Monday, January 31, 2005

Welcome to Our Free World, Iraq

The successful weekend elections in Iraq have vindicated all supporters of the America-led Arab Middle East reform initiative.

Early figures show that 57% of Iraqis voted in face of vile bullying from the terrorists.

These voters are the true freedom fighters -- for, their bravery will lead to enhanced freedom for all Iraqis. The so-called insurgents -- terrorists really -- in contrast, offer only chains as their vision for Iraq, and the broader Ummah.

How anybody -- especially Indian liberals -- can empathize with these terrorists or believe that these murderers carry the voice of Iraqi people is beyond us. Hopefully, they are now disabused of their false impressions.

We will, alas, hear from defeatists across the globe who will point out the only 25% Sunni participation in the weekend poll. We've heard their voices before -- in Kashmir, where they have condemned free elections because turnout was "low". In face of dire terrorist threats -- as the Sunnis faced in Iraq, and Kashmiris face daily -- any turnout is remarkable, an act of incalculable bravery. The election critics, instead of condemning the freedom-abating terrorists, inexplicably turn their rhetorical guns on the forces of freedom. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Here's raising a toast to the brave and freedom-embracing Iraqi people. Welcome to our free world.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Hurrah for President Bush

In his inaugration speech yesterday, President Bush committed America to bringing the untamed fire of freedom to the darkest corners of our world. He went on to say that America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one and that it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

Now it is the critics' turn. British newspapers are openly mocking the President's speech -- the tabloid Star labelling it the "Have I got nukes for you" speech. In America, Peggy Noonan, the influential conservative speechwriter for President Reagan, in a Wall Street Journal column, has gently mocked the speech as being heavenish, then mischievously pointed out that the world is not heaven. American isolationists, like Pat Buchanan, have called the speech Wilsonian -- referring to the expansive idealism of Woodrow Wilson that created the ill-fated League of Nations and could not prevent the Second World War. Democrats wonder how this ambition would be paid for.

We ourselves are strongly with the President on this. We have called him revolutionary in the past, and being neoconservative, we applaud his unapologetic salute to the flag of global freedom.

For what purpose, afterall, is a nation's silver and sword if not for bringing hope -- of liberty & equality -- to those less privileged? America itself is a nation built on the hopes of its people trying to expand their freedoms -- of early settlers, of later immigrants, of slaves, of suffragettes, of entrepreneurs, of believers in the American Dream, of Hollywood's dream merchants, of inventors, of voyagers, etc. If America, of all nations, shied away from her constant hope of freeing herself ever more, and freeing the world likewise, she will not remain.

Sure, the world is not heaven -- here pragmatic deals must sometimes be made with people not worthy of handshakes. Sure, the cost of liberty is high -- freedom has always demanded sacrifice of blood and treasure. So what? Should dreamers just stay in bed & stop aspiring? A world like that is blah.

We have repeatedly favored a similar bold policy for India -- a policy to spread democracy in our bombed-out neighbourhood. In this context, we'd like to draw the readers' attention to a recent paper on South Asia Analysis Group website advocating this perspective forcefully. To quote from it:

Why not offer accommodation and compromise only to neighbors willing to abide by our (unilaterally set) standards of democratic conduct? Conversely, to dilettantes and dictators, why not present Indian national power as a ever-threatening Damocles' sword? Most important, to neighborhood democrats, no matter what their specific views, why not present India as a protector, a safe haven, an inspiration, and a resource bank?

Why not indeed?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Justice Banerjee Report

Stratfor has reviewed the Justice Banerjee report (rejecting Muslim involvement in the Godhara fire) and found it partisan against BJP -- it will strengthen India's secular polity, via Bihar, and deepen internal fissures in BJP as it ponders its response. Stratfor's summary analysis is as follows:

An Indian government investigation of the 2002 Gujarat train fire that killed 59 Hindus and sparked riots that left more than 1,000 dead has surprisingly concluded that the entire incident was an accident, not a deliberate firebomb attack by a Muslim mob. While the ruling Indian National Congress Party (INC) and rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trade accusations and denials of politicizing the event, the timely release of the commission's findings contributes to the INC's goal of reducing popular BJP support.

Frankly, notwithstanding our own deeply secular belief , we are far from persuaded by Justice Banerjee's, and Stratfor's, logic. On the former, while it's less than obvious that Muslim troublemakers were responsible for the train fire, Justice Banerjee hasn't convincingly debunked that theory either. On the latter, regardless of whether Muslims were responsible for Godhara, those who condemned BJP are unlikely to change their view now, nor are those who stood by it.

The only possible gain could be that Gujarat would become the issue in Bihar's elections -- which makes little sense, as the real issue there should be the obscene mismanagement of the state by the Laloo Yadav family. The 2004 Lok Sabha election was BJP's "accountability moment" -- on Gujarat, the need now is justice, not further political haymaking.

In any event, this line of thinking -- which essentially argues that Muslim non-involvement in the Godhara events renders illegitimate the subsequent retaliatory violence against them -- is fallacious. If we accept this line of thinking (which, alas, many Muslims & fellow secularists will), are we then to conclude, conversely, that if a Muslim conspiracy had been proven, then Hindu retaliation would have been justified? We think not and therefore are not sure where Justice Banerjee's conclusion leaves us.

We think this obsession with cause & effect -- or better put, root cause & effect -- is wrong. In this context, even if there was perfidy by some Muslim hoodlums (a claim Justice Banerjee disputes), we still cannot find any justification for what followed. No root cause can ever justify deliberate murder of innocent human beings -- Justice Banerjee's report implicitly hurts this big idea.

Too bad that in pursuit of political gains, our secular polity will milk this unholy cow for all its worth.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang, the ex-Chinese leader deposed & shunned by his mentor Deng Xiaoping during the Tiananmen crisis, is dead. He will be remembered for having opposed the violence rained down on student-reformers by Deng, Li Peng, and in Shanghai, by supreme-leader-to-be Jiang Zemin.

Some years ago, a number of manuscripts were smuggled out of China and published by Columbia University Professor Andrew Nathan as The Tiananmen Papers. These manuscripts (provided they were genuine) detailed the secret discussions of the Chinese politburo during the Tiananmen crisis. These were seen by some as an attempt by Zhao loyalists to reclaim his role in history -- as a man who understood & sympathized with the student-reformers. If so, the revisionists behind the book succeeded only partially. Our own impressions of Zhao from the book, for example, were indeed sympathetic but ultimately, we concluded, he did not have the strength or worse, conviction, to fully stand up against Deng. Had he done so, Zhao could have emerged an equal of Mao -- heralding the end of the revolution the latter had started.

Instead, the consequence of Zhao's weakness was his internal exile plus Deng's victory & veneration -- also, with his hardline posture in Shanghai, Jiang Zemin replaced Zhao as Deng's chosen successor. Hu Jintao was curiously in far-away Tibet and finds little mention in the manuscripts. Perhaps the fact that his hands were not blood-soiled made Deng pick him as Jiang's successor -- this was perhaps Deng's covert admission of his mistake in Tiananmen.

China has seemingly moved on from Tiananmen -- it has bought the short-term loyalties of its people with the glitter of hyper economic growth. But the shadows of Tiananmen will live on, must live on, and one day there surely will be a full reckoning for all the innocents killed there in 1989. Zhao Ziyang's passing is a milepost on that road to reckoning.

What is to be done on Iran

Only a week after India announced its 25 year, $40 Billion LNG deal with Iran, comes a fascinating Seymore Hersh report in The New Yorker that U.S. is preparing for a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear and military assets -- in a bid to weaken the theocracy in-charge, thereby catalyzing a secular, pro-West revolution in Tehran.

Covert U.S. opertives have been secreting radiocativity sensors in sensitive areas in Iran, have been coordinating with Pakistani intelligence (which is spilling the beans on its past covert role in Iran's nuclear enablement -- in return, A.Q. Khan is being allowed a quiet Pakistani retirement under house arrest), and the Pentagon has been revamping contingency plans for a broader invasion of Iran.

Per a retired U.S. intelligence operative, Mr. Hersh reports, “This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”

We have been strong advocates of Neo-conservatism and its revolutionary strategy for the Arab middle east. Still, we are less sanguine about the war extending into Iran. Its not clear, however -- alas -- if India will have major influence here. Given this, what is to be done?

One thing is clear. Regardless of the present & future legitimacy of Iran's theocracy, we know from India's own experience that nuclear prowess tends to be an electrifying force in nations like ours. There should be little doubt that even secular Iranians (India's natural allies) would like to see their civillization gaining the respect of the world -- nuclear prowess is surely seen as helping in this. Thus, even after their theocratic overlords are toppled, Iran's people will still yearn for global respect -- & eventually nuclear capability (it worked magic for India, afterall). Neighbouring Pakistan's betrayal of this quest will likely never be forgotton -- rather should never be allowed to be forgotton.

While India does not support the nuclearization of Persian dictators, it will not support the West militarily disrespecting Persia's proud civillization either. While India (unlike Pakistan) did not aid Iran in developing nuclear capability, it will not (like Pakistan) stab its people's valid aspirations in the back either.

India will do well to carefully disseminate this message to Iran's proud people. This message will likely resonate across Iran's political spectrum -- including its likely future rulers, the secular democrats. A deep distrust between Iran's (Shia) democrats & Pakistan's (Sunni) dictators will represent a natural "strategic depth" for India -- in turn, a crucial element for victory in our own inevitable, final & existential, confrontation with Pakistan.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Even as we have been sceptical of the China story -- and argued against breathless genuflection to this would-be superpower, we are well aware of the conventional wisdom of China being the principal challenger to the US for superpower status.

In this context, we tip our hat to Martin Vander Weyer for his The Spectator essay on Why China will not be a Superpower (free registration required). Here he argues that China has no exportable culture, she is militarily overrated and her economy is not as successful as it is cracked up to be -- therefore, it’s time we abandoned our superstitious dread of Beijing.


Great Games

Ashley Tellis, formerly advisor to Ambassador Blackwill & now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was on C-SPAN yesterday discussing his new work on America's War on Terror.

He asserted that The Westphalian System of States would regain its primacy once the global war on terror recedes from importance & great power rivalries are revived anew. Until then, and especially in the war on terror, the rules of the Westphalian system might not fully apply.

This is a sound framework provided that the war on terror (when great power rivalries are theoretically suspended) can be neatly seperated from the post-war future where these rivalries once again take center-stage. From facts in evidence now, it is clear that this caveat does not hold -- while America is tunnel-visioned on fighting terrorism, its great power rivals (India, China, EU, Japan, Russia) have already moved on.

This implies that these powers will increasingly find themselves as adverseries in some areas -- even as they are allies in other areas. The management of this multi-polar reality is likely to be a great deal more complex than the management of the bi-polar Cold War. There is a strong urgency to craft rules for this new world order -- unfortunately, given America's (otherwise valid) preoccupation with the war on terror, all we sense is anarchy in great power affairs.

Consider just a few recent developments:

Item: India, China oppose US, EU threat of sanctions on Sudan

Item: US neoconservatives condemn EU "appeasement" of Iran

Item: EU resumes trade talks with Iran

Item: India, Iran sign a 25 year, $40 Billion energy deal

Item: China and India wrestle for Iran's oil

Item: Russia seizes Yukos assets

Item: Yukos promises lawsuit in US court on any buyer of "its" assets

Item: ONGC gets nod to bid for Yukos assets

Item: China eyes Yukos assets too

Item: US-backed Yushchenko takes Ukraine presidency

Item: Georgia turns pro-US after its "velvet revolution"

Item: Russia retaliates through defence exports to Syria

The great power game is clearly on -- and as Dorothy said to Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore. Absent new rules, we have an anarchy -- which is good for India in the short run since it mocks the UN-centered global system where India has no seat. In the long run though, anarchy is bad for business -- how this anarchy is to be quelled with new rules for a realistic global order should be the preoccupation of us all.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Asian "Premium" on Gulf Oil

Per Stratfor, Asian importers (e.g., India, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan collectively representing over 20% of world oil demand, 80% of which being Persian Gulf imports) pay a $4/barrel premium over their Western counterparts for Gulf oil. This is because Western economies have options (Russia, Venezuela, Canada, Mexico, Africa) while Asian economies (being distant from these alternative supply options) have less flexibility.

To address this, a number of Asian Governments & refinery operators met recently in New Delhi with Gulf oil producers. A number of ideas were discussed including establishing a local crude benchmark to compete with their Western equivalents -- Norwegian Brent and West Texas Intermediate -- or signing multi-year contracts in order to lock in favorable rates. Chinese and Indian delegates -- representing economies that have been growing like kudzu -- in particular felt the Middle Easterners should give them a good deal. After all, their logic went, they would be providing the bulk of the world's demand growth during subsequent years.

Stratfor thinks this will amount to nothing because Asians have little bargaining leverage. Their only viable alternative supplier is Russia -- from which pipelines will have to be built at massive capital cost and, likely, a decade of effort. Armed with this knowledge, the monopolist Gulf states are unlikely to relax their extortion from our economies.

Financial Times of London feels the same way calling the situation old-fashioned mercantilism.

Mercantilism or not, those Indians (mostly fellow secularists) who fail to see the OAPEC cartel (we are deliberately excluding Iran with whom India has just signed a $40 Billion energy deal) as a strategic threat to our interests simply do not understand ground realities. Cartel members, Saudi Arabia in particular, are extorting money from our over-burdened taxpayers and consumers, then using these ill-gained profits to export virulent jihad to our sphere of influence. This is an existential threat to India against which the only real, albeit serendipitous, counterpunch so far has been the American neo-conservative project.

When the so-called progressives (e.g., the enormously misguided Arundhati Roy and Michael Moore) decry America's neo-conservative intervention in Arabia as an oil-motivated war, we can only hope this is, at least partly, so. Afterall, the burden of high-priced Gulf oil is falling squarely on India's poor and the emerging middle class -- even worse, profit from this oil funds jihadi terrorism which seeks to kill them. Any change in this dynamic is good for Indians, therefore good for India. That many Indians support these extortionist Sheikhs and dictators, scrambling to keep their blood-dimmed crowns, continues to baffle us.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Velupillai Pirabhakaran

BBC is reporting that Kofi Annan will not visit with Velupillai Pirabhakaran, leader of the terrorist group LTTE, on his on-going visit to Sri Lanka. Apparantly, Mr. Annan had accepted an invitation to visit with him -- surprise, surprise -- but his trip was sensibly vetoed by Colombo.

Mr. Pirabhakaran is a murderer with Rajiv Gandhi's blood on his hands. No world leader should ever make the mistake of shaking hands with him. His place is in an Indian jail -- and were we supporters of capital punishment, we would have advocated the noose for him.

This is not to say we don't empathize with Tamil frustration in Sri Lanka. There are understandable reasons why they have felt acute alienation over the decades. We also have close friends from the region -- who, in their official and private capacities, are currently engaged in raising and directing aid to the Tsunami stricken in Northern & Eastern Sri Lanka. We hope that Colombo will not discriminate against Tamils in terms of aid provision, nor will it use this moment to press political advantages.

All we are saying is that Mr. Pirbhakaran is a murderer with Rajiv Gandhi's blood on his hands. If he cares for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, he should surrender and face justice -- we hope this justice is delivered by Indian hands, if not then preferably at the hands of his own people. Once he is gone from the scene, it'll make it a great deal easier for India particularly, and the world more generally, to assist Sri Lanka's Tamil victims of the Tsunami with long-term reconstruction. Also, much like Yasser Arafat's exit in Palestine, Mr. Pirabhakaran's exit will enable India & selected others to use their good offices to forge a durable peace where both Colombo & Jaffna can disengage with honor.

Mr. Pirabahkaran, are you listening? Do you have the courage to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the people you claim to lead, the same courage you demand of brainwashed teenagers you have long sent to die as suicide bombers?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami Warnings

Many have weighed in on the absence of an Indian Ocean Tsunami warning system. Needless to say, such a system (provided it was comprehensive) would have been useful on the 26th of December.

Still, the breathless commentary on this matter is way over the top. Take Pascal Zachary's Sunday column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here is Mr. Zachary's take:

Why haven't they already taken the necessary steps? Some Asian countries are too poor perhaps, but what about India? The world's second most populous nation has the money and know-how to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles to carry them hundreds of miles. India is also home to an enormous software industry. And yet the nation's hard-hit coast was unprotected even by a relatively inexpensive electronic warning system that could have saved thousands of lives.

Shame on India for failing to realize that its pell-mell rush to the forefront of the world's high-tech industries dangerously exposed it to an old- economy mishap.
Shame on India's government for pushing so hard to advance its nuclear weapons program that it failed to see the wisdom of stringing cheap sensors along its coastline. (Only now, after the disaster, do Indian leaders pledge to install a warning system.)

Bunk, we say. Surely Mr. Zachary is aware that the Atlantic Ocean does not have a Tsunami warning system either. This means that New York, where we are, and Washington D.C are exposed. The same is true for the Caribbean. Should we now cry shame on America for this "failure"?

The reason Atlantic does not have a warning system is the same why Indian Ocean does not. In the words of Conrad Lautenbacher, US undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere, "the chances of a major earthquake in the Atlantic Ocean are small, but they're not zero."

This when, in the past 150 years, the Atlantic has had 30 Tsunamis & the Caribbean about 50. The frequency of Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean is far less.

Our good friend Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute has argued in his Indian Express column that with just basic information (not requiring an elaborate warning system), lives could have been saved on the 26th of December. We are not sure of this.

If Tsunami warnings had been issued on the 26th (say on radio & TV), there would have been a panic and tens of millions of people would have tried to get out of the way. We are no public safety experts, but we know this much: there is no way that this mass of people would have made its way to safety in two hours (the time they had) because the capacity of roadways comes into play. They would have been stuck in traffic jams, and many would then be easy victims of the coming Tsunami. Most were, in fact, better off staying in their homes (especially those who live in sturdy buildings).

If the Tsunami warning system is to work, we need more than simply warnings -- we need detailed plans for evacuation of large numbers of people. This requires a great deal of coordination between various branches civil administration. It also requires that people be made aware of what specifically they are to do in face of warnings -- just warning them without this information is like telling them a meteor is about to crash into the Earth; its not clear what one might do in that circumstance.

As illustration, see the detailed information Oahu (Hawaii's largest island where Honolulu is situated) provides its residents -- this includes maps of shelters, use of public transportation, emergency contact information etc. This is not rocket science, but unless people are prepared like this, in advance, warnings have no meaning.