The curse of obsequiousness

December 13, 2010

A version of the following was published by DNA on 14th dec 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_why-we-are-the-world-s-worst-bunch-of-kowtowers_1480850 under the title” Why we are the world’s worst bunch of kowtowers”.

The curse of endemic obsequiousness

 

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether Indian officials’ refusal to grow a backbone is an unfortunate national trait

 

The incident in Mississippi was startling: the Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, clad in a sari, was pulled out of the security line at an airport and subjected to a humiliating pat-down, apparently because of Transportation Safety Administration guidelines about ‘voluminous clothes’.

 

This, despite the fact that the ambassador produced her diplomatic papers. I suppose one could argue that the Mississippi officers were just doing their job, although it is possible that a little xenophobia, if not a little racism, was thrown in. Somehow I can’t imagine them patting down a white woman in a voluminous bridal dress.

 

But worse, the Indian Embassy tried to hush this incident up. It turns out this is not the first time it has happened to Meera Shankar. The embassy would have done nothing this time too if a local paper hadn’t carried shocked observations by the ambassador’s hosts, who felt she had been humiliated by the pat-down in full public view.

 

It appears, sadly, that the first instinct of Indian officialdom is to swallow insults and to, if possible, insist on not having any semblance of a backbone.

 

Consider that other countries do not ‘go gentle into that good night’, but they ‘rage, rage’. When China felt that the Nobel Peace Prize was an affront to them, they simply instituted a competing Confucius Peace Prize, laughable though it may be. When the US introduced intrusive fingerprinting rules for visitors, Brazil retaliated in kind. When the US creates non-tariff barriers, others retaliate.

 

But India, oh, that’s a different matter. There seems to be a built-in level of obsequiousness. Are Indian diplomats eyeing post-retirement sinecures in the World Bank etc.? But why are diplomats from other countries willing to stand up for their national interests?

 

Perhaps it is because India has never explicitly stated what those national interests are. The late C K Prahalad once wrote an essay on ‘strategic intent’ – that is, a long-range plan with a stretch goal: difficult at the moment, but not impossible if one worked assiduously at it. It is now accepted in business circles that firms that do not have a ‘strategic intent’ are more likely to fail, because there’s nothing like a worthy goal to rally the troops.

 

The Americans have strategic intent: it was paraphrased some years ago as something to the effect of “having 8% of the world’s population, and enjoying 50% of its resources”. China similarly has a strategic intent: they want to be Numero Uno in everything: wealth, military power, soft power. And what is India’s strategic intent? To be a toady to some great power? Can’t India see that it can be more than a banana republic, it can be a great power itself? It can be the bride, not only the bridesmaid.

 

On the contrary, I find a supreme lack of self-confidence. I understand that when the Chinese once sent a demarche to the Indian Embassy past midnight – in diplomatic terms a gross insult – instead of waiting till the next day, the woman ambassador showed up at the Chinese Foreign Office at 2 am! The Chinese would have considered that to be kowtowing.

 

But when a rude Chinese diplomat claimed in Mumbai that India had no business in Arunachal Pradesh, India did not immediately declare him persona non grata and give him 24 hours to clear out of the country. Instead, he was allowed to hang around and make more offensive statements!

 

A Chinese strongman is due to visit India shortly – and some suggested that India should refrain from the Nobel ceremony in case it would jeopardize the Wen Jiaobao visit! Why this walking on eggshells? The gent is not visiting for India’s benefit. If he doesn’t come, it will make no difference – they will continue the dam on the Brahmaputra, their army’s incursions over the LOC, and proliferation to Pakistan.

 

There is no consequence to them for misbehaving with India. We should ensure there some pain to China, and others, for insulting India. That gains respect.

 

Is there a genetic problem among Indians? Are we so used to obsequiousness that it has become the way we think? Perhaps. Going back to the airport security issue, maybe you have seen the lists in Indian airports of those exempt from security checks: the President, the Chief Justice Supreme Court, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and so on…, and, Robert Vadhera!

 

Yes, this person who holds no public office is the only one specified by name as being exempt from frisking. In all fairness to this gent, I am told he didn’t ask for it, and it was the work of overzealous flunkeys. If that groveling is the prevailing pattern in India, then perhaps it is only fair that Meera Shankar was patted-down.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

 

823 words, 11 Dec 2010

 

 

 

A version of the following was published on Nov 30th by DNA at: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_china-s-proxies-pak-and-n-korea-are-bamboozling-us_1474172

America is bamboozled by China’s proxies, North Korea and Pakistan

 

Rajeev Srinivasan contends that instead of throwing in its lot with a declining America, it should aspire to be one of the G3 great powers

 

There is a fin-de-siecle feeling in the air, of a change of guard. America’s self-confidence is at a low, and its strategists and policymakers are conceding the world stage to China. Caught in two nasty and difficult-to-win wars, it suffers from imperial overstretch, and there are parallels between the rapid decline of Britain in the 20th century and a likely diminution of American power in the 21st.

 

Several incidents in the recent past suggest that American power may diminish even more precipitously than British power. Consider America versus the insurgent, China.

 

In three major wars since 1950, Chinese proxies have faced Americans. In Korea, Chinese allies fought the Americans to a standstill; the North Vietnamese (then friends of China) defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, Chinese ally Pakistan is humiliating the Americans after getting $25 billion in largesse from them. In other words, score: China 3, America 0.

 

It is clear that China uses Pakistan and North Korea as force-multipliers. It is a safe first-cut assumption to believe that everything these two rogue nations do is intended to advance Chinese interests, as they are virtually on Chinese military and diplomatic life-support.

 

Take the recent North Korean artillery barrage against a South Korean island. This is not an isolated incident, nor is China an innocent bystander by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“America and China’s First Test”, Financial Times, Nov 23) claims. Cold Warriors are still fighting the last war in Europe against the Soviets: they labor under the misconception that China is benign.

 

On the contrary, chances are that North Korean belligerence is an indirect Chinese response to US President Obama’s recent Asia swing, wherein he appeared to be building a coalition – India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea – to thwart China’s soaring ambitions.

 

China has been a consistent proliferator of missiles to North Korea, and nuclear weapons to Pakistan; the two swap technologies as well, with plausible deniability for China. Via the AQ Khan nuclear Wal-mart, these weapons were hawked to rogue regimes everywhere.

 

A while ago, saber-rattling North Korea launched long-range ballistic missiles to threaten Japan. So it is not surprising that a couple of weeks ago, North Korea amazed visiting American scientists by demonstrating its advanced weapons-grade uranium enrichment program. The Pakistan model, whereby China supplies screwdriver-ready nuke components, may well be at work here too.

 

Then there was the North Korean torpedo sinking a South Korean ship a few months ago; the sudden shelling of the South Korean island is part of marking out a zone of Chinese influence in the Yellow Sea. This fits into their recent aggressive behavior, bullying neighbors and declaring in effect that the South China Sea is a Chinese lake.

 

The most recent Pakistani incident is even more intriguing. It has been obvious for some time that the CIA is entirely clueless in the region, and is being led by the nose by the ISI – which surely receives advice and materiel from China. In 2001, the siege of Kunduz demonstrated how the ISI bamboozled the CIA into letting them airlift a thousand alleged Taliban officers (in reality Pakistani Army/ISI brass) besieged by the Northern Alliance.

 

A few months ago, seven CIA officers including their station chief in Afghanistan were blown up when a Jordanian double agent, presented as a senior al Qaeda insider, detonated explosives hidden in a suicide vest.

 

Now it turns out that an alleged top-level Taliban leader, who the Americans and Afghans were negotiating with, was a total impostor: he was in it for the big bucks from the gullible Americans. This demonstrates painful realities: the Americans lack decent intelligence on the ground, and being desperate to withdraw, they will clutch at straws. The clever ISI will, accordingly, manufacture various straws on demand and extract more billions from the CIA.

 

This latest Pakistani exploit reminds me of Graham Greene’s wickedly funny “Our Man in Havana” where an underpaid spy (and sometime vacuum cleaner salesman) sends fanciful details of an advanced Cuban/Soviet doomsday machine back to his bosses who are awed; only these were photos of the insides of a vacuum cleaner!

 

If this is the level of the competence of the almighty CIA, then I fear for America. And I fear even more for India, which seems to have a drop-dead, unerring instinct for allying with countries that are in terminal decline: first it was the Soviets, now it is the Americans.

 

Unfortunately, the idea that it need not ‘align’ with anybody does not even occur to India’s mandarins, as a result of an institutionalized inferiority complex. India, with its Hanuman Syndrome of not recognize its own strength, does not, alas, aspire to the creation of a G3: India, China, America, in that order.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant

 

825 words, Nov 26th

A version of the following appeared on rediff.com on July 21st at http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/jul/21/slide-show-1-rajeev-srinivasan-on-moving-beyond-the-indo-pak-peace-talks.htm

Moving beyond the Indo-Pak ‘peace talks’, as the Afghan end game nears

Rajeev Srinivasan on how apportioning blame for the failure of the talks misses the big picture on the ground – the Great Game is afoot

I am always amused at the great expectations that some Indians harbor about India-Pakistan palavers, contrary to sense and prior experience. I suspect nothing will ever come of any Indo-Pak talks, because the dominant Pakistani ethos, indeed the very raison d’etre of that State’s existence, is based on being not-India and anti-India.

In particular, Pakistan is a State owned by an Army, and the Army would have no reason to exist if peace were, by some miracle, to break out with India. Survival instinct alone, therefore, suggests that the Pakistani Army could not possibly afford peace. After all, the continuous state of covert war sustains a very comfortable living for the generals – a story in the New York Times on July 19th talked about how parts of Islamabad look like a tidy, affluent Los Angeles suburb.

However, I am overwhelmed by déjà vu, because I could repeat verbatim what I wrote in June 2001, in a column titled “Because it’s their nature, their custom: Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed”, [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jun/18rajeev.htm] about the much-ballyhooed 2001 talks with General Musharraf. I offered several analogies, including one with two sets of Polynesian islanders with widely differing visions of what ‘peace’ might be – absolutely appropriate in the India-Pakistan context.

I concluded with the following, and in hindsight I was wrong in assuming that India could drive Pakistan to bankruptcy with an arms race, much as the Americans had done to the Soviets:

“It is clear that Pakistan — or, to be precise, their ruling military establishment — wants, or needs, war. We can oblige: India can continue to bear the cost of war better than a much smaller, economically stagnant Pakistan which is liable to collapse under its own internal contradictions and runaway religious terrorism.”

Of course, this was before 9/11, and I did not anticipate then that the Pakistanis would get the Americans (and the Chinese) to underwrite their war against India, and that the Indian government would be so unwilling to or incapable of deterring Pakistan by imposing costs on misadventures. Instead, Pakistan is convinced that India does not have the guts to stand up to them.

Pakistanis are justified in believing this: for all practical purposes, the Mumbai attack in 2008, 11/26,  has been forgotten, and this so-called ‘peace process’ is proceeding from the Indian side as though the humiliation of that frontal attack on India’s financial nerve-center never happened. The small matter of 180 Indians being massacred, and India’s inept response to the crisis, both broadcast live around the globe, are forgotten.

Indeed, the name of the game today in India is finger-pointing: mandarins are running around trying to find a scapegoat to blame for the ‘failure’ of the talks. They have found a good candidate in Home Secretary G K Pillai, who is now the fall guy for having dared to mention some unmentionables.

A news item suggests that the Prime Minister is unhappy with Pillai for having aired David Coleman Headley’s confessions about the involvement of the ISI and the LeT in the Mumbai invasion. It seems the Prime Minister would have preferred it if this minor detail were swept under the carpet! What were the talks about, if they were to ignore the Pakistani establishment’s culpability in cross-border terrorism?

Where do the ‘concessions’ end? Wasn’t it enough that the Government of India quietly handed over 25 Pakistani terrorists – with no reciprocity – as  a ‘goodwill gesture’ to apparently smooth the way for the talks? And why didn’t the ever-vigilant English Language Media utter a word about this rather strange, and servile, way of engaging a foe?

There is also a basic flaw about the coverage of the talks – the issue is not whether the talks were successful. The issue is whether there is any progress made in the larger issue of protecting India’s national interests. Once again, we are losing the forest for the trees – the talks are tactical, the pursuit of national interests is strategic.

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and subterfuge.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the Indians on the run”. So why, they ask reasonably, should they negotiate, when they are winning?

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns. Pashtuns account for only about 40% of the Afghan population, along with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was excluded from previous talks about that nation, and now seems to be grudgingly included.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the line. Pashtun parts of Afghanistan, and the erstwhile North-West Frontier Province and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan would be its component parts.

This, of course, would be a disaster for Pakistan, as it would induce restive and oppressed Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well, leaving just a rump Pakistani Punjab, which would be too small to cause much damage to anybody but itself.

In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem. (There are clearly potential problems for India, too – perhaps there will be pressure to create a separate Kashmiri State; similarly Iran may end up losing its Baluch province of Sistan/Baluchistan to an independent Baloch State).

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable position of confronting the ISI’s ‘strategic depth’, which it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to checkmate it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

There is only one small silver lining in this cloud, and it is based purely on geography and demography. That silver lining is that the ISI may have been too clever for its own good, and that its ‘victory’ in Afghanistan may well be Pyrrhic, if it results in the unraveling of the country. There are those in India who say that a ‘stable, prosperous’ Pakistan is in India’s best interests. Hardly. On the contrary, a weak, balkanized Pakistan is.

Pakistan has made a career out of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It was obvious as long ago as the siege of Kunduz in 2001 and the ensuing ‘Airlift of Evil’ that the so-called Taliban officers are serving or retired Pakistani Army and ISI brigadiers and colonels wearing baggy pants and beards and turbans. The ISI has had a great run with the fiction that the Taliban is distinct from itself.

With luck, this may be coming to an end. Former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill endorsed a formulation of a de-facto partition of Afghanistan, with the northern portion (including Kabul) to be under an American-NATO umbrella, and the southern, Pashtun, portion, to be left to the tender mercies of the Taliban/ISI. This is surely a trial balloon from the US Administration.

In effect, this would mean the old Northern Alliance would be re-constituted, with the US/NATO supporting it and keeping the Taliban at bay, as it was before 9/11, the only difference being that ten years have passed and $300 billion has been spent, a fair bit of which has spirited away by the ISI and friends. And Massoud has been assassinated.

If this is the final end game in Afghanistan, India had better be prepared to play an active role. Otherwise, in the new Great Game being played on the fringes of Indian territory, it will end up just a spectator. India should be looking to parlay its long tradition of relations with Afghanistan to establish strong commercial linkages, especially now that it turns out the country is chock-full of minerals.

The Indo-Pakistan ‘peace process’ is merely a ritualistic sideshow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The real strategic imperative is a plan for India in a post-Pakistan scenario, especially to prevent China and America from dividing up the Af-Pak region into their spheres of influence. With some luck, Pakistan may yet implode without any help from India. India should look beyond its obsession with Pakistanis strutting about, and pursue its national interests.

2000 words, 20th July 2010

A version of the following appeared in Daily News & Analysis on Jul 13th, 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_india-s-strategic-blunders_1408958, and a PDF version of the page is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/13072010/12main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Strategic blunders hurt India

Rajeev Srinivasan on how Pakistan has outsmarted India through clever foreign policy

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, the violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and dissimulations.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the UPA on the run”. They perceive a ‘backbone deficit’ and lack of will.

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns.

Pashtuns account for about 40% of the Afghan population, with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras among others. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was not even invited to talks about that nation.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and if given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the Durand Line. This, of course, would be disaster for Pakistan, as it might induce restive Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well. In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem.

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable situation that the ISI has achieved the ‘strategic depth’ it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to smother it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

825 words, 10 Jul 2010

A version of this appeared in Daily News & Analysis on June 29th. Here is the URL: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_losing-in-afghanistan_1402597

and the pdf of the page can be found here: http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/29062010/28main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Losing the new Great Game in Afghanistan

America has gotten itself into an unholy mess thanks to Pakistani duplicity

The news from Afghanistan is not good for the US, nor for India. US President Obama dismissed the commander of his troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, ostensibly because of rude comments he made in a magazine article, but in reality because a scapegoat was needed for the increasingly inept war efforts there. The same fate befell his predecessor too.

The facts on the ground indicate that Obama’s announced plan – surge, bribe, declare victory, and run like hell – is not working. The current thinking is no longer about winning, but about spinning a face-saving retreat. Says the Washington Post, “[the] administration is looking for a decent, negotiated exit. The Pakistani intelligence service would act as a surrogate (and guarantor) for the Taliban… The deal might leave the Taliban in control of large parts of Afghanistan…  ”

In other words, Obama is explicitly outsourcing the war to Pakistan’s ISI. This would be a questionable choice anyway. But given that the Taliban are basically ISI in baggy pants and beards, an instance of diplomatic theater (after all, it is astonishing that these alleged theology students suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes), the policy is suicidal. A recent report from the London School of Economics and Harvard University emphasized the links between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban.

This report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, indicts the ISI, which, it says, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” insurgents. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it claims Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”.

A New York Times report suggests further that “Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.”

The Haqqani network and the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are among the ISI’s assets. Ironically, Hekmatyar, now a sworn enemy of the US, received over half of the billions that the CIA lavished on the war against the Soviets, thanks to his friends in the ISI.

It is remarkable that the ISI has hoodwinked the Americans to such an extent. ISI protégés are killing Americans, while the ISI and the Pakistani Army pretend to be fighting on the side of the Americans. In other words, the Americans are fighting people whom they are indirectly funding! It is as though, in Vietnam, they were funding not only the South Vietnam Army, but also the Viet Cong guerillas.

When the history of the Afghan war is written, historians may pinpoint the exact moment the Americans lost it. That was the siege of Kunduz in 2001. The rampaging Northern Alliance had much of the top brass of the Taliban corralled at the fort in Kunduz. Unbelievably, the CIA authorized an airlift by the Pakistanis (now called “Airlift of Evil”). At least a thousand of the Taliban were spirited away – and the open secret is that they were mostly midlevel Pakistani Army and ISI officers in turbans. That singular event sealed the fate of the entire campaign.

It is high time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s scheming Army and ISI.

The ISI has also put about an interesting theory, that Afghanistan is per se not conquerable. That is not quite true: Greeks, Persians, Mongols, et al, did conquer. Yes, the British were routed. That was because, despite propaganda, the British were poor warriors: they were able to win victories in India only because of a disastrous Indian habit of betrayal. There are Mir Jafars aplenty in India; but Afghans do not betray their own to foreigners.

When properly handled, Afghanistan can be conquered and held, as Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire demonstrated not too long ago. The reason most conquerors left Afghanistan is that it is stark, inhospitable territory with no apparent value: the returns were not worth the cost of holding it. Of course, that may change now that they say the country holds trillions of dollars worth of strategic minerals: that may encourage Americans to hold on.

But a comprehensive American defeat in Afghanistan would be strategically bad for India too. It would encourage triumphalist fundamentalists, who could now reasonably claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. Worse, it would mean that China, through its proxies, has defeated the Americans yet again: this would be number three in a row, after Korea and Vietnam. Imagine their hubris!

825 words, Jun 26, 2010

A version of this appeared on rediff.com on Jun 21st at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/21/rajeev-srinivasan-on-americas-afghan-plans.htm

A U-turn on Afghanistan?

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether the US is making a mid-course correction on Afghanistan

These are not good times for US president Obama. Hailed as a savior if not a messiah just eighteen months ago, he is now reeling from several crises. The BP oil spell has left him looking incompetent and uncaring. The $1 trillion stimulus package may have avoided a Great Depression, but unemployment hovers near 10%. His big achievement, healthcare reform, has left a sour taste with almost all sections of society.

But most of all, the Afghanistan quagmire is getting worse. Just this week, seven US soldiers were killed in a single day; the public is getting tired of body bags and elusive promises of success. Maybe there’s a re-think. A series of unexpected events took place recently that, if put together, may signal a mid-course correction by the US:

  1. A report from the London School of Economics and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University that emphasized the very high level of co-operation between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban
  2. A major story in the New York Times about the discovery of large mineral deposits in Afghanistan
  3. Severe ethnic riots, resulting in a breakdown of normal activity, in the republic of Kyrgyzstan, where an important US air force supply base in Manas is used to support the war effort
  4. The resignations of Afghanistan’s interior minister and security chief, among other things, taking responsibility for an attack on a loya jirga, but also suggesting a hardening of ethnic differences
  5. Reports that the Afghan President Karzai has lost faith in the ability of the NATO forces to actually win the war
  6. Reports that the much-anticipated counter-insurgency surge in Marjah, which was hailed at the time as momentous, has bogged down and that the rebels are gaining strength

All these have to be seen in the context of Obama’s policy of increasing the number of soldiers on the ground first, and then beginning to wind down the US war effort and withdrawing troops in 2011, just in time to declare victory and use the halo effect to effortlessly win the 2012 presidential elections.

That dream is, to put it mildly, in some jeopardy now. The Obama plan was to surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell. They have done the surge part, and are in the process of bribing (usually the ISI and its pals), but it’s not going well. The bribees are not acting as expected – Afghans seem to be taking the bribes and merrily continuing what they were doing anyway.

The US’s intent to declare victory and leave requires someone to be the ‘keeper’, as it were, of Afghanistan. The ISI has volunteered itself for this role. This is why it is intriguing that the LSE/Kennedy School report has come out at this time. The Kennedy School is close to the US government, and so it is a fair conjecture that the US administration wants to put the screws on someone.

At first glance, if you read the litany of things in this report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, it sounds like a damning indictment of the ISI which is quite transparently the prime motivator, financier, and provider of cover to the Taliban and related groups.

The ISI, says the report, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” them. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it is not just the ISI, it claims that Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”, the bracket in the original. Interesting that an American is calling Pakistan an enemy state, not the trademarked “major ally in the war on terror”.

Unfortunately, the author, Matt Waldman, has the standard simplistic solution to all this: the way to end the ISI’s cooperation with the Taliban “is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, especially its latent and enduring conflict with India”. Of course, if only India were to give Kashmir to Pakistan, the ISI would stop arming the Taliban, and Americans can go home. Simple! QED.

The answer, therefore, is for India to give more: which might explain the Indian PM’s offer to ‘walk the extra mile’ and the latest euphemism, ‘creative solutions’ to the Kashmir problem. India must give up territory so that Americans can exit Afghanistan, in return for… exactly what? Eternal love and fellowship? Just like India sacrificed Tibet and got eternal love and friendship?

Well, be that as it may, it is also possible that finally the US is recognizing the obvious: the ISI has been running with the hares and hunting with the hounds from day one. Maybe the judicious leak is a way of putting the ISI on notice that it had better ratchet things down to some extent. Maybe the Obamistas are actually planning to stay for a while.

Such an eventuality would explain why the NY Times, also known to the close to the US government, made such breathless noises about newly-discovered minerals in Afghanistan (“1 trillion worth!” “Might fundamentally change the war!”). Perhaps Obama has decided that it is not such a good idea to exit in 2011, possibly handing the terrorists a morale-boosting victory.

This story about minerals is not new – months ago, I heard about this from the intrepid foreign policy analyst who goes by the name Pundita. She suggested this meant Americans would stay on: there was no way they would leave all this loot to the Chinese, who have already snapped up a giant copper mine. Perhaps the NYT minerals story is a red herring to divert attention away from the real issue of American failure in Afghanistan.

That failure is evident in the subdued talk about Marjah now; instead of the cocky self-assurance then, there is grim talk now of the difficulty in clearing the area and keeping in clear. No wonder it appears Karzai has lost faith in American staying power – and even in their military tactics; and he is also probably tired of being painted as the villain and blamed for the failure of American plans.

In this context, the resignations of the interior minister Hanif Atmar and the security chief Amrullah Saleh sent ominous signals. In particular, Saleh, an ex-aide of the assassinated military genius and commander of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, appears to have been one of the most competent ministers. And as an ethnic Tajik, his departure may signal increasing ethnic fractures in the Afghan government.

It is easy to underestimate the impact of ethnic divisions in Central Asia. There are differences of opinion between the Pashtuns (Karzai is one and so are the Taliban) and the smaller Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities. Sometimes these break into open warfare – the Taliban, for instance, massacred Hazaras, and that was partly because the latter were Shia, so the Shia-Sunni religious divide can also be potent.

A case in point about ethnic divisions is the sudden outburst of rioting and killing in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the Kyrgyz are apparently killing Uzbeks (which may be normal in Central Asia where majorities severely oppress minorities). This has an impact on the US – if Manas air support base becomes less available for operations, it increases the US’s dependence on Karachi and the ISI that much more.

Thus, nothing seems to be going according to plan, and a gloomy headline in the NY Times suggesting that “Setbacks cloud US plans to get out of Afghanistan”. No kidding. The Americans may have to accept they are in it for the long term: Afghanistan may not be another Vietnam, but a tar baby. They simply cannot cut and run. They have to clean up this unholy mess of their own making.

It is time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but the chimera Pakistan, an imaginary homeland. The very existence of Pakistan – a state with no raison d’etre, is the root cause. The random Durand Line, that slices the Pashtun nation into Afghan and Pakistani areas, was never taken seriously by Pashtuns, and the British-brokered treaty that created it expired in 1993. Until a united Pashtun nation is created including the appropriate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, this problem is going to fester: tribal loyalties run supreme in those mountains.

The Americans may be thinking of contracting the running of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth to the ISI, much as the latter have been exploiting the mineral wealth of Baluchistan while severely oppressing, and occasionally massacring, native Baluch. It is not clear that this tactic will work with the Afghans.

Instead of giving the ISI the ‘strategic depth’ they crave by allowing them run rampant in Afghanistan, the answer would be to create a Pashtun nation, a Baluch nation (part of it is in Iran), a Sindhi nation, leaving the rump of Pakistani Punjab too small to do too much damage to anybody but themselves.

If this has finally dawned on the Americans, the $300 billion that they have already poured down the endless money-pit of this war can be chalked up to experience. Otherwise, they would, in Talleyrand’s memorable indictment of the French monarchy, have “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is that they will press India to give in to the ISI, or, equally disastrously, ask for Indian troops to join them in Afghanistan.

1550 words, June 15, 2010

Versions of the following appeared on rediff.com and India Abroad. The rediff.com version from June 16th is at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/16/rajeev-srinivasan-on-indias-relationship-with-america.htm

India needs a relationship of equals, and the US will not offer that

Rajeev Srinivasan on the poor prospects of an Indo-US rapprochement

The just-concluded ‘Strategic Dialog’ between India and the US certainly sounds important. The big question is whether there is any substance behind the rhetoric. Going by past history, it is likely that this will be yet another false dawn in Indo-US relations. An incisive analyst, Brahma Chellaney, summed up Indian skepticism in a tweet:

“The US has realized the simple way to keep Indians happy: An occasional ego-massage. After Obama’s eulogy, Indians will stay content for a while.“

It is true that the oratory emanating from Obama administration, both from under-secretary William Burns and from president Obama himself, has been honeyed, but then pretty speechifying is Obama’s forte. However, there isn’t any steak behind the sizzle: just two weeks ago the US silently acquiesced to the Chinese giving Pakistan, with no strings attached, a nuclear deal which is as good as the ‘deal’ India got at great strategic cost to itself.

Furthermore, Indians have not forgotten that India’s prime minister was not in the list of twenty world leaders Obama telephoned after his accession to the presidency; there was the plan to make Richard Holbrooke a mediator on Kashmir; the appointment of Ellen Tauscher, arch-non-proliferation-ayatollah and harsh critic of India, as under-secretary for arms control; and most of all, the hard-to-defend hedging on letting Indian officials interrogate David Coleman Headley, suspect in Mumbai’s 11/26.

There are plenty of large reasons why the hurrahs about an alleged Indo-US rapprochement are premature. First, even the Bush-era friendship was narrowly-focused – Indian leaders, for unknown reasons, plumped for a hard-to-justify nuclear-based energy future. Indian eagerness was exploited by Americans to strait-jacket India into non-proliferation regimes that severely constrain its strategic options.

Second, the other Bush objective, to build India up as a counterweight to a rampant China, fell by the wayside with the Obamistas’ clear preference for a G2, suggesting that a China-US duopoly is inevitable, and conceding to China the role of hegemon in Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the western Pacific Ocean, and explicitly in the Indian subcontinent.

Third, Obama has stated unequivocally that he intends to cut and run from Afghanistan. He believes he needs a Pakistani fig-leaf to claim victory in the face of a humiliating defeat and a head-long retreat like Saigon in 1975. Therefore, he leans on India to give ‘concessions’ to Pakistan: it costs him nothing.

Fourth, there is a history of American duplicity. American promises of eternal, undying love are pure theatrics. Bitter experiences with reneging on treaty obligations for fuel for Tarapur, a slew of nuclear treaties such as NPT, CTBT, FMCT, etc., all aimed at India in particular, and the decades-old acceptance of Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, suggest American bad faith.

Fifth, the fundamental premise behind an Indo-US relationship is flawed. There is an underlying assumption that the world will remain unipolar and American-dominated, with at best China being a secondary, less appealing second pole, and that therefore it is incumbent on India to align with the US lest it be left out in the cold.

The facts on the ground do not support this assumption. America is waning. Yes, it will continue to be the biggest world power for a while yet, but the US in 2050 will be much less dominant than in 1950. In 1950, America bestrode the world like a colossus, intact in a World-War II-ravaged world. In 2050, China and India will be nipping at its heels.

India can never ally with imperialist China, which seeks to dominate Asia, if not the world. They leave no room for a rival, and systematically undermine all potential competitors. It appears that, after a series of reverses, it has dawned on the US that the alleged G2 – although favored by unreconstructed cold-warriors like Zbigneiw Brezezinski and apologists for empire like Niall Ferguson – is of greater advantage to China than to itself.

This may explain the sudden interest in India by the Obamistas. The Democrats’ natural instinct is intensely anti-India. This is standard ‘liberal’ hypocrisy, wherein they pay lip service to democracy and freedom and other motherhood, but secretly admire fascist thugs, despots and dictators – such as those in China, Pakistan and Iran, all the targets of Obamista overtures.

There is also the pragmatic reason that India’s economy is growing rapidly. Much like the 19th-century British, Americans seek markets. China, the other large market, is difficult, and extracts its pound of flesh, as seen in Google’s troubles. Especially as India will invest in buying armaments, aircraft and other big-ticket items where the US still has a competitive edge, it is a tempting market. That’s good for the US.

But these are not reasons for India to ally itself with the US. In fact, there has been little improvement in scientific, technical or other ties. The Indian space effort remains cut off by law from much American technology. In other ways too, India is treated as a pariah by the US government, on par with dangerous, failing states. There is also the perennial litmus test – when will the US unambiguously endorse India for a veto-holding permanent seat in the UN Security Council?

No relationship can survive when the benefits are one-sided. Therefore, India will be better-off not tying itself to a waning power, at a time when it is itself on the rise. An America beset with financial problems, with receding self-confidence, and with the Gulf oil-spill as metaphor for its decline, is not worth allying with. At least, not unless India gets concrete, and massive, benefits in return. Time favors India.

There is no point in being a satellite to a sinking, unreliable America – instead, India should strive to establish itself as a pole in a multi-polar world consisting of, perhaps, a G3 or G4 – including itself and the EU. Better to live two days as a tiger than two hundred years as a sheep, a quote attributed to Tipu Sultan.

1000 words, 6 Jun 2010

A version of this appeared on rediff.com on Jun 2nd at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/02/rajeev-srinivasan-on-why-india-is-not-taken-seriously.htm

The fine art of punching below one’s weight

Rajeev Srinivasan on how India has managed to make itself much smaller and less important in the world’s eyes than it really is

Several events in the recent past have been emblematic of the problems that India faces: on the one hand, India gets no respect from anybody. On the other hand, it may well not deserve any – any Rodney Dangerfield fans out there?

Pakistan’s Supreme Court found Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and suspected chief instigator of the 11/26 attacks on Mumbai, innocent of all charges. Startlingly, a few days later, India released 25 jailed terrorists (members of the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohamed and Hizbul Mujahideen) and returned them to Pakistan.

Second, some low-level official in Canada’s embassy in India has been, it turns out, telling Indian armed forces members that they are violent terrorists and therefore ineligible for a visa – this has been going on for two years.

Pakistan’s behavior in exonerating Hafiz Saeed – the Supreme Court must be influenced by their government’s, and army’s wishes – suggests that they do not take India seriously. All the fine warlike words uttered by the GoI after 11/26 (and after the every blast in the past six or seven years), that there would be a stiff price to pay for any further mischief and so on, turn out to be total bluster. India has metaphorically thrown in the garbage-bin the 200 or so victims of 11/26. It is safe to kill Indians, and there are no consequences whatsoever. (Communist terrorists and their sponsors are taking note, which explains the 150 ordinary, apolitical, normal Indians massacred due to rail sabotage in Bengal).

Pakistan has called India’s bluff. They have observed that the Indian establishment is laboring under the illusion that there are only two things that can happen between the two countries – “peace talks” [sic] or war. Pakistanis like the so-called peace talks because that means India will continuously make unilateral concessions to keep the alleged dialog going – after all, this is exactly what India has done for 28 years with China, with China escalating its demands on Indian territory all the time and never giving an inch in the discussions.

Pakistanis also believe that Indians are too cowardly to actually go to war, and that anyway sugar daddy American can always be called upon to put pressure on India. Astonishingly, Indian planners do not comprehend that there are shades of gray – it is not a binary affair between war and talks. There are other ways of imposing costs on a recalcitrant foe – it is not for nothing that the aphorism goes “diplomacy is the continuation of war by other means”.

There are other means India has at its disposal, for instance monkeying with water supplies to the lower riparian Pakistan (once again, the clever Chinese have shown how to do with downstream states for rivers originating in occupied Tibet by building dams and even using river-bombs such as those in the Sutlej when they suddenly release massive floods). Trade sanctions are also possible – instead of which India gives generous Most Favored Nation status to Pakistan with no reciprocity. Covert operations, including judicious interference, are also used by all nations as part of their strategy.

But the bottom line is that the original end — peace and cooperation in exchange for stopping terrorism – has fallen by the wayside. The means – the so-called peace talks – have become the end, and the UPA cannot see beyond them. Pakistan has realized that the UPA will appease them and give peace, cooperation and all the trade they want, and there is no penalty to them for continuing their terrorist attacks on India.

In Afghanistan as well, Pakistan has got its way. The world at large sees India as superfluous in Afghanistan, despite the highly-lauded humanitarian and infrastructure-building activity that Indians have pursued there at significant cost in blood and treasure. India was conspicuously excluded from talks on Afghanistan. Pakistan has convinced the world that India is a liability and a hindrance to Obama’s plans to declare victory and run like mad from Afghanistan.

The release of the 25 captured terrorists, in the very wake of Hafiz Saeed’s exoneration, sends a startling message. Orders came from the Home Ministry (See the Daily Excelsior, May 27th: “Let, HM ultras among 25 Pakistanis freed from 8 jails”) apparently as a peace offering prior to the Home Minister’s and External Affairs Ministers’ visits to Pakistan. How come no Indians in Pakistani prisons are being released in return? What about Sarabjit Singh, falsely accused, on death row, and continually harassed in Pakistan?

Why does Pakistan not feel the need for “goodwill measures”? Because it is India that is desperate to continue the charade of the “peace talks”. That confuses the impartial observer – it is Pakistan which needs that fig-leaf. So whose interests are being protected here? Pertinently, who is pulling the strings?

Second, the Canadian mess is a metaphor for the fact that India has no credibility. After all, Canada (like Australia and Britain) are generally mere appendages for the US. They tend to have little individual clout, but follow the US’s policies. For instance, it is Australia that has been the loudest in threatening India with bloody murder if it didn’t sign the NPT. It is not for nothing that the word ‘poodle’ is sometimes used in this context.

Now comes Canada with a sterling act of friendly diplomacy. The fact that this insulting of serving and retired Indian army and police officers has been going on for two years is simply astonishing. Why wasn’t the low-level flunkey accused of doing this declared persona non grata and given 24 hours to leave, bag and baggage? Why wasn’t the Canadian ambassador summoned and given a demarche? These are the things real countries do – let us remember how the noxious Chinese, in a gratuitous insult, woke up Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao at 2am to deliver a complaint.

It is particularly ironic coming from Canada. I wrote a few years ago in the Pioneer (“Justice denied: the Kanishka bombing of 1985”, May 22nd, 2007) about how Canada had been criminally negligent in ignoring warnings about the events that led to the bombing of Air India’s Kanishka aircraft, with the loss of 329 lives. Furthermore, their investigation – still incomplete after 25 years – shows racism, incompetence, callousness, dilatory tactics and virtual State compliance in terrorism.

Indians are afraid – of what I do not know – to give uppity foreigners a dressing-down. In fact, this would be highly salutary. If India had immediately expelled the obnoxious Chinese diplomat who said that Arunachal Pradesh was part of China, the Canadians would have been more circumspect.

In that vein, it appears US president Obama is going to make another totally empty gesture, which will give goose-bumps to the usual suspects. It seems he is going to ‘drop in’ on the External Affairs Minister’s discussions with Hillary Clinton. And why, pray, is this significant, unless he is actually bringing David Coleman Headley along (thanks, B, for that insight)? It’s style over substance – let us remember how the Indian PM was not among the world leaders that Obama telephoned when he first took charge, but there was the nonsense of the First State Visit ™ over which the Indian media and officialdom went ga-ga. Nothing whatsoever came of that, other than that a good time, and biriyani, were had by all.

The world has taken its measure of India, and found it to be a second-tier nation. Hence they will continue to insult it subtly and openly. There is no consequence. India does not realize that it is, at least as an economic entity, a desirable partner, and that when the world is in the depths of a financial crisis, the threat of withholding access to the Indian market would immediately encourage snooty Canadas and Australias and Britains to fold. We have seen how the British absolutely groveled a few years ago when Malaysia’s prickly Mahathir Mohammed cancelled orders with British companies when the British said something rude. I have never seen such kowtowing and mea culpas and brown-nosing.

India is a heavyweight acting like a featherweight. There may be a Hanuman Syndrome in effect here: a country not knowing its true worth. On the other hand, I am afraid it’s worse – the rulers do not pursue India’s national interests to the best of their ability, despite their solemn oath to do so.

1400 words, 31st May, 2010

A version of this appeared in DNA on may 17th at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_obama-is-no-friend_1384304 or

http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/18052010/17main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf for a pdf version

Barack ‘Chamberlain’ Obama?

Rajeev Srinivasan on why the US president seems hell-bent on appeasement

Once upon a time British politicians were held up as exemplars; they were colorful, and their actions were noted around the world. Neville Chamberlain, former British prime minister, became infamous for appeasing Nazi Germany. He declared, upon returning from the 1938 Munich conference that sacrificed Czech Sudetenland to please Germany: “I believe it is peace for our time!” Famous last words, as World War II started shortly thereafter.

It is worth remembering him for two reasons: first, the recent British election and its pedestrian politicians evoked no more than mild disinterest from the rest of the world – how indeed the mighty have fallen! Second, it is remarkable that US president Obama seems to be following Chamberlain’s playbook in terms of – foolishly – placating his enemies.

It appears that Obama virtually revels in appeasement. So much so that there is valid criticism that it is not clear what he stands for, if anything – he is so busy with attempting to shepherd everybody in the room in some direction that he quite forgets what that direction is. It appears that there is a process, everybody is running around doing something, but the results are woefully poor.

For instance, Obama’s foreign policy has been nothing short of disastrous. He arrived on the scene convinced that he was going to be the Great Peacemaker after the despised warmonger George W. Bush. His chosen method: make unilateral concessions first, expecting the other party to reciprocate the goodwill. Laudable as this might be in theory, it doesn’t seem to work in practice – see how China used Jawaharlal Nehru.

In fact, Obama may well share Nehru’s crowning vanity – the idea of being privy to the secret of World Peace. Nehru appears to have felt he was the Emperor Ashoka reincarnated, equipped with the Panchasheela or Five Principles that would cause World Peace to break out. Obama, although more discreet, seems to suffer from the same mixture of megalomania and naïvete and, above all, inexperience.

This flaw is exploited by hard-boiled practitioners of realpolitik. Obama has tried danam (giveaways) with several foes – China, Iran, and now Pakistan (which is certainly his foe although Americans prefer the fiction that Pakistan is “a valuable ally in the war against terror” [sic]). His kowtowing startled and then amused the Chinese. Iran ignores him.

With Pakistan, and Islam in general, Obama has bent over backwards. He made speeches eulogizing Arabs and Islam, literally curtseyed to the Saudi king, and removed the term “Islamic terrorism” from his vocabulary, preferring the euphemism “man-caused disaster”!

Alas, the net result of Obama’s exertions is that Arabs and Pakistanis despise him and the US more than ever. A Pew survey discovered that Pakistanis – despite, or perhaps because of, the $15 billion sunk there by the US after 9/11 – have the world’s worst opinion of America. But Obama is persistent. In the aftermath of the abortive Times Square bombing, there was the ill-timed news that Homeland Security was reducing its budget for New York City by 30-50%! The New York Post reprised a famous headline: “Obama to City: Drop Dead!”

In domestic policy too, Obama seems to have miscalculated with fruitless ‘reaching out’ to the opposition Republicans. It is remarkable that his landmark achievement – some might say his only achievement – of passing health care legislation came with absolutely zero bi-partisan support. This is far worse than predecessors who generally managed to cobble together a working coalition.

The trouble may well be that Barack Obama really does not stand for anything per se. He may well be a Zelig, the chameleon-like eponymous hero of that film, or Peter Sellers’ remarkable character Chaunce the Gardener in Being There. Someone who is fluid in substance, someone who reflects what others want to see in him. This, of course, is perfect for an election – everybody projects what they desire onto the candidate.

Which may be why Obama seems to be in permanent campaign mode as well. His timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan was sharply predicated on expected sound-bites that would help his party win mid-term elections in 2011.

An erudite Indian friend in Los Angeles, sympathetic to black issues, suggested that this fluidity may well be the very reason Obama was able to win the presidency – and how he has been called the epitome of the so-called “magical negro” trope: the black helper who plays a supporting role to the white protagonist. A black with concrete views and convictions could never have won, he felt.

Be that as it may, Obama is President. And the reason Indians should worry about Obama is that he appears quite willing to sacrifice the last Indian and the last inch of Indian territory in order to placate the ISI and the Taliban. This is hardly in the national interest. Whatever else he may be, Obama the appeaser is no friend of India.

824 words, 15 May 2010

a version of this was printed in the DNA newspaper on 23rd march:

http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_headley-a-protected-asset_1362196

Spy vs. spy: Is Headley a protected ‘asset’?

Rajeev Srinivasan

The fact that the United States’ Department of Justice has agreed to a plea-bargain by David Coleman Headley (born Daood Sayed Gilani) is worrying. Headley, the Pakistani-American accused of being a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and the person who did much of the planning and surveillance for the 11/26 terrorist attack on Mumbai, pleaded guilty to 12 counts, including conspiracy to murder Indians and Americans in India, and to support terrorism in India. Apparently, Headley has pleaded guilty so that he might escape the death penalty as a co-operating witness.

In and of itself, this is not surprising, because the Americans have dropped hints from day one about their reluctance to let Indian investigators interrogate Headley. Around the time of Headley’s arrest around October last year, Indian sleuths flew to the US, but returned empty handed. Suspicions were raised at the time that Headley was in fact a ‘strategic asset’ for American intelligence, because he had gotten off surprisingly lightly in a drug-related incident, a serious offense in the US.

However, it is worrisome because it implies that the Americans have many skeletons in the closet regarding Pakistan-related terrorism incidents. The plea-bargain insulates Headley from being examined in court, suggesting that the Americans did not want him to ‘sing like a canary’, revealing various things they would rather keep well-hidden. There will be no trial in the US, no depositions and no public disclosures, and he will not be extradited to India to stand trial for 11/26.

This is yet another instance of the ambivalent nature of the American attitude to Pakistan and its terror apparatus. Even though it is obvious that most terrorism has links to Pakistan, and that its spy agency ISI nurtures terrorist entities such as the LeT, the Americans pretend to not see this. Symmetrically, the Pakistanis pretend to reduce their terror sponsorship, periodically rounding up some unimportant or washed-up terrorist and delivering him to the Americans; this charade keeps everybody happy.

A particularly egregious example of American collusion with the ISI was seen in 2001 at the siege of Kunduz in Afghanistan. At the time, the Northern Alliance, in full cry, were besieging a thousand Taliban in an old fort in Kunduz. Astonishingly, the US allowed the Pakistani air force to air-lift most of these alleged Taliban, who, it turned out, were mid-level officers of the ISI and the Pakistan Army who had traded in their uniforms for the Taliban’s baggy pants and beards.

There is speculation that Headley is a double agent for America’s spy agency, the CIA. The world of double agents is complicated, as the CIA itself learned to its chagrin just a few weeks ago when most of its agents in Pakistan were massacred by a Jordanian double agent. This could be why, even though Headley was indirectly responsible for the deaths of several American citizens in Mumbai, they are not throwing the book at him.

Contrast Headley’s treatment with the fuss over Adam Gadahn, a white American convert, a senior spokesperson and propaganda advisor for Al-Qaeda. Even though Gadahn has not killed any US citizens, he is the first American charged with treason in over fifty years. Clearly they are bothered by Gadahn’s actions, but not so much by Headley’s. There is also no indictment of the LeT despite the fact that Headley is accused of attending several training camps run by them, in jihad indoctrination, combat, counter-surveillance, and weapons usage.

The tenderness shown to Headley suggests there is more to his story than meets the eye. Could it be that Headley, and his fellow-accused, Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana, breezed in and out of India and did their reconnaissance because the CIA was greasing the wheels? Maybe they even helped Headley erase his past, his Pakistani name Gilani, and his record as a drug-dealer so that he could travel as a white American to India. It is true that white Americans arouse less suspicion, as has been seen in the cases of blonde converts Jamie Paulin-Ramirez and Colleen R LaRose, aka ‘Jihad Jane’.

The Headley saga may well be a practical demonstration of the attitudes of the Obama Administration towards India. Obama has distinctly downgraded India in his priority list. When Obama made a trip to Asia, India was not on the itinerary. If and when Obama finally makes it to India, we can be assured that there will be a hyphenating visit to Pakistan included.

The DoJ’s willingness to protect Headley after he pleaded guilty to abetting terrorism and mass-murder in India, and admitted that he had attended terrorism training camps operated by the LeT, leads to a simple conclusion: the US government does not care about the killing of Indians. This, after all the honeyed words about the beginnings of a beautiful relationship, leads us to a sad truth: India cannot depend on anybody other than itself. And there are plenty of Headleys and sleeper cells out there.

Who is killing Indians in Australia? An open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Rajeev Srinivasan on enough weasel-wording, some action needed now

Dear Prime Minister Rudd,

Allegations about systematic racist attacks on Indians in Australia have echoed in India for some time. But the gruesome murder of a 3-year old Indian boy is a game-changer. Gurshan Singh Channa, whose mother is a student, was abducted from his parents’ residence, murdered and dumped about 20 miles away. This goes beyond what civilized people can tolerate.

The incident is reminiscent of the infamous kidnapping and murder of the small son of Charles Lindbergh, American aviation hero of the 1930s. The murderer was sent to the electric chair. Indians have the right to expect nothing less than the arrest and conviction of the murderer of young Gurshan. The Australian government must act with the full force of its forensic powers to track down the killer(s) immediately. When an Australian named Graham Staines was killed in India some years ago, the Indian government worked overtime to solve the case; diligence on your part would be simple courtesy.

I understand that an India taxi-driver has been named the suspect in the case, but even if he is proved to be the murderer, what about all the other cases where your police have admitted they have no clue?

The ongoing attacks on Indian students in Australia, which has led so far to several deaths, have been downplayed by your government. The standard line has been that attacks on Indians are random acts of violence by anti-social elements. Occasionally, the Indians were also blamed for putting themselves in danger; some official even told the students to conceal their iPods and cellphones, suggesting that the motive was simple robbery, and implying that it was their own fault for flaunting their stuff.

Blaming the victim is, shall we say, unusual? There have been cases in Australia where defendants in rapes suggested that the women brought it upon themselves by wearing skimpy clothing. I don’t remember this line of thinking being considered acceptable by the courts.

The obvious question: how come nobody is robbing Chinese students, or African students, or Arab students, all of whom are visibly different from native (white) Australians, and who should, by the same logic, be equally subjected to harassment, beatings, murders?

Nobody has an answer, so the next logical hypothesis is that there exists a group of people with particular animosity towards Indians: that is to say, these are racist hate crimes. But nobody in Australia has had the guts to admit it; however, now with the brutalization of a small child, there is no more room for beating about the bush – someone is targeting Indians in Australia, and it is the moral and legal duty of the federal government to find out who it is and to stop them.

It is interesting to compare the general Indian experience in the US, which I am personally familiar with, to the Indian experience in Australia, which I have heard about from Indian students. In the US, barring some discrimination and an occasional casual epithet thrown one’s way, there has practically been no sustained violence against Indians since the 1960’s (if you forget certain incidents early in the last century when anti-Asian and anti-brown laws were in force).

In the past year or two, there was a disturbing series of murders of students from the state of Andhra Pradesh, which led some to speculate that there were contracts being put out back home, but nothing was proven. But it must be acknowledged that there were three singular, barbaric acts in the US in the last thirty years: Navroze Mody was beaten to death with baseball bats by teenagers in Hoboken, New Jersey; Charanjit Singh Aujla was shot to death by plain-clothes policemen in his own liquor store in Jackson, Mississippi; and Khem Singh, a 72-year-old Sikh priest, was starved to death in a prison in Fresno, California. Otherwise, Indians have felt welcome in the US, on average.

The experiences of Indians in Australia, according to long-term residents, have been good. Many say they have felt little overt discrimination or racism. A large number of Anglo-Indians, of mixed Indian and white ancestry, emigrated to Australia around the time the British left India – and because of the shared colonial experience, I assume there was a certain wry recognition of the damage the British did to both countries: a Gallipoli in one case, a Jallianwallah Bagh in the other.

Speaking from the Indian side, there is a appreciation for the well-marketed Australian image (exemplified in the US by ‘Crocodile’ Dundee and in India by witty Foster’s ads) of the place being full of blokes having a rollicking good time. Then there is, of course, cricket. Although I am personally indifferent to the game, many rabid Indian fans are great admirers of the Australian team, generally considered the best in the world in recent years.

Thus, Indians start off with residual goodwill towards Australia, although, sad to say, this has not been reciprocated at the official level. Australia has in the past acted as the ‘enforcer’ in nuclear-related matters, and your government has been forcefully arm-twisting India regarding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (alas, that would be suicidal with bellicose nuclear powers China and Pakistan next door). Besides, you appear to have made a conscious decision to put all your Asia eggs in the China basket. Official relations with India have been chillier than they need to be.

On the face of it, still, it is baffling to Indians that students – who are spending billions in tuition fees – are being murdered by Australians. It simply doesn’t seem in keeping with the Australian character that has been marketed to us; or for that matter, with the Australians I have personally encountered – they seem too easy-going to plan mass-murder. Of course, appearances being deceptive, I am aware that the treatment of, say, Aborigines, wasn’t exactly pretty. I too have seen “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith”, and incidentally I have enjoyed “Breaker Morant” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

There is an emerging hypothesis in India that it is not hate-filled whites behind the attacks on Indians; rather that it is immigrants of certain ethnicities who may have a grudge against Indians or are picking on them because of the known tendency of Indians to be pacifist. I understand there are many ethnic gangs in your country, and that there are no-go areas where law-enforcement fears to tread. Well, that’s really no way to run a country. I submit that you simply have to do something about it.

Both from an ethical angle and from a trade angle, booming India (growing at 8% this year) is too big a market for Australia to lose. At the very least, you need a second buyer of your raw materials lest China gain too much buyer power and dictate terms, glimmerings of which we saw with the Rio Tinto affair.

No, Mr. Prime Minister, as America declines, and Asia rises, it would be strategically unwise to alienate one of your potential allies. India will be growing faster than China in a few years’ time as the demographic dividend kicks in. And India would be happy to have Australia as a supplier for various strategic goods. It would be a shame if all this is thrown away because you cannot offer Indians physical protection from a bunch of violent thugs. You need to, as Indians are surely an industrious and inoffensive ethnic group in your melting-pot.

Sincerely,

Rajeev Srinivasan, a concerned Indian

a version of this was published by DNA on march 1st at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_bargaining-with-the-devil_1353963

“Bargaining with the Devil: When to negotiate, when to fight”

Rajeev Srinivasan on negotiating with evil

As India sits down for talks with Pakistan and with Communist insurgents, an observer may wonder why its track record is so poor in negotiations. As Churchill said, “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”, but there is a make-believe quality to it in India, as the mandarins appear to just go through the motions. There is no recognition that there is a logic and a structure to parleys, there is a difference between positions and interests; and that ends and means must be separated.

Consider some instances – the negotiations with China over treaty rights in Tibet, wherein India meekly surrendered all leverage; the border talks for the last 28 years that have only led to further Chinese claims on Indian territory; the interminable and futile discussions with Pakistan, with no letup in cross-border terrorism. In Copenhagen, China hoodwinked India into a stand that helps China, a major polluter, not India, a minor villain. The ‘nuclear deal’ with the US also gave away too much in return for very little.

There are rare success stories too, especially when there is a clear goal. Arundhati Ghose famously fended off nuclear blackmail regarding CTBT at the UN.

A recent book by Harvard’s Robert Mnookin, “Bargaining with the devil: When to negotiate, when to fight”, highlights two paradigmatic situations – the decision made by Winston Churchill to not negotiate with Adolf Hitler; and the decision made by the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, to indeed engage with F W de Klerk’s apartheid regime. Both decisions, according to the book, were right, and avoided worse outcomes.

Mnookin focuses on situations in which two parties that may consider each other evil sit down at the bargaining table. There should be a combination of intuitive as well as analytical approaches, he suggests. This is where India fails: negotiators depend entirely on intuition, when a cold-blooded decision-tree analysis would help. Some Indian negotiators are seduced into accepting the other side’s perspectives, for instance through judicious use of Urdu couplets and sob-stories about poor villagers.

There are several major problems. First, a serious, core issue: the lack of a clarity about objectives. Nobody knows what the goals are, what is absolutely non-negotiable, what the ‘don’t-cares’ are that can be thrown in as concessions to clinch a deal. Therefore they do not know when to hold and when to fold. When talking to Communist terrorists, the objective is to prevent their violent overthrow of the State; their civil rights are not the main concern. (We also have to be hard-nosed: the human rights of the insurgent and the terrorist are no greater than the human rights of the average citizen).

Second, the negotiators do not distinguish between positions (some of which may be posturing for domestic consumption), and fundamental interests. China always takes extreme positions, probing for weaknesses. However, if there is credible push-back, China will retreat. To be deterred, they have to believe that India is prepared to fight if the talks fail. They don’t; nor do Pakistanis or Communist guerillas. Without that implicit danda, all the carrots, sama, and dana, don’t work.

Third, because they do not internalize core interests, India’s negotiators are sidetracked into peripheral and trivial matters. An example was the panic-stricken insistence about Indo-Pak rail links, which were jeopardized by a terror attack on the Samjhauta Express. There were pious pronouncements: “The rail links must not be affected”. The show must go on? Why? What is so sacred about it? The rail links are only a means to the end. By focusing on the rail links – a means – they were coerced into losing sight of the termination of terrorism – the ends.

Negotiation and game theory are taught in business schools (“Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury is a favorite) and schools of government the world over, but apparently not to India’s mandarins. One of the cardinal principles taught is that you must be fully prepared with three alternatives: a) the desired goal, b) the compromise you can live with even though it is less than ideal, and c) the walk-away position. These alternatives are decided on ahead of time, and negotiators will not deviate from them. They will be prepared to walk away if the only thing they can get is worse than the compromise situation. Indians attempt to wing it and figure out their alternatives on the fly, and get confused and rattled. And lose out.

Game theory is relevant: a negotiation may be modeled as a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma game. The best known tactic is tit-for-tat, so that if the adversary cooperates, you cooperate the next time; but if they betray you, you betray them the next time. Alas, what Indians do is to cooperate all the time, which means there is no penalty to Pakistan for betrayal; their payoff is better if they betray, so they will do it every time. Exhibit A, the 91,000 prisoners India released after the Bangladesh War. Exhibit B, Sharm-al-Sheikh where the unfair equivalence of Baluchistan with Kashmir was accepted.

Similarly, Communist insurgents have learned that they can offer ‘talks’ and ‘ceasefires’, use the respite to re-arm themselves, and then turned around and betray. There is no consequence to them for bad-faith behavior.

In other words, India’s negotiation skills are extremely poor. It is best to not expect any miracles from these palavers; if there are no major faux pas and blunders, the nation can consider itself lucky.

900 words, 23rd Feb 2010

this appeared in the new indian express on jan 29th at http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/print.aspx?artid=MokmhqVUKlM=

under the headline “one can only hope obama 2.0 will be better”

Under pressure, Obama changes course

Rajeev Srinivasan

It is telling when Apple CEO Steve Jobs upstages the US President. That’s exactly what happened on January 27th, when the announcement of Apple’s new  iPad got more attention than Barack Obama’s state-of-the-union address, which is a combination of self-report card and road-map for the future. Ironically, Obama talked mostly about jobs (the other kind), as unemployment persists.

Overhanging Obama’s speech was the electoral shock from Massachusetts: the late Edward Kennedy’s US Senate seat was captured by a center-right Republican. That too, in solidly Democratic Massachusetts, where left-liberal icon Kennedy had held the seat for 46 years.

Suddenly, Obama’s domestic agenda, and its kingpin, health care, are in trouble.

It is hard to believe, after the euphoria of 2008, that Obama’s place in history may well depend on a single vote in the US Senate. But it does: the 60-40 super-majority that allowed Obama to bulldoze legislation through is gone, and he needs detente with the opposition Republicans.

That in itself is a failure: Obama had promised change and a bipartisan consensus, and his party still dominates both houses of parliament; yet, he was unable to push Obamacare through, and is backpedaling furiously. The speech was mostly about the economy, banks, and jobs. “Jobs must be our No. 1 focus”, quoth he. Foreign policy – with two ongoing wars and a rampaging China – was  ignored.

A Pew Research Center poll dated January 25th on the public’s priorities suggested that the economy, jobs and terrorism are top of mind; healthcare coming much lower. It appears that Obama erred in focusing too much on the worthy, but apparently not seen as urgent, matter of health insurance. Similarly, energy security and global warming have taken a back seat in people’s minds, which are occupied by economic fear. Not surprisingly, the poll accurately foreshadowed the tone of the state-of-the-union address.

To be fair, Obama has not done all that badly, but expectations were so inflated that there was bound to be a let-down, especially among those afflicted by a “Messiah Syndrome”. His all-important approval ratings fell below 50% in January, according to Gallup, a rapid decline in public support.

Obama did inherit large problems: two wars, and the global financial meltdown. It is true that another Great Depression was fended off (although the credit should go to the Federal Reserve), there has been movement towards containing health-care costs, and Iraq (but not Afghanistan) seems to be stabilizing. Obama has presented a kinder, gentler America, whose brand equity has improved.

Obama’s deliberate, Olympian style suggests – perhaps unfairly — paralysis by analysis. The dithering over Afghan policy for eight months, and the plan to “surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell”, have hurt India’s interests. An Obama, desperate to pull out of Afghanistan, is leaning on India to cave in on Kashmir, in order to appease Pakistan.

It appears that Obama has allowed his agenda to be hijacked by several factors: an exaggerated internationalism, a certain hubris, a permanent campaign mode, and an unwillingness to rein in ideologues.

Internationalism is good in theory, but not at the expense of domestic agendas. Obama may have overdone the reaching-out bit. He spent more time abroad than any other US president. Unfortunately, Obama chose to alienate America’s friends and appease its foes. India was shown that it did not matter, but Obama was the picture of charm with China, militant West Asians, and Iran: predictably, he got little in return. He reached out to the Islamic faith in his Cairo and Ankara speeches, but this was construed as weakness, and Al Qaeda/Taliban are rampant. The Chinese disdain him: they humiliated him in Copenhagen.

Second, Obama seems to believe his own propaganda. Remember the Nobel peace prize, which, surely, Obama knows he doesn’t deserve, at least not yet? For him to accept it anyway came across as grasping and vain.

Obama also seems to have some trouble switching from campaigning – where he can make promises – to governing – where he has to deliver. Some of his actions seem predicated on PR: the time-table for the pullout of troops from Afghanistan is meant to give him a boost in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Finally, Obama is not reining in his more rabid supporters. Some of them believe that there was a permanent shift to the left in 2008. No; especially as a result of tough economic times, there has been a shift to the right.

If Obama is able to curb his vanity, his internationalism, and the more extreme of his supporters, and, the economy improves he may well rebound. As of now, he has been forced to reboot. We can only hope Obama 2.0 will fare better.

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

800 words, 28th January 2010

a version of this appeared in DNA at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_one-year-on-obama-magic-is-receding_1338909 on jan 25th

Obama Agonistes: totting up the wins and losses of year one

Rajeev Srinivasan considers what Obama has wrought

The irony was breathtaking: exactly a year to the day after US President Barack Obama’s triumphant, all-conquering inaugural in January 2009, the hotly-contested race for the late Edward Kennedy’s US Senate seat in Massachusetts went to the Republicans in a stunning upset. All at once, Obama’s domestic agenda seems in jeopardy, because its crown jewel, comprehensive health care, may well suffer an ignominious defeat.

As the poet Asan said, “sri bhu-vil asthira, a-samshayam” (glory is ephemeral on earth, surely). It is hard to believe, after the euphoria of 2008 when the Democratic Party swept into office in a landslide, that Obama’s place in history may well be dependent on a single vote in the US Senate. But it is: the 60-40 filibuster-proof majority is gone, and Obamacare may not survive in anything close to its current, left-leaning form, with government being insurer of last resort.

It is not the case that Obama has done all that badly, but the expectations about him were so inflated that there was bound to be a let-down and a backlash, especially among the ideologically extreme of his supporters who were caught in a “Messiah Syndrome” (alas, so familiar to those in India with its modern penchant for hero-worship). They expected Obama to deliver the humanly impossible.

Therefore, even if Obama were Superman, there would have been a sense of disappointment. On the other hand, his predecessor George W. Bush was so despised by large sections of the populace that one would have thought Obama would look good in comparison whatever he did, or didn’t. Apparently there are limits to that particular carte blanche: Americans are in no mood to forgive.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal (“The Message of Massachusetts”, January 19th) says, “An anxious country was looking for leadership amid a recession, and Democrats had huge majorities… Twelve months later, Mr. Obama’s approval rating has fallen further and faster than any recent President’s, Congress is despised, the public mood has shifted sharply to the right on the role of government…” The ratings fell below 50% in January, according to Gallup.

In all fairness to Obama, there were also the gigantic problems he inherited: two wars, and the global financial meltdown. And it is true that under him, the Great Depression was fended off (although the credit – and the blame for earlier hamhandedness – should really go to the Federal Reserve), there has been positive movement towards containing rampant health-care costs, and the war in Iraq (though not the one in Afghanistan) seems to be stabilizing as well.

It is also true that Obama has presented a kindler, gentler America to the rest of the world, especially Europe, which resented the cowboy tactics of George W. Bush. There is an undercurrent of goodwill for him, although it is not entirely clear how much of this is from the novelty factor (he’s black!) and a sort of reverse racism based on self-flagellating guilt (as exhibited by Australians over the black cricketer Andrew Symmonds). In any case, the perception of America, and its brand image,have probably improved, in Europe and parts of Asia.

On the other hand, the American public – used to instant gratification – expected Obama to wave a magic wand and make their problems go away. That has not happened, as unemployment remains stubbornly high, and people have been forced to tighten their belts. Obama’s deliberate, Olympian style suggests – perhaps unfairly — paralysis by analysis (comparing this to India it was that cerebral practitioner of what seemed masterly inactivity, PV Narasimha Rao, who took the decisive and radical steps in 1991 to rejuvenate the economy).

It appears that Obama has allowed his agenda to be hijacked by several factors: an exaggerated internationalism, a certain hubris bordering on megalomania, a permanent campaign mode, and an unwillingness to rein in the ideologues in his own party.

Internationalism is good in theory, and so is attempting to build coalitions, but not at the expense of domestic agendas. This was the bitter lesson India learned from the experiences of the very internationalist Jawaharlal Nehru. Obama, appears to want to be president of the world. In fact, he may well be more popular in Europe than in America, given his plunging approval ratings at home.

While internationalism plays well to the liberal classes, it appears that Obama may have overdone the reaching-out bit. The Economist reports (”Around the world in 42 days”, January 19th) that “[Obama] has spent much more time overseas than his predecessors. Mr. Obama has been abroad twice as long as George Bush Jr. managed in his first 12 months as president”. He spent 42 days abroad and visited 22 countries, a far cry from Ronald Reagan (9, 2), George Bush Sr. (31, 15), John Kennedy (12, 6), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (0, 0).

Unfortunately, Obama also seemed to concentrate on alienating America’s friends and appeasing its foes (a familiar trap, as the NDA government demonstrated in India). Obama spent much effort in going more than half-way with China, militant West Asians, and Iran. But he got little in return for his pains. He reached out to those of the Islamic faith in his Cairo and Ankara speeches, but they seemed to view that as an admission of weakness, and Al Qaeda/Taliban have redoubled their efforts to hurt American interests.

In particular, his internationalism and kow-towing have caused the Chinese to disdain him and believe their own rhetoric about the G2: they embarrassed him at Copenhagen, treating him like a minor feudatory at some Chinese imperial court. It is ironic that China has been the beneficiary of excessive coddling by both Nehru and Obama, when a little more iron in the velvet glove would have been just the ticket.

Unfortunately, Obama seems to have let his courtiers’ accolades go to his head. He acts as though he believes that just on his say-so, the lamb will lie down with the lion, or something like that. The worst example of this was the acceptance of the Nobel peace prize, which, surely, Obama knows in his heart of hearts that he doesn’t deserve, at least not yet? For him to accept anyway came across as grasping and vain – and surely, the message is that flattery will work with him.

Obama also seems to have some trouble making the switch from campaigning – where he can promise all sorts of goodies – to governing – where has to deliver. Some of his actions seem predicated on how they will play to the crowd: for instance, his time-table for the pullout of troops in Afghanistan appears to be intended to give him maximum positive coverage in the 2010 mid-term elections, and thereafter in his expected 2012 re-election campaign.

Finally, Obama has not been willing or able to rein in his more rabid supporters. Some of them bought the snake-oil that there had been a permanent shift to the left in 2008. Not so; especially as a result of tough economic times, there has been a shift to the right, and Republicans are feeling their oats. Now that they have Ted Kennedy’s seat, they are taking aim at other leftists: for instance, Barbara Boxer in California, up for re-election in 2010, is facing a strong challenge from Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

If Obama is able to curb his vanity, his internationalism, and the more extreme of his supporters, and, big if – the economy does improve in the next few months – he may well rebound. As of now, Americans are hurting: they do not see in their wallets the value of the huge bailouts of banks and car companies, and they are getting increasingly worried about terrorism coming back to their homeland.

Overall, Obama’s first year in office rates only a B for effort, and a C- for results.

Comments welcome at https://rajeev2007.wordpress.com

1300 words, 21st Jan 2010

a version of this was published by rediff at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/dec/08/column-rajeev-srinivasan-on-obamas-af-pak-plan.htm

Obama’s Af-Pak speech: America will declare victory and leave soon

Rajeev Srinivasan concludes the winners are China and Pakistan; India loses again

There is no doubt the US President Barack Obama had a difficult task to perform in making his long-awaited Afghanistan speech on Tuesday. There has been a clamor of different voices urging him to take every position from digging in for the long term all the way to an immediate withdrawal, and the only option Obama really had was to take a median position that would certainly disappoint large sections of his voters.

In a sense, the speech turned out to be a bit of a damp squib: it must be extremely unsatisfying to officer cadets at West Point to be told that their nation was effectively in a war it could not win. And that the only thing to do was to find a face-saving exit. Besides, it really didn’t say anything new other than the laying out of a time-frame for the exit. It was common knowledge all along that the Obama Af-Pak plan was simple: “surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell”.

The bribery plan has taken more concrete steps now. Hillary Clinton announced that there were ‘non-violent Taliban’ (isn’t that a contradiction in terms?), and therefore one has to presume the Americans are busy figuring out which are the ‘good Taliban’ (hint: those not attacking the Pakistani Army). These are the ones to bribe before the part about declaring victory loudly and heading for the exit.

One has to sympathize with Obama, who is in a bit of a spot. Two unwinnable wars are draining his treasury. The financial meltdown and related fallout has hit his economy hard. His hard-core supporters are wondering when he will deliver on his campaign rhetoric of change and hope, because so far there has been little change and not much hope. The fence-sitters are beginning to desert him, as the results of mid-term elections and opinion polls suggest. For someone who is in permanent campaign mode, this is altogether disturbing. The timing of the pullout from Afghanistan, naturally, is intended to give Obama sound-bites for the elections in 2012.

Afghanistan is, alas, looking more and more like Vietnam; even the blame game, where suddenly the Americans seem to have discovered that their hand-picked man, Hamid Karzai, is the fount of all corruption, is like Vietnam. The generals in Afghanistan are not filing enthusiastic and breathless forecasts like Westmoreland did in Vietnam, however: they are, perhaps because of  more widespread information, less optimistic and probably more realistic about what can be achieved.

The root cause of the problem in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq, is simple: the Americans are laboring mightily to ignore the elephant in the living room, Pakistan’s agenda. It is as clear as daylight to the casual observer that Pakistan has no interest whatsoever in bringing stability to Afghanistan, in preventing the Taliban from coming back to power there, or in capturing Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda operatives: and these are the alleged reasons why the Americans are in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has clearly articulated its pursuit of strategic depth which, for instance, involves having a Plan B even if its major cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, close to the Indian border, are obliterated in a possible Indian nuclear second strike (after Pakistan has wiped out Delhi and Mumbai in a first strike). They want to regroup from Afghanistan and continue their jihad against India from there.

The Taliban, of course, are Pakistani Army and ISI soldiers dressed in baggy pants and beards for the occasion. The fact that alleged seminary students (who the Taliban are supposed to be) suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes is indirect evidence that they were trained soldiers. Therefore, Taliban rule in Kabul means Pakistan has achieved it strategic depth. Clearly, they have no desire to fight or eliminate the Taliban, despite the fact that some factions (such as the one from the Mehsud tribe) have begun to inconvenience Pakistan through a campaign of suicide bombings. Dead Pakistani civilians are considered acceptable collateral damage by the ISI, but their attacks on the military apparatus is a big no-no. They are clearly ‘bad Taliban’, and will not get any share of the spoils.

The fact that the Americans condone Pakistani support for the Taliban was made most evident during the siege of Kunduz some years ago: see my old column: “What happened in Kunduz?” at http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/nov/30rajeev.htm It was evident to observers then that the massive airlift of besieged Taliban – allegedly hundreds of senior officers were rescued from the advancing Northern Alliance with the full knowledge of the CIA – was an effort to hide the evidence about ISI involvement with the Taliban. They allowed the alleged Taliban to escape to Islamabad and resume their day jobs as brigadiers and colonels in the Pakistani Army and the ISI. If the Northern Alliance, then in full cry, had been able to capture or liquidate these officers, it would have broken the backbone of the Taliban war effort.

A recent report from the US Senate accused the then-leaders of the war effort, Donald Rumsfeld and General Petraeus, of a signal failure in late 2001: apparently the Senate has found that it would have been entirely possible to capture Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains then, if only a large force of American troops had been deployed in search operations, instead of the few hundreds.

All this brings into sharp focus the nexus between the CIA and the ISI. (The more recent story of Daood Gilani alias David Chapman Headley, who may have done the reconnaissance in Mumbai for 11/26, also suggestions unholy connections between the two). There are some seriously opaque things going on between the Americans and the Pakistanis, and the billions paid by the Bush and Obama administration have vanished without a trace. (With their friend Robin Raphel now in charge of disbursing funds, the ISI must be breaking out the champagne – such incredible good luck!)

So long as the Americans are willing to subscribe to the fiction that Pakistanis are serious about fighting terrorism, there is no way that Pakistan can lose. As a result, the planned departure of the Americans in 2011 should be welcome news for Indians. Presumably, once they leave, as they did after the Soviet debacle in the 1980s, Americans will lose interest in Pakistan and cease to write them blank checks (which usually end up killing Indians).

However, as General McChrystal suggested recently, chances are that the US is going to lean on India to ‘make concessions on Kashmir’, to stop its humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and to close its consulates there. Pakistan has alleged that Indians are interfering in Baluchistan – which I hope they are, but it is unlikely: a former Prime Minister, in a burst of misplaced enthusiasm, gutted the RAW counter-intelligence operations there. The first sign of this pressure is already evident in the UPA government’s announcement of large troop withdrawals from J&K, leaving it to the local police, whose sympathies are not necessarily with the Indian nation.

The reality of American sentiment was demonstrated by Richard Holbrooke who held a cringing press conference to assure Pakistanis that there was no tilt towards India. Clearly in Afghan War 2.0, America is going to be ever more dependent on the tender mercies of the ISI. Obama concluded his speech with the mantra – regarding Pakistan – of “mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust.” The cynic in me thinks Obama better lock up the family silver, as he is deluding himself regarding Pakistan’s fundamentalist kleptocrats.

Besides, the exit timeline – even though it does not mean all troops leave then, and there has been a lot of ‘clarifications’ that even the date is not cast in stone – implies that the Americans have no stomach to fight on any longer in Afghanistan beyond 2011. This, in effect, means they have been defeated. The essence of military strategy is to demoralize the enemy by all means possible, and from that perspective Taliban psy-ops have won. This will be a significant morale-booster to the jihadis: they can legitimately claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. This will embolden their triumphalist attacks on US targets, and on India.

The Americans have a difficult choice, caught as they are with no really attractive options. Add to this Obama’s personal preferences, wherein his tendency is to be an internationalist, and to jaw-jaw where Bush may have gone for war-war. It is not clear that these are bad things per se, but it remains to be seen whether they are the right things for this war, or for the colder war against China. There is an element of ‘paralysis by analysis’, and some have begun to call Obama the ‘Great Ditherer’.

There is a worst case scenario: the possibility that, given the deadline of 18 months that Obama has outlined for the beginning of the exit, there will be a headlong and ignominious retreat from Kabul. I remember the photographs from Saigon in 1975 with the last helicopters taking off from the American embassy with people desperately hanging on. Vietnam scarred America’s soul, but Communism did not win, and the Domino Theory turned out to be wrong: communists are susceptible to the charms of the market.

The Afghan game is altogether different: it may crush America’s soul. If the jihadis gain sustenance from the American defeat there, there will be no respite: they will keep on attacking, as they are not easily distracted from their goal of global dominance, which they believe is within their grasp. Indeed they may be right, because there is a short window of opportunity when vast petro-dollars are at their disposal. The near-default of sovereign debt in Dubai shows that the petro-dollars may well be ephemeral, and that they had better strike when the iron is hot.

America is clearly suffering from imperial overreach. Not that America is a ruined country, but compared to the can-do and supremely confident nation it was a few years ago – the sole hyperpower proclaiming the end of history – it is suffering from serious self-doubt, and it is beginning to see the shadows of decline everywhere, even in its crowning glory, the civil engineering marvels that span the nation.

American’s involvement in Afghanistan, if it had been a whole-hearted war against the forces of terrorism, would have been positive for India. But given that it merely enriched the Pakistanis while retaining intact the entire infrastructure – both the ISI and the radicalized Army – the Afghan war has not really helped India. Indeed, the Northern Alliance – assuming that its tactical genius Ahmed Shah Massoud had not been assassinated – may well have driven the Taliban out or at least fought them to a standstill. In hindsight, the American intercession in Afghanistan has been a net negative for India.

As things stand, it now appears that it is better from India’s perspective for the Americans to leave. As usual, India is left to fight its own battles. Unfortunately, the two parties that will benefit the most from the American debacle in Afghanistan are India’s sworn enemies: China and Pakistan. China, because the loss is likely to turn America inward, and in any case they have now been convinced by Chinese bluster that there has to be a G-2. Pakistan, of course, is richer by some $25 billion some of which is in numbered accounts somewhere, and the rest in nuclear and other weapons pointed at India.

For China, the Vietnam analogy is apt again. There, a Chinese proxy defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, another Chinese proxy, Pakistan, may defeat America. In Korea, China fought America to a standstill. Score: China – 2.5, America – 0.5. No doubt this, along with Obama’s kowtowing in Beijing, will embolden further Chinese adventurism. India is already seeing the beginning of this, as Chinese are building 27 airstrips in occupied Tibet, and just ordered Indians to stop building a road in J&K, explaining that it was their territory.

Obama should learn from India’s experience: a vacillating, dithering and appeasing nation gets no respect from those who have a a clear long-term intent.

1720 words, Dec 2, 2009, updated Dec 4, 2009, 2050 words

obama af-pak strategy 2.0

December 2, 2009

this is a small excerpt from what i wrote. the full article will be posted when it is published.
Obama’s Af-Pak speech: America will declare victory and leave soon
Rajeev Srinivasan concludes the winners are China and Pakistan; India loses again
There is no doubt the US President Barack Obama had a difficult task to perform in making his long-awaited
Afghanistan speech on Tuesday. There has been a clamor of different voices urging him to take
every position from digging in for the long term all the way to an immediate withdrawal, and the only
option Obama really had was to take a median position that would certainly disappoint large sections of
his voters.
In a sense, the speech turned out to be a bit of a damp squib: it must be extremely unsatisfying to
officer cadets at West Point to be told that their nation was effectively in a war it could not win. And
that the only thing to do was to find a face-saving exit. Besides, it really didn’t say anything new other
than the laying out of a time-frame for the exit. It was common knowledge all along that the Obama Af-
Pak plan was simple: “surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell”.
There is the possibility that, given the deadline of 18 months that Obama has outlined for the exit, therewill be a headlong and ignominious retreat from Kabul. I remember the photographs from Saigon in1975 with the last helicopters taking off from the American embassy with people attemptingdesperately hanging on. Vietnam scarred America’s soul, but Communism did not win, and the DominoTheory turned out to be wrong: communists are susceptible to the charms of the market.
The Afghan game is altogether different: it may crush America’s soul altogether. If the jihadis gainsustenance from the American defeat there, there will be no respite: they will keep on attacking, as theyare not easily distracted from their goal of global dominance, which they believe is within their grasp.Indeed they may be right, because there is a short window of opportunity when vast petro-dollars are attheir disposal. The near-default of sovereign debt in Dubai shows that the petro-dollars may well beephemeral, and that they had better strike when the iron is hot.
… more

A version of this was published by the Daily Pioneer on Dec 1. Here is the URL:

http://www.dailypioneer.com/219496/A-non-event-foretold.html

Mr Singh went to Washington, and all I got was this lousy biriyani

Rajeev Srinivasan

It is not clear why some are disappointed by the non-event of the Manmohan Singh visit to Washington. On the contrary, a sigh of relief is in order, as there was no major faux pas, which is customary when the PM and his Sancho Panzas sally forth abroad. No, the soporific, meaningless joint statement was better than the abject surrender of some major national interest, as in Havana 2006 and Sharm-al-Sheikh 2009.

It is mystifying exactly what was expected, anyway, from the First State Visit to Obama’s Camelot (Obamelot?). The First State Visit is just a diplomatic air-kiss. The best metaphor for it was the fact that the dinner was gate-crashed by a couple named Michelle and Tareq Salehi, a blonde in a bright-red, diaphanous sari-like concoction, and a tuxedo-clad (one assumes) Arab. That these people waltzed right past the massive security, and even got photo-ops with the Obamas and the Veep, would be appalling, if it weren’t comical. So it has come to this – the Federal Bureau of Investigation reincarnated as the Keystone Cops. Or maybe it just shows the level of attention and due diligence the Obamistas paid to the Manmohan First State Visit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mr. Singh goes to Washington

November 24, 2009

a version of this appeared on rediff at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/nov/24/rajeev-srinivasan-on-prime-minister-singhs-visit.htm

Mr. Singh goes to Washington

Rajeev Srinivasan on why he fears the ‘state visit’ may be disastrous

In the old black-and-white Frank Capra film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” an idealistic small-town man played by James Stewart is elected to the US Congress, where he is appalled by corrupt politics; but in the end his innocence wins over the blasé denizens of the capital. In a sense, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to the US in the near future is being portrayed in the same way, but the Indian is neither as idealistic nor as naïve as the Jimmy Stuart character, nor is there likely to be a happy ending.

Read the rest of this entry »

Published on rediff at:

http://business.rediff.com/column/2009/mar/25/upa-will-cost-india-economic-superstardom.htm

The current global crisis is potentially an inflection point that marks the transition from an Anglo-American dominance to an Asian dominance in world economic affairs. Certainly, there is a startling turnaround in the fact that China holds $2 trillion in US Treasury securities and therefore lectures the Americans about running their economy – it feels like only yesterday when the shoe was on the other foot. Another indicator is China’s aggressive fire-sale purchases of commodities, including oil, copper, iron ore etc. from all over the world. “Have money, will buy” is their mantra.

But where is India in this “Asian century”? Alas, India has once again fumbled a golden opportunity to rise to economic superstardom. Given the profligate spending of the UPA and its self-proclaimed galaxy of economic geniuses, India now sports perhaps the highest deficit of any country: about 13%, a far cry from the 5% that the UPA has been promising us all along. Yet again, the Congress has successfully brought India back to the verge of the “Nehruvian Rate of Growth” of 2-3%, which is an economic crime against humanity, imposing abject poverty on 250 million people. After sixty years of Congress misrule, India has most of the world’s poor people, and some of the worst health and nutrition indicators, even worse than much poorer sub-Saharan Africa (see the NYTImes “As Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/world/asia/13malnutrition.html?_r=2&ref=world ). This is truly a crime and a national shame.

Read the rest of this entry »

Published by rediff at  http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/mar/10/guest-not-cricket-just-the-isi-gaining-strategic-depth.htm

Not cricket, just the ISI gaining strategic depth

Rajeev Srinivasan

Sri Lankan cricketers were shot at, and injured, by a group of young men in Lahore. Meanwhile, the Pakistani state signed a treaty with a fundamentalist group in the Swat region to impose sharia on the area. The real ruling power in Pakistan, the spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), is putting on a bit of a show in the first instance, and erasing the Durand Line (which anyway expired in 1993 according to the 100-year-old Afghan-British treaty) in the second instance.

Read the rest of this entry »

This was published by the Pioneer, India Abroad and Rediff, and was picked up New American Media, from which a number of others also published it. Here are a few links:

Rediff

http://www.alternet.org/immigration/130818/econopocalypse_bringing_an_end_to_the_immigration_boom/

http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=15416e585b84cc13386b63fe900ca38c&from=rss

Pioneer

The end of the immigration boom

Rajeev Srinivasan considers the impact on India

The relatively free movement of labor across borders for the last few decades has generally had a positive impact on many countries because of the large remittances sent home by expatriates. In India, Kerala has been the biggest beneficiary, its relative prosperity sustained by its sons and daughters toiling away in West Asia or in hospitals around the world. But it looks like the global recession is beginning to seriously hurt international migration, and many migrants are forced to go home again.

… deleted

Published by the New Indian Express on 9th Sept 2008 as an op-ed

Who lost India?

By Rajeev Srinivasan

One of these days, the New York Times will run a story titled “Who lost India?” Pundits will pontificate about what caused India to be irretrievably ‘lost’ – that is, it no longer functions as a viable and friendly ally of the West, particularly of America. Though they will never admit it, the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement currently being shoved down India’s throat would have been the tipping point that did India in.

Given the parlous security situation in the neighborhood, as well as the various separatist movements gaining strength from external sources, this may well be the first step in the unraveling of India. That would be a disaster not only for India and Indians, but also for America, because India is just about the only friend it has in that giant arc from East Africa to Southeast Asia, full of failed and failing states. Adding India to that list is not going to help anyone.

What is not known to most Americans is the extraordinary goodwill that ordinary Indians have towards America. At a time when the US is regularly pilloried as anywhere between monstrous and appalling by large numbers of people, India is demonstrably the country where the average person on the street has the most positive perception of America. A Pew Trust survey on global attitudes in 2006 showed this: Indians were the most pro-American, far more so than Chinese, Saudi Arabians, and Pakistanis, to pick a few American allies.

Perhaps that’s not such a big deal to Americans accustomed to basking in the sunshine of admiration and envy from all quarters, based on both hard and soft power. But consider this: India, with all its problems, is no banana republic. According to the widely followed reports from Goldman Sachs, India may well overtake the US as the world’s second largest economy by 2050.

Besides, odd as it might sound when you hear it for the first time, India is a lot like America. That is my gut feel after having spent half my life in India and the other half in America. There are many similarities, but the most striking one is the openness and friendliness of the people. Whatever you may think of their respective governments, it is a fact that the people of America and of India are warm, friendly and hospitable. This carries over into many things: plurality, tolerance for different ideas, innovativeness.

In fact, I’d be so bold as to claim that India’s core competencies are quite like America’s: fertile land, soft power, innovation. What India has lacked is the financial resources of a vast virgin continent and what’s been termed ‘strategic intent’ by management guru C K Prahalad – the ability to imagine itself as Numero Uno, and to act accordingly.

There are historic reasons to believe that superpowerdom for India is not a wet-dream. India was, throughout most of recorded history, the richest country in the world, astonishing as this may seem. According to economic historian Angus Maddison, India was the world’s largest economy from 0 CE to 1500 CE; China was its closest competitor towards the end of that period. Then the land was ravaged by colonialism, which destroyed many of the wealth-generating systems that had emerged over millennia, notably the innovative small businesses in textiles and light engineering goods.

Indian prowess in intellectual property is not given due credit: some of the greatest inventions in history came from there, including the Indian numeral system, the cornerstone of all mathematics; the context-free grammar of Panini from 500 BCE, which underlies all computing; the infinite series of Madhava from 1300 CE, which provides the underpinnings of the differential calculus and thus of the Industrial Revolution.

But these are in the past, one might say. What has India done lately? That is fair criticism. I am forced to ask you to take it on faith that, just as India appeared out of the blue in high-technology, it has the intellectual capability to be a partner in the knowledge economy of tomorrow. Sociologist Joel Kotkin remarked that “engineering is the oil of the 21st century”; and that is what Indians are strong at.

There are the ingredients, then, of a successful rapprochement between India and the US. Why hasn’t this worked for so long? There are many who share the blame; some of it can be attributed to the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the Nehru dynasty which lectured the US and propped up the comical non-aligned movement. America’s explicit support of Pakistan has also been an irritant; so has the derision made most explicit in the Nixon Tapes.

Those days are past, though, and there are the glimmerings of a beautiful relationship. But the so-called Nuclear Deal has the potential to be a huge thorn in the flesh. The deal is a bad one. It is such a bad deal for India, and it is being railroaded through with such deceit and opaqueness by the Manmohan Singh administration, that it will almost certainly be revoked unilaterally by a future Indian government. Given the contours of the NSG waiver, this will invite serious punitive sanctions on India.

The problem is that India is being sold a bill of goods. The deal is being sold to Indians as a guarantee of energy security and a harbinger of close co-operation with America. But it is obvious that this is neither; it is about non-proliferation, and about the bringing to heel of the one big nation that has challenged the apparently divinely mandated monopoly the P-5 have arrogated to themselves. India is being conned into signing the NPT as a non-weapons-state, with no guarantee that anybody will supply uranium for the obsolete fission reactors India will buy at, undoubtedly, vastly inflated prices.

Losing its small nuclear arsenal is not an option for India, which is threatened by two bellicose nuclear-armed neighbors: China and Pakistan. China has almost certainly proliferated nukes and missiles to Pakistan. And Pakistan’s nuclear Wal-Mart is well-known.

Being unable to deter China in its adventurism, India will not also be able to adequately deter its proxies Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. The result of this is could even be a extinction of the India nation, as Bangladesh pursues its lebensraum, China pursues the diversion of the Brahmaputra, Pakistan pursues the death by a thousand cuts, and Nepal’s newly emboldened communists pursue their Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor.

This is no way to treat a partner and an ally. In the long run, the US faces China, an implacable and ruthless foe. To subjugate the one nation in Asia that can match and counteract China, just to satisfy a bunch of non-proliferation fundamentalist Cold Warriors, and for the benefit of GE and Westinghouse, is not sensible. If I may be so bold as to say so, America doesn’t want to lose India.

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant. His blog is at https://rajeev2007.wordpress.com

Published by rediff.com on 8th Sept 2008 at http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/sep/08rajeev.htm

We have energy security in our time. Praise the Lord!

Rajeev Srinivasan on the misinformation campaign about the nuclear deal

There have been hosannas and hallelujahs aplenty about the fact that the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group has decided to provide a waiver of sorts to India. The fine print is yet to be deciphered, but already the usual suspects are taking credit for having brought about “energy security in our time”.

I am reminded of Neville Chamberlain, a British prime minister (his other claim to fame was his ever-present umbrella) returning to the UK from a conclave in Munich, where he had participated in appeasing Germany by giving away the Sudetenland. Chamberlain said:

“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time…
Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

He said this on September 30th, 1938. Alas for him, on September 1st, 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and two days later, Britain declared war on Germany. Famous last words, indeed.

But I am being unfair to poor Chamberlain. He honestly believed that he had achieved something for his country. Not so with the bigwigs of the UPA. It has been abundantly clear for a very long time that the so-called nuclear deal stinks to high heaven, and that interests wholly unrelated to India’s energy needs are driving it. The UPA knows what they are getting into, and they have been lying continuously to the Indian people.

It would be unseemly for me to name names (not to mention unwise, given the propensity of the UPA to cry ‘libel’ at the drop of a hat – fortunately, a New Jersey court just threw out a wholly frivolous case filed by overseas acolytes of the UPA, who I do hope will get slapped with large punitive damages), but circumstantial evidence suggests that Jaswant Singh was not far off the mark when he talked about American ‘moles’ high up in the Indian government.

The confidential letter from the US State Department to the House Foreign Relations Committee, as publicized by Rep. Howard Berman, is refreshingly candid about the real facts behind the deal: to use pithy Americanisms, the Indians are being taken to the cleaners. Being sold a bill of goods. Led to the slaughter. Being totally sold snake-oil, with the active connivance of their leaders.

Perhaps the apt historical analogy is not Chamberlain, but the East India Company. Or better yet, the capitulation to China over Tibet. India gave away its substantial treaty rights in Tibet to China in return for… vague promises of brotherhood. Here India is giving away its hard-won nuclear deterrent, the one thing that prevents the Chinese from running rampant in Asia, in return for… honeyed words from the Americans about strategic partnership!

I exaggerate, of course. There must be more. Nehru, being naive, believed in the bhai-bhai thing with China. But today’s leaders are hard-boiled, and are doing this for other, very good reasons. What these reasons are, we shall never know, notwithstanding the Right To Information Act. The Indian government is extremely good at obfuscation.

What is being celebrated as a Great Victory (over what I am not sure) at the NSG is a little puzzling. I hate to be the little boy who asked about the Emperor’s new clothes, but what exactly is India getting? After all the huffing and puffing, India has now been granted the privilege of spending enormous amounts of money – absolute billions – to buy nuclear fission reactors and uranium? This is a good thing? Let us remember that the NSG was set up in 1974 as a secret cabal to punish India for its first nuclear test.

There is an old proverb in Malayalam about spending good money to buy a dog that then proceeds to bite you. India is now going to spend at least $50 billion to buy all these dangerous fission reactors from the US and France and Japan, only to be left with the possibility of Australians and Americans holding the Damocles’ Sword of disruptions in uranium supplies over us? This is better than being held hostage by OPEC over fossil fuels?

And if all goes well, India will be left holding the bag for mountains of extremely dangerous and long-lived (10,000 years, say) radioactive waste, which we will not be allowed to reprocess lest we extract something useful out of it. Of course all the reactors and the radioactive waste must be making our friendly neighborhood terrorists rub their hands with glee in anticipation. Did I mention something about giving someone a stick to beat you with?

I think it should be obvious by now that India has been coerced into de facto accession to the NPT, the CTBT, the FMCT, and all the other alphabet-soup treaties that were set up to keep India muzzled. America’s non-proliferation ayatollahs, barring a last-minute reprieve like the US Congress voting down the 123 Agreement (I am tempted to chant “Berman saranam, Markey saranam”, etc.) have accomplished ‘cap, rollback, and eliminate’.

The letter leaked by Berman, as well as the fact that Article 2 of the 123 Agreement explicitly states that “national laws” (read: the Hyde Amendment, with the clever little Barack Obama Amendment – yes, Virginia, Obama did get his fingers into this pie too) govern the 123 Agreement, clarify that India is at the mercy of any US administration that sees fit to unilaterally abrogate the thing. Remember Tarapur? There was a similar little artifice of domestic legislation that was used by the US to weasel out of a binding international treaty. The 123 Agreement is really not worth the paper it’s written on.

Let us note that of the other hold-outs to the NPT, nobody is putting any pressure on Israel to sign anything, and they are getting all the fuel they need from sugar-daddy America; and Pakistan gets everything, including their bombs and their missiles, from their main squeeze China, while minor sugar-daddy America beams indulgently.

The sad part is that none of this does a thing for the only issue that matters, India’s energy security. While the rest of the world has, rightly, looked upon the nuclear deal as a non-proliferation issue, the propaganda experts and spin-meisters in India have sold it to the gullible public as a way of gaining energy independence. Alas, this is not true at all.

Here are a few facts about energy. I am indebted to, among others, the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (STEP) in Bangalore for this information.

Present world energy use: 15 terawatt-years per year

Potential availability of energy from different sources (in terawatt-years) [Source: Harvard]

  • Oil and Gas: 3000
  • Coal: 5000
  • Uranium (conventional reactors): 2000
  • Uranium (breeder reactors): 2,000,000
  • Solar: 30,000 (per year)

Do note that last two numbers. One, solar energy accessible per year far exceeds the sum total energy available from fossil fuels and uranium-fission reactors in toto, ie. by completely exhausting all known oil and gas and uranium. Two, breeder reactors can leverage thorium (turned into uranium-233) endlessly by creating more fuel than is exhausted, but the technology will take time.

Now, take a look at the amount of energy India generates, and how it is used up [Source: CSTEP and Lawrence Livermore Labs]

Total consumption: 5,721 billion kwh, of which:

  • Lost energy: 3,257 billion kwh
  • Useful energy: 2,364 billion kwh

Generation is from:

  • Hydro: 84
  • Wind: 5
  • Solar: 0
  • Nuclear: 58
  • Bio-fuels: 1682
  • Coal: 1852
  • Natural Gas: 225
  • Petroleum: 1645

Usage is by:

  • Unaccounted electricity: 99
  • Agriculture: 301
  • Residential: 1511
  • Commercial: 132
  • Industrial: 1548
  • Light Vehicles: 132
  • Heavy Vehicles: 330
  • Aircraft: 65
  • Railways: 43

I believe the data is for 2005. What is startling is the enormous amount of wasted energy: more than the amount of useful energy. Besides, unaccounted for electricity is almost the same as the amount of energy used up by all air and railroad traffic in India! Thus, the very first thing that can pay huge dividends would be to get better accounting for energy use and to reduce wastage (as for example due to traffic congestion in cities).

Consider the capital costs of various types of energy: [Source: CSTEP]

  • Natural Gas: $600/kW with 4-10cents/kWh in fuel costs
    • Plus cost of pipelines and LNG terminals
  • Wind: $1200/kW
    • Plus cost of transmission lines from windy regions
  • Hydro: n/a
  • Biomass: n/a
  • Coal: $1135/kW and 4c/kWh in fuel costs
    • With CO2 cleanup: $2601/kW and 22c/kWh in fuel costs
    • Plus cost of railroads and other infrastructure
  • Solar Thermal: $4000/kW
  • Solar Photovoltaic: $6000/kW
  • Nuclear Fission: $3000/kW and 8c/kWh in fuel costs
    • Plus cost of radioactive waste disposal
    • [Source: World Nuclear Association, “The Economics of Nuclear Power”]

It can be seen that the cost of nuclear power is very high, even if the costs of waste management are discounted: and this number is from the cheer-leaders of nuclear energy. In addition, there has to be a substantial risk premium for the fact that the raw material is in short supply and is under the control of a cartel. A “uranium shock” can be far more painful than the recent oil-shock, because it will simply mean the shuttering of a lot of the expensive plants acquired at extortionate prices.

All things considered, including the environmental impact and the carbon footprint, solar is the most sensible route for India. The capital costs for solar will come down significantly as new thin-film technology reduces the manufacturing cost, and conversion efficiency rises – 40% has been accomplished in the lab. Besides, if you look at the fully loaded cost, that is taking into account the gigantic public outlay already incurred for fossil fuels (as an example, there is a pipeline running 20 km out to sea at Cochin Refineries so that large tankers can deliver oil without coming close to shore), solar is currently not very overpriced.

And of course, you cannot beat the price of fuel: free, no need to get any certificates from the NSG, available in plenty for at least 300 days of the year. If large solar farms are set up in a few places (they may be 10km x 10km in size, and surely this can be put up in arid areas like the Thar Desert), then solar energy is likely to be attractive. Besides, there will be economies of scale in manufacturing once demand is seeded by subsidies and tax breaks. Large-scale solar plants are becoming a reality: two giant solar farms, totally 880 MW, have just been approved by Pacific Gas and Electric in California: this is a huge step considering the largest solar plant in the US now is just 14 MW.

In addition, there are technological breakthroughs just around the corner in solar energy, as venture money is flowing into alternative energy. If only India were to invest in solar research and subsidies the billions that the UPA wants to spend on imported white elephant fission technology, India will truly gain energy independence.

The entire nuclear deal is a red-herring and a diversion. It is a colossal blunder; and when this is coming at such an enormous cost – loss of the independent nuclear deterrent and intrusive inspection of the nuclear setup, which happy proliferator China is not subject to – this is perhaps the worst act any government has taken since independence. The UPA is subjecting India to colonialism. The beneficiaries are China, Pakistan, and the US.

This deal may well mark the tipping point that causes India to collapse: without a nuclear deterrent, India is a sitting duck for Chinese blackmail including the proposed diversion of the Brahmaputra, for Pakistani-fomented insurrections, and Bangladeshi demographic invasion. India must be the very first large State in history that has consciously and voluntarily decided to dismantle itself.

Comments welcome at my blog at https://rajeev2007.wordpress.com

2000 words, September 6, 2008

Published on rediff as http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/jul/22rajeev.htm

Oh tangled web: a conspiracy behind the Nuclear Agreement?

Rajeev Srinivasan remains skeptical of the much-ballyhooed Indo-US deal

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
– Sir Walter Scott

It is worth asking once again whether the Indo-US nuclear deal is beneficial to India. Not being a subject-matter expert on the minutiae of the IAEA agreement, I read the published views of a many commentators. It appears that the verbiage is so ambiguous that it has not changed anyone’s minds: those who opposed the deal before have not been convinced that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread; those who liked it before continue to like it.

It appears to me, based on the above, that the agreement:

  • Does not give India any unique status, but is identical to the agreement with non-nuclear weapons states, and quite different from one with the P-5
  • Does not guarantee fuel supply, but guarantees perpetual IAEA inspections
  • Does conform to US domestic legislation like the Hyde Act
  • Does not allow India, unlike the P-5, to unilaterally withdraw its facilities from intrusive inspections
  • Does not specify what “corrective steps”, if any, India may take in case of supply disruptions; to wit, there are no corrective steps

None of these is desirable. These justify my concerns about this exercise as expressed in several previous columns: The deal that refuses to die, http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/apr/23rajeev.htm , That hoax called non-proliferation, http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/oct/12rajeev.htm , Bushwhacked: Why the nuclear deal is (still) a bad idea, http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/apr/06rajeev.htm , That Obscure Object of Desire: Nuclear Energy

http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/oct/24rajeev.htm

It is useful to remember what the deal is supposed to be all about from the Indian point of view: it is about one tangible outcome – the acquisition of energy security; and about one intangible outcome – the cooperation and support of the US in making India a major strategic power. However, it is not clear that either of these outcomes is a given. There are no guarantees being given by anybody that they will ensure the supply of uranium to India in perpetuity in exchange for India opening up its civilian facilities to intrusive inspections by the IAEA. And the US is certainly not giving India the status of one of its close allies, like those in NATO.

Therefore, it appears that the agreement is all about satisfying the American point of view – which is almost entirely about non-proliferation, and about bringing India under the ambit of a number of treaties. It is strictly about India signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, which leads to what American non-proliferation fundamentalists have been pushing all along: “cap, rollback, and eliminate”.

In addition, India is also signing the CTBT through the back door, possibly the FMCT, and putting many of its facilities under intrusive inspections by the IAEA (the same IAEA, we note in passing, that conveniently reported that Iraq had nuclear weapons.)

The problem with all this is that, far from assuring India’s energy security and helping it become a top-notch military power, this agreement merely guarantees that India will be a sitting duck for Chinese and Pakistani nuclear blackmail. This may have disastrous consequences.

Being unable to deter China in its adventurism, India will not also be able to adequately deter its proxies Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. The result of this is could even be a extinction of the India nation, as Bangladesh pursues its lebensraum, China pursues the diversion of the Brahmaputra, Pakistan pursues the death by a thousand cuts, and Nepal’s newly emboldened communists pursue their Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor.

It is unclear why the Americans are going along with this agenda, except that they may still be suffering from Cold-war-itis. The Americans are obviously considering this a coup for themselves, and I speculate they have several objectives, none of which is good for India:

  1. mercantilist: to support companies like GE and Westinghouse (http://www.rediff.com/money/2008/jul/21bweek.htm) which will benefit from the sales of reactors
  2. strategic: to keep India militarily weak as a precursor to prying loose the Northeast in an operation similar to how East Timor was detached from Indonesia
  3. tactical: to ensure that India continues to be as dependent on uranium suppliers as it has been on oil suppliers, which means outsiders have their hand on India’s jugular, and the spigot can be turned on or off to keep India docile and obedient
  4. just plain opportunistic: to strike while the iron is hot, while their good friend controls the Indian government

The fact that the Americans are up to no good is evident from the heavy-duty pressure tactics they have been up to, including the snake-oil-salesman techniques bordering on a “protection racket” a la the late lamented Al Capone – something you would see in a film-noir with its betrayals and double-crossings: I am reminded specifically of the brilliant Chinatown, where an unsuspecting Owens Valley is relieved of all its water. India is similarly being relieved of its right to protect itself.

And what is China’s angle in all this? An India defanged as a forever inferior non-nuclear State is good news for China, as it can pursue unfettered imperialism in Asia. In that case why have China’s proxies, India’s Communists, been so loud in their opposition to the deal? Maybe China has only been pretending to oppose the deal as a rhetorical ploy?

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I am beginning to wonder if this isn’t a great example of collusion between the US and China. If so, the two have played the Good Cop-Bad Cop routine to perfection. At the end of the day, India would have been hoodwinked into permanently giving up any hope of escaping from banana-republic-dom. This is a Himalayan blunder for India, but just perfect for the US and China.

The Chinese made all the proper noises about how they hated the deal, and their acolytes the Communists were strident in their opposition to it. To their credit, they did not mince words: they said it would hurt China. This convinced many in India who subscribe to the axiom that anything the Communists like is bad for India; conversely, something they dislike must be good for India. Only, in this case the truism didn’t hold good, but Indians, Pavlovian-fashion, rushed in, to mix metaphors wildly.

Besides, the mega-propaganda campaign unleashed by the UPA recently has been a great success. There is no news about inflation; nor about terrorists continuing to lob grenades at Amarnath pilgrims http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gZI3q6edKoFk9v5vUpHNPoc3-KSw ; or anything else at all, other than the unseemly circus in Parliament. Tremendous diversionary tactics, indeed!

The net result is that the Americans (and possibly the Chinese) have pulled off a coup. It’s Tibet redux: India gave away its substantial treaty rights in Tibet to China in return for absolutely nothing, prodded by an imperious prime minister. A member of his dynasty has now engineered the giving away of India’s strategic independence in return for nothing. India is being sold a bill of goods. Yet again.

For once, Marx was right: history is repeating itself, once as tragedy, next as farce.

1180 words, 21st July 2008

This was printed in the New Indian Express dated 10th Jun 08:

http://www.newindpress.com/NewsItems.asp?ID=IE720080609222650&Page=7&Title=TheOped&Topic=0

Here’s my original copy.

The fallout from the Olympic torch relay

By Rajeev Srinivasan

The Olympic torch relay was completed in China recently. and this was followed by the horrendous earthquake that leveled parts of Szechuan province. Apart from the human tragedies associated with both (including the protests that dogged the torch relay based on the genocide of Tibetans), the way the Chinese State has responded to both show some inklings of the way things work behind the Bamboo Curtain.

First, the Communists in charge of China pay enormous attention to symbols and pride, what East Asians call “face”. The Olympics are clearly their coming-out party, and they intend to impress the entire world with their new-found wealth and their march towards super-power-dom. Just as their neighbors in Japan and Korea announced their arrival on the world stage by staging the Olympics, China wants to host a perfect event, and they will stop at nothing to ensure this.

This is why the Chinese were so keen on ensuring that the torch relays went perfectly everywhere, and this explains their anger at disruptions in France and Britain. Interestingly, the only stop in the US, in San Francisco, was stage-managed through subterfuge: the torch took an unannounced path, so that protesters were fooled.

The Chinese State views the torch relay as the equivalent of an aswamedha yaga, wherein the emperor’s horse is free to wander as it pleases, and anyone who hinders it does so at the peril of facing his wrath. The vassal kings naturally pay obeisance. Thus, all the nations where the torch relay took place without incident are vassals of the Chinese King Emperor.

It is not surprising that the Indian government chose to bend over and kowtow to Chinese imperiousness. But the right thing for India to do once the violence in Tibet had commenced would have been to cancel the torch’s arrival in India altogether, citing security reasons. This would have been a painful snub to China, and quite appropriate to India’s role as the home of the Tibetan nation in exile. That would have got India respect.

Similarly, San Francisco was chosen – not New York, not Los Angeles – for the US appearance for good reason. It is because San Francisco was where the majority of Chinese coolies arrived. They built the railroads, and were discriminated against via the Asian Exclusion Act, which prevented them from owning property, marrying white women, or bringing Chinese brides. Thus the parading of China’s might where they were humiliated once upon a time.

Those who monitor the Chinese newsgroups on the net, or callers to talk shows, know how ultra-jingoistic Chinese people are. They are brought up on a steady diet of myths about great glory and great humiliation (by white imperialists) in the past. They cannot tolerate even the mildest criticism of their State or their country. The Communists are betting that by creating this new idol of nationalism they can stitch a large nation – well, actually an empire – together.

In this mythology, the Chinese State is remarkably similar to the German State between the two world wars. That too had memories of great Prussian glory, and the reality of great humiliation (by the victors in World War I). This led to a national psychosis, especially when mixed up with the idea of the Master Race. The same seems to be happening with China as well, with their vanity of being the Master Race (or Middle Kingdom) and their racist derision for all gwailo, foreign devils.

That brings up an interesting historical parallel: the Berlin Olympiad of 1936, which was intended to be the celebration of the ‘Aryan’ Master Race. Which it didn’t quite turn out to be, thanks to the black American runner Jesse Owens and others. Unless the Chinese win all the gold medals in Beijing, some ultra-nationalists will be upset.

But what is even more interesting is the parallels with both Berlin 1936 and Moscow 1980. Both were held when their respective empires were at their zenith. But by 1945, the Nazi empire was defeated; by 1990, the Russian empire had imploded. One possible future for China’s empire, then, may well be its collapse within the next ten years. After all, 60% of the land currently held in their iron grip by the Han Chinese belongs to Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Manchus et al, who are not enamored of being second-class citizens in a Han-dominated land.

Of course, the other comparison is with Japan and Korea, both of which thrived. But there is a major difference: those other East Asian States had moved much further towards openness and democracy by the time they held their Olympics. China, as a one-party, totalitarian dictatorship is inherently unstable: they are playing a dangerous game encouraging ultra-jingoism, because that may well turn against the dictatorship itself.

But there are encouraging signs of realism on the part of the Chinese Communists. Although they have railed against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, using their customary unparliamentary language against him, nevertheless they are continuing a dialog with him. This is because they realize that there is considerable world opinion in support of the Tibetan cause. China’s modus operandi is to constantly test the limits; as soon as they get some push-back, they withdraw. China is not immune to world pressure.

Similarly, after the earthquake, China been remarkably open about the damage as well as the casualties. They have admitted that 10,000 have died. This is in marked contrast to their past behavior: in the 1970’s a dam burst and killed 100,000 people; the news was suppressed for thirty years. Similarly, they pretended that SARS and avian flu did not exist. There might be two reasons for this new-found candor: the demand for accountability from a more demanding population; and the darker possibility that this is an “Olympics Special”, and they intend to return to regularly scheduled opaqueness later.

If the Chinese State is on the way to becoming a more normal entity, and not a pathological misfit bent on imperialism, then that would be a good thing for all of Asia.

990 words, May 13, 2008