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

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lebanon: The Warmonger's Playground
The crisis in West Asia has depended with Israel’s strengthened offensive in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip over the past week. Concerns are now being raised about this military offensive becoming a low grade war soon. The pretext for starting this offensive was the attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli envoy, inside Israel, and the subsequent capture of two of its troops. The Israelis retaliated with a show of force and have now expanded their military operations to end the Hezbollah and its strongholds in south Lebanon. The Israeli Defense Forces have also launched air attacks into Beirut and the civilian death toll from the attacks is close to 300. Also, 24 Israelis have lost their lives in rocket attacks by Hezbollah in the Israeli city of Haifa. The UN has predictably condemned both sides – the Hezbollah and the Israelis for this major flare up in the Middle East. This military conflagration has once again brought the sad history of Lebanon to the fore front.
Israeli Tanks ready to cross into Lebanon
Lebanon has been the theater of war for decades. Right since the country was carved out from the Ottoman Empire, it has been involved in an armed conflict and repeated ground invasions from its neighbors. More recently, the country was totally demolished, economically and infrastructurally, by the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. In the mid eighties it became the staging ground for the Palestinian Liberation Army under the leadership of Yaseer Arafat and had to suffer repeated Israeli offensives as a result. Further, till the Cedar Revolution of last year, that followed the assassination of ex Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the Syrians were the de facto rulers of the country. The country also became the hub for the Shia militant group the Hezbollah, which received backing from the Iranians. The charter of Hezbollah, much like that of Hamas, called for the destruction of Israel and the fight for the rights of the Palestinian people. This current conflict, however, has less to do with solidarity for the Palestinian cause and more to do with the geo-political powerplay the West and the regional powers are indulging in.
Hezbollah's Hasan Nasaralah

The American quagmire in Iraq seems to have no end in sight in the near future. The US has repeatedly blamed Syria and Iran for backing the Shia militias in Iraq and also for the failure of the unity government to take off in Baghdad. Iran, with all its military and economic might is looking to assert itself as the dominant voice of the Middle East. It has rallied the war cry against Israel, the only unifying stand that the entire Arab world agrees on, and the Iranian President has called Israel the “curse” that exists in the region. In a bid to bolster its credentials as a leader of sorts of the Arab voice, Iran is pushing and backing the Hezbollah and the Hamas to actively open fronts against the Israelis. The Syrians, the neighboring bete noire of Israel still have their Golan Heights under occupation by the Israelis after the 1967 Six-Day War. They are looking to get back at the Israelis by backing the Hezbollah in this proxy war of sorts. Also it is interesting that the Arab voice in this flare-up has been openly divided on the actions of the Hezbollah. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have rightly voiced their disapproval of the Hezbollah action and that of its leader Hassan Nasaralah. This differing voice against another Arab player in the Israel-Arab conflicts is a sign of a deeper conflict of interest on both sides. The Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians are worried about the growing influence of Iran in the region. It is no surprise that all three countries are majority Sunni and are opposing the Shia led Iran to contain its influence in the region. It marks the first time that the Middle East crisis has separated nations on Shia-Sunni lines. One can call this the ‘Iraq Effect’ where the ethnic divide has become so acute that countries in the region are now actively supporting each other on the basis of their majority ethnicity. This divide, though regressive for the region, has a silver lining of sorts as it will actively prevent a full scale Israel versus the Arab world sort of a war to take place. But the threat of that peril still remains strong.

In the end this Israeli offensive on Lebanon and Beirut will continue for some time to come. Lebanon, though the unfortunate playground for regional wars, must share the blame for not doing enough to contain Hezbollah in its sovereign territory after the withdrawal of Israeli forces in 2000. Also, Lebanon has not gotten out the shadow of Syria and is still ‘guided’ by the Syrians on most issues. Till the time Lebanon is not able to contain terror groups from within its boundaries and become more independent of foreign influence it will be the victim of one war or the other. The mass evacuation of foreign nationals from Lebanon is an ominous sign of things to come, with the US virtually backing the Isrealis to go after Hezbollah, more war and bloodshed will come in the weeks ahead of a land fabled for its wonderful food and its beautiful Cedar trees.
Blocking Blogging: A New Low
The Department of Telecommunications in an order to all leading Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) ordered the blocking of popular Internet blogging sites. The premise for such a move was that that blogs were spewing communal hatred and some indulging in ‘anti-national acts and writings’. The order is not only absurd in its approach towards emerging changes on the web; it is in fact against the entire idea that is the Internet. The Internet, the great knowledge tool, which knows no boundaries, was envisioned as the great leveler. The ability to access any information anywhere in real-time revolutionized not only the world but helped in ‘flattening’ the world thereby giving developing nations like ours the competitive edge to showcase our talent and entrepreneurial skills. The web-log or blog was the natural extension of this phenomenon that extended its reach to the common user to put his thoughts and ideas out into the infinite space of the Internet. Blogging took off after the Iraq war in 2003 and has not looked back ever since. In fact, in the West, blogging has become the first source of news and information for many readers who are moving from the traditional media, whom they see as biased in their leanings and motives. The world of blogs really got recognition when Yahoo decided to introduce a news search that included blogs, thereby giving legitimacy to what was viewed earlier by mainstream media as armchair journalists trying to become the real thing.

Closer home, the paranoia that has set in the government in the aftermath of the criticism it received for policies like being soft on terror, foreign policy flip-flops and reservations has made it take this rather draconian step. It seems that the government instead of trying to listen to the voice of the people wants to gag it. This is not the first time that the Congress has tried to breach the freedom of speech. The Indira Gandhi government was notorious for what it did to the media during the emergency. With remnants of the ‘Young Turks’ of the time still very much present in the decision-making of this government, it is easy to see where the idea got its origins. The government fears that the communally loaded messages of some blogs are detrimental for the nation’s fragile communal harmony. While one must concede that there are a few rotten apples in every sphere, to typecast blogging, per se, as being anti national, is a bit over the top. If anything, blogging initiates healthy debate, which must be encouraged in every democracy. And if the government cannot stand the heat of what its citizens have to say, then they should do a rethink on their policies rather than go after the voice that has raised an opinion. The government has also pointed out to the banning of blogs that can cause damage to relations with other nations. The reality is that a blog is just an opinion; it does not have the power to alter the mood of a foreign nation to become hostile towards us. Rather it is politicians on both side of the divide that spread hatred towards our own citizens or other nations, a vitriolic Narendra Modi or Pravin Togadia, or a narrow minded Arjun Singh are more detrimental to this country than any blog.

The UPA with this order to gag the web and trying to alter the Broadcast Bill to make it more stringent towards the media is unnecessarily venturing into areas where it is bound to face tough resistance. This at a time when they should be more concerned about the nations’ security and the rising tensions within its own alliance. By trying to curb freedom of expression they might ultimately manage to antagonize the last remaining support for itself and thereby hasten the downfall of its very existence with out of sync policies like blocking blogging and gagging the media.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mumbai 7/11: A Myth Called Internal Security
The Nation is outraged once again at the terror strikes that hit Srinagar and Mumbai. Six grenade attacks in Kashmir and the seven high-grade explosions in the financial capital have left the country stunned. The 175-odd dead and hundreds injured were a cruel reminder that we are at war against terror and Islamic fundamentalism. Once again it seems that our intelligence agencies and counter-intelligence have failed to stop terror atrocities against our citizens. The attacks have once again exposed the lackluster job being carried out at the Home Ministry and its measures to contain terrorism. It has not even been a year since the devastating Delhi blasts, which brought terror, back to the national capital. This time it is Mumbai, which has come to face with this outrage.

Terror is nothing new in India, however, the ease with which terror outfits are planning and executing strikes is alarming. Increasingly, it seems that sleeper cells are active in the country and they are awaiting a signal from across the border to carry out bombings and explosions as and when they feel like it. The very fact that the terrorists could go ahead with their plans after Mumbai was virtually submerged in the aftermath of the monsoon rains shows the meticulate planning and determination of the fundamentalists to meet their desired results. This fact also reflects very poorly on the Mumbai police and our state and federal intelligence agencies in their ability to contain such plotting and attacks.

There have been media reports that the banned radical group Students of the Islamic Movement in India (SIMI) are regrouping and planning terror strikes seems to have fallen on deaf ears to the powers that be. It is likely that terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish and Hizbul Mujahideen are relying on the SIMI activists to help in execution of their terror designs. So, before the government launches on a diatribe of attacks against cross border terror, it is important for them to introspect on whether local support is the key element in carrying out terror atrocities.

The world is currently engaged in a global War against Terror. India has been an affected party to terror for years; in fact, even before the term War against Terror was coined. However, when President Bush or other world leaders talk about terror strikes they mention, 9/11, London, Madrid, Bali even Egypt, but never India. Why is it that India, which is at the receiving end of violent fundamentalism, is second rung while countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, known sponsors of terror, are ‘frontline’ allies on the War against Terror? How much is the Indian government to be blamed for this unenviable position? Our flip-flops on international affairs have left us few friends and many enemies. We hardened ties with Israel for the Palestinian cause, and then voted against Iran, only to lose their trust. What have such policies achieved? Are we any safer or better off with such moves?

The Congress and the UPA have followed the policy of appeasement to the hilt. Be it the appeasement of minority communities or giving legitimacy to the Maoists in Nepal, the results have been disastrous. On the insistence of the Left, the government had opened negotiations with the Maoists in Nepal, only to help them spread their network not only in Nepal but also in many parts of India as well. Similarly, a policy of minorityism, a charge that is ferociously laid out by the BJP, has backfired, giving rise to fundamentalist groups who are unafraid of the rule of law. These policies have made our country an easy target for terrorism of both forms – Islamic fundamentalism and the Naxal extremism.

Lastly, in this day and age of the electronic media, it was imperative on the prime minister to reassure the country and come on camera to let us know that the government is in charge. This was not to be, and all we got was a sound bite of the usual fluff that is thrown every time a terrorist group strikes. Let us not forget that it took one teenaged soldier in Israel to be captured, to bring the entire region to the brink of war. In India, 150 lives are not worth even piece to camera by the prime minister. This incident like scores others have outraged the nation, let us resolve, albeit in our naivety, to do our bit to ensure that never again. Never again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Disinvesting Common Sense
The UPA Government has put the Neyveli Lignite Corporation disinvestments to the back burner thanks to the relentless campaign by the DMK and the Left. This marks another episode of the UPA claiming to be a reforms oriented government but not delivering any such promises. Increasingly, the UPA’s policies and implementation have been plagued by internal wrangling with the usual suspects the Left stalling most initiatives. However, what is emerging as a new trend in this Government is the antagonism towards the government by the largest constituent of the UPA – the Congress itself.

Disinvestment has been a bone of contention for the UPA since its inception. After successful stint in the NDA, the Disinvestment Ministry was done away with in the current set-up. At the time there was talk of how reforms would take a back seat if the government did not off-load some of its holdings in PSU’s like NALCO, BHEL, Maruti and Neyveli. The Government faces heat on both fronts. On the one hand, under intense pressure from Sonia Gandhi, the National Rural Guarantee Scheme was launched with much fanfare. This scheme requires a huge corpus of funds to make this scheme remotely implementable. On the hand, the Left has decided that no disinvestment of PSU’s and the Navratnas is agreeable on any terms. So while the government was banking on raising funds by disinvesting for its ‘aam admi’ schemes, its calculations have come to naught with each UPA constituent pulling itself in a diametrically opposite direction. Further, the Prime Minister continues to lose stature, both as an individual and as the head of the government, with his power and influencing continuously diminishing. Practically, every move that is untenable politically, but required economically, is fired from the PM’s shoulder. The price hike in fossil fuels and the price rise in food grains have been squarely blamed on the prime minister. Even though, it is common knowledge that a price hike in petrol and diesel was unavoidable. Similarly, the price rise in food grains is not the doing of the PM, but the UPA constituents have been gunning for him to bring it into check. So it seems that each UPA ally is relying on the government to take a pragmatic decision only to oppose it later in order to appease a particular vote-bank.

The prime minister also has to rein in his cabinet ministers. It seems that most are on their own individual trajectories with no concern for the good doctor. Arjun Singh has been vehemently pursuing the quota bill, Health minister Ramdoss is dictatorially running the biggest medical institution in the country, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar seems more interested in cricket balls and wickets than the farmer and his sickle and the list goes on.

It seems that the UPA allies have given up on this government and are now looking at general elections at some point of time in this government’s tenure. In such a scenario, they are preparing to collect the vote banks and appeal to those that will get them back to power in the eventuality of this government imploding. This explains, why the Congress is opposing its own government and expressing ‘concern’ over the UPA’s policies on the aam admi. With the UP elections around the corner they don’t to be seen as the establishment that increased both fuel and food prices. The Left is continuously working on a third alternative which it wishes to lead with like minded allies, hence, it is constantly opposing policies that have potential to damage its vote bank. And now with the DMK opposing disinvestment, after having supported the policy in the NDA, the complete divergence of policies has come to the fore. In all of this, the common sense to help the common man, whom every political party in the country claims to be working for, has taken a firm backseat.