The Myth of Sparta- Ancient Greece’s Greatest Warriors Overrated

 “Spartan” is practically a watchword for military superiority — ubiquitous among modern when trying to evoke warrior primacy. Gun dealers, mud-runs, and sports teams across the country all proudly bear the name “Spartan,” usually in concert with the stylized Corinthian helmet made famous by Frank Miller’s hit comic (and later Zack Snyder’s film) 300. For most, “Spartan” conveys laconicism brevity, stoic endurance, prizing the polity over the individual, faithfulness unto death. We’re reminded of the words Herodotus puts into the mouth of the Spartan king Demaratus, trying to describe his countrymen to the Achaemenid king Xerxes I: “What their law bids them, that they do; and its bidding is always the same, that they must never flee from battle no matter the odds, but stand at their post and there conquer or die.”

There’s just one problem. It isn’t true.

This is not to bash the Spartans. The social model credited to Lycurgus, the mythical figure that gave Sparta her laws, was genuinely remarkable. Through the establishment of the agōgē, the brutal regimen that conscripted boys from age seven and trained them for a life at war, through the syssitia system of communal messing, through a culture that shunned “tremblers” who failed to stand in battle, Sparta absolutely did produce some of the best heavy infantry in the Greece – troops who saw Sparta to something like military hegemony from the mid 6th through the early 4th centuries BC.

But it is equally true that the Spartans were human beings. Even a cursory glance at the sources reveals the many, many times the Spartans failed to live up to the Lycurganmodel – supposed wealth-haters who secretly hoarded gold and pocketed bribes; steadfast xenophobes who collaborated with Persia; religious zealots who willingly committed sacrilege; brave warriors who fled from battle, surrendered, and just plain lost again and again.

The examples stack up. The Spartans are perhaps most famous for their stand at Thermopylae in 480 BC, where 300 of their elite spartiatai purportedly held a narrow pass against a Persian force realistically numbered at around 120,000. The battle was already famous before 300 – a byword for standing firm in the face of hopeless odds. But what isn’t often told is that those 300 Spartans led a much larger force of 7,000 Greeks, and at least 300 helots. Worse, we focus entirely on the heroic stand and not on the futility of the fight – the sum effect was a mere three-day delay of the Persian forces who went on to burn Athens to the ground. The Spartan sacrifice wasn’t even that great compared to the other Greek city-states in the battle. The Spartans lost 298 of their 300 – maybe four per cent of the available spartiate muster. Conversely, the Thespians lost 700, which accounted for the entire generation of fighting males in that city-state. Yet nobody has made a movie about them.

Another example is Sparta’s late 6th century BC attempt to subvert the Athenian political order. Claiming to be driven by an oracle, the Spartan Agiad king Cleomenes I invaded the city state to unseat the tyrant Hippias. But unable to counter the Hippias’ Thessalian cavalry, the Spartans were soundly defeated, even killing the expedition’s leader Anchimolus. Cleomenes returned with a larger force and finally forced entrance into the city, where a nascent democracy had been established. This would not do for Cleomenes, who tried to overthrow it and establish his friend Isagoras as a Spartan puppet ruler. But the mighty Spartan now found himself facing one of the first examples of people-power, as the Athenians rose in revolt, besieging him on the Acropolis. He was finally allowed to leave, albeit with his tail between his legs. Isagoras and his followers were imprisoned and condemned to die.

Cleomenes, humiliated, called on his allies and organized another invasion to make the Athenians pay. But on the eve of battle, his Corinthian allies took their troops and marched off, saying the invasion was unjust. Next, Cleomenes’ Eurypontid co-king Demaratus (who I quoted before) also quit the battlefield and the Spartan army broke apart. Athens would remain unconquered by the Spartans until their victory in the Peloponnesian War.

The 27-year conflict itself was marked with Spartan reverses. The city’s military conservatism and rigid thinking kept them from embracing combined arms (the integration of specialist light troops and cavalry) along with their vaunted heavy infantry, which cost them dearly. Their refusal to embrace naval power resulted in no fewer than *seven* major Athenian naval victories. The last of these, at Arginusae (406 BC), was so demoralizing that Sparta sued unsuccessfully for peace.

Sparta eventually won the war, but only after accepting substantial aid from that great enemy of Greece – Persia. Emperor Darius II provided the money and advice that finally allowed the Spartans to snatch the final victory from the jaws of defeat – stripping the Athenians of their mastery of the sea at the naval Battle of Aegospotami (405 BC). But the reputation-shattering moment of the Peloponnesian War Sparta’s defeat at Pylos and Sphacteria in 425 BC – where 120 of the elite spartiatai were cut off on an island and surrounded largely by light-armed missile troops. Giving the lie to Demaratus’ quote about conquering or dying, the Spartans opted to surrender, whining that the Athenians had only defeated them with “spindles” (their term for arrows), implying that had the enemy engaged in manly close-combat, Sparta would have won.

Sparta’s eventual triumph in the Peloponnesian War certainly made them the undisputed masters of Greece, but they could only cling to power for a mere year before Athenian exiles trounced them at the battles of Phyle and Munichia. The Spartans saved some face with a victory at the Battle of Piraeus in 403 BC, but they were so shaken by their losses that they restored Athenian democracy and forgave many of the Athenian exiles who had taken arms against them.

Far less famous than Thermopylae, but much more consequential, was the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, where an outnumbered Theban force crushed the Spartans and broke their power forever. Here again Sparta’s rigid conservatism hobbled them in the face of the innovative and forward-thinking Theban commander Epaminondas. The Thebans stacked their left with far more ranks than was customary, and refused their right wing, betting they could break Sparta’s elite troops (stationed on the Spartan right) before they could be reinforced. The gamble paid off — the Theban victory was total, killing the Spartan king Cleombrotus I. A Spartan relief force under the co-ruler Archidamus III heard of the slaughter of his fellow monarch and fled rather than take the field against the victorious Thebans. Conquer or die, indeed.

These are just a few of the many examples of Spartan defeats throughout the city-state’s history. None of this means that what the Spartans attempted to build was not extraordinary. It absolutely was, and the Spartans have rightly earned much of their reputation for valour and skill at arms. The Spartans were neither weaklings nor cowards. But they absolutely were humans, prone to the same vices and failures that plague all warfighters, no matter how elite, throughout history. The tendency toward hagiography, sent into high gear by 300’s 2006 theatrical release, clouds efforts to see the Spartan legacy clearly. As historians, we owe not just ourselves, but the Spartans the honour of reckoning honestly with their record.

India & Israel’s defence culture compared

After the air strikes on Balakot which marked a major strategic shift in the Indian state’s response to terror, political comparisons with Israel have followed. For those advocating a more muscular response to cross-border terrorism, Israel has long been the holy grail. So, almost immediately after the Indian Air Force strikes on the Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp on February 26, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav observed “in a way we have entered the league of nations like Israel” .

Similarly, Israel served as a benchmark after post-Uri surgical strikes, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared the military action to the prowess of the Israelis. Speaking at a rally in Himachal Pradesh on October 18, 2016, he had said: “We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that Indian Army is no less than anybody.”

The reference to Israel itself was not surprising. After all, Israel’s anti-terror policies have long been held up wistfully by many in the security establishment as a prescriptive template. Security cooperation was one of the reasons why PM Narasimha Rao formally opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, followed by the purchase of India’s first IAI Searcher unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and an air combat manoeuvring system from Israel in 1996.

Since then, India has become the largest single market for Israeli arms. Israeli arms sales to India, second only to those by the Russians, have gone up 650% in the past decade, amounting to $715 million in 2017 alone. Indeed, IAF missiles fired in Balakot reportedly used Israeli-made SPICE-2000 guidance kits.

Beyond defence connections alone, the idea of Israel always held a seductive attraction for the political right in India. This is why, though security cooperation with Israel consistently expanded under all regimes since the late 1990s, under Modi the broader India-Israel relationship achieved much more public salience. First, when Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Tel Aviv in July 2017 and then with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s return visit to Delhi in January 2018.

Given this backdrop, it was an easy if facile next step to compare what Modi has called “new India” with the Israeli ethos on defence. To the extent that India publicly attacked cross-border terrorism at its source, India has certainly moved closer towards that paradigm. But there are significant differences in strategic culture between India and Israel.

First, one of the defining features of Israel’s defence posture is its aggressive counter-terrorism, either through covert actions as when it lethally pursued those who killed Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic Games for years, or through almost-immediate punitive air strikes in response to rocket attacks on Israeli soil. At an operational level, the ability to launch such regular cross-border actions at will takes time to build and entails a huge shift in strategic culture. Undertaking such punitive or preventive military actions as a symbolic demonstration of intent versus doing it each time a terror outrage happens are different ballgames altogether.

Second, Israel does not face nuclear armed adversaries. A policy of imposing heavy military costs on the enemy’s turf when you are facing armed militias or even smaller sized militaries carries a very different risk and escalation calculus from an adversary who is somewhat similar in conventional terms, like Pakistan, and has a nuclear sabre to rattle as well.

Third, Israel’s offensive posture was originally an offshoot of its reality as a very small country geographically facing an existential crisis from the very moment of its birth. It has always been helped by unparalleled support from the United States to do what it liked. India’s diplomatic latitude on such actions has historically been much more limited, even though it has significantly expanded now.

Fourth, at a deeper level there is a marked difference between the civilian-military cultures of Israel and India. It was striking after Balakot that while the greatest sabre rattling and emotional rhetoric came from the Indian middle classes and political actors, some of the more prominent public voices of restraint happened to be from military families.

Herein lies the rub. Israel, as a virtual “nation-at-arms” has always had conscription. Every Israeli man (who’s a Jew or Druze, excepting those with medical disabilities or religious scholars) above 18 serves in the military for 36 months, every Israeli woman for 24 months.

By contrast, most Indians have an emotional and patriotic stake in military retaliation, but may never actually pay any personal cost for it. It is easy to pound drumbeats of war when your family’s lives are not really at stake, except in an abstract sense. Of course, this doesn’t mean that having families serving in uniform automatically makes you pacifist. The Israeli example is a case in point.

The dilemmas of Israel’s conscription approach were encapsulated in a discomfiting debate last year when a controversial ad for a top Tel Aviv hospital portrayed a fetus wearing a military beret, with the caption “recipient of the presidential award of excellence, 2038”. The ad was later withdrawn but the idea it spoke to was very clear.

Finally, India is the world’s largest democracy forged in a plural ethos. Israel is the only mature democracy in the Middle East. But the religious establishment has always had a special place at the heart of the Jewish state.

Its Nationality Bill, passed in 2018, specified Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This makes the Israeli state closer to a theocratic one. This is fundamentally why India is not Israel, although it also explains why many who aspire to a Hindu India may be inspired by Israel in more ways than one.

Sunday Special: The collaboration trap- The mistaken assumption that teams like working together

Collaboration is a byproduct of culture — it requires the right conditions, mindset, and tools. Here are 9 ways to avoid falling into its most frequent traps. 

Collaboration is critical to thriving in an ever-changing environment — it helps organizations solve complex problems in less time by bringing together various experts, accelerating go-to-market time, and responding more rapidly to fast-changing environments.

Failing to practice collaboration can put your organization behind your competition in a fast-paced 21st century. Research shows that 81 % of people believe that collaboration is critical and 71% think their managers are making it a priority.

So, why do so many companies still fail to collaborate? Senior executives have an unrealistic vision of collaboration. They assume their direct reports are aligned with the strategic vision. Or have an idealized — conflict-free — image of what a highly collaborative team should look like. Pushing people to work together doesn’t work.

True collaboration cannot be imposed — it happens from within. That’s the first thing I tell my clients. CEOs are frustrated with how their teams collaborate, but their approach is not helping — it actually backfires. They assume collaboration is a given. Most executives believe that building a high-performing team requires picking all-star people and let them figure things out.

Research by Heidi Gardner, author of Smart Collaboration, demonstrated that merely putting a team of experts or specialists on the same project is not enough — leaders must create the right conditions.

A survey by Harvard Business Review cites — no surprise — that organizational silos are the key obstacle for lack of collaboration. However, those silos are not physical barriers but driven by people’s mindset and behavior. The culture, leadership, fear of control, and lack of time inhibit successful collaboration.

Collaboration is a byproduct of culture — it requires the right conditions, mindset, and tools.

Here’s how to avoid falling into the ten most frequent collaboration traps.

1. Avoid the Collaboration Burnout

Always-on cultures, demanding bosses, collaborating with a decentralized workforce spread across different time zones, and inefficient use of technology are draining people.

Tech tools like collaboration platforms have increased team communication and productivity. But overuse and inefficient practices create a collaboration overload.

Also, new research has uncovered another reason: much collaborative overload is driven by people’s desire to maintain a reputation as helpful — by trying to over-collaborate, they find themselves at a breaking point.

When clients hire me to help their teams adopt new behaviors, the first I tell them is, “What are you going to get rid of? New practices should replace old ones, not add more burden to your team.”

The collaboration burnout drains teams. People are busy jumping from one thing to another at the expense of having less time for deep work, effective decision making, and to build strong relationships with other team members.

Your team doesn’t have an infinite capacity — collaboration is time and energy consuming. If you ask people to engage in a new collaborative project, give them space to get rid of other tasks.

2. Stop Idealizing Collaboration

Many people naively see collaboration as a friendly approach style in which relationships matter more than the task at hand. Cooperation is not about consensus or getting along with others — though those are nice-to-have.

Effective collaboration should focus on the outcome, not on making friends. Tensions keep your team at their top of the game. Constructive conflict-management requires integrating opposing ideas and personalities, not to neutralize differences.

Collaboration is a means to an end — what the team delivers matters more than how they work. Some groups are very friendly but are not effective.

Also, avoid portraying collaboration as a magical solution for all organizational problems. The more manager focus on selling the upside, people focus on what they might lose — people see things from their own reality, not yours.

Collaboration is uncomfortable, more times than not. People must get used to working with people outside their team, to interact with folks they might not like or that work in other locations with the addition of time zones, technology, and language barriers.

Portray collaboration in a more realistic, human way — idealizing it will only backfire.

3. Collaboration Is a Byproduct of Culture

Kicking off a new team requires to build trust and understanding. People will resist, conflicts will arise — the emotional culture always gets in the way. It cannot be suppressed.

Leaders must work to build a culture for collaboration — they must provide a safe space.

As Jacob Morgan, head of The Future Organization, said, “Collaboration can only exist in an environment where people feel safe. If you don’t have an organization where people feel the ability to be vulnerable, to be empathetic, to be themselves, then you are not going to have collaboration.”

Power is also a cultural thing that needs to be addressed openly. When leaders don’t want to give up their power, you can’t expect the ‘regular folks’ to give up theirs. People need to be clear about the rules of engagement and how the team will make decisions.

Wise leaders are generous; they enable people to do great things, rather than provide the solution themselves — great CEOs act like a coach more than a general.

To develop a collaborative mindset requires training people to open up about their fears, resistance, and objections. That requires ongoing conversations, not just a one-off meeting.

4. Don’t Take Alignment for Granted

Visionary leadership can blind executive — they are so excited about their vision and assume everyone is on board.

As this HBR piece explains, the emphasis on visionary leadership relies on the assumption that managers outside the C-suite are always aligned with corporate strategy. But, what if they are not?

Middle managers play a key role in change initiatives — they are tasked to align their teams around a new strategy. CEOs take for granted that, because of their positions, middle managers are convinced about the new direction by default.

Driving alignment is not about persuasion but an act of co-creation. Rather than selling your perfect vision, involve your middle managers at an early stage. Allow them, not only to provide feedback but also to share ideas and shape your vision.

The meeting where the C-suite reveals their visionary approach and the rest have to buy into it are gone — if that approach ever worked. Collaboration cannot be imposed; it happens from within — it’s a personal choice.

Your team must be involved in not only driving but also designing change. Collaboration is not about selling something that’s already been baked but inviting them to cook it as well.

5. Groups Don’t Want to Sacrifice their Identity

In mandating and driving collaboration initiatives, leaders tend to focus on outcomes, processes, and logistic. However, they forget to consider how the groups interpret that request — Lisa Kwan calls this the collaboration blind spot.

Each team has a culture of its own. When managers ask them to break down barriers, share information or resources, people feel threatened — they worry about how this might affect their identity.

As the executive coach explains, groups define and develop their sense of security along three main dimensions: identity, legitimacy, and control. Group identity is what a group understands itself to be — its purpose. Group legitimacy means that a team is perceived as valuable — outsiders value its contribution. Control implies that the group determines how it operates and implements change.

Respect each group’s identity. Not doing so can make people retreat into themselves and assume a defensive posture — they will become siloed instead of collaborative.

To engage in effective cross-group collaboration, teams might feel safe and protected. It’s better to start small than to expect groups to share all their secrets and resources instantly.

6. Collaboration Must Be Purpose-Driven

One of the reasons cross-team collaboration fail is that it’s not perceived as meaningful. Most leaders focus on the goals and why an initiative makes sense from an organizational and business standpoint but fail to connect it with something deeper.

A team purpose is always more meaningful and relevant than a corporate one. When launching a new initiative, leaders must address the “What’s in it for me?”

A collaboration purpose answers the “Why are we supposed to work together?” question. Not just what the team must achieve by working together — the deliverables — but the impact their work will create both on them and the organization.

Our values and beliefs are supposed to bring us together, yet tear us apart, as I wrote here. Leaders must create a common ground. Focusing on a shared purpose will drive the ‘team’ toward what everyone is trying to achieve collectively.

Involve the different groups and let them craft the collaboration purpose. Also, they should define expectations, rules of engagement, and how each ‘side’ will contribute. Team rituals are an effective way to design and kick off a cross-functional team. Collaboration doesn’t mean erasing sides but integrating them.

7. Reward the Team, Not Individuals

Conflicting rules send conflicting messages. Though most organizations encourage collaboration — a collective practice — their reward system is based on individual or specific performance. How can you expect the different areas to work together when sales, marketing, and customer service are measured by conflicting metrics?

The same happens with performance reviews, bonuses, and promotions — they encourage people to focus on what’s best for each person not for the overall team.

Also, always-changing or contradictory priorities confuse teams. Most people complain their priorities are moving targets — they don’t know where to focus their time and energy. Clarity and consistency are key to push a team in one direction.

If you reward individual behaviors, don’t expect people to pursue goals collectively.

8. Technology Doesn’t Solve People Problems

Most managers now spend 85% or more of their work time collaborating via e-mail, meetings, group messaging platforms or on the phone — that has increased by 50% over the past decade.

The digital revolution has accelerated the ability to engage with other people. However, there’s a difference between interacting with other people and effective collaboration — it’s the outcome, not the time spent, what matters.

Technology facilitates collaboration but doesn’t encourage it. Having the right tools is essential to accelerate cooperation, but if organizations don’t fix the people problems discussed above, technology won’t be useful enough.

Lastly, organizations must train their employees on how to use technology more mindfully. Today, many people are suffering from burnout — they need a digital detox, not more tech.

9. Collaboration is Not just H2H

Collaboration is intrinsically a human function, but not limited to people. Technology will continue to play a bigger role in the future of collaboration. The rapid growth of AI will change not only what people do but also shape our way of working.

Organizations must prepare their teams not just to become better at cooperating with other people, but also to collaborate with technology.

As David Coleman, author of 42 Rules for Successful Collaboration said, “We’re moving into an era where collaboration is not just human-to-human but human-to-machine collaboration and machine-to-machine collaboration.”

Collaboration is a way of working — it attracts and brings together people outside the regular structure, practices, and expertise — to accomplish a complex shared goal. But it’s far from being smooth or conflict-free.

A human-centered approach can help avoid the collaboration trap. It requires understanding the challenges through people’s eyes. To develop a culture that is safe for teams to let go of being defensive and work together in achieving something more meaningful.

Human beings are collaborative by nature but don’t collaborate by default — it’s up to you to create the right conditions for successful cooperation.

GDP needs an upgrade

In recent years many have highlighted the importance of alternative measures which take into account factors like happiness and equality.

Is the world becoming increasingly prosperous? It would be hard to answer “yes” right now, at least so far as the leading high-income economies are concerned. Yet the longstanding bellwether of economic progress – inflation-adjusted GDP – has been growing across most of the OECD since 2010, suggesting that everything is fine.

Some 80 years after GDP was introduced, nearly everyone (apart from the indicator’s stewards) has concluded that it is no longer a useful measure of economic progress. But there is no consensus yet on a possible replacement. Reaching agreement on an alternative will require a new concept of prosperity and a new way to measure whether living standards are improving.

There are several potential alternatives. One influential approach, pioneered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Erik Brynjolfsson and his co-authors, is to ask people how much they value free digital goods such as online search and social media, and then add the result to the conventional measurement of GDP. Their research indicates that the average person in the United States would need $17,530 per year to compensate for lack of access to online search, $8,414 for email, and so on.

These are large numbers relative to the US median per capita income of just over $31,000, indicating that the economic-welfare benefits of zero-money-price digital goods are high. This approach therefore captures some meaningful improvements in people’s lives that are currently excluded from GDP. But to generate a meaningful economic-welfare metric, the same technique should be applied to other important components of wellbeing not captured by GDP, such as the natural environment, leisure, and unpaid work in the home.

Another alternative, supported by a large and growing body of research in economics and psychology, is direct measurement of wellbeing or happiness. Surveys of reported levels of wellbeing are now available for many countries, and the idea of cutting to the chase by using this as the prosperity metric has strong advocates. But this option has several drawbacks, including the fact that indicators of wellbeing change little over time. Happiness surveys in rich countries, for example, typically show a score of six or seven on a 0-10 scale.

One way to make such indicators more directly relevant to policy would be to track the ways people use their time and attach wellbeing measures to each. For example, people like leisure and especially digital media, may or may not enjoy their work, and hate commuting. This approach holds an obvious attraction in a largely services-based economy where the major input is time to produce and time to consume, and where digital technology is clearly changing the way many people allocate their time. After all, who wakes up thinking about what to spend rather than what to do?

These two options are rooted in the utilitarian philosophy that the goal of policy is the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people at any moment. This accounts for the focus on income or expenditure in the existing GDP framework, and the resulting paradoxes such as the way a natural disaster can increase GDP. It also underlies the emphasis on directly tracking wellbeing in the moment.

A third possibility for a new prosperity metric is to return to the origins of statistics, from the Domesday Book to William Petty, and measure wealth rather than income. Embracing such a balance-sheet approach would immediately bring sustainability into the calculation of economic progress by revealing when future prosperity is being compromised for that of today.

Measuring people’s access to assets also draws on an ethical tradition, associated with the Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, which emphasizes people’s agency and ability to lead the kind of life they value. What matters here is access to human capital (health and skills), social capital (human relationships and networks), and infrastructure. The World Bank has emphasized the measurement of wealth, and the calculation of these “missing capitals” is moving up the research and statistical agenda.

It is both revealing and encouraging that the issue of economic measurement has prompted such vigorous and exciting research. But, in addition to devising a new indicator of prosperity, there is the question of how to implement the shift. Official statistics are similar to a technical standard. It’s hard for anyone to move from one framework to another without a lot of other people doing so at the same time.

Dissatisfaction with the prevailing GDP approach is therefore insufficient; a sufficiently large coalition has to agree to an alternative framework. Any successor to GDP also must be easily implementable, because statisticians will have to set out detailed definitions and methods, and collect the data.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there needs to be a public conversation about what is happening. Although very few people have the faintest idea about what GDP is or even what the acronym stands for, it is a single number that has gained the entrenched status that comes from long and frequent use. Its successor will need to be compelling and tell a persuasive story, consistent with experience, of what is happening in our economies. GDP may be toppling from its throne, but there is a long way to go before another composite indicator is crowned in its place

3 realities, 2 options, 1 illusion of China-an utterly amoral state

Social media in India and in fact, all over, was predictably awash with bristly and gung-ho tweets after China yet again delivered good news to the apparently ailing Masood Azhar and his nearly bankrupt host, Pakistan. Calls for en masse boycott of Chinese goods are however silly, as we will explain below. Let’s instead look at India’s options on China coolly. Three reality checks frame these options.

First, totalitarians don’t care. There’s been shock and surprise here that China ignored every other major country and stuck by the global terrorist training hub aka Pakistan. We shouldn’t have been surprised or shocked. China is a one party state which has put a million of its Uighur citizens in “re-education” camps, basically internment. Incidentally, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is just fine with a million Muslims under virtual imprisonment.

Under president-for-life Xi Jinping, Beijing is massively upping its surveillance of other Chinese citizens. It is also – proudly – developing what it calls a “social credit” system, a diabolical monitoring of every citizen’s “behaviour”. Those found “badly behaved” will be punished. Punishment includes keeping your children out of good schools, keeping you out of good hotels, stopping you from taking a flight and slowing down your internet speed. We can go on.

But surely this is enough to figure out what Beijing is – it doesn’t give a toss about terrorists killing other countries’ innocents. All states, democratic ones included, make morally gray or even black choices in international relations. But few, if any, are like China, which doesn’t suffer from the tiniest residual morality. So, always, always expect the worst from China.

Second, Beijing’s Islamabad bet is bigger than we think. At least some Indians who tweeted angrily after China’s UNSC technical hold on the Azhar resolution recognise China’s deep involvement in Pakistan. But Beijing’s Islamabad bet is even bigger than protecting its investment assets. As an ET story details, Pakistan’s military is increasingly using Chinese operational platforms on land, sea and air. And in many cases, Pakistan is the first customer for China’s military hardware. This means China’s self-interest in making Pakistan feel good is entirely interwoven with its fundamental ambition to become one of the world’s top arms manufacturers and exporters. For Beijing, therefore, branding Azhar a terrorist is a high cost option with no countervailing benefits.

Third, India just got even less competitive against China. Twitter nationalists calling for boycott of Chinese goods should download a report by the parliamentary standing committee on commerce submitted in July 2018. This does a good job of putting together data and findings on just how deeply Chinese imports, many of them cheap and low quality, are altering India’s industrial landscape.

The House panel’s concern, rightly, was the seemingly inevitable destruction of India’s small and medium manufacturers and consequent unemployment. But there’s an obverse to this – cheap Chinese imports keep prices down and there’s no way to avoid a nasty price effect – as well as supply disruption – if India starts massive trade action. The government knows this, and that’s why an official press release last Thursday dismissed all possibility of a Chinese goods boycott, and merely said India is working to reduce its trade imbalance with China.

Also, let’s remember China is a big player in some of India’s success stories, for example, telecom and pharma. China’s competitively priced telecom infrastructure and its massive manufacturing capacity in active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) – the base ingredient for many medicines India produces – are crucial for Indian companies in these sectors. On top of this, and while Twitterati in India was excitedly waiting for China’s yes on the Azhar resolution, China and the US came close to finalising a trade deal – and the US has withdrawn some trade benefits from India.

Plus, global investors got a strong nudge to send more capital to China, and less to India. MSCI, an American outfit that produces indices that are globally followed as investment guides, increased the weight of Chinese shares, and the weight ascribed to India’s shares were marked down. Reworking of MSCI indices don’t automatically lead to capital inflows/ outflows. But they have significant impact. So, let’s face it, India got even less competitive vis-a-vis China as China killed India’s attempts to get a global imprimatur on Azhar as terrorist.

Given these reality checks, what are India’s options on changing China’s mind on Pakistan and its terror boys? In the short term, we may have just a couple, but they have to be carefully thought through.

One option is to join the West in distrusting Huawei, the Chinese telecom manufacturer accused of industrial espionage. Huawei is in the fray to supply 5G telecom equipment in India. Pretty much banned from major Western countries in 5G, the Chinese company may now covet the Indian market. New Delhi can use Huawei as a bargaining chip, or just ban the company from 5G trials as a show of acute displeasure. The other option is to get or appear to get closer to Taiwan, which China thinks should be one of its provinces. This of course has to be done with a great deal of finesse. Rules of greater engagement and possible Chinese responses have to be carefully thought through.

In the medium term, what will work against China is India sharply upping its economic performance, recreating a manufacturing base, hugely upgrading its military capacity, etc. Note, all of this will require far better and focussed policy making in our cantankerous federal setup. But let’s start immediately by completely dropping one illusion – that China will ever do what’s right.

Saturday Special: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Aspires to be the First Female US President

The US Presidential elections is a foregone conclusion, as I explained in my article ( ) yesterday, but I do foresee a major shift in American politics and that shall be seen in 2024 presidential elections. After eight years of Donald Trump, Americans will certainly be ready for some ‘radical’ change. The American public, at times, can be gullible and taken in by promises that are hollow, but captivating.

Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 presidential race caused liberals across the United States to question whether the country was indeed ready for a woman president. Since then, there has been much speculation about various female politicians and celebrities running for office, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, Oprah, Michelle Obama, and others. There have even been rumours that Hillary Clinton might run again.

I, however, don’t see any of these women making it to the White House. I think the first female president of the US will be New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she has come to be known). It may take her another six years to get there, but the youngest woman elected to the US Congress will win the presidency. Here is how and why.

Alexandria is not Hillary

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election but lost key swing states and, under our complicated and arguably unfair Electoral College system, this meant losing the presidency.

But the biggest political upset in recent US history cannot simply be blamed on the unfairness of the electoral system, under which countless Democrats managed to defeat opponents stronger, and more experienced, than Donald Trump.

Clinton lost the election because she failed to convince working-class voters that she would be able to understand and address their growing grievances. While she started her journey as a young, educated, idealistic feminist believing in social justice and equality, over the course of her life in the political limelight, she (and her husband) made a fortune of over $50m, including $21m in speaking fees she was paid by Wall Street businesses and other interest groups. She gradually became an unrelatable poster-child of corporate America’s greed. This, combined with the proliferation of fake news and misinformation provided by Trump’s campaign were the proverbial “nails in the coffin” for her presidential bid.

Unlike Clinton and most politicians for that matter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rejected donations from corporate political action committees, or PACs. She didn’t take millions from Wall Street and then preach to blue-collar Americans that she understood their struggles. This helped her not to be perceived as a member of the Washington establishment like Clinton and her peers Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, for example.

Moreover, Clinton just offered middle-of-the-road policies that simply promised more of the same. By contrast, Ocasio-Cortez, as an out and proud democratic socialist, advocated for federally guaranteed jobs and “Medicare-For-All,” called for tuition-free public colleges and the dismantling of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. With this, AOC made it clear that she offers a different kind of politics that is unadulterated by corporate and lobbyist connections. This is, in fact, what helped her defeat a 20-year incumbent and the fourth-ranking House Democrat, Joe Crowley, in the Democratic race for New York’s 14th Congressional District.

After she was sworn into Congress, she continued talking about progressive policies, calling for a return to John F Kennedy’s 70 percent taxx on the wealthiest Americans and supporting a “Green New Deal”, a proposed economic programme addressing climate change and inequality. If Ocasio-Cortez continues down this path and successfully rejects cooptation by PACs, working-class Americans across party lines would undoubtedly be moved to vote for her.

AOC is also a master of grassroots organising and, while her actions convey that she is in touch with the challenges ordinary Americans face, her greatest asset may be her ability to connect with them in a way that feels genuine and not contrived. Millennials, for example, find AOC more relatable than any other potential presidential candidate. With her 2.37 million Twitter followers and growing, she is a skilled social media user who knows how to connect and communicate with the younger generation and will certainly be able to secure their vote. And in the coming decade, it increasingly seems that it will be the millennials who will become the most important voting blocc within the US electorate.

And finally, AOC was also able to capture the attention of the press and has already shown much skill in fending off public attacks. Even before she was sworn into office on January 3, conservatives had already launched a smear campaign against her, which is indicative of how much she scares them.

First, there was noise about the house she grew up in in a New York suburb; then much discussion about designer clothes she wore during a 2018 photo shoot. Just after her swearing-in, the right-wing news site The Daily Caller posted a fake picture of her in a bathtub. And then the conservative media tried to troll her with a video on the internet of her dancing in her college days. But this turned out to be a media boost for the freshman Congresswoman and she trolled them right back by making a wildly popular video of herself dancing into her Congress office.

With the election of Trump and AOC’s rise to stardom, one thing has become undoubtedly clear: US voters are desperate for new politics and fresh faces who can offer real change. And with her charisma, presence and political acumen, Ocasio-Cortez is able to tap into these sentiments. To put it in Trump’s words, Ocasio-Cortez is a “winner”, she is “winning”.

Her popularity in the press parallels Trump’s during his presidential bid in 2016 when he proved true the cliché “any press is good press”. Yes, it was thanks to the media’s obsession with him, both on the right and the left, that he remained a constant figure in the public eye, which ultimately paved the way for the unimaginable to happen – his win over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

The same is already proving true for AOC. She is the Democrat that Republicans (and even some Democrats) love to hate, and she will be all the better for it.

AOC will run in 2024 after eight years of Trump

Although Alexandria has much political potential, she is unlikely to run in 2020 and challenge Trump. After Clinton’s upset in 2016, the Democratic establishment does not want a socialist to run for president, who would be seen as “a radical” and would risk alienating more conservative Democrats.

The Democratic Party is more likely to nominate someone like former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who will stick to the traditional Democratic centre-left talking points: “compromise, compromise, compromise”. If that happens, Trump will certainly bully him into a corner on the campaign trail and during the debates and will go on to win the 2020 presidential election, to the despair and shame of millions of Americans. 

Another Trump presidency will certainly drag the country into deeper political, social and economic crises and will convince disillusioned voters once and for all that the Donald was never the man who could or even wanted to “drain the swamp”. It could finally be the wake-up call for millions of Americans to realise that they need to try something drastically different – something “radical”. That something, as Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly pointed out, could be what has already been done successfully in Scandinavian countries, for example. 

At the same time, these five years will also give AOC the time to understand how Washington works, build her political profile and prove herself as a house representative. She will also quietly make more allies in the Democratic Party and after her two-year-term as congresswoman is over, she may choose to move up the political ladder by running for office as a senator for her home state of New York, in order to broaden her political experience before a run for president in 2024.

Yes, it will take all of that for Ocasio-Cortez to win the 2024 Democratic nomination. I would even venture to predict that she will run on a ticket with a female vice-presidential candidate, perhaps Senator Kamala Harris, if the forces that are the Democratic National Committee (DNC) permit such a scandal. Don’t forget how the DNC buried Senator Bernie Sanders in his run for the nomination in 2016. But after eight years of Trumpism, I believe that America will make sure that doesn’t happen again to AOC.

But apart from resistance within the DNC, perhaps the greatest challenge Ocasio-Cortez will face along the way to 2024 is remaining true to herself and her principles and withstanding the ineluctable and incessant weathering of the lobbyists who effectively run Congress behind the scenes. In her 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, she admitted she is worried about how Washington would change her because it inevitably changes everyone.

If she manages to “survive” Washington and emerge stronger, the 2024 Democratic nomination for president definitely has “Ocasio-Cortez” written all over it. 

The Color White

Time to stop sugar coating and say it as it is.

White privilege. White power. White preposterousness. They exist. Period.

The first two privilege and power, are externally evident, historical as well as socially proven facts that have, are and will drive the world for decades, nay centuries.

Preposterousness exists internally in their minds when the color white seeps in from the skin and makes them believe that they are superior to other races and have the right to rule over them and  accept them as civilized humans at their terms.

You do not need to look up to a White supremacist or a KKK/ Neo Nazi supporter to understand what I am talking about.

There are tens, if not hundreds of stories in any colored man’s life in interactions with racist ‘ordinary’ common white men and women. As you grow older, your experiences become ‘richer’ or ‘poorer’ as you may like to name them. For the White man cannot differentiate between your beard or a skull cap at the place of worship and that of the terrible sounding Mullah or a Sikh priest in some distant land who may be shown as issuing sermons against the Western civilization. You may be a part of their community and a law abiding, ordinary citizen of their country but your color, culture, language, accent, religion are giveaways and make you an outcast in the society even if you or your children are first, second or seventh generation immigrant.

Forget the White supremacist or a racist, many among the so called accepting, understanding, liberal, left leaning White people feel heroic and expect to be treated as special when they extend humanly treatment to people of color. After all they have shown benevolence in treating that different human earthling as equal. Hail thy greatness! Shame on me for not considering this as an act of kindness but just normal human behavior. After all I am not living in that crazy third world of mine where I was equal and have moved to the White world where I should feel privileged to be treated as one.

Today the pain of Christchurch shooting runs deep. Yesterday it was Montreal or Wisconsin. Tomorrow it could be some other city, somewhere else. It won’t stop. It has never before.

And mark my words, while there would be a forced silence, a muted response or even an outwardly symbol of support, the feeling is temporary. After all this is not how the White people consider they are and a Brenton Tarrant or an Andres Breivik are not a product of hate and mistrust running deep but just aberrations. And God forbid, they are not terrorists. Only a brown or a black man can be terrorist. White people, they could be mistaken but definitely not terrorists. Terrorism specifically excludes Whiteness. Even the great leader himself considers that there are ‘fine men’ on the extreme right side of White supremacists and that it is not the common people but only a few who could be bad apples.  

But the moment any act of violence or dissent is carried out in the Western world  by a colored person, all hell will break loose and anti-immigrant, religion or color phobic stories will spread like wild fire and the right wing will take charge of another country or region supported by common people. And a common colored man like me will feel scared the moment they enter a subway of being mistakenly thrown on the tracks or mothers will continue to wait till their sons reach back home especially if they grow a rebellious beard.

Today we live in a delusionary world where we conveniently blame a few right wingers for spreading hate and venom and dividing people for their gains. They exist because racism runs deep among average common citizens.

Donald Trump got elected as President of the greatest democracy of the world. Not on his own or with the help of his venomous campaign or support of just the right wing. But by the actual votes cast by the silent majority of White people who supported his ideology and views. Externally they may have sounded accepting to their colored community members or co-workers but in that room when they marked their vote on the ballot, the mind clearly spoke out in favor a person who was standing to make America hate again and transform into a land symbol of White power.

Canada too is waiting for its turn with emotions running high. Andrew Scheer feels that it is his time as Trump’s message has clearly divided the communities in Canada and the committed  Conservative right wing is in the right frame of mind. With Liberals facing one scandal after another and the common White man quizzical if not disgusted or distasteful of that Brown man in turban desperately trying to lead another party, his chances are strong. So obviously he has to chose his words carefully even in condolences while ensuring that his statements do not alienate his base. And off course there have been and there will be other suitable times to generate religious, cultural or color based phobia to ensure that the ‘common’ citizen comes in the Right frame of mind to vote.

Do we have hope still? And I am not talking politically for regime changes but in our day to day lives. Can racism become a story of the past in cities becoming more diverse and in the world turning into a global village? Would we mingle and be a melting pot or still prefer our ghettos?

Honestly I feel it is difficult in the Western world as White privilege runs deep and it is not going to be given away so easily. Even in an extremely diverse city like Toronto! It needs a paradigm shift in the mindset for people to become color blind.

We get conditioned by how society makes us believe or our own experiences and I myself have got influenced by how the White world has treated me over a decade and how I have become a second or a third grade citizen in my adopted country. Yet I guess I cannot give up on hope and make that extra effort to open my heart out and hope that one day the warmth of our soul is enough to touch our hearts and make us truly believe that we are one.

Privilege and power. Let preposterousness be given away and then we will have a way! Amen.  

Competing Masculinities Inform Pak-India Conflict- A New Perspective

Devalourising the other in gender hierarchies often takes place through feminisation. Last month, tensions reigned high between neighbouring nuclear powers that share an ugly history of separation and bellicosity. Once more, India and Pakistan seemed to be at the brink of war.

Airports were shut down, the Line of Control was violated, and de-escalation — especially in the newfound absence of dedicated third-party intervention — looked out of bounds for the most part. War-mongering through media outlets prevailed while fake and selective news circulated in this situation of crisis.

Yet, it is baffling — if also not amusing — that even in such delicate moments, rhetoric of ‘putting them in their place’ was omnipresent on both sides.

Similarly, a few months ago, when Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his disappointment regarding peace talks with India, he chastised that he had encountered “small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture”, positing at the same time his position and vision as that more suitable to a bigger man.

This pattern of relying on a masculinity-centric discourse while addressing international relations isn’t one that is exclusive to moments of crisis. Instead, it is what dictates the axis of communication between countries and leaders.

The question, however, remains — why this invocation and comparison of manhood when negotiating peace and world affairs?

This particular instance of ‘manning’ through international relations and conflict is neither new nor isolated. While men in political power decided when to go to war, men in academia decided why states went to war.

For decades, feminist security studies has written about the hypermasculine nature and overwhelmingly male composition of the international relations world and spoken about how “social expectations about masculinities and femininities influence the constitution, processes, and structures of global politics”. 

In 2000, when the Security Council adopted the landmark resolution Women, Peace, and Security or Resolution 1325, the international world collectively affirmed the role of gender as a productive and relevant category when thinking about international security and conflict.

In many ways, this unanimous acceptance to “increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts” marked the fruition of decades of labour done by feminist security studies scholars.

In adopting Resolution 1325, the United Nations and its global stakeholders were admitting that the pre-1325 security environment as one that was gender-blind as well as lacking in women’s presence, consequently validating the previous order as overwhelmingly male and masculine.

Resolution 1325 was the culmination of the labour of feminist security scholars and lobbyists who strove to address this gap in representation and perspective when it came to global conflict.

From calling out this masculine paradigm to challenging realist thought’s proposition of an anarchical international system where conflict is inevitable, feminist scholarship on security widens the discourse by offering alternative and more nuanced understandings of how constructions of gender inform international relations theory and security analysis.

It seeks to ask basic questions not only about what informs security, but also questions about who security is for? Who are we protecting and at whose expense?

Both India and Pakistan, with significantly high ranks in being dangerous environments for women, have not implemented National Action Plans for Resolution 1325 which further emphasises the significance of bringing this discourse to the forefront.

Feminist insights

Laura Sjoberg continues the work of feminist scholars in her groundbreaking book, Gendering Global Conflict: Towards a Feminist Theory of War, and argues that the gender hierarchy is a “structural feature” of the international system.

As political scientist John J. Mearsheimer explains, the security dilemma in international relations states that a country’s willingness to increase its security does so at the expense of another state’s security. The other country is then prompted to maximise its security which threatens and instigates other countries to do the same as well.

While realism explains this stately competition as a quest for power to ensure survival in a state of anarchy, Sjoberg complicates it as a “competition for masculinised dominance in which states, as gendered actors in a gendered system, are out to dominate rather than survive.”

Simply put, it upholds that states are in constant competition to prove their masculinity and deny their femininity because the system “consistently valourises characteristics associated with (hegemonic) masculinity over characteristics associated with (subordinated) femininities”.

By gendering the system of power, where the powerfulness of one state must equate to the weakness of another, not only does international relations institutionalise the masculine-feminine binary, it also takes advantage of this simplistic division by displaying what states should mimic (i.e masculinity) and what they should forsake (i.e femininity). This sends the message that states must aspire to masculinity for their survival. 

But not all iterations of masculinity enjoy equal footing. Instead, there are ‘competing masculinities’ that operate under the umbrella of an overarching hegemonic masculinity that trumps over femininity.

These masculinities vie for primacy and are ever-evolving with time. For example, a chivalrous masculinity would have incentive to maintain both toughness and tenderness depending on the situation.

Like masculinity, international relations also assigns a premium on brawn; in this case, physical strength mutates into military strength. Those with nuclear arsenal are stronger, more powerful, while those who aren’t are weaker states.

This dichotomy easily translates onto the masculine-feminine complex where state actors in either category are expected to take on the respective characteristics that come with their masculine or feminine categorisation.

However, this uneven power dynamic isn’t always the reality. According to power transition theory, states can also reach power parity.

T. V. Paul discusses the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan as one that shares a power asymmetry whereby local and global factors are strategically balanced by both parties to prevent a regional hegemony.

Especially since both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers that developed their nuclear capabilities tangentially, it is difficult to map the masculine-feminine dichotomy neatly onto the pair.

Both sides consider themselves to be the stronger of the duo; this is achieved through tactical indoctrination as well as an inflated reputation of the respective armies.

Even at this regional parity, both countries maintain stakes in using competing masculinities to establish their dominance as the more powerful state.

Competing masculinities

A tougher expression of masculinity does not necessarily have to be the successful expression. This is what happened between India and Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consistently adopted a hard-line, violent stance in speaking about those responsible for Pulwama.

Modi remarked, “it is our principle to kill them [terrorists] by barging into their houses.” That his willingness to go to any extreme is rhetorised using the image of the ‘house’ — the domestic space — is also telling of how masculinity is expected to act.

Discourse around sovereignty utilises the same vernacular, using the principle that masculinities are most threatening and most threatened when the ‘house’ is attacked because it is what masculinity has to protect.

While New Delhi adopted an aggressive approach of retaliation, Islamabad focused on cultivating a defensive, mature outlook while still maintaining their macho — having shot down fighter jets and capturing a prisoner of war.

Had it not been the case, had Pakistan not reaped any war spoils, it would be interesting to see if they would have still maintained a patient approach to de-escalation.

Even with this much-desired focus on de-escalation, there is an emphasis on declaring explicitly a winner and a loser in the situation, making it clear that even in expressions of magnanimity, masculinity must be performed and strength displayed.

Pakistan is ‘taking the higher road’ is the international image that was projected but, at the same time, it was made clear that Pakistan has no intention of compromising on its display of strength. 

According to Sjoberg’s analysis, this image perpetuated by Pakistan of a refined, mature masculinity that is secure in its strength in comparison to a more impassioned, aggressive version displays the ever-evolving nature of state masculinities and how states develop them to gain dominance against one another.

On New Delhi’s end, Modi’s claim of destroying a militant camp is still being held to truth in Indian media even after international third-parties have falsified the claim.

This reluctance, on a national level, to forgo the stance of victorious masculinity shows the extent to which states will go to protect their competing masculinity as the more dominant form in a system that “consistently valourises characteristics associated with (hegemonic) masculinity over characteristics associated with (subordinated) femininities”, as Sjoberg puts it.

The Indian state is not only sanctioning but producing fake news to save face. It refuses to be feminised — meaning subordinated — by Pakistan.

Modi has further claimed that asking for proof is “demoralising” for the armed forces, insinuating that asking for evidence is emasculating for brave armed forces.

The question of “Do you support our armed forces or suspect them?” put forward by Modi to his own opposition as well to those rightfully questioning the ‘Balakot terror camp’ claim have been indicted as anti-armed forces.

Modi is able to play on this rhetoric because the idea of a non-accountable military is deep set in the notion that those with power and/or brawn cannot be challenged.

The message lauded here is that the military as the supreme hypermasculine institution cannot be wrong, even if all indicators point to it.

The military-masculinity complex

As Raewyn Connell wrote, “Masculinities are not equivalent to men; they concern the position of men in a gender order”.

However, since masculinities impact and interact with men the most, that war is overwhelmingly masculine and male is also an area of concern for gendered security analysis.

Sjoberg also mentions that “masculinised warrior-hero narratives” are targeted specifically to boys and young men while women and girls also internalise and perpetrate this.

Women too perpetuate it onto men; the symbol of the grieving widow and/or mother is widely co-opted by state-sponsored valourisations of martyrdom on both sides of the border.

On both sides of the conflict, the military forces are overwhelmingly male. Unlike other parts of the world, discourse of and around women’s changing roles in the security landscape have not even entered the national sensibilities.

In general, military service carries a valence of honour across the globe. Sjoberg writes, “Because manhood is an achievement rather than a pre-existing status, war heroism is a way to make men and achieve manhood”.

In order for these young men to look to the military as the tool that will aid their attainment of masculinity, state militaries must project themselves as paragons of masculinity as well.

This evolves into the military-masculinity complex; a heavily interdependent relationship where each counterpart draws validation from the other.

The military cannot sustain its operation without the indoctrinating value of masculinity and masculinity draws sustenance from the respectability politics that come with associating with the military. 

The way the story of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthamnan’s capture by Pakistani forces and return was reported in the media is a good example to study this achievement of manhood in practice.

The narrative lauds a group of young boys who practiced bravery and patriotism, the ultimate performance of masculinity, in order to capture.

One quote by the local captors reports, “Our boys were angry and continued to force their way closer to him to punch and slap him, though some of them tried to stop the aggressors. I also told them not to harm him, to leave him alone until the army officers arrived.”

Varthamnan was considered a brave man on both sides because both India and Pakistan utilise the same vocabulary to militarise masculinity and create an ideal manhood.

For a while, elevating him as a war hero became the only point of commonality on both sides. It didn’t seem to matter for Pakistanis that he was an Indian — only that he had perfected his patriotism and valour for his respective nation state, a stance understood and commanding of respect by all.

Upon his return, Varthamnan even sparked a mustache trend — a fact that renders his central position in the military-masculinity complex even more apparent.

Sjoberg further articulates that gendering in international relations also includes “devalourising the other in gender hierarchies often takes place through feminisation”.

We also witnessed this in the interaction of the two states, the most direct example of this blunted by Imran Khan in his decree on small men.

There were other subtler instances of this as well. The comparison of the quality and capability of fighter jets on both sides alludes to this competition for domination.

Substantial feminist work analysing the discourse around proliferation and defence building, especially during the nuclear arms race, establishes strong linkages between masculinised ideas of security building.

One such example was the Cold War where one United States Pentagon official referred to the race as a ‘pissing contest’ and similar vernacular gave way to a Freudian theory of ‘missile envy’ as well nuclear disarmament as emasculation in relevance to the nuclear arms race. The same can be applied to India and Pakistan as well.

The need to ask better questions

Dr Charlotte Hooper makes an important critique that the “discipline of international relations is heavily implicated in the construction and promotion of Anglo-American models of hegemonic masculinity”.

As international relations developed as a discipline in the wake of American hegemony in the aftermath of the Second World War, its foundations are naturally informed by an era of Anglo-American dominance at a time when the Global South could not even think of competing on an international stage.

In what ways is the post-colonial system simply mimetic of those same power dynamics? It’s even worse to think that the same powers that influenced the study of international relations are the ones that sell arms to both India and Pakistan.

Those who resist any evaluation of the military complex, or worse, placate it into simplistic “pro-military or anti-military” binary schools, will be tempted to dismiss the provocations of this piece.

I contend, however, that the incessant, and often alarming, nature of the Indo-Pak conflict itself as well as Pakistan’s internal display of hyper-masculinity is enough to support the demand for better questions.

This call for re-analysis is an invitation to both innovate and investigate our own premonitions about the war complex and the frameworks in which we view it, as well as the receptacles (whether those are state-sponsored or culturally ingrained, inherent or foreign) in which we receive and internalise these frameworks.

Feminist security studies scholars, who are committed to the labour of innovating in the academic space of conflict and international relations theory, provide such an alternative way of thinking about the precariousness of the war puzzle.

As Dr Shweta Singh points out, the space for such alternative thinking in the South Asian region is even more limited and, I would argue, all the more necessary. 

This article is only a minuscule attempt in encouraging an engendered understanding of Indo-Pak tensions as well as the Kashmiri occupation. Profound scholarship on this topic exists with Cohn, Enloe, Sjoberg, Tickner and Zalewski being only a few names that have done work on feminist international relations theory.

This recent article by Amya Agarwal that offers an analysis of competing masculinities of the Indian state and Kashmiri resistance is one such valuable contribution to the study of the conflict that deserves attention.

Gender-curious analyses have always attempted to locate sites of disparity when it comes to human cost and benefit. Academic Dr Swati Parashar identifies Kashmir’s role as “a site for competing and conflicting masculinities, embedded in a history of emasculation and anxieties of postcolonial nation-state building experienced by all sides”.

There is no doubt that more feminist interrogations such as Parashar’s into the study of the occupation and militarisation of Kashmir as well as tensions between India and Pakistan can bring fresh insight to the table, and I hope that current and future scholarship on the matter will be treated with greater significance in working towards sustained conflict resolution.

As for now, we can begin by asking ourselves a simple question that Cynthia Enloe posits: do the politics of masculinities and the politics of femininities matter for the ways in which people experience international politics and the way that people with power try to shape international politics?

I maintain that the answer is a resounding yes, and that further explication is necessary for the vitality and possibility of prolonged and agentive peace for all.

Weekend Special: Trump is on track for a 2020 landslide

In 2016, Donald Trump overwhelmed 16 qualified Republican primary rivals and became the first major-party presidential nominee with no prior political or military experience. Against even greater odds, Trump defeated in the general election a far better-funded and more politically connected Hillary Clinton.

What are his chances of repeating that surprising victory in 2020?

In 2016, Trump had no record to run on. That blank slate fueled claims that such a political novice could not possibly succeed. It also added an element of mystery and excitement, with the possibility that an outsider could come into town to clean up the mess.

Trump now has a record, not just promises. Of course, his base supporters and furious opponents have widely different views of the Trump economy and foreign policy.

Yet many independents will see successes since 2017, even if some are turned off by Trump’s tweets. Still, if things at home and abroad stay about the same or improve, without a war or recession, Trump will likely win enough swing states to repeat his 2016 Electoral College victory. National Security Adviser Says U.S. Might Give Venezuela More Sanctions

If, however, unemployment spikes, inflation returns or we get into a war, he may not.

At about the same time in their respective presidencies, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had approval ratings similar to Trump’s. In Clinton’s first midterms, Democrats lost 14 more House seats than Republicans lost last November. Democrats under Obama lost 23 more seats in his first midterms than Republicans lost under Trump. Democrats lost eight Senate seats in 1994 during Clinton’s first term. They lost six Senate seats in 2010 during Obama’s first term. Republicans actually picked up two Senate seats last fall.

Yet Clinton and Obama handily won re-election over, respectively, Bob Dole and Mitt Romney. In other words, the 2020 election is likely Trump’s to win or lose.

It’s also worth remembering that Trump does not exist in a vacuum. In 2016, many voters preferred Trump because he was not the unpopular Hillary Clinton. In 2020, there will be an even starker choice. Trump, now an incumbent, will likely run on the premise that he is the only thing standing between voters and socialism.

The power of that warning will depend on whether the Democrats continue their present hard-left trajectory or the eventual Democratic nominee manages to avoid getting tagged with what are as of now extreme progressive talking points.

The Green New Deal, a wealth tax, a top marginal income-tax rate of 70 percent, the abolition of ICE, the abolition of the Electoral College, reparations, legal infanticide as abortion, the cancellation of student debt, free college tuition, Medicare for All, and the banning of private insurance plans are not winning, 51-percent issues.

If the Democratic nominee embraces most of these fringe advocacies — or is forced by the hard left to run on some of them — he or she will lose. If the Democrats nominate Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, or Senator Cory Booker, Trump will seem moderate by comparison and have more relative experience at both presidential campaigning and governance.

Also, with a few notable exceptions such as John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, senators do not have a good record of winning the presidency. If the Democrats nominate a veteran politician such as former vice president Joe Biden, then the two rivals will be more equally matched in appealing to the middle classes.

Another thing to consider: What will the Mueller investigation and a flurry of House investigations of Trump look like by November 2020?

As special counsel Robert Mueller concludes that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the Trump’s charges of a “witch hunt” will more than likely stick. At some point, all the progressive obsessions to abort the Trump administration — the efforts to warp the voting of the Electoral College electors, to invoke the 25th Amendment, the Logan Act, and the emoluments clause, and to thwart Trump from the inside, as former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and the anonymous New York Times editorialist have detailed — have to show results.

If they do not by 2020, then these attempts will be seen more as bitter-end vendettas. And they may work in Trump’s favor, making him appear a victim of an unprecedented and extra constitutional assault. Then, in Nietzschean terms, anything that did not end Trump will only have made him stronger.

Finally, Trump himself is not static. For a while, relative calm has returned to the White House. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, and Attorney General William Barr are more in sync with Trump’s style and message than the previous holders of those positions. Trump himself often displays more self-deprecation. Like other incumbents, Trump may be becoming savvier about the complexities of the job.

Democrats think 2020 will be an easy win over a controversial and often wounded president. Republicans thought the same thing in 2012.

Economic models point to a Trump blowout in 2020. But a faltering economy or giant scandal could change everything. President Donald Trump has a low approval rating. He’s engaged in bitter Twitter wars and facing metastasizing investigations.

But if the election were held today, he’d likely ride to a second term in a huge landslide, according to multiple economic models with strong track records of picking presidential winners and losses.

Credit a strong U.S. economy featuring low unemployment, rising wages and low gas prices — along with the historic advantage held by incumbent presidents. While Trump appears to be in a much stronger position than his approval rating and conventional Beltway wisdom might suggest, he also could wind up in trouble if the economy slows markedly between now and next fall, as many analysts predict it will.

And other legal bombshells could explode the current scenario. Trump’s party managed to lose the House in 2018 despite a strong economy. So the models could wind up wrong this time around..

Despite all these caveats, Trump looks surprisingly good if the old James Carville maxim coined in 1992 — “the economy, stupid” — holds true in 2020. “The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” said Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, a research firm whose model correctly predicted Trump’s 2016 win when most opinion polls did not. “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.”

Models maintained by economists and market strategists like Luskin tend to ignore election polls and personal characteristics of candidates. Instead, they begin with historical trends and then build in key economic data including growth rates, wages, unemployment, inflation and gas prices to predict voting behavior and election outcomes.

Yale economist Ray Fair, who pioneered this kind of modeling, also shows Trump winning by a fair margin in 2020 based on the economy and the advantage of incumbency.

“Even if you have a mediocre but not great economy — and that’s more or less consensus for between now and the election — that has a Trump victory and by a not-trivial margin,” winning 54 percent of the popular vote to 46 for the Democrat, he said. Fair’s model also predicted a Trump win in 2016 though it missed on Trump’s share of the popular vote.

Still, Luskin, Fair and other analysts who use economic data and voting history to make predictions also note that a sharp decline in growth and an increase in the unemployment rate by next fall could alter Trump’s fortunes.

 “It would have to slow a lot to still be not pretty good,” Luskin said, adding that what really matters is the pace of change. Even if overall numbers remain fairly strong, a sharp move in the wrong direction could alter voting behavior.

Luskin’s current model — which looks at GDP growth, gas prices, inflation, disposable income, tax burden and payrolls — has Trump winning by a blowout margin of 294 electoral votes.

The White House remains confident that the GOP tax cut will support growth of 3 percent both this year and next, keeping job and wage gains strong. That’s much higher than consensus forecasts from the Federal Reserve and major banks that generally see a global slowdown led by Europe and China, coupled with the fading impact of U.S. tax cuts pushing U.S. growth closer to 2 percent this year with job gains slowing.

But Trump may have one major ally in his quest to make sure the numbers don’t go much lower than this: the Fed, which recently stopped its campaign of interest rate hikes. And on Wednesday the central bank said it foresees no more rate hikes this year.

The moves followed months of Trump bashing the Fed for raising rates too much and stomping on his economy, though Chairman Jerome Powell has said repeatedly that politics plays no role in the bank’s decision.

Whatever the case, a much more gentle Fed could slide a floor beneath any decline in Trump’s economy and boost his reelection chances significantly.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and a regular Trump critic, has been road-testing a dozen different economic models for the 2020 race. At this point, Trump wins in all 12 — and quite comfortably in most of them. The Moody’s models look at economic trends at the state level.

“If the election were held today, Trump would win according to the models and pretty handily,” Zandi said. “In three or four of them it would be pretty close. He’s got low gas prices, low unemployment and a lot of other political variables at his back. The only exception is his popularity, which matters a lot. If that falls off a cliff it would make a big difference.” The Moody’s models look at economic trends at the state level and incorporate some political variables including a president’s approval rating.

The Moody’s approach performed well in recent presidential elections, but missed the 2016 result in part because it did not account for a potential drop in Democratic turnout in key swing states. Zandi is trying to correct for that now before rolling out a new model sometime this summer.

Trump has already upended many of the rules of presidential politics. His party suffered a drubbing in last year’s midterm elections despite the strong economy, and the yawning gap between how voters view the president and the nation’s economic standing is growing even larger: Presidents typically just aren’t this unpopular when the economic engine is humming along.

Trump this week seized on a new CNN poll that showed more than seven in 10 Americans, or 71 percent, view the U.S. economy as “very good” or “somewhat good.” That was higher than CNN has measured at any point since a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in Feb. 2001 found 80 percent thought the economy was that robust.

Yet Trump’s approval rating in the poll — which is usually tied closely to the economy — is just 42 percent. And unlike during the late ’90s, when President Bill Clinton’s approval ratings surged ahead of his personal favorability amid major scandal, Trump’s favorable ratings (41 percent in the CNN poll) track closely with his job-approval rating.

Those low scores also apply to many attributes typically seen as desirable in presidents. Just 40 percent say Trump cares about people like them; 34 percent say he is honest and trustworthy; 41 percent say he can manage the government effectively; and 32 percent say he will unite the country, not divide it.

Moreover, even how Americans view the state of the country has become divorced from the economy. In the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, only 36 percent of voters said the U.S. was headed in the right direction, compared with nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, who said it was off on the wrong track.

For the economic models to be correct, voters would have to shrug off much of what they dislike about Trump and decide the strength of the economy makes a change unwise.

Prominent Democrats know that while Trump might seem like a loose cannon faced with the threat of a devastating report from special counsel Robert Mueller, he will likely be a formidable opponent in 2020, especially if the economy remains close to where it is today.

Economic models point to a Trump blowout in 2020. But a faltering economy or giant scandal could change everything. President Donald Trump has a low approval rating. He’s engaged in bitter Twitter wars and facing metastasizing investigations.

But if the election were held today, he’d likely ride to a second term in a huge landslide, according to multiple economic models with strong track records of picking presidential winners and losses.

Credit a strong U.S. economy featuring low unemployment, rising wages and low gas prices — along with the historic advantage held by incumbent presidents. While Trump appears to be in a much stronger position than his approval rating and conventional Beltway wisdom might suggest, he also could wind up in trouble if the economy slows markedly between now and next fall, as many analysts predict it will.

And other legal bombshells could explode the current scenario. Trump’s party managed to lose the House in 2018 despite a strong economy. So the models could wind up wrong this time around..

Despite all these caveats, Trump looks surprisingly good if the old James Carville maxim coined in 1992 — “the economy, stupid” — holds true in 2020. “The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” said Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, a research firm whose model correctly predicted Trump’s 2016 win when most opinion polls did not. “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.”

Models maintained by economists and market strategists like Luskin tend to ignore election polls and personal characteristics of candidates. Instead, they begin with historical trends and then build in key economic data including growth rates, wages, unemployment, inflation and gas prices to predict voting behavior and election outcomes.

Yale economist Ray Fair, who pioneered this kind of modeling, also shows Trump winning by a fair margin in 2020 based on the economy and the advantage of incumbency.

“Even if you have a mediocre but not great economy — and that’s more or less consensus for between now and the election — that has a Trump victory and by a not-trivial margin,” winning 54 percent of the popular vote to 46 for the Democrat, he said. Fair’s model also predicted a Trump win in 2016 though it missed on Trump’s share of the popular vote.

Still, Luskin, Fair and other analysts who use economic data and voting history to make predictions also note that a sharp decline in growth and an increase in the unemployment rate by next fall could alter Trump’s fortunes.

 “It would have to slow a lot to still be not pretty good,” Luskin said, adding that what really matters is the pace of change. Even if overall numbers remain fairly strong, a sharp move in the wrong direction could alter voting behavior.

Luskin’s current model — which looks at GDP growth, gas prices, inflation, disposable income, tax burden and payrolls — has Trump winning by a blowout margin of 294 electoral votes.

The White House remains confident that the GOP tax cut will support growth of 3 percent both this year and next, keeping job and wage gains strong. That’s much higher than consensus forecasts from the Federal Reserve and major banks that generally see a global slowdown led by Europe and China, coupled with the fading impact of U.S. tax cuts pushing U.S. growth closer to 2 percent this year with job gains slowing.

But Trump may have one major ally in his quest to make sure the numbers don’t go much lower than this: the Fed, which recently stopped its campaign of interest rate hikes. And on Wednesday the central bank said it foresees no more rate hikes this year.

The moves followed months of Trump bashing the Fed for raising rates too much and stomping on his economy, though Chairman Jerome Powell has said repeatedly that politics plays no role in the bank’s decision.

Whatever the case, a much more gentle Fed could slide a floor beneath any decline in Trump’s economy and boost his reelection chances significantly.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and a regular Trump critic, has been road-testing a dozen different economic models for the 2020 race. At this point, Trump wins in all 12 — and quite comfortably in most of them. The Moody’s models look at economic trends at the state level.

“If the election were held today, Trump would win according to the models and pretty handily,” Zandi said. “In three or four of them it would be pretty close. He’s got low gas prices, low unemployment and a lot of other political variables at his back. The only exception is his popularity, which matters a lot. If that falls off a cliff it would make a big difference.” The Moody’s models look at economic trends at the state level and incorporate some political variables including a president’s approval rating.

The Moody’s approach performed well in recent presidential elections, but missed the 2016 result in part because it did not account for a potential drop in Democratic turnout in key swing states. Zandi is trying to correct for that now before rolling out a new model sometime this summer.

Trump has already upended many of the rules of presidential politics. His party suffered a drubbing in last year’s midterm elections despite the strong economy, and the yawning gap between how voters view the president and the nation’s economic standing is growing even larger: Presidents typically just aren’t this unpopular when the economic engine is humming along.

Trump this week seized on a new CNN poll that showed more than seven in 10 Americans, or 71 percent, view the U.S. economy as “very good” or “somewhat good.” That was higher than CNN has measured at any point since a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in Feb. 2001 found 80 percent thought the economy was that robust.

Yet Trump’s approval rating in the poll — which is usually tied closely to the economy — is just 42 percent. And unlike during the late ’90s, when President Bill Clinton’s approval ratings surged ahead of his personal favorability amid major scandal, Trump’s favorable ratings (41 percent in the CNN poll) track closely with his job-approval rating.

Those low scores also apply to many attributes typically seen as desirable in presidents. Just 40 percent say Trump cares about people like them; 34 percent say he is honest and trustworthy; 41 percent say he can manage the government effectively; and 32 percent say he will unite the country, not divide it.

Moreover, even how Americans view the state of the country has become divorced from the economy. In the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, only 36 percent of voters said the U.S. was headed in the right direction, compared with nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, who said it was off on the wrong track.

For the economic models to be correct, voters would have to shrug off much of what they dislike about Trump and decide the strength of the economy makes a change unwise.

Prominent Democrats know that while Trump might seem like a loose cannon faced with the threat of a devastating report from special counsel Robert Mueller, he will likely be a formidable opponent in 2020, especially if the economy remains close to where it is today.

Isn’t New Zealand PM Ardern going overboard?

The grieving in New Zealand never seems to end. And leading their never-ending grieving is their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern seems to be trying to prove that New Zealand was a haven of peace and tranquillity until the mosque attacks rend her country asunder. But, New Zealand, like the US and Australia, is built on a horrific past. In the case of New Zealand, it’s been the genocide of the Maoris, just like it’s been the Aborigines in the case of Australia, and Native Americans and to an extent, African Americans, in the case of the US.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that generations that grew up after the respective genocides hold any responsibility for what their forbears had done. Just as the current crop of Germans have nothing to account for what Hitler had done. Hitler and his associates got their due, but in the case of New Zealand, Australia and the US, current generations are still benefiting from the horrors their ancestors perpetrated.

Land, for instance, is one of them. All of the land was confiscated from the indigenous populations and distributed amongst the evil-perpetrators for a pittance. And that land has been handed down generation after generation.

Kevin Rudd, when he was prime minister of Australia, apologised fervently for the actions of his ancestors against the Aborigines. But no such heartfelt apology has been forthcoming in New Zealand for the injustices done to the Maoris. In the US, forget about an apology, Native Americans and African Americans continue to be mocked despite their continuing demands for contrition from white Americans.

It is in this context that Ardern’s behaviour should be judged. There has been little to no reconciliation between the Maori and the Pakeha (white New Zealander) in her country. She hasn’t attempted any as prime minister. There is just too much resistance from the Pakehas for her to attempt any truth and reconciliation without jeopardizing her political career.

Still, New Zealand has cultivated a picture postcard image of a haven of peace and tranquillity. The Christchurch attacks have offered Ardern a perfect platform to try to showcase this image of New Zealand. This is not to decry her ardent efforts to reach out to the Muslim community.

But isn’t there an element of hypocrisy as well. Reaching out to the Maoris damages her political career. Reaching out to the Muslim ummah gives her a worldwide platform to project her image. Numerous calls have gone out for her to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A Nobel for her will obfuscate what the ancestors of the current Pakehas did to the Maoris.

The point is that you cannot be ardently sympathetic in one case and completely oblivious in the other.

Kevin Rudd was widely decried in many quarters in Australia for apologizing to the Aborigines. Some would say that it played a part in ruining his political career. Can Ardern afford to behave like Rudd if she takes similar action vis-a-vis the Maoris?

The other thing is that Ardern’s -I wouldn’t call it showboating–but going somewhat overboard puts a lot of pressure on other global leaders were a particular community in their country to be attacked. It is no secret that many global leaders aspire for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But if many leaders say in the western world and in countries like India start behaving like Ardern, without any reciprocation for similar acts of terror perpetrated by the Muslim ummah, does that solve the global terrorist problem or does it make it worse?

Ardern wants to heal her nation, and that’s a noble gesture. She wants to prove that the Pakeha doesn’t do what people of the same racial lineage in other white countries might still continue to do. But then why not reach out to the Maori community with similar outpouring of support and sympathy. Until then, her empathy for the Muslim community might be misconstrued by some as cherry-picking.

She clearly seems moved by the suffering of the Muslim community. Well, what about the suffering of the Maoris, which is so apparent it is there for any visitor to New Zealand to see. Beginning returning some of the land confiscated from them by the Pakeha back to them.

India’s Best Option- A Conventional War With Pakistan

It is always easy to talk of peace and I am aware that war is a horrible thing to happen, but sometimes, there is no alternative except take a plunge. I am aware that I shall be called a warmonger, but I am a peacemaker and in the long run the war may be the shortest way to peace. It can be awakening for the other party to be more rational and accommodating.

The recent events, post-Pulwama attack, have amply demonstrated the limited utility of launching a conventional war with Pakistan. While Pakistan has been carrying out a low intensity conflict with India for almost three decades in varying degrees with devastating effect, our inability to counter its policy of inflicting ‘a thousand cuts’ has been a singular failure of our security policy. Where do the roots of this policy or its absence lie?

If a precise date has to be set for the beginnings of this policy of inaction against Pakistan’s repeated and continuous attacks, one has to trace it to the premiership of I K Gujral (April 1997 to March 1998) who clearly prohibited the external intelligence agency R&AW from carrying outany covert operations inside the territory of Pakistan as retaliatory measures. This directive was part of his so-called ‘Gujral Doctrine’ which was more a set of pious wishes than a pragmatic response to the prevailing situation in South Asia that was already wrecked by some of the most powerful terrorist organisations in the world with the LTTE fighting a deadly civil war in Sri Lanka and the Taliban having come to power in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan Army. When Pakistan and its proxy terror groups were gloating in the glory of defeating a super power – the Soviet Union and were focusing their energies on liberating Kashmir from the ‘Indian clutches’, the Indian Prime Minister decided to confront the villainy of Pakistan in a Gandhian way by stoically directing his agencies not to retaliate. Though this policy might have gained the moral high ground to India and some international appreciation as ‘a responsible power’ in contrast to the terror-sponsoring nation that Pakistan had widely come to be recognized, India nevertheless continued to bleed.

It is significant that neither the governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor that of Manmohan Singh reversed the directive that I K Gujral had issued to the R&AW. Though Prime Minister Vajpayee ordered the mobilization of our army on the western border after the attack on our Parliament by the Lashkar e Toiba and Jaish e Mohammed on 13th December 2001, both countries realized the futility of a full fledged conventional war and withdrew from the brink. This experience got reinforced on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who chose not to respond in any kinetic manner after the Mumbai terror attacks by Lashkar e- Toiba of 26th November 2008. Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons and its declared nuclear doctrine that puts its possible use on a very short fuse made it all the more difficult for any Indian leader to order a military strike either by its air or land forces.

The recent strike by our air-force on JeM terror camps in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Certainly crossed the Rubicon in piercing through the nuclear bluff but its efficacy remains unclear and unknown. ‘Non-military pre-emptive airstrikes’ on terrorist camps inside Pakistan may have even gained international acceptance with the US calling it a ‘counter-terrorist action’ and not an act of aggression, but are we satisfied that we have inflicted irreparable damage to thePakistani terror group and its handlers in the ISI? Has it generated the required ‘shock and awe’ to use the phrase that became the key objective of the ‘desert storm’ attack by the US on Iraq.

Will this put an end to the terrorist attacks from across the border? The first surgical strike carried out in September 2016 has clearly failed to deter further attacks and as per the ‘Indian Express’, ‘within one year after that 178 people had been killed in Kashmir and 400 attempted incursions had been made on the Line of Control’.

So what then is the best response to such continued and relentless attacks? Perhaps it is time to go back to the sub-conventional warfare, the great covert operations that were stopped by Prime Minister Gujral.

Covert operations

Covert operations by an intelligence agency are unlike the acts of terror groups, i.e., acts of mindless violence meant to terrorise the people and render the governments helpless against such asymmetrical acts of warfare. They are designed to create and promote disaffection against the governments and generally play up the existing fault lines and have long term devastating effects.

First and foremost, we should revive our support to the groups in Baluchistan fighting for their independence. Secondly, we should extends upport to the Shia minority groups in Gilgit- Baltistan that have been ruthlessly suppressed by the Pakistan Army for the last 4 decades. Significantly Prime Minister Modi made a dramatic reference to their long-standing struggles in his speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 2016 and much hope was raised in both quarters. That however proved to be illusory as there was no follow up action.

Thirdly, we should support other disaffected groups such as the Mohajirs in Sindh, the Saraiki nationalist movement in Punjab, and the non-Taliban Pakthuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that have suffered untold misery in the hands of the majoritarian Punjabi army and the ISI who have ruthlessly murdered or caused disappearances of its leaders.

It is noteworthy that we don’t even have to waste time in creating well -trained and highly motivated terror groups or ‘fidayeens’. They are all there in Pakistan and in plenty. A cursory count indicates that there are over 65 terrorist organizations in Pakistan that have been banned from August 2001 to mid -2017 and are in diverse states of disarray and at least over 50 must be totally starved for funds. All we need is to pick up a handful of them, province wise and start funding. They will certainly work for anyone if the money is right and if channeled through the right sources, say a Saudi billionaire. Tehrik e- Taliban comes right on top of the list because of its excellent track record in targeting Pakistan’s military and air-force installations and security agencies including the ISI.

And surely, this entire effort will cost less than one Rafale aircraft and the damage it will do, could equal the efforts of a squadron.

Cyber operations

The most effective low–cost, high- impact tool of modern warfare is offensive cyber warfare and this is one area that needs immediate and utmost attention. The fact that a handful of computers in the hands of highly skilled hackers could cause untold havoc to the critical infrastructure of the target country is, by now well understood by our policy makers. Unfortunately, the existing set-up the NTRO created for this task is woefully inadequate for the challenges. It is therefore urgent that we involve the huge IT and IT enabled services of the private sector, on a selective basis, to outsource the jobs that the NTRO is unable to do.

In most countries in the West, not every security related job is done by government agencies but by private firms that have core competence in the required field. Outsourcing jobs to them after vetting their security clearances and embedding them with government agencies is the utmost need of the hour. Since we are already handing over defence contracts to private entrepreneurs, there should be no problem in involving them in Cyber operations, as long as the choice of targets, nature of attacks and the timing and location of it are cleared at the highest levels of government so that the responsibility for the impact and possible retaliation rests with them.

North Korea is East Asia’s Pakistan

On February 14, a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF soldiers in Pulwama. On 27–28, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un met in Hanoi for a second summit. Three common threads link the two discrete events. China has been an enabler of both Pakistani and North Korean nuclearisation. It has run diplomatic cover for both in the UN Security Council, most recently on Wednesday when it blocked, for the fourth time, Maulana Masood Azhar from being listed as a global terrorist. And both are skilled practitioners of the statecraft of deadly but carefully calibrated cross-border provocations.

North Korea is the world’s only country to have been party to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state, reaped the benefits, and then withdrawn to get the bomb. It is also the only country to have tested nuclear weapons in this millennium. North Korea seems to have consciously modelled its actions on the Indian precedent and hopes to gain a similar acceptance of de facto armed status in due course. Western analysts mostly missed the significance of calling a halt to nuclear testing after six explosions: exactly the same number as India (one in 1974 plus five in 1998) and Pakistan (six in 1998). If he spoke our language, Kim might well have echoed Nawaz Sharif’s boast from 1998 of ‘hisab chuka diya’. The danger for Pyongyang is it may have badly miscalculated and could end up like Pakistan: an impoverished, perennially failing state and a distrusted nuclear-armed international pariah.

To Indian eyes, the similarities between North Korea and Pakistan are striking. Before nuclearisation, both were overshadowed by their more dynamic neighbour. Without acts of mischief, they risked becoming irrelevant and forgotten. But if the provocation was grave enough, they risked an all-out war in which defeat was guaranteed. Hence the common strategy of being a constant irritant to South Korea and India respectively through acts of provocation on and across the border. These kept the issue alive on the international agenda, but were not serious enough to escalate to an all-out war. A state of neither peace nor war suited both because it acted as a brake on South Korea’s and India’s regional and global aspirations.

After nuclearisation, this has evolved into a common strategy of managed nuclear instability. By contrast, the US–Soviet cold war nuclear rivalry was one of carefully managed nuclear stability. It is worth reflecting on the common bases of such a policy. Where North Korea holds itself to be the only true custodian of Korean nationalism and dismisses South Korea as a mere puppet, Pakistan’s identity rests on being the custodian of Islam. After all, it is the only country to name its capital after a religion and India is considered to have been stolen by the British from the subcontinent’s true Muslim rulers.

Both blame partition on foreigners and harbour irredentist claims on their neighbours. Both have used terrorism as an instrument of state policy, albeit North Korea has done so directly while Pakistan’s deep state has preferred to channel this through proxies. Just as Pakistan’s bomb is a threat to Iran as another neighbour, so North Korea’s is a threat to Japan also. The most consequential common factor is that the bomb gives North Korea and Pakistan more scope for mischief by raising the cost, and therefore the threshold of retaliation, significantly higher.

There are of course differences also in the national, geopolitical and strategic circumstances of North Korea and Pakistan. But the common elements are striking enough that India, South Korea, Japan and the US could consider initiating a strategic policy dialogue to evolve common strategies to counter managed nuclear instability. A good starting point would be to appreciate the true strategic significance of India’s airstrikes on Balakot. Regardless of details of claims and counterclaims, the indisputable fact is India has decisively repudiated Pakistan’s tactic of nuclear blackmail by changing its default response matrix. The lesson applies with equal force to North Korea: the bomb does not guarantee immunity against punitive strikes for mischief across the border. The risk of nuclear escalation shifts back to the weaker party.

Fifty shades of populism: Jair Bolsonaro as ‘Tropical Trump’ showcases its rise

Donald Trump met at the White House last Tuesday with fellow conservative populist Jair Bolsonaro, and designated that Brazil will soon be a “major non-NATO ally” or “NATO ally”. The fact that these two insurgent candidates are leading two of the most powerful democracies in the Americas underlines a broader trend with recent academic research suggesting some two billion of the world’s population are now governed by such populist leaders.

Trump and Bolsonaro – sometimes known as the Tropical Trump – won power through similar campaign tactics, attacking multinational organisations, so-called “fake media”, and immigrants. And this electoral success is itself a microcosm of a wider upending of the global political landscape shown in the Global Populism Database which is a comprehensive tracker of populist discourse.

In data released earlier this month, the international network of academics involved in the work highlights the extent of what is around a two decade rise in populism by analysing speeches – through textual analysis – by key leaders in 40 countries during this period. The research found that, some 20 years ago, only a handful of states – including Italy, Argentina and Venezuela – were the countries with populations over 20 million with leaders classified as populists.

This relatively small “populist club” expanded significantly during the onset of the international financial crisis from 2006 to 2009. But it was not until the last half decade that there has been the biggest rise in populism across the world, including Bolsonaro and Trump. This latest two decade wave of populism is just one of several over the last several hundred years. In the past, for instance, populism has been a recurrent phenomenon in some countries, including the United States.

What the research reveals, however, is that this latest wave of populism – fuelled in part by the international financial crisis – has cast a bigger footprint than perhaps ever before. Some two billion people are today governed by a “somewhat/ moderately populist”, “populist” or “very populist” leader, an increase from 120 million at the turn of the millennium, with the research calling out other leaders like Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and India’s Narendra Modi as belonging in the populist camp.

Another key finding is how shades of populism differ across the world. For instance, in South America populism leans toward socialism (albeit with Bolsonaro as a key outlier), whereas current populists in Europe tend to be right of centre. The latter growth of populism in Europe is one of the most striking developments in the period under review. The role of economic downturn and austerity has, since the 2008 financial crisis, been key to the rise of populism here, especially in those states most impacted by the Eurozone crisis.

Unrest, however, has also tapped into pre-existing disquiet with established European political parties and systems. And also a broader range of economic, political, social and technological factors that have driven unrest across much of the rest of the world too.

The diverse nature of this political instability from the Americas to Europe and the Middle East, has reportedly been described as a “revolutionary wave” by Nigel Inkster, former director of operations for the UK Secret Intelligence Service. One key question is whether this international political instability will tail off in coming years, especially if economic recovery continues to take hold in much of the world.

While this is possible, protest and uprising are likely to continue for at least two sets of reasons. Firstly, there are some factors completely unrelated to the post-2008 financial crisis that will endure, if not intensify. This includes the disruptive role of social media. Whether one sees this new technology as an essential component that translated discontent into concrete action, or accentuated what was already inevitable, indisputably it has played an enabling role that will likely grow.

Secondly, even though the worst of the international financial crisis has now passed, its consequences endure, especially for the young people who remain unemployed, fuelling discontent. In the EU, for instance, this has given rise to concern about a “lost generation”, especially in states like Greece and Spain where youth unemployment peaked at almost 60%. Taken overall, it cannot be assumed that the rise of populism has peaked, more than a decade after the international financial crisis began.

The Collusion Con Explodes

It’s now confirmed, 28 months after the fact: Donald Trump’s winning the 2016 election by secretly conspiring with Russian operatives was an ELABORATE HOAX. It was invented by the Department of Justice and the FBI at the end of the Obama presidency for the sole purpose of destroying a political enemy. 

On Friday, Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller III submitted his long-awaited report to the attorney general’s office, ending a torturous 22 months of investigating Donald Trump and nearly everyone associated with his 2016 presidential campaign. For two years, Democrats, Never-Trumpers and their all-too-overeager allies in the mainstream media reminded us every day that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to rig the election. The Mueller probe, they assured us, would prove every one of these slanderous accusations: from high crimes and misdemeanors to outright treason. Donald Trump, his children and their advisers were all going to prison, probably for life, for conspiring with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

American taxpayers funded every penny of this sham investigation, estimated at $25 to $40 million. According to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the report, Mueller employed 19 prosecutors and was assisted by 40 FBI agents. The special counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed 500 search warrants, interviewed 500 witnesses, collected 230 requests for communication records, and submitted 13 requests for evidence to foreign governments.

 After all that, according to the report, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” (emphasis added throughout). In other words, not one, single American was indicted or convicted for conspiring with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

 The media reaction to this revelation has been astounding. They are not happy or even relieved to know that the Trump team did not conspire with Russia to compromise the American election process. They are instead furious that Mueller didn’t take down Donald Trump! 

They haven’t even read the full report (it hasn’t been released). But they know President Trump is guilty. And they are all competing to be the ones with the most anti-Trump reaction to the news that he and his team have been cleared.

 They are displaying to the world that they are impervious to facts. The evidence does not matter if it differs from their opinions.  “How can they let Trump off the hook?” one commentator mournfully asked on Friday night. Another said, “I don’t need the Mueller report to know he’s a traitor—I have a TV.” Yet another said he was still convinced that Mr. Trump is BENEDICT ARNOLD, the infamous Revolutionary War defector. One Democratic presidential candidate says he knows “beyond a shadow of doubt” that Trump colluded with Russia. Another Democrat in the House of Representatives is now calling for Robert Mueller to be subpoenaed!

 These people should be hanging their heads in shame. Instead, they simply turn their eyes and ears AWAY from truth and carry on with this disgraceful con job. There are plenty of other investigations still pending, one commentator gleefully noted over the weekend. 

They won’t stop until they get rid of Donald Trump because, well, he’s Donald Trump. They hate the fact that he defeated them. They hate him. But most importantly, they hate those who support him. 

This was Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s response to the Mueller disappointment: “The special prosecutor is limited in scope; his job was limited in scope and limited to crimes. What Congress has to do is look at a BROADER PICTURE.” Never mind crimes! The Democrats in Congress have SO MUCH MORE they can “investigate” in order to, at the very least, bog down and oppose President Trump and his policies. 

So they will do everything in their power to continue the con. But the truth is there for those who have eyes to see. Haven’t you wondered why Donald Trump has been so resilient, to say the least? People considered him a novelty. He ran for president of the United States. People said his candidacy was a joke. He won the nomination. People poured on the hate. He won the election. Democrats, journalists, commentators, celebrities, former friends and associates, more than a few Republicans, and even powerful people inside his own government have all tried to, at least, slow him down and, at most, impeach him (or perhaps goad someone into killing him).

But President Donald J. Trump rolls on. Not only does he retain the presidency, but he gets things done: reforming taxes, confirming a record number of circuit judges, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights, increasing border security, reducing regulations, renegotiating trade deals, making businesses optimistic, and helping the U.S. economy surge.

Not only does he retain the presidency and get things done, but the more his enemies work to destroy him, the worse things go for them. About half the country opposed him, and I’d say about 90 percent of the elites hate him. President Barack Obama’s administration doubled down on its opposition to him by stacking the powerful Department of Justice with agents who would try to undermine and end the Trump presidency. Yet as my father showed in “Nunes Memo Exposes Unseen Threat to America,” the scheming, collusion and deceit that the former president and other radical liberals aimed at destroying President Trump backfired, and the world discovered much of that corruption. Their attack damaged them more than it damaged Mr. Trump. How does that happen? Why does it keep happening? 

They doubled down further by launching the Mueller investigation. They devoted a huge amount of executive, legislative, media and cultural power to it. Now, rather than meaningfully damaging the president, they have again damaged themselves. Yet even with the humiliation so fresh, they have little choice but to double down even further in their opposition. (Backing off now, in the face of the facts, would mean admitting they were wrong and, in most cases, admitting that they tried to influence people in a biased if not deceitful way.) They’re probably working right now on their latest, most creative, most vicious insults to voice on television in the competition to show that they are the celebrity, politician or journalist who possesses the most rage toward President Trump. But by now they probably have a sinking feeling that their best isn’t good enough. Something is powering this president that they haven’t been able to stop. 

How can a man facing such enormous enmity still succeed? And still, he is being successful.

Extreme Prejudice

How does the psychopath who sought to massacre congregations at two mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, differ from those who perpetrate comparable atrocities in the name of Islam?

A toxic ideology based on the misanthropic notion that only a particular type of people — based on their ethnic origin, religion, sect or skin colour — have any right to exist? Tick. Locating and interacting online with a toxically like-minded community of fanatics? Tick. Routine dehumanisation of ‘the other’? Tick. A deep-set desire to instigate some sort of ‘clash of civilisations’? Tick.

Across much of the West, though, there is a tendency to differentiate between ‘jihadist violence’ and ‘far-right violence’, with the latter likely to be designated a lesser evil, or at least a smaller problem. This could be attributed to a built-in bias: the idea that whereas the Islamists are completely alienated from the precepts of Western civilisation, the white supremacists have something useful to say that could find a place in the mainstream media, if only they didn’t go to extremes.

A deep-set desire to instigate a ‘clash of civilisations’? Tick.

The general thrust of such arguments is that while it’s perfectly acceptable to demonise Muslims and to try to restrict or diminish their numbers, murdering them directly is going too far when, in Australia’s case, Muslim refugees can be tormented by being cast away indefinitely on Manus Island or Nauru, perhaps even killed by being returned to where they fled from.

And, mate, even as we’re doing all this, let’s also send out an open invitation to white South African farmers who wish to emigrate. They would fit right in with Aussie culture, naturally, given their extended experience of fair dinkum apartheid.

Australian Senator Fraser Anning’s comment in the aftermath of the massacres that the blame lay with Muslim immigration has been roundly condemned across the political spectrum, and he is expected to face a bipartisan censure motion when parliament reconvenes. But he has also moronically been compared by the powerful home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, with the Australian Greens, who have offered the perfectly sensible suggestion that hate speech by parliamentarians should be outlawed.

Perhaps Dutton takes it personally, given his previous expressions of antipathy towards Muslims. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, wouldn’t get away scot-free either if hate speech were formally to be proscribed. Neither falls in quite the same category as Donald Trump, who followed the dispatch of his commiserations and “best wishes” to New Zealand by declaring that white supremacism is an inconsequential phenomenon with very few adherents.

If that were true, chances are Trump would not have received enough votes to become president. And as he knows, any critique of white nationalism from the White House would substantially deplete his infamous ‘base’ ahead of next year’s elections. You certainly won’t see him admit that in the past decade white supremacism has accounted for a lot more atrocities, albeit a smaller death toll, than Islamist outrages. This, after all, is the president who identified some ‘good people’ among those who were chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’.

‘Replacement’ of European whites appears to have been a key concern of the Christchurch killer, according to the ‘manifesto’ he distributed online minutes before embarking on his murderous mission. It may be beside the point, but the Muslim population of New Zealand is less than two per cent, and will be less than 3pc 30 years hence, according to projections.

That hardly adds up to the ‘invasion’ that New Zealand kil­ler Brenton Tar­rant imagined. But no one should be particularly surprised. He found his way to Christ­church via a discourse disseminated not just by far-right ideologues such as former Trump aide Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, Tommy Robinson or Pauline Hanson, but normalised by the mainstream print and electronic media — not least the sections of it controlled by Rupert Murdoch in Australia, Britain and the US — as well as politicians with power or influence.

At the same time, the spontaneous outpouring of support and empathy for New Zealand’s minuscule Muslim community, especially from the nation’s admirable prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, but more broadly from New Zealanders in general who have never before been faced with an atrocity on this scale — and in fact internationally — is deeply gratifying. New Zealand’s government has also launched an effort to tighten rather lax gun laws.

In Australia, though, efforts are already afoot to preserve the scope for Islamophobia, which is an even bigger trend across Europe and in the US. Christchurch wasn’t the first manifestation of its inevitable consequences, and it won’t be the last, with retaliatory violence (as possibly seen in Utrecht) helping to keep the ugliest of flames alive. On both sides.

Congruence Of Interests: India & Iran Adopt Their Own Af-Pak Policy

In another point of convergence between India and Iran, both nations appear to be fed up with terrorism emanating from Pakistan. After India conducted surgical airstrikes against a Jaish-e-Muhammed terror training camp inside Pakistani territory – which was seen as retaliation for the February 14 Pulwama terror attack – Iran has now warned of carrying out similar operations. This is in the context of the February 13 terror attack that killed 27 Iranian Revolutionary Guards which has been blamed on the Jaish al-Adl militant group operating from Pakistan. In fact, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy commission Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh was quoted as saying that Tehran would take action inside Pakistan if the latter was incapable of stopping cross-border attacks in Iran.

Of course, unlike India, Iran doesn’t have a Kashmir problem and its border with Pakistan is fully demarcated. However, it does have a Shia-Sunni issue with Pakistan. Jaish al-Adl is a terrorist organisation based in Pakistan and the Sistan and Baluchestan province of Iran. It is responsible for several attacks against civilians and military personnel in Iran. But the group was founded in 2012 by members of another outfit called Jundallah, a Sunni militant terrorist organisation whose stated aim was to fight for equal rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran.

Whether it is Jaish-e-Muhammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish al-Adl or Jundallah, the fact remains that Pakistan is a breeding ground for militant organisations that plague its neighbours. I have alluded to the genesis of this problem in my previous articles. Pakistan was decisively put on this path during the regime of General Zia ul-Haq who actively aided the US in training and supporting the Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviet forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. And of the seven mujahideen groups supported by Zia’s government, four that espoused Islamist fundamentalist beliefs got the most amount of American money and arms. As is well known, the mujahideen were successful in defeating the Soviets, but Pakistan’s policy of coordinating and sheltering the mujahideen to curry favour with the US laid the foundation of Pakistan becoming a land of militant outfits.

Add to this Pakistan’s failure to evolve stable democratic institutions and effective governance structures, these militant groups came to be embedded in Pakistani society. Of course, the Pakistani deep state or the elite military-ISI complex was fine with this. After all, they saw the militant groups as auxiliary forces. They then devised the plan of deploying these militants against India in Kashmir. But this strategy also costs Pakistan. For, it means that Pakistan is perennially swamped by militant groups – some working with the Pakistani deep state and others operating on their own agenda or even fighting the Pakistani state.

And this situation will persist as long as Pakistan lacks effective governance and remains impoverished. It then follows that Pakistan’s neighbours like India and Iran have to shore up their defences to prevent Pakistan-based militants from striking them. It therefore makes much sense for India and Iran to coordinate to contain Pakistan-based terrorism. I believe the two countries are already looking at this. However, more needs to be done to ramp up the level of cooperation. Additionally, India and Iran have common interests in stabilising Afghanistan after the Americans leave. Thus, it is time New Delhi and Tehran come together and evolve their own Af-Pak policy. The congruence in security interests already exist.

Zero Global Impact of South Asian Skirmishes

It’s become an all too familiar pattern now. India and Pakistan have a spat, threatening to nuclear bomb each other to the stone age, and the world, most notably the US, goes hither and thither trying to calm the two down.

This time around, the world, most notably the US, hardly batted an eyelid. Donald Trump was in Vietnam meeting with Kim Jong-un and trying to earn his Nobel Peace Prize. No progress was made there, but Trump barely noticed that the subcontinent was in flames yet again.

Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman visited Pakistan a day after the attack in Pulwama on Indian forces, showered billions on the Pakistanis while saying nothing to admonish them, and then came to India counseling restraint, all the while refusing to accept that the Jaish-e-Mohammed was behind Pulwama even when the group had itself confessed to the crime.

France and the UK made their customary noises counselling restraint. Russia preened its feathers to mediate between India and Pakistan, but India refused. It’s interesting to note how the Russian influence in the subcontinent has evolved. India continues to buy arms in the billions of dollars from Russia, but Russia has grown increasingly close to Pakistan.

As Barack Obama said, all Russia has is oil and arms, but the Russian president-for-life Vladimir Putin seems to act as if the halcyon days of the Soviet Union are back. Anyway, no one really listens to him. Before Trump, it was always the US that was mediating behind the scenes between India and Pakistan.

What about the emerging superpower, China? It is big buddies with Pakistan, but it too counselled restraint.

The big shock for Pakistan was after Narendra Modi of India sent his Mirages into his neighbouring country. Not a single country, not China, not even a single Muslim one, condemned the action. Pakistan couldn’t have felt more isolated.

There was Pulwama, then there were the Indian Mirages flying into Pakistan, and then there were the Pakistani jets trying to force their way into India. Now, of course, it was India’s turn to have a swing. But nothing happened or is forecast to happen, at least in the near future. The two countries, like two erring schoolboys having a brawl and hoping to attract an audience, realised that no one was watching. In fact, the world just shrugged off the episode as one of those periodic fits that the two countries get into.

So India and Pakistan decided that enough is enough, at least for now. Both the leaders, Modi of India and Imran Khan of Pakistan, came out looking like victors. A win-win for both. India just realised how outdated its fighter jet fleet is and will be scouting the market trying to buy aircraft worth billions of dollars. That is sweet tidings for the world’s jet-making powers: the US, the French, the British, the Russians, and even the Germans, who have already started salivating over the Indian market. Why stop a spat when it leads to cold hard cash.

Pakistan is trying to make a show of apprehending a few terrorists and closing a few madrassas, which are actually hate-the-infidel schools posing as religious seminaries. The dreaded Pakistani terrorist, Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million bounty on his head, has just been stopped from leading prayers at his mosque.

Pakistan is trying to tell the world that it is finally going after its “good terrorists”, people that it has used in its proxy war against India. But let no one be fooled. Pakistan has played a double-game for two decades in Afghanistan, allowing the Americans access to that country while all the while providing refuge and arms to the Taliban. Now it is allowing the Americans to talk to the Taliban. All that the beaten Americans want is that Afghanistan not become a training ground for another 9/11.

But if the Taliban comes back to power in Afghanistan, who knows how they will behave? The Americans know that they have a losing hand and cannot force anything upon the Taliban or its supporter, Pakistan. Pakistan wants the Taliban to reign supreme all over Afghanistan, for then it becomes stronger against India.

Pakistan was formed for the subcontinent’s Muslims so that they would not feel dominated by a Hindu majority in a united India. Having got their beloved Pakistan, Pakistanis should have lived in peace. Kashmir remained a sore spot with India. But the Indians believe, with some justification, that Pakistan wants not just Kashmir but all of India. That it wants to restore Islamic rule in India as was the case two hundred years ago. That, of course, is not acceptable to India.

Pakistanis must rid themselves of the notion that the crescent will fly over India all over again, and must eliminate jihadism from their ranks. Then the two countries can sit down and discuss the status of Kashmir.

This time around, the world, most notably the US, has shown that it is tiring of the constant subcontinental sparring. Leaders of the two countries seem to have pulled back when they suddenly realized that the next step in escalation could be vaporising their countries. India and Pakistan continue to make a spectacle of each other in front of the world. Perhaps it was all to the best that the world didn’t seem to notice much this time around

Can US Defeat China in New Cold War?

Political events this week have highlighted the fact that China has an insatiable desire for penetrating the markets of the European Union, thereby trying to reduce the influence of the United States in Europe.

Eyebrows are being raised in Washington as Italy and China have signed an agreement to expand the Belt and Road initiative. Italy is now the first country from the Western alliance to sign up to such a plan. This week, a total of 29 deals amounting to $2.8 billion were signed during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome.

Chinese banks have initiated funding of a major infrastructure plan, whose aim is to connect China to Europe, or to facilitate speedier movement of Chinese goods to markets that are situated far away, for example, in Europe. Basically, it involves building new and wider roads, modern ports and rail routes, which will transport goods faster. China has already trains that run much faster than most trains in the European Union.

So Italy’s support and acceptance of the global Chinese infrastructure plan, widely known now as the Belt and Road initiative, is being admonishingly viewed with critical eyes and a good deal of anxiety both in Brussels and in Washington. Brussels has long wanted to unite all EU countries to form a common foreign policy priority, and this rebellious step taken by Italy is seen as an act of defiance and deviation.

The Trump administration is formulating a new doctrine of foreign policy priorities after having recently declared victory over the ISIS stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The focus now is to make the final shift from fighting Islamic terrorism, which has consumed much of US’ attention from 9/11 attack until now. The purpose of the new game of Cold War is confronting and restricting China, which poses a much stronger challenge to the hegemony of the Western alliance than Russia ever did. Russia today is economically weak, demographically less important with a smaller population, and not seen as much of a threat any longer.

While the threat from Russia is diminishing, China seems to occupy the front stage these days. Demographically speaking, China has roughly three times more inhabitants than the number of people living in the United States. Economically speaking, China has a robust economy, which is competing for interest in the countries which until now were dominated by American interests. When Italy signed the agreement with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, it became the first member of of the G7, the club of the seven major advanced economies, to sign such a deal, and that, too, despite heavy criticism from US and EU diplomats.

The Chinese initiative to lure Italy away is now seen as an attempt by China to flex its economic muscles. China luring Pakistan into signing as many deals does not catch as much attention here.

Militarily speaking, it is well, known in the Western alliance that China has one of the largest armies in the world, and when it comes to technological prowess, China is keen on expanding its telecommunications network in Europe by offering cheap access to 5G networks. The US has been able to convince some of its other allies, such as Japan and Australia, that allowing the Chinese technological giant Huawei in is a risky affair amidst the growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing. Denmark, too, recently declined the Chinese offer to upgrade its internet network with the help of Huawei. The argument is that China will be able to amass an enormous amount of sensitive data on European citizens and thereby spy on them.

So expect some fundamental changes when the members of the NATO alliance meet in Washington next month. The point is to focus less on Russia and more on China.

Will it be easy for the USA to persuade the Europeans, who at the moment are occupied in solving the Brexit crisis, or who are not totally convinced about the wisdom in accepting China as the new strategic rival to its interests, to allow NATO to use its resources against China? Much has been said about the polarizing political debate in the US in the last two years, but finally across both sides of the political aisle there is a broad acceptance and realization that Chinese cyber warfare and cyber attacks are an imminent threat to the interest of the United States across the world.

Next month, NATO will also be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the alliance. So, much focus will be given on this subject at the upcoming meeting in Washington.

Exactly three decades ago, an American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, published an article titled, “The End Of History?” celebrating the final victory of liberal capitalism over all its ideological alternative competitors. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he predicted the demise of communism and a total victory of liberal institutions such as representative democracy and a free market, extrapolating them to be universal goals and good for all.

Exactly three decades after that essay, we are are on the verge of a new Cold War. While watching a film, ‘The Brink’, at its first performance in Copenhagen yesterday, I recollect a scene where Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, says this: “The South China Sea and the Persian gulf could start a Third World War.” ‘The Brink’, a film directed by Alison Klayman, shown for the first time in Europe at a documentary film festival CPH: DOX, demonstrates how Steve Bannon, the mastermind of Trump’s election campaign, popularized the idea of economic nationalism.

Three decades after Fukuyama published his essay, it is time to reflect on economic, cultural and ethno-nationalism issues, which are increasingly going to define the future of electoral results and politics in Europe and across the whole world.

Canada’s New Frontier-The Frontier of Bullshit

Back in December, NDP MP Charlie Angus approvingly retweeted a Christmas wish on Twitter calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
“The Justice file has been completely bungled” quoted Angus, who accused Wilson-Raybould of all sorts of malevolence.
But of course that was then. To hear Angus tell it now, Wilson-Raybould is a person of great integrity who put her job on the line over principle and has suffered the consequences of her courage. At a guess, Angus’s amended position is that Wilson-Raybould’s demotion in January was a bloody travesty.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, in 2016, accused Wilson-Raybould of “spewing lies” in the House of Commons. Now, though, she dotingly believes every word Wilson-Raybould utters. After Wilson-Raybould rose in the Commons to say she wanted to speak “her truth,” Opposition members erupted in a standing ovation. Wilson-Raybould, says Raitt, wisely warned us all that we must “speak truth to power.” (Yes, a former minister in Stephen Harper’s government actually said that).
Oh, and that new provision allowing negotiated settlements rather than prosecutions of companies like SNC-Lavalin? The one opposition MPs accuse the government of sneakily burying in last year’s budget so they could help their corporate pals? It was examined, and approved unanimously by the Commons Justice committee Unanimously. Meaning all parties. Conservative MP Rob Nicholson declared, on behalf of his party, “We’re completely supportive of it.”
But most of this flippity-floppity stuff goes largely unreported. The respect and admiration of opposition MPs for Wilson-Raybould, and their deep suspicion of the underhanded government decision to let big companies escape rule of law is the new “narrative,” to use that awful, hackneyed word.
Why? Because, well, they’re opposition MPs, and inconsistency is their parliamentary privilege. They operate in an expectation-free zone. There is no supposition that they will show temperance, nuance, forbearance or shame. They can yell whatever they like and reporters will report it, because democracy, etc.
Publicly, former Liberal leader John Turner used to say that “the job of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is to oppose.” Privately, though, he had a better term for Question Period and other televised political venues: “Bullshit Theatre.”
He always got a laugh, but it was more than a joke. Turner was acknowledging that the opposition, with its constant, unstinting indignation about everything the government says or does, is a caricature.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their struggle for a share of ink and airtime in the news media, opposition politicians behave like a pack of scent hounds. They have no shame because they know the system is unkind to anyone who does. Their rhetoric is both predictable and extreme; they believe it must be so, in order to make headlines, and they may be right. Still, anyone else who talked the way they do would be regarded as a crank.
Right now, the most humid performance is that of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Appeal to the RCMP
In Scheer’s estimation, the prime minister is “disgraced,” up to “something sinister,” running a coverup, and corrupt in the manner of a Third World despot. Trudeau, Scheer tells us, pressures, harasses, subverts the law and gags elected MPs. And he should be investigated for what are clearly crimes, something Scheer has written to the RCMP demanding.
Now, Trudeau might not be a particularly inspiring, or even articulate fellow. His gurgly moralizing is aggravating. But a sinister, disgraced, subversive, corrupt criminal? Because he tried to get his justice minister to change her decision about a prosecution, to persuade her to use a new law the Conservatives supported, then eventually accepted her decision, and then moved her to Veterans Affairs, an assignment she herself, truth-teller that she is, said at the time was not a demotion?
(Not only did Wilson-Raybould declare that reassigning cabinet ministers is the absolute prerogative of the prime minister, she added: “I would say that I can think of no world in which I would consider working for our veterans in Canada as a demotion.”)
And yet, crime, corrupt, sinister, coverup, criminal, disgraced, bad, rotten, lawbreaker.
One suspects Andrew Scheer doesn’t actually believe that, but he’s the opposition leader, and doesn’t have to.
With Scheer heading the opposition, we are supposed to forget that the government his party formed under Stephen Harper happily imposed its will on Canada’s judiciary, using minimum-sentencing legislation to interfere with judicial discretion.
Or that Harper’s Conservatives, having denounced Belinda Stronach for crossing the floorto join the Liberal government in 2005 (a betrayal of her constituents, we were told) happily received Liberal David Emerson, who crossed to join Harper’s government in 2006, and then booted Conservative MP Garth Turner from the caucus after he protested (speaking truth to power, really) that Emerson should seek a new mandate from his constituents, the way the party had argued Stronach should have.
To be clear, Trudeau’s mob is no different. They went from screeching that the Mike Duffy affairwas proof of utterly corrupt government, and declaring that the Canadian people demand transparency and answers from Harper, to running an administration at least as opaque and secretive, once in power.
(“The Canadian people,” incidentally, is probably the most-quoted entity in the opposition benches. The opposition by definition was rejected by voters, yet Scheer apparently consults them every day, and knows their heart intimately).
Top-down control
If Scheer ever does achieve power, it’s a safe bet he’ll exercise the same sort of top down control every other prime minister does. Does anyone believe he won’t? That he wouldn’t, perhaps, order Tory MPs on the Justice committee to abruptly adjournrather than take more political damage? I humbly suggest he would.
But back to Bullshit Theatre.
It’s tempting to think that things have gone downhill, that there was once a gravitas and comity that has disappeared.
Says David Moscrop, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa who has just authored the beautifully-titled book Too Dumb For Democracy: “If you were to put Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, and Jagmeet Singh beside Bob Stanfield, Pierre Trudeau and … Ed Broadbent, I know what team I’d pay attention to.”
But, says Moscrop, it’s never really been much better.
“There’s no golden age. The introduction of television cameras has amplified the nonsense, and caused politicians to lean into the theatrics. And social media has exacerbated it further.”
Only technique has changed, he says. Now, whenever the opposition (or the governing party) has a fit of outrage, they do two things:
“They immediately send out a fundraising request expressing the outrage and asking for five dollars, and they create a data-mining site.”
Example: LetHerSpeak.Ca, the website set up by the Conservatives (although you have to go right to the end of the page, and examine the shaded fine print, to find out who’s behind it, which is sort of a tacit acknowledgement of opposition credibility).
The nominal purpose of the site is to help The Canadian People demand that Trudeau un-gag Wilson-Raybould, because, you know, she really hasn’t had a chance to speak much. Coincidentally, the site gives voters a chance to disclose their names, email addresses and postal codes. If they haven’t read the shaded fine print at the bottom, and don’t know they’re supplying data to Conservative election campaign managers, well, they should buy reading glasses.
“It’s the new frontier of bullshit,” says Moscrop.

AI to help enhance mental health

Mental health difficulties affect around 1 in 5 adults at least once in their lifetime in the United States. But it’s not just the US. Poor mental health is a global issue, with 83 million people affected in Europe alone. What if we could harness Artificial Intelligence (AI) to address this?

AI is increasingly hyped as a silver bullet, applicable to almost all areas, ranging from economic prosperity, to solving complex global issues. While the holistic impact of AI remains to be seen, the case for using AI within mental health is surprisingly encouraging, as backed by medical studies and pilot programmes.

In its current form, AI is still merely a support mechanism. But looking towards the future, its impact can be significant, provided that further research is backed and shortcomings, such as unclear data usage, misdiagnosis and privacy concerns, addressed.

Let’s look at three particularly noteworthy benefits of AI.

Early detection

Early detection of mental health difficulties is of crucial importance to the prompt and successful treatment of the patient. AI can already detect markers that indicate a high probability of cancer at very early stages. What if AI could flag up similar warning signs about your mental health, simply by listening to you?

Traditional practice in mental health largely relies on the individual to observe and self-report indicative changes, alongside the observations of mental health professionals. AI could notice relevant symptoms and act as an early detection mechanism, as demonstrated by two recent case studies.

Veterans are considered a typical high-risk group for developing mental health difficulties. To catch these developments early on, Cogito – a company funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – teamed up with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to trial an app that monitors veterans’ mental health. 

The app itself, called Companion, passively monitored a veteran’s phone 24/7, by listening to the sound of the user’s voice and their frequency of mobile phone usage. The changes in inflection, energy of pitch and amount spoken, as well as phone usage provided the app with a variety of behavioural indicators. The AI system then used these indicators to detect crucial changes in the user’s mental health.

Similar to Cogito, IBM also harnesses AI as an early detection mechanism for mental health. In two studies, IBM’s Computational Psychiatry and Neuroimaging group, alongside several universities, aimed to predict the onset of psychosis in patients.They built an AI that detected differences in speech patterns between high-risk patients who develop psychosis and those who did not. To detect this, they used a method called Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP analysed the patient’s speech for different indicators, such as coherence of speech and ideas. It then built a predictive model for the onset of psychosis. After training this AI system over two studies, IBM achieved an incredible 83% of retrospective accuracy of detection in the second study group. It was a quantifiable demonstration of the power of listening.

Easy accessibility

Approximately 45% of the world’s population in 2014 lived in a country where there was less than one psychiatrist for every 100,000 people. It is clear that access to treatment is a luxury that many people around the globe do not have or cannot afford.

On top of improving access to mental health treatments, AI can play a big role within personalised treatments., for example, covers both. An online platform that uses AI and machine learning alongside a staffed clinical network, tailors its suggestions to the needs of the user and provides access to a variety of treatments.

The algorithm might, for example, suggest that the most suitable course of action is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a popular talking therapy that aids to reframe the way you think and behave, to change the way in which you address problems. It usually requires several visits to a professional over an extended period of time, which might be unachievable because of the user’s location. Other treatments the user might be referred to are mindfulness training, resilience training or being escalated to a licensed therapist or board-certified psychiatrist, depending on severity of symptoms.

All signs indicate that AI is set to become a key driver in lowering barriers of access to advice, services and personalised treatment.

Lowered fear of stigma

Stigma surrounding mental health can act as a strong deterrent to seek help and speak out. Some people affected may not wish to discuss their situation with other individuals, including trained professionals, for fear of stigma. In the long run this can contribute to a worsening of the person’s situation. 

As opposed to fellow humans, an AI does not necessarily form part of any wider social construct with all the associated cultural norms and expectations. The AI is likely perceived as non-judgmental, non-opinionated and overall neutral.

The opportunity to confide in an AI system has been within reach for quite some time. ELIZA, a basic NLP program developed in 1966, reenacted the behaviour and responses of a psychotherapist. An early predecessor to many subsequent chatbots, its creator’s intentions can be seen as particularly aligned with those of Woebot’s.

Woebot works in a similar way to an instant messaging app. Created by clinical research psychologist Dr Alison Darcy and integrated on Facebook, Woebot aims to replicate the open ear of a trained professional. It learns about the individual and tailors its questions to their situation through repeated conversations.

Woebot doesn’t tire of lengthy conversation, is always available to listen and, most importantly, it is perceived as non-judgemental, no matter what thoughts and worries the user expresses. In this light, Woebot can contribute to increased well-being by reducing isolation, providing an instant channel of communication, and allowing for anonymous self-expression. 

AI may not be a silver bullet for mental health yet, but it has all the indicators of making a significant contribution in the field.

Sunday Special: Let A Digital Currency be World’s Reserve Currency

As the risk of a US-China trade war mounts, creating a geopolitically neutral and fair monetary system has become increasingly urgent. The shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world order has not been particularly orderly. Instead, it has produced a kind of monetary non-system that depends on a debt-driven, dollar-based model that is too pro-cyclical, fragile, and potentially biased to support the management of trade conflict. 

At the root of the problem are the structural trade and current-account imbalances that arise from the so-called Triffin dilemma: in order to meet global demand for the US dollar as a reserve currency, the United States must run persistent current-account deficits with the rest of the world. Last year, that deficit reached $474 billion, or 2.4% of US 

To be sure, the guarantee that the US, as the issuer of the dominant international reserve currency, can acquire low-cost funding for its fiscal deficit and national debt amounts to what former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing famously called America’s “exorbitant privilege.” But that privilege can erode the country’s fiscal discipline, as it has in recent years, resulting in high federal deficits ($833 billion, or 4.2% of GDP, in 2018) and growing federal debt ($21 trillion, or 104% of GDP, as of March).

The policies favored by US President Donald Trump’s administration exacerbate this tendency. Recent tax cuts and increased military spending have led the International Monetary Fund to estimate that the US international investment position will deteriorate in the coming years, with net liabilities reaching 50% of GDP by 2022.

Moreover, Trump’s threats of trade and currency wars are fueling fears that the US dollar could become a weapon in geopolitical disputes. Such a step would trigger immense volatility throughout the international monetary system, throwing many economies – such as those that link their currencies to the US dollar or hold a large volume of dollar reserves – into crisis

Of course, the Triffin dilemma can be avoided, and America’s outsize influence over the monetary system reduced. All that is needed is a major reserve currency that is not issued by a national authority. Gold was once supposed to fill this role, but it couldn’t meet demand for global liquidity and a store of value

A better option is the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR), which the second amendment of the body’s Articles of Agreement asserts should become the world’s “principle reserve asset.” Some – including former People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan and former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo – have since advocated following through on that plan

Yet the SDR is not used widely enough to serve as a major international reserve currency. According to a Palais Royal Initiative report, a key way to raise the SDR’s global standing is through “regular allocations of SDRs under appropriate safeguards” or even allocations “in exceptional circumstances.” The report also calls for the IMF to work with the private sector “to explore ways in which the SDR could be more widely used in private transactions.”

A key hurdle for the SDR has always been the geopolitical interests and priorities of the reserve-issuing central banks (not just the US, but also the eurozone, China, Japan, and the United Kingdom). But the advent of cryptocurrencies may offer another way: the private sector can work directly with central banks to create a digital SDR to use as a unit of account and store of value.

Such an “e-SDR” would, in a sense, be the quintessential reserve asset, because it would be fully backed by reserve currencies, in the IMF-determined ratio. The supply of e-SDRs would be completely dependent on market demand

Of course, to enable a gradual shift from the US dollar to an e-SDR as the dominant international reserve currency, a sufficiently large e-SDR-denominated money market would need to be created. To that end, a politically neutral body, owned by the private sector or central banks, should be established to issue the asset. Participating central banks and asset managers would then have to swap their reserve-currency holdings for e-SDRs

Once the private sector comes to view the e-SDR as a less volatile unit of account than individual component currencies, asset managers, traders, and investors could begin to price their goods and services, and value their assets and liabilities, accordingly. For example, the Chinese government’s massive Belt and Road Initiative could be conducted in e-SDRs. In the longer term, an international financial center, such as London or Hong Kong, could spearhead experimentation with e-SDRs using blockchain technology, with special swap facilities being created to make the asset more liquid.

Another imperative would be to create an e-SDR-denominated debt market, which would appeal to countries that want to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between reserve-issuing countries. Multinational firms and regional and international financial institutions should provide the needed supply of assets. On the demand side, e-SDR-denominated long-term bank debts could be used by pension funds, insurance companies, and sovereign-wealth funds.

The e-SDR-denominated debt market would even be good for all reserve currencies – except the US dollar – as their weight in determining the asset’s value exceeds their current shares in foreign-exchange markets. In the longer term, the e-SDR’s rise could put added pressure on the US to rein in its spending.

The rise of cryptocurrencies has created a unique opportunity for market forces to spearhead a shift toward a truly neutral reserve asset. With US leadership more unpredictable than ever, it is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Pakistan – what next

The recent surgical attack on Pakistan terror bases in Pakistan brought the world to the edge of nuclear war. And now, the Indian apologists are back to hankering for immediate commencement of peace talks, the general atmosphere in both India and Pakistan remains one of hostility. The million dollar question is what next?

Where is the Pakistan – India relationship heading and what happens next for Pakistan?

After the Pulwama attack, there was a complete sense of gloom and doom in the country and everyone wanted revenge. Within a few days, sarcastic comments were being made by leaders of the opposition. Twelve days later, the Indian Air Force hit back hard and destroyed three Jaish-e-Mohammad training camps in Pakistan and killed between 300 – 400 terrorists who were being trained. Also killed were 25 leaders of the terrorist organisation. It is interesting to note that it is primarily “family” members of Azhar Masood who were in leadership positions (no other meanings intended here)!

These strikes were applauded all over the country. It was surprising that while every opposition leader congratulated the Indian Air Force which was their due, not one of these politicians acknowledged the strong decision making by the Prime Minister. Ironically, after making so much noise about the attacks, these political parties are now blaming the BJP for politicising the IAF action.

The following day, Pakistani F16 fighter jets tried to enter Indian Air space and were rebuffed. One of these modern jets was shot down by Wing Commander Abhinandan who has been taken into custody. Under the Geneva Convention and after a lot of behind the scenes diplomacy and political manoeuvre, he has been released and back as a war hero.

So why are some sections of the press suddenly swinging to the other side?

Why has Imran Khan become a diplomat par excellence and what makes so many of our journalists and opposition politicians give so much credit to Pakistan?

  1. It surprises me that some sections of the press have started to comment on why war is never an answer. Quite an inane set of platitudes because no one can deny this. But when you see how much hurt has been caused to our nation over the years by Pakistan supported terrorists, are these journalists talking about pulling back and going back to status quo ante?
  2. Some Journalists are questioning why the Prime Minister is going about his normal workday. Why shouldn’t he? I am sure he is monitoring the situation closely and has a team of excellent leaders who are more directly handling the matter. The same journalists would take the counter view if the Prime Minister was seen to be spending all this time on this matter!
  3. Some journalists have asked whether India has a Defence Minister? I was not able to understand this comment. In addition to the Defence Minister and the National Security Advisor, there are three Chiefs of Staff and it is this core team that must be handling every detailed issue under the direct upervision of the Prime Minister.
  4. Some politicians are screaming that all political activity must be stopped by the PM. Have they stopped all political activity from their side? The answer is a clear No.
  5. One senior BJP leader has announced how many seats his party will win in a state. I think this is a very insensitive comment and must be condemned at all costs.
  6. Then there is the Chief Minister of a major state who can’t stop talking about how this entire Pulwama episode has been stage-managed by the ruling party. This thinking needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It only shows the thinking of this Chief Minister.

I would strongly urge that we should let our elected Government do its work.

On the other hand, Pakistan is in serious trouble.

  1. Pakistan economy is bankrupt, and though they are receiving some money from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China, all this money is coming with strings attached. There is no free lunch and someday payment will be extracted from Pakistan for today’s largesse.
  2. Prime Minister Imran Khan is a puppet of the powerful Army whose single point agenda is to keep warmongering against India. They have no other reason to exist.
  3. Pakistan has created trouble on all its borders with Iran, Afghanistan and India. Its all-weather friend China only looks at a selfish financial partnership on account of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
  4. No investors are willing to come and invest in Pakistan.
  5. Despite so many promises, no credible action is expected to be taken by Pakistan against the terrorist camps being supported by their Army.
  6. Finally, the Army will continue to have a stranglehold on the country and every time a politician attempts to raise his head, they will either cut it or control it.

The last word has not been written on this subject. The last bullet has not been fired and the last life has not been lost. This is a long battle which has scarred many and will continue to scar many more.

Pakistan needs to take some serious confidence-building measures which would include:

  1. Allowing China to declare Azhar Masood as an international terrorist and hand him over for trial.
  2. Hand over Hafeez Sayyed to India to stand trial for the 26/11 attacks.
  3. Hand over Dawood Ibrahim, the architect of the Bombay attacks.

Handing over these three terrorists would be a starter but given popular opinion, it is highly unlikely that the Pakistan Army will ever agree to handing over their prime terror arm!

It is only after this action has been taken should they ask for a dialogue on Kashmir.

It is too early for us to forget Pulwama and it is unrealistic to expect everyone to forgive and move on.

As the old saying goes me must forgive if they take action against the terrorists but we must never forget the harm they have caused us.

An Economic Manifesto For A Better World

At the end of 1933, John Maynard Keynes sent a remarkable public letter to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR had taken office earlier that year, in the midst of an economic slump that had pushed a quarter of the labor force into unemployment. He had launched his ambitious New Deal policies, including public works programs, farm subsidies, financial regulation, and labor reforms. He had also taken the US off the gold standard to give domestic monetary policy freer rein.

Keynes approved of the general direction of these policies, but also had some sharp criticism. He worried that FDR complicated the economic recovery effort by broadening his policy agenda unnecessarily. FDR was doing too little to increase aggregate demand and too much to change the rules of the economy. Keynes took particular aim at the National Industrial Recovery Act, which, among other things, greatly expanded labor rights and fostered independent unions. He fretted that the NIRA would sap business confidence and weigh on the federal bureaucracy, without making a direct contribution to recovery. He wondered whether some of the advice FDR was getting “is not crack-brained and queer.”

Keynes did not think much of FDR’s economics, but at least he was a sympathetic critic. Because much of the New Deal ran against the prevailing economic orthodoxy, FDR’s policies had little support from leading economists of the day. For example, as Sebastián Edwards explains in his fascinating recent book American Default, the predominant view among economists was that breaking the dollar’s link with gold would create havoc and uncertainty. The only bona fide economist in FDR’s “brain trust” was Rexford Tugwell, a little-known 41-year old Columbia professor who did not even teach graduate students.

Will economists prove more helpful today, at a time when the challenges we face are nearly as pressing as those during the Great Depression? Unemployment may not be a severe problem in most advanced countries currently, but large segments of the labor force seem cut off from economic progress. Record levels of inequality and poor earnings prospects for younger, less educated workers are eroding the foundations of liberal democracies. The rules that underpin globalization are badly in need of reform. And climate change continues to pose an existential threat.

These problems demand bold responses. Yet, for the most part, mainstream economists seem preoccupied with marginal fixes – a tax-code tweak here, a carbon tax there, perhaps a sprinkling of wage subsidies – that leave untouched the structures of power underwriting the rules of the economic game.

Economists can rise to the challenge by adopting a broader vision. Last month, I witnessed a group of prominent economists to launch an initiative that is called “Economics for Inclusive Prosperity” (EfIP). From labor markets and finance to innovation policies and electoral rules, the goal is to advance ambitious policy ideas that pay much closer attention to inequality and exclusion – and to the power imbalances that produce them.

As Suresh Naidu, and Gabriel Zucman explain in their “manifesto,” neither sound economics nor convincing evidence support many of the dominant policy ideas of the last few decades. What has come to be called “neoliberalism” is in many ways a derogation of mainstream economics. And contemporary economic research, appropriately deployed, is in fact fully conducive to new ideas for creating a fairer society. Economics can be an ally of inclusive prosperity. But it is up to us economists to convince our audience of the merits of these claims.

This network is made up of academic economists who believe new ideas can be developed without abandoning scientific rigor. The catchphrase of our day is “evidence-based policy.” Accordingly, our policy briefs are based on empirical analysis, using tools of mainstream economics. But, for us, an “evidence-based” approach is not one that reinforces a conservative bias in favor of policies at the margins of existing institutional arrangements; it is one that encourages experimentation. After all, how can we develop new evidence without trying something new?

Markets rely on a wide range of institutions to create, regulate, and stabilize them. These institutions do not come with predetermined forms. Property and contracts – the most elementary institutions required to make markets work – are legal constructs that can be designed in any number of ways. As we grapple with new realities created by technological innovation and climate change, questions about the allocation of property rights among different claimants become crucial. Economics does not provide definite answers here, but it supplies the tools needed to identify the relevant tradeoffs.

A common theme running through this initial set of policy proposals is the power asymmetries that shape the functioning of the contemporary global economy. Many economists dismiss the role of such asymmetries because there is little scope for power under conditions of perfect competition and perfect information. But in the real world that they examine, power asymmetries abound.

Who has the upper hand in bargaining for wages and employment benefits? Who dominates markets and who must submit to market forces? Who can move across borders and who is stuck at home? Who can evade taxation and who cannot? Who gets to set the agenda of trade negotiations and who is excluded? Who can vote and who is effectively disenfranchised? We argue that addressing such asymmetries makes sense not only from a distributional standpoint, but also for improving overall economic performance. Economists have a powerful theoretical apparatus that allows them to think about such matters.

Although economists are well positioned to develop institutional arrangements that go beyond what already exists, their habit of thinking at the margin and sticking close to the evidence at hand encourages an aversion to radical change. But, when presented with new challenges, economists must envision new solutions. Imagination is crucial. Not everything we try will succeed; but if we do not rediscover the value of FDR’s credo – “bold, persistent experimentation” – we will certainly fail.

Saturday Special: Comprehending Xenophon & His Peers

In his “Restatement on Xenophon’s Hiero,” Leo Strauss, the 20th-century political philosopher credited with reviving Xenophon’s status as a philosopher on par with thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, observed that modern readers who incline to the prose of Jane Austen would have an easier time accessing Xenophon than, say, those who naturally delight in Dostoyevsky. To discover what Strauss meant playfully is to understand why Xenophon is not better known: Namely, his syntax and subject matter, especially measured against those of his more famous peers, seem uninspired, overly simplistic; his oeuvre appears to lack anything approaching the philosophical depth of the Republic or De Anima. Thus, for quite some time Xenophon simply failed to ascend to the rank of philosopher. He was a figure better left to some spelunking classicist in need of a dissertation topic.

The waning of Xenophon’s philosophical reputation makes for an interesting case study. He produced some of the oldest surviving examples of a genre sometimes referred to as “mirrors for princes.” His works, especially The Education of Cyrus and the Anabasis, came to be seen as necessary reading for would-be leaders hoping to master the arts of war and ruling. Modern thinkers like Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and some of the American Founders revered and relied upon him for his understanding of statecraft. A useful modern analogue to Xenophon is Winston Churchill: a statesman-philosopher; a prolific historian; a man with long and intimate involvement in military matters; and a keen observer of greatness (see his Marlborough for work deserving shelf space right next to Xenophon’s Cyrus).

And here is where some of the reputational imbalance can be found. Like Churchill, the more Xenophon became remembered for his military chronicles, to say nothing of the leadership role he took in many of his recorded exploits, the easier it became to forget that he was also a prominent student of Socrates, with much to share about the life and times of his great teacher—and much to teach of his own thought besides. Such was the fame of Xenophon’s martial writings that his more philosophic fare was obscured. The poor quality of translations of his work has also contributed to Xenophon’s modest reputation as a philosopher. As Gregory A. McBrayer, professor of political science at Ashland University and editor of the magnificent new Xenophon: The Shorter Writings, describes in his introduction, previous translations tended to play fast and loose with the original language, likely in the mistaken belief that the old general, when he employed key terms, did not give two Greek olives whether politeia was understood to mean regime or constitution.

The book brings together eight of Xenophon’s short works, accompanied by interpretive essays by leading political theorists. The translators and commentators assembled by McBrayer approach Xenophon with a prudence and care that would have made the Athenian smile. Several of the texts show Xenophon’s philosophical chops in ways that are immediately obvious. There is a new translation of the Hiero, a dialogue between a tyrant and a poet over whether the private life is superior to the political one. There is also a kind of backhanded encomium of the Spartan king, Agesilaus—a fine work to read alongside Machiavelli’s “Epistle Dedicatory” to Lorenzo de’ Medici in The Prince for those interested in learning how to appear obsequious while still retaining one’s philosophic dignity. There is also a pair of treatises on the nature of the Athenian and Spartan regimes.

Rounding out the volume are four pieces with names that sound like the titles of instruction manuals—things that a beardless Greek youth would have to master during the ancient equivalent of boy scout training: The Skilled Cavalry Commander, On Horsemanship, On Revenues, and The One Skilled at Hunting with Dogs. But even these works are more philosophically serious than the titles might imply. The last text, for example, begins by connecting the activity of hunting to the gods, to the success of the Greek tradition, and thus to private virtue, and ends by tying hunting to theoretical inquiry, the life of philosophy, and the health of the community. As Xenophon notes, he undertook the writing of the text in order to make men “wise and good.” Yet Xenophon’s education in hunting, as Michael Ehrmantraut playfully hints in his accompanying essay, includes components of deception, defense, and attack. These tactics also of course relate to the life of the mind and the role of the philosopher in the city, hinting at just how deeply Xenophon thought—and wrote—about even seemingly day-to-day matters.

Xenophon: The Shorter Writings is the latest in Cornell University Press’s Agora Editions, an imprint that has already produced faithful renderings of Xenophon’s Anabasis, The Education of Cyrus, the Shorter Socratic Writings, and the Memorabilia. With the exception of the Hellenica, Xenophon’s magisterial history of the conclusion and aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, we now have all of Xenophon under one sturdy roof.

The imprint’s general editor, Thomas L. Pangle, has his own new book about Xenophon out. A professor of political philosophy at the University of Texas, Pangle is well known for his first-rate translations of Plato, Aristophanes, and Sophocles, to say nothing of his manifold interpretations of foundational texts in political philosophy. In his new study of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, the influence of Leo Strauss is evident throughout.

The Memorabilia is the longest of Xenophon’s four Socratic works. Unlike that other Socratic star pupil, Plato, Xenophon here slips in and out of the first person, frequently providing commentary on the scene being described. Thus, throughout the Memorabilia, we are treated to a highly personal depiction of Socrates and his environs that is absent from the Platonic and Aristophanic accounts. It is one of the first examples in Western thought of the firsthand impression one first-rate philosopher had of another.

But what we are not provided with in the Memorabilia, and here it is important to tread carefully, is the unvarnished Socrates, the Socrates of infinite jest—we get only a peculiar version of the gadfly’s life. The Socrates presented by Xenophon is shaded by philosophic conservatism. He does not examine the hides of gnats (as Socrates does in Aristophanes). He does not delve into the big metaphysical questions (as he does in Plato). As Pangle makes clear, Xenophon’s Socrates has much smoother, conventionally respectful philosophic contours than Plato’s.

Navigating the Indo-Pacific Cooperation

The ‘Indo–Pacific’ construct has gained significant attention globally and is advancing rapidly. Countries falling in the direct hinterland of the vast Indian and Pacific oceanic expanse are termed ‘Indo-Pacific countries’. It is a multipolar region, contributing more than half of the world’s GDP and population. The motivation for a larger bloc always comes from the sheer size, resources it owns, and, the scope and size of the economies of scale that it can generate. This is, in fact, a region in which several Asian powers are once again rising, especially in geoeconomic terms.

China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” has gained enormous attention. The USA has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and TPP11, which is now called Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and has been concluded in 2018. The Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP) has also gained momentum recently. The trilateral free trade agreement (FTA)between China, Japan, and South Korea, the USA and the EU free trade agreement (FTA) (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP), and other regional trade agreements have been emerging due to the deadlock of the WTO’s Doha Round. In such a backdrop, a new regional bloc called ‘Indo-Pacific’ has gained high prominence. 

The ‘ocean’ is the common thread that connects this vast Indo-Pacific region. The prime focus of the Indo-Pacific is, therefore, centred upon the oceans. India, Indonesia, Singapore and Sri Lanka, which occupy important strategic positions in the Indian Ocean, are primarily maritime nations, with a rich and glorious history of maritime trade. India has introduced the concept of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region) and believes in an Indo-Pacific that is free, open and inclusive, and one that is founded upon a cooperative and collaborative rules-based order. Indonesia, on the other, has pledged to strengthen the Indo-Pacific maritime activity through its ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ policy. While Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) has enriched the concept, Australia’s narrative aims to shape an open and stable Indo-Pacific as it undergoes rapid change — economic, demographic and technological. On the other, US President Donald Trump signed legislation recently in order to enhance America’s active engagements in the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, countries are collectively or individually making effort to shape the Indo-Pacific portfolios.  

The main catalyst for the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept was the growing strategic convergence between India and Japan on many regional and global issues. Prime Minister Modi’sspeech at the Shangri La Dialogue in 2018 clearly indicatesthe geographical swath of India’s conceptualisation of the Indo-Pacific to stretch from Africa to Americas, thereby covering the entire Indian and Pacific oceans, in tandem with that of Japan. He, however, emphasised on a few key facets reflecting India’s policy perspective on Indo-Pacific, which included “inclusiveness”, “openness”, “ASEAN centrality” and that the concept was not directed against any country. 

An encouraging attribute of the Indo-Pacific construct is that it is driven by a host of developing countries and LDCs (least developed countries) and some important developed countries such as Japan, US and Australia. It is, thus, a near-perfect case of a multipolarity, which not only motivates greater South-South cooperation but also promotes North-South cooperation. It has several important regional trading blocs, many of which have implemented free trade agreements (FTAs) in goods and services and some of which have even been elevated to the Customs Union. 

The attributes of the Indo-Pacific are also highly appealing. The region comprises at least 38 countries that share 44 percent of world surface area and 65 per cent of world population, and account for 62 per cent of world–GDP and 46 per cent of the world’s merchandise trade. 

Indo-Pacific has all ingredients to generate regional trade and investment opportunities, thereby benefitting the people of the region. However, the region is highly heterogeneous in terms of economic size and level of development, with significant differences in security establishments and resources. It alsofaces complex challenges in terms of economy, security and the environment. 

The maintenance of peace, stability and security in, upon and over the seas; unimpeded lawful commerce; freedom of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the oceanic and air space; and the protection and preservation of marine resources, as well as a sustainable and responsible fishery–framework, are all critical towardsbuilding a regional consensus on maritime security and cooperation in Indo-Pacific. 

Clearly, the effectiveness of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ in meeting its original collaborative and cooperative objectives, namely, freedom of navigation, security, and regional prosperity, will greatly depend upon the manner in which regional structures are fleshed out, at the political level as well as the executive level, and, the degree to which functional cooperation is nurtured, not only amongst the countries of the region, but also between regional and extra-regional maritime powers. 

Trade Cooperation 

Countries in the Indo-Pacific region aim for a regional comprehensive arrangement through rules-based international system not only to enhance economic interdependence but also to combat climate change. In Indo-Pacific, the rising seaborne trade is an indication of growing interdependence of the Indo-Pacific countries. The Indo-Pacific region has a high growth potential in both merchandise and services trade. On average, around 60 per cent of the region’s trade has been taking place within the region, thereby indicating strong interdependency in trade, and the intra-regional merchandise trade has been increasing fast. However, a large part of trade, both goods and services, is yet to be unlocked. 

The multi-country Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) simulation results illustrate that the quadrilateral alliance between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India demonstrate a positive economic gain. However, if South and Southeast Asia fully commit themselves to the Indo-Pacific construct, the economic benefits would be enormous. The CGE simulation in case of reductions of tariff and improved trade facilitation indicate that the Indo-Pacific group may generate over US$ 1.12 trillion welfare gain. Improvements in infrastructure and connectivity, leading to reduced trade-transportation costs, are a necessary step in order to realise the trade potential of the Indo-Pacific. In fact, the Indo-Pacific could become a powerful regional block if the South and Southeast Asia could be linked through the creation and promotion of connectivity, with special focus being placed upon developing maritime linkages, and buttressed by improved trade facilitation and other networks that would reduce trade costs.  

Prevalence of a large numbers of trade agreements in Indo-Pacific entails a sharp fall in tariff rates over time. Non–Tariff Measures (NTMs) act as a major trade barrier to trade in the region. The trade facilitation measures are also quite uneven in the Indo-pacific region. The average trade facilitation performance is superior for high income or developed economies than its other counterparts in the region. 

Given, the trade scenario of the region, the formation of Indo-Pacific Economic Cooperation (IPEC) is instrumental in building strategic partnerships with other regional and sub-regional organisations. Therefore, conceiving Indo-Pacific regional economic cooperation can entail some initiatives to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the region. To facilitate rules-based favourable and sustainable business and trade environment, some policy targets are suggested. 

First, existing trade negotiations give less motivation of trade gain by tariff reduction and more from new rules to coordinate reductions to perceived non-tariff barriers to trade. Given the existing high incidence of NTMs, further harmonisation of regulatory measures is needed with new rules and disciplines.

Second, given the prospect of the services trade within the region, accession towards Indo-Pacific wide services trade agreement is needed to liberalise domestic regulations as well as build capacity on e-commerce and IT-related services such as Artificial Intelligence. 

Second, formulation of policies towards a cooperative process is needed, which will predominantly be concerned with trade and economic issues of the members.

Third, regional projects are vital and essential element for strengthening the regional integration process. 

Fourth, building new institutions and governance in those institutions will promote economic cooperation and help build norms that support the integration process as well as peaceful settlement of disputes. 

Investment Cooperation 

While global flows of FDI have declined in developed countries, developing countries, particularly developing Asiahas become the leading FDI host in the world. Led by China, Hong Kong, and Japan, the developing Asia is also fast emerging as a leading outward investor in the world. It is the Indo-Pacific region, which has been the world’s leading FDI source as well as destination. 

FDI promotes production networks through locating different stages of a production process across countries. While recreating Indo-Pacific as an integrated production base,strengthening investment cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region would not only attract vital capital and know-how but also generate new business units. 

FDI being a cross-border phenomenon, it makes sense to forge Indo-Pacific wide regional cooperation framework to ensure smooth FDI flows. The countries in the Indo-Pacific region have been pursuing investment liberalisation and promotion at multiple levels, but several regulatory gaps exist.An Indo-Pacific wide investment cooperation will remove the gaps in investment promotion between countries, bring the much-needed harmonisation in investment regime, protect investments and generate ease of regulatory measures. Indo-Pacific countries shall aim for a regional investment framework, which would help countries to facilitate regional coordination and exploit economies of scale in improving investment frameworks and policies across the Indo-Pacific countries. A regional framework in Indo-Pacific will motivate countries in not only harmonising the investment regime but also in streamlining and simplifying the procedures for investment applications and approvals. To start with, the Indo-Pacific countries may consider region-wide dissemination of investment information, including investment rules, regulations, policies and procedures. This regional framework will bring further transparency and restore competitive investment environment, thereby benefitting the investors. 

There is an untapped opportunity for cross‐border business collaboration across the Indo-Pacific region. Setting up Indo-Pacific Business Forum (IPBF) will speed up the business collaboration including business alliances or mergers and acquisition. 

The Indo-Pacific countries should promote an integrated framework for skill development in diverse sectors for developing and LDCs across the region. This would also ensure the specific need of high-skilled workforce for a competitive export sector, particularly, meeting the challenges for the Indo-Pacific to upgrade the technology, increase productivity and move up with the other emerging developing countries. While framing a regional understanding in FDI, the Indo-Pacific countries must also focus on capacity building programmes, technical trainings, language proficiency to develop skilled workforce that can cater to the needs of a foreign investor to meet the business needs. 

Developing region of the Indo-Pacific needs investments for development of infrastructure. In other words, the region offers vast investment opportunities for development of land, air, maritime and digital connectivity, within and across countries. Facilitating investment will, therefore, lead to narrow the infrastructure gap between developing and developed countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

It is high time to consolidate the efforts of countries to mobilise the resources, both financial and technical. Given the massive need of infrastructure investment, the Indo-Pacific countries may consider setting up an Indo-Pacific Development Fund (IPDF) and Indo-Pacific DevelopmentBank (IPDB). These initiatives may enhance and prioritise foreign investment, on one hand, and facilitate private sector’s investment in quality infrastructure development, on the other. This would also further stimulate the growth and long-term development of the region.

Maritime Connectivity Cooperation

Although all modes of transportation are important, priority shall be given to air and ocean-based transportation and digital networks. Maritime connectivity holds the key to higher trade. Some major trends that have shaped today’s landscape in the ports and shipping industry are supply chainintegration, increasing vessel size, increasing competition, containerisation of cargo, focus on security, alliances andcooperation, multimodal transport and infrastructure, IT applications, among others. While these are mostly driven by pace of globalisation and technology, participation in maritime trade has, however, not developed equally in the Indo-Pacific. Narrowing the maritime gap in the Indo-Pacific is, therefore, essential.

While Asia has become the driver of world maritime trade, key issues that may reshape the Indo-Pacific maritime tradelandscape are liner shipping networks; quality of port infrastructure; operational efficiencies and sustaining maritime performance in view of new technology and digitalisation; cutting carbon emissions and environmental sustainability; maritime piracy and other costs; supply chain integration; among others.

There is enough scope for improvement of liner shipping connectivity in the Indo-Pacific. Indo-Pacific countries as a whole have a substantial economic, connectivity and logistics prowess, which need to be utilised to strengthen the regional integration. Being a maritime region, an Indo-Pacific wide regional programme to build and strengthen the liner shipping connectivity with the involvement of operators, regulators and shippers will add immense value towards facilitating more liner services, reducing transportation costs and improving connectivity.

A modern and well managed port sector is crucial for the region’s trade and sustainability. While world’s best performing ports are in Asia, Asia also leads in construction of new ports and terminals in the Indo-Pacific. Development of the port infrastructure has been a growing priority in the Indo-Pacific countries. Several Indo-Pacific countries are currently building new port facilities. India has taken an ambitious port development project called Sagarmala, which offers important lessons for the Indo-Pacific region.

To activate the Indo-Pacific Maritime Connectivity Cooperation (IPMCC), countries may consider forming high-powered team with concerned line ministries and departments and set-up working groups and conduct joint studies to design vision and Indo-Pacific connectivity master plan.

Marine Digital Connectivity 

There is increasing need for faster and reliable international bandwidth. Fibre optic submarine cables carry the data across the world with speed and reliability intact, which are the prime arteries of digital connectivity. Indo-Pacific countries exchange large amounts of data, particularly between North America and Asia. Types of exchange include uninterrupted internet ensuring that emails and phone calls are connected and data centers are linked with each other. This massive data exchanges are carried through submarine cables across the globe. Disruption of submarine cables, therefore, causes high risk to trade in goods and services, financial markets, etc. There are vulnerable choke points that require special attention: the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia; the Strait of Luzon between Chinese Taipei and the Philippines; and the South China Sea. Indo-Pacific countries very much rely on the undersea cables. Indo-Pacific countries small provide adequate attention to the protection of submarine cables by designing and implementing advanced mitigation and protection measures.

The maritime connectivity should be at the core of Indo-Pacific strategy aiming at stimulating trade. Introducing a strategy to bring together a vast heterogeneous region in maritime connectivity is certainly not an easy task. Several options exist. However, investing in connectivity would be most important among all options. The key priority should be to achieve a safe, sustainable and efficient multi-modal transport system in the region, which would ultimately lead to improve the level of economic integration.

Cooperation in Non-Traditional Security (NTS)

The countries in the region can also do a lot in non-traditional security (NTS) areas. The region faces threats from piracy, terrorism, migrant smuggling/human trafficking, natural disasters, cyber-security, and so on. These issues mandate cooperation and synergy among multiple stakeholders, if a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region is to ensue. A better understanding of these security challenges and the opportunities for expanded cooperation is required.

There is a need of a multilateral approach involving all stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region. We should define development of collaborative processes in various domains such as curtailing piracy, combating terrorism, human trafficking/smuggling, responding to natural disasters and ensuring cyber safety.

Addressing NTS issues needs to move beyond developing cooperation among security agencies and should have a whole-government approach involving agencies dealing with police, law, education and so on. These could include training of police forces, capacity building of legal institutions, developing IT-enabled information exchange frameworks, providing necessary communication equipment and gender sensitisation programmes targeting various state and non-state actors.

There is need to study the possible impact of the climate change and design mitigation measures accordingly across the Indo-Pacific. The recent experience demonstrates that the countries in the region will have to develop information sharing mechanisms on cyber crimes and on cyber security issues. Frameworks and institutional platforms that ensure that internet remains open and inclusive should receive priority. The countries in the region will also have to reflect deeply on the kind of wireless networks that they would wish to develop in consonance with the idea of free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

Concluding Remarks 

Indo-Pacific economic cooperation may help reduce the differences between the countries while reshaping the globalisation process. Private sector, civil society and government will have important roles to play in buildingIndo-Pacific partnership. Without doubt, ASEAN centrality would be a major driving force for speeding up cooperation within the Indo-Pacific.

The recently released Indo-Pacific Report 2019 by the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi at the second Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD) has covered a host of important geoeconomic and geostrategic issues, which, individually and collectively, contribute to the shaping of regional cooperation programmes in the Indo-Pacific region. It presents a framework for Indo-Pacific engagement that spanned a range of actions to kick-start the Indo-Pacific cooperation.  In essence, the Report argues that multi-dimensional regional cooperation within the Indo-Pacific would not only foster economic relations, but would, in addition, strengthen regional capacity and enhance regional capability while dealing with the region’s complex security challenges.

An open market in Indo-Pacific will facilitate flows of goods, services, capital and ideas. Indo-Pacific shall be ‘cooperation’ driven instead of ‘liberalisation’. Yes, it is a big challenge to facilitate integration when the diversity among the member countries is quite high. While the size and scale of the region is a great asset, navigating the ‘Indo-Pacific’ will require strong political leadership and commitments in regional integration, leaving aside other narrow objectives. In moving forward, Indo-Pacific leaders need to pull their efforts and resources on Indo-Pacific regional connectivity.

The first ever high level policy dialogue on Indo-Pacific cooperation and the Foreign Ministers’ meeting is going to be held on Jakarta on 20 March 2019, and we expect Indo-Pacific countries will take some bold decisions to formalise the cooperation. Amidst rising protectionism, the outcome of the forthcoming Indo-Pacific meeting therefore matters.

New Emerging Axis Powers Reshaping the world

The axis powers during the Second World War comprised of Germany, Italy and Japan and these powers , though ultimately defeated, wrecked havoc with the Western Ideas; although one positive factors was the end of European Imperialism. The new Axis emerging is more dangerous and retrograde. It is the emergence of two totalitarian states- Russia and China and that is a real threat.

“China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s.” That was the conclusion of a January report by the United States Director of National Intelligence. Bloomberg took an even bolder view in November 2018, saying Russia and China are now “as close as at any time in their 400 years of shared history.”

Most analysts recognize the deepening relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world’s largest and most populous continent. But few realize that this new reality has major implications for every person alive.

The new Russia-China axis gives urgent cause for each of us to be sobered and take stock of our lives. Yet this new reality also points to a far greater development on the horizon that can fill us with profound hope!

Respecting Russia

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and China were often at odds. But the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and for the next decade Russia was a defeated, depleted power outside the mainstream of world affairs. During this time, much of the Western world looked down on Russia to a degree.

But not China. The Chinese recognized that they had much to learn from the Russians about armaments and warfare. And they understood that to stand up to the West in the future, they would need a partner. So during those years of Russian weakness and instability, China treated Russia with what Jeanne Wilson, author of Strategic Partners: Russian-Chinese Relations in the Post-Soviet Era, calls “scrupulous respect.”

In January 1992, when dust from the Soviet collapse was only starting to settle, Chinese Premier Li Peng met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in New York, where they agreed to boost relations. That December, Yeltsin accepted an invitation to visit Beijing, an event both sides said signaled a new phase in Russia-China ties. Intensive diplomatic activity over the next few years resulted in a massive reduction of troops on the former China-Soviet border and the formation of a “constructive partnership.” Wilson says China’s outreaches to Russia during this time went “a long way to assuage Russia’s wounded ego.”

Throughout the Vladimir Putin era, starting in 2000, China’s esteem for Russia has only increased. When Hu Jintao became China’s leader in 2003, his first trip abroad was to visit Putin. For the next decade, the relationship flourished. By the time Xi Jinping took the reins from Hu in 2013, China had become the world’s second-largest economy. And though Russia’s economy was smaller than that of New York, Xi’s first presidential trip abroad was also to Russia. He and Putin became fast friends, and have met dozens of times since.

On the foundation of China treating Russia as if it were still a superpower, and with a common goal of dismantling the United States-led international order, both China and Russia grew stronger. And their camaraderie deepened.

Marching in Lockstep

In international politics, Russia-China cooperation is accomplishing nothing short of reshaping the world. Whether allying to oppose Western interests in the Middle East, the Korean Peninsula and Venezuela, or supporting each others’ growing territorial appetites in the former Soviet nations and South China Sea, Russia and China are reshaping international politics.

Economic developments tell the same story. In 2010, China overtook Germany to become Russia’s largest trading partner. Five years later, Russia became China’s top supplier of crude. In 2018, Russia and China exceeded $100 billion in mutual trade for the first time, part of which was China buying advanced Russian weaponry such as fighter jets and the S-400 anti-aircraft system.

The most meaningful manifestation of the Russia-China axis is in military cooperation. In 2003, the two started holding joint military drills. Beginning as low-level drills involving a handful of soldiers, the Russia-China exercises evolved over the years into complex maneuvers with thousands of military personnel on each side.

As these military exercises expanded in scope and complexity, references to the Russia-China relationship upgraded from “strategic cooperation” to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” and upgraded again to a “privileged strategic partnership.” Yet the two still kept their most important military secrets from each other. But then came the joint air and missile exercise in 2017.

Showing Each Other Their Cards

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council, has called attention to this particular drill, saying it “suggests an alliance” between Russia and China. That’s because the exercise required both nations to “put their cards on the table and display their c4isr,” he wrote. This term refers to command, control, communications and computer, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance—among the most sensitive aspects of a military. The fact that Russia and China shared this information during the 2017 drills indicates a new and rare level of trust.

This exercise was a step forward,  the Vostok-2018 exercise was still more important. With more than 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 1,000 aircraft and 80 naval vessels taking part, Vostok-2018 is believed to have been the largest military exercise ever held. China’s People’s Liberation Army contributed 3,200 troops, 900 combat vehicles and 30 aircraft, making it China’s largest-ever dispatch of forces abroad for military exercises.

The gargantuan drills show how closely the militaries of Russia and China have become, especially as both nations’ ties to the U.S. are increasingly strained. Vostok 2018 military exercise held jointly by the Russian Armed Forces and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at the Tsugol range.

Russia and China have now held more than 30 sets of military drills as they iron out the details of how to join their forces for potential conflicts. “If at some point Russia and China decide to jointly intervene in a local conflict,” Kashin wrote in a 2018 report for the Center for Naval Analyses, “their militaries would act as a very strong force multiplier for each other.”

Kashin wrote, “China’s superior surface navy, and its logistical and uav [unmanned aerial vehicle] capabilities would be coupled with Russia’s battle-hardened ground and air forces as well as its air defense, submarine and long-range strike advantages.”

Some still believe Russia and China have too many differences to ever form a true military alliance. The skeptics say obstacles such as historical border disputes, current water scarcity issues, and conflicting interests in Central Asia are too contentious for Russia and China to unite.

On January 29, for example, Geopolitical Futures called the idea of a Russia-China alliance “a fantasy.” Kashin, too, wrote in his report that although Russia and China are laying the groundwork to be able to join forces, “currently there are no observable scenarios under which the two sides might undertake … a joint action.”

Russia and China will see how powerful Europe has become, and how effectively it wields its power. They will see that to challenge this mighty United Europe, they must ally.

This clash will rattle the world! Russia and China—both of which have significant ties with Iran and desire to exert great influence in the Middle East—will perhaps be more jolted than other nations.

The clash between Europe and Iran-led radical Islam will help create exactly the “scenario” that Kashin says is presently absent on the world scene.

Russia and China will see how powerful Europe has become, and how effectively it wields its power. They will see that to challenge this mighty United Europe, they must ally and challenge this in all manners.

Weekend Special: Toxic Truth About Modern Food Revealed

What we eat now is a greater cause of disease and death in the world than either tobacco or alcohol. In 2015 around 7 million people died from tobacco smoke, and 2.75 million from causes related to alcohol, but 12m deaths could be attributed to “dietary risks” such as diets low in vegetables, nuts and seafood or diets high in processed meats and sugary drinks. This is paradoxical and sad, because good food – good in every sense, from flavour to nutrition – used to be the test by which we judged the quality of life. A good life without good food should be a logical impossibility.

Where humans used to live in fear of plague or tuberculosis, now the leading cause of mortality worldwide is diet. Most of our problems with eating come down to the fact that we have not yet adapted to the new realities of plenty, either biologically or psychologically. Many of the old ways of thinking about diet no longer apply, but it isn’t clear yet what it would mean to adapt our appetites and routines to the new rhythms of life. We take our cues about what to eat from the world around us, which becomes a problem when our food supply starts to send us crazy signals about what is normal. “Everything in moderation” doesn’t quite cut it in a world where the “everything” for sale in the average supermarket has become so sugary and so immoderate.

At no point in history have edible items been so easy to obtain, and in many ways this is a glorious thing. Humans have always gone out and gathered food, but never before has it been so simple for us to gather anything we want, whenever we want it, from sachets of black squid ink to strawberries in winter. We can get sushi in Buenos Aires, sandwiches in Tokyo and Italian food everywhere. Not so long ago, to eat genuine Neapolitan pizza, a swollen-edged disc of dough cooked in a blistering oven, you had to go to Naples. Now, you can find Neapolitan pizza – made using the right dough blasted in an authentic pizza oven – as far afield as Seoul and Dubai.

We don’t just eat more burgers than our grandparents, we also eat more fruit, granola bars and ‘guilt-free’ kale crisps

Talking about what has gone wrong with modern eating is delicate, because food is a touchy subject. No one likes to feel judged about their food choices, which is one of the reasons why so many healthy eating initiatives fail. The rise of obesity and diet-related disease around the world has happened hand in hand with the marketing of fast food and sugary sodas, of processed meats and branded snack foods. As things stand, our culture is far too critical of the individuals who eat junk foods and not critical enough of the corporations who profit from selling them. A survey of more than 300 international policymakers found that 90% of them still believed that personal motivation – AKA willpower – was a very strong cause of obesity. This is absurd.

It makes no sense to presume that there has been a sudden collapse in willpower across all ages and ethnic groups since the 1960s. What has changed most since the 60s is not our collective willpower but the marketing and availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Some of these changes are happening so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep track. Sales of fast food grew by 30% worldwide from 2011 to 2016 and sales of packaged food grew by 25%. Somewhere in the world, a new branch of Domino’s Pizza opened every seven hours in 2016.

But this story isn’t just about one kind of food or one set of people. Across the board, across all social classes, most of us eat and drink more than our grandparents did, whether we are cooking a leisurely dinner at home from fresh ingredients or grabbing a takeaway from a fast food chain. Plates are bigger than they were 50 years ago, our idea of a portion is inflated and wine glasses are vast. It has become normal to punctuate the day with snacks and to quench our thirst with calorific liquids, from green juice and detox shots to craft sodas (which are just like any other soda, only more expensive). As the example of grapes shows, we don’t just eat more burgers and fries than our grandparents, we also eat more fruit and avocado toast and frozen yoghurt, more salad dressing and many, many more “guilt-free” kale crisps.

Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at Chapel Hill University, North Carolina, can identify the year when snacking took off in China. It was 2004. Before that, the Chinese consumed very little between meals except green tea and hot water. In 2004, Popkin suddenly noticed a marked transition from the old Chinese ways of two or three meals a day towards a new pattern of eating. In collaboration with a team of Chinese nutritionists, he has been following the Chinese diet in snapshots of data every two or three years, conducting regular surveys of around 10,000-12,000 people. Back in 1991, Popkin found that at certain fixed times of year, there were treats to supplement the daily diet. During the mid-autumn festival, for example, people would eat moon cakes made from lard-enriched pastry stuffed with sweetened bean paste. But such feasting foods were ritualised and rare, nothing like a casual cereal bar.

In 2004, out of nowhere, as incomes rose, Chinese habits of snacking spread dramatically. The number of Chinese adults between 19 and 44 describing themselves as eating snacks over a three-day period nearly doubled, while the number of children between two and six eating snacks rose almost as much. Based on the most recent data, more than two-thirds of Chinese children now report snacking during the day. This is an eating revolution.

The curious thing about snacking in China is that to start with it actually made people healthier, because they were snacking on fruit: fresh tangerines and kumquats, bayberries and lychees, pineapple and pomelo. These were the foods that people had always aspired to eat, but couldn’t afford in the past. Phase two of snacking in China has been very different. “The marketing comes in,” Popkin tells me, “and boom! boom! boom! the snacks are not healthy any more.” As of 2015, the commercial savoury snack food market in China was worth more than $7bn. When I travelled to Nanjing last year, I saw people consuming the same Starbucks Frappuccinos and blueberry muffins as in London.

China is not alone. Almost every country in the world has experienced radical changes to its patterns of eating over the past five, 10 and 50 years. For a long time, nutritionists have held up the “Mediterranean diet” as a healthy model for people in all countries to follow. But recent reports from the World Health Organisation suggest that even in Spain, Italy and Crete, most children no longer eat anything like a “Mediterranean diet” rich in olive oil and fish and tomatoes. These Mediterranean children, who are, as of 2017, among the most overweight in Europe, now drink sugary colas and eat packaged snack foods and have lost the taste for fish and olive oil. In every continent, there has been a common set of changes from savoury foods to sweet ones, from meals to snacks, dinners cooked at home to meals eaten out, or takeaways.

In Spain, Italy and Crete, most children no longer eat anything like a ‘Mediterranean diet’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The nutrient content of our meals is one thing that has radically changed; the psychology of eating is another. Much of our eating takes place in a new chaotic atmosphere in which we no longer have many rules to fall back on. On an early evening train journey recently, I looked up at my fellow travellers and noticed, first, that almost everyone was eating or drinking and second, that they were all doing so in ways that might once have been considered deeply eccentric. One man had both a cappuccino and a can of fizzy drink from which he was taking alternate sips. A woman with headphones on was nibbling an apricot tart, produced from a cardboard patisserie box. She followed it with a high-protein snackpot of two hard-boiled eggs and some raw spinach. Sitting across from her was a man carrying a worn leather briefcase. He reached inside and produced a bottle of strawberry milkshake and a half-finished packet of chocolate-caramel sweets.

More than half of the calorie intake in the US – 57.9% – now consists of ultra-processed food, and the UK is not far behind

We are often told in a slightly hectoring way that we should make “better” or “smarter” food choices, yet the way we eat now is the product of vast impersonal forces that none of us asked for. The choices we make about food are largely predetermined by what’s available and by the limitations of our busy lives. If you go into the average western out-of-town supermarket, you can choose from thousands of different sugary snack bars (many of them protein enhanced in some way) but only one variety of banana, the bland Cavendish.

It might be possible to eat in a more balanced way, if only we didn’t have to work, or go to school, or save money, or travel by car, bus or train, or shop at a supermarket, or live in a city, or share a meal with children, or look at a screen, or get up early, or stay up late, or walk past a vending machine, or feel depressed, or be on medication, or have a food intolerance, or own an imperfectly stocked fridge. Who knows what wonders we might then eat for breakfast?

Our culture’s obsessive focus on a perfect physique has blinded us to the bigger question, which is what anyone of any size should eat to avoid being sickened by our unbalanced food supply. No one can eat themselves to perfect health, nor can we ward off death indefinitely, and the attempt to do so can drive a person crazy. Life is deeply unfair and some people may eat every dark green leafy vegetable going and still get cancer. But even if food cannot cure or forestall every illness, it does not have to be the thing that kills us. The greatest thing that we have lost from our eating today is a sense of balance, whether it’s the balance of meals across the day or the balance of nutrients on our plate.

“There are so many myths about food,” says Fumiaki Imamura, an epidemiologist who has spent the past 16 years in the west, studying the links between diet and health. One of the food myths Imamura refers to is the notion that there is such a thing as a perfectly healthy diet. He offers himself as an example. Like many Japanese people, he eats a diet rich in fish and vegetables, but he also eats a fair amount of supposedly “unhealthy” refined white rice and high-salt soy sauce. But Imamura is conscious that no population in the world eats exactly the combination of healthy foods that a nutritionist might prescribe.

Every human community across the globe eats a mixture of the “healthy” and the “unhealthy”, but the salient question is where the balance falls. Take ultra-processed foods. The occasional bowl of instant ramen noodles or frosted cereal is no cause for panic. But when ultra-processed foods start to form the bulk of what whole populations eat on any given day, we are in new and disturbing territory for human nutrition. More than half of the calorie intake in the US – 57.9% – now consists of ultra-processed food, and the UK is not far behind, with a diet that is around 50.4% ultra-processed. The fastest growing ingredient in global diets is not sugar, as I’d always presumed, but refined vegetable oils such as soybean oil, which are a common ingredient in many fast and processed foods, and which have added more calories to what we eat over the past 50 years than any other food group, by a wide margin.

The highest-quality overall diets in the world are mostly to be found not in rich countries but in Africa

In 2015, Imamura was the lead author on a paper in the medical journal the Lancet, which caused a stir in the world of nutrition science. This team of epidemiologists – based at Tufts University and led by Professor Dariush Mozaffarian – has been seeking to map the healthiness, or otherwise, of how people eat across the entire world, and how this changed in the 20 years between 1990 and 2010. The biggest surprise to come out of the data was that the highest-quality overall diets in the world are mostly to be found not in rich countries but in Africa, mostly in the sub-Saharan regions. The 10 countries with the healthiest diet patterns, listed in order with the healthiest first, came out as: Chad, Mali, Cameroon, Guyana, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, Laos, Nigeria, Guatemala, French Guiana.

Meanwhile, the 10 countries with the least healthy diet patterns, listed in order with the unhealthiest first, were: Armenia, Hungary, Belgium, USA, Russia, Iceland, Latvia, Brazil, Colombia, Australia.

The idea that healthy diets can only be attained by rich countries is one of the food myths, Imamura says. He found that the populations of Sierra Leone, Mali and Chad have diets that are closer to what is specified in health guidelines than those of Germany or Russia. Diets in sub-Saharan Africa are unusually low in unhealthy items and high in healthy ones. If you want to find the people who eat the most whole grains, you will either have to look to the affluent Nordic countries where they still eat rye bread or to the poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where nourishing grains such as sorghum, maize, millet and teff are made into healthy main dishes usually accompanied by some kind of stew, soup or relish.

It was Imamura’s conclusion about the high quality of African diets that ruffled feathers in the world of public health. What about African hunger and scarcity? If the people of Cameroon consume low amounts of sugar and processed meat, it is partly because they are consuming low amounts of food all round.

Imamura does not deny, he tells me, that the quantity of food available is very low in some of the African countries, but adds: “That’s not the point of our study. We were looking at quality.” His paper was predicated on the assumption that everyone in the world was consuming 2,000 calories a day. Imamura was well aware that is far from the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where the prevalence of malnourishment is around 24% according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. But he and his colleagues wanted to isolate the question of food quality from that of quantity.

For 50 years or more, our food system has been blindly fixated on the question of quantity. Since the end of rationing after the second world war, our agricultural systems have been focused on supplying populations with enough food, without considering whether that “food” was beneficial for human health. But now there are glimmers of a return to quality, with an acknowledgement in public health circles that food is more than just a question of calories in and calories out. With Brexit, there has been belated recognition in the UK that the quality of the food we eat is not something we can just take for granted. At a meeting in Westminster Hall earlier this month, Sharon Hodgson, the shadow minister for public health, warned that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the quality of food served by public caterers in schools, hospitals and prisons.

In the land of The Great British Bake Off, celebrating a child’s birthday with olives instead of sugar might sound weird. Brexit or no Brexit, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the way most of us currently eat is not sustainable – either for the planet or for human health. The hope is that some governments and cities around the world are already taking action to create environments in which it is easier to feed ourselves in a manner that is both healthy and joyous. If schools tried to enact such a plan in the UK, you can be sure that the usual chorus of critics would denounce it as “middle-class”. But there is nothing middle-class about the desire to eat food that brings us both health and happiness

Amsterdam has been the first rich city in the world to bring down child obesity, through the Amsterdam healthy weight programme (AHWP). From 2012 to 2015 the percentage of children there who are overweight or obese declined by 12%. The AHWP worked on many fronts at once, from banning junk-food marketing at sporting events to increasing water fountains in the city. But the guiding philosophy behind all the actions was to change collective ideas about what is normal when it comes to food and health. Now, when a child celebrates a birthday in an Amsterdam school, he or she cannot bring in packs of cookies or Haribos. Instead, a popular option is a selection of vegetable skewers to share with friends, consisting of tomatoes, cubes of cheese and green olives. Celebrate with olives!

To reverse the worst of modern diets and save the best would require many other things to change about the world today, from the way we organise agriculture to the way we talk about vegetables. A smart and effective food policy would seek to create an environment in which a love of healthy food was easier to adopt, and it would also reduce the barriers to people actually buying and eating that food. None of this looks easy at present, but nor is such change impossible. If the transformations we are living through now teach us anything, it is that humans are capable of altering almost everything about our eating in a single generation.

A Letter to Today’s Young South Asian Woman

Hey Girl,

You are lucky to be part of an age where your voice counts. You have access to the same opportunities for education and careers as men, and many more choices than your mothers or grandmothers ever did. Though sometimes I do wonder if these choices really make life easier for you, or pile up the pressure?

Back in our time one could either have become a bureaucrat, a teacher, or get a bank job. A protege of mine chose the slightly unconventional route of a journalist, and it was a big deal then. But if she had to choose today, I know she would be under extreme pressure with so many options!

Though you have the advantage of a more supportive family, it is also true that you are under more pressure to prove yourself. Back then if you were reasonably pleasant looking, spoke good English and walked with grace and confidence, you got noticed and looked upon in awe. Today, when almost all girls are good looking with great bodies and speak with confidence and empowerment, it must be tough to develop your differentiator!

Social media is the one big difference of course. It gives you a voice and a community like never before. It is your biggest strength with empowering discourses on subjects such as feminism and social justice. And yet, it is also your biggest risk factor. New media technology, celebrity culture and reality TV continue to reinforce the gender stereotypes that we fight so hard to get rid of. Social media is also the root cause of your angst, body image issues, and other anxieties including those related to love, dating and sex! As my young niece Maansi says, “It’s definitely a slippery slope and one has to have good self control and high self awareness, and not be easily made to feel insecure.”

One blogger puts it so well when she says that these are the women who were told you could “do anything,” but instead heard that you had to “be everything”! What a huge stress! All of you feel the need to do much more than you are doing and to prove yourselves in all spheres. You want to be well entrenched in careers, get rich, own a house and get married all by the age of 30 or thereabouts. And then begins the worry of the biological clock ticking. It all becomes a timetable.

So, all in all, do you think you are better off than your Moms and grandmoms? I can hear the collective roar of “Yes definitely!” You are in a great space, at the cusp of what was and what will be. What could be is in your control.

The first step to that is to understand that you have to be more like a woman, and not emulate men! Be self-aware and do not allow anything to shatter your sense of security. Tap your inner strength. Balance it with the outside power of technology and community. Do not let your gender define who you should be. Instead, let gender highlight who you are!

And yes, this is important — always remember to help other, less fortunate women. Rise above your situation to reach out a helping hand to those women struggling in pockets (still substantial in India) where education and equal privileges are denied. Lend your voice to the stirrings of unrest and shine a beacon of light and hope for a more evolved world.

The world’s eyes are on you. I know how tough that can be. But you can choose whether to allow that gaze to wither you or to help you shine brighter. Be a complete woman!


A Male

China’s weird and dangerous mind games

What would you call a country that nurtures, arms and protects rogue states? China.

The fact that China has put a million innocent Muslims in a concentration camp to re-educate them against Islam, even while giving a world- recognised Islamist terrorist a free pass against strategic countries like US, France, India, UK along with several others, merely portrays the disregard they have for the UN authority, the nations of the world and the rule of law. It also highlights the ugly underbelly of a state aspiring to be a super power-God Forbid.

This would be the only reason they would block Masood Azhar, head of an Islamist terror group, responsible for attacking the Indian Parliament, an army base and killing dozens of our security forces, from being named a global terrorist, even while they jail a million innocent Muslims. China encourages terror outside its borders and pays off the Taliban to secure its 60-billion-dollar asset in Pakistan.

China has once again used its veto power to show its double standards regarding global terrorism. China is playing its veto powers for its own political concerns. As a permanent UNSC member, it is the prime responsibility of China to curtail the global issue of terrorism. This is the fourth time when China used its veto and this time the proposal was from three permanent members.

On the record, Beijing says it stands against all forms of terrorism, but it has refused to end its “technical hold” on the ban on Azhar Masood.  China is the only country among the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) to oppose the ban on Azhar Masood, with countries such as Saudi Arabia backing India.

It is clear that China will never support India for obvious reasons:

  • India is an upcoming global power, which is a potential threat to China. Since no country can ignore India in the current scenario, opposing Indian interests at the UNSC is reflective of China’s growing insecurity about its monopoly in the Asian region.
  • China is giving back to its best buddy in the region for its support in Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). Pakistan too remained loyal to its old pal and backed Chinese interest in the NAM meeting on South China Sea. China claims almost all of the South China Sea, disputing claims by countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.
  • China has invested a good amount of finances in Pakistan with OROB as one of the projects. China has invested $51 billion in different projects and also invested in an economic corridor that runs across the length of Pakistan – connecting China’s Xinjiang region to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. This port is crucial for China, as it will give an alternative route to sea to reach west Asia and Africa.
  • Another reason could be India’s growing friendship with the United States of America, which is a strong concern of China. Indo–US relations have improved over the years. Moreover, China has also opposed India’s membership to the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group and the UN Security Council.
  • The old wounds also work here in the form of revenge. China always questioned India for giving shelter to Dalai Lama. In 1959, Dalai Lama crossed over the border into India and sought political asylum, which he was granted due to growing tensions post-annexation of Tibet by China in 1950.

Now it is high time for India to resolve this issue and deal with terrorists like Azhar Masood in its own way

Ironically it was India’s first Prime Minister Nehru’s obstinacy in the early 1950’s to give the seat it was being offered at the UNSC, to China, that has been haunting us and the world to date. Unfortunately, it was easier to give than take away. And his vision that India would join the UN Security Council eventually was just wishful thinking.

The frightening aspect of this whole episode is that China will do whatever it takes to become a world power. Give weapons of mass destruction to the two monsters that they have for years supported openly — Pakistan and North Korea, that have overtly and covertly been used to frighten and test the limits of the International Community and the United Nations. I can guarantee that neither Pakistan or North Korea will give up their weapons of mass destruction till China wants it too. China not only enabled these impoverished countries to acquire them but will make sure it uses them as a threat to the civilized world.

This fact has not been taken enough into consideration when nations try and talk to North Korea or Pakistan, to change their behaviour. Why should these rogue nations give up anything when China is solidly behind them in peace and war.

In fact, Pakistan and North Korea behave much like its mentor China They lie, cheat, deceive and buy time when confronted, only to strengthen their hand.

This will never change and why do we expect it to? These are nations who have never had the rule of law or human rights and have enabled ideologies to keep their populations dumbed down. Whether it is terror as in Pakistan, or communism in China or authoritarian dictatorship in North Korea, we would be fooling ourselves to think they will change on their own. Only a worldwide effort to call them out and starve their trade and economy may work.

After all even America could not get Pakistan to give up shielding and nurturing terrorists even after they found Osama bin Laden, sheltered by the state in a protected military zone. China has been stealing high-end technology from America for decades and Pakistan has been nurturing terror groups against the American Army in Afghanistan and India for decades, while North Korea has been starving its people to keep in power with the help of China also for years and the world looked away.

Today, China has thumbed its nose at France, UK and America. It seems almost self- destructive to do so but I am sure they factored it in and have more mind games up their sleeve. One is that the world has a short memory. Perhaps the other reason is that America did nothing when Xi promised Obama in 2015 that China would not militarize the South China sea and yet went ahead and did it and America let it happen.

China is convinced that democracies are messy and only dictatorships work and thus they have an advantage when they single-mindedly pursue a goal to dominate world systems. After all, a new leader will come up in a democracy and his attitude could well be different towards China, thus it can keep bucking the system and wait it out.

This their long-term game plan, unless countries unite against it on trade, in international institutions, and it’s appalling human rights record, China will not change its behaviour and neither will its two pet rogue nations.

India must respond to global threat to independent journalism

Yet another weighty report in yet another country – this time it is the Cairncross Review in the United Kingdom – has called out Google and Facebook.

The review, tasked with finding ways to keep British journalism financially viable, makes the point that is both correct and well-understood by experts – internet’s giant global companies are in the process of slowly, or maybe not so slowly, killing independent local journalism, by driving away advertising revenue from the producer of credible content to the owner of the platform that aggregates content.

But what experts and stakeholders in the news media understand very well is often not understood by the internet’s users. A typical response goes like this – what is the big deal if I read a TOI news story or commentary via Google search, I am still reading TOI content.

It is a big deal because when Google is aggregating content through its news service, it is taking the cream of digital advertising, but it’s not paying a dime to create that content.

Now think about this: if this keeps happening indefinitely, news media companies that invest in talent and technology to produce content will be essentially spending money so that Google and Facebook can make money.

That is absurd and, if you value a free media, dangerous. Here’s the thing, though – this dangerous absurdity goes on everywhere and most governments in democracies seem loath to do anything about it.

This is especially true in India, the world’s largest democracy with a vast potential for rapid growth in readership and viewership of news.

India, as we all know, is exhilaratingly and intimidatingly complex. Understanding India, as credible Indian media outlets try to do, does not come cheap.

But in the near future, how viable will the economics of news production be if readers and viewers consume news mainly via Google’s and Facebook’s aggregations and algorithms and the two Silicon Valley companies make tons more money at the cost of those who are actually creating the content?

But none of India’s major political parties seems too bothered by this.

Democratic politics without a financially viable, independent local media is almost a contradiction in terms. Our politicians, however, seem to get upset with global internet companies and social media platforms only on issues relating to fake news and election campaigns.

For sure, fake news and Facebook-style violations of data privacy during election campaigns are big issues. But the issue of how to keep producers of real, verified, credible news from getting swamped by Google’s and Facebook’s business practices is arguably an even bigger issue.

Think about this: If independent journalism keeps becoming financially unviable, fake news merchants and data manipulators will have a free run.

India, therefore, needs to seriously consider policy responses to Google’s and Facebook’s model of distributing news. Some proposals are floating around, including those made in the Cairncross Review.

A European Union proposal will empower publishers with the right to ask for more money from web platforms. The British report talks of setting up a powerful regulator to oversee commercial relationships between internet behemoths and news publishers. France has actually imposed a levy on big tech companies from this year.

India needn’t necessarily take these or other solutions on board. We can think of our own solutions. Whose news is it, anyway? India must respond to global tech giants’ threat to the viability of independent journalism

But, first, we need to start thinking. And when we do that, our policy makers should know they have to be ready for fierce responses from internet’s giants. Google has threatened to withdraw its news service from EU if the latter imposes the rule that publishers have the right to ask for more money.

The good thing is that there are two recent examples of Indian policy makers smartly regulating aspects of internet business.

First, India repulsed the attack on net neutrality rejecting, among other arguments, Facebook’s Free Basics campaign. Second, a commission established to propose data localisation delivered a report on the basis of which a new law is being drafted.

There is also, however, a recent example of how not to regulate internet business. The changes in e-commerce rules that took effect from February 1 are perfect examples of bad policy making.

Those rules were abrupt, they micromanaged business decisions best left to businesses, and they raised a very profound question as to why exactly the government was in a hurry to do this when so many other, more important regulatory issues are being postponed because elections are on us.

India must review Silicon Valley companies’ impact on the news business, and it must do it right. Let’s put it this way – our politicians should remember Google won’t hire reporters to cover their campaign speeches.

So, some sincere concern for those who actually hire reporters is entirely in order.

Become A Futurist

We are all curious about the future but we get it wrong. The “experts” get it wrong all the time. You just have to switch on the television before any election (in any country) and you will be treated to a set of pundits holding forth. The politicians are the worst when it comes to predicting the future. They may have spoken to their family members and the taxi driver on the way to the studio. My professor used to often say, “The poorer the knowledge, the stronger the opinion.”

Businesses are slower to adapt

Look at the things that we take for granted today. The mobile phone has driven such far reaching changes. In this hyperconnected world, new jobs have sprung up (eg app developer) and some physical products have diminished in importance or disappeared. Every phone has a built-in flashlight, a compass, a diary and the best part is that it is all free. Families that are dispersed all over the world stay connected over WhatsApp. Organizations still do not acknowledge WhatsApp as a legitimate way to communicate, families do.

From the grandparent to grandchild generations are communicating in real time. Even inside businesses, WhatsApp groups are formed between team members. Refusal to engage in the College WhatsApp group or quitting the office WhatsApp group is taken as seriously as quitting the organization or maybe like not showing up for the team picnic.

Oversimplification is the culprit

We overestimate the short term impact of technology but underestimate its long term impact. To make sense of events we create simple thumb rules or heuristics that enable us to get by. The real world is much more complex with many different factors playing simultaneously. We are biased and limited by what comes to mind when we think of the future. What we see in front of us takes up much larger mind-space than the unknown that lurks around the bend.

But many people get it right

If you have read science fiction, then you know that a lot of things that technology is capable of doing eg flying cars, is already happening. Science fiction writers have got so many things right about the future. Film makers have spoken of imaginary settings that have already started happening. When the movie Her (2014) spoke about the protagonist falling in love with an operating system, we rolled our eyes and thought of this idea as preposterous. Look at the robots that were showcased this year at Consumer Electronics Show last week and you will realize that the scriptwriter was not very wrong.

George Orwell wrote about the all-knowing state where citizens were under constant surveillance by the Big Brother. It is the reality in many countries. As cameras come up everywhere, as you enter offices, gated communities, airports and malls, your face becomes part of hundreds of databased every day. I am sure someday in the near future you will get all your information to show up as you walk through the airport and across borders and electronic fences will keep intruders away thanks to facial recognition.

How do futurists manage to see what we cannot? Here are a few ideas where you can help create scenarios like a futurist:

1. Read widely
2. Speak to expert
3. Frequently try to play “WHAT IF…”
4. Challenge your assumptions
5. Combine different industries and then create scenarios

Futurists are experts in systems thinking. They look at socio-economic-political shifts and combine it with technology to create possible scenarios. With practice, each one of us can get better at predicting how things may affect us. Thinking and information processing, such as market judgment, can be much faster, more reliable, and less subject to political forces than the deliberations of experts or expert committees. Give it a try.

A New Theory of Nuclear Deterrence for Post-Digital Era

Digital media creates an alternative chessboard, out of sight of the main political protagonists. The players on this other board are non-state micro-actors — who are not in the command-and-control chain leading to the nuclear buttons.

The latest conflagration across the India-Pakistan border, triggered by the February 14 suicide bombing attack in Pulwama, has set a new watermark for the two nuclear-armed neighbours. I have heard experts describe the recent exercise in brinkmanship as the closest the world has come to the Cuban missile crisis. I have also heard the opposite, that this may be the safest that both countries have been in their history of mutual animosity. The classic deterrence logic from nuclear game theory would suggest that the present state is the best solution to a region in a state of perpetual conflict: Either side has the ability to annihilate the other — and that awareness deters any meaningful escalation of hostility and flips both sides back to a peaceful equilibrium.

What is more, the impeccable logic can even rationalise why it is natural for each side to periodically poke each other in the eye. In the nuclear deterrence community, there is an idea called the stability-instability paradox: The overhanging threat of nuclear retaliation offers an insurance policy, which gives rise to moral hazard, a common problem in the insurance business. The safety net of insurance creates incentives for low-level risky behaviour. This helps explain a tendency towards proxy wars on the ground or dogfights in the air of the kind we witnessed recently.

But let’s not get too comfortable. All these arguments are pre-digital age theorising. The logic assumes that there are rational protagonists who are moving chess pieces on a chessboard and have a clear line of sight across the whole board. Digital media creates an alternative chessboard, out of sight of the main political protagonists. The players on this other board are non-state micro-actors — who are not in the command-and-control chain leading to the nuclear buttons. Technology permits them to broadcast messages, and push the pieces on the parallel board and at some point their configuration of pieces infiltrates action on the main chessboard, because the protagonists being political entities must respond to the moods of their constituencies, the micro-actors.

The magic of digital media is that it often introduces change through imperceptible moves, which then gather force over powerful transmission mechanisms and hop across different media, from television to Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook. Before long, there is a configuration of pieces on a board, an alternative narrative that has become so dominant that it is beyond the control of the protagonists.

False and fiery narratives, in particular, have a way of being buoyed by the logic of digital transmission. They get elevated and travel further, partly because people are motivated to send more extreme messages and the digital media companies profit from more eyeballs — and more advertising exposure — on these messages. Consider the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. From Pakistan came the video of an injured Indian pilot that was carried to millions across Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

This wasn’t the video of the real pilot who was captured but a clip of a different pilot taken from an old air show. On the Indian side, old video clips and even video games were put to re-use, accompanied by bellicose hashtags such as #SurgicalStrike2, #IndiaStrikesBack #TerroristanPakistan, #IndiasRevenge. When messages such as “Mess with the best, die like the rest”, from the likes of Ajay Devgn, with his 10.5 million Twitter followers, do the rounds, you can see how hashtags, memes and narratives can pick up momentum even if they have little to do with the facts. The Pakistani digital warriors, of course, had their own arsenal of hashtags: #PakistanStrikesBack, #PakistanZindabad and #PakistanAirForceOurPride. Each of these seemingly simple objects becomes a rallying cry that can bring millions together.

To be sure, the digital medium is a powerful force not just as a transmitter of narratives or as an organiser of hashtag tribes; it is also a force to be reckoned with as a cyber weapon. Pulwama, unsurprisingly, also led to a spike in cyber-attacks. The official website of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was hacked and defaced as was the website of Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. This follows a rather long tradition of cyber tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan, that pre-dates WhatsApp. As far back as 1998, Pakistani hackers had made their way into India’s Atomic Research Centre. Since then the attacks have only grown in volume and frequency.

For example, in October 2016, more than 7,000 Indian websites were hacked by the “Pakistan Haxors Crew.” In February 2018, over 250 websites in Pakistan were attacked, including the presidential website and the country’s railway ministry, by “Mallu Cyber Soldiers.” Over the years, targets have ranged from embassies to government ministries to a myriad others, including military sites, universities, airports and e-banking systems. The tools have included a mix of website defacement, spear phishing and malware. Such malware can activate webcams, steal data and take screenshots of victims’ computers. They are not just annoyances, they can compromise national security assets and even prevent essential systems from operating.

Things can get even worse. Digital attacks can be sophisticated enough to directly interfere with nuclear systems. Consider the case of Stuxnet, a highly sophisticated worm that infects computers and targets centrifuges for producing enriched uranium for nuclear reactors. Developed by the US and Israel, it was used to derail Iran’s nuclear weapons development programme. It is well understood that cyber-attacks will increasingly get more sophisticated and can potentially disrupt the command-and-control systems of a country’s nuclear arsenal or shut down energy grids or other essential components of the infrastructure. Many such attacks are conducted by hacktivist groups; some are agents of the protagonists, but not all. Many are independent actors — and that is the most worrisome part.

In other words, there are many ways to disrupt the clean calculus of nuclear deterrence in the digital age. Inadvertent nuclear launches could be triggered by reliance on false information and corrupted data or the failure of a major piece of infrastructure. Any of these could trigger a sense of impending attack and provoke a pre-emptive strike.

I have been trained in game theory, am a fan and am sold on the logic of nuclear deterrence involving “rational” actors. Ordinarily, I would recommend tucking that game theory textbook under the pillow and sleeping soundly. But the fact that there are close to 550 million Internet users between two nuclear-armed neighbours in the sub-continent would, I admit, give me reason to stay awake at night. To make matters even worse, governments do not quite understand how the digital platforms work and the social media companies have repeatedly failed to monitor, assert control and weed out false narratives or malware from being transmitted.

It is time that the players on the main chessboard, the policymakers on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, and the digital platform companies, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and Twitter, that are enabling that other chessboard, wake up to a new crisis around the corner. This one could have implications even more serious than the ones about election misinformation or privacy breaches that dominated the headlines in the last year. It is hard enough playing chess on a single chessboard.

Internet-Enabler of Spread of Racism

The recent wanton killing of 44 innocents in New Zealand, and live streaming of the horrible event, raises a very pertinent question- how internet aids and abets racism. Living in a networked world has many advantages. We get our news online almost as soon as it happens, we stay in touch with friends via social media, and we advance our careers through online professional networks.

But there is a darker side to the internet that sees far-right groups exploit these unique features to spread divisive ideas, racial hate and mistrust. Scholars of racism refer to this type of racist communication online as “cyber-racism”.

Even the creators of the internet are aware they may have unleashed a technology that is causing a lot of harm. Since 2017, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has focused many of his comments about the dangers of manipulation of the internet around the spread of hate speech, saying that: Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken.

A team conducted a systematic review of ten years of cyber-racism research to learn how different types of communicators use the internet to spread their views.

Racists groups behave differently to individuals

It was found that the internet is indeed a powerful tool used to influence and reinforce divisive ideas. And it’s not only organised racist groups that take advantage of online communication; unaffiliated individuals do it too.

But the way groups and individuals use the internet differs in several important ways. Racist groups are active on different communication channels to individuals, and they have different goals and strategies they use to achieve them. The effects of their communication are also distinctive.

Individuals mostly engage in cyber-racism to hurt others, and to confirm their racist views by connecting with like-minded people (seeking “confirmation bias”). Their preferred communication channels tend to be blogs, forums, news commentary websites, gaming environments and chat rooms.

Strategies they use include denying or minimising the issue of racism, denigrating “non-whites”, and reframing the meaning of current news stories to support their views.

Groups, on the other hand, prefer to communicate via their own websites. They are also more strategic in what they seek to achieve through online communication. They use websites to gather support for their group and their views through racist propaganda.

Racist groups manipulate information and use clever rhetoric to help build a sense of a broader “white” identity, which often goes beyond national borders. They argue that conflict between different ethnicities is unavoidable, and that what most would view as racism is in fact a natural response to the “oppression of white people”.

Collective cyber-racism has the main effect of undermining the social cohesion of modern multicultural societies. It creates division, mistrust and intergroup conflict.

Meanwhile, individual cyber-racism seems to have a more direct effect by negatively affecting the well being of targets. It also contributes to maintaining a hostile racial climate, which may further (indirectly) affect the well being of targets.

What they have in common

Despite their differences, groups and individuals both share a high level of sophistication in how they communicate racism online. Our review uncovered the disturbingly creative ways in that new technologies are exploited.

For example, racist groups make themselves attractive to young people by providing interactive games and links to music videos on their websites. And both groups and individuals are highly skilled at manipulating their public image via various narrative strategies, such as humour and the interpretation of current news to fit with their arguments.

A worrying trend

Our findings suggest that if these online strategies are effective, we could see even sharper divisions in society as the mobilisation of support for racism and far-right movements spreads online.

There is also evidence that currently unaffiliated supporters of racism could derive strength through online communication. These individuals might use online channels to validate their beliefs and achieve a sense of belonging in virtual spaces where racist hosts provide an uncontested and hate-supporting community.

This is a worrying trend. We have now seen several examples of violent action perpetrated offline by isolated individuals who radicalise into white supremacist movements – for example, in the case of Anders Breivik in Norway, and more recently of Robert Gregory Bowers, who was the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

What we can learn about diet from our ancestors

Breakfast, we are told, is the most important meal of the day. Over the last 50 years, we have been bombarded with messages extolling the health benefits of processed cereals and porridge oats. We are told breakfast helps us reduce weight by speeding up our metabolism – this helps us avoid hunger pangs and overeating later in the day.

These are not just marketing messages, they are core to nutritional guidelines in developed countries, such as in the US, UK and Australia, prepared by expert scientific panels. These messages are mirrored in the media and websites worldwide. But what if the benefits of breakfast are just another diet myth?

No word for breakfast

It’s popular these days to follow the nutritional regimes of our ancient ancestors, but no one seems to be studying whether or not they ate breakfast. The Hadza people in Tanzania are the last true hunter-gatherers in East Africa who we believe live much like our ancestors. Living with them, we noticed a definite lack of a breakfast routine. They also have no regular word to describe “breakfast”.

After waking up, the men usually leave on a hunting or honey-gathering trip without eating, maybe grabbing some berries a few hours later, en route. If they stay in camp in the morning or even all day, a handful of honey late morning – or even consumed as late as early afternoon – may be all they eat until a larger, evening meal. That said, there is no routine and eating patterns are highly variable, depending on the camp size and season.

The women stay close to the camp and on some days make simple food, like baobab porridge, or they eat some stored honey, but rarely before 9-10am, giving them a fasting time since their evening meal of over 15 hours. Lacking a regular breakfast routine has not made them fat or unhealthy and they lack most Western diseases. Perhaps we should take a leaf from their book. At least, that’s what the latest scientific evidence suggests.

An honest mistake

The health benefit of breakfast has now been completely debunked by a new systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 randomised trials that investigated the impact of skipping breakfast on weight and metabolic rate.

The studies vary widely in duration and quality, and seven looked at changes in weight as well as changes in energy usage. Their conclusion is the same as in recent reviews that have been largely ignored, namely, there is no evidence to support the claim that skipping meals makes you put on weight or adversely reduces your resting metabolic rate.

There is now considerable evidence from these studies that skipping breakfast can be an effective way to reduce weight for some people. So why has the field got it so wrong in the past?

One reason is the belief in “grazing” rather than “gorging” to avoid “stress” on the body from having to digest large meals, especially later in the day when glucose and insulin peaks are higher and metabolic rate lower. The flawed rationale was based on lab rodents and a few short-term human studies. While the concept of over-compensation later in the day was correct – breakfast skippers do eat more lunch and slightly reduce their activity – it is not nearly enough to make up the energy deficit in a real-world setting outside a lab.

Scientists were honestly misled in the past by many observational studies showing that obese people skipped meals more often than thin people. This mindset became ingrained in nutritional dogma. But these observational studies were seriously biased. Breakfast skippers were more likely, on average, to be poorer, less educated, less healthy and have a poorer diet. Overweight people were more likely to diet and, after a binge, more likely to feel guilty and skip a meal.

Despite these flaws in the science and the steady increase in opposing evidence from randomised controlled trials, the idea that skipping meals is unhealthy has prevailed for decades. It’s still part of current NHS recommendations by Public Health England and one of its eight key healthy diet messages, part of USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as well as the Australian Guidelines for Nutrition.

Another common pro-breakfast argument is that, as well as reducing obesity, it is essential for the mental well-being and attention span of children, even if well nourished. Again the evidence of over 20 trials, when reviewed independently, is at best weak and inconsistent, and probably biased in the same way as for adults.

Evidence is also accumulating that restricted eating times and increasing fasting intervals can help some people lose weight. Some of these recent developments that seem counterintuitive to traditional thinking, make sense when we consider the importance of the gut microbiome on our health and metabolism. The community of 100 trillion gut microbes have a circadian rhythm and vary in composition and function in fasting and fed states. Data suggests microbial communities could benefit from short periods of fasting. They, like us, may need to rest and recuperate.

Some of us are programmed to prefer eating food earlier in the day and others later, which may suit our unique personal metabolism. Around a third of people in developed countries regularly skip breakfast while many others enjoy it. This does not mean that everyone overweight would benefit from skipping breakfast. There is no one size fits all, and prescriptive diet guidelines filled with erroneous information look increasingly counterproductive and detract from important health messages.

Different populations have their own varied breakfast habits, but before you next go hunting, why not try your own personal breakfast skipping experiments – it may suit you.

To Survive and Thrive in The Age of Uncertainty

We are living through an era of intense turbulence, disillusionment and bewilderment. Deepening geopolitical tensions are transforming international relations, and political tribalism is revealing deep fissures within countries. The spread of exponential technologies is upending long-held assumptions about security, politics, economics and so much more. At least two factors distinguish the current phase of globalization from past iterations.

First, the accelerated pace of change is making it virtually impossible to plan ahead. The speed of transformation, and its effects on markets, firms and labour, is astonishing. Second, the interdependence of global financial and trading systems and supply chains means that even the smallest of local glitches can have planetary ramifications. And while the world has never been more intertwined, it seems harder than ever to solve the most pressing transnational problems.

The difference that three decades can make

Back in 1989, there was a sense of inevitable human progress. The invention of the worldwide web was supposed to herald a new, flourishing age. There was a widely held expectation that the digital commons would shrink the world, forge powerful networks of solidarity, expand freedom of expression and bolster progressive political and social movements everywhere.

Likewise, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were supposed to spread liberal democratic principles and values, and hasten the end of history. While the number of democracies did increase, so did ominous signs of illiberalism. Not everyone in newly democratic countries benefited equally. In hindsight, expectations that the web and democracy would set us free seem quaint, even naïve.

Granted, the world has faced some serious setbacks in the intervening period. Few events have had greater impact on recent history than the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US-led intervention in Iraq, and the 2008 financial crisis. The war on terror has cost American taxpayers close to $6 trillion – roughly $32 million an hour. It also triggered tremendous political upheaval, from Afghanistan to Syria, laying bare the limits of US power.

Meanwhile, in 2008, the collapse of US banks, mortgage lenders and insurers contributed to the largest economic meltdown in history, including roughly $10 trillion in losses. The 2008 financial crisis spread much faster than the Great Depression of the 1930s; by 2009, global GDP contracted in real terms for the first time. The crisis shattered the illusion that financial instability had been relegated to the past. It also unleashed a virulent strain of partisan antagonism that rattled American democracy to its foundations, leading to the rise of Brexit and Trump. Both events have left deep political and economic scars.

Tolerating uncertainty

In stark contrast to the confident years of the 1990s, it is hard to know what happens next. Anxiety has replaced hubris. On the one hand, states and communities are growing more divided. In Western countries, there is a palpable resentment of the elites by the left-behind who have watched their own wages stagnate. On the other hand, the pace and scale of technological change make it virtually impossible to forecast what kinds of threats are on the near-horizon, much less how to deal with them.

While political parties are generally good at managing the daily business of governing, they are struggling to craft a realistic plan looking five to 10 years into the future.

The relentless spread of new technologies – artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics and biotechnology – is mesmerizing and unnerving in equal measure. There are widespread fears that automation will generate mass unemployment, in poor and wealthy countries alike, and that algorithms could hack electorates and destroy democracy itself. The last stories of inevitability – the empowering potential of the internet and the dominance of liberal democracy – are over. There are no discursive guardrails to give direction. The absence of a unifying narrative is deeply unsettling, especially in the West.

All of this requires that we face up to an uncomfortable truth. While there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future (especially if you are Asian), interdependency and acceleration are making it harder, not easier, to work on solving common global problems, ranging from climate change and financial collapse to the spread of weapons of mass destruction or deadly pandemics. The question on every decision-maker’s mind is how to cope – much less thrive – in a fractious, multipolar world.

To make matters worse, many political parties around the world are in crisis. Most of them are wedded to an outdated 20th-century paradigm that envisions the world through the prism of left and right, or capitalism versus socialism. While political parties are generally good at managing the daily business of governing, they are struggling to craft a realistic plan looking five to 10 years into the future. With few exceptions, politicians are instead retreating to the past and peddling nostalgic fantasies. Unless political parties radically reinvent themselves, liberal democracies risk becoming irrelevant.

Acceleration and interdependence are generating uncertainty across all domains of human life. Take the case of education. For the first time in a century, most societies do not know what to teach in their schools and universities. As in the case of politics, the focus is often on short-term priorities or recycling the past. Some educators are investing heavily in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – and preparing young people for lifelong learning. The hope is that children will become digitally literate and creative early adopters. The reality is that no one has a clue what skills will be relevant in a few years’ time, much less what tomorrow’s jobs will look like.

In an accelerating and interdependent world, the decisions taken by political and business leaders in the coming years will be incredibly consequential, shaping every facet of our future. The good news is that greater access to the internet and means of communication is shrinking digital divides. As a result, more and more people will have opportunities to influence the debate and take action. Whether or not citizens have the time or energy to be part of the conversation, the truth is that everyone will be affected, and some more negatively than others.

Time to roll up our sleeves

Faced with uncertainty, many decision-makers will be tempted to stop the clock, peddle simplistic solutions and retreat to the past. This is incredibly dangerous. What is needed more than ever is greater literacy with complex ideas and active reflection on future causality. Those who complain that this is hard work had better start rolling up their sleeves. The alternatives – ignoring our most pressing challenges or dropping out – are catastrophic. The truth is that we all must understand more, so that we can fear less.

The future has never been certain or secure. The arc of history was never moral or just, and there have always been winners and losers. While bold narratives advanced by populists may offer comfort, they can also lead us disastrously down the wrong path. There have always been multiple narratives, some louder than others. Our opportunity and challenge is to accommodate a plurality of views and values, distinguish fact from fiction, and foster collective action on the most urgent existential risks facing our fragile world.

If we are to survive and thrive in this new age of uncertainty, we will all have to learn to navigate complexity. Although we are hardwired to think in the short term, we will have to teach one another, and future generations, to take the long view. The road ahead is uncertain and will likely be taxing. It will require honing our critical and analytical skills, and developing a greater capacity to anticipate, adapt to, and be resilient in the face of systemic shocks. Make no mistake – we no longer have the luxury of complacency.

The Gulf as a channel of peace

It is economy that matters. Everything is dependent on it. As West Asia develops strong economic bonds with India, it could become Delhi’s ally in nudging Islamabad towards political moderation

The idea that the Gulf countries might have some interest, let alone a role, in South Asian security would sound quite improbable for most Indian ears. Whatever that role might be, there is no mistaking the significant activism of the Gulf countries to help defuse the current tensions between India and Pakistan. Media reports, for example, suggest that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pressed Pakistan to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was downed after a dogfight in the air with Pakistan Air Force last week.

In the past, many parts of the Gulf and Middle East tended to act as Pakistan’s strategic depth. For decades, shared religious identity and common approach to regional affairs gave Pakistan a political edge over India in the region. In recent years, though, Delhi has begun to correct that imbalance. As many Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, develop stronger economic and security bonds with India, they could become potential allies in nudging Pakistan towards political moderation and regional accommodation in the Subcontinent. The parlous state of its economy and dependence on financial bailouts from the UAE and Saudi Arabia has made Pakistan more amenable to such an outcome.

This is not some thing new. The security of the Indian Subcontinent and the Gulf region have always been inter-linked. The nature of that interdependence has, of course, varied over time and space. But independent India has tended to underestimate the importance of this strategic intimacy with the Gulf, thanks to Delhi’s entrenched ideological approach to the Middle East.

In the colonial era, undivided India loomed large over the Gulf. During that era, the Raj offered security protection, a framework for commerce and some administrative support. The Gulf and other locations in the Middle East were critical links in the larger architecture of Great Britain’s Imperial defence system in the eastern hemisphere centred on undivided India.

The armies of India had to embark on repeated expeditionary operations in the Gulf and the Middle East through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Indian army played a key role in the Middle Eastern theatre in both the World Wars.

After Independence, India pulled out of any security role in the Gulf and the Middle East. Pakistan, however, joined the Anglo-American effort to replace the security vacuum created by the Indian withdrawal. It became a member of short-lived regional military alliance called the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). Its regional members included Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. While India aligned with the nationalist and non-aligned governments like Egypt, Pakistan embraced conservative and pro-Western regimes.

While CENTO did not survive, it provided the basis for Pakistan’s external and internal security cooperation with a number of countries in the Gulf region. Some of them like Jordan, Iran and Turkey backed Pakistan during its wars with India in 1965 and 1971. As the Arab nationalist regimes steadily weakened in relation to the regional conservatives, India steadily lost political ground to Pakistan in the 1970s.

Matters got worse in the 1980s as India remained silent on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Gulf regimes joined Pakistan in promoting jihad against the Soviet Union. While India’s energy and economic dependence on the Gulf grew, its political vulnerability was shockingly visible when Delhi’s lone friend in the region, Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait and annexed it in 1990.

As key countries in the region rallied behind the US to roll back Saddam Hussein’s aggression, India scrambled to evacuate thousands of expatriates from the region. More significantly, India seemed unable to navigate the rapidly changing Middle East with its old slogans.

The 1990s also saw Pakistan mobilise significant support within the Middle East, including at the OIC and other international forums, to castigate India’s internal policies. The attack on the Babri Masjid and India’s troubles in the Kashmir valley gave ample political ammunition to Pakistan.

Paradoxically, the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 and the Kargil crisis in the summer of 1999, opened the possibilities for restructuring South Asia’s relations with the Gulf. The strategic dialogue between Jaswant Singh and the US Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott during 1998-2000 opened an influential new channel to the Gulf. More important, the US mobilised Saudi Arabia during the Kargil War to encourage Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to accept the Indian demand to pull Pakistan’s army back to the Line of Control. Sharif, fearful of the army chief Pervez Musharraf, wanted an American cover.

The influential Saudi ambassador in Washington, Bandar Bin Sultan, arranged a meeting for Sharif at the White House with President Bill Clinton on July 4, 1999. Prince Bandar received Sharif at the Dulles Airport and prepared him for the meeting next morning with Clinton. After he signed the controversial agreement (in Pakistan) to restore the Line of Control in accordance with the Simla Agreement, Prince Bandar had a Saudi Royal accompany a nervous Nawaz Sharif back home.

After Kargil, the NDA brought a new self-confidence and intensity to the engagement with the Gulf and the Middle East. That Jaswant Singh was the first Indian foreign minister to ever visit Saudi Arabia in late 2000 underlined how far Delhi and Riyadh had drifted in the decades before.

The bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia that steadily improved in the UPA decade, acquired a fresh momentum under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Two decades ago, Jaswant Singh sought to lift the Pakistan constraint on the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. Today the House of Saud is becoming a valuable partner for Delhi in promoting regional security in the Subcontinent and beyond.

Forward March

Mujhejo merey lahoo mein dabo key guzra hai, Wo koi gair nahin, yaar ek purana tha” ( The guy who bloodied me is no stranger, but was an old friend), writes Shahzaad- an Urdu poet of Pakistan.

Pulwama, and Indian retaliation in action, further spelt in words, exemplify the righteousness of war against terrorism, the rest of the world appreciates, understands, applauds.

To repeat, the highly technical, precise, attack at Balakot, not without ally inputs, on a luxurious “terrorist factory”, spread the first message.

That terrorism needs to be demolished is a compulsion to the stressed lives everyone is facing across the world. At every check-point, a human being crosses, whether it be an aircraft, a train, a turnpike, or a mall he undergoes a tedious security check. Damages done by terrorism are immense, unpredictable, and on-going. There is a psychological cloud we hardly realize now, that every point of a safety-check, one is a presumed nuisance, till proved otherwise. Even a bottle of water carrying more than 500ml of clear water is to be disposed off! Followed by exposure to X-rays. Frequent travellers need to get a discount on their health insurance or declare such in their health policies. With each new effort of assault, the restrictions mount.

It is beyond doubt, that terrorism may take an upper hand in the administration of countries that are unable to get rid of it. The message must have dawned. They can be helped by the international community if they so want.

Besides the exceptional brilliance of the Balakot plan, all measures were taken, that no innocent, no civilian be harmed. This nation obeyed International law. For that matter, it has rarely trespassed it.

The amount being spent by the west to keep terrorism at bay, as per a report in 2016, is close to $100bn. The actual figure perhaps is twice or thrice, if one includes the personnel and gadgetry used and time spent at every checkpoint. It probably excludes the purchase in military hardware fighter planes, missiles, artillery a vulnerable nation has to invest in, that is a sizable amount of its GDP!

There have been many conclaves on “terrorism”, many restrictions, and as many embargos. This is one moment in history, when a nation based on the theme of non-violence, has risen, without breaking any laws, to what is the biggest thwart to terrorism, in a single mission circumspect enough to call it a non-military action.

With the other strong and meaningful powers that assisted, and further, put diplomatic pressure, the time has come to revive the pledges and pre-amble of the UN, which is more or less defunct.

Nations not given their due after WWII, have spent, sacrificed, suffered, to re-construct themselves into major economic, even militarily superior powers. I wonder, if after so much of one-sided effort, emerging as powers already in the reckoning, how much the outdated “veto” powers apply to them.

At a different level of discussion, the UN charter needs to be more meaningfully imposed for international justice. The un-equal law of a single “veto” nullifying all others, appears to be a game in diplomacy, of passing on the buck, each “superpower” taking the responsibility in turns. This system requires modification in practice, even if retained in its present form.

The matter stretches to UN peacekeeping forces. Thousands of Indian troops have sacrificed their lives in Africa to save the poor and feeble. They have earned a reputation in their bravery, unbiased conduct, and affection of the people they saved. The UN fails to keep a tab or comment on terrorist activities elsewhere!

With the present performance and subsequent skirmishes that may follow, India needs its rightful place in the UN. It has, as of now made a remarkable, significant attack at “terrorism”, which with its multiple branches, should be a relief to the world.

It is a circumstantial necessity for our neighbour to keep up the sagging home enthusiasm, to enthuse the Kashmir issue. Terrorism is categorically different. Diplomatically, or otherwise, if the other one is to be thwarted, it should be clarified as a different response to a different equation. The neutral and unbiased world and its agencies should recognize the difference.

Besides risking further confrontation, we add to the economies of the US, Russia, France Britain, by continually buying their military hardware. We purchase peace for them and put our own people and economy on barter. I reiterate, that the world should seriously consider India for a permanent UNSC seat and if a veto power comes in the way, that may be pre-empted by the other super-powers.

The nuclear supply group should seriously consider our demand for nuclear energy for civil use, having signed the non-proliferation treaty. The world should be more bothered about nuclear armament that may fall in the hands of the terrorists. A situation of a similar nature prevails in N. Korea.

The time has come, where the world, facing the heat of uncertainty of survival needs a reprieve. Time has come for like-minded world powers to dismantle the world of “terrorism”. The less violence is better.

Therapy depends on the malady. Sometimes it is just a balm. At times it is bitter oral therapy or intravenous drips. I would not like to mention the surgical options. Talking on the constructive side, a worn-out knee can be replaced with an implant, and restore functionality, and someone lingering on dialysis can be restored by a transplant! I do not intend that all examples be taken literally!

Yes, we still love our neighbour, but with a major caveat!

An Ode to The Turbulent Women

Vivacious and undeterred, ambitious and bold to the fault. Yes, Thee art turbulent women!

Shall I call thee rily women of the yore!

You are the half of us, mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends, business women, working women, housewives, and in every role you can label. With every tag you grow and come out stronger; even if it is a nasty label! Ye are the women of today. Ye are the rily beings.

Ye, the rily women, the storm-bringers and the typhoon chasers, sing as we stroll through the whirlwinds. Nothing can stop you from reaching where thee want to be! Ye will work it out, one way or the other. Through the thunders and the rains, betrayals and injustice, whatever you put in our way.

Ye are the caretakers of the world, Ye can wash the dirt men throw at you. Ye can wash men out too, like a baby in thy arms. Wail and cry, do what you want! Ye are the pillars you build legacies on. We are, ultimately, the ones shaping them all! We are the rily beings who heal our fears and cast away shadows and tears. We will come back to you after the long day ends, whoever we are.

Ye are the rily beings who shake things up, who look at the colourful future, who take the long path home to see the sunset on the way, who nature created to make this world a beautiful place!

Imagine, if men stopped throwing stones at you, stopped blocking your paths and darkening your days? What if  they accepted your fluid hearts and free souls, strong emotions and feminine grace?

Ye’d have more time to make the future better, to make the world an even more beautiful place!

Ye, the rily women, are making the future and building bridges, going places no one thought we would, doing things men thought were crazy for a woman to do. But that is what you have been doing since the beginning of the time; evolution is nothing but feminine! Men were just blinded by the curtain of ego, disbelief and pride. But have we not heard, it is love that makes us blind?

Love is a lady, beautiful and sublime, a flower that blossoms even in a winter’s night. Maybe we forget time to time, but it is also for you for who you make a life!

It is ok, now, for the rily women who chase the storms will bring winds to tear the curtains down. Peek out of the darkness, it’s once again the break of dawn!

Ye, the rily women, are the winds and the waves; dancing, crashing, and carving out ways!

Ye are the force existing from the start of life, always moving the world and shaping today.

Sunday Special: The Unidentified Curse of Overtourism

The summer holidays were in full swing – and protests against overtourism began (yet again) in a number of popular European cities. Overtourism is not a new problem.

Barcelona, in particular, is at the centre of these mounting concerns about the rapid growth of tourism in cities, especially during peak holiday periods. In fact, Destination Barcelona estimates that there were 30m overnight visitors in 2017, compared to a resident population of 1,625,137.

But across southern Europe protests and social movements are growing in number. This has led to the formation of organisations such as the Assembly of Neighborhoods for Sustainable Tourism (ABTS) and the Network of Southern European Cities against tourism (SET). They are at the forefront of the fight against overtourism and the impact it has on local residents.

While many tourists want to “live like a local” and have an authentic and immersive experience during their visit, the residents of many tourism-dependent destinations are seeing the unique sense of place that characterised their home towns vanish beneath a wave of souvenir shops, crowds, tour buses and rowdy bars. They are also suffering as local amenities and infrastructure are put under enormous strain.

It is a truly global issue. Other destinations where overtourism has reached disruptive proportions include Palma de Mallorca, Paris, Dubrovnik, Kyoto, Berlin, Bali and Reykjavik. Recently, Thai authorities were forced to act when the number of tourists visiting Maya Bay, the beach made famous by Danny Boyle’s film The Beach, led to shocking environmental damage.

What does overtourism look like?

We define overtourism “as the excessive growth of visitors leading to overcrowding in areas where residents suffer the consequences of temporary and seasonal tourism peaks, which have enforced permanent changes to their lifestyles, access to amenities and general well-being”. The claim is that overtourism is harming the landscape, damaging beaches, putting infrastructure under enormous strain, and pricing residents out of the property market. It is a hugely complex issue that is often oversimplified.

It can have an impact in multiple ways. The international cruise industry, for example, delivers thousands of passengers daily to destination ports. While comparatively little is returned to communities, cruise activity creates physical and visual pollution.

City residents also bear the cost of tourism growth. As cities transform to cater for tourists, the global travel supply chain prospers. This coincides with increasing property speculation and rising costs of living for local communities. AirBnB, for example, has been accused of reducing housing affordability and displacing residents.

Amsterdam wants to take direct action to prevent this by banning short-term rentals and directing cruise passengers away from the city centre. AirBnB is also making efforts to address the problems they are accused of creating.

Things are made worse by the fact that key destinations are mostly unprepared to deal with overtourism. According to the Italian sociologist Marco d’Eramo, in 1950 just 15 destinations were visited by 98% of international tourists, while in 2007 this had decreased to 57%. This indicates the rapid expansion of global tourism beyond established destinations.

Overcrowding and the establishment of typical tourism-focused businesses, such as clubs, bars and souvenir shops, overwhelm local businesses – and rowdy and unmanageable tourist behaviour is common. This diminishes the unique ambience of destinations and leads to crowd and waste management pressures.

Clearly, tourism brings jobs, investment and economic benefits to destinations. But overtourism occurs when tourism expansion fails to acknowledge that there are limits. Local government and planning authorities have so far been powerless to deal with the overwhelming influence of the global tourism supply chain. This has led to widespread “tourist-phobia” – first described by Manuel Delgado more than a decade ago as a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists.

Dealing with overtourism

Dealing with overtourism must now be a priority. But despite the mounting howls of protest, tourism promotion endures – and unsustainable hordes of tourists continue to descend on cities, beaches and other natural wonders.

Managing the flow of tourists seems an improbable and unwelcome task. But some cities have taken drastic measures to limit the effects of overtourism, including the introduction of new or revised taxation arrangements, fines linked to new local laws, and “demarketing”, whereby destinations focus on attracting fewer, high-spending and low impact tourists, rather than large groups.

But it’s a fine line to tread. If tourist arrivals to a destination decline suddenly and dramatically it would likely have considerable economic repercussions for those who rely on them.

Overtourism is a shared responsibility. City administrators and destination managers must acknowledge that there are definite limits to growth. Prioritising the welfare of local residents above the needs of the global tourism supply chain is vital. Prime consideration must be given to ensuring that the level of visitation fits within a destination’s capacity.

The global tourism supply chain also bears a major responsibility. It must ensure that product development achieves a balance between the optimal tourist experience and a commensurate local benefit. Tourists must also play their part by making travel choices that are sensitive to the places they visit and those who live in and around them.

Tourism should be part of the wider destination management system, which must also consider transport and mobility, the preservation of public spaces, the local economy and housing, among other aspects of daily life. Research, planning and a close and ongoing dialogue between city administrators, the tourism industry, civil society groups and local residents are essential.

Perhaps overtourism is a symptom of the present era of unprecedented affluence and hyper mobility, a consequence of late capitalism. We need to urgently rethink the way cities are evolving to uphold the rights of their residents.

Tackling Rising Tide of Islamophobia

A growing body of research points to the proliferation of Islamophobia across Europe in recent years. In the UK, record numbers of Islamophobic hate crimes were recorded in 2017, and across the continent there have been similar findings on the growth of explicit Islamophobia.

In a new, pan-European research project, Efforts were made to to devise a toolkit that can be used to counter Islamophobia. It summarises a range of the best methods and tools we saw being used to challenge Islamophobic thought and actions in Europe.

In any discussion about Islamphobia, a definition is required that acknowledges both direct forms of Islamophobic discrimination and also its more subtle, nuanced manifestations. A definition published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims in November 2018, which states “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” does precisely this and is a useful starting point.

The research began by examining the most common Islamophobic ideas that circulated in eight countries: France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece and Portugal. While the language and rhetoric of Islamophobia differed in each, it was found that much of it perceived Muslims, Islamic practices and sites, such as mosques or community centres, as inherently violent, threatening and incompatible with the view of a European way of life. For example, in France, wearing the headscarf and being visibly Muslim is viewed by some as being against French secular values and by extension contrary to being French.

The researchers found many examples of good practice when counteracting Islamophobia. For example, interfaith projects in Germany highlighted conviviality and cultural compatibility between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Art was also used in a number of cases, including Belgium and the UK, to challenge Islamophobic ideas. The Tuffix comic strips by German artist Soufeina, and the 2017 British film, Freesia, highlight the contribution of Muslims in society, and the issues many Muslims face as a result of Islamophobia.

Another narrative

Based on the analysis, the toolkit highlighted some specific strategies that work to counter Islamophobia. Since a great deal of Islamophobia is based on the notion that Muslims threaten the European way of life, values and culture, one way to challenge these ideas is to highlight the many everyday roles Muslims occupy in society. And since they found that Islamophobic perceptions are often based on the idea that Islam and Muslims are sexist, projects that champion Muslim women, their work and their voices will go some way towards breaking down these preconceptions.

Muslim women are disproportionately affected by Islamophobia. They are not only seen as a threat to the West, but they are also paradoxically portrayed as victims of an alleged Islamic sexism. These contorted ideas must be overturned with new narratives, led by Muslim women themselves, presented via art, media and popular culture, to portray the diversity of their lives.

Islamophobia needs to be properly recorded to assess the scope and nature of the phenomenon, and the narratives and flawed logic used in Islamophobic attacks must be effectively deconstructed and challenged. Where misinformed narratives concerning Islam and Muslims circulate these must be broken down. A reconstruction of mainstream ideas surrounding Islam and Muslims is needed, one that is closer to the realities of the faith and its practice. This means that dominant ideas about Muslims and Islam that circulate in popular culture should reflect the diverse everyday experiences of Muslims and their faith.

All this amounts to a four-step approach: first defining, and second documenting Islamophobia, next deconstructing its narratives, and then reconstructing new positive and realistic narratives around Muslims.

Such an approach moves away from misinformed and often reactionary counter-Islamophobia strategies, such as the way Muslims repeatedly condemn terror attacks and seek to dissociate such acts from Islam. In doing so, they often find their comments fall on deaf ears and instead risk contributing to associations between Muslims and violence.

The ultimate goal in countering Islamophobia should be to create a fair and just society for all, one that values and safeguards the citizenship of its members.