Prem Shankar Jha

Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first ten months of 2012. But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir. This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates, has killed 35 civilians in POK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: first, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire in August, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150 year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicized by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government, born out of a change of policy towards India. Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses”, a senior Indian Home Ministry official told Reuters.” The Modi government has decisively closed the doors to a return to diplomacy. Not only will it not talk to Pakistan till it stops provoking India through its violations of the LoC, but it will not do so till Pakistan acknowledges that Kashmir is “an integral part of India”. Third: unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Mr. Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming …. the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The Enemy”; note the choice of phrase. An aggressive a response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation. Most policy analysts too have looked only for reasons why Pakistan has changed its policy towards India, without considering that the mote might be in India’s eye. The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power. Not only do they dominate the countryside in southern and western Afghanistan but they have moved into the north and all but captured the province of Kunduz. The Americans have armed the Afghan national army with modern weapons but left it with an air force that consists of two C-130 transport planes, 80 helicopters and a nascent drone reconnaissance capability. This is far from sufficient to give the ANA the close air support it will need to fight the Taliban. The ANA itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt. Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pak army, Gen. Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter. Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers, almost a third of his regular army, from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more. He is also rapidly de-mechanising infantry divisions that had been mechanized only a few years ago in the belief that India was Pakistan’s main enemy. If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, the only other country that has come to its financial aid in the past, has made it crystal clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Dr Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Dr Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

Read More

A hundred years after it began the American century is drawing to a close. It began in the closing stages of the First World War, when the exhausted allies turned to the Americans for the final, decisive, push to defeat Germany. It is ending with the Obama administration’s increasingly obvious inability to  stop the growth of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What is coming to an end is not America’s military pre-eminence in the world: no country can even think of waging war against it. What is ending is American hegemony.

Hegemony needs to be distinguished from dominance.  Gramsci described it  as “the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations”. In international relations a dominant country enjoys hegemony when it can claim, successfully, that what it is doing in its own interest also serves the general interest. This is the  perception of America that is dying in a welter of  mutual recrimination.

Momentous changes sometimes reveal themselves in small, even trivial, events. One such occurred  on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN programme ‘GPS’, on Sunday October 12. The subject   was  the imminent fall of Kobani, the capital city of Syrian Kurdistan, to ISIS.  While interviewing Barham Salih, former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and deputy prime minister of Iraq, Zakaria asked him whether the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga,  would be prepared to go into central  Iraq and  Syria to fight ISIS . Salih’s response was carefully weighed: “Kurdistan has emerged as the most reliable partner  of the coalition in the fight against ISIS. There may be a number of reasons. One that I am proud of is that  Kurdistan is a tolerant society with tolerant values. We do have a real interest in taking on ISIS. … but I have to say that the Peshmerga should not be relied upon to go to Mosul or the heartland of the sunni areas. We can be there to support, but at the same time the communities there have to be empowered. The same thing can be said about Syria….” I did not hear the rest of the sentence  because at this point Zakaria cut him off.

Zakaria may have done so unintentionally, but in the  fifteen-minute panel discussion that followed, all the participants, Francis Fukuyama, Gideon Rose of Foreign Affairs, Daniele Pletka  of the American Enterprise Institute  and Walter Mead ,  professor at Bard college and columnist in The American Interest, also  avoided mentioning Syria. Nor did they mention Iran.

Their reticence was strange.  Cooperation with Syria has been an option on Obama’s table since day one: in fact the intelligence agencies began  exchanging  information in June itself.  In August, after  Iran backed the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi,  several members of his administration advocated cooperating with Iran, which would have meant with Syria too. Mead devoted an entire column in the American Interest  to discussing its pros and cons. So why, two months later,  did Pletka,  Rose, and  even Fukuyama, criticise Obama for promising too much, and implicitly advocate withdrawal from the region in preference to cooperating with Syria and Iran?

The answer is that cooperating with Syria now  will be an admission that the US made a colossal mistake in joining the conspiracy to oust Bashar–al-Assad three years ago. Given that this would not be its first but second huge mistake in the middle east, and given their incalculable cost,  it would destroy what is left of America’s moral authority in the world.

That is why it has become so necessary for the US to keep insisting that Assad must  go if peace is to be restored in Syria; to pretend in the face of all evidence to the contrary that, hidden under the  Salafi jihad for the establishment of an extreme theocratic state, there really is a moderate sunni freedom movement that wants to bring in democracy; and that its sunni allies – Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey,  are really  good guys who were paying and arming these fighters in good faith, and are now eager to rectify their mistake.

In reality – and this is the true measure of how deeply American hegemony has been eroded – 62 countries have supposedly joined the US coalition against  ISIS, but their contribution so far has been laughable. Saudi Arabia has 340 aircraft but has  contributed four fighter jets to the aerial campaign against ISIS. Qatar has contributed two. Turkey has so far only allowed NATO to use its bases. Its  tanks and troops are drawn up on the heights a mere  800 metres from Kobani, watching the battle while its government  presses the US to  create  a no fly zone to prevent Syria’s air force from going to the Kurds’ rescue, and demands a commitment to oust Assad as a precondition for sending soldiers to join the battle.

Israel has played a key role in nurturing ISIS: it was an offshoot of AIPAC, its powerful lobby in the US, that introduced Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to Senator John McCain during his four hour visit to Syria last year.  In June  prime minister Netanyahu  went on American television to warn Obama against cooperating with Syria and Iran, because ISIS’ defeat  would allow a  nuclear-capable  Iran to emerge as the pre-eminent power in the region.

Obama has succumbed to all these pressures. As a result he has been left with a ‘grand strategy’ that is doomed to fail. If he wishes to cut America’s losses he would do well to ask himself a few questions: From Pakistan to Indonesia why has not a single Muslim country joined the fight against ISIS ? Why has India not offered help? Why are Kurds in four countries, who are overwhelmingly Sunnis, willing to fight ISIS to the death? And why are so few moderate Sunnis in Syria willing to join the fight against Assad?

The answer to all these questions is the same: This is not a battle between Sunni good guys and Shia devils, but an attempt by a tiny Wahhaby-Salafi fringe of Islam to take over the entire Muslim world, and the Americans are on the wrong side. It is America’s so-called friends that are digging the grave of American hegemony.

 

 

Read More

Despite the setbacks the BJP suffered in the bye-elections of August and September, there was never any serious doubt that it would emerge as the winner in the Maharashtra and Haryana elections. What has come as a surprise is the magnitude of the victory. Not only has it gained an absolute majority in the Haryana assembly, but it has come close to doing so in Maharashtra inspite of breaking its alliance with the Shiv Sena.   The doubling of its share of the vote in Maharashtra, and its tripling in Haryana, confirms its pre-eminence today. The message of these elections is therefore unambiguous: five months after the May elections the ‘Modi wave’ has not begun to retreat.

The reason is not hard to seek. In May the country had been suffering from a recession that had stalled industrial growth and completely stopped the growth of employment for the previous three years. Modi promised to revive the economy  and offered the ‘Gujarat model’ as proof that he could do so. Desperate to see a ray of sunshine in their lives huge numbers of people believed him and voted for the BJP. As a result the BJP’s share of the national vote increased  from below 19 to 31 percent.

Today people continue to believe Prime minister Modi’s promises despite the fact that there has been absolutely no improvement in their condition in the past five months.  They do so because with his common touch, now amplified a million-fold by the media, he has struck a chord in their hearts. The message he has managed to convey is that his government will not make decisions for the poor, he will allow the poor to set their own priorities. So they are prepared to give him more time.

But the ‘Modi wave’ is only a relative one. The BJP’s share of the vote is still only 27.8 percent in Maharashtra, and 33.2 percent in Haryana. Thus it still owes its win to the utter disunity among the secular parties. This is most clearly visible in Maharashtra. The vote of the Congress and the NCP, together,   fell by only 2.1 percent. As had happened in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in December, 11 out of the  BJP’s 14 percent gain in vote took place at the cost of independents and unrecognized parties.  The message this conveys is the same as the one that  the four major state elections in December conveyed: that voters are no longer prepared to waste their vote by giving it to people who have no hope of winning.

The Haryana election has delivered a different, but equally important message. Here two thirds of the increase in the BJP’s vote has come from the Congress. As in adjoining Delhi last December, this is a vote born out of pure  disillusionment. In Delhi  the beneficiary was the Aam Admi Party. In Haryana, since  AAP did not fight the Haryana elections,  it has been the BJP.

For the BJP, the message is clear: the entire country wants a revival of the economy. If the BJP cannot deliver this,  its honeymoon will not last much longer. What is more, were  faith in Mr Modi’s promises tocollapse, the rejection of the BJP will be severe.

For the Congress these elections have shown that unless it makes a herculean effort to pull itself together and present, or at least lead, a credible alternative to the BJP, its vote will keep slipping away.   Its introspection must start with why it has lost every election  since last despite  having poured four times as much money as the Vajpayee government into programmes of ‘inclusive development’.  This introspection is necessary because the collapse of growth is the only reason that the Congress’ pundits did not offer during its soul searching conference after its defeat in May.

Accepting that chasing the phantom of inflation at the cost of growth was the main cause of its election debacle will not set anything right, but it will at least carry the reassurance that such a thing will not happen again were it to come back to power.  However the Congress would do well not to bank upon the BJP’s non-performance to bring it back to power as the default option for the electorate. Mr. Modi’s government has not done anything tangible to revive the economy yet, but it would be foolish of the Congress to hope that it will not do so in the coming four years.

But there are other areas in which the Congress can build an alternative platform that will attract the voters to its banner in coming elections. Among these are the destruction of the nexus that has developed between crime, black money and politics in the last fifty years; empowering the common man against the State by amending article 311 of the constitution to allow people  to prosecute the state for the dereliction of its duties; providing security to the poor through social insurance, instead of throwing money at them in the hope that some of it will stick, and acquiring land for development in ways that will make the owners and users permanent stakeholders in development instead of its victims.

The Congress also urgently needs organizational changes: if there is anything it needs to learn not only from its defeat in May but the absolute disarray in the party since then, it is that the days of relying on the Gandhi-Nehru charisma to win elections, have ended. The current generation of the family neither has the acceptability nor the sheer grit (that Indira Gandhi had in abundance)  to pull the party out of the morass of defeat. The Congress needs a compete remake, and the remake has to start with its present leaders formally  handing over power to a younger generation of central and state leaders who have the long vision, and the perseverance,  to rebuild the party democratically from its roots.

Read More

WITCH DOCTORS AT THE HELM
Prem Shankar Jha
Coming on the heels of July’s 0.5 percent, the 0.4 percent growth of industrial production in August shows that the Indian economy is not on the road to recovery. The reason is the sustained high interest rate regime of the past four years. Industry has been begging for cuts in the cost of borrowing since March 2011. When Modi came to power it thought that its troubles were about to end. But on August 5, RBI governor Raghuram Rajan surprised the country by announcing that he would not lower interest rates, because at 8 percent consumer price inflation was still too high. He also announced that he would not lower rates till inflation, measured by the cost of living, had come down to six percent. So his September 30 refusal to bring down interest rates came as no surprise.
But Rajan went a step further and unveiled an inflation forecasting model which estimated that under the very best of conditions CPI inflation would not fall to 6 percent till January 2016. To Indian industry, which ceased to grow three years ago, this was the kiss of death.
Today there is not a spark of demand anywhere in the entire economy. Inspite of every inducement the growth of credit in the festive season till the 3rd week of September was Rs 17,800 crores against 108,000 crores in the comparable period of last year. Two of the RBI’s own reports have shown that capacity utilization in industry has been falling since the early months of 2012. But Raghuram Rajan remains fixated only on bringing down inflation.
What is worse he is using only one of four measures of inflation—the consumer price index, and ignoring the other three. These are the wholesale price index (WPI), the Reserve Bank of India’s non-food manufacturing index, and the ‘core rate’ of inflation. The WPI is an approximate measure of the rise in production cost. It is therefore crucially important for manufacturers and builders. The RBI’s non-food manufacturing index is a rough measure of the pressure of excess demand on prices because it filters out the impact of weather and export policies on agriculture. But CRISIL’s core rate of inflation is the most precise measure as it includes manufactured food items but excludes globally traded fuels and metals to filter out the impact of world commodity price changes.
Today WPI inflation has fallen from 9.6 percent in 2010-11 to a record low of 2.38 percent. The RBI’s NFMI has also fallen from 8.4 percent in June 2009 to 2.8 percent, mainly on the back of declining world commodity prices. CRISIL’s core rate of inflation is therefore higher, but only by 0.2 percent.
So why has the Consumer price inflation rate remained so stubbornly high? The answer is that the new method of calculation introduced in January 2011 has, in an unforeseen way, become a measure of the effect on prices not of excess demand but of bottlenecks in supply and the failure of the State to provide the infrastructure for growth. .
Primary foods, whose prices are determined almost entirely by supply constraints such as rainfall, area sown, and in the case of vegetables , the amount exported, account for 42.2 percent of the index. Housing accounts for 9.77 percent, but the index includes only urban housing whose supply is severely constrained by the shortage of urban land and the severe curbs the government has imposed on loans to builders.
Health and education make up another 9.04 percent. The cost of both has risen because of drug price decontrol and a growing reliance on private doctors and schools that reflects the failure of the state The only manufactured products included in the CPI are clothing , bedding and footwear (4.6 percent) and manufactured foods ( 8.2 percent). If housing is taken as a proxy for basic industries the total weight of manufacturing in the index comes to just 21 percent. The rest of this index reflects constraints in supply that high interest rates cannot remedy.
This is why four years of ‘inflation targeting’ using the CPI as the yardstick, has failed to make any dent in the CPI inflation. Today people are expecting the RBI to lower rates , but only because CPI inflation has fallen to 6.38 percent and, with diesel prices falling, will go lower.. But the cause — a sharp fall in world commodity, and particularly oil, prices—has nothing to do with India. And we have no idea how long it fall will last. Should domestic interest rates go up again if ISIS captures Basra, or China goes on another investment spree?
The Government has belatedly realized that interest rates determine not only money supply but also economic growth. So it is setting up a joint finance ministry and RBI panel to decide what it should be. But even this is not a sufficient safeguard. The Congress learned to its cost that inflation indices misinterpreted, and interest rates misapplied, can not only sink the economy, but the government as well. If interest rates are to be indexed to inflation it must be to the core rate of inflation, and be subject to whether the government wants growth or price stability. That is a decision that only the cabinet and the prime minister are qualified to make.

Read More

I am writing to ask Americans whether they have no sense of shame left.

If they do how can they tolerate a government like Obama’s which, despite the public beheading of two american journalists and two more western hostages whose only crime was a desire to help ordinary people in a remote part of the world who were in distress, has deliberately chosen not to attack ISIS when and where it is most vulnerable, and instead preferred to lie to his own people about his government’s true intentions towards ISIS and the larger middle east.

I speak out of agony, not just for the thousands of Kurds who will soon meet their ISIS executioners, but also for America. I am seventy five, and belong to a post-war generation for whom respect, even reverence for America was axiomatic. This survived Vietnam, and only began to erode in 2003. Today I wish I could switch off my feelings and allow the US to destroy itself, but I can’t. So I take tranquillisers and use the only voice I have to try and reach others, especially in the US, who may care about the future of their country and the world.

On September 11, Obama promised to destroy ISIS. There followed a flurry of much publicised attacks on what turned out to be mostly vacant buildings in Raqqa, far from the battle zone. In the meantime ISIS invaded Kurdish Syria and surrounded its principal city, Kubane. Yesterday it captured three eastern districts of Kubane, the main city of Syrian Kurdistan. Kurds are continuing to fight from street to street, but it is now only a matter of time before they are driven outor killed. Then it will be the turn of the civians. Before it entered Kubane, ISIS was out in the fields around it, pounding the city with tank and artillery fire, to which the Kurds had no reply. A handful of US air attacks would have destroyed their tanks and guns. But the US did not send a single plane to destroy them.

The Kurds begged and begged, but were met with a stony silence. And it was not only from the Amercians. On the slopes above Kubane are lined up dozens of Turkish Tanks, and thousands of soldiers watching the inexorable end approach. These are Europe and the USA’s NATO partners. Turkey is also the US’ main ally in the ‘Grand Alliance’ against ISIS. The Kurds have been entreating the Turks too to rescue them. The serried ranks of tanks I saw on the hillside convince me that Turkey could wipe out the ISIS around Kubane in hours. But this great ally of the christian, secular, democratic, West has not only not gone to Kubane’s rescue but demanded air cover for ISIS against Syrian warplanes and a public assurance from the US that it shall remove Assad from power in Syria as a reward for sending its troops in.

What worries me is that Obama is indecisive and gullible enough to believe the Turks. In actual fact , were he to agree Turkey will send in its tanks and ISIS will beat a hasty, pre-arranged, retreat. Turkey will then carry on towards Damascus claiming that it is pursuing ISIS remnants, and when Syria is forced to oppose it, will unleash all of its military power on Syria.

In fact, as you may have guessed, I don’t think Obama is either indecisive or gullible. This was always the real plan behind the mock ‘Plan’ that he unveiled on August 22 and September 11. And, like it, this one too will fail. It will fail because I cannot see Russia not supporting Assad, and I cannot see Iran not sending its army through Iraq (with the governments full covert support) to Syria. Turkey and the West will also find out that Syrians by and large continue to back Assad because he has held a referendum and an election and because he is fighting to save Syria’s secularism. Turkey will face not only ISIS but guerrilla attacks from Syrians too.

And it will fail because ISIS will continue to feed upon the successes that the west is feeding to it. Only two days ago the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the most feared fighters in Pakistan, announced that they were joining Al Qaeda. Since Al Qaeda has now linked up with ISIS, they have in effect joined ISIS. The TTP’s decision will influence others – not least of all in India and Bangladesh. Where does the US think this will end? How long will the graveyard that it is helping to turn the world into take to swallow it too ?

Read More

Israel has been at the heart of the turmoil in the middle-east for the last eleven years. During this period it has bombed Lebanon, imposed an embargo on Gaza, then bombed Gaza not once but twice. It has bombed Syria without provocation several times, most recently in May 2013, just possibly with a mini-nuke, played a key role in destroying Iraq, and had almost convinced the US and EU to unleash an all out air attack on Syria in reprisal for using chemical weapons against civilians, before the British chemical and biological weapons centre at Porton Down concluded that the Sarin gas used in these attacks could not have come from the Syrian army.

For the past ten years Israel has also spared no effort to instigate a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This relentless warmongering, and especially its second attack on Gaza, has brought it close to becoming an international pariah. Yet Israel has also been one of India’s staunchest allies. Not only has it given India its unstinting support on international issues, but it has been the most important supplier of arms and sophisticated defence technology to us during the past two decades. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN general Assembly was therefore both an act of courage and of affirmation.

But Netanyahu did not want to meet Modi simply because he is the prime minister of a brave new India. He had an urgent purpose: to persuade India to join the global coalition that Obama is forging to fight ISIS unconditionally. This is because Netanyahu’s goal is not to destroy ISIS but to ensure its survival and continued control of northern Iraq and Eastern Syria.

Netanyahu has made no secret of this. On June 22, when Obama briefly toyed with the idea of enlisting Iran in the defence of Iraq, he went on MSNBC’s Meet the Press programme and said: “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. By far the worst outcome that can come out of this is for one of these factions, Iran, to come out of this with nuclear weapons capability. That would be a tragic mistake. It would make everything else pale in comparison.”

So great is Israel’s influence on American politics that it has succeeded in preventing a decisive US response to ISIS invasion of Iraq for three whole months. This delay has allowed it to grow from 800 to between 15,000 and 31,000 fighters, and embed itself through a reign of terror in the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, Fallujah, Ramadi and a string of smaller towns closer to Baghdad. Only the public execution of two American journalists and a British aid worker, accompanied by taunts and threats to the US and Europe, has forced Obama to raise his target from ‘degrading’ ISIS’ capability to destroying it. To do this he has assembled a Global Coalition of almost 70 countries, 27 of whom have undertaken to take part in the operations.

Netanyahu could not prevent this. But he still hopes to achieve his goal because he understands, perhaps better than anyone else in the middle east, that the strategy Obama unveiled on September 11 for destroying ISIS is bound to fail. This has three components: attack ISIS from the air to kill its leaders, destroy its bases and training camps,and make it impossible for it to move out in force; send more American soldiers and specialists to guard the embassy in Baghdad and enhance the military capability of the Iraqi forces, and train a new 5,000-man army of moderate Sunnis in Saudi Arabia to fight ISIS on the ground.
The gaping hole in this plan is the absence of ground troops. Air power would have sufficed when ISIS was traveling in pick-up trucks across open desert. Today ISIS fighters will move into city centers, from building to building, build tunnels and underground redoubts, and use civilians as human shields. Without large numbers of ground troops, therefore, ISIS can no more be destroyed than the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Where will the troops come from?

A look at the membership of the coalition that the US has put together only shows where they will not come from. The US has 1,700 specialists and marines in Iraq and may send some more. But Obama has sworn that there will be no combat troops. Will any of the European members of the coalition send their soldiers to fight ISIS? After Afghanistan the answer is self-evident.

As for the US’ Sunni Muslim allies, not only do their armies not have the necessary numbers, but even their desire to fight ISIS, whom they were arming, and paying until yesterday, is questionable. In fact Turkey, despite being a member of NATO, has not only refused to join the Coalition, but demanded that the US create a ‘no fly zone’ to prevent Assad’s forces from attacking ISIS from the rear. As for training ‘good rebels’ to fight both ISIS and Assad, the CIA has been trying to do this in Jordan for more than two years and hasn’t found many recruits.

The Indian army has the manpower to fill this gap. But Mr Modi will do well not to make any commitments until Syria and Iran have been asked to join it. Syria is the only country that has both the will and the capacity to fight ISIS on the ground. But it is also the only country Obama has explicitly refused to ask. The reason is its closeness to Iran and Israel’s obsession with the threat Iran poses to its security.

The Syrian army has lost 200,000 soldiers killed and wounded in the past 42 months. Three and a half years of seeing its surrendered brethren having their throats cut like sheep on ‘social’ websites, has hardened its will to fight to the end. This is because it, and the Syrian people, understand that the civil war is not between Sunnis and Shias, but between enlightened, secular Islam and a ruthless Wahhaby fringe that believes that God has given it the right to kill Takfiris (apostates). Forced to choose between defending a harsh, oppressive, but secular regime and an even harsher religious tyranny they have chosen the former.

With its immense army India has the capacity to tilt the scales decisively against ISIS. But it should only do so on condition that Syria and Iran are also asked to join the coalition. As Mr. Modi said to the UN General Assembly, terrorism is a global threat, so everyone should be asked to join in the fight against it. There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists, only terrorists.

Read More

Four months ago Narendra Modi rode to power on a promise to revive the Indian economy and restore to the people of India the future they had lost. But tendrils of doubt had begun to surface well before he completed his first hundred days in office. In the last week these have hardened into certainty.

In normal circumstances four months would have been too soon start judging the performance of a new government. But the BJP came to power in a moment of crisis on a huge wave of anger against the UPA government. Economic growth had crashed, industrial production was contracting, and almost no new jobs had been created since 2008, leaving an estimated 40 million new job seekers stranded. None of those who voted for Modi had expected an instant miracle, but they had expected the new government to unveil a credible, well worked out plan to revive the economy.

They didn’t get one. There was no hint of any change in the macro-economic policies that the UPA had followed in Finance minister Jaitley’s budget speech and there was none in Mr. Modi’s Independence Day speech. Instead as the government’s 100th day approached it’s spokespersons plucked at straws to showcase its success – a 3.9 percent growth in Industry and, on its back, a one percent rise in GDP growth from 4.7 to 5.7 percent. July’s data for industrial production pricked this balloon. Not only had year-on-year industrial growth fallen to 0.5 percent and manufacturing contracted, but the 3.9 percent growth in the first quarter turned out to be a statistical illusion. To those on the ground for whom nothing had changed, this began to look like proof that nothing would change in the near future.

The policy change needed to restart growth is a simultaneous, very sharp lowering of interest rates and a firm containment of the fiscal deficit. The interest cut will revive consumer spending, especially on durables, start a rise in share prices, and bring down the cost of new investment. If synchronized with a reduction of the fiscal deficit it will bring about a non-inflationary transfer of resources from government consumption to corporate investment.

The time for making this shift of policy could not be more opportune. The balance of payments deficit has been brought down from an unsustainable 4.7 percent of GDP in 2012-13 to a healthy 0.8 percent in the last nine months of 2013-14. Exports are growing at 10.2 percent, and engineering goods exports at 22 percent. Foreign exchange reserves have crept up in the past 12 months from $ 279 billion to $ 320 billion. The threat that a sudden rise in investment and consumption will trigger a foreign exchange crisis has therefore receded. In his budget Mr. Jaitley made a determined bid to contain the fiscal deficit by increasing tax collections, and announcing plans to improve delivery and save money. But he made no mention of interest rates. His budget announcement therefore became a bird with a broken wing.
One has only to look as far as the Reserve Bank of India to see why. In his latest Policy Review the RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan, again did not lower interest rates, even by a fraction. Instead as one justification for keeping them high has dissolved, he has hurriedly replaced it with another. Today the wholesale price inflation is at a five year low of 3.7 percent, and consumer price inflation has fallen to 7.8 percent, but commercial bank lending rates (including bank charges) remain at 13 to 14 percent even for financially sound companies. This gives a real rate of interest for manufacturers of 10 percent — a figure unheard of in mature market economies even in good times and suicidal in times of recession. Even by the yardstick of CPI inflation the real rate is over five percent, a rate at which investment is not possible. Is it surprising then that bank lending has grown by less than ten percent this year against 23 percent five years ago; that there have been only six new share issues so far in 2014, against an average of 110 in the same nine months of 2006 and 2007, and that the sales of all consumer durables, from autos to TVs, computers and office equipment has fallen by eight to fourty percent in the last one year?

In his 14 months at the RBI, Rajan has not mentioned economic growth. This may be kosher in the West, which does not strictly need growth. It is not kosher in India, where people have to earn something before they can start worrying about how much their money will buy.

Prime Minister Modi has promised to give India world class roads and ports, high speed trains ‘smart’ cities, rural electrification and water supply. These are all infrastructure projects, and infrastructure devours capital. In the best planned and executed projects the ‘bare’ construction period, when the money has actually to be spent, stretches from five to 12 years. Where will Mr. Modi find Indian entrepreneurs willing to take up such projects when interest charges alone can add 25 to 100 percent to his costs?

The answer, of course, is nowhere. So Raghuram Rajan must give up his obsession with inflation, and his attempt to fight it single-handed by choking India’s economic growth, or he must leave. If the Modi government cannot persuade him, and has not the courage to fire him, then the people will fire it at the next elections.

Read More

Two sets of bye elections show large fall in BJP support

In his Presidential address to the national council of the BJP, on August 9, Amit Shah had ascribed his party’s resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections to the people’s belief that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “the most credible national leader who alone is capable of translating into reality the nation’s mounting aspirations for development”. “It is a mandate”, he went on to say, “ for an all round transformation. People were desperate to bring about a genuine change and a new approach in every aspect of governance”. If there is any message for the party in the 32 bye-elections of September 13, it is that this mandate is in imminent danger of being withdrawn.

The BJP has lost three out of the four bye elections in Rajasthan, and 8 out of 11 in Uttar Pradesh. More significantly, it has also lost 3 out of 9 assembly seats in Gujarat to the Congress. These were seats it had no business to lose because they had been vacated by BJP MLAs who had contested and won in the parliamentary elections in April. These results confirm the trend revealed by the 10 bye-elections in Bihar last month, in which the BJP–LJP alliance’s vote share fell from 45.3% in the corresponding assembly segments of the Lok Sabha polls to 37.3%, a drop of eight percentage points. In marked contrast, the combined vote share of the RJD, JD(U) and Congress had increased in 8 out of the assembly constituencies. In all the vote share of the ‘Rainbow Alliance’ had risen from 40.3% in April-May to 44.9% in the bye-elections. From leading these parties by 5 points in May, BJP-LJP alliance is now trailing it by 7.6 percentage points.

Speaking on a TV talk show yesterday morning, the BJP campaign manager for UP, Lakshmikant Bajpai, said that four months was too soon to judge a government. A few hours later another BJP spokesman R.P. Rudy said that the poll results reflected local factors, and could not be considered a national mandate. Both would have been right had conditions in India been normal. But they aren’t normal: India’s economy has been in a tailspin for almost four years; its GDP is growing at half the rate it was five years ago; its industrial production has been stagnant for four years, and job growth has stooped altogether leaving around ten million young people who enter the labour market every year with no future. That was why, in an unprecedented burst of anger and disillusionment, the voters destroyed the Congress party.

Mr. Modi had made a promise to them that they believed, so they voted for him. But in four months his government has not done a single thing to redeem that promise. Instead it has put new clothes on the Congress’ anti-poverty programmes and continued with the macro-economic policies that brought the Congress to disaster. To hide its lack of initiatives the government has plucked at straws to show that the economy has ‘turned the corner’. Share prices, it claimed on Mr. Modi’s 100th day in office, had risen by 27 percent; industrial growth had touched 3.9 percent in April to June, and the Quarterly GDP data had shown a rise in growth from 4.7 to 5.7 percent.

But the bye election results show that ordinary people have not been impressed. There has been no pickup in investment, no pickup in sales, and no improvement in job prospects. And they also understand something else that the BJP would have much preferred to have kept hidden: that it has returned to Muslim-baiting and communal polarization because it does not know how to govern. Nothing highlights this better than the BJP’s ‘Love Jihad’ campaign. At its root is a sordid but far from unusual story of entrapment of an innocent girl who was a local celebrity in Ranchi, by an unscrupulous pimp who almost certainly wanted to supply her to powerful local politicians for vast sums of money. The pimp was born a hindu or sikh and may not even have formally converted to Islam. But even if he had, his purpose in forcing the girl to convert was almost certainly to isolate her from her own family and make it impossible for her to leave the profession he was bent upon forcing her into.
The girl’s accusation required a straightforward criminal investigation but the BJP in UP chose to make it the centerpiece of its campaign because it wished to know whether arousing this most atavistic of fears and hates would enable it to consolidate the normally fractured hindu vote behind it in the many state assembly elections that lie ahead. Hence the extraordinarily inflammatory speeches of the BJP’s star campaigner Yogi Adityanath who has spared no effort to depict Muslims as being the aggressors in communal riots, and has suggested that if one Hindu girl is converted to Islam, Hindus should try to convert a hundred muslim girls in return. Even Mr Bajpai has not been above making similar remarks and according to three videos in the UP police’s possession the BJP president Amit Shah has not hesitated to make such speeches either.

The sharp rap that the electorate has given to the BJP, not only in UP and Bihar, but in Rjasthan and Gujarat as well, shows that attempts to polarize communities on communal lines will not work. People voted for Mr Modi because they want a secure future and the crash of the economy had robbed them of this dream when it seemed within their grasp. But they know only too well that an atmosphere pregnant with violence will destroy the security and predictability of their lives even more effectively.

The UP, Gujarat, Bihar and Rajasthan bye elections are therefore a wake–up call to Mr. Modi. He needs to restrain the far right of the Sangh Parivar as Mr. Vajpayee did and concentrate on reviving the economy. The first, and indeed only requirement for this is to bring down interest rates sharply. His first task must be to remove all obstacles that stand in the way.

Read More

AN INEPT GOVERNMENT

From the moment news broke that the Modi government had cancelled the foreign secretaries’ talks scheduled for August 25, the Indian media have been accusing Pakistan of sabotaging the talks by scheduling meetings between the Hurriyat and its high commissioner in Delhi and refusing to heed a plea from the Indian foreign secretary to postpone these till after the talks.

The truth is a little more complicated. Delhi has known that Basit telephoned the Hurriyat leaders to come to Delhi not at the last minute but on August 10. According to Greater Kashmir (August 13) Islamabad wanted was an update from them on developments in the valley for the meeting in Islamabad. Such consultations had become routine after India and Pakistan began to talk peace bilaterally, in earnest. The Pakistan High Commissioner himself spoke openly about it at a social gathering just two days earlier.

The volte face on Monday August 18 therefore came not from Pakistan but India. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh made her request only hours before Basit’s first scheduled meeting, when the Hurriyat leaders were already in Delhi. This made it impossible for Islamabad to accede to it. Nawaz Sharif had already been roundly criticized at home for not meeting the Hurriyat when he came to Delhi for Modi’s inauguration. Acceding to such a peremptory last minute demand when he was besieged at home by Imran Khan and the Canada–based Barelvi preacher, Tahir-ul Qadri, would have been political suicide.

Mr. Modi now has two options: to reject everything that the Vajpayee and Singh governments achieved in the past eleven years and go back to square one, or gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of Indo-Pak relations, and make a fresh start with Kashmir and Pakistan in the near future. The first step on the latter road is to acknowledge that he is not the sole patriot, or indeed the sole custodian of India’s national interest. In January 2005, when Musharraf sent his prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, to New Delhi and Hurriyat flocked to the capital to meet him Dr. Manmohan Singh faced the same dilemma but adopted a very different course of action.
Through an intermediary, he tried to persuade them to observe diplomatic protocol by asking to meet him first, before they met Aziz. Since Dr. Singh had met the Hurriyat leaders through me three years earlier, he asked me to be the intermediary. I spent the entire day urging, cajoling and eventually warning the Mirwaiz, Butt and Bilal Lone that they would irretrievably turn the PMO against them if they insulted not only Dr. Singh but the Indian State. But they refused to budge. Only in the late afternoon did Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Butt explain why: “If we do this”, he told me bluntly, “we will be killed”.

To anyone not familiar with Kashmir’s tragic history this would have sounded like self-expiating melodrama. But Butt’s confession took the wind out of my sails. For beginning with the assassination of Mirwaiz Umar Farouq’s father Maulvi Farouq on May 21, 1990 (three weeks after he gave an interview to BBC outlining requirements for a return to peace) and ending with the assassination of Abdul Ghani Lone exactly 12 years later, each and every Kashmiri nationalist leader who dared to discuss, or even consider, a solution within the Indian union, had been assassinated by agents of the ISI. The ISI had, in fact administered its most recent punishment for disobedience only eight months earlier when it arranged the assassination of Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmad, the Mirwaiz’s uncle, and torched his family’s 100 year old school in Srinagar, when he did not succumb to its threats and met deputy Prime Minister Advani on February 2, 2004, for a second round of talks on Kashmir.

Butt’s own brother had been killed by the same agencies in 1996, so his and Hurriyat’s fear was understandable. Despite that, by refusing to meet Dr. Manmohan Singh first, they burned their bridges with NSA Narayanan and, as subsequent events have shown, hastened their descent into irrelevance. But Dr. Singh did not prevent the meeting with Aziz. He allowed Hurriyat leaders to interact freely with Pakistani decision makers in Delhi and Islamabad, and kept his doors open for them. By doing that he kept the Kashmiris a part of the decision-making process and brought India and Pakistan within a whisker of resolving the Kashmir dispute in 2007 before the judges crisis fatally weakened Musharraf.

Monday’s action may make the BJP look tough, but it has severely hurt India’s long term interests. It has revoked the commitment previous governments, including Vajpayee’s, made to keep Kashmiris within the decision-making process. And it has sealed the doom of Hurriyat and all ‘separatists’ who had tacitly or accepted the Manmohan-Musharraf formula for peace. Modi has damaged even the so-called mainstream parties, for the anger he has provoked in the valley will make the boycott of the coming state election far more effective. The PDP, which brought Kashmir close to the end of militancy in 2008, will be the main sufferer.

In the longer run, the weakening of both the mainstream and the Hurriyat will leave the field open for the final fight – between the real separatists who are the Ahl-e Hadis and the radicalized youth of Srinagar, and the Indian State.

Read More

THE DOG THE BIT ITS MASTER

ISIS rolled into Iraq in 200 pickup trucks on June 9. Had the US unleashed its air power then; had it even left the Iraqi government with a credible air force when it quit Iraq, ISIS’ convoys could have been blown to smithereens in the open desert in a matter of hours. But Obama dithered, put the blame on Malki for alienating the Sunnis of the north-west, raised the bogey of getting entrapped in an age old Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, and did next to nothing.

Two and a half months later ISIS’s ranks have swollen, by some estimates, to 50,000 fighters. It has entrenched itself in Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi, captured the Baoji oilfield and murdered, raped, and pillaged on a scale that has not been seen since Pope Innocent III’s crusade against ‘heretical’ Cathars of southern France in AD 1209. But Obama is still dithering.

Obama is dithering because ISIS cannot be defeated without denying it safe havens in Syria, and this, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint chiefs of Staff pointed out on August 21, cannot be done without the cooperation of the Syrian government. Obama is unwilling to concede this not only because it would be an admission of the monumental folly of his towards Syria, but also because it will put him squarely at loggerheads with Israel. Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not bothered to hide his opposition to the destruction of ISIS. On June 22, when Obama briefly toyed with the idea of enlisting Iran in the defence of Iraq, Netanyahu went on MSNBC’s Meet the Press programme and said: “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. By far the worst outcome that can come out of this is for one of these factions, Iran, to come out of this with nuclear weapons capability. That would be a tragic mistake. It would make everything else pale in comparison.”

Obama got the message. So, he swallowed the huge insult of James Foley’s public slaughter, forgotten his own condemnation of the genocide in Rwanda last February and, except for declaring Iraqi Kurdistan off limits and protecting the Americans in Baghdad, doggedly refused to react to the hideous videos of mass slaughter and individualized throat-cutting and beheading that ISIS posts daily on its websites to attract the psychopaths of the world to its banner. Instead, in a much awaited press conference on August 28, he made it clear that the US will not oppose the birth of a Wahhaby ‘Caliphate’ in Northern Iraq and Syria. US policy would continue to focus on ‘making sure that ISIL does not overrun Iraq and on ‘degrading ISIL’s capacity in the long run’. To do this he intended to ‘devise a regional strategy … with other partners, particularly Sunni partners, because Sunnis, both in Syria and Iraq, need to feel that they have an investment in a government that … can protect them … against the barbaric acts we have seen in ISIL”.

In plain language he still wants only to ‘degrade’, not destroy, ISIS. He wants to do this with the help of the very same gulf sheikhdoms, and the same regime in Turkey, that have created, and continue to support the Wahhaby brigades in Syria by pouring billions of dollars into arming a virtually non-existent ‘moderate FSA’ with heavy weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles that the US and EU had specifically proscribed, And he pointedly made no mention of Syria or Iran. Obama thus announced a continuation of the very same policies that have created ISIS, without saying a single word about how he intends to make them work differently in the future.

Is this lunacy, or is there a more sinister explanation? Regrettably, the answer is the latter. There is strong, if not clinching, evidence that ISIS, and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in particular, are the West’s own creation. When ISIS ‘turned rogue’ and rolled into Iraq, the US suddenly found itself at loggerheads with its greatest friend and ally in the region, Israel.

Baghdadi’s possible links with the West first surfaced on July 15, when a Bahrain newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, published an interview allegedly given by Edward Snowden to IRNA, the Iranian New Agency, in which he disclosed that Baghdadi had been recruited by the intelligence agencies of three countries, the US, UK and Israel to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” The plan, code-named Beehive, or Hornet’s Nest was designed to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to a newly manufactured regional enemy, ISIS. Baghdadi, the Paper claimed, had been given intensive military training, along with courses in theology and speech for a year by Mossad.

Time magazine trashed the story within four days. It pointed out that ‘No mention of a “hornet’s nest” plot can be found in Snowden’s leaked trove of U.S. intelligence documents’, reminded readers that IRNA had been found to indulge in regime-inspired fantasy in the past, and disclosed that even the editor of Kayhan, Iran’s most influential newspaper, had found the story strange because Snowden had fled the country long before the plot had germinated. But Time’s refutation is not conclusive. First, Snowden has not denied giving the interview. If it is a fabrication then it is difficult to see why someone who gave up his country and his freedom to serve the cause of truth, should now choose to become party to a lie. Second, Snowden blew the whistle and cut himself off from his sources on June 10, 2013. This was eight weeks after Baghdadi became Emir of ISIS, and therefore up to 18 months after the plot, if one exists, was hatched.

As it turns out, the ‘Hornet’s nest’ story is not necessary to prove western connections with Baghdadi. When ISIS posted a video of Baghdadi addressing a congregation from the pulpit of the grand mosque in Mosul it set off a worldwide hunt to identify him. Photo analysts found him very quickly, but in the most unexpected of places – talking animatedly to Senator John McCain at a secret meeting with five ‘moderate’ leaders of the Free Syrian army who had been specially assembled to meet him, at Idlib in Syria.

McCain’s visit to Syria had been organized by Salim Idris, self-styled Brigadier General of the FSA, and the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American not-for-profit organization that is a passionate advocate for arming the ‘moderate’ Free Syrian army. There was no room for a mistake because on May 27, 2013, when McCain met him, Baghdadi had been he had been on the US State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists with a reward of US $10 million on his head. He had also been the Emir of ISIS for the previous six weeks and of ISIL for the previous three years.

Nor was Baghdadi the only wolf in sheep’s clothing at that meeting. Among the other ‘moderate’ Sunni leaders SETF had also included Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim. Nour is the spokesman of ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the brutal Jabhat Al Nusra, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, whose brutality was a byword in Syria till put in the shade by ISIS. Dadhiki is one of its key members. Only days before Nour’s meeting with McCain, Northern Storm had kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims on their way to Iraq.

Did McCain know that the leaders he was meeting were not moderate Sunni rebels but some of the most murderous and bigoted terrorists in the world today? Probably not. But the same cannot be said of the organization that took him there, The Syrian Emergency Task Force. SETF had worked closely with Idris to set up the McCain meeting, so it had to have known who was being invited to it. It also knew perfectly well that on the ground in Syria no one was bothering to make the hairsplitting distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ rebels that it was feeding to Kerry, McCain and hundreds of other policy makers in Washington. When, a fortnight after McCain’s visit, a terrorist leader named Abu Sakkar cut out the heart and lungs of a Syrian soldier and took a bite out of the latter for the benefit of global viewers. Idris belligerently defended his inclusion in the FSA, and asked his BBC interviewer, Paul Wood:“Is the West asking me now to fight Abu Sakkar and force him out of the revolution?”

Yet only two months later its then political director Elizabeth O’Bagy felt no compunction in writing, in a massively influential op–ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that John Kerry quoted to the US Congress: “Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda;… This isn’t the case … Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France”.

Why is SETF willing to stop at nothing to destroy the Assad regime? The answer again comes back to Israel. There is a close, but undisclosed, relationship between SETF and the America Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s premier lobbying organization within the US. Till it was ‘corrected’ in 2013, one of SETF’s email addresses used to be “syriantaskforce.torahacademybr.org.” The “torahacademybr.org” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel” .

The origins of its executive director, Mouaz Mustafa, are obscure, to say the least. His biodata on the SETF website says that he emigrated from Syria to the US when he was 15, but the details of his working life show that he became an aide to Congressman Vic Snyder when he was only 19, the age at which most Americans finish High School. He then worked with Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, till she lost seat in 2010. On 17 April 2011, possibly after a short visit to Cairo, he became the executive director of a newly formed lobbying group, the Libyan Council for North America. This was a month after the West attacked Libya. He ‘moved on’ again in September 2011 to the newly constituted Syrian Emergency Task Force (again as its executive director), only days after the fall of Tripoli. At that point he was only 25. One doesn’t have to be a Washington Beltway insider to know that he could not have done all this without very powerful, covert support. Mustafa has spoken frequently at meetings of AIPAC, and is a regular contributor on the website of the Al Fikra Forum, which describes itself as an “online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists”. But according to its email address it is an affiliate of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. WINEP is a think tank set up by AIPAC. Its home page sports a link to the Fikra Forum’s website.

Mustafa is a regular speaker and discussant at WINEP. On July 22, 2014 WINEP released (and probably financed) a film titled Red Lines: Inside the Battle for Freedom in Syria which portrays the lives of Mustafa and a female activist – Razan Shalab As-sham. During the discussion that followed Mustafa said: “Helping Iran to provide security in the region is the worst possible idea, because what happens then is that you make it possible for both Sunni and Shiite extremis to develop deep roots in the region. What we need to do is to help the people, who don’t want to be ruled by the Iranians and don’t want to be ruled by the extremists, and they are there.” . Benyamin Netanyahu could not have put it better.

Israel is the only country in the world to whom it simply does not matter what happens to the rest of the Arab world so long as it somehow enhances its own security. In the mid-nineties a consultant group formed under the aegis of the American Enterprise Institute submitted a Plan for ‘furthering peace in the middle east’ to then Prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Its key recommendations were for Israel to work for the destruction of Iraq, ‘roll up’ of Syria, and isolate Hezbollah in South Lebanon prior to destroying it. The way in which a majority of the members of the group were inducted into the George W. Bush administration and succeeded in bringing about the destruction of Ba’athist and sternly secular, albeit tyrannical, regime of Saddam Hussein has been well documented elsewhere and need not detain us. It is the sequel that concerns us now.

Within two years of destroying Iraq, Israel realised that it had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been an impenetrable buffer between Iran and Lebanon, Maliki’s Iraq was an open chute for arms to flow from Iran to the Hezbollah. To Israel, this chute, which it called the ‘Shia crescent’ became an arrow pointed at it’s heart. As Hezbollah grew ever more powerful Israel panicked. In 2006 it directly attacked Lebanon and the Hezbollah in order to destroy the latter’s tunnels and arms, much as it is doing to Hamas in Gaza today.

But that operation proved a diplomatic and security disaster, for Hezbollah emerged from it even stronger than it had been before. Since then Israel has lived in mortal fear of the Shi’a cresent. Getting Iran to foreswear the development of nuclear weapons was no longer sufficient. The pipeline to the Hezbollah had to be cut. There were only two ways—destroy Iran or destroy Syria. Iran, however was a far larger and more powerful country than Iraq and even George Bush shied away from attacking it. There was no mass hysteria, moreover, such as had seized the American people after 9/11, to capitalize upon. But Syria was small enough to be ‘doable’.

So in 2008, two gentlemen, Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary in the State department and ardent Zionist, who had served two terms in Israel, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s powerful ambassador to the US, concocted another Plan. This one, called without a hint of irony ‘A Plan for furthering Peace in the Greater Middle East’, proposed breaking the Shia cresecent by creating a ‘Sunni crescent’ that would start in Turkey and end in Jordan. The stumbling block was Assad’s Baathist, secular and fumblingly authoritarian Syria. But 70 percent of Syrians are Sunnis. So three quarters of the Plan, which eventually found its way onto the internet in 2012, describes in chilling detail how to use religion, and for some strata economic discontent and pecuniary inducement, to rise against Assad. In 2011, when the Arab Spring began, 51 television and radio stations located in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, had been beaming Salafi and hate propaganda against Assad to the Syrian people for the previous two years.

Israel came within a millimeter of achieving its goal after the gas attacks in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus in August last year. On August 27, alongside the full text of Kerry’s speech committing the US to bombing Syria for crossing Obama’s Red Line on chemical weapons, the right wing Times of Israel published two reports that detailed precisely how Israeli intelligence inputs had proved crucial in making up Washington’s mind. A third, more ominous, report gave details of how Benyamin Netanyahu not only hoped that this would be a precursor for a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but also intended to use the precedent it would create to launch the attack on his own.

But contrary to Kerry and Obama’s robust assertions to the US Congress and the media, the US had substantial amounts of evidence in August that the Syrian army had not used chemical weapons at Aleppo and Damascus in March and April 2013, and that not only the Jabhat al Nusra but also the then nascent ISIL had the capacity to produce Sarin. Faced with the prospect of being accused of again manufacturing evidence to start a war, both Cameron and Obama found ways of resiling from their commitment to bomb Syria. Israel therefore found itself robbed of ‘victory’ when it was already in its grasp.

Obama’s initial willingness to cooperate with Iran, and therefore by implication, with Syria, has thrown Netanyahu and his government into something close to panic. But its knee jerk reactions are further endangering Israel’s security. Its invasion and six week long pigeon-shoot in the open air prison called Gaza is a case in point. Netanyahu used the pretext furnished by the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three teenagers from the West Bank as a pretext for launching his attack. But six weeks after it began it is apparent that his real aim is to destroy Hamas root and branch and terrorise the unfortunate Gazans into never cooperating with it again.
But Hamas has stoutly denied that it kidnapped the teenagers. As for their murder, it is not only out of character for Hamas which has regularly kidnapped Israelis only to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners, but also suicidal. On the other hand ISIS has claimed over and over again, that it killed the teenagers as a reprisal for Israel’s killing of three of its members last December when they were about to enter Israel, but Tel Aviv has ignored these claims. If ISIS is indeed partly its creation then its reluctance would be understandable.

Like the invasion of Lebanon, Israel’s attack on Gaza is bound to backfire. It has not only isolated Israel in the international community to an extent that was unimaginable only a year ago, but is probably the trigger for Jabhat al Nusra’s sudden seizure of the Syria-Israel border town of Quneitra. ISIS had already all but evicted Al Nusra from Northern Syria. Its shift to Syria’s southern border could signal a strategic decision by the leaders of Al Qaeda to leave Syria and Iraq to ISIS and focus on Jordan and Israel.

If this shift of focus has not already happened, it is bound to happen in the future. For as Salafi preachers repeat endlessly, their ultimate goal is to free Jerusalem and open al Aqsa, the second holiest shrine in Sunni Islam, to all true Muslims. So great is Israel’s panic that it does not realize that Ba’athist Syria is its last remaining bastion against the Wahhaby hordes. Once it falls, thousands of young people who consider themselves victims of their own governments and societies will flock to the banners of ISIS and Al Nusra for the final assault on Jerusalem. Once that happens, life in Israel, and much of the rest of the world (including Pakistan and India), will become truly ‘nasty, brutish, and short’.

Read More