Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Indo-US Nuclear Pact: Much Ado About Nothing

With President Bush scheduled to visit India in early March, a lot of expectations and big announcements are being hinged on this historic visit. President Bush largery ignored India in his first term and the Indo-US relationship was based more on the Indo-Pak relations. Things have changed now and now lawmakers on both sides have realised the importance in engaging the world's two largest democracies in a more realistic and comprehensive relationship. The realisation has been more on the US side in realising the India will be the new power of the 21st Century. Strategically also the US realises the importance of having a friend in this region with China's menacing rise and the war on terror. The outcome has been that the US political establishment and the business community have encouraged the growing relationship between the two countries. The UPA govenment has also allayed any fears from the US on the influence of the Left in its foreign policy. President Bush enjoys a good relationship with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and has on record called him a “good man”. All this has heightened expectations on the outcome of the Bush visit.
Last night, while addressing the Asia Society, Bush sang peans of India and also the growing warmth between the two countries. He even sided with India on the contentious issue of outsourcing and gave the logic of outsourcing actually helping in creating more jobs in the US. He was also quick to tell the Indian Governement to increase the amount of FDI caps for foreign firms in India. The Left might raise the issue as another infringement by the big brother in India's dosmetic policy making. However, Bush was addressing a business constituency that he heavily relies upon for his political support. He said that investing in India will help in making the great Indian middle class more prosperous while making the bottomlines of big American corporates look fabulous.
The issue that has been of much debate and contention has been that of the nuclear deal. The US wants India to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities, and bring the civilian nuclear facilities under the purview under IAEA rules and regulations. The issue has divided political parties, Nuclear scientists and the military top brass on how to go ahead with this deal. The deal is no doubt stuck in the details. India with its growing energy needs wants to bank on nuclear enery to fuel its needs. India has 3% of its energy needs coming from nuclear fuel, it plans to increase that to 25% by 2050. In order to do that, India needs nuclear fuel and new nuclear technology to meet that goal.So this new nuclear deal will help India achieve some these goals. However, with India's pride and more importantly strategic nuclear deterrant at stake, the matter has differing opinions from any person you ask to comment on it. One feels that the nuclear deal should in no way hinder India's minimum nuclear deterrance which is a must for India, considering its nuclear neighbours. In terms of civilian nuclear energy needs India should put the reactors in the purview of the IAEA to safeguard future interests. The world community is looking at India to some concessions in its civilian nuclear energy plants, this is not unusual considering the growing menace of nuclear energy becoming the cause of crisis talks between Iran and the West and even in the case of North Korea. Although, India has a brilliant record in safeguarding nuclear technology and has never been exporter of technology to any other country, in terms of making its nuclear prowess acceptable to the West, some concessions are required.
Lastly, I would argue that while the nuclear pact is very important in testing the waters on how deep the India-US relationship really is, it would be myopic to measure all success between the two countries solely on the basis of one pact. There are greener pastures that show great potential between the two countries and both sides must realise those areas of synergies. We should also refrain from fast tracking the nuclear deal just so that India has a good photo-op when Bush comes calling. Let us take some time and patience on issue and try to get as much as we can in the deal. Importantly, let us not put all our eggs on the nuclear basket.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sting Operations: Do they make a difference?
Sting Operations seem to be the flavour of the day. In recent days we have seen a spate of under cover journos exposing the rot that has become inherent in the Indian way of life. All major media houses have been showing politicians, cops and even film stars indulging in corruption or unbecoming beahviour. In fact on most days one feels that a whole bulliten is done by a hidden camera rather than by a regular camera! CNN-IBN last night showed UP politicians getting anything and everything done for a price. Indeed, no one can deny the commendable effort being done by the vigilant fourth estate but one question that pops up is - Do sting operations make a difference?

What the sting operations have done is establish the well held fact that corruption is rampant and exists at every level. But what after that? Have such expose's helped in curbing corruption in any way? Have we as Indians started demanding more transparency after seeing our politicians indulging in corruption? Unfortunately, like it or not, the answer is no. What they have done is make us even more immune and resigned to the existence of corruption. Beyond that, the media house may get a jump in the day's TRP and a minister may resign from his post, but nothing more.

New channels are being launched at regular intervals and without the right “tehelka” their chance of establishing them in the mainstream are slim. In such a scenario, even thick-skinned politicians know that what is news today will be conviniently forgotten tommorow. Also, often in the competition that exists between various media houses, one sting operation is ignored by the other. So the true impact of what a sting can do is lost in the din of competitive chaos.

So while one must condone sting operations and encourage media houses to sniff out the rotten eggs in the system, it has become the collective responsibility of Indian society to make sure that what is exposed must be truly appreciated, understood and we must demand some answers rather than dismiss it cynically. The media houses are doing their job, are we the citizens doing the same or just adding to the rot?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Indo-Pak Peace Process: One step closer to nowhere

“Peace, “Friendship” and “Confidence Building Measures”

Today, these are the only substantial movements on the much touted peace process between India and Pakistan - Words. However hard the leaders of both India and Pakistan may try to make us beleive otherwise, there is no denying the fact that the process is nothing but stalled. I do not take into account the buses plying between the two countries or the “Friendship” cricket series'. When I say peace process, I mean the real sorting out of contentious issues of Kashmir, return of Kashmiri pandits, Sir Creek and Siachen. In all these fronts unfortunately, the talks have either completely stalled or are moving slower than the traffic in Delhi at 9am!
Let us take Kashmir, which is the issue that divides bothe sides more than any other issue. President Musharraf has been seen on air touting the Indians on their lack of “innovative thinking” on the issue. He claims that we are too rigid on our stand. Well just hear his innovative thinking, he wants India to demilitrise parts of Kashmir as a confidence buidling measure. I think the only confidence it will give is to the terrorists to go ahead and plan attacks like the bold ones they have carried out in the country. There is a growing awareness in the international community that the Musharraf's clean chit to extremism in Kashmir as a freedom struggle is hogwash. The World realises that Pakistan is the source of terror and while publically they may not say so, in back channel discussions it has been made amply clear to the Pakistanis to stop sponsoring terror. The Pakistanis have found another “innovative” way to respond to the international community, they “capture” Al-Qaeda terrorists and hand them over to the West and then say “Look we are a frontline ally on the War on Terror” and say that those terrorists in India are just freedom fighters! And so the peace process keeps going round in round in circles.
The Indian authorities must also take the blame for the lack of positive developments on the process. The Indian side has been to meek to clearly state its position on where it stands on Kashmir. Ambigious statements like “We will not nogotiate on territory” or “Division of Kashmir is non-negotiable” will not get us far. We have to clearly state what we want and then set the peace process on those terms. There are some factors that can be negotiated on and others where the stand is clear. The current Indian position makes it seem that everything is negotiable and nothing is non-negotiable. If we want to make the Line of Control the new international border, let us make that public. If we want the part of Pakitan Occupied Kashmir back, well then lets say that. But at least say something! Succesive Governments have fudged on a clear stand on the issue. They keep harping on cross border terror, without ever clearing the air on Kashmir. Musharraf may wrong on many accounts but he is right when he says, that Kashmir is the “core issue”. So while Pakistan has an opinion on Kashmir, as does the World community and the Hurriyat, India is seen skirting the issue. Its time to take the bull by its horns and clearly state what we want.
The peace process has also taken a back seat with other compelling international and domestic issues like Iran and Indo-US Nuclear deal. But the Indian Government must not lose track of the peace process because while they may have made a good start with the bus diplomacy, the goodwill will not last long if nothing concrete comes out of it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Are their any limits to Freedom of Speech?

The cartoons depicting the Prophet in dim light in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten has moved on from a problem of highly erroneous editing to a new “War of the Worlds”. The question at the heart of the issue is – Is there a line that must not be crossed when religious sentiments are involved? The answer to the question may seem simple but the fact remains it is far more complicated than one may imagine. The anti-Semitism of the centuries is now being seen for Islam. But is Islam too sensitive? Or is it similar for all religions. There have been numerous cases when Hindu Gods have been adorned on slippers, bikinis and even toilet seats by “creative” designers. As expected there has been a huge outcry by Hindu religious bodies against such insensitive depictions. However, there is a distinct difference between how religions of the West and those of the East differ as to the limit they are willing to go in the name of humour or freedom of expression. Christians are more open to different interpretations and representations of Jesus. Comics show him smoking pot or even being lampooned in popular cult movies. Are they more tolerant or less God fearing? The answer is open to different interpretations. Similarly, the jokes on Jews have been the precursors to Sikh Sardarji jokes and Blond jokes. However, this level of resentment as seen in the Prophet cartoons is rare.

I wonder what was the need to publish cartoons that knowingly depict the Prophet Muhammad the way they did. Further what was the need to re-publish the cartoons in other European dailies? This at a time when the Islamic extremists keep harping on the issue of foreign invasion of Muslim holy lands. They will show this episode as another example of the West’s disregard for Islam and the current “Crusades”. It was highly shortsighted on part of the Editors to have gone ahead with the reprints. Their argument that freedom of expression is something that they take pride in. Well, I ask them what is the cost of this freedom? More strife, militants hunting down foreign nationals in places like Gaza and Baghdad? Further, is it worth risking their troops lives in the various war frontlines as they become renewed targets for extremists after seeing such depictions of their gods?

There is also the question of tolerance. Islam must realize that they must become more tolerant towards what people say about their religion. As Islam spreads rapidly to Europe, there are going to be “tolerant” and secular societies that raise questions on Islam and its interpretations. Issuing Fatwa after Fatwa is certainly not the solution, neither is extremism, the answer is taking a more moderate view of how they are perceived in the West.

In the end it is the imperative of every society to play its role in maintaining religious harmony in the world. One may be an athiest, like myself, but there are sentimenst and lives that are invloved and they must be respected. We live in dangerous times and the clash of civilizations may sound like a glamorous term to use, its full implication is far scarier than anyone can imagine.
Hamas Victory: The Price of Democracy?

The militant group Hamas won an overwhelming majority in the recently concluded Palestinian Legislative elections. It also sent a stinging blow to Fatah and PM Qurei. Also, it has thrown a questin mark over the whole peace process and its very future. Within a matter of few weeks, the once “ontrack” peace process is now very much stalled and derailed. The Western leaders had hailed the elections as free and fair, even independant election observers were united in calling these elections legitimate. The calculation of the US and EU was that even though Hamas would make a few inroads into the Fatah seat tally, the overall majority would still be enjoyed by Fatah. But the Ballot box had its own story to tell. Hamas won 76 seats in the 130 odd Parliament. With that Hamas does not even need Fatah to form a coalition to rule, they are the rulers.

It is not surpirising why Hamas has reached where it has today, Hamas has long been associated with helping the Palestinians at the grassroot level. Providing civic amenities and building hospitals and schools (a role in which Fatah failed totally). Coupled with the fact that Hamas is seen as coruption-free organization, unlike the Fatah which was riddled with allegations of civil neglect and corruption. Hamas, has also pointed out that its main agenda will be serving the people of Palestinian areas and solving the acute problem of unemployment ( 50-60% of the youth are unemplyed). To that extent the rule of Hamas looks promising.

However, the troubling part about Hamas is the fact that it is a terror group, carrying out suicide bombings in Israel and also calling for Israel's destruction in its official Charter. Also, Hamas is linked to militant outfits like Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, which in turn are linked to Al-Qaeda. The very fact that such a group will be the ruling faction in Palestine is a matter of concern. It is clear that they will not negotitae with the Israelis on what the final contours of the state of Palestine will look like, infact, peace with Isreal does not feature on its agenda on its moment, but hopefully that should change. Analysts say that militant groups once in power become moderate, they often site the IRA in Northern Ireland and the paramilitary forces in South America as exapmles. However, this is the Middle East, and things are distinctly different from any where else in the World. So we are in a unpreecedented stage in the Middle East with only the future telling us what the outcome will be. It is also a possiblity that the result in Palestine will benefit the right-wing Benjimin Netanyahu and his Likud party. Israelis might wonder that if the very terrorists who carry out suicide bombings have formed the Government, it could ratlle many to the Right of Israeli politics.

But the election outcome in Palestine throws a larger question - is freedom of the ballot fuelling extremism? Are free societies choosing more hardline candidates? Is the Middle-East ready for Democracy? How better is the democratically elected Bush and his Neo-con agenda better than that of Hamas or Ahmedinijad? These questions have become increasingly pertinent with the situation in Iran, Syria and now Palestine, where voters have thrown up candidates which the West tells us are actually “anti-democracy”. There is a strange paradox, you want elections but provided “your”man gets the job! I feel that the reason for the people in the Middle East choosing more radical leaders is the fact that they see American troops in their neighbourhood and wonder are we next? This insecurity has led to a more hardened stand by the people and has thrown up results that everyone finds hard to swallow.

So are we better off with democratic elections in the Middle-East or are we better off with having our “guy” at the top for the sake of peace of security. The answer lies somewhere in between.