
Never before were they so many alliances that included so many rivals. The two super-power were never on talking terms as now, not that the urge for an upper hand is any less. And compared to the last War, North Korea (that claims indigenous technology), and the economic success of China, are new entities to be accommodated. Terror strikes that occurred in spurts, are now organized armies, certainly with backing from known and unknown nations! Never before was there so much and so persistent social media. WikiLeaks seems to have happened in a different age!
If the game gives you the match or the set, take it. If you are well placed and leading, take the next one with the set and the trophy.
Just one advice. Next time don’t get stuck at deuce, or have a plan “B”
Coming back to the US Open. One’s heart goes out to the graceful Fed, though Nadal, Murray, Djokovic are all worthy and laudable!
“To say nothing, especially while speaking is half the art of diplomacy”
Will Durant
( I suppose it applies to some form of writing as well!)

Myanmar, India & Pakistan

Narendra Modi ought to give his full support to Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar. A friend in need is a friend indeed. For a long time India has promised to look east just the way Barack Obama promised that the relationship between India and the United States will be the defining partnership of the 21st century, but we are all waiting eagerly to see the effects of the precocious puberty in the India-US relations.
India has long promised to look east to modernize its foreign policy because when we looked west, we only saw terrorist camps and the Haqqani network disturbing everything, and our neighbors in the west are more interested in looking north.
India has, economically and culturally speaking, much at stake with its neighbors in South East Asia. As far as Myanmar is concerned, India not only shares a long land border of more than 1,600 km with it but has also had historical, cultural, ethnic and religious ties for a long period in the past.
During the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the India-ASEAN partnership two months ago, the title given to the dialogue process was: “India and ASEAN: Charting the Course for the next 25 years.” Under the rapidly changing geopolitical reality in South Asia, it is pertinent to reinvigorate the process that was initiated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1992, after the economic reforms were introduced in India. The Look East policy is now after 25 years referred to by the Modi government as the “Act East Policy”. The idea is to strengthen the relationships with the Association of South East Asian Nations.
On the day Modi lands in Myanmar, an article lands in The Guardian, urging the global community to take away Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize. The attempt to bring disrepute to the famous Nobel Prize winner by referring to the plight and treatment of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, by placing the entire blame on Aung San Suu Kyi’s shoulder is not fair. It does not take into account the amount of personal sacrifice San Suu Kyi has made for bringing some democracy to the country. Rome was not built in a day.
Rohingyas are settlers in Myanmar and Buddhists are natives. Yet they went after Buddhists with all their might, gang bangs, forced conversion, rapes, love jihad, finally demanding Buddhists leave and give them a separate land.
In the meantime of course they generally did nothing to improve social indicators, stuck to ghetto mentality and generally continued to be Wahabi influenced venom spewing web spreading Muslims.
In India they were given room in Kashmir and Leh. I have seen Jihadi videos by the Indian settled Rohingya. I don’t know why media only shows part of the picture.
Blaming the crisis entirely on San Suu Kyi is based on a lack of understanding of the complexity of brittle democracies in the Asian continent. Of course the need of the minority has to be addressed, but there is an element of misinformation, as mentioned by San Suu Kyi, and we also need to pay attention to what the terrorists are doing in Myanmar.
Myanmar´s Minister in charge of Border Security in Rakhine has informed the international media that the destruction of villages of the Rohingya community was a deliberate strategy by the militants to force the flood of refugees into the neighboring country Bangladesh. The truth has to be established before the entire blame is put on Suu Kyi’s shoulders. Hopefully, Myanmar will resettle the Rohingyas and offer them refuge and nationality, incorporating them as a legitimate minority of the country.
Intensifying and increasing closer ties between India and Myanmar would also help to solve and manage some of the ethnic strife based on ethnic diversity that affects both the countries.
Dialogue with India and partnership between India and Myanmar is in the interest of the Western countries as well. It is a golden chance for India, as Myanmar in San Suu Kyi has a leader who understands India. She has studied in India and her father, the founding figure of Myanmar, also had close ties with India. It is this historical perspective we have to have in mind, and we should not fall prey to the efforts of some to malign an honorable woman, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Western countries should also welcome the growing friendship between India and Myanmar. Otherwise, Myanmar will automatically turn to China, undermining the western democratic influence.
Pakistanis have been bred on the notion that Muslims constitute an extra-territorial community of sorts; hence our solidarity with the Rohingyas and lament of their neglect by the rest of the (infidel) world. Our sentiments vis-à-vis other disenfranchised ‘Muslim’ communities are similar — Kashmiris top the list, but Bosnians, Pales­tinians and Chechens are also beneficiaries of our ‘Muslim’ solidarity. Standing with the oppressed is an entirely laudable endeavour. But in picking some instances of suffering and remaining shamefully silent on others, we demonstrate only how much hypocrisy supposedly civilised ‘nations’ are capable of.
The Kurds have been on the receiving end of Turkish and Iraqi state violence, but I can’t think of many Pakistanis whose hearts cry out for them (let alone state functionaries issuing press statements and civil society activists organising protests). West African communities like the Yoruba and Igbo too have been victims of state-sponsored pogroms across the territorial boundaries of Nigeria, Togo and Benin. Most Pakistanis have probably never even heard these names.
Closer to home, the (predominantly Hindu) Tamils of Sri Lanka are amongst the most oppressed minority communities in the world. But Pakistani officialdom’s close ties to the Sri Lankan state means there has always been silence when the latter has undertaken pogroms against Tamil populations. In 2008-9, a series of military operations in the north of Sri Lanka undertaken in the name of crushing the Tamil separatist movement — during which many humanitarian experts alleged war crimes took place — was actively supported by the Pakistani establishment and met with no ‘resistance’ from our ‘civil society’. Bred on standard Pakistani nationalist narratives, we justify silence over all these examples of state terror by serving up the religion card: they aren’t Muslims, so why should we care?
It’s better to support the ‘wretched of the earth’.
Cue more damning examples. Our ‘higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the deepest ocean’ friendship with China has mandated that we remain completely silent on the treatment of the Uighur ethnic minority that occupies the vast Xinjiang region bordering Pakistan to the north — and, which, even more significantly, China seeks to transform by building CPEC. The Uighur are Muslim, but there isn’t a hue and cry at the manner in which the Chinese state has suppressed their basic freedoms, and is now steadily facilitating the influx of ethnic Han Chinese into Xinjiang to fundamentally transform the region’s social mores.
In theory, a primary reason for Pakistan’s silence vis-à-vis the Uighurs is that there is a right-wing separatist movement raging in Xinjiang, and all ‘civilised’ states in today’s world ostensibly share the same position with regards to ‘terrorism’. But a separatist movement with deep historical roots within the Rohingya people is also active in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, and it is under the guise of defanging the ‘terrorists’ that the state has initiated its latest military incursion. The question, as ever, is why some forms of (armed) resistance to state persecution are considered ‘terrorism’ and others are not? As the example of the Uighur confirms, a certain community’s ‘Muslim’ credentials are not always enough for us to stand up for them.
Which brings me to the final — and most damning — point: what of state persecution within Pakistan? No one can deny the manner in which the state has usurped the freedoms of ethnic communities who have asserted their identity, claimed resources, and demanded a democratic power-sharing arrangement. Even today military ‘solutions’ are employed liberally within Pakistan to address what are clearly long-standing political conflicts. And the truth is that most of the Baloch, Sindhi, Pakhtun and other ethnic communities that demand their rights and are criminalised in exchange are very much Muslim.
So are the Afghans and at least 200 million of the Indians with whom we cultivate perennial enmity. So let us be clear that, rhetoric aside, we do not stand with Muslims everywhere — our expressions of solidarity are opportunistic and contradictory. It would be much better to stand with the ‘wretched of the earth’ everywhere, and stop victimising the most vulnerable ourselves — look no further than the way we treat Christians, Hindus and other ‘non-Muslims’.
Malala Yousafzai went on record to question why Aung San Suu Kyi was silent over the treatment of the Rohingyas. I say people in glass houses should not throw stones.