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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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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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India’s 16th general election has been unique for many reasons. No previous election has been so relentlessly and exhaustively discussed; no previous election – not even the post Emergency election of 1977 – has aroused so much passion, so much fury; so much hope and so much fear. And in no previous election has the result been so completely a foregone conclusion. But almost no one thought that the BJP would get as many as 283 seats, a comfortable majority on its own, and that the Congress would be reduced to a pathetic rump party with only 44 seats.

These results have left the opponents of the BJP and the secular liberal intelligentsia in shock. But for the country this is not by any means an unmitigated disaster. Its most obvious blessing is that it will ensure a smooth and swift transition of power to the new government. Had the results been indeterminate; had the BJP found it difficult to form a government, there would have been a collapse of confidence in the Indian economy abroad and a run of dollars out of the country that would have destroyed whatever chance remained of a quick economic recovery.

That hurdle is decisively behind us. Investors, both domestic and foreign, have been quick to perceive this. That accounts for the 1500 point rise in the Sensex since the beginning of the current week, and the additional 800 point rise on Friday 16th. A billion dollars of foreign institutional investment had propelled the pre-election rise. Today Indian investors too, who had long shunned the equity markets, have begun to come back to it.

But it would be self-deluding to believe that with the election over, and a stable new government in place, we can go back to business as usual. India has entered new and uncharted territory in the development of its democracy. The first phase of development – single party dominance by the Congress party – was replaced by coalition rule in 1989. Most political Pundits had predicted that this would fatally weaken the centre and make India exceedingly difficult to govern. They were proved wrong. As a book being released in the US in the coming weeks, “Why India Matters”, points out, coalition governments took more hard decisions and propelled India much further up the radar screens of foreign governments than the Congress had been able to do in the last two decades of single party dominance.

But coalition democracy was built around two central poles – the Congress and the BJP – and the Congress pole has now collapsed. Whether we like it or not, therefore, we are returning to another phase of near–single party dominance with no conceivable combination of parties to form a viable opposition and put a brake upon its actions. And this single party—the BJP, is not the benign Congress of yesteryears. Not only does it espouse a radically different ideology from the Congress, but it has little in common even with the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani.

The leaders of today’s BJP are not from the Metropolis but the Mofussil. They are products of an internal convulsion within the BJP after its defeat in 2004 that saw the exodus of Vajpayee, Advani and virtually all the urbane and seasoned leaders whom the public recognized and respected a decade ago. Today, most of Modi’s core team are state leaders who have no idea how different, and how difficult, governing a nation of 1.27 billion people can be. They will have to come to grips with its bewildering diversity. They will have to learn, as Emperor Ashoka learned when he created a religious police to enforce his edicts and fatally weakened the Mauryan empire; as the Mughals understood from the very start, and as the British learned in 1857 after they tried to ride roughshod over Hindu and Muslim customs and beliefs, that India can only stay united if its rulers accept and respect its cultural diversity and religious plurality.

Vajpayee had tried to hammer this into his party and the RSS through a succession of four annual New Years’ Day “Musings”. Had the NDA won the 2004 election, he would have completed his task. But the NDA’s defeat became the springboard for a wholesale rejection not only of his closest colleagues in the BJP, but also of the philosophy of tolerance, and respect for diversity, that he had tried to instill into the Sangh Parivar.

There is reassuring evidence that Modi,like Vajpayee before him, has devoted a good deal of thought to this challenge, and has come to similar conclusions. As long ago as at the Hindustan Times Leadership summit in 2007, he had insisted that Hindutwa does not mean Hindu cultural, let alone religious supremacy but its opposite – a respect for India’s religious pluralism and cultural diversity. He has not made a single anti-Muslim statement throughout his campaign, and has rebuked those who have. But like Vajpayee when the NDA first came to power in 1998, he too will have to find a way of making the Sangh Parivar accept this definition.

Modi’s task, however, will be far harder than the one that Vajpayee faced a decade ago. For India is now in the dangerous middle stage of capitalist development that Europe passed through in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is the stage in which a relatively new, and still financially insecure, propertied class tries to tame growing class conflict by diverting the attention of the have-nots towards convenient scapegoats on whom they can pin the blame for their misfortunes. Europe chose Jews to be the scapegoats. The result was a rising, increasingly virulent, anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.

In India, extremists in the Sangh Parivar have elected Muslims to be the scapegoats. If Modi does not reign them in India will, literally, have no future. For India is a world of minorities, in which the Muslims are only the largest. An attempt to impose cultural homogeneity upon them will lead to its disintegration.

The BJP’s absolute majority, and the decimation of not only the Congress but all the caste-based smaller parties of north India, has made Modi’s task more difficult, for it has removed most of the natural checks to cultural authoritarianism within our democracy. However, absolute majority has also created one silver lining: Absolute power brings with it absolute responsibility. For the last five years the BJP has played the role of a spoiler in India politics, constantly stoking religious and cultural animosities, disrupting the functioning of parliament and ensuring that an already weak Congress is able to do nothing. Absolute majority has put an unambiguous price upon that kind of irresponsibility. That road is now therefore a costly one for the party to travel. One can only hope that its leaders will realize this before they have had the time to do further damage to India’s social fabric.

The Congress has only itself to blame for its rout, for in the past six years it has given the country the worst government it has ever had. The list of its mistakes, and of the opportunities it has missed, is too long to accommodate in this essay, but one stands out above all others because of the misery it has inflicted upon ordinary Indians, and because it became the launch pad for Modi’s rise to power. This is the complete dog’s dinner it made of the economy.

In the last four years GDP growth has halved from 8.4 percent (in 2009-10), to a little over four percent in the past year. Industrial growth has collapsed spectacularly — a 16.4 percent drop from 14.5 percent in October 2009 to March 2010, to minus 1.9 percent in January to March 2014. This has devastated the economy. The construction industry is moribund: the skyline of Gurgaon and NOIDA in Delhi is pockmarked by the silhouettes of half-competed skyscrapers. The growth of real fixed investment has fallen by 80 percent from the level reached in 2010-2011. There has been only one large Initial Public Offering of shares by a private company for an industrial or infrastructure project, since Reliance Power’s 7,500 crore IPO in February 2008, and that too occurred as long ago as in January 2011. Over 200 blue chip companies, that had borrowed heavily or issued convertible debentures abroad, are staring a debt default in the face, because of the collapse of their share prices and the 40 percent devaluation of the rupee in the past five years. Within the country tens of thousands of small companies have gone quietly bankrupt, with no one even bothering to keep count. Data on employment collected by the National Sample survey and the Ministry of Industry suggest that at least 40 million job-seekers have lost, or failed to find, jobs and been deprived of a future.

Had the collapse been caused by forces beyond the government’s control there would have been misery but not the level of anger that they have shown at the polls in the past five months. This anger has been fed by the suspicion, that has hardened into conviction, that the government’s faulty polices were responsible. While they may not have understood precisely what the UPA did wrong, they have not believed its repeated assertion that the economic collapse had been caused solely by the global recession. If this was true, they have wondered, how did industrial growth bounce back in July 2009 within less than a year of the start of the recession when the global recession was at its height.

To industrialists, shopkeepers and workers unorganized sector workers, if not to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s legion of economists, the mistake has been obvious for three years. His government became obsessed with fighting inflation in order to retain its popularity, and did not realize that unlike the inflation of 1993-95 and all previous bouts of inflation in India, the inflation that began in the summer of 2006 was not driven by an excess demand but by global and local shortages of supply. From January 2007, therefore, it began applying the wrong remedy. It kept raising interest rates and cutting down money supply to lower demand when the cause of the price rise lay in a relentless rise in global commodity prices fueled by China’s voracious demand, by freakish weather conditions and limitless exports of vegetables and fruits regardless of what that did to domestic prices.
Not only did the government start raising interest rates as far back as January 2007, but it persisted in doing so for seven years in the face of unequivocal evidence that these had had absolutely no effect on the cost of living. Instead of giving price stability and economic growth all that the Manmohan Singh government gave the people was stagflation and despair. Untramelled power was therefore the Congress’ gift to the BJP, perhaps the last gift that it will ever be in a position to give.

Indian politics has entered uncharted waters, but these are not as unfriendly as many secular and liberal intellectuals believe. As of 7.00 PM on Friday, with the counting almost over The Congress’ share of the vote had fallen by almost 10 percent to 19.8 percent. This is huge and probably spells the end of the party as an all-India party. But 19.8 percent is 1.4 percent more than the BJP got in 2009. So the Congress is down but not necessarily out. Whether it will continue to decline will depend on its capacity to stay together in defeat and to realize that the slavish sycophancy that it fostered within itself by clinging to the so-called Gandhi-Nehru charisma has outlived its purpose and become a millstone around its neck.

Second and more important, the Aam Admi Party may have got only 2.2 percent of the national vote but for the poor and underprivileged it has opened the gates to an empowered future. Not only has it won four seats in Punjab, but starting with nothing in a totally alien town, Kejriwal collected 36 percent of the vote in Varanasi. And although it didn’t win in Delhi it retained 33 percent of the vote.
Indeed, had the regional and caste based parties known any history, and realized the danger that the combination of prolonged economic distress and a powerful orator promising immediate economic relief could pose to them, and had AAP got out of its nihilistic mood, understood the reasons for its sudden rise in Delhi, and planned its electoral campaign around a national platform of reforms that would empower the have-nots, the result of this election would have been far more balanced.

The Mayawatis Mamatas and Yadavs of the world may not have got the message before, but it is difficult to believe that they  have not got it now. This is that the days of fighting national elections on the basis of caste, creed and community are rapidly coming to a close. A Yadav or Kurmi or Chamar’s vote is not a party’s entitlement. It has to be earned. Throughout the electoral campaign Kejriwal and Modi had one thing in common – neither of them once appealed to the voter to caste his or her ballot for anything other than performance and justice. Therein lies our hope for the future.

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