Who’s afraid of Pakistan?

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

 

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

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

Economic Myths that Need to be Dispelled

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

 

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Bigot or bigoted against?

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

Hating Religious Freedom

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Christianity & Islam in ‘Perpetual Conflict’?

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

Political Deuce

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

Myanmar, India & Pakistan

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