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

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto : 1953-2007
Two time prime minister and the scion of the Bhutto dynasty of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was brutally killed by assailants after a campaign rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Her assassination further complicates the already tumultuous and precarious state of affairs in Pakistan. It also throws the country into further chaos, uncertainty and a period of undemocratic rule for the near future. Bhutto, the charismatic leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, was seen as the only credible moderate leader that could end the recent chaos witnessed under the Musharraf regime. The entire world had anticipated that the January 8th elections next year would herald Bhutto in for her third term as prime minister and in doing so bring some semblance of elected democracy in Pakistan. That hope was cut short by the fateful events at the Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi, ironically the very place where another former prime minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951. The complex political history of Pakistan seems to be going into another tailspin, with one half of the famed democratic duo of Sharif and Bhutto, falling tragically to the assassins bullets. How does the death of the charismatic Bhutto change the course of political history of Pakistan and what will be the short term implications of this assassination?

Musharraf’s options
President Pervez Musharraf finds himself painted with blood to a corner. His deliberations with Bhutto since February of 2007 had ensured that they reached on a consensus on Bhutto’s return to fight elections. Today, Musharraf finds himself fighting one of the two charges – of either complicity in planning the attack on Benazir or a failure to provide her with adequate security. Musharraf will always battle either of these two charges in times to come. Also, with Benazir dead, Musharraf finds himself without any credible non-partisan politician on his side. Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif voices a hard-line approach towards Musharraf, calling for the boycott of the upcoming elections and wanting Musharraf’s removal from Pakistani politics. Musharraf only enjoys the support of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), whose candidate for the prime minister is former chief minister of Punjab Pervez Elahi. It is the PML (Q) that has accorded Musharraf the political legitimacy since 2002 to continue in office as president and in such a circumstance are seen as complicit with the regime. Their victory in the elections will be seen as a farce by Pakistanis and will further play on the conspiracy theories of Musharraf’s involvement in Bhutto’s murder. Either way, holding elections in January seems untenable with the All Parties Democratic Movement wanting to boycott these elections. Musharraf will not risk holding elections to elect his allies again as that will mean a continuation of status quo ante in the country. If ever Musharraf needed to impose a state of emergency it is now, rather than having imposed it in November to settle political scores by putting Bhutto under house arrest and jailing lawyers and civic activists. Musharraf should postpone elections till March or April of 2008 to ensure smooth and participative elections. The current uncertainty and turmoil will witness namesake elections with large sections of the Pakistani electorate choosing personal safety over the ballot box. By giving a few months to ‘secure’ Pakistan Musharraf not will ensure some sort of legitimate elections, it will also help the PPP in choosing an alternative to Benazir. However, the postponement of elections comes with a rider, any delay may see demonstrations and a move to oust Musharraf which may enjoy the blessings of Washington and could further plunge the country into chaos. But it is time that Pakistanis decide whether they want elections under Musharraf or to charter a new course sans the dictator.

US’ Dilemma
Having put all its political hopes on Benazir Bhutto, her death brings uncertainty over US policy towards democratic change in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif remains a persona non grata over his links to the Islamic fringe of Pakistani society and his hard line view on Musharraf’s continuation in office. The Bush Administration will view Musharraf as its only reliable ally in Pakistan, no matter how bitter a pill it maybe to swallow. It will have to support the ex-general; for without him the US’ war on terror will be shaky and the country’s new leadership after Musharraf will not toe the American line. The Americans will realize the political liability they have become to the politics of Pakistan, where backing a candidate means effectively eliminating them from the political scene. From today, Pakistani politics will shift more towards a more anti-US approach rather than allying with them. In such a scenario the US will need to keep Musharraf on their side. The Americans might just initiate direct contact with the new army chief, General Pervez Kiani, to take a stronger control over the army and thereby reduce American dependence on Musharraf. If the situation worsens, Kiani might topple his ex-master to take over the country. The US might trade democracy for stability, but its wish would be to see Musharraf continue in office and conduct some form of elections that they can tout as a positive way forward for Pakistan.

Impact on India
While the Indian establishment has been quick to voice its shock and horror on the events of the past 24 hours with the prime minister condemning it as a ‘heinous act’, there is no denying the fact that the assassination of Bhutto might strengthen India’s case in Kashmir. With the army and ISI having to battle its own demons within the country, the export of terror may not be high on its agenda or more pointedly in its control. The political turmoil in Pakistan gives India the legitimate right to strengthen its borders with Pakistan and thereby help curb infiltration. Pakistan will continue to battle its internal security rather than adopt a vigorous foreign policy on Kashmir. The past few years are a testament to this fact. The internal situation in Pakistan has become so tenuous that Pakistan has not had the time, energy or resources to pursue its twin pronged approach towards India – peace talks through Confidence Building Measures or turning on the tap of infiltration into Kashmir. While the situation in Pakistan will concern India, there is cautious optimism that the spotlight is now on the Pakistani establishment in fighting extremism in their own backyard. Any push to infiltrate terrorists into India will be strongly highlighted and dealt with by both the West and India. India may have lost a friend in Benazir, ironically it came on a day when in her last election rally she gave a strong nationalist speech and spoke at lengths on India’s nuclear program and how her father helped Pakistan acquire the nuclear bomb to counter India. While it may be political rhetoric it does belie a popular notion that she was a friend of India. If anything, the Kashmir insurgency and the rise of the Taliban has been attributed to the Bhutto, though on both counts, the Kashmir insurgency and the Taliban, could not have been possible without the ISI or the army. This does take away the fact that out of the many faces in Pakistani politics, Bhutto did emerge as the most moderate and modern voice and India will rue that fact that they will now have to deal with less hospitable leaders or continue to deal with the wily President instead of Bhutto.

Pakistan’s static political movement
The past two decades of Pakistani politics have failed to throw up credible leaders in the Pakistani political constellation. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were the only leaders that enjoyed a credible national following. The pretext of overthrowing Sharif in 1999 was to usher in real democracy in Pakistan. In the intervening near-decade old Musharraf rule, he has failed to propagate a democratic movement that would nurture political leaders. He like all dictators before him strengthened the control of the army over Pakistani society and followed the time tested disaster of promoting yes men as credible political leaders. By bringing in Shaukhat Aziz from the World Bank to serve as the country’s premier was to show to the world that Musharraf was bringing in change with technocrats given the job to run the country. But Aziz enjoyed little support from the political parties in Pakistan and was at best a stop gap arrangement. Without a sound political backing his attempt to stand for elections came to a naught. All this while Musharraf remained in the illusion that he was ushering in 'true' democracy in Pakistan. Unfortunately for him, democracy does not work from top to bottom; it is in fact the other way round. And this year, he was forced to bring back the same two people whom he proclaimed to be detrimental to Pakistan to stand for elections. The move-to-real- democracy myth that Musharraf played for the past decade seemed to have been unravelled and the true extent of the lack of grass root politics is on display in Pakistan today. It was left to the lawyers and human rights activists to oppose Musharraf’s stranglehold on power, and in doing so they have been at the receiving end of the regime’s baton.

The ISI and the Taliban
Musharraf initiated the doctrine of ‘enlightened moderation’ for Pakistan. Whereby he wanted to make Pakistan a modern democratic state with a free market economy and one where religion only in its moderate form would be allowed to flourish. The Pakistan of 2007 could not be further away from that doctrine. The Lal Masjid siege in the heart of Islamabad in July 2007 and the two assassination attempts on Musharraf and then on Benazir’s return has amplified the rise of Islamic militancy in Pakistan. The war that Pakistan is fighting is its own doing. The ISI tacit support for the Mullahs and militants has turned to become Pakistan’s worst nightmare. The ISI is still seen as hand in glove with the Jihadi elements. The Pakistani army bears its origin to the notion of an Islamic army. The infiltration of hard-line Jihadi elements in the army is well known and that will not change anytime soon. Generals have come gone as have political leaders, but the symbiotic relationship between the ISI-Army and Islamic radicalism remains strong since the formation of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal
The future of Pakistan hangs in the balance, the nuclear weapons state remains the most volatile out of the entire nuclear club. While there has been talk of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, the notion is far fetched, though an important one to consider. The army will maintain control over the nuclear weapons program and any democratically elected civilian government can only make noises about the bomb rather than having any operational control over them. The concern remains over the blurring lines between the ISI-Army and Islamic radicalism. The complex relationship between the two is a cause for concern, for if a hardliner General were to take over the country, safety of the nuclear weapons will remain an alarming concern.

At the moment Pakistan marks the end of an era in Pakistani politics. The country has lost a truly charismatic leader who held much promise and the chance to bring in stability. Her funeral and burial will take place in the Bhutto home town of Larkana and she will be laid to rest next to her father. And with her many wonder has the chance for peace and stability also been given a decent burial. She may not have lived long enough to see a truly democratic Pakistan but she will be remembered as a courageous politician who gave her life for her country and for the cause of democracy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Jeet Ka Saudagar

The emphatic victory by the Narendra Modi led BJP in Gujarat has shaken Indian politics forever. The implications of this two-thirds majority will resonate in the years to come. Most notably, this election victory certainly has changed the dynamics of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, with the BJP led NDA looking to make a comeback, or at least present a united front against the UPA. However, this staggering victory will also profoundly change clichéd politically correct definitions in the political lexicon, while also bringing credibility to the concept of inclusive nationalism. While one must not get ahead of one self in terms of the impact of a state election on national polity, the changes this election brings about are hard to shake off. In a single day, Narendra Modi has turned the tables on the Congress and the UPA, he has done so by bringing in a unique mix of development with nationalism, which if used judiciously can yield great dividends for the BJP.

These elections have become the proverbial Waterloo for the New Delhi elite, be it in the media, intelligentsia or political commentary. Narendra Modi has proved that most opinions put forth by the English speaking upper crust of Indian society do not decide whether he rules or not. He has proven that regardless of the relentless battering he received by the liberal elite, by providing transparent and effective governance, he could get what he called a ‘positive vote’. This also marks a turning point in how political lexicon has been and now should be used in the country. He has turned the entire communal-secular-pseudo secular argument on its head. By claiming to be working in the interest of all Gujaratis irrespective of religion, caste and creed, he envisions to inculcate the true meaning of secularism in his public policy. While this may not be entirely accurate, given the severe indictment he received from one and all in the aftermath of the 2002 riots, it does hold merit in terms of not wanting to differentiate any person from his state in terms of religious or caste persuasions. Then again, the pandering on display by the Congress, spearheaded by Sonia Gandhi, towards the Muslims not only gave Modi the wiggle room to play the nationalist card, it once again proved that the Congress is neither secular nor is it pseudo-secular, at best it can be called a pro-minority party. Given the fact that the Congress has chosen to appeal only to the minority section, be it as an electoral strategy or through public policy of the UPA, the Congress has some serious charges to answer in terms of minority appeasement and paradoxically communalism. For if communalism means appealing to a particular section, then the Congress’ polices seem to fit the bill. It is high time that the political lexicon of the day change its definitions from communal or secular to pro-minority and anti-minority, for they adequately reflect the policies of the major political forces of the day.

The second reason why these elections have the potential to change political discourse of national politics is the fact that the message carved by Modi has the potential for mass appeal. The nation deserves and wants governments at all levels that is tough on terror and on the causes of terror. For far too long have we have suffered the bane of terrorism and for even longer have we have shied away from discussing the root causes of terror in our quest to remain politically correct. A tough on terror message is welcome and Modi figured that this message has sound resonance with the entire population of the country. It is important to separate terrorism from religion. This is the crux of the doctrine Modi has brought to the fore. He argued that when he talks about and Afzal Guru or a Sohrabuddin, he talks about a terrorist and a criminal, not about a Muslim. While it may remain the inconvenient truth that most terror attacks in the world are carried out by Muslims, it is a statistic that one must not shy away from. No one advocates harassment or victimization because of the actions of a radical few in any religion, but being politically correct should not make us naïve enough to look the other way. This message has strongly resonated with many in these elections and Modi tapped into its potential for success with this message with great élan.

India is poised to lead the world in the 21st century; there is a sense of anticipation towards a better future for our country. The youth in this country today show a confidence that is a welcome relief from the glum and frustration of the license raj years, Narendra Modi’s strong message of nationalism along with national pride can resonate well with a large section of the youth provided it is without the anti-minority aggro. This message to achieve India’s potential at all costs can help the BJP galvanize a new generation of followers, while it can creditably lay claim to the fact that whenever the BJP has come to power it has sown the seeds of development and pursued inclusive nationalism. If this message were to be crafted well and proven repeatedly, like in Gujarat, the BJP is poised to change the perception of being a party of the ultra-right wing RSSwallahs. And that brings to the third most important change these election results have brought. Centre-right political ideology has been a much maligned force in Indian politics. While it was and still is fashionable to be a Leftist, with an inclusive outlook that was pro-poor and mostly anti-government in nature, being on the Right of the political spectrum was treated with much disdain. As Modi has proved in these elections, it’s not necessary to be a Rightist in policy while having to be in bed with the likes of the ultra-right of the RSS and the VHP. There is a credible and viable space to be in the centre-right of politics with a pragmatic approach towards development, minority and majority rights and nationalism. This paradigm shift will give due credit to the centre-right movement which has been much slandered by all in sundry for years, and though much of the fault lies with the centre-right movement itself, there seems to be broader acceptability towards the right of centre in the political space.

After all is said and done with, ultimately it is the remarkable victory that Narendra Modi has delivered that these elections will be best remembered for. While it was also amusing to see that the post election result so baffled many in the world of television punditry, that anchors for the first time were seen grilling the victors on why they won rather than ask the relevant questions to the losers on why they lost! That aside, it is without doubt Modi’s moment and while the political analysts and his detractors in his own party may scratch their heads on what it’s in store for Modi, his stock has certainly risen and the BJP would hope that they can piggy back to power on his message in 2009.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Who will blame Sonia?
The exit polls in Gujarat seem to suggest that the Narendra Modi led BJP government should make a comeback to power albeit with a reduced mandate to govern. The predictions range between the 90 to 110 range for the BJP while the tally reads 75-85 for the Congress. While exit polls have become as predictable as the weather, there is no doubting the fact that it does seem that Modi will return to power for a fresh five year term. If the exit polls are taken as true, then it will signal a major reversal of fortunes for the Congress, for whom the loss will surely hurt. Given the fact that most political analysts believe that the polarization of the Hindu vote one saw in the 2002 elections would not be repeated in 2007, and given such a scenario, the likelihood of a fragmented Hindu vote seemed to be on the cards. With the breakaway faction led by Keshubhai Patel causing some damage to the BJP’s numbers and given the anti-incumbency mood in South Gujarat and Saurashtra, this indeed was a fight to the death. However, if the exit polls are to be believed the contest, though tougher than the walkover of 2002, is set to be won by the BJP. In such an eventuality it is imperative on the Congress to introspect and ask where they went wrong.

A man like Narendra Modi did not need negative publicity, what with the national media and social activists of the day vilifying him for his role in the 2002 riots, his negative image was sealed by the Supreme Court calling him a “modern day Nero”. The elections of 2002 were considered forgotten and 2007 was taken as a fresh challenge for the Congress. They set out to debunk the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ theme for the elections, spiritedly pointing out to the lack of development of many rural areas in Gujarat. They prepared dossiers to counter the incumbent’s talk of development and up till recently it seemed that the BJP might face an ‘India Shining’ redux in the elections. The wiggle room to get out of the development agenda to more emotive and vote catching themes was presented on a platter by the Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Her now famous ‘merchants of death’ comment provided Modi with the tactical opening, and he used with great élan. Hitting back at the Congress for being soft on terror and supporting a person like Sohrabuddin who was a known criminal, Modi sensed the road to victory might just be sealed through the “maut ke saudagar” remarks. The notice to Modi by the Election Commission further served to the BJP’s interest, who loudly claimed a biased commission working at the behest of Sonia Gandhi. With the EC issuing notices to Gandhi, the BJP won round two of this battle. The Congress further spoilt it chances by not projecting a credible alternative to Modi. Knowing fully well that this election had been reduced to a plebiscite on Modi, they failed to put up an opposing candidate. Bharatsinh Solanki, the poster boy for the Congress, fought valiantly, but without him being projected as the face of change, his appeal was limited. The Congress should have put aside the factionalism within the Gujarat unit and ensured that they were not adequately represented in this David versus Goliath contest. Unfortunately, the David will be sorely missed by the Congress in these elections.

Given the fact that the entire reversal of the agenda for these elections was because of that fateful speech by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party will find conducting a post-mortem finger pointing exercise a trifle tough. Will anybody in the Congress stand up and question the wisdom of speaking words that nearly sealed the party’s fate that too when things were going in its favour? One thinks not, but in the ultimate analysis, that single phrase may have well cost the party an election that they could have wrested out of Modi’s control. The election results, if we assume the exit polls to be correct, will also speak poorly of the new Congress troika of Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. All three, touted as the face of secularism, development and a secure future, fared poorly. All their speeches proved lackluster or worse still played into the enemy hands. With the Congress’ show in UP giving nightmares to the party’s think tank, the Gujarat showing might put even more pressure on Rahul Gandhi and his advisors on his future in politics. When will the heir deliver is the question on everyone’s mind. Then again, in 2004 the NDA rode high on the exit polls and faced a leader-less Congress (though Sonia Gandhi was unofficially the de-facto prime ministerial candidate) only to be humbled by the electorate. It may happen again, but the chances remain remote and one thinks the psephologists have become more cautious since then. A third successive term will ensure that Modi will triumphantly declare himself the ‘merchant of victory’ for the time being, while it will be back to the drawing board for Congress and the first family.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bush Administration…..no….Regime

The Oxford dictionary defines regime as:

• Noun 1. a government, especially an authoritarian one. 2 a systematic or ordered way of doing something. 3 the conditions under which a scientific or industrial process occurs.

— ORIGIN originally in the sense regimen: from French, from Latin regimen ‘rule’.

While it defines and administration as:


• Noun 1. the organization and running of a business or system. 2 the action of administering. 3 the government in power. 4 chiefly N. Amer. the term of office of a political leader or government.

So when does an administration become a regime? How many times have we heard that the Bush Administration is advocating regime change in North Korea or Iran or as in the past Iraq. By labeling even democratic or semi-democratic administrations as regimes like in Venezuela or Russia, does one man’s regime mean another one’s administration?

The Bush ‘administration’ has been in power for eight years and over the years has faced countless charges of high-handedness, secrecy, unilateralism and authoritarianism over its domestic and foreign policies. The invasion (or is it occupation!) of Iraq, the domestic wiretapping controversy, Guantanamo Bay etc. have all the potential to make this administration fit the ‘regime’ definition. But can we ever call it that? I think not. Then again, do democratically elected governments, and more so re-elected governments, ever become regimes? Why is that in Russia the Putin administration, which held out the olive branch to the US in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, is now labeled as a regime curiously once ties between the two countries have considerably cooled? Or for that matter the previous Khatami government in Iran, considered moderate by Iranian standards, was considered an administration, even though American data now suggests that it was under that very regime (?) that Iran was building a nuclear weapons program! The current Ahmedinejad administration, which going by the same intelligence estimate is now nuclear weapons program free is labeled a regime. Confusing isn’t it?

But then in this naïve argument over regime over administration, one cannot overlook the fact as to where the source of a story one reads emanates from usually decides the regime-administration debate and outlooks change from country to country and from one media form to the other. American and Western media will always like to call the Bush government (thank God for a neutral word!) an administration, never mind the fact that they will paint it as a copybook regime. The reverse is true for unfriendly countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iraq, so a definite pattern does seem to emerge. The media in the Middle East, though never known to call a regime a regime, still refer to all its governments as administrations. So as you move from country to country a clear pattern of what defines a regime and administration changes with glaring alacrity. Then again, electronic media like Fox News in the US, for wanting to create sensationalism love words like regime and dictatorship at the drop of the hat (or is it mike), while more sober outlets like the New York Times would still prefer government and administration.

The other equally intriguing question that emerges is can a regime become an administration or vice versa? Is it just semantics or does a rational system to label a government actually exist? Pakistan is a curious country in a bit of a pickle. As President Musharraf ruled valiantly for the past few years, the Musharraf administration was hailed as a frontline ally against terrorism, the cowboy of the East as it were. This year though, his ‘administration’, now enjoys the tag of a regime. Never mind the fact that authoritarianism was the hallmark of the Musharraf government right since the beginning what with a crackdown on democratic parties and the free media. But it was never the West’s concern to call a dictator just that as long as he was on their side. With the administration now getting out of hand, the curse of the regime is now solidly attached to Musharraf. Then again now that he has taken off the uniform, a loaded term on its own, and assumed the role a civil ‘administrator’ does he warrant a change from regime to administration again? A regime change if you will!

In India too, the regime-administration tug of war continues. So as soon as the word Modi comes up, regime and dictator follow. And strangely, his new found friend in that exclusive regime club is West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But in India we face a curious problem; it is not rocket science to imagine that the Manmohan Singh government is an administration and not a regime. How can we call his government a regime, when let alone authoritarianism, the Prime Minister does not even have authority to shuffle his own cabinet. Here we have an administration which is being run by the Congress regime and the regime of the regional parties. To each is own I guess. So, to get around this regime-administration business, why not start a colour coded regime to administration chart, much like terror alerts in the West. Green could mean an administration while red could mean regime, with yellow, orange making up the transformation. It would be a great ready reckoner for all of us who get oh so confused with the regimen of calling a spade a shovel and vice versa.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gujarat Polls - Rhetoric over Realpolitik
The war of words as it were seems to go on unabated in the run up to the crucial Gujarat polls which are due in a little over week’s time. The ruling BJP and the opposition Congress seem at logger heads with each over the ‘slugfest’ that has become this election. After the fiery rhetoric from Chief Minister Narendra Modi and salvos from Sonia Gandhi and Digvijay Singh, the prime minister too has now entered the fray to make himself heard. The intense wordplay underscores the importance of these elections, with the BJP realizing that the development plank alone cannot win them the elections and the Congress, wanting to reduce the margin the loss, wants to make gains in areas like Saurashtra where the BJP is on a sticky wicket. The Congress, in its exuberance have not only made obvious mistakes like not projecting an alternate to Modi in this election which has largely become a personality driven affair, they have also handed out a propaganda victory of sorts to Modi on the issue of minority appeasement, terrorism and nationalism.

The Congress party finds itself in an unusual quandary while facing Modi. When Modi went about town talking about development, the Congress instead on harping on the lack of it unleashed Sonia Gandhi, who instead of rebutting the development agenda switched tracks by calling Modi and the state government the “merchants of death’. Sensing an opportunity to break away from the development plank, whose usefulness is limited in terms of appeal and re-election, Modi lashed on to Gandhi’s comment and hit back by justifying the Sohrabuddin encounter. The BJP argued that they did not speak about Sohrabuddin the Muslim, but Sohrabuddin the criminal. They further point out that while the Congress would not want to convict a criminal if he were from a minority community, the BJP goes after criminals and terrorists regardless of creed and religion. While that is a comfortable nationalist though on terror position to take, it knows fully well that terrorism is now linked to the minority section of the population. The Congress should have ideally attacked the government from the get go on the riots and issues like fake encounters from the start rather than at the near end of the political canvassing process. By bringing out these issues at this stage was only playing into Modi’s hands. Then again, once the Congress chief had made the “maut ka saudagar” comment, the Congress should have backed its leader to the hit rather than flip flopping on the issue. For if the Congress is truly secular, and minority rights figure high on its agenda, it should not worry about what the reaction would be from the extreme right of the majority community. By reigniting the subject of riots and Sohrabuddin only to backtrack at the slightest insinuation does grave injustice to the cause of the riot victims and smacks of pseudo-secularism of the worst kind.

The Congress is trying to play the game of realpolitik but finds itself only venting hot air and rhetoric rather than winning over the moderate sections of voters from across the religious divide. The Congress should have brought into the open the lack of development in Gujarat, with prosperity bringing cheer to only a select few. The Congress in an attempt to do so did bring out the prime minister, who argued that the development in Gujarat is not due to the policies of the Chief Minister and is not limited to the state, but is a pan-India phenomenon. Little did Dr. Singh realize that the elections being held are for the state and not for the centre. The referendum in question is of the Modi government not the UPA in New Delhi. He went on to say that, if anyone dares to oppose the current incumbent then only God can help him. The rhetoric aside, the statements are in poor taste. The prime minister is the supreme political authority in the country. And if under his watch such ‘unconstitutional’ conditions exist then why did he not do anything about it? Why is it that the prime minister is so concerned over the conditions in Gujarat and not West Bengal, where the CPM operates like an extra-constitutional authority, or in Congress ruled Andhra Pradesh where the writ of the Naxals runs larger than the state governments? By pandering on Narendra Modi, the demon, the Congress is making him the agenda, which they should have avoided in the absence of an alternative that could be projected as the moral face of opposition to Modi. In this David versus Goliath, David is missing in action.

The Congress has instead invested in backing the BJP rebels, who were sidelined by the Modi faction. Many of these rebels, like Goradhan Zadaphia, who played a crucial role in the riots of 2002, find themselves being accommodated by the Congress who has issued tickets to their proxies. The Congress may aim to gain a dozen odd seats from the BJP by backing the rebels, it will lose the moral argument it keeps harping on against the vicious ‘communal’ forces. For the moment it seems that Modi will win these elections, albeit with a much reduced majority. If the Congress does make the arithmetic neck and neck, it will be an admirable comeback after losing two straight elections in the state. But even in doing so, it has only helped eulogize Modi rather than demonize him, falling into the Modi trap of 2007 much like its previous version in 2002.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Iranian Bombshell - Intelligence nukes Bush
The United States came out with its delayed National Intelligence Estimate, a distillation of intelligence inputs from the US’ 16 intelligence gathering agencies, which have the potential to further isolate the Bush Administration aggressive policy towards Iran and its nuclear program. The National Intelligence Estimate is a biennial report that comes out with strategic intelligence pointers on key trouble spots for the United States. The National Intelligence Estimate in 2002 became controversial and contentious as it was held up by the Bush Administration as the basis to go to war with Iraq. The NIE report of 2002 was disputed by many in the intelligence setup, most notably by the former US ambassador Joe Wilson and his under cover CIA operative wife Valerie Plame and the ensuing drama that unfolded gobbled up Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby on charges of leaking Plame’s secret identity to journalists. The 2005 estimate became the Bush administration’s holy grail for ratcheting up the pressure on the US’ other bete noire in the ‘Axis of Evil’, Iran. The 2005 estimate stated that “it assesses with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite international obligations and international pressure”. This estimate not only helped the US in rallying allies against the Iranian covert nuclear ambitions, it also made fence sitters on the Iranian issue, like India, stand up and take the potential of an Iranian bomb a reality in the coming years. The United States ensured that three rounds of sanctions were put on Iran, with a fourth round in the offing. The Iranians have consistently fought back and have insisted that their nuclear program is for energy purposes only and have accused the US of being tough on Iran because of their testy past. The confidence on display since 2005 on part of Iran is not surprising. Being a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, they do not violate any international law in seeking nuclear energy. Further, the help the Iranians get from Russia and China on the UN Security Council ensures that tougher sanctions will not see the light of day. Lastly, Iran has met all the requirements including inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s global nuclear watchdog. With the 2007 intelligence estimate now judging “with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear program….the halt lasted at least several years” the Iranians can consider themselves off the hook, thanks ironically to the United States’ intelligence agencies.

The new intelligence estimate is a massive body blow for the United States. The Bush Administration is tethering under attacks from all fronts. Iraq, though better now, has been Bush’s albatross since the invasion, Afghanistan is becoming increasingly violent, North Korea is now a nuclear state, the US has lost key allies in the war on terror, Pakistan continues to be an enigma of confusion and domestically a hostile Congress is testing the President with each legislation and high profile exits from the Bush’s inner circle like Rumsfeld, Rove, Alberto Gonzales and Francis Townsend only add to Bush’s woes. That he can still smile at press conferences and public engagements is a wonder by itself, however, with Iran now using US’ own Intel estimates against Bush’s policy towards it, the smile may not last for long. The influence of the neo-conservative movement on this administration is as much a fable as a reality. The neo-con agenda to take out Iraq, Iran and North Korea was diligently followed by Bush after 9/11. On all three fronts Bush seems to be fighting a losing battle. No matter how good the progress in Iraq post the surge in troops, it remains a quagmire and the war has now gone on for longer than the US’ involvement in World War 2 costing over 3000 lives. North Korea, though now on the path of reconciliation was touted as an example by the US where diplomacy made the despot relent. However, Kim Jong-Ill relented only after testing his bomb to ensure that the West remains wary and frankly scared in future discussions. Much to the dismay of the American allies, South Korea, the US is making peace with the North after the country became nuclear, thereby, seeming to reward the hostile North for developing nuclear weapons. Iran was the other cause for concern for the United States. The Iranians under President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad have taken a hard-line view on the nuclear issue and have actively encouraged groups in the Middle East that are known to be anti-US and anti-Israel, like the Hezbollah, Hamas and countries like Syria. The United States on the other hand, has made the interests of its key ally Israel the guiding star for its Middle East policy. And in doing so, the Iranian bomb was not only a threat to Israel but by virtue of partnership, a threat to America.

The United States ensured that it raised and kept alive the prospect of the Iranian mushroom cloud alive at international forums and to its domestic audience. Many are convinced that the invasion or a limited military strike on Iran is not a question of if but when. The United States was keen to portray the Iranians as trouble makers in Iraq and in the Israel-Palestine peace process. The just concluded Annapolis peace summit was an exercise in weaning away the Arab states from the non-Arab Persians. While this may have received limited success with Syria joining the talks but Hamas boycotting it, the ‘isolate Iran’ tactic was in full swing. The United States was keen to get the European Union on its side with diplomacy and by presenting the threat of a nuclear Iran. United Kingdom was a follower and more recently French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the prospect of Iran attaining nuclear weapons as “unacceptable”. With all the machinations at work the Bush administration would have never thought that trouble would come from within. For all the rhetoric aside the Bush administration is exposed on how varied its policy is from facts. The intelligence and its corresponding foreign policy directive are tangentially apart. While it emerges that Iran actually is not after the bomb, and it hasn’t been so since 2003, the Bush administration still is harping on the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

The Bush administration will need to calibrate its response on the entire issue based on the facts and must alter policy based on newer revelations it receives. Not wanting to change policy in the face of changed circumstances is not only untenable it can seem as a witch hunt against Iran. Iran will use this as not only a vindication of its stand but also as victimization by flawed US foreign policy. George Bush, sensing the fallout of this report, has changed the goalposts. Instead of talking about developing the nuclear bomb, he now wants to talk about the “potential” and “knowledge” to develop nuclear weapons. This change in tack is detrimental to the United States and will further isolate the Bush administration. It would be better served for them to break from the past and start serious negotiations with Iran on its nuclear plans. The National Intelligence Estimate claims that Iran would “technically get enough Uranium….for a nuclear weapon sometime during 2010-2015” this should give the Bush his successor ample opportunity to change tracks and meaningfully engage with the Iranians for its strategic interest. If it fails to engage Iran, it will further isolate itself in the Middle East and amongst its allies. For the moment, it is the National Intelligence Estimate that is acting like an auto-immune disorder going against George Bush and his administration that finds itself boxed in and snuffed out.