After Syria and Iraq, ISIS makes inroads in South Asia

Reuters reports: Islamic State pamphlets and flags have appeared in parts of Pakistan and India, alongside signs that the ultra-radical group is inspiring militants even in the strongholds of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban insurgents, Jamat-ul Ahrar, has already declared its support for the well-funded and ruthless Islamic State fighters, who have captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in a drive to set up a self-declared caliphate.

“IS (Islamic State) is an Islamic Jihadi organization working for the implementation of the Islamic system and creation of the Caliphate,” Jamat-ul Ahrar’s leader and a prominent Taliban figure, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told Reuters by telephone. “We respect them. If they ask us for help, we will look into it and decide.”

Islamist militants of various hues already hold sway across restive and impoverished areas of South Asia, but Islamic State, with its rapid capture of territory, beheadings and mass executions, is starting to draw a measure of support among younger fighters in the region.

Al Qaeda’s ageing leaders, mostly holed up in the lawless region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, are increasingly seen as stale, tired and ineffectual on hardcore jihadi social media forums and Twitter accounts that incubate potential militant recruits. [Continue reading...]

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China is driving the BRICS train

Pankaj Mishra writes: Rarely has an acronym led such a charmed life as BRICS. Casually invented by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist and Bloomberg View columnist Jim O’Neill to label emerging markets of promise, it actually brought together leaders from the disparate countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Last week in Brazil, they took a decisive step toward building institutions that could plausibly challenge the long geopolitical and economic ascendancy of the West.

The New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, would finance infrastructure and development projects. This would be the biggest rival yet to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the economic architecture designed by the U.S. in Bretton Woods in 1944.

There are good reasons why China is working hard to establish it. The BRICS countries contain more than 40 percent of the world’s population and account for a quarter of the world’s economy. China itself may shortly bypass the U.S. to become the world’s biggest economy (based on domestic purchasing power). Yet leadership of the World Bank and the IMF remains the exclusive preserve of the U.S. and western European countries.

The promised reforms to these institutions have not materialized; China now clearly wants to build its own global system with the help of the BRICS. A new “special relationship” with its closest economic partner in the West — Germany — and the recent establishment of Frankfurt as a clearinghouse for the renminbi is part of the same Chinese attempt to break the hegemony of the dollar as a payments and reserve currency. [Continue reading...]

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The head of Omidyar Network in India helped elect Narendra Modi

Mark Ames reports: Last weekend, India’s elections swept into power a hardline Hindu supremacist named Narendra Modi. And with that White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration “look[s] forward to working closely” with a man who has been on a US State Dept “visa blacklist” since 2005 for his role in the gruesome mass-killings and persecution of minority Muslims (and minority Christians).

Modi leads India’s ultranationalist BJP party, which won a landslide majority of seats (though only 31% of the votes), meaning Modi will have the luxury of leading India’s first one-party government in 30 years. This is making a lot of people nervous: The last time the BJP party was in power, in 1998, they launched series of nuclear bomb test explosions, sparking a nuclear crisis with Pakistan and fears of all-out nuclear war. And that was when the BJP was led by a “moderate” ultranationalist — and tied down with meddling coalition partners.

Modi is different. Not only will he rule alone, he’s promised to run India the way he ran the western state of Gujarat since 2001, which Booker Prize-winning author Arandhuti Roy described as “the petri dish in which Hindu fascism has been fomenting an elaborate political experiment.” Under Modi’s watch, an orgy of anti-Muslim violence led to up to 2000 killed and 250,000 internally displaced, and a lingering climate of fear, ghettoization, and extrajudicial executions by Gujarat death squads operating under Modi’s watch.

We can understand the White House being forced to congratulate Modi through gritted diplomatic teeth. What’s harder to stomach is the public cheering of India’s election results by one of the most prominent progressive names in Silicon Valley. [Continue reading...]

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What does Pakistan make of Narendra Modi?

BBC News: The victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s elections has created as much concern in Pakistan as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to attend his oath-taking ceremony has created excitement.

Both emotions invoke images from recent history.

Concern over the BJP’s victory is linked to the widespread belief in Pakistan that the party is a political front for the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), a belligerent Hindu supremacist group that advocates a Hindu way of life and has been an active opponent of Muslim separatism in Kashmir.

Pakistan, which is 96% Muslim, disputes India’s claim over Kashmir, supports separatists there and has fought three of its four wars with India over the Kashmir region.

There are also images of the RSS-led riots that culminated in the 1992 demolition of the 16th Century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, and the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed. [Continue reading...]

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‘Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government’ — Arundhati Roy

Tahir Mehdi writes: In Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.

“The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”

India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.

“What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.

“Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”

Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.” [Continue reading...]

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The BJP landslide victory in India

Samanth Subramanian writes: On Friday, as the results were announced, it became clear that almost all of the prognosticators, amateur and professional, had got it wrong. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) had assessed its chances confidently, and it was commonly expected to amass enough seats to lead a coalition of allies into government. But few expected Narendra Modi, its candidate for Prime Minister, to romp home in such a blistering manner. No single party had won an outright majority in the Lok Sabha, Parliament’s lower house, since 1984. Of the five hundred and forty-three seats, the B.J.P. won a stunning two hundred and eighty-two; with its coalition allies, it controls a dominating three hundred and thirty-four seats. The Congress, India’s oldest party, has led the governing coalition for the past decade. Although its members acknowledged in private that they were likely to be voted out, they suspected that they would secure roughly ninety seats—which would have been a record low. Instead, they took a miserable forty-four seats. What looked a few weeks ago like a mere dramatic change of government now appears to be a seismic shift, arguably the most significant in India since 1977, when the Congress was voted out after three decades in power. Even in that election, held after the Congress government, under Indira Gandhi, declared an emergency and suspended constitutional rights for two full years, the party managed to win a hundred and fifty-three seats.

Any election can be spun as a tussle to define the very soul of a country, but that has truly felt like the case for the past year in India. Both the Congress and the B.J.P. framed their campaigns as plebiscites on the fate of the country. The Congress asked voters to examine whether they wanted to elect Modi, a man who had ruled the state of Gujarat when more than a thousand people — mostly Muslims — were killed in religious riots, in 2002, who was known for his autocratic temperament, and whose political education was shaped by Hindu nationalists. In one campaign speech, the heir to the Congress dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, explicitly compared Modi to Hitler, warning that he would discard democracy altogether. “Hitler thought there was no need to go to the people,” Gandhi said. “He believed that the entire knowledge of the world was only in his mind. Similarly, there is a leader today in India who says, ‘I have done this, I have done that,’ and behaves arrogantly.” [Continue reading...]

Subir Sinha writes: Given than the elections have been declared “free and fair”, does this apparent magnitude of popular support for Modi not suggest that the fears of people like me, who recently signed a letter expressing concern at this prospect, are unjustified?

Modi appears to have been democratically elected. But, as his record in Gujarat indicates, he has exhibited a propensity to wield power in an undemocratic way and for undemocratic ends. Within his own party, he prevents emergence of independent leadership, making sure that potential rivals are politically finished. He encourages defections from other parties, rewarding defectors with party tickets, undermining the legitimacy of opposition.

He undermines key constitutional bodies: whether agencies investigating the 2002 massacres or extra-judicial killings in Gujarat, or the Election Commission. He centralises power, once holding 14 portfolios in the state cabinet. He talks of “uprooting” opponents and “erasing” opposing political parties, and his supporters promise exile and incarceration to critics.

The cult of personality around him likens him to Hindu gods: this militates against the principle of political equality at the basis of democracy. He does not open himself to any critical questioning, about the “Gujarat model” or about the massive finances spent by his campaign. Gujarat, which he holds up as a model of “good governance”, has the highest levels of violence against those seeking to use the “right to information” to find out about the activities of his government. [Continue reading...]

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A profile of India’s new prime minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi

Vinod K Jose writes: In the second week of January 2011, more than 10,000 businessmen from 100 countries descended on Gandhinagar for the fifth instalment of the biannual summit branded as “Vibrant Gujarat”—a marathon matchmaking ceremony of investment pledges and signings intended to bring business to Gujarat and, not incidentally, to make headlines while doing so. The 2011 mela did not disappoint on either count: by the time it was all over, the businessmen had promised investments in excess of $450 billion, the largest-ever sum for a single event in an emerging economy, and the media had obligingly trumpeted both the jaw-dropping figure and the unending chorus of corporate titans paying tribute to Gujarat and its chief minister.

On the first day of the summit—held inside the newly-constructed Mahatma Mandir, a monument to Gandhi in the unlikely form of a convention centre—the stage was preposterously crowded, in keeping with the usual tradition at Indian public events. Eighty people were seated on the dais in three rows, but all eyes were on the man at the centre, the organiser and unquestioned star of the show, Narendra Damodardas Modi. Wearing an ivory-coloured suit and his trademark rimless Bulgari glasses, with a neatly-trimmed grey beard, Modi looked every bit the serious man of action: he listened intently to every speaker, deep in concentration that was rarely broken by a smile. At his side were envoys from the two nations who had signed on as official partners for the fair, the Japanese ambassador and the Canadian high commissioner, and these men were in turn flanked by the two most prominent ambassadors from India Inc, Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani. Another three dozen corporate chairmen and CEOs were also on stage, smiling and satisfied, along with the prime minister of Rwanda and the president of the US-India Business Council, who announced from the stage that he wished to see the United States as a partner country at the next summit.

Vibrant Gujarat has been successfully marketed as a major global business event—so much so that Modi’s American lobbying and public relations firm, APCO Worldwide, recently won two international awards for its work promoting the project. The five summits since 2003 have generated investment pledges worth $920 billion for Gujarat, but their value for Modi can’t be measured by mere numbers. In fact, the figures themselves may be misleading: though Modi claims an implementation rate of greater than 60 percent for pledges made at the summits, an analysis of data from the state industry department suggests that only 25 percent of the promised investments have actually been made. While one-quarter of a trillion dollars is hardly small change, the considerable disparity between the image and the reality actually highlights the tactical genius behind the investment summits, which are the crowning achievement in one of the most extraordinary acts of reinvention in Indian politics.

Modi has turned the act of investing in what has long been one of India’s most business-friendly and industrialised states into a high-profile spectacle—and amplified the disclosure of annual investment inflows into singular triumphant announcements. In other words, Modi has successfully deployed the ancient mercantile and entrepreneurial energy of Gujarat to overhaul his own image.

Ten years after the anti-Muslim pogroms that killed more than 1,200 Gujaratis, Modi has managed to bury the past and resurrect his own extinct prospects for political advancement, replacing epithets like “fascist”, “mass murderer” and “Hindutva fanatic” with a title of his own choosing: Vikaas Purush, or Development Man. For the first families of Indian business, Modi is “the next leader of India”, “a visionary”, “the unstoppable horse”, and “the CEO who can lead the country”, to quote just a sampling of the effusive endorsements from men named Tata, Ambani and Mittal. [Continue reading...]

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The Indian election and the lessons the West can take from Narendra Modi’s popularity

In anticipation of Narendra Modi’s election as India’s next prime minister, Jason Bruke writes: Modi has many critics and when the final results are released on Friday we will probably learn that, even in the event of victory, under a third of voters in India will have actually voted for him. Though he has been cleared by judicial inquiries of having allowed, or even encouraged, sectarian violence in 2002 in the state he runs, suspicions of deep-rooted prejudice remain. Others fear authoritarianism. Concerns about his accession to high office may prove unfounded, but are legitimate.

His supporters, however, see someone else. For if this new urban-rural lower middle-class – also, incidentally, the key constituency for political Islamists and, historically, European revolutionary organisations of every type – are still optimistic, they are also very frustrated. In Modi, they see a strong leader with a proven record of administration who will bring jobs and security, internal and external. They see someone who will restore “Indian pride”, a little battered in recent years. And above all, they see someone like them. It is their concerns, they believe, he articulates. “I understand you because I am from among you,” Modi told a rally in Gujarat, with some justification.

If much of Modi’s support is based in the hope that he can bring order to the chaos of modern India, some is also rooted in an inchoate resentment directed primarily at the local political elite. Unfortunately, this simmering anger results in outbursts that are often poorly aimed, with the west becoming collateral damage.

This is in part our fault. Our interaction with countries like India is complex. But our policymakers and official representatives are guilty of extraordinarily narrow vision which has helped open up space for people like Modi across much of a continent. This aids the sense among huge numbers of people that globalisation is a conversation from which, metaphorically and practically, they are excluded. That conversation takes place in English and it is worth noting that Modi will be the first leader of such prominence and power in India who, like the vast majority of his compatriots, is uncomfortable in what has become the world’s language. [Continue reading...]

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Putin has more admirers than the West might admit

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Tell me your Ukraine and I will tell you who you are. The Ukrainian crisis is a political Rorschach test, not just for individuals but also for states. What it reveals to us is not encouraging for the west. It turns out that Vladimir Putin has more admirers around the world than you might expect for someone using a neo-Soviet combination of violence and the big lie to dismember a neighbouring sovereign state. When I say admirers, I don’t just mean the governments of Venezuela and Syria, two of his most vocal supporters. Russia’s strongman garners tacit support, and even some quiet plaudits, from some of the world’s most important emerging powers, starting with China and India.

During a recent visit to China I was frequently asked what was going on in Ukraine, and I kept asking in return about the Chinese attitude to it. Didn’t a country which has so consistently defended the principle of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of existing states (be they the former Yugoslavia or Iraq), and which itself has a couple of prospective Crimeas (Tibet, Xinjiang), feel uneasy about Russia simply grabbing a chunk of a neighbouring country?

Well, came the reply, that was a slight concern, but Ukraine was a long way away – and, frankly speaking, the positives of the crisis outweighed the negatives for China. What’s more, the United States would have another strategic distraction (after al-Qaida, Afghanistan and Iraq) to hinder its “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, and divert its attention from China. And, cold-shouldered by the west, Russia would be more dependent on a good relationship with Beijing. As for Ukraine – which already sells China higher-grade military equipment than Russia has been willing to share with its great Asian ally – its new authorities had already quietly assured the Chinese authorities that Beijing’s failure to condemn the annexation of Crimea would not affect their future relations. What’s not to like in all that? [Continue reading...]

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Britain should sever its links with Narendra Modi

Priyamvada Gopal writes: Imagine this. A pogrom takes place in a foreign country targeting a minority group, say Christians, with hundreds brutally killed by rampaging mobs, many mutilated and raped, and foetuses removed from pregnant women. Thousands flee destroyed homes. The provincial leader on whose watch these events take place is a politician with open links to extremist Islamist organisations. Three holidaying British citizens are among the massacred. Allegations emerge that this politician’s language helped foment the massacres. With one of his cabinet jailed for her role in the pogroms he becomes the frontrunner to lead this increasingly powerful country. Would you worry?

Yes, is the likely answer, and so you should. In reality, the country is India, the extremists are Hindus, the 2002 Gujarat pogroms targeted Muslims, and the leader in question is Narendra Modi. As the candidate of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in current elections he does not dispute his or its links to the extremist Hindu network known as the Sangh Parivar.

Modi was a leading activist for its secretive and militaristic arm, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – whose founder expressed admiration for Hitler, ideologies of racial purity and the virtues of fascism. It is an organisation that, on a good day, looks like the British National party but can operate more like Nazi militias. Known for an authoritarian leadership style, Modi’s only expression of regret for the pogroms compared them to a car running over a puppy, while he labelled Muslim relief camps “baby-making factories”.

Hindu extremism is rooted in a macho 20th-century response to British colonialism which mocked Hindu “effeminacy”. It is rarely scrutinised in the west, partly because Hinduism is stereotyped as gentle and non-violent in the image of Gandhi – who, ironically, was assassinated by an RSS activist – and benefits from the disproportionate attention given to Islamist violence, which enables other pernicious extremisms to slip under the radar. [Continue reading...]

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Narendra Modi: A threat to the world’s largest democracy?

The Guardian reports: More than a dozen of India’s most respected artists and academics – including the novelist Salman Rushdie and the sculptor Anish Kapoor – have written to the Guardian to express their “acute worry” at the prospect of Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist politician, becoming the country’s prime minister.

Modi, the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is currently leading all opinion surveys and many analysts believe he is assured of victory when results of the six-week phased poll are announced next month.

Tens of millions of Indians voted on Thursday in Delhi, the capital, and in volatile areas in the centre and east of the country where Maoist insurgents are active. Turnout has so far been high in one of the most bitterly fought elections for many decades. The Congress party, in power since 2004, currently appears headed for a historic defeat.

The letter to the Guardian, also signed by British lawyers, activists and three members of parliament, says that Modi becoming prime minister would “bode ill for India’s future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities”. [Continue reading...]

Jason Burke writes: India has long been prone to periodic bouts of communal violence, and political opponents, cynically or otherwise, repeatedly cite the 2002 rioting [in Gujarat] to highlight the threat of sectarian conflict if Modi wins the coming elections. Though Modi has not been convicted, they point out, associates have been sent to prison for their role in the violence. There are also many ordinary Indians, and not just India’s Muslim minority, who are deeply committed to a tolerant, pluralist, progressive vision of India and who believe Modi would divide and damage their country.

Others see things differently. For tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people across India, what happened in 2002, or at least what they believe happened, does not so much raise doubts about Modi’s claim to lead the country, but reinforce it.

In a school run by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] close to the Meerut rally site, on the eve of the meeting, members of the organisation gathered for a conference on encouraging traditional sports. Their worldview is nationalist and conservative. Incidents such as the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi are a result of “moral decadence” and western culture, they say, while the boundaries of “Bharat”, the Sanskrit-origin word they use to describe their country, should encompass Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Bangladesh and Burma. One veteran claims India faces three problems: “corruption, inflation and Muslims”. Modi has an answer to all three, he insists. Rajendra Agrawal, the BJP member of parliament representing Meerut’s 1.4 million voters, stresses that Hinduism’s message is one of peace and tolerance but “one day … Islamic aggression will have to be dealt with”.

A key question is how far Modi has moved from the hardline vision of the organisation he joined at the age of 10. In recent years, there have been tensions between the politician and the RSS. The candidate’s pragmatic, business-friendly, globalised outlook is at odds with the traditional self-reliance of the nationalist movement. The RSS did not take it well, either, when Modi suggested that India needed to build toilets before temples.

Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist who specialises in extremism in south Asia, says Modi has effectively “emancipated himself” from the RSS high command, who traditionally outrank even senior BJP figures. Yet, he adds, Modi may well “do anyway what the RSS has wanted to do for decades because he is perfectly in tune with their ideology.” [Continue reading...]

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Who is Narendra Modi and why is the world afraid of him leading India?

Max Fisher writes: Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, looks likely to become India’s next prime minister — and the international community is terrified. Though Modi is running as an economic fixer, or “India’s CEO,” The Economist went so far as to issue an anti-endorsement, urging Indians to vote for anyone but Modi.

So who is Narendra Modi? And why is the world so worried?

Modi is a leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s second-largest political party, as well as the party’s candidate to become prime minister should BJP sweep the current elections. The BJP is running against the incumbent party, the Indian National Congress Party (or Congress for short), which has been in power for most of the country’s history. It looks likely that the BJP will come out on top in the election, making Modi prime minister.

Modi is known for his trim beard, stern demeanor, and imposing rhetorical style. He is currently the top political official for Gujarat, a northwestern state with about 60 million people, and has been since 2001. He is also a member of the right-wing Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS). He has been a member of the RSS for nearly four decades — an important detail for reasons explained below.

Modi is campaigning on two major platforms. The first is economic management: he positions himself as India’s CEO. While India’s economy has slowed over the last four years, Gujarat’s economy has done well enough for many Indians to see Modi as a leader able to cut through India’s notorious bureaucracy and corruption, and return the country to double-digit growth. The second platform, which is less openly stated but just as important, is right-wing Hindu nationalism — a major concern for India’s Muslims, not to mention outside observers who see it as a recipe for disaster.

He has a notorious record for ginning up religious tension in a country where this can be — and often is — deadly. And his ascent coincides with a rising trend of Indian right-wing Hindu nationalism that has stirred up major concern among many foreign observers. That concern is so pronounced, The Economist ran a cover story explicitly urging Indian readers to vote against Modi. “By refusing to put Muslim fears to rest, Mr. Modi feeds them. By clinging to the anti-Muslim vote, he nurtures it,” the article warned. The anti-endorsement was, like just about everything Modi, extremely controversial in India. [Continue reading...]

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How India is turning into China — and not in a good way

Pankaj Mishra writes: China is shakily authoritarian while India is a stable democracy—indeed, the world’s largest. So goes the cliché, and it is true, up to a point. But there is a growing resemblance between the two countries. A decade after we were told that China and India were “flattening” the world, expediting a historically inevitable shift of power from West to East, their political institutions and original nation-building ideologies face a profound crisis of legitimacy. Both countries, encumbered with dynastic elites and crony capitalists, are struggling to persuasively reaffirm their founding commitments to mass welfare. Protests against corruption and widening inequality rage across their vast territories, while their economies slow dramatically.

If anything, public anger against India’s political class appears more intense, and disaffection there assumes more militant forms, as in the civil war in the center of the country, where indigenous, Maoist militants in commodities-rich forests are battling security forces. India, where political dynasties have been the rule for decades, also has many more “princelings” than China—nearly 30 percent of the members of parliament come from political families. As the country intensifies its crackdown on intellectual dissent and falls behind on global health goals, it is mimicking China’s authoritarian tendencies and corruption without making comparable strides in relieving the hardships faced by its citizens. The “New India” risks becoming an ersatz China.

To those in the West who reflexively counterpose India to China, or yoke them together, equally tritely, as “rising” powers, the solutions to their internal crises seem very clear: Democratic India needs more economic reforms—in other words, greater openness to foreign capital. Meanwhile, authoritarian China, now endowed with a cyber-empowered and increasingly assertive middle class, must expose its anachronistic political system to the fresh air of democracy. [Continue reading...]

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Kashmir is killing India’s military and democracy

Pankaj Mishra writes: In July 1995, an Islamic fundamentalist group called Al Faran kidnapped six foreign tourists, including two Americans, in Kashmir. For a few weeks, the world’s attention was fixed on the Himalayan valley as the allegedly Pakistan-backed militants negotiated with Indian security officials and foreign diplomats.

Eventually, one of the Americans escaped. Another hostage, a Norwegian, was beheaded. The other four were never found.

The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 — Where the Terror Began, a staggeringly well-researched new book by two respected journalists, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, concludes that the hostages were killed by local mercenaries funded and controlled by Indian army and intelligence.

The authors argue that the drawn-out negotiation, during which Indian intelligence allegedly knew the hostages’ whereabouts, was a charade, part of India’s larger effort to portray Pakistan as a sponsor of Islamist terror, thereby delegitimizing the Kashmiri struggle for freedom.

Certainly, India today no longer needs to highlight the role of the Pakistani army and intelligence in sponsoring extremist groups. It has also succeeded in shifting international attention away from the appalling facts of its counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir — tens of thousands killed, and innumerable many tortured, mutilated and orphaned. The tallying in 2009 of 2,700 unmarked graves containing the remains of people (often buried in groups) killed by security forces barely provoked any comment in the international media, let alone expressions of concern by Western leaders. [Continue reading...]

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Video: India’s coal rush

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A perfect terrorist

Watch A Perfect Terrorist on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

See also Sebastian Rotella’s companion article in ProPublica, The American behind India’s 9/11—and how U.S. botched chances to stop him.

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Nuclear powers plan weapons spending spree, report finds

The Guardian reports: The world’s nuclear powers are planning to spend hundreds of billions of pounds modernising and upgrading weapons warheads and delivery systems over the next decade, according to an authoritative report [PDF] published on Monday.

Despite government budget pressures and international rhetoric about disarmament, evidence points to a new and dangerous “era of nuclear weapons”, the report for the British American Security Information Council (Basic) warns. It says the US will spend $700bn (£434bn) on the nuclear weapons industry over the next decade, while Russia will spend at least $70bn on delivery systems alone. Other countries including China, India, Israel, France and Pakistan are expected to devote formidable sums on tactical and strategic missile systems.

For several countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel and France, nuclear weapons are being assigned roles that go well beyond deterrence, says the report. In Russia and Pakistan, it warns, nuclear weapons are assigned “war-fighting roles in military planning”.

Max Fisher writes: After 10 years of close but unproductive talks, the U.S. and China still fail to understand one another’s nuclear weapons policies, according to a disturbing report by Global Security Newswire and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. In other words, neither the U.S. nor China knows when the other will or will not use a nuclear weapon against the other. That’s not due to hostility, secrecy, or deliberate foreign policy — it’s a combination of mistrust between individual negotiators and poor communication; at times, something as simple as a shoddy translation has prevented the two major powers from coming together. Though nuclear war between the U.S. and China is still extremely unlikely, because the two countries do not fully understand when the other will and will not deploy nuclear weapons, the odds of starting an accidental nuclear conflict are much higher.

Neither the U.S. nor China has any interest in any kind of war with one other, nuclear or non-nuclear. The greater risk is an accident. Here’s how it would happen. First, an unforeseen event that sparks a small conflict or threat of conflict. Second, a rapid escalation that moves too fast for either side to defuse. And, third, a mutual misunderstanding of one another’s intentions.

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David Headley, witness in terror trial, ties Pakistani spy agency to militant group

Sebastian Rotella reports:

A confessed Pakistani American terrorist took the stand in a Chicago courtroom Monday and described a close alliance between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group, alleging that Pakistani officers recruited him and played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

David Coleman Headley’s long-awaited testimony at the start of a trial with international repercussions resolved one question at the outset: Federal prosecutors did not hesitate to connect Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

Headley has pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance in Mumbai and is the star government witness against his alleged accomplice, Tahawwur Rana. Headley testified that Lashkar “operated under the umbrella of the ISI” even after the group was banned in Pakistan in 2001.

The ISI and Lashkar “coordinated with each other,” Headley testified. “And ISI provided assistance to Lashkar: financial, military and moral support.”

After he trained three years with Lashkar, Headley said, a “Major Ali” of the ISI recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Afghanistan border in 2006. Ali referred him to an officer known as Major Iqbal, who became Headley’s handler and worked separately but in coordination with Lashkar chiefs, directing Headley’s reconnaissance in India and providing $25,000 to fund his mission.

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