It is all about trust

If there is someone you can trust these days, those are the terrorists. That seems to be the message in the world of Foreign Affairs these days. If you don’t believe me, our Prime Minister, the dictator next door and the State Department can vouch for this.

Once you grab that hand it is so difficult to let it go. No, we are not talking about Meera Jasmine ‘s or Kavya Madhavan‘s hands, but Musharraf’s. That seems to be the predicament of all Indian Prime Ministers starting with Vajpayee. Vajpayee went all way to Pakistan and kissed those hands which masterminded Kargil. Then came Manmohan Singh and he too did the same thing in the conclave of tyrants in Havana. Maybe it was the Cuban air, maybe Manmohan Singh is plain crazy, but India and Pakistan have agreed to put in place a anti-terrorism institutional mechanism, which is like Veeru and Gabbar Singh signing an agreement to hunt down Sambha.

If India had no reason to distrust Musharraf, Musharraf had no reason to distrust the 2500 foreign fighters linked to Taliban and al-Qaeda fighting in Waziristan. It did not matter that some of these gentlemen belonged to Islamic welfare organizations, such “the al-Khidmat Foundation run by the hard-line Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami and some of them had tried to assassinate Musharraf. The Govt.  reached an agreement with the terrorists. They (terrorists) would not involve in cross-border terrorism and stop attacks on government installations and security forces. In turn Pakistani Army would not undertake any ground or air operation against the militants. If Musharraf wanted a template for such agreements we could have faxed him a copy from the many India has signed with various Pakistani Prime Minister and dictators.

While we are waiting for the next bomb to explode in a crowded train or temple as a result of all that forbidden love  in Pakistan, the State Department is smiling like Hugo Chavez after seeing Fidel Castro. This is the perfect world according to Richard Boucher, the Washington Bob. He thinks that the agreement between Musharraf and the terrorists has the potential to work which only shows how clueless the State Department folks are. But then the State Department has put all its eggs in Musharraf’s basket and they cannot do anything else, but trust him.

More Catholic than…

While Israel was bombing Lebanon and Hezbollah was firing missiles randomly into Israeli civilian population, the Lok Sabha passed a resolution condemning the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

‘‘Deeply concerned over escalation of this conflict which affects India’s security and other vital interests, this House calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire so that further destruction of Lebanon is prevented,’’ Chatterjee said, reading out the resolution reflecting what he said was ‘‘mood of the House’’.


The Lok Sabha in the resolution expressed ‘‘its deepest condolences, sympathy and support of the People of India to the people of Lebanon in this difficult time.’’[House slams Israel strike on Lebanon]

After triggering the incident with the kidnap of two Israeili soldiers, Hezbollah, a member of the Lebanese Parliament did not exactly sing Raghupati Raghava Raja Raam. They lobbed the Second World War era Katyusha missiles and used the Lebanese people as human shields. The four thousand missiles, packed with metal ball bearings to maximize harm found 39 civilian targets. The head of Hezbollah  openly called for a genocide against Israel.

While condemning Israel, the Indian Parliament did not find it necessary to condemn the Hezbollah terrorists for their activities. It did not ask Hezbollah to disarm nor did the Parliament criticize Nazrallah. For a nation which proudly advertises itself as the two decade old victim of cross border terrorism, it seemed odd that they would ignore the cross border terrorism from Lebanon as the cause of the most recent conflict.

At Least the Lebanese people have more balls in this regards. They had no problems putting the blame on Nazrallah and his Iranian sponsors. Leaders of the March 14th movement have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war. Prominent Hezbollah supporters have asked the militia to disband. Shiite leaders rejected the war started by Hezbollah. Even the spokesman for Nazrallah is now against him.

Being more Catholic than the Pope is not something new to us. When the Communists wanted to cut all ties with Israel, the Palestinians said they did not want anything like that. Now will the Lok Sabha issue a statement against all the Shiites  criticizing Nazrallah? Will we invite Nazrallah to India and give him some Nehru, Gandhi, Award?

They need a new name

Here are some excerpts from the speeches from the Nonaligned Movement summit in Cuba

“When there no longer is a Cold War, the United States spends one billion dollars a year in weapons and soldiers and it squanders a similar amount in commercial publicity,” he said. “To think that a social and economic order that has proven unsustainable could be maintained by force is simply an absurd idea.” [Raul Castro]

“Under any scenario, we are with you just like we are with Cuba,” Chavez told Iran. “If the United States invades Cuba, blood will run. … We will not have our arms crossed while bombs are falling in Havana or they carry Raul off in a plane.” [Hugo Chavez]

So  why is this called Non-Aligned Movement again?

Natwar Singh slips on Oil

It was last year in October that the Paul Volker, the former Federal Reserve Chairman released his report on the Iraqi Oil for Food programme. The report mentioned Natwar Singh, the Congress Party, and Bhim Singh as “non-contractual beneficiaries”. The Iraqis had bribed political parties and people in position to influence their opinion.

When the report came out Natwar Singh immediately called it baseless. After that, just to prove that he genuinely had lost his marbles, he suggested that Paul Volker had political designs and was targeting opponents of the war. He also wanted to know why an American was appointed to investigate and not a person from a developing country. The Communists who are always in the race to show they are the benchmark when it comes to stupid statements contributed the gem that all this was due to the liberalization of the economy. Natwar Singh, then went so far, like George Galloway to suggest that he has no idea how a barrel of oil looks like.

It did not matter to these people that Table III in the report listed Americans, British, Italian and Spanish nationals (all from countries who made up the Coalition forces)  accused of similar crime. Since we don’t trust Americans, a Committe was appointed to investigate the matter. Now the Justice Pathak Committee has found Natwar Singh and his son Jagat Singh guilty.

Andaleeb Sehgal, a friend of Jagat Singh, and Aditya Khanna, a relative of Natwar Singh, are understood to have received financial payoffs in the deal by getting oil coupons based on the letters of recommendation given by Natwar Singh.

The authority has found that Natwar and his son had misused their position in helping Sehgal and Khanna bag three oil contracts from the UN sanctioned Saddam regime.

Sehgal and Khanna, in turn, passed the contracts on to Swiss oil company Masefield AG which drew the oil and paid them a commission, the report says, adding that on a cut of five cents a barrel, Sehgal and Khanna received a total commission of $1,46,000, which they divided between themselves in a ratio of 4:1. [Natwar Singh, son indicted in oil-for-food scam

Now we know that Natwar Singh was not targeted due to his anti-war stance, but because he was involved in bribery. His anti-war stance came not from any ideology, but due to good payoffs and he was just acting like a good sepoy for Saddam Hussein.

The report has exonerated the Congress Party which was listed as one of the beneficiaries, but since Natwar Singh was a loyal foot soldier of the party, doesn’t the party bear responsibility for this man’s actions? Both Sehgal and Khanna had used the  party name and Natwar Singh misusing his position had written several letters to the Iraqi Oil Minister to swing contracts in favor of his son. Now the focus will be on Natwar, since he has been chosen to drink hemlock for the party and in this cacophony the party will escape the scam.

World to India: Trust a terrorist nation

Immediately after condemning the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri suggested that the best way to deal with terrorism was to tackle the real issue of Jammu and Kashmir. What has a bomb blast in Mumbai got to do with Kashmir, you may wonder, but that seems to be the association in the Western World as well. When Michael Krasny made this association in Forum the Consul General of India, B.S. Prakash, asked him the same question.

Note that all this association was already made, very prematurely, even before the Police had clues connecting SIMI and LeT and before the congratulatory phone calls were traced. Even before this, suggestions came from various experts that the peace process should not suffer due to such terrorist activities and even thinking about reviewing the process would be falling into the terrorist trap.

Echoing the insensitive line by Khurshid KasuriXenia Dormandy suggested that Kashmir is the problem and India needs to step up in offering something in Kashmir. To give her credit, and she said the right things  on her interview with Neil Conan on Talk of the Nation, that the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is a big problem. Now the Economist too has suggested that India and Pakistan should solve the Kashmir issue.

All this faith in the peace process is built on the assumption that once the Kashmir resolved, with major “compromises” (code word for land donation), there will be ever lasting peace process in the sub-continent. Israel has learned the hard way this week that making such compromises do not guarantee anything, other than an escalation in violence.

Last September Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip and Gaza became the first completely independent Palestinian territory. The Palestinians fired rockets from Gaza, and then later dug a tunnel from there and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. United Nations verified the withdrawal and was satisfied with it. Now from Lebanon, Hezbollah entered Israel and kidnapped two soldiers. Now Israel is fighting a war on two fronts.

What is the guarantee that Gaza and Lebanon will not happen to India. How can you trust a nation which does not want to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and  which was planning Kargil, while yet another peace process was going on?<

Fighting for rights in Dubai

The ultimate dream for a Malayali is to go to the “Gulf”. For people back home, Gulf is a place where anyone from the educated to the uneducated can get a job, send dirhams back home, and raise the quality of life of their family. Recently a friend was starting a business in Dubai and told me about the problems facing workers there. Whatever he told is mentioned in this New York Times article on the migrant workers in Dubai.

A growing number have resorted to suicide rather than return home with empty pockets: last year, 84 South Asians committed suicide in Dubai, according to the Indian Consulate here, up from 70 in 2004.
Mr. Kumaran, who earns 550 dirhams every month, or about $150, as a laborer, sends home almost half his earnings and lives on the equivalent of roughly $60 a month. That is barely enough to pay for food and cigarettes and using his cellphone from time to time. But he is not sure how he will repay the loan he took to get here.
“If I’d stayed in India and worked just as hard as I do now, I could have made the same money,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have needed to get a loan to come here.”[In Dubai, an Outcry From Asians for Workplace Rights]

Unable to take the abuse of the employers anymore, these immigrants took out protests, some of which were violent.

But the mass action on Tuesday was the most significant of its kind. Hundreds of workers building the Burj Dubai skyscraper chased security guards and broke into offices, smashing computers, scattering files and wrecking cars and construction machines. When they returned to work the next day, demanding better pay and improved working conditions, thousands of laborers building an airport terminal across town also laid down their tools, demanding better conditions, too. The workers also halted work on Thursday, until a settlement was negotiated.

Last time some Malayalees in Baharin and UAE took to the streets to protest and as a result many recruiting companies decided not to hire people from Kerala
There are many angles to this story. We are so used to fighting for our rights in Kerala that we think it will work everywhere. In countries where human rights do not exist, such protests may result in loss of job and deportation. At the same time, these countries require migrant workers to fuel their economy and do jobs which their citizens are not willing to do. Then there are people from less fortunate backgrounds who are willing to take the abuse for a good living and they can displace the protesting Malayalees.

Pockets of Poverty

When you think of poverty, countries like Saudi Arabia and United States do not come to mind, but there are pockets of poverty in both these countries. In Saudi Arabia, the guess would be that the poor people would be the expatriate people and the guess would be wrong. It seems there are poor Saudis too.

The image of Saudi Arabia abroad is of a land teaming with wealth and opportunity — the “oil-rich desert Kingdom” as the international media insist on saying. Inside the Kingdom, it is a rather different picture. Yes, there is wealth and opportunity — and massive development — but there is also poverty. The slums of south Riyadh or south Jeddah are real and shocking. It is not expatriate laborers who live in such places; it is poor Saudis. They cannot afford anything better. Nor is poverty confined to places like Qarantina in Jeddah or Suwaidi in Riyadh. There is serious rural poverty as well; as elsewhere, it manifests itself in substandard, rundown accommodation.
For many years, Saudi poverty was a taboo subject, unspoken by those who saw it as shameful and who foolishly imagined that by ignoring it, it would go away. It was Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who, as crown prince, broke the taboo. His unprecedented visit to the slums of Suwaidi just over three years ago brought poverty into the open and with it a determination address the issue. [Poverty in the Kingdom]

During the Hurricane Katrina, the world saw the poverty in New Orleans. Here in California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world, poverty exists and one such place is Fresno (about 150 miles from Silicon Valley), which is the hearland of the California farmland.

This city at the heart of the richest farmland in the world has been poor for so long, no one can remember it otherwise. Last month, when the Brookings Institution issued a report that said a higher proportion of poor people in Fresno lived in areas of concentrated poverty than in any other major city in the country — pre-Katrina New Orleans was number two — no one here was surprised. “My goodness, that’s why I ran,” said Alan Autry, who became mayor in 2000. “I called it ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ “[In Fresno, Tackling Poverty Moves to the Top of the Agenda]

Since Saudi Arabia runs at the King’s mercy, some direction has to come from him to eradicate povery. According to Govt. study, it would take atleast 30 years to reduce poverty to minimal levels if the spending in human services increased and people are calling for Saudi Arabia to be a more inclusive and democratic nation in the hope that it would bring prosperity to all people. But then United States is democratic and very inclusive and still the problem persists.

Indo-US relations

Till the Bill Clinton era, India was one notch below Pakistan for United States. From that it moved into a hyphenated equivalence and during the Kargil War and Clinton visit, it was India who had the upper hand. Now with the nuclear deal, there seems to be a lot of suspicion. Strobe Talbott uses the word “Estrangement” to describe the relations between India and United States. The relationship never became cordial due to the Pakistani tilt of the Americans. During the 1971 war with Pakistan, Americans despatched the aircraft carrier Enterprise to show off its force and that did not help relations either. As the relation between the two democracies is progressing through all the navarasas, it was amusing to read that many Americans favoured a good relation between the two countries from the 50s.
One of the first people who suggested that India should be taken seriously was Chester Bowles, who succeeded John Kenneth Galbraith as the US Ambassador to India. Bowles was of the opinion that India should not be seen as an ally of USSR, but as a developing country that had chosen democracy over communism.
After the first Indian nuclear test in 1974, Henry Kissinger visited India as President Ford’s Secretary of State. Even though Kissinger did not like Indira Gandhi much, he admired the way she conducted the nuclear tests. Also in a speech to the Indian Council of World Affairs he called for a mature relationship based on Indian preeminence in the region. He also directed that United States not pressurize India on the nuclear weapons program.
Though powerful people like Kissinger held that opinion, the relationship did not reach any level of maturity that was dreamed of as United States was playing geopolitical games with Russia and needed Pakistan and India was coddling with Communist dictators in the name of Non Alignment.
[Source: Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb by Strobe Talbott]

Natwar Singh and Oil Money

The Oil-for-Food programme was a scheme under which Iraq, which was facing export sanctions, was authorized to sell oil to people of their choosing. Iraq, naturally chose to sell oil to nations and people who were sympathetic to their view. There is nothing illegal in this. But one source of illegal income was from something called “surcharges” paid on crude oil contracts and Iraq made about 228 million dollars through this.
Besides established companies, Iraq also awarded contracts to individuals in positions of influence as well and the selected people were ones who were influential in their countries, and produced pro-Iraq, anti-sanction views. Political parties and organizations too received allocations and familiarity with the oil trading market was not required. Individuals and entities other than the named contracting party are called “non-contractual beneficieries” in the Volker Report . Natwar Singh, Congress Party, and Bhim Singh are listed under this category.
The Indian Express has more

While Natwar has called these allegations ‘‘baseless and untrue’’, the fact is his son Jagat was involved in promoting M/s Hamdan Trading, which is owned by his friend Andy Sehgal, for cornering contracts in Iraq between 2000-2002. Indian diplomats posted in west Asia in that period confirm that Jagat Singh paid at least two visits to Iraq, one of them just days before Saddam’s ‘‘referendum’’ of October 15, 2002.
On condition of anonymity, these officials alleged Jagat, who is now Congress MLA from Lachchmangarh, Rajasthan, used the offices of the Indian Embassy in Baghdad to push his business interests. [Cong Saddamed by Natwar & his son]

Natwar Singh also alleged that Paul Volker, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, of having political designs and suggested that the commission of targetting opponents of the war. At this point the whole anti-war crowd draw caricatures of themselves. Just look at Table III of the report and you can find Americans, British, Italian and Spanish people mentioned among the list of beneficieries and these are countries involved in the invasion. If Natwar was right in his conspiracy theory, then none of these people would be there.
Here is another gem

India’s External Affairs Minister wanted to know why Mr. Volcker had headed the Committee and not “some independent person from the developing world.”

We will let that pass, but here is a gem from the ever hilarious Communists. CPI(M) senior leader Dipankar Mukherjee said

“One thing is certain that in this era of liberalisation, corruption is a component of the system itself,” he said.[Volcker report allegations baseless: Natwar]

So it is the fault of liberalization of the economy. I remember that wonderful time when India was under socialism and milk and honey were flowing on the streets and Govt. officials were walking around threatening to help public.
Both the Communists and Congressmen seem to be caught off-guard with this and are trying all possible tricks from their book to get this off their back. Instead of using the old and crude techniques (like blame Paul Volker, blame liberalization, blame Darth Vader), it would be great if Natwar Singh can explain to us the role of Jagat Singh and his relation with Masefield AG, the contracting company. That would have more credibility. But that is too much to expect.
Related Links: The Acorn builds the case for why Natwar Singh must resign.

The weight lifter

A plot of land meant for Palestinian Embassy here has also been gifted to the PLA, he said. India has earlier also been giving assistance to Palestinian people and Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed himself carried vehicles and medicines there last year. [India gives Rs 65 crore aid to Palestine link via What? come again…]

If the honorable minister is able to carry vehicles all by himself, we should send him for the next Olympics for weight lifting.