India is larger than the NSG


It is unfortunate that a segment of the media as well as some political commentators, and ‘experts’, have issued comments on the NSG issue, unsavory to India’s interest. In effect they seek to bloat China’s ego and put down India. To cite some of these disparaging comments and headlines:

  • No entry in NSG: India blames one country (China) others said no too
  • India’s NSG bid runs into a great wall
  • Opposition parties slam Modi over India not getting NSG membership
  • Modi failed on foreign policy
  • Modi’s effort to get entry into NSG failed
  • Rival Party takes a dig, calls NSG bid a failed diplomacy

What can be inferred from these comments and headlines is the subterranean import that behemoths China and dwarfs India. It is not a new phenomenon. This pro-China lobby, and communists have always been dwarfing India vis-à-vis China even when China was an impoverished, brutalized and underdeveloped country under Mao for at least four decades. This constituency, it may be recalled, had made arrangements to welcome the Chinese into India’s eastern hinterland during the 1962 war. Despite such blatant subversion these elements flourished with their politics. VK Krishna Menon, one of the key culprits responsible for India’s humiliation in 1962 war hardly suffered any ignominy. He was elected to the Lok Sabha with the help of the communists in 1969 and then in 1971 from Midnapore (West Bengal) and Trivandrum (Kerala) respectively. The pro-China constituency in India survives in many manifestations, in parliament, academia, think-tanks and universities. It is for this reason that China’s anti-India posturing at the NSG did not evoke the expected anger.

Those blaming the Indian establishment for India’s unsuccessful bid to enter the NSG are victims of selective amnesia. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, we abandoned Tibet and Taiwan, thus forgoing the most important strategic leverages. During the same period, we surrendered our chances to be the permanent member of the UN Security Council. Also, we spurned the American offer to conduct nuclear tests before ‘communist’ China did. One of the most respected former diplomats of India, an octogenarian, Mr MK Rasgotra, during the recent launch of his book ‘A Life in Diplomacy’ said that if Nehru had accepted the offer, not only would have India tested the nuclear device first in Asia, before China, but it also would have deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to (Pakistan’s) Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s plans for war in 1965. (Observer Research Foundation press release)

The pro-China lobby in India exulting at India’s failed effort to enter the NSG must realize that most unbiased and patriotic Indians never viewed the opportunity or occasion as one of ‘do or die’. The NSG waiver of 2008 takes care of India’s critical interests. If there was some optimism about sitting on the high-table of NSG, it was tempered with caution. None had lost the sense of reality and proportion. China, Pakistan and their patrons in India may exult temporarily, but they need to realize that they may have won this small battle, but have played into a process that will enable India to win the war, in short-term or at worst, mid-term.

Let it not be lost out on anyone that China is inimical to India. It is a geostrategic truism that both Pakistan and China are nuclear capable states. It is also true that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is as good as a part of China’s program. Together Pakistan and China present a two-front situation for India. There is every reason for China not to allow the capping of Pakistan’s nuclear programme by subjecting its ‘client state’ to any kind of inspection regime. The manipulations of the NSG therefore enable China to perpetuate its nuclear hegemony in Asia through rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea. China’s acquiescence to India’s entry would have fed into Pakistan’s growing insecurity of its own making. This reality was very much factored in when India made its bid.

Nevertheless there was hope and not without reason. The sanguinity was based on the premise that in diplomacy and strategic interlocution, States respond depending on geopolitical imperatives, national interests, leverages and on quid-pro-quo. Blackmail is also very much on the realm of alternatives. Let us not forget that in the year 2008, China did come around to support the one time waiver that allowed nuclear commerce between NSG members and India. The then US President George Bush personally took up the matter with the then Chinese President Hu Jintao and the latter relented because of pressing congruency of economics and strategic imperatives between US and China. Geopolitics by nature is fluid. Powers do exert to achieve ‘dominance’, they try and avoid any serious ‘clash’ or in ‘locking horns’ with inimical powers to avoid unforeseen setbacks. China is no different as far as this prudence goes. Therefore, the window of opportunity is never closed. It is this window that we were trying to prise open. The result of Indian exertions has only been delayed.

The evolving geopolitics in Asia has engendered some drastic re-configurations – Afghanistan, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and South China Sea being the catalysts. Strategically, it would not be wrong to infer that the geopolitical developments have generated a new ‘great game’ between the US and China in Asia and the Asia Pacific Region. The Indian strategic thrust through Chabhar port in Iran into Afghanistan and Central Asia is being construed by China and Pakistan as a strategic challenge to the CPEC. Increasingly, the geopolitical narrative is acquiring the sobriquet of ‘Chabhar versus Gwadar’. Various writings in the Pakistani media betray a sense of siege a consequence of the Chabhar project. The Chinese view it as an extension of the US sponsored ‘Pivot of Asia’ project and a threat to its outreach into the Persian Gulf as well as the ‘one belt one road’ enterprise. Unfortunately, US support to India at the NSG is seen by China as means to broaden and sharpen India’s nuclear teeth. In response China’s territorial embrace of Pakistan through the CPEC is likely to be strengthened by a bolstered nuclear partnership.

It was therefore a nervous China that India had to deal with in the run-up to NSG meet at Seoul.

India’s bid was not without positive outcomes and long-term benefits. The media in India made a sterling contribution by discussing the issue thread bare. It was able to highlight internationally the ‘nuclear delinquency’ of proliferator Pakistan and its patron proliferator China. The global attention was drawn to the conflation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to proxy war. The world was warned about the jihadi component of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, raising undying concerns about the security of country’s nuclear arsenal. Apart from jihadi organizations, the military, which is in sole charge of Pakistan’s nuclear programme is also not trusted. It was this jihadi component that compelled the military to prevent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from attending the recently held Nuclear Security Summit in the US. The world was warned about the insecurity of Pakistan’s arsenal of 120-130 nuclear bombs/warheads, which is growing with the illegal facilitation of China.

In the process the NSG, as an institution, has taken severe beating on its image and credibility. Questions are being asked as to how a group formed to regulate nuclear commerce could permit the main proliferators, i.e. China and Pakistan to thwart the membership of a responsible nuclear state like India with unimpeachable record of non-proliferation. To that extent, China and its client Pakistan have been isolated. Some countries, who switched support to China, have done so because of the economic leverages that the latter has created in the recent past and which evidently China has employed to undertake some blatant arm twisting.

Our aggressive bid has generated new dynamics in the current ‘world nuclear order’. Our aggressive bid and emerging geopolitical circumstances in Asia and the Asia Pacific Region will in effect either alter the character of the NSG or cause the redundancy of the grouping. After all, the world nuclear order right from the inception has been riddled with hypocrisies and exceptions.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

Europe without Britain prone to accommodation with Russia


By their Brexit vote, the people have administered a punch on the chin of the British establishment, leaving it rattled and dazed.

Britons have now joined electoral insurgencies elsewhere in Europe and beyond, against two party democracies being hijacked by crony capitalism and austerity policies. “Global revolt against capitalism”, is the paraphrase of expressions used repeatedly by columnists, leaders of political parties and sundry pundits, on the high profile coverage of the referendum results, anchored by David Dimbleby on BBC one.

Driving me from Euston station to my hotel the driver of London’s iconic black cab had announced the results hours before counting began. “There has been a relentless campaign by big international corporations to REMAIN in the EU, but the people are not being bullied; they’re making up their own mind.” Trust the cabbie, threatened by competition from Uber and other minicabs, to get to the heart of the matter.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, threatened to break the back of the “EXITERS” with a punitive, pro austerity budget which, according to him, would become necessary if the REMAIN lost.

The great hedge fund genius and global finance manipulator, George Soros, alarmed financial markets by his hyperbole: Black Friday he threatened across page one banner headlines. The World Bank, IMF, Federal Reserve, Bank of England, anxious economists – all came out with menacing messages. The Day of Judgement was nigh. Threats were issued from every global pedestal of power, but the important point is this: the people remained unimpressed. They voted according to their own lights. There is a lesson here for establishments everywhere. Their writ has diminished.

Tony Blair’s notorious spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, with new lines etched on his face as results poured in, blurted out in a rare moment of truth: there should not have been a referendum. In other words, the people should have been kept out.

It is precisely this arrogant anti people stance of establishments that is causing voters everywhere, to puncture holes in systems that suffocate them.

In the din of the ferocious campaign, only some newspapers had the time to take note of the insurgent Five Star Movement in Italy having wrested the Mayorships of Rome and Turin from a dwindling establishment. The continent and democracies elsewhere are being tugged in different directions.

While the global ramifications of Britain’s Exit are chewed and digested, a more straightforward outcome is emerging in sharp silhouette in Spain. On Sunday, the left leaning Podemos is likely to be in a position to form a coalition government.

“Welcome Immigrants” was the giant size placard, adorning the Leftist Mayor’s office in downtown Madrid. Young Podemos leaders are optimistic for Sunday’s vote on exactly this kind of platform. This is vastly at a variance from the vocabulary used in the referendum debate.

The British campaign was marked by two distinct threats. The prime Exiters, Boris Johnson, Conservative, Nigel Farage UK Independence Party, painted lurid pictures of migrants flooding Britain in the event of continued union with EU. The REMAIN camp threatened economic doom in the alternative.

Neither had the sensitivity to realize that the people had had enough of experts and politicians. Further complications will emerge as people and establishments interpret the outcome according their respective visions.

That David Cameron, the Right Wing Prime Minister, and Jeremy Corbyn Labour’s radical socialist leader, stood on the same platform was puzzling enough for the common man. Sooner or later, the leaders will define their differences.

Corbyn fears England dominated by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, with shrunken space for working class politics. Scotland’s left leaning Scottish National Party is fiercely for remaining in the EU, edging out labour. Against this backdrop, Corbyn’s vision to mobilize working classes across Europe remains thwarted. Already Corbyn is facing a mini revolt within the Labour party for being slow off the block in supporting REMAIN.

The support Cameron received from President Obama and the US establishment has a huge strategic sub text. A Europe, minus Britain will be more prone to seeking accommodation with Russia.

Will EU now consolidate itself in the growing concert of a multipolar world? Or will it begin to splinter?

Already Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France is waylaying President Francois Hollande from the Right in French elections next spring. German elections in October 2017 will be riveting in the context of some real migration from the theatres in the Middle East destroyed by US, UK and French led military actions which have resulted in the greatest human migration since World War II.

Much before the riveting polls in France and Germany, November elections in the US must engage the attention of punters. If establishments are in such bad odour everywhere, will the darling of the US ruling elite, Hillary Clinton, be exempt from people’s wrath? Donald Trump thumbed his nose at her by turning up to inaugurate his exclusive golf course in Scotland, almost indifferent to the troubling results that were to follow.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Benign origins of ISIS until it rose to catastrophic heights


Every Joint Secretary’s room in the Ministry of External affairs had a neatly folded copy of the International Herald Tribune on the coffee table. This was the pattern in the 70s and 80s. In mid 90s, after economic liberalization and the birth of the global live media following Operation Desert Storm, TV sets appeared in South Block. BBC and CNN became fashionable.

Nationalism, that hopelessly limiting sentiment, surfaces when one is away from home. Since I had spent time with newspapers in the UK and the US in the 70s, I found it demeaning that the Indian establishment should be passive recipients of news and analysis doled out from London, Atlanta or New York. If information is power, then those who wield this power control the drift of international discourse. Chinese, Russians, Iranians are not classical democracies but have learnt this lesson. We, in our ignorance or obsequiousness, have not.

Since 1991 the West has been involved in wars, big and small, almost continuously. What have been our sources of information on, say, Darfur, or Kunduz, Helmand, Kosovo, Yemen and the running battlefields of Iraq, Libya, Syria or Yemen – and scores of other theatres? Oh, we do not care. Then why would anyone need us the High Table? In most instances our sources have been the same – either the US media or, in a roundabout way, Western intelligence.

Ofcourse, there have been excellent ambassadors, like V.P. Haran in Damascus when Syrian troubles began. He had independent sources of information on the battlefield. Are there many others? Without having our own global network, we make ourselves pathetically dependent on others for information. In the absence of information, one sided discourse on world affairs is launched which we, willy nilly, have to adopt as our own.

Let me give you an example where I saw conventional wisdom being forged on information which was patently false. The pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue in front of Palestine hotel in Baghdad has been marketed as the fall of a tyrant which led to a popular upsurge and that this would not have been possible without the US occupation of Iraq in April 2003. Since the CNN amplified this symbolic triumph of “democracy over tyranny”, a clip of the toppled statue has been committed to posterity as a CNN blurb. What really happened was what I saw. And it was quite different.

On April 3, the US troops had entered Baghdad. The CNN and BBC coverage of the troops entering Baghdad was riveting. Obviously, Vice President Dick Cheney, a mastermind of the Iraq operation, also found the TV coverage heady.

He, and his cohorts, must have realized that this high pitch excitement could not be sustained forever. An event had to be televised which signaled American victory. What could be more telegenic than the pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdous square?

The message would be uplifting. Freed by the Americans, a people, groaning under a tyrant’s yoke have risen and torn down the iconic statue. But, in implementing the idea Americans sensed a problem. People, it turned out, had not arisen. How could victory then be choreographed without the peoples’ participation? Baathist control over the people in Baghdad was iron clad. That was one reason for people not celebrating Saddam’s fall. The other, deeper reason surfaced when the Americans, without any long term vision, replaced the Baathist power structure in Baghdad with a Shia one. People who were really “freed” by Saddam’s removal were the Shias in the South and East – 65 percent of Iraq.

US officials in Iraq did some quick thinking. Shia clerics like Ayatullah Baqar al Hakeem and Muqtada Sadr were urgently contacted. Sadr, scion of a respected clerical order, had mesmeric control on the large Shia ghetto on the outskirts of Baghdad known as Saddam city. Shia refugees from the south had been settled here after an uprising in 1992 which was brutally crushed by Saddam Hussain. Surely, this lot would have reasons to celebrate Saddam’s fall.

When Baghdad citizens did not come out to help bring down Saddam’s statue, requests went out to the Shia clerics to mobilize crowds. A two pronged strategy was devised: a US armoured carrier would help pull down the statue with the help of a rope around the statue’s neck. Footage, from a low angle, would make the hotel staff, journalists, hangers on look like a burgeoning crowd. But that would not amount to jeering mobs? Well, they would have to be driven from the Shia ghetto. Overnight, the ghetto was renamed Sadr city in gratitude to Muqtada Sadr. That is when Shia crowds came onto the streets of Baghdad, beating Saddam Hussain’s photographs with shoes. “Tabarrah” or cursing the enemy is a old Shia tradition.

The choreography for the event was devised in the following fashion.

Dick Cheney will, in a live telecast to the American Society of News Editors, “Salute US troops in Iraq”. In the meanwhile, Saddam’s statue will have been pulled down by the marines. Camera will occasionally cut to the statue dangling from its pedestal. Commentary will establish it as the work of angry, anti Saddam crowds. For crowd scenes, cameras will position themselves outside Sadr city where crowds will trample Saddam’s photographs and spit on it. Commentary will never identify these as Shia crowds. The scene has to be marketed as a popular upheaval.

Cheney’s speech would be spliced in. “across Iraq, senior religious leaders have come forward urging their followers to support our coalition, another sure sign that Saddam Hussain’s regime is clearly doomed.”

The clerics Cheney is thanking are Shias from Sadr city to Najaf and Karbala. The “doomed” regime are the Baathists. Later, senior American columnists even recommended Ayatullah Sistani for the Nobel Peace Prize. Shias were the allies. An alarmed Saudi Arabia saw Iranian influence at their border with Iraq.

In Iraq who could blame simmering Sunni anger: from beneath the Baathist skins, the second layer of the “Sunni” had broke through.

This Sunni impulse of the erstwhile Baathists, having been in the drill for governance under Saddam Hussain came in handy for the Americans to teach Shias like Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki a lesson. Maliki had the temerity to deny the Americans the US Status of Forces agreement in 2011, which would protect Americans in Iraq from local laws.

It was a worrying scenario.

A Shia Iraq having a 1,500 kms border with Iran which then was on the brink of a major breakthrough with the US, was a source of great anxiety to two steadfast US allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times asked President Obama in the course of an interview in August 2014, why US Air Force had not attacked the ISIS when it first reared its head. By his response, Obama gave the game away:

“That we did not just start taking a bunch of air strikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because we would have taken the pressure off Nouri al Maliki.” The ISIS was an asset then.

Nouri al Maliki was shown the door in September 2014 and a US handpicked Prime Minister Haider al Abadi was ushered in.

By this time ISIS had acquired a life of its own.

The cat and mouse that is going on with the ISIS in Fallujah is part of this sequence on which more later.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)