The world is transfixed by the ongoing rescue effort for the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand and their will to survive
Hardly does a story of human endeavour feature in the chaos and conflict of information and interpretation. Neither does faith find a place if it is not trawling trolls. That is why the cave rescue of the Thai boys — who were trapped by sudden rain and flooding in a subterranean chamber on an exploratory mission and who miraculously blipped up after 12 days of being mistaken as dead — is a life-positive story that the world is glued to moment to moment. Amid trade wars and conflicts, this is the hope story that everybody wants to be part of and contribute to, simply because these crises remind us what a chance at life means beyond our destructive potential. It has had dramatic peaks and troughs, the joy of discovery plummeted by the almost impossible nature of rescue. With rapidly receding hopes — last heard oxygen levels in the cave were dipping low and a fresh spell of rains predicted more flooding, threatening to gobble up the perch where the boys are — all nations are stretching every limb for what could be the greatest human endeavour of our time. The challenges are superhuman: The dive route is a serpentine, narrow-neck channel, five hours long where large oxygen tanks cannot be carried through. Ace divers have had to hack through boulders with limited air supply, one dying in the process. We do not know whether the untrained boys will be able to dive in perilously murky water that is filling up faster than being pumped out or whether rescue workers can drill an escape chute through the slippery and stubborn rocks overhead. But it is a chance that the world is ready to take. Football stars like Ronaldo are cheering them, the FIFA president has even invited them to watch the World Cup finals and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is doing everything possible to aid their extraction, innovating on an inflatable pod. India, too, is offering technical expertise in flushing out water through Kirloskar. Over 1,000 international experts are at it while keeping up the morale of the boys, who now have food to wait it out for four months, can talk to families through an optic fibre link and will have an air tube to stay in a bubble of sorts. But the can-do spirit ticks because of another epic rescue in 2010 when 33 Chilean miners trapped in a caved-in shaft were rescued after two months of persistent efforts. The hurdles were many — the main submergence was followed by a secondary slip-in, the first two shafts for sending down a capsule for evacuation failed, the third worked and the first capsule collapsed. Yet all 33 made it to the surface for a world exclusive moment that was freeze-framed by photographers and became the subject of a Hollywood film.
Will fate deal a cruel hand? If the boys could hold out 12 days of blackout, don’t they deserve a chance to get back in the land of the living? Perhaps it is a test of human will. More so of technology that needs to come out of the cloud and tame Nature’s wilful ways. Or perhaps it’s Nature’s way of telling us that there is no bigger battle than survival worth fighting for.
Write: The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Taking into consideration Trump’s orders to stop oil imports from Iran, India must craft its oil import policies carefully to protect its interests with Iran.
In another of many policy reversals of the previous administrations, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran that was signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. The immediate impact of such a decision was that Iran was squeezed of foreign investment as investors, particularly the Europeans, are frightened to take the risks. Further, the Trump administration has issued a diktat that all oil imports from Iran, including that by India, must be stopped from November 4 and countries failing to meet this deadline shall face the prospect of US sanctions. India is unwilling to accept such a diktat. Iran, a regional power, is not only key to oil supplies to India but also its gateway to Eurasia and Afghanistan.
In May 2018, when Trump announced that US would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the multilateral agreement constraining Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, little was perceived about the consequences the decision would entail. Trump called the Iran deal “decaying and rotten” but did not offer any specifics of how he would replace it or how he would restrain Iran from rebuilding its nuclear infrastructure should it choose to do so. Trump’s main aim was to target Iran’s energy, petrochemical, and financial sectors, which effectively took the US out of the agreement. But the European stakeholders — including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson — sensed the fallout of such a decision and rushed to Washington urging Trump to remain in the deal, but to no avail. This was despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the organisation responsible for monitoring Iran’s compliance with the agreement, consistently found that it had abided by the deal since it entered into force in 2016.
What is most disturbing after the tension in the Korean Peninsula is Trump’s annulment of the nuclear deal with Iran signed by his predecessor in cooperation with other European allies. The US diktat to world companies to cut oil imports from Iran to zero by November 4 or face US sanctions is a new element in world diplomacy. This is worrying the European allies, who were part of the Iran nuclear deal. The US decision has already started adversely impacting some European companies. For example, French automaker Peugeot now has started viewing Iran as too risky a place to do business. For the US, the window between May 8 and November 4 deadline is the drawdown period when countries importing oil from Iran should start reducing immediately and bring to zero by November 4 deadline.
The move applies not only to Europe but also to India, China, and Turkey. Following this announcement, oil prices rose sharply, and depressed currencies of many countries (in India, rupee breached 69 a dollar mark), making imports of critical products more expensive. Iran is OPEC’s third largest oil producer, exporting two million barrels a day.
Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union as a whole strongly protested Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and vowed to protect their companies from “secondary sanctions”, which punish companies from other countries that engage in business with sanctioned sectors of the Iranian economy. The US, however, says that secondary sanctions are in place in Iran since 1996.
Trump seems to be needlessly interfering in Iran as his policy on the nuclear issue and sanctions have created domestic turmoil, leading to increasing street protests. The US State Department argues that “Iranians are basically fed up with the regime’s squandering of the nation’s wealth on not particularly productive or enriching ventures abroad”. While the rial collapsed in foreign exchange markets and the country’s economic woes worsened, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for unity to cope with the new challenge the nation faces now.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was in India and in her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged on cutting oil imports, but was politely told that it would be difficult for India to make any significant cut. India shall be unwilling to bend under the US pressure, as its relations with Iran range from the energy trade to connectivity projects, particularly the development of Chabahar Port, and cutting trade between the two countries could hurt India’s long-term interests.
Given that the Indo-US ties have warmed, it is unclear if Trump will unilaterally impose sanctions on India if the latter does not cut oil imports from Iran or give some waiver. There is a view in some quarters in the policy-making circles in India that the US is not threatening India over purchase of crude oil from Tehran. The US is already aware that India had already cut down its oil intake from the Islamic Republic to 6 per cent of the total oil it imports before the sanctions were lifted when Iran signed the deal with the US when Obama was in power.
Despite the fact that Iran is experiencing domestic turmoil over governance issue, Iranian leaders are seeking ways to defend the nation’s economy from the US sanctions. After Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, which lifted most sanctions in 2015, the rial currency dropped up to 40 per cent in value. This prompted protests by bazaar traders usually loyal to the Islamist rulers. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rightly said that the US sanctions were aimed at turning Iranians against the Government. Apart from the severe economic situation at home to the extent of even shortages of drinking water, Iran is increasingly finding it difficult to access the global financial system. It is not clear if President Rouhani’s counter-measures to withstand the sanctions can bring any succour and help bail out the nation from the negative impact of the sanctions.
Among the counter-measures that Iran is thinking is to attain self-sufficiency in gasoline production, look for potential buyers and ways of repatriating income in conformity with international law after the US sanctions take effect. Khamenei suspects that the US is acting with Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states that regard Shi’ite Muslim Iran as their main regional foe to destabilise the Government in Tehran.
Iran’s fears seem to be genuine. For example, Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City and an ally of Trump, said in a speech he delivered at the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Paris on June 30 that Trump’s move will suffocate Iran’s “dictatorial ayatollahs”, suggesting the decision to reimpose sanctions was aimed squarely at regime change. It appears that with the increased fear of sanctions, major European companies have started leaving the country despite Europe’s vows to save the nuclear accord. Even the US National Security Advisor John Bolton had made similar observations in the same forum in May 2016 before he assumed the current office. However, Britain, France, and Germany — which signed the nuclear accord along with the US, Russia, and China — opine that the agreement prevents Iran from developing weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
As with Iran, Trump also has a problematic relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but despite that, a summit with him is scheduled for July 16 in Helsinki. Russia, too, faces sanctions over its annexation of Crimea some time ago. The truism, however, is that the US sanctions against Russia and Iran are backed neither by the UN nor the world community. Seen from this perspective, drawing India into this battle and coercing it to cut oil imports is neither justified nor legally valid. If India bends, it would risk breaking ties with its traditional allies. On its part, it would be against America’s interest to displease India as it needs it now more than ever before. Indian investments in Afghanistan assist the US in its effort to develop the nation. Secondly, India is the only country in Asia with the military and economic power to cope with the Chinese challenge and check its efforts to establish hegemony in the region, which is why military cooperation with India by the US could be of its interest. India should be careful not to allow itself to be used by the US against its traditional allies Russia and Iran.
If India bends to Trump’s diktat, it would be against its national interests. Russia is a time-tested friend of India, and has always stood by its side. Over 60 per cent of its military equipment is of Russian origin. With the example of the way Trump handled North Korea after exchanging diatribes against Kim Jong-un before meeting him in Singapore on June 12 and then praising him, India needs to be circumspect if it decides to review its decision to purchase S-400 from Russia, lest Trump’s change in direction could result in India spoiling its own relations with Russia and unable to restore the ties.
India’s economic and strategic interests are enmeshed with that of Iran’s. Seen to be a counter to China’s port development activities across Asia, such as in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, and recently in Djibouti, Indian interests and participation in the development of Chabahar Port in Iran provides India with multiple strategic benefits. Moreover, India signed an agreement with Iran after Rouhani’s visit to India when it agreed to increase its oil purchases from Iran. Supporting Trump’s call to stop this shall not only violate that agreement but could push Iran away from India and would damage its agreement on the Chabahar Port. China is in multiple conflicts with the US and the largest purchaser of oil from Iran is unlikely to accede to the US requests. If India succumbs to Trump’s demands, it would almost mean gifting the Chabahar Port to China.
So, what are then India’s options? Despite its growing proximity with the US, India needs to, as before, continue pursuing an independent foreign policy and not compromise with its national interests. As a first step, India should not sign the Communication, Compatibility, Security Agreement, underlining its disagreement with America’s unilateral policies.
In the meantime, with the announcement of the US sanctions against Iran, oil prices rose as significant volumes of crude oil from world markets were taken away coinciding with the increase in demand worldwide. Trump was quick to lash out at OPEC and warned that it is manipulating oil markets. The US put pressure on ally Saudi Arabia to raise supplies to compensate for lower exports from Iran. Saudi Arabia pumps around 10 million bpd and could raise output to 11 million bpd, but Trump wants Riyadh to increase production to 12 million bpd, something the kingdom has never done in the past. Rising gasoline prices could create a political headache for Trump. It remains to be seen if Saudi Arabia bails out Trump as it is the biggest producer of oil in the Middle East.
But the disturbing news is that India’s Oil Ministry has asked refiners to prepare for a “drastic reduction or zero” imports of Iranian oil from November as demanded by Trump. Does it mean that New Delhi is responding to a push by the US to cut trade ties with Iran and surrendering its autonomy to take policy decisions in conformity with its national interests? It is perplexing that while at the one hand, India says it does not recognise unilateral restrictions imposed by the US and only follows UN sanctions, it advises its oil refineries to prepare for a cut in imports and bring close to zero by the deadline given by Trump and look for alternatives.
India is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil after China and if India is forced to take action to protect its exposure to the US financial system, it could have huge implications for the region, besides jeopardising its ties with Iran.
It may be recalled that during the previous round of sanctions, India was one of the few countries that continued to buy Iranian oil, although it had to reduce imports as shipping, insurance, and banking channels were choked due to the European and US sanctions. But this time, the situation is not the same. Now while India, China, and Europe are on one side, the US alone stands alone on the other.
The question that arises is how effective is Trump’s diktat? On the surface, it seems to be working. Reliance Industries Ltd, the operator of the world’s biggest refining complex, decided to halt imports. Nayara Energy, an Indian company promoted by Russian oil major Rosneft, is also preparing to halt imports of oil from Iran from November. The company has already started cutting its oil imports from June.
This leaves open the question if there are options to find replacements to Iranian oil. Though Saudi Arabia is expected to boost oil production, as it has pledged a “measurable” supply boost, it remains unclear if that is the best alternative to outcast Iran from the oil market.
Iran is not done yet and is unlikely to give in so quickly. In honouring its ties with India, it has offered virtually free shipping and an extended credit period of 60 days. India does have the option of buying oil from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait to replace Iran, but it has to consider what economic values such choices offer. India would be happy with the assurance given by Haley in New Delhi that a trade war with India “wasn’t an option” for the Trump administration.
India, therefore, needs to craft its Iran policy carefully; a policy that protects its important strategic and economic interests with Iran, while at the same time, does not displease other stakeholders.
Dr Panda, former Senior Fellow at the IDSA, was until recently ICCR Chair Professor at Reitaku University, Japan
Writer: Rajaram Panda
Courtesy: The Pioneer
China has been expanding its boundaries to fulfil its dream of becoming the world’s most powerful nation. But the picture is not rosy. Resentment among the best of China’s friends is growing
Since the new Emperor sat on the throne in Beijing in 2012, the Middle Kingdom has steadily extended its influence in the periphery of the Empire. The CPC proclaims today: “The great rejuvenation of Chinese nation is an unstoppable historical trend that won’t be diverted by the will of any individual country or person.” The CPC has a dream: For its 100 years in 2049, it wants China to be the most powerful nation in the world. But if one looks at the Empire’s neighbourhood, all is not rosy and resentment has been created everywhere, even amongst China’s best ‘friends’.
Take Pakistan, whose friendship is deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey; according to The Tribune, the border trade with China through Khunjerab Pass resumed last week after a three month gap. The reason? A traders’ strike against a Web-Based One Customs system newly introduced at the Pakistan-Xinjiang border. The newspaper explained: “The decision to end the strike took place during a meeting held in Gilgit under the supervision of the Army. Traders had blocked the strategic Karakoram Highway which is a part of the multibillion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor project.” It is obvious that not everyone is delighted by the largesse of the all-weather sponsor, particularly inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan and Baluchistan.
A similar phenomenon is happening elsewhere. Last month, The Washington Post published a long investigative piece on Sihanoukville, a new city of 90,000 inhabitants, which has been developed by China in Cambodia. The number of Chinese tourists doubled in a year to 120,000 in 2017, according to The Post: “Restaurants, banks, landlords, pawnshops, duty-free stores, supermarkets and hotels all display signs in Chinese. The Cambodian government has allowed extraordinary levels of Chinese investment…Thirty casinos have already been built, and 70 more are under construction.” The Blue Bay casino promotes itself as “one of the iconic projects of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.” The smallest studios start at $143,000, while the most prized apartments cost more than $500,000. The Post continued: “With the exception of those working in the hotels and casinos, most Cambodians, whose average income is $1,100 a year, are seeing little benefit from this investment. And resentment is mounting.” It is the pet project of Hun Sen, the Cambodian Prime Minister, who has been ruling for the past 34 years, “his willingness to be embraced by China is most evident,” said the US newspaper.
As a result, serious tensions have appeared between the new landlords and the locals. As The Financial Times put it: “Cambodia is not alone in weighing the mixed blessings of Chinese investment, which elsewhere has been welcomed for its scale and relative lack of conditions attached. What is unusual about Sihanoukville’s transformation is that tension in the town has coalesced into a public backlash — unusual in a country where personal freedoms are fading.”
Vietnam, too, is caught between the generous Chinese investments and the nationalists’ demands to not bow to Beijing. The South China Morning Post reported: “Earlier this month…more than 1,000 workers went on strike at a Taiwanese shoe factory in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, blocking a highway.” The workers were singing: “We don’t want to give any of our land away to China, not even for one day.” They protested against their own Government’s plan to set up three new special economic zones where foreign companies (read China) would be granted decades-long leases. Later the protests swept across Vietnam.
The Hong Kong paper said: “Police shut down protests in urban centres, and at times clashed with demonstrators, including in Binh Thuan province near Ho Chi Minh City, where protesters burned police vehicles and defaced Government buildings.…Production stopped at multiple Chinese — and Taiwanese — owned factories across the south of the country.” Hundreds of demonstrators had gathered, holding up banners shouting: “I love my fatherland — don’t let China lease our land.”
Already last year, Forbes titled a report as “Violent Protests Against Chinese ‘Colony’ In Sri Lanka Rage On.” In January 2017, as the first brick of a Southern Industrial Zone was laid in Hambantota, violent protests erupted in the new port. It left more than 10 people hospitalised and many others were sent to jail. According to an economic newspaper: “A group of demonstrators led by Buddhist monks from nearby Amabalantota took to the streets as the opening ceremony of the industrial zone took place. However, these protesters were met by mobs of Government supporters, who reputedly attacked them with clubs and fists. The monk-led demonstrators fought back by throwing rocks. The police, meanwhile, found themselves in the middle of the fray, using water cannons and tear gas.”
The reason for the protests was the handing over of the port to the Chinese; “the perceived loss of autonomy to a foreign power as well as the potential land grab that could be necessary to build the 15,000-acre industrial zone.” One can wonder if Nepal has thought of this aspect of the Chinese ‘generosity’. Last month, Prime Minister KP Oli visited Beijing and told Xinhua that Nepal attached great value to its relationship with China “which has always respected its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence”. During the visit, it was announced that China would build a railway connecting Tibet with Nepal. It was one of several bilateral deals signed during the Nepali Prime Minister’s visit. The rail link will connect the Tibetan city of Shigatse to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, via the border port of Kyirong. According to a Chinese official website, the two sides further signed 10 other agreements involving technology, transportation, infrastructure and political cooperation.
Nepal has also inked a $2.5 billion deal with China’s state-owned Gezhouba Group to build a hydropower facility in the west of the country. The China Daily quoted Li Keqiang, the Chinese Premier, saying: “China would also like to work with Nepal to build a ‘cross-Himalayan connectivity network’ through aviation, trading ports, highways and telecommunications.”
It sounds good, especially in Kathmandu, but as I was finishing writing this piece, a Twitter message came in saying, “A Chinese rubber factory in Talgar, Kazakhstan, burned by locals today.” Talgar is located some 20 km from Almaty, the Kazakh capital. Here too resentment is growing. The moral of the story: There is no free meal and a nation like Nepal will sooner or later realise this, even if the Chinese dishes are appetising to start with; in fact the Indian food may be less tasty, but it definitively leaves less hangovers.
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
Writer: Claude Arpi
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Humanity has come to a standstill, and even depreciating day by day. The most innocent witnesses of this horrible truth are the children of Syria. With thousands of kids being killed, the fate of the nation seems grimmer than ever.
Casually skimming through several news websites, I stopped at a news item about a young Syrian boy who had fallen unconscious after a bomb attack. When he woke up in a hospital, he had become blind. The boy must have been six or seven years old. The news also carried a video in which the boy was screaming in terror, as his father held him to his chest trying his best to console him.
Can you imagine the terror of waking up blind? Can you imagine this happening to an innocent child? The boy was almost my nephew’s age, whom I am very close to. I tried to flush the images out of my system. I had to. I was about to make a presentation. I am not a very emotionally demonstrative man. But that day when I went back home, I instinctively found myself sitting quietly in a secluded corner. And then I wept. Forlorn, I lay on my bed and closed my eyes for a nap. After about half an hour or so, I suddenly woke up, gasping. I could see my surroundings to assure myself that I had woken up from a bad dream. But that child, he woke up to complete darkness. An entire generation of Syrian children faces psychological damage, ever-increasing danger and death. These are terrible times for children. They are being raped, tortured and killed as if society, as we know it, has declared war against them — a mad war against the future of the human race. Being mutilated by mentally ill perverts, maimed by vicious dictators, slaughtered by those who want to “bring democracy” to faraway lands, and butchered by men who do so in the name of faith.
Each of these sadists may have different ideologies and views, but inherently, they all carry a perverse existentialist streak which is apocalyptic. It makes them believe that there is no tomorrow, just a lonesome today. Some want to gluttonise life as much as they can from this today, while others want to destroy it because they think there’s something better waiting for them in the hereafter. They feel threatened by children because they remind them of a future — a continuation of life and the human race. By killing and maiming children they think they are halting this continuity. Some are doing it because they are deranged (yet respectable, pious members of the sane society). Some are doing it because of those grand sounding “geopolitical” reasons, in which supposedly a devastating war would end a dictatorship and herald a utopian democracy. Some are doing it because they don’t want to let go of power. They are scared of a different future; a future without them at the helm. Some are doing it because they believe the Almighty has sanctioned them to go on killing sprees so that their places in paradise are confirmed. The day after I watched that tragic video, I saw on my Twitter timeline, a journalist colleague exhibiting patience and tact while trying to engage with a Twitter handle that claimed to exhibit deep love for Pakistan’s Armed Forces. He/she suggested that it was wrong of the Government and military of Pakistan to have gone to war with the extremists because they were not anti-Pakistan.
Emotionally ravaged by the video that I had seen — and still remembering stories about how during a suicide bombing at Lahore’s Moon Market some years ago, children holding their parents’ hands were simply blown to pieces — I wanted to snap at the person tweeting such convoluted claptrap. I wanted to tell that person that it was narratives such as these that not only tried to justify the tragic, gruesome demise of thousands of Pakistanis at the hands of extremists, but eventually led to the extremists attacking and slaughtering over 140 schoolchildren in Peshawar in December 2014. Had this ridiculously imprudent person who claimed to be a lover of Pakistani military already forgotten about that attack? Or about how the extremists played football with the heads of executed Pakistani soldiers?
In 2013, when a prominent extremist was killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan, then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar actually held a Press conference condemning the attack. Opposition leader Imran Khan was not far behind, calling the attack “an attempt to derail peace talks between the state and the extremists.” Even though hundreds of children had already been killed in suicide bombings, and hundreds more had lost a parent, and, in some cases, both the parents, between 2004 and 2013, yet these two gentlemen and others who were regulars on rabid television talk shows, couldn’t stop themselves from gazing at their navels and brazenly concocting reasons in their bid to hold back the military from launching an all-out operation against extremist groups.
But Gen Raheel had had enough. This nation of mine only managed to get the spell of the apologists over it broken by the tragedy of 140-plus students mercilessly killed by extremists in Peshawar. Just imagine, it had to take a tragedy of this proportion for many of us to finally realise how all that convoluted and conspiratorial nonsense barefacedly spouted by the apologists was a sham. By the way, many still hold on to such hogwash. On the other end, tragic images of children suffering the most terrible effects of war in Syria and Yemen often get overshadowed by the drawing room and social media debates about “geopolitics”. As if these wars were board games played by men who wanted you to believe that they were the most rational, yet okay about a few thousand children being mutilated by bombs and starvation. Collateral damage. Happens in wars, you know.
When children die, so does humanity. Those killing them know this. And they are doing this because they are not human anymore. They justify their murderous lust through a plethora of convoluted political and theological ideologies. But nothing will stop history from remembering them as nothing more than madmen who wanted to prolong their psychotic presence by killing innocent children.
Writer: Nadeem Paracha
Courtesy: The pioneer
Spells of trouble await for Germany. First, elimination from the FIFA World Cup, and then, the ultimatum issued to Chancellor Angela Merkel by a coalition partner to act decisively and put an end to any more accommodation of asylum seekers from West Asia and North Africa. Coalition partner from Bavaria is demanding that Germany regain control of its own national borders.
What the regional party from Bavaria — a long-term ally of the ruling Christian Democrats — is demanding of its national Government is not unique. Ever since Germany stunned the world by accommodating nearly a million refugees — mainly Muslims — from war-affected zones, the European Union has been rocked by political convulsions. Two of its foundational principles — the free movement of people within the EU and the protection of human rights—have come under sharp attack from national governments of member-states.
It was Hungary’s pugnacious Viktor Orban who raised the banner of revolt by refusing to accommodate any of the refugees/ asylum seekers within its national borders because he felt their cultural assumptions were alien to the core assumptions of the EU — ‘Christian’ or ‘western’ values. Hungary was followed by Poland and Slovakia. Now Italy —by no means a late entrant or one of those states that had been under Soviet tutelage — has joined in the resistance to immigration from non-EU countries. The United Kingdom, still awkwardly perched between being in and out of the EU, has, in any case, never really acquiesced in taking on a flood of asylum seekers.
Germany, not least because of its extremely troubled history in the 20th century, had always resisted the trend to accommodate exclusively national sentiments. The post-1945 consensus deemed that Germany would find a new role for itself by embracing an European ideal and devolving many aspects of national sovereignty to a multilateral, pan-European body. Consequently, despite grave domestic compulsions, Chancellor Merkel has not succumbed to the pressures from within Germany to take unilateral action that pitted national sovereignty against multilateralism. Even when her own Government was on the verge of collapse, she took the matter of asylum seekers to Brussels to ensure that whatever measures Germany took had the backing of the EU and didn’t violate the larger principle of free movement of EU citizens.
Merkel will, however, be accused of doing too little and too late. That charge is valid. The Chancellor’s real folly was to unilaterally announce that she would take in a million asylum seekers at one go in 2015. She was lavishly praised for her enlightened sense of accommodation by the world’s liberal fraternity but there was a huge price she has paid for her decision.
First, Merkel clearly miscalculated the extent of simmering resentment of ordinary Germans to the influx. Despite the sympathy for people whose lives had been destroyed by the conflicts triggered by fanatical politico-religious movements in Asia and Africa, many Germans wondered why it had become obligatory for them to take a disproportionate burden of a problem that, in any case, had not been created by Germany.
After the details of Hitler’s holocaust were fully grasped, Germans were sufficiently demoralised and guilt ridden to accept the loss of one-fifth of its territories. The country disavowed militarism completely and its Constitution made it impossible for any strong leader to emerge. However, the crisis of 2015 left Germans completely unmoved. They felt no responsibility for it and Merkel’s undeniable over-generosity left them unmoved. They resented the fact that they weren’t consulted. In effect, Merkel’s 2015 open door policy undermined the guilt consciousness that had dominated German consciousness since 1945. The feeling that Germany had more than done its fair share of atonement now became prevalent.
Secondly, the attempts to meet Germany’s present concerns over asylum seekers has eroded the country’s touching faith in multilateralism and the lofty ideals of the EU. Although Merkel still preferred to take the matter to Brussels rather than initiate national action, there is a growing realisation that Germany cannot be the only guys playing by the rules. The Government in Budapest may appear abrasive to the editorial classes but there is no question that Orban’s stubborn refusal to extend hospitality to asylum seekers enjoys widespread support within Germany. The EU too appears to have grudgingly recognised this too. Hence its recent decision that gives national governments scope for autonomous action. What this means is that the Franco-German moves towards a deeper EU that will, in time, evolve a common foreign policy and even have a common EU military, has suffered a setback.
Predictably, the strains in the EU and within Germany as a result of the asylum seekers problem will be welcomed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader may even find comfort with the growing strains between the EU and US over tariffs and contributions to NATO. That, however, is an incidental consequence. What is probably more consequential is that events may be propelling Germany and France to take a more active role in promoting European interests in an age of nationalism. Will that create opportunities for China? Or will European countries now acknowledge that China’s economic expansion also has a definite political sub-text.
A Great Game is also being played out in Europe. It offers India some new openings, if only we are far-sighted enough to realise what these are and move accordingly.
Writer: Swapan Dasgupta
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Making it crystal clear that the UN’s credibility is at stake, two contrarian reports on J&K were conducted back to back. Not only does the world body need to have wide representation, but also have the courage to call out the corrupt.
A flip-flop is but expected in politics. But for an august body like the United Nations, which is believed to be the moral compass of the globe, it only erodes its relevance and righteousness. Just last week, a UN report on alleged human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir caused quite a row with political parties across the spectrum calling it motivated and ill-intentioned. The flimsy report, with no clear-cut, factual points of reference and largely a remote-sensing operation with gettable quotes, was roundly debunked by political parties across the spectrum. And then this week, it released another report of how Pakistan-based banned terror outfits Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen had recruited and used children in Jammu & Kashmir during clashes with security forces last year. The annual report of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict listed the use of children as cannon fodder in Jammu & Kashmir as a “grave violation.” It even asked the Indian Government to put in place measures to hold perpetrators of child recruitment, thereby arguing for an extreme vigilance set-up.
The problem, given the release of two contrarian reports back-to-back — the latter almost negating the offensive narrative of the former — is that the UN seems to be placating both India and Pakistan, obfuscating reality and keeping the chasm wide rather than holding peace. The swiftness of releasing the second report, soon after a comprehensive criticism of the rights report, also seemed reactive, much like a coerced amendment rather than investigated truths.
Now with the US also withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, on the grounds of its “shameless hypocrisy” in assessing its border issues, (of course, US has used its clout all too often in the UN to justify its agenda in oppressor countries) the credibility of the world body is at stake. With heft and funding in the hands of big powers, neutrality is a chimera. The Human Rights Council, for example, has 47 member countries, which are elected to three-year-terms by the General Assembly. The representatives are chosen carefully to represent all regions and they cannot seek re-election immediately after completing two consecutive terms. Little do we realise that most member states have rights abuses in their own turf and avoid being upbraided for their track record for the period they are in control. So they make a scapegoat of existing and familiar conflict zones, becoming an implicit partner in the terror economy around these hotspots.
Let’s agree that when it comes to Kashmir, there have been more UN reports on its human rights than any other totalitarian territory, without ever a mention made of the victims of terrorists, whom the UN still classifies as militants. Has the UN ever tried to commission a fact-finding mention on how moderates in the Valley, who are trying hard to bring about a negotiated settlement and peace, are being systematically silenced or eliminated? How sufi clerics who prize Kashmiriyat over radicalisation, go missing? Instead of attempting to simmer down and look at a holistic approach, UN reports on Kashmir have always targeted the establishment and security forces, who, truth be told, are bleeding resources and lives pointlessly and would, of course, want an alternative method of engagement without compromising India’s integrity. The UN has never ever acknowledged that the vituperative policies of neighbours are equally responsible for a festering Kashmir. Let us also not forget that Kashmir is an easier encashable conflict zone, which can be recycled with the same narrative of civil society drift and alienation because of the presence of security forces, upgrading a few figures here and there. The situational dynamics on the ground, which take a longer time to manifest, have, therefore, been conveniently overlooked.
Do the Chinese excesses, given its political prisoners, suppression of dissent and aspirations of Tibetans and Uighurs, merit as much attention in the UN? Or what about Egypt which has banned NGOs from operating and arrests dissenting journalists? What about more stringent forms of punishment and suppression of democracy in Arab states? Does the UN realise by letting go of an objective analysis, and working according to pressure groups, has made it more propagandist than peace-keeper?
The core issue is that the UN, or even other human rights watchdogs, exist simply by countering the establishment narrative anywhere in the world, assigning themselves a certain kind of legitimacy as a champion of the unheard or alternative voices without realising that some of their own investigations are compromised by subjective assessment than objective investigation. Most often the UN information resource is based on viewpoints of activists, who again have to justify their raison d’être. Often UN observer teams rely on second-hand information and the easy access to experts rather than probing the complexity of the situation. There is no problem with consulting experts, provided the basket has a credible mix of opinions and viewpoints, rather than relying on the “educated perception” of a few. The second problem is of referencing the study in the context of timelines and dot surveys. The UN says it is granted limited access but given its patchy performance in compiling reports, which cherry pick time periods that reinforce the prevalent theory than giving a holistic big picture, and sample sizes that are not at all widespread or representative, and which ignore the so-called “oppressor” as also an “oppressed”, can it really expect us to be welcoming?
A few days ago, Amnesty International had to do a volte-face. Embarrassingly so. The rights body, which has at various points been criticised for receiving funding from Islamists, had to change its line of Muslim victimisation by the military Government. Although the Myanmar Government had for long time been claiming genocide of Hindus and Buddhists by extremist Rohingya Muslim groups, observers dismissed it as Government propaganda to hide its own excesses against them. Till the team interviewed refugees at camps and chased information on-ground, there was no corroboration of what was known unofficially for long, that 100 Hindus were brutalised, terrorised and killed in cold blood by Rohingya extremists. Predictably, this raised hackles of Rohingya activists worldwide, leading them to wonder if the Myanmarese military had indeed been able to swing Amnesty to their side of the story. This disbelief at Hindu or Buddhist oppression is symptomatic of a deep-rooted malaise in a mindset, sometimes even our own, that perceives Islamic extremism as a result of other kinds of majoritarianism and never the accelerator or provocateur of deepening faultlines. Activist agenda have been funded on perpetuating a one-sided story. The other side, therefore, is not easily allowed to gain traction. Hawkish anti-India propagandists, who have worked lobbies and generated cause-driven finances, right now have the upper hand as influencers.
Even when it comes to our own educated discourse, any talk of Hindu victimhood is quickly assigned to being driven by political agenda rather than being a matter of genuine human interest. Has the UN or any rights watch group decided to focus on conflict refugees in Jammu, who have been left homeless as their border villages have been ruined in shelling of the proxy war and terrorist attacks? Has the unofficial ethnic cleansing and displacement of Pandits been ever the subject of review without risking the tag of it being part of right-wing propaganda? The UN, whatever be its compulsions of working with the Big Five and its contributors, must at least try to sift the grain from the chaff and bubble up the truth rather than taming itself with an acceptability of clichéd prejudices, particularly in relation to an assertive and emergent world from the Orient. The UN needs to have a moral equivalence and be widely representative to re-establish its worth as an organisation respected by everybody. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had once said, “The UN’s unique legitimacy flows from a universal perception that it pursues a larger purpose than the interest of one country or a small group of countries.” It is time for the UN to work on others’ perception of it.
(The writer is Associate Editor, The Pioneer)
Writer: Rinku Ghosh
Courtesy: The Pioneer
In case closely watched by higher education, justices find that Trump was within his authority in restricting entry to the U.S. for nationals from a group of mostly Muslim-majority countries.
Deep in the Bible Belt in the American South, a highly conservative area that bought into Donald Trump’s message of ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) and voted overwhelmingly for him to become the 45th President of the United States, there is indignation that coastal liberals are bent on scuppering Trump’s agenda, that is, their agenda. These are people who while very welcoming to foreigners who speak their language, are fearful of them as well, because they see them taking their jobs away and challenging their ‘culture’. Their deep-rooted Baptist beliefs makes them scared of non-Christians, especially Muslims.
So Trump’s travel ban, which made it difficult for visitors from seven mainly Muslim nations to come to the United States was welcomed by them. Yet, they were angry that ‘liberals’ were attacking the ban, which many feel goes against the ethos of the United States. But the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the ban, and going forward it is almost certain that the United States Supreme Court is going to endorse several other Trump policies as well which will make the United States far less welcoming to refugees and illegal immigrants. While many liberals have attacked Trump for separating the children of illegal migrants from their parents, the fact is that the United States should be free to make their own immigration policies and cannot willy-nilly let in thousands of undocumented migrants every year. The media across the world including. ironically, the British and Australian media, have attacked Trump for his ‘inhumanity’ while conveniently forgetting or tacitly supporting their country’s anti illegal immigrant policies.
While some Western nations such as Germany have allowed thousands of migrants in and highly educated liberals across the world including in India (with regard to Rohingyas) have supported refugees, almost nothing has been done to educate local residents on migrants/asylum seekers and even less has been done to better assimilate migrants into host cultures. Absorbing immigrants from Islamic nations into highly developed, free and open societies is particularly problematic. There has been a consequent and well-documented spike in crime, especially against women, and fundamental misunderstandings. This has in turn led to the rise of extreme right-wing nativist politicians across the world. And while liberals — whether in America, Europe or India — live in their own idealistic bubble, cocooned from the problems of, in Hillary Clinton’s infamous coinage, ‘the deplorables’, the fact is that in democracies the ‘deplorables’ vote and vote in numbers. Liberals have to understand that if migrant issues are to be solved they need to work with communities and societies and not just impose their will. Because, if they continue to do so, those elites including our homegrown variety attacking Indian Government policy on the Rohingyas will only make the right stronger and end up lamenting their own failures. The world needs to understand that migration due to war, famine and economic causes is a reality and so does society at large. But forcing the issue in today’s hyper-connected world will only lead to failure for liberals as Trump has demonstrated quite unequivocally.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Candidness in China-Russia relations is appreciated. The strategic partnership between the two countries recommend that both support each other and also maintain a positive attitude in developing relations with others, including the west.
Information coming from Xinjiang, Western China’s restive Muslim province is rather depressing. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the authorities in Karakaz (also written Qaraqash) in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have detained nearly half the population of a village in political re-education camps. Karakax county is located in the southern part of the Tarim basin in the Hotan Prefecture bordering India.
RFA affirmed: “Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harbouring ‘strong religious views’ and ‘politically incorrect’ views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR,” adding that “members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.”
For the last six decades, Xinjiang has been one of the greatest failures of the Chinese State. How did it start?
New archival material released by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, brings light on the annexation of Xinjiang in 1949, which it calls a ‘stunning development’.
Charles Kraus, a scholar at the Center wrote: “Mao Zedong’s eyes had been on Xinjiang for a while. He worried that his rivals, the Nationalist Party, would hang onto Xinjiang and use it as a base for continued operations against the Communist Party of China (CCP). Stalin stoked Mao’s fears, warning that countries antagonistic to the CCP, such as Great Britain, could ‘activate the Muslims’ in Xinjiang in order to ‘continue the civil war’. And of course, taking hold of the oil and other strategic resources present in Xinjiang motivated Mao.”
The Soviets got involved because Stalin probably considered it a win-win solution for Moscow, China would do the ‘dirty work’ of sending lakhs of troops and Moscow would benefit from new trading opportunities with a ‘stable’ Communist province.
One of the newly released documents quotes a meeting which took place on June 27, 1949, in Moscow. Stalin, Molotov, Malenkov, Mikoyan on the Soviet side met Liu Shaoqi, secretary of the CCP’s Central Committee and Gao Gang, the chairman of the Government of Manchuria when the take-over of the Western region was planned: “Comrade Stalin said that one should not put off occupation of Xinjiang, because a delay may lead to the interference by the English in the affairs of Xinjiang.” Stalin argued: “They can activate the Muslims, including the Indian ones, to continue the civil war against the communists, which is undesirable, for there are large deposits of oil and cotton in Xinjiang, which China needs badly.”
One understands better why the Indian Consulate General in Kashgar was closed down by the Communists soon after their arrival in Southern Xinjiang.
During the meeting, the Soviet leader encouraged the Chinese, still battling Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist forces, to take over Eastern Turkestan, as it was known at that time. More than three months before Mao announced the founding the People’s Republic, Moscow was ready to give full support to the plan of annexing Xinjiang.
Something interesting in the present tense context, Stalin remarked: “The Chinese population in Xinjiang does not exceed five per cent, after taking Xinjiang one should bring the percentage of the Chinese population to 30 per cent by means of resettling the Chinese for all-sided development of this huge and rich region and for strengthening China’s border protection.”
Today, the Han population in the XUAR has reached 50 per cent, and the Uyghurs are still restive, though decades ago they were ‘liberated’ in Marxist terms.
At that time, Stalin observed: “In general, in the interests of strengthening the defense of China one should populate all the border regions with the Chinese.”
A year later, the formula would be applied to Tibet too.
In September, Mao sent a long telegram to Stalin, mentioning “the most important and necessary (priority) for us is a (air) route from Urumchi-Lanzhou to Xi’an which we hope you will help us create.”
The Great Helmsman also informed Stalin that “500,000 troops intend to enter the province of Xinjiang via Lanzhou in the first days or the middle of November. But the railroads in this region are poor, the conditions difficult, there are few people, and there is no food — therefore we acutely need and hope that you will help us with 30-50 transport aircraft to ship food, clothing, key personnel, and some of the troops.”
Mao pointed out that if help could not come in time: “This would be detrimental to the solution of the Xinjiang problem.”
He promised Stalin, who was keen to reap the economic benefits of the Chinese military operation: “As soon as the transportation of the troops is finished this route will immediately be turned into a civil air route.”
On October 14, just two weeks after the birth of New China, Stalin cabled Mao: “We consider your decision about sending one division from Lanzhou to Urumchi by air transport to be correct.”
He informed the Chinese: “Regarding your request about shipping 1,000 tons of aviation fuel to Urumchi and 200 tons of it to Hami we report that we can give this fuel to Urumchi and Hami via vehicle transport with arrival on site 1-3 November,” adding: “We can give …the five reserve transport aircraft at the disposition of Cde Peng Dehuai …by the deadline you indicate.”
A few days later, Stalin was informed that the Chinese also wanted some 10,000 tons of grain from the Soviet Union for the supply the PLA quartered in Xinjiang. Five days later, Gromyko wrote: “The Soviet Government agrees to deliver 10,000 tons of wheat to the PLA in Xinjiang.”
After having obtained the Soviet support, Mao’s second master stroke was to obtain the defection of the Nationalists. On September 25, Tao Zhiyue, the Nationalist Commander-in-Chief of the Xinjiang garrison and Burhan Shahidi, the Political Commissar, announced the formal surrender of the Nationalist forces in Xinjiang; they had become…Communist.
Another victory for Mao…without fighting.
In October, starting from Yumen (in Gansu province, on the old Silk Road), the Communist troops advanced through indescribably harsh terrain, deep gorges, cold desert, “they started a massive advance towards Xinjiang along the North and South of Tian mountain,” says a Chinese account.
On November 5, a forward battalion reached Urumqi by air. The next day, the HQ of the 1 Corps was airlifted.
From November 20 to 26, the PLA took over most of Southern Xinjiang and Kashgar where the HQ of the two Army was established on December 1; all opposition had fallen by then; the annexation of Xinjiang was complete. One understands better why Chinese President Xi Jinping recently presented China’s first Friendship Medal to the Russian President: “President Putin is the leader of a great country who is influential around the world. He is my best, most intimate friend”, declared Xi. Despite ups and downs, the friendship is indeed solid. Without Stalin, Eastern Turkestan might not be Xinjiang today; the Uyghurs would have probably not minded.
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
Writer: Claude Arpi
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Was the statement by the Chinese ambassador to India a trial balloon? Why was it clarified? Are the Chinese serious?
His Excellency Luo Zhaohui, China’s ambassador to India, has done the job he was asked to in an excellent fashion. The disingenuity of his purportedly informal, off-the-cuff remarks suggesting closer India-China-Pakistan trilateral cooperation — and if you believe that you will believe anything — made on Monday is neither here nor there. That’s his job, after all. But the way he let drop that this suggestion came from “some Indian friends” was superbly done. Because Beijing knows that unlike on its side of the McMohan Line where an absolutist state rules, on this democratic side there is no unanimity among the Indian political establishment and strategic community on what constitutes our national interest. Indeed, even its definition is contested domestically by the usual suspects. Given the disarray in our domestic discourse on issues of national security, strategic interests and relationships with other nations, especially those like China to which there is a clear adversarial edge, in a sense it is good that Beijing is fishing in troubled waters, as it were. At least it will, or ought to, focus our mind. The first step the Indian establishment needs to take is to stop forthwith the continuous running down of the Indo-US alliance. Yes, Donald Trump is not everybody’s cup of tea aesthetically and yes, there are changes occurring in the geopolitical sphere as Washington rolls out some rather protectionist policies that are impacting world trade. But he’s doing what he does best, which is putting America First. New Delhi would be well advised to roll with it while according its own interests primacy. So, of course, we must negotiate hard on the trade front, on technology transfer, on tariffs and even on H1B visas if that is productive. But the bottom line has to be upping the strategic partnership between the two nations to the next level, along with doing the same vis-à-vis our European Union strategic partner, France. Additionally, the Japan-US-Australia-India quadrilateral cannot continue to be treated in the episodic manner that New Delhi has been over the past decade. Ditto, India’s engagement with ASEAN and Pacific Rim/Indian Ocean maritime strategy. Our relationship with Russia must be kept in play, of course, and it has its uses for both sides. But we have reached a turn in geopolitics where the relationship has transformed from an all-weather strategic one to a more transactional bilateral one given Moscow’s changed strategic interests with the rise of China and the emerging Sino-Russian alliance against the US/West. Similarly, India’s engagement with Iran and the Sunni West Asian nations while useful to take the edge off Pakistan’s Islamist narrative is a limited-outcome endeavour in strategic terms. What New Delhi needs to focus on urgently is a combination of the above-mentioned relationship building matrix of which close ties with the US have to realistically be the bedrock. For, even given the changing global power dynamics, the US is still the only superpower in town and Trump seems determined to keep his country’s power trajectory going north. Our clear and present concerns both in terms of security and economic issues is China and its client state of Pakistan. Beijing’s undisguised ambition to be recognised as the regional hegemon and then scale up to becoming a world power which rivals the US in reach and heft means that India will always been seen by it a lesser or unequal partner in that effort. The suggested triangulation of the India-China-Pakistan relationship should be seen for what it is — more a strangulation of India. We must assiduously ignore the voices which urge us into a Chinese embrace.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
It looks like China and India may stay together in Nepal with the advantage slowly returning to New Delhi provided it actions to improve extremes of the blockade.
The mood of optimism in Nepal is palpable. The grand old party, Nepali Congress has been severely marginalised after its election debacle. The Leftists/Communists are in an unassailable majority at local, provincial and federal tiers which is unprecedented in terms of political superiority and stability. With India and China both welcoming this development, it was difficult to locate anyone but the intrepid pessimist to predict any man-made adverse contingency. Goodbye to uncertainty and instability. Welcome to development, happiness and prosperity of the New Nepal which is reflected by the deluge of tourists, mainly Indians and Chinese inundating five star hotel and casinos. Here is my Nepal June diary.
Political stability is assured with the wily Upendra Yadav-led Federal Socialist Forum (Nepal) joining the Government — and also grabbing the deputy Prime Minister’s post — giving the ruling Nepali Communist Party a two-thirds majority with 190 of 275 seats. There is a tripartite agreement between Prime Minister KP Oli, co-chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (NCP) and Maoist supremo Prachanda and Yadav to positively address Madhesi and indigenous community demands of citizenship, language, inclusiveness and boundaries, but without any timeline. The Rashtriya Janata Party (Nepal) another Madhesi party with 17 lawmakers may also join the Government shortly though its General Secretary Chanda Chaudhary says the Government is not serious about Constitutional amendments. That leaves the leadership-deficient and the fractured NC out in the cold.
Power-sharing and merger of NCP: There are souls in former United Marxist Leninist and Maoist parties unhappy with their merge. The Left Alliance is now the NCP minus Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao on the common letterhead. Karl Marx’s 100th birthday was jointly celebrated with creative wordology like scientific socialism etc. The NCP (Revolutionary) led by Mohan Baidya has said the present NCP are pseudo Communists. The underground Netra Bikram Chand faction which indulged in violence during elections and the recent Modi visit has forced its former Maoist comrade Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa to launch police action against their armed wing. Another breakaway Maoist, former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, famous for broadening roads in Kathmandu is the only lawmaker of his Naya Shakti Party. An integrated and comprehensive NCP manifesto which has a few lines on Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) mentor Madan Bhandari’s slogan people’s democracy recognises more prominently Prachanda’s line and agenda of federalism, secularism, inclusion and republicanism achieved through the combination of bullet and ballot ie people’s war and the peace process brokered by India. The unwritten power sharing agreement between Oli and Prachanda of two and a half years each as Prime Minister is not in the public domain. At present, Prachanda and Oli are co-chairmen of the party though Prachanda is urging Oli to focus on running the Government while he takes care of the party. Oli is reluctant to oblige. NCP’s general convention is to be held in two years after which this issue will be resolved. Asked what could go wrong with the new party, a top Maoist leader quipped: “We just got married and you are already talking of divorce. We will complete our term of five years and many more.”
Budget: The Rs 1,315 billion budget has set an ambitious target of eight per cent economic growth with focus on the development of physical infrastructure, energy, tourism and agriculture and resources provided for newly created provincial Governments which are facing enormous teething troubles. It plans to raise the power generation from the present 830 MW to 15,000 MW by 2035. Despite the political stability targets of growth, prosperity and happiness will not be easy to achieve in a country where imports are 85 per cent and exports 15 per cent and 1500 youth leave the country every day due to joblessness.
India: A pro-China Oli not breaking the traditional ‘first India visit’ by a Prime Minister is regarded as an Indian diplomatic coup with a well-stitched operation starting with the Koshiyari mission to Thailand to meet Oli, Sushma Swaraj’s swoop on Kathmandu and Modi’s energetic working the phone lines. Modi’s return visit, his third to Nepal, was seen as a politically motivated pilgrimage to benefit his party’s election prospects in Karnataka. Anti-India sentiments prevails. Protests and black balloons were prevented but social media was very active: #blockade was crime: Welcome to Nepal but we have not forgotten the blockade. Modi, the master orator should have creatively expressed regret and won over millions of Nepalese but he has not learnt to say sorry even at home. People said the perception is that India is not as serious as China about its development agenda in Nepal. Delivery is erratic and qualitatively deficient. The new monitoring mechanism (first report by September 19) will allay these fears.
Military Relations: The Nepal Army Chief General Rajendra Chhetri, who is an honorary General of the Indian Army was in India to review the Passing Out Parade in Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun on June 9. Nepal owes India more than two billion rupees for arms and equipment purchased. It wants India to write off the amount, change the arms supply mechanism from 60:40 grant and payment to annual military aid. The bonding between the two armies is the strategic umbilical cord of bilateral relations.
China: To the question why Oli was not invited for a state visit to Beijing first, when it played a major role in the formation of the Left alliance, the answer one got was that China believed that Nepal is still in India’s sphere of influence. Consequently it has repeatedly advised Nepal to have good relations with India (the Wuhan effect?). Nepali leaders still talk about unique relations with India — geography to language to open border and so on. Oli’s China visit started yesterday is mainly to ensure implementation of the Ten Point Agreement he signed with China in 2016 after the blockade.
China has not opened the Tatopani route — old Kodari-Kathmandu road — after the earthquake. It is being pushed by Nepal to concretised Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) and connectivity. The Chinese appear to be interested in a South Asia corridor like China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan through Nepal to India where the markets lie. They are also keen to promote Buddhism, making Lumbini its Mecca. This will generate strategic and cultural gains for Beijing.
Post script: India’s recalibration of the Nepal policy is designed to make amends and ensure its red lines are not breached. Politics is unpredictable. It seems China and India may cohabit in Nepal with the advantage slowly returning to New Delhi provided it performs to delete excesses from the blockade including the anti-India feeling.
(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)
Writer: Ashok K Mehta
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have become the first sitting US President and North Korean leader to meet — a historic development that comes after a year of exchanging threats. But is the summit a false dawn or will it spell real peace?
The first ever summit meeting between a sitting US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, since the end of the Korean War in Singapore, was indeed historic. The Korean War (1950-53) had ended with a truce and without a peace treaty, leaving both South and North Koreas technically at war. The core message of the summit was that it was a triumph of diplomacy. It was also a gentle reminder of Richard Nixon’s ground-breaking 1972 visit to Beijing, thereby normalising relations with China. The issue at the table was how to denuclearise North Korea. From the very start, the issue of denuclearisation was problematic as the interpretation of what it meant was different for both sides. What preceded the summit proposal was immersed in uncertainty, lurking doubts if the summit would ever take place. But diplomacy finally prevailed and Trump and Kim met and in a major breakthrough, signed the “comprehensive pact”, prompting Trump to announce soon enough that the denuclearisation process will begin soon.
In a joint text issued after the meeting, Kim committed to “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. The statement was almost immediately endorsed by China, North Korea’s principal ally and benefactor. Earlier, Trump announced that both he and Kim signed an unspecified document, which he called “pretty comprehensive”. From his side, Kim announced that both sides decided to “leave the past” behind and that “the world shall see a major change”.
The summit finally happening after a year of exchanging warmongering threats and personal insults was truly historic. Kim having committed to “complete denuclearisation”, both leaders vowed in the joint agreement to establish “new” relations between the two countries. However, the text made no mention of the US demands for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation” or CVID, which implied scrapping weapons and committing to inspections.
From a time when both exchanged vitriolic diatribes and bellicose statements, to hear Trump say that he had formed a “special bond” with Kim and expressed willingness to invite him to the White House was music to many ears. But the truism is that the dramatic turnaround is real. That is how modern diplomacy is being conducted, with Trump leaving his own style. Hailing his “excellent” relationship with Kim, Trump predicted that both will “solve” the Korean Peninsula stand-off and that the 40-minute meeting was a “tremendous success”.
The instant bonhomie had to be seen to be believed, despite the huge age gap between the two — the 12-second handshake as they met for the first time in front of a dozen American and North Korean flags on the steps of the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore, with Trump patting Kim on the arm and sharing some words before posing for the cameras. The body language demonstrated warmth as both expressed optimism even when the meeting took place. While Kim greeted Trump with the words: “Nice to meet you, Mr President”, Trump returned the compliment with the words: “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.” Kim admitted that the path was not easy as past prejudices and practices worked as obstacles, which would be successfully overcome by sustained diplomacy. It was not known what exactly both discussed during their one-on-one meeting, though North Korea’s denuclearisation was on the agenda. Trump said his talks with Kim were “better than anybody could imagine”.
On a lighter note, Kim remarked through an interpreter: “Many people in the world will think of this as a form of fantasy from a science fiction movie,” before heading for the airport after the signing ceremony.
From the available information at the time of writing, here is what transpired. Kim committed Pyongyang to “working towards” the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in an agreement with Trump, as well as “peace and prosperity”. Both sides also agreed to recover the remains of prisoners of war from the conflict between North and South Korea, and the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
However, analysts expressed disappointment with the vague nature of the agreement, limited scope and the lack of specific details. For example, Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University, felt the text was “even thinner than most sceptics anticipated”. Kelly expected that Trump would bargain for and get at least some missiles or a site closure or something concrete. Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis was also doubtful. He expressed disappointment on how the joint statement from the “epochal” Singapore summit stacks up with other historic documents on denuclearisation. According to him, there was nothing new that emerged from the joint statement.
Chad O’Carroll of the Korea Risk Group decodes the text and raises two key points: How will Trump make “security guarantees to the DPRK” genuinely credible, and that answer will impact Kim’s roadmap to “denuclearisation of the Peninsula”. Adding to this two more points: Talk of “mutual confidence-building” suggests step-by-step process, meaning Trump administration is flexible on prior insistence of CVID up-front’; and the DPRK and US will have “join efforts” to build lasting peace, but there’s no mention of getting it done before 2018, as per the April 27 agreement.
There was further lack of clarity. The term ‘denuclearisation’ remained unexplained as interpretation by either side is completely different. While for the US, denuclearisation means North Korea dismantling its nuclear arsenal, for Pyongyang, it means scaling down of the US forces from both South Korea and Japan, besides ending the annual military drill between the US and South Korea. Further, there was no mention of missile, an issue that was brought to the fore in 2017. Also, the text on MIA remains implies the US military figures will be visiting North Korea. As contained in the joint text, the US and North Korea commit to recovering PoW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified. However, commitment to “expeditious” implementation is good.
The most important of those four key points in the joint text is the third point in which both Trump and Kim “commit to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. Indeed, there is plenty of wriggle room in committing to work toward denuclearisation. The joint text clearly mentions thus: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong-Un reaffirmed his form and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
According to Jonathan Cheng of the Wall Street Journal, there are four key points in the Trump-Kim declaration. First, the US and North Korea commit to establishing new relations in accordance with the desire of the people of the two countries for peace and prosperity. Second, both would make efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Third, reaffirming the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, North Korea commits to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. And fourth, both sides commit to recover PoW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
China welcomed the summit as “historic”. The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi observed the fact that the two leaders “can sit together and have equal talks has important and positive meaning, and is creating new history”. He also talked of the need for a peace mechanism for the Peninsula. While calling for “full denuclearisation” to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Wang Yi observed: “Resolving the nuclear issue, on the one hand of course, is denuclearisation, full denuclearisation. At the same time, there needs to be a peace mechanism for the Peninsula, to resolve North Korea’s reasonable security concerns”. It needs to be remembered that Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally and main trading partner. However, it supported others in implementing a slew of UN sanctions to punish the North over its nuclear and missile tests. Yet, Beijing welcomed Kim twice in quick succession, prior to the latter’s summit with Trump. That China continues to remain relevant in any peace process in the Korean Peninsula remains unquestioned. Despite tensions, the Cold War era allies sought to mend ties recently, and Kim even borrowed an Air China plane to travel to the landmark summit with Trump in Singapore.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcome the summit outcome and said it is “a promising development for global peace and security”. Terming the summit as an “extremely important event”, Guterres conceded credit to both Trump and Kim for agreeing to “engage in a constructive negotiation to reach an objective” whose ultimate goal is “peaceful and verifiable denuclearisation of North Korea”.
Expressing distrust, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif referred to Trump as the “habitual Deal-Breaker-in-Chief”. It may be recalled that Trump broke the agreement signed by Barack Obama on the nuclear issue with Iran. Iran reminded Kim that the US has a history of “quitting treaties and violating commitments”.
Interestingly, while Trump ignored a question about whether he discussed with Kim about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was held in a North Korean labour camp, and died shortly after being flown back to the US, Kim did not reply when asked if he was willing to give up nuclear weapons. Kim’s silence on the nuclear question could be open to interpretation, if he retracts his stance as was in the past. Notwithstanding the much optimism that stems from the joint text, there could be always risk of decisions already taken being derailed.
But it is significant to note that what seemed unthinkable months ago happened and ended on a positive note, at least for the time being. The specter of growing nuclear threat, that looked real some months ago, has now receded. In the run-up to the summit, Trump had indicated that he might strike a nuclear deal or forge a formal end to the Korean War in the course of a single meeting or over several days, but as it transpired, Trump left Singapore soon after the meeting, on the evening of June 12 itself. This raises questions if his aspirations for an ambitious outcome had been scaled back.
The South Korean President Moon Jae-in was the most exuberant. Having laboured really hard for the summit to happen, he was pleased that it finally took place. He had made expansive outreach to the North with two summit meetings with Kim within a month. No wonder, he “hardly slept” before the summit and watched live broadcast of the summit with his Cabinet colleagues at the Blue House.
When Trump and Kim took a moonlight stroll following a handshake, critics were quick to say that Trump was legitimising Kim on the world stage as his equal. Trump was quick to respond to the critics by saying that researches and launches have stopped for now.
By arriving with a positive outcome soon after Trump shocked the US allies by using a meeting in Canada of the Group of Seven industrialised economies to alienate America’s closest friends in the West, Trump seemed to have salvaged some of the damages he caused to America’s reputation. At the G-7 summit, Trump had lashed out over trade practices and lobbied insults at his G-7 host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His change in dynamics in Singapore from his earlier threats of “fire and fury” against Kim and the latter’s scorn at Trump as a “mentally deranged US dotard” was a dramatic volte face. Besides, both leaders may reap some political fortunes; the summit could shape the fate of the impoverished citizens of North Korea and tens of millions living in the shadow of North’s nuclear threat in South Korea, Japan and some parts of the US and elsewhere. Kim seems to have been convinced of the security guarantee provided by the US as spelled out by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said the US was prepared to take action to provide North Korea with “sufficient certainty” that denuclearisation “is not something that ends badly for them”. Though Pompeo did not clarify if that included the possibility of withdrawing US troops from the Korean Peninsula, he did say that the US was “prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique than America’s been willing to provide previously”.
Both sides covered the distance in a relatively short span of time. Yet, despite the positive vibes that stem from the summit, it is anybody’s guess if Trump and Kim can pull off a Nixon-Mao type breakthrough. There is a lack of clarity in what both leaders agreed upon. Though Kim agreed to denuclearise, no deadline was announced. China was not mentioned, though the world knows that Beijing’s role in any resolution on the Korean issue remains crucial. It also remains unclear if the thaw in ties would lead to formal establishment of diplomatic relations. No mention was also made on how to tame the hardliners in their respective countries.
The most significant statement made by Trump after the summit was that the US would halt military exercises with Seoul, something long sought by Pyongyang. Pyongyang has long been insisting that the presence of US troops in the South as well as its nuclear umbrella over the East Asian allies — South Korea and Japan — are part of America’s hostile policy towards the North.
Trump’s vow to end war drills stunned the region. Trump further termed the drills as “expensive and provocative”. This announcement rocked East Asia. These too seemingly upended decades of the US defence posture on the Korean Peninsula. This was a reversal of the countless previous declarations by the US political and military officials over the years that the drills are routine, defensive, and absolutely critical. Trump claimed that by ending the war games, the US would save tremendous amount of money. Officials in South Korea were left completely off-guard with the announcement as the presence of the US troops has long been described as necessary to maintaining peace. Seoul reacted almost immediately by saying that there was no prior discussion with Washington on this. The next drills are set for August and Seoul is definitely confused.
Trump further added that “at some point”, he wanted to withdraw 28,500 US troops stationed in the South as a deterrent against North Korea. This could have huge implication as it would imply abrogation of the security alliance between the US and South Korea and later Japan. Japan and South Korea would be compelled to revisit their security postures if the reliance on the US for security protection comes under doubt. It is here that Trump and Pompeo need to coordinate and clarify what could be the real US policy, so there is no scope for confusion.
For now, the status quo is likely to remain largely unchanged. However, the joint document and Trump’s subsequent press conference remarks reveal a number of opportunities for both to test each other’s sincerity, flexibility, and understanding on key topics of contention. The window is open for both to work out and identify both positive and negatives in the short-to-medium term and look for solutions that are lasting.
Despite the positive summit outcome, there is little possibility that sanctions will discontinue so soon until North Korea denuclearises and the US could even increase pressure if diplomatic discussions do not progress positively, as expected. Pompeo clarified that the US will not lift economic sanctions against North Korea until Pyongyang fully eliminates its nuclear weapons capability. Those who hold the view that Kim is unlikely to quickly give up his hard-won nukes could have merit. Yet, the hope that diplomacy could replace animosity between the two cannot be dismissed either. Optimists would see the summit as a trendsetter.
In the US, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was scathing in her attack on the manner Trump conducted diplomacy in Singapore. She said: “Nuclear non-proliferation is a pillar of America’s national security. We respect any serious and real diplomatic efforts to achieve that goal on the Korean Peninsula. Apparently, the President handed Kim Jong-un concessions in exchange for vague promises that do not approach a clear and comprehensive pathway to denuclearisation and non-proliferation. In his haste to reach an agreement, President Trump elevated North Korea to the level of the US, while preserving the regime’s status quo. The millions of families currently living in fear of nuclear weapons in the region deserve strong and smart leadership built on diplomacy and engagement with our regional partners and allies. The President’s marginalisation of the vast expertise of the State Department and his habitual disparaging of our allies as demonstrated at the G7 Forum hinders a lasting, stable pathway to peace.”
The immediate positive result of the summit is that both Trump and Kim helped bring the world back from a “nuclear catastrophe”. Trump was triumphant in saying that by agreeing to give up nuclear weapons and embracing commerce and engagement, Kim has before him the opportunity to be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his citizens.
Despite so much optimism, there remained a black spot. Human rights activists saw the summit as a missed opportunity, as the issue was not raised. Many analysts might see the summit as a victory for Kim, but what the summit overlooked was that the totalitarian regime functions under extreme censorship and forced labour camps. There is no individual freedom and a North Korean citizen can be jailed for almost anything. There are between 80,000 and 120,000 people in prisons across the country. With a strictly controlled economy, much of the nation’s resources are funnelled into its missile and nuclear programme, ignoring widespread shortages of basic necessities. According to the UN, 41 per cent of the total population of 25 million remains undernourished, while the country’s elites enjoy relatively comfortable lives in Pyongyang.
In conclusion, it can be said that it was a truly dramatic turnaround and a great improvement over the nuclear saber-rattling of not so long ago. But what is most confusing is that though both agreed to work together towards denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, there was no definition on what that means. Trump agreed to stop the military drills, which could be seen as a major concession to Kim, but no details were given. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist observed in an article: “The whole thing sounds remarkably like a version of what Vermont Senator George Aiken reputedly offered in 1966 as the solution to the Vietnam War: ‘We should declare victory, and go home.’” So, the world needs to know more on what transpired during the summit.
Dr Panda, former Senior Fellow at the IDSA, was until recently ICCR Chair Professor at Reitaku University, Japan
Writer: The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer
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