Prem Shankar Jha

Israel has been joined by Saudi Arabia openly and Turkey covertly, in opposing the rehabilitation of Iran. Here is what is What I wrote about. A shorter verion appeared in  The Indian Express.  

“The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran – EU nuclear  agreement is  proving short-lived. Republicans in the US Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the democratic Presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted ‘at once’.

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement he warned the American public in three successive speeches that it would threaten the survival of Israel and  increase the risk of  ‘a horrific war’. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of  misinformation.

Netanyahu unveiled  the first at the UN General Assembly in 2012. It was a large cartoon of a bomb with a red line across it, just below the mouth. This was how close Iran was  to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that  Mossad, his own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later:  that  although Iran already had enough 5 percent, or low-enriched,  Uranium in August 2012 to build  5 to 7 bombs,  it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of   20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb.  The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.

Netanyahu’s second deception  is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions till it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. But he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this. So what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative– a military attack on Iran.

What is more, since he also knows  that  destroying  Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future he does not want the strike to end till it has  destroyed Iran’s infrastructure ( as Israel destroyed Southern Lebanon’s in 2006) ,  its industry,  its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake  such a vast operation without the Americans.  But there is one stumbling block—Barak Obama, who has learned from his recent  experience that, to put it mildly,  America’s  interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the middle east. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the US Congress to insert clauses in the Treaty draft  that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of   the spike in paranoia that will follow to  push the west into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February Saudi Arabia  quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance  they will need to fly. And less than four weeks later, on March 26,  it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been  relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of  Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification , and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship. Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis,  who make up 30 percent of  Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practiced in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit  a  region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of  Yemen, and  three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran, and Asir,  that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.  The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis  have fought since the 1960s  have not been sectarian, or even  against  the  Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.

The timing of  Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant  portrayal of   the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked  Sana’a, the capital, last September. So why did Saudi Arabia wait till now before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept  out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the UN Security Council,  the immediate resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the  conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by Saleh’s successor,   Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in  Teheran. Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s  sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect  for  Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore  Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama  needs to tell his people precisely how far,  under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the US, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push it  into   actions that have imperiled its own security in the middle east.

Instead of dwelling on how the treaty will make it close-to-impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry but carry out  at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Lastly the White house needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know  the price they will pay if  they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Finally, should a  military strike, whether deserved or undeserved,   destroy Iran’s economy,  it will add tens of thousands  of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and  the other failed states and regions of the world.    The security that  Netanyahu claims it will bring, will turn out to be  a chimera.

  

 

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Nothing has stirred up so much controversy in the US as Obama’s U -turn on Iran . The following article explains some of the important causes behind it. There were also, doubtless, other considerations,but these are less well knwn.

GLOBAL POLITICS AT A TURNING POINT

The nuclear agreement announced in Lausanne on April 2, has made history but  the wolves have begun to gather. Israel’s Prime minister , Binyamin Netanyahu has called it a ‘historic mistake” that threatens the survival of Iran and could lead to a ‘horrific war’. He has been joined by Saudi Arabia and, less vocally,  by  other sunni sheikhdoms in the Gulf.

Their opposition stems from their   thwarted ambitions, for the most cursory examination shows that the agreement is too tightly constructed to leave any loophole for Iran to crawl through into nuclear weapons status.  So if Iran entered the negotiations with the intention of keeping open cracks in it that would permit it to produce  nuclear weapons in the future, it has already lost.

 

President Obama has been at pains to point out that the agreement is based on technology, not trust, but he would not even have started down the diplomatic road   had he not been at least half-way satisfied when he and Rouhani first met at the UN in September 2013 that Iran did not want to become a nuclear weapons power.

Iran’s Foreign Minister explained why in a widely attended talk in Delhi  in January last year. The big powers, he said, remain trapped in a zero sum paradigm, in which if one party to a dispute gained, the other had to have lost. But in the tautly interdependent world of today there are no more zero-sum outcomes, for the damage any conflict does inevitably far exceeds the benefits it was expected to bestow on the initiators.  The way to resolve disputes is to find common ground that leaves both sides net gainers.   This could be found in allowing Iran to develop nuclear technology but not nuclear weapons.

This argument resonated with Obama because  he was acutely aware of   how badly the succession of   preemptive military interventions since the end of the Cold War had  weakened the US and stripped it of   its moral authority.  “Why is it,” he asked reporters while   on a tour of Asia  in April 2014 “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”[i]

But what had completed his disillusionment  was the way in which some of the US’  closest allies had abused its trust and manipulated its policies to  serve their purposes without sparing a thought for how that  affected the US’ security. At the head of this list were  Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

 

Obama got his first shock  on November 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra  unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter  with  a Russian SA-7, a   man-portable Surface-to-Air missile. A day that the west had been dreading had  finally arrived: heavy weapons that the US and EU had expressly proscribed because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had somehow reached Al Qaeda’s hands.

The White House tried to pretend that that rebels had obtained a single missile  from   a captured Syrian air base but,   fed up with the  suppression and distortion of the intelligence they were providing, intelligence agencies   leaked it to the Washington Post that no fewer than 40  SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from the supposedly US- friendly government in Libya,   by Qatar and transported to the rebels via Turkey. Saudi Arabia had done the same through Jordan.

He received  his second shock at the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later   when not only  the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the US had grouped under a newly formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but  all  its Sunni Muslim allies, including Turkey, condemned a ban the US had put on the Jabhat Al Nusra,  while Britain and France remained silent.

But Obama received his  third, and worst, shock nine months later when, two days before the US was scheduled to bomb Syria the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta gas attack on Augut 21 2013, and analyzed  at their  CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the Sarin used in the attack could not possibly  have been prepared by the Syrian army. Had Obama gone through with the attack it would have made him ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Only then did Obama fully realize the scale  of the conspiracy that had been hatched to pull the US into a direct attack  on Syria. The first  piece was put in place at the end of August when  the highly reputed German magazine Der Speigel, reported, “quoting several eyewitnesses”,   that Syria had tested  delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, in the presence of  Iranian experts.[ii]

The wealth of detail in a report from an area where no western newspaper has a  correspondent  suggested that the story, while not necessarily untrue, was  planted by an intelligence agency. But one person who took it very seriously was Israel’s Prime minister,  Netanyahu, who  sent  emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s  permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities[iii].

This was followed by another  serious  allegation that the Syrian army had used Sarin   gas on March 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. Two more allegations of smaller attacks in April followed.

In May 2013, Turkish Prime minister Erdogan visited Obama, accompanied by his Intelligence chief, and pressed him almost rudely to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons. But by then US intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Obama,  that it was  Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture Sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar[iv]. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel had also launched a vigorous campaign to persuade  US lawmakers that the vast majority of the Free Syrian Army were moderate Sunnis who had risen in desperation against Assad’s dictatorial Shia’a regime.  Jihadis made up  only a fraction, and  even the few who were there  had been drawn to Syria by  a desire to protect its people from Assad’s brutal excesses.

But who these ‘moderate’ FSA were came to light on May 13, 2013 when Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Idlib on the Syrian-Turkish border to meet them.   Photos and videos posted  on the web, and resurrected after the rise of ISIS, showed that two  of the five leaders whom he  met  were  Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim,    spokesman and a key member respectively of  ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the Jabhat Al Nusra[v].  The third was none other than Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,  self-appointed Caliph of ISIS.

The visit had been organized by  a Washington-based organisation, the Syria Emergency Task Force that proudly claimed to have lobbied two thirds of the members of the US Congress in less than two years ( and published an article in the Wall Street Journal without informing it that the author was an employee of a lobbying organization) to  persuade them that the FSA were moderate Sunnis.

When journalists began to investigate its antecedents after  the McCain videos went viral on the internet, they found a deep connection between it and  AIPAC.  When Kerry announced the decision to bomb Syria, Israeli officials could no longer conceal their satisfaction. On August 27, alongside  Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta gas attack the right wing daily, Times Of Israel,  published three stories quoting Defence officials, titled  “Israeli Intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria[vi]; ‘IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’;[vii] and significantly, “ For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran” [viii].

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second  story: A retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another  German magazine, Focus, that  a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials discussing the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

 

Obama unveiled his decision to reverse the Bush doctrine in his graduation day speech at West point on May 28, 2014.  “Here’s my bottom line”, he said:  “America must always lead on the world stage. … But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”His  choice of venue  was not accidental, for it was here that George Bush had announced the US’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

The Nuclear deal with Iran is the first tangible outcome  of the volte face. If no new hitches arise during the drafting of the agreement,   the world will begin to retreat from the  spreading chaos into which it has descended in  the past two decades. But to secure its future Obama needs to demonstrate the benefits that will flow from it well before June 30, if not earlier.

The place where he can do this almost immediately is in the battle against ISIS, for  the agreement has opened the way for involving not only  Iran but Syria fully  in the war against it. But Netanyahu  knows this, and believes that success there  will hasten Iran’s  acceptance as the pre-eminent power in the region.

 

He has therefore thrown caution to the winds and put Israel’s entire relationship with its patron, the US, on the line in an all-out attempt to scuttle the agreement with Iran in the US Congress. In their 2006 book The Israel Lobby in American Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt have described in painstaking detail how Israel has manipulated  US policy in the middle east through AIPAC and other Zionist think tanks and foundations with an utter disregard for its interests and security. Those who have read the book know  how slender is the thread on which  the future of  the middle east and, tangentially, of  South Asia hangs.

[i] http://www.thenation.com/article/181476/why-hillary-clinton-wrong-about-obamas-foreign-policy

[ii] Reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz  On  September 17, 2012.   http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/report-syria-tested-chemical-weapons-delivery-systems-in-august-1.465402

[iii] Reported by Haaretz on December 3, 2012.

[iv] Hersh was told this by two sources, one of whom claimed he had been told by Tom Donilon then Obama’s National Security Adviser , after he left his job. The second was a Turkish official who corroborated the story to a US official. London Review of books 8-17 April. Pp 21-24.

[v] Abu Ibrahim was recognized in one of the photos of the meeting posted by Beirut’s main English and Arabic newspaper the Daily Star.

[vi] http://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-intelligence-seen-as-central-to-us-case-against-syria/

[vii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-intercepted-syrian-regime-chatter-on-chemical-attack/

[viii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/for-israel-us-response-on-syria-may-be-harbinger-for-iran/

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Shortly after posting my article on how government formation in Kashmir could promote better India-Pakistan relations, I read an article by a distinguished former Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. I felt that this needed to be shared with a wider audience in India. Hence this post:

The need to rethink, radically

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi


A state of “no war, no peace”, with a neighbour several times our size provides no context to pursue counterterrorism policies. That too against organisations we have ben using as proxies and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.

 

Another all-parties conference; a dash to Kabul; a rage of hangings; a 20-point National Action Plan to succeed the still-born Nacta and NISP; a committee for every point of the NAP; subcommittees for every committee; an overall oversight committee led by the prime minister who proclaims zero tolerance; a defining moment; a do-or-die challenge; an unending jihad against jihadis; eternal cooperation with the military which is invited to discharge his responsibilities; military courts of dubious value and still more dubious constitutionality.
“Democratic” political leaders who until recently were locked in mortal combat are now united in complicit support for a  “soft coup” and a resurrection of the doctrine of necessity.
The Supreme Court judges realising the gravity of the situation met under the chairmanship of the chief justice to assess how the prosecution of those accused of terrorism could be prioritised and completed expeditiously. They have, accordingly, agreed on an eight-point plan. Their plan has been summarily shoved aside by the 20-point plan. So much for the rule of law! Will the Supreme Court now accept amendments to the Constitution that are against its “basic structure” and clear intent and purpose? The superior judiciary is not incompetent. It has been impeded by those who would now supersede it.
There has been no collective and public (civil and military) leadership apology to the bereaved families and the nation. No acknowledgement of responsibility — indeed guilt — for bringing about a state of affairs in the country that directly and indirectly made the atrocity possible, if not likely. How can anyone say “this is a watershed moment” or “we have at last turned the corner”? Our 9/11, no less, have been so many self-inflicted tragedies in our short history including the fall of Dhaka, military surrender and the break-up of the country. There has been the loss of the Siachen Glacier and the fiasco of Kargil. There has been the intermittent war in Balochistan over decades. There were unprincipled deals ceding control in a number of Fata areas to dangerous militants.
These militants have become today’s monsters responsible for the school atrocity and murder and mayhem of every kind in Pakistan. There has been Abbottabad leading to national humiliation and isolation abroad.
Have we responded to all this criminal impunity with a greater concern for national security, governance and leadership? Why, or rather how will it be any different this time? Well, because enough is enough! Our cup of patience runneth over! The leopard will at last change its spots. Inshallah! Indeed, we have a plan for it. Mashallah!
We know the history of inquiry commissions in Pakistan. Even so, why has our suddenly “united” civil and military leadership not immediately sought to “break the mould” by establishing a genuinely independent, repeat independent, and competent commission to inquire into all aspects of how December 16 came to pass? Such an inquiry should, needless to say, seek to ascertain who bore the greatest responsibility for the political and security milieu, as well as the specific lead-up circumstances, including lapses, that resulted in the tragedy. It should make a meaningful and comprehensive set of concise, relevant and mutually reinforcing policy recommendations that are continuously monitored and reported upon to the nation on a weekly basis by our “born-again” leadership.
Counterterrorism in Pakistan has to be part and parcel of a comprehensive state and, indeed, societal transformation process. Yes, this is a longer term effort. But given our truly rotten circumstances, unless our action plan is embedded in a simultaneous commencement of this longer-term and much bigger project, it will lose direction, momentum and credibility very rapidly.
Solemn assurances to the contrary are rhetorical and meaningless because outside this broader transformation context they cannot be credible. This credibility of our counterterrorism commitment will also need to manifest itself in our foreign policy.
Take Afghanistan. Unless we deny the Afghan Taliban and their various cohorts and networks safe havens, sanctuaries and cross-border supply routes on our territory, how do we expect our commitments to President Ashraf Ghani and his government to be taken seriously? How would we play an acceptable role in a peacemaking and political reconciliation process in Afghanistan if the government in Kabul has grave reservations about our reliability as a partner?
If the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan are viable inside Afghanistan without our assistance we can still play a constructive role in facilitating reconciliation without seeking to use them as a check on India’s influence. If a terror-prone Afghan Taliban once again takes over Afghanistan, with or without our deniable assistance, it will be the TTP and not us who will gain “strategic depth”.
Take India. We need to have a predictable working relationship with it despite our continuing and significant differences on Kashmir and other issues. We will need to develop and implement modalities for managing our differences on Kashmir and building essential bilateral and regional cooperation to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
A state of “no war, no peace” with a neighbour several times our size provides no context in which to pursue counterterrorism policies against organisations we have been prone to use as ‘proxies’, and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.
Unless we radically rethink our external policy strategies how will we develop a credible counterterrorism policy and transform our economy and society? There is no indication of any of this in the national action plan. Will we finally do what we say and dismantle the whole infrastructure of terror inside Pakistan? Will we begin to rationalise our India and Afghanistan policies and come across as credible to ourselves and the international community?
In memory of our lost angels:
You were the faces of tomorrow
Our living dreams of today.
May you help transcend our sorrow
May you abide and show the way.

Published in Dawn from Karachi and The Tribune from Chandigarh.The writer is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

 

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Last month’s election in Jammu and Kashmir gave a ‘hung verdict’ of a new kind: most of the seats in Jammu ( 25 ) went to the BJP, But most of the seats in Kashmir (28)went to Mufti Sayeed’s mildly nationalist Peoples’ Democratic party. Thus neither party could form a government on its own in the 87 member state assembly.  This verdict brought to a head a struggle for power between the two main parts of this heterogeneous state whose roots go back  500 years. The split verdict has created both a crisis and an opportunity.  The article reproduced below, which  appeared in the Indian Express on December 31, 2014  examines its roots and what is at stake in the State. 

 

The election results  in Jammu and Kashmir have brought to the forefront an issue that has dogged Kashmir’s relations with the rest of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It is, ‘which part of the state will  dominate policy-making —Jammu or Kashmir?

In the hundred years before Independence , it was the Dogras from Jammu. Prior to that , while Jammu was squarely a part of the Mughal and later Sikh empires, Kashmir had been  ruled for more than five hundred years by a succession of invaders, ranging from Afghans to Sikhs.

In 1947, therefore, the feeling of  disempowerment was far more acute in Kashmir than in Jammu. It was assuaged only when Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference came to power in 1947.  Sheikh Abdullah’s 1945  war cry of ‘Down with Dogra rule’ was not a repudiation of ‘Hindu’ rule, but of domination by rulers from Jammu. The National conference, and indeed the Sheikh’s, endorsement of the Maharaja’s accession to India was wildly popular in the valley because it shifted the base of  power in the state from  Jammu to Kashmir. To the educated , politically sensitive sections of the Kashmir’s population, this was ‘independence’ after more than 500 years of enslavement.

The need to empower Kashmiris explains Sheikh Abdullah’s  lack of interest in recovering Gilgit, Skardu and “Azad’ Kashmir from Pakistan. He knew only too well that  this would  make Kashmir’s pre-eminance harder to sustain.

The roots of Abdullah’s growing disenchantment with India in the six years that followed Accession and his eventual, disastrous imprisonment, lay in Nehru’s failure to understand that waiting for Pakistan to vacate  POK before holding a plebiscite was endangering not only its outcome but also Kasmir valley ( and the NC’s) control over the state. He was privy to the fact that Pathans  made up only a fifth of the ‘Raiders’ from Pakistan and that  more than two-fifths  had come from POK. So had Nehru gone ahead with a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference would have been happy as clams because it would not only have fully legitimized the Accession in the part India controlled, but also   Kashmir’s domination of Jammu in Indian Kashmir.

The reason why the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s government  rigged every election in the valley from 1957 till 1972 was its need to maintain its dominance of the state in the face of declining popularity. The  suppression of dissent in the valley that this entailed led  to the uprising of 1990.

The insurgency, however, broke Kashmir’s hold over Jammu. In the ensuing decade Jammu’s politics became detached from those of Kashmir and became those of the mainland. This parting of the ways, first vividly demonstrated by Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir in July 2008,  reached its consummation this week.

Today  the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir is almost complete. This has confronted the PDP and BJP with an extraordinary  challenge, but also a unique opportunity. To its credit the PDP has been the first to realize that running a stable, functionally efficient and politically  equitable government will not be possible if the polarization is not reversed.  This requires  cooperation – preferably a coalition – between  the PDP and the BJP. But a coalition can only take shape if there is a broad agreement on the principles and goals of governance.

To the PDP the irreducible minimum is for the BJP to  respect Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnic and religious diversity, explicitly distance itself from communal polarization in Kashmir and other parts of India, and  avoid any attempt to change Kashmir’s special position within  the Indian constitution.

Since the BJP’s  main concern at the moment is to  capture the chief ministership, and  since Mufti Sayeed had shown in 2002 that he is not averse to sharing the chief ministership of the state, a deal is possible. But for this the BJP must agree to the basic principles of governance that Mufti has outlined.

This would have posed no problem for Mr  Vajpayee, but today’s BJP is a different party in all but name.  For Mr. Modi, therefore , stepping back from the programmes of communal polarization that the Sangh Parivar’s  hardliners have  let loose on the country, and resuming a constructive dialogue with Pakistan will be a supreme test of leadership.

It will also be a test of his sagacity. For Pakistan’s encounter with the most bestial face of has become a defining moment for its government and army. The Nawaz Sharif government has shed the last vestiges of its ambivalence towards Islamist terrorism, and declared an all-out war on it within Pakistan. It has lifted a six-year moratorium on the death sentence with the specific purpose of putting terrorists it held in its jails  to death.

Around  500 terrorists are likely to be executed in the next few weeks. It is also revising its criminal code to award harsh punishment to terrorists, and is setting up special military courts  for their  speedy trial.

This is part of a comprehensive strategy that is designed to cut off all the insurgents’ sources of income including donations to charities under whose rubric they received their funds. The government also intends to enact a ban on religious persecution and punish the abuse of the internet for  the glorification of terrorism and  organizations sponsoring it.

 

The trigger was undoubtedly the killing of 133 children  in a Peshawar school, but the demand to lift the moratorium had in fact been made by the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif,  before this barbaric attack. Thus although it has done so for its own reasons, Pakistan is on the point of meeting Mr Modi’s demand that it should stamp out  terrorism within its own country  in order to build lasting good relations with India.

In the coming two years Pakistan will need all the help—military and economic– it can get. India could provide some of it indirectly by enabling it to move its troops from the Indian to the Afghan border. This would go a long way towards healing the scars of Partition. But even if does not, India will still be much better off with a stable Pakistan that is no longer hosting  terrorists, than it is today.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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 ?

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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.

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