Head in cashless sand, as global events pass India by

BY SAEED NAQVI

While New Delhi is busy with the demonetisation upheaval, it may find itself paces too slow in coping with the new strategic dynamic engulfing the region.

Neither Kabul nor New Delhi can be sanguine about the high level meeting in Moscow on Afghanistan to which China and Pakistan were invited. This follows Moscow’s declaration that it does not consider Taliban as the enemy. In fact Afghan Taliban can be allies against Al Qaeda and the Islamic States.

A piqued Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni, spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, said “even if such talks are organized with goodwill, they cannot yield substantial results because there is no one from the Afghan side to brief the participants about the latest ground realities.”

New Delhi, preoccupied otherwise, has not reacted to the Moscow meet. Apparently, the Russians took the Indian Foreign office into confidence that “it was only about the internal situation in Afghanistan”. Russians are concerned about the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, a diplomatic source said.

Does New Delhi accept Moscow’s anxieties about ISIS in Afghanistan? And does it go along with Moscow and Beijing’s evaluation that Taliban are possible allies against the more infectious ISIS? But Washington has invested blood and treasure fighting the Taliban for 14 years. Is New Delhi at a trijunction?

In diplomacy, friendly gestures come with disguised ambiguity. With the Trump Presidency, a new chapter may be opening in US-Moscow relations. In preparation for this phase, Moscow would like to retain some pressure points to determine the pace of new equations. Kabul maybe one such pressure point.

Should Trump turn upon Tehran over the nuclear deal, there is something in the Afghan cauldron for Iran to stir too.

So, the New Year begins with many new events to juggle with. Of the scattered scratches on my mind that 2016 leaves behind, the deepest one was etched in New York. At my friend’s DUMBO loft in Brooklyn on the night of November 8, an assortment of friends from every walk of life, left champagne bottles uncorked because the ground from under their feet moved when Hillary Clinton lost.

If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, I said then, you make Trump inevitable.

American exceptionalism notwithstanding, the popular mood globally across liberal democracies was the same – a disgust with establishments foisted on them by globalization and crony capitalism.

The assault on the establishment has come from the Left as well as the Right. Establishments, like the skilled matador, have deflected the people to the Right. This is their preferred fallback position. Hence, No to Bernie Sanders. Yes, to Trump. And now they are beating their breasts!

Well, let it be recorded, the American establishment did try to write itself into the script too. Clinton, after all, was nothing if not the establishment. Yes, people think I am untrustworthy. Yes, they think I am dishonest. Yes, I goofed in Benghazi…..but still vote for me because Russians have hacked into my email. Bill Clinton went one better. Did I not tell you, he said to an interviewer, that Boris Yeltsin was a much better President than Putin.

Who knows the new Trump team from Forbes Who’s Who may reassert an old motto: the Business of America is Business. This encourages one to conclude that Trump would like to restore America as the land of unvarnished capitalism minus the hegemonic distortions, one which has made the US the world’s most hated nation even in influential enclaves of Europe.

Whatever else Trump may achieve, will he ever succeed in weaning away the Occupy Wall Street youth Bernie Sanders had mobilized? If not, he will begin to look like a semi finalist until the next elections in 2020.

Establishments may be able to channelize popular preference away from the Left, once or twice, but they cannot make a habit of it.

Ultimately, all speculations will be tempered by a Realpolitik, like the one opening up to India’s north. Countermoves will come as soon as Trump finds his feet in the White House. As he surveys the scene from the Oval office, he will notice, a new bounce in the Russian tread in Islamabad, Beijing, Damascus, Ankara, Manila, Kuala Lampur. To be counted among Putin’s possible friends could well be French Presidential candidate, Francois Fillon who defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in recent Republican party elections. Trump has already held out his hand to Putin. How firmly will he clasp it? And will the clasp last over Afghanistan too? Will New Delhi have respite from the unfolding demonetisation drama to attend to all of this?

(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)

Men in shadows derailed Bakshi’s chances of becoming Army Chief

BY SHIV KUNAL VERMA

There is evidence to indicate that the move to supersede Lt General Praveen Bakshi, the senior most Army commander who was seen as the natural contender for the post of Army Chief after the retirement of General Dalbir Singh Suhag, started some months ago, with negative stories about the officer being planted through anonymous letters. Four anonymous letters were floated with vague allegations against Bakshi by “men in shadows”, who succeeded in getting a probe ordered into the charges. Nothing emerged from the investigation. But the fact that an investigation was ordered, was used against him for sidelining Lt Gen Bakshi. Eventually, Lt Gen Bipin Rawat was made the Indian Army Chief.

Even Kautilya, the acknowledged master who laid down the guiding principles of statecraft during the era of Chandragupta Maurya, would have been befuddled with what has been happening since the days of the UPA to the Indian state and its relationship with its own armed forces today. The naming of Lt General Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of Army Staff defies convention. The decision, which meant superseding two serving Army Commanders, now is certain to change the very outlook of senior commanders in the armed forces in the future.

From ancient times — going back to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata — the epics assert that “a king’s roots are his treasury and his army”. A careful examination of the Mahabharata in particular, when shorn of its myth and poetic fancy, allows us to glean the foundation on which later Indian military theory and practice evolved. In the beginning, the Army was one of the two prakritis (essential elements), but as time went on, more and more elements were added on and the Army sank lower and lower down in the order of importance.

Nevertheless, despite having senapranetras (later known as senapatis), kings retained their supremacy in matters of defence, being the final and ultimate authority when it came to taking decisions. In his superb book, ‘A Military History of Ancient India’, Major General G.S. Sandhu writes: “The king, and the other princes, received their early training in niti (politics) and dhanurveda (military science); they were imparted training in both the theoretical and practical aspects of warfare. They were also given intensive training until they gained proficiency in the use of weapons.”

Today, monarchies are long gone, and the people are governed by the state where power is centred in the hands of elected representatives. However, the fact of the matter is that with the reins of power in their hands, the elected head of a democratic government is in a way a modern-day monarch. The main difference from the days of yore, however, is that our decision making officialdom of today know little about armies and what makes soldiers tick, to say nothing of the use of weapons, their deployment, and their use. Since the early 1950s, ever since the political-bureaucratic began to exercise power in Independent India, most of them and those in their immediate vicinity have had little exposure to the armed forces.

The writing was on the wall for Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi three to four months ago when an unseen “dirty tricks department” suddenly became hyperactive. Until then, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the Eastern Army Commander, being the senior most among those who had the residual service to make the grade, was seen as the natural contender for the top job when the present COAS would hang up his boots. An Armoured Corps officer, Bakshi had an outstanding record of service, and among the rank and file, the reputation of being a no-nonsense dyed-in-the-wool soldier, who would, it was hoped, ensure self-respect in the armed forces.

Four anonymous letters were floated with vague allegations against Bakshi. The “men in the shadows” succeeded in getting a probe ordered into the charges.

Interestingly, through his four-year tenure first as Eastern Army Commander and then the COAS, the present incumbent, General Dalbir Singh Suhag had ensured that only his handpicked officers had replaced him as the Corps Commander in Dimapur, Nagaland. It may be remembered that General Suhag had been the 3 Corps Commander for some time and is conversant with that area and its special characteristics. It may also be recalled that it was during this period that he had a DV-ban slapped on him by General V K Singh in connection with the Jorhat raid that was reversed by his successor, General Bikram Singh, the moment he took over. Meanwhile, Bakshi’s squeaky-clean image could not be dented and the agencies apparently reported back saying they had nothing to build a case on.

To make matters tricky for the “shadow men”, the Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, initially decided to stick to the existing norms of seniority and suggested Bakshi’s name to the Prime Minister’s Office. Suddenly, out of the blue, anonymous missives appeared, ghost written by the “men in shadows”. The government thereupon went in for a relook.

Coming to General Suhag, throughout his tenure as the Army Chief, he has surrounded himself with Gorkha Regimental officers. Various key appointments have been lying vacant for months altogether, as was the case with the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. The outgoing Army Chief is very close to the National Security Adviser. In the aftermath of the Monand Chandel incidents in May and June 2016, where eight Assam Rifles men and then 22 men from the Dogra Regiment were killed, the NSA had himself supervised the nationally acclaimed retaliatory raid that the then DGMI said took place within Myanmar.

With some sections of the government reportedly keen on picking Lt Gen Bipin Rawat for the job, there was a meeting of common interest between them and the COAS, who too had a high opinion of Rawat, who had been one of his chosen few to command 3 Corps. However, to appoint Rawat, the Ministry of Defence had to go over the head of not just Praveen Bakshi, but also Lt Gen P.M. Hariz, who was the Southern Army Commander in Pune. This, it was then claimed, was done “in national interest”.

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, the government informally justified Lt General Rawat’s promotion on the grounds that as an infantry officer he had greater experience in handling counter insurgency scenarios. However, this failed to impress critics who pointed out that Bakshi had earlier commanded 9 Corps and served as Chief of Staff, Northern Command, apart from which he also handled Eastern Command, which was as deeply involved with CI Ops as Northern Command. The same could also be said for Lt Gen Hariz, who, like Bakshi, has had a blemish-less record of service and enjoys a first class reputation amongst his peers and his men. On social media and across forums, there was a divide as the Army split into two—those for and those against, mainly on grounds of their service arm.

According to the same ancient texts that hold forth on the role of senapatis and kings, the role of the soldier is clearly defined, stating “The gods send calamities unto those who forsake their comrades in battle and return home with unwounded limbs”.

Led by an able administrator, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government needs to ensure that the “shadow men” are not allowed to prevail with their choices of who will eventually hold the reins of the Army. By manipulating the system for reasons best known to themselves, the “shadow men” may well have prevailed with their choice of who will eventually hold the reins of the Army, but they have also driven a wedge into a system where men at the very top may forsake their comrades in peacetime. For soldiers do not only fight with courage and valour for country and flag, they fight mainly for the man on their left and the man on their right and at the end of the day, they expect fair play from those at the top. It is imperative that the need of the hour is to dispel the influence of these “men in shadows” and their modus operandi of anonymous complaints, which should be treated with the contempt they deserve. It is now up to Prime Minister Modi, whose destiny it is to preside over the various prakritis that hold this country together to ensure that the Army is kept away from these underhand tactics and each soldier is given the respect and honour due to him or her.

(This piece was first published on Sunday Guardian website. Canary Trap has republished it with the permission of the author Shiv Kunal Verma. Shiv Kunal Verma is the author of the books ‘The Long Road to Siachen: The Question Why’ and ‘1962: The War That Wasn’t’. The latter, hailed by critics to be the most definitive account of the Sino-Indo conflict, examines in detail the role of the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in tampering with the Army’s hierarchy, which directly led to the debacle against China. 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)

The New Cold War: American Jihadis vs Russian Jihadis

BY RSN SINGH

A strategically revolutionary statement has been ascribed to a high ranking Russian foreign ministry official, Zamir Kabulov, that his country’s interests are same as Taliban (Afghan Taliban) in fighting Islamic State terror. Kabulov is considered to wield formidable influence in fashioning Russian policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Much to the disconcertment of India and Afghanistan, in the recently concluded Heart of Asia Conference, Kabulov came to defence of Pakistan on its role on terror. This was echoed by one Alexander Mantyskly in the upper house of Russian Parliament.

This development has in effect the potential to bring together Russia and Pakistan in enduring strategic alignment. Indications in this regard are getting increasingly pronounced. Joint military exercises in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan’s purchase of MI-35 helicopters, intention to purchase Su-35 fighters, visit of the three Pakistan Service Chiefs and intense confabulations on strategic issues, economic cooperation and connectivity — being some of them. This strategic approach if persisted with will also strategically impel Iran in the same direction. It will be a very tough call for India’s foreign policy establishment in case Russia-Taliban partnership materializes. It is a classic case of geopolitical flux overtaking foreign policy. The geopolitical flux can be best explained from the current chapter of recent capture of Aleppo city by government forces in Syria as beginning.

The rebel forces in Syria have lost the strategic town of Aleppo after months of bitter fighting with government forces. It is a watershed moment for Assad who not very long ago seemed beleaguered and considered a spent force. In fact, western countries had written his regime’s obituary. Aleppo in North West Syria is the most populous city and also country’s financial centre. The government now has significant writ as it has gained control of major cities in the west and the Mediterranean coast line. It is a major victory for Russia-Iran-Assad combine. Though the Islamic State was not much of a factor in the Aleppo battle, there were other rebel outfits, some two dozen, which included affiliates of Al Qaeda. In the case of Syria the largest is Jabhat Fatah al Sham which till very recently was known as Al-Nusra. Even the Islamic State (IS) is a reincarnation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The groups engaged in war in Syria are motivated by different political, territorial and jihadi considerations. Some of these groups cooperate, and there are others who have inimical relations and clash when their interests collide. Aleppo, is one such area which was beset by Islamic State in the east and Syrian Kurdish groups in the North West. Both are hostile to each other and have clashed endemically. But both are equally hostile to anti- Assad rebels like Al-Fatah. The Kurds are motivated by territorial considerations hence Turkey opposes not only Assad but Kurds as well. Turkey is increasingly getting disquieted with the Islamic State.

Most groups engaged in conflict in Syria are being leveraged by some or other external power. It is beyond debate or rather is well documented that the US or NATO has leveraged several affiliates of Al Qaeda in different conflicts. The latest being Al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fatah al Sham) in Syria. Allegedly the Islamic State has been covertly supported and financed by US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Nevertheless, Erdogan after July coup seems to have lost his desire to join European Union and is visibly tilted towards Moscow and Iran.

Strategic detractors or even some independent analysts are of the view that the Islamic State is part of long standing US project to territorially re-engineer Iraq and Syria in a manner that there is a Sunni Islamic Caliphate; an Arab Shia Republic and a Republic of Kurdistan. Syria happens to be the heartland of Arab culture.

In 2014, the Iranian newspaper Tehran Times carried a front page story allegedly saying that the Islamic State is a US ploy to destabilize the region and protect Israel. The story ascribed to Snowden leaks, described the Islamic State as a joint US, British and Israeli effort to ‘’create a terrorist organization, capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world. ‘’ As per a New York based consultancy, Soufan Group report of Dec 2015, an estimated 27000 foreign jihadis from 86 countries had traveled to join the Islamic State. The Tehran Times story is far from corroborated, but it is certainly not bereft of geopolitical sense. It is increasingly becoming clear that the US not only created the Islamic State but was also responsible for resurrection of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Further the US encouraged Erdogan to establish his own Caliphate so that the Islamic State could get a route to supply oil in world market. It may be mentioned that at its peak the Islamic State controlled 60 percent and 10 percent of Syria’s and Iraq’s oil production respectively.

The US led coalition had uncontested sway in influencing the civil war in Syria till Russia made an emphatic bid in September 2015 to reclaim its strategic space in West Asia, much to the chagrin of US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, amongst others. Israel and Saudi Arabia are perceived to be the biggest potential beneficiaries of the envisaged redrawing of the geopolitical map of West Asia by the US under Obama. The political umbilical of Obama administration with Saudi monarchy is hardly a secret. The link extended to Hillary Clinton as well, and in the process the Wahabis took advantage of the dependence. On this account India was surely a victim of Clinton’s acquiescence of Wahabis, specially from the likes of Zakir Naik. As far as Israel is concerned it was benefited in the sense that its worst enemies Syria and Iran were circumscribed and incapacitated to cause much harm. Speculations about links between Israel and Islamic State have never attenuated.

The Russian intervention apart from salvaging Assad from what seemed to be a hopeless situation gave a huge strategic boost to Iran. It became very clear that the targeting of Islamic State was only a ruse for the US coalition to debilitate government forces in Syria thus facilitating onslaught by the rebels. Since Aug 2014 the coalition has conducted more than 10000 air strikes, but till very late the Islamic State remained relatively unhurt and intact. It is only when the Russians forced their way through and began to genuinely target the Islamic State territory that it began to shrink and the cadres were in disarray. Consequently the Islamic State having suffered major territorial reverses changed its strategy and began to disperse. Instructions are being issued by the top Islamic State leadership urging volunteers not to travel to Syria and operate in autonomous mode in their respective countries.

As per US National Counter Terrorism Centre the Islamic State is now operational in 18 countries in the world including Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are also’’ aspiring branches’’ in Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Philippines. In this year i.e. the Islamic State has carried out attacks in Turkey, Indonesia, Belgium, US and Bangladesh. There can therefore be no final or eventual victory over Islamic State just as Al-Qaeda continues to survive even after suffering US or NATO might all these years. They possibly cannot be snuffed by force because they are ideologically driven, and transcend ethnicity and nations.

What impacts India is the spread of Islamic State in South Asia. James Comey former FBI chief had warned that if the Islamic State wins and gets entrenched attacks on the West will increase, particularly Western Europe. The US, he said, will also suffer but minimally. Probably, by design then the Islamic State was diverted to South Asia!

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) maintains that all attacks in Afghanistan in the recent times were the handiwork of LeT, JeM, Haqqani network, Hizb-e- Islami, and Islamic State. The US, but curiously maintains strategic ambivalence over JeM and LeT and drums only Haqqani network. There is little doubt that the US has allowed LeT to flourish knowing fully well that the organization has global ambitions and consequent to Operation Enduring Freedom most of the Al Qaeda cadres had joined the LeT. Is it that Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar is coordinating Islamic State operations in Afghanistan at the behest of CIA and ISI?

As per the Director of National Intelligence, Afghanistan the Islamic State established its Khorasan branch in South Asia in Jan 2015 comprising disaffected members of Afghan Taliban and TTP. There are reports to suggest that the basic structure of Khorasan was assembled in Peshawar under the watchful eyes of ISI and then pushed into Nangarahar region of Afghanistan. Thousands of TTP cadres who joined Vilayat Khorasan were sent to Syria in 2014 and subsequently FATA born Hafiz Saeed Khan was made the chief. The Vilayat Khorasan has a brigade strength and in Afghanistan it is alluded as the’ ISI brigade.’

The attack on Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan is probably being engineered to exacerbate the Shia-Sunni divide. Both, the Islamic State or its regional version Vilayat Khorasan are frantically recruiting for the ongoing internecine war in the core of the Islamic World. The Shia-Sunni conflict for dominance is witnessing a feverish pitch in South Asia. Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) has been recruiting Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight alongside Assad forces on promises Iran’s residence permit and monthly salary of $500. It has formed two brigades from Shia recruits i.e. Fatemiyon Brigade and Zeinabiyoun Brigade. The recruitment of Shia Muslims is fueling sectarian attacks by the Islamic State. The spillover of Syrian conflict has been on India as well. 30,000 Shia Muslims volunteered to fight to protect Shiite shrines in Syria from Islamic State.

The US continues to lean heavily on Pakistan’s ISI for success of its geopolitical project in the region which is essentially an extension of West Asia. Does the US with the support of Pakistan aim to restrict Russia in Central Asia?

The military-intelligence establishment in Pakistan, historically adept at playing double game, is hedging its chances between US and Russia. The US operations in Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011 was the catalyst. For Pakistan the interests of China in this Great Game is also a critical factor. For the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to enjoy sustainability, stability in the region is the main imperative.

This author has been told by several Balochis that the Islamic State or Lashkar Khorasan operatives are operating out of the barracks of Frontier Corps. The Khorasan militants have been let loose on Balochis to kill their struggle through the jihadi means of Islam.

As far as India is concerned notwithstanding its posturing, the US has a soft corner for LeT and JeM. It is also a fact the jihadi leaders have different strongholds in different parts of Pakistan and the region. The jihadi industry is an amalgamation of these. Probably at the behest of the Americans these outfits have entered into a partnership with Islamic State or Vilayat Khorasan. So the waving of Islamic flags in Kashmir Valley is not incidental and part of the larger phenomenon or design.

In the ultimate analysis India is getting increasingly entrapped in a new Cold War in the region i.e. American jihadis versus Russian jihadis—an ironical departure from the Islam versus Communism narrative staged in the battlefields of Afghanistan in the 80s, between Soviet forces and US funded and Pakistan trained jihadis.

(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)

Western Media wrong on spate of issues: Time for Indian Media?

BY SAEED NAQVI

Since I had been to the region some time ago, a school invited me for a talk on Syria, particularly Aleppo, and why Assad was killing his own people.

“This is not true” I said. “Why do you have this impression?”

“Because this is what we read in our newspapers”, one said.

“Even in the Hindi newspapers which my grandfather reads”, chipped in another.

Teachers were worse. Their minds were more firmly made up. They had seen it all on TV, and next day’s newspapers confirmed what they saw at night.

How does one cope with this challenge? I agree that world affairs are not the staple in hundreds of thousands of higher secondary schools in India. But the occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq, war in Syria, bombing of Gaza, the post Qaddafi mayhem in Libya, Ukraine, Trump’s shock victory, Europe bolting from the stable of liberalism, are all events that must, willy, nilly, come into everyone’s focus, even in schools, the better ones certainly. And they will all come through western filters. And on all these issues, a large segment of the western media has been woefully misleading. I shall never tire of repeating myself: now is the time for an Indian, global, multimedia network.

The students I addressed were 17 and 18 years old. Their world view was being shaped by what they watched on TV and read in newspapers. Since there has never been an Indian journalist, leave alone an Indian news bureau, in any of the live news theatres listed above, we are witness to an entire generation in the thrall of the only sources they have for information on global events.

In fact, the world view on show in that school hall, is not a casual inclination towards a way of looking at the world. It has solidified over generations.

Upto the 90s, BBC World Service News and Reuters were the routine sources of world news. The hegemonic embrace of the global media began in 1991 when Peter Arnett of the CNN inaugurated the new, invasive age of the global TV. He beamed live images of Operation Desert Storm in February of that year. This was the first time that a war was brought into our drawing rooms. This was also the first time when the BBC was beaten by cousins from across the Atlantic. I still remember John Simpson driving around Baghdad with his satellite telephone for BBC World Radio. BBC World Service TV was born later.

The televised coverage of western triumphalism divided the world into two hostile audiences – the victorious West and a humiliated Muslim world. This was the base on which hostilities simmered. 9/11 detonated an almighty explosion – the war on terror, which ostensibly brought the West into conflict with many Muslim societies on varying perceptions of terrorism.

Parents of those I was addressing in the school had been fed on this media diet for its understanding of world affairs.

An important fact is often overlooked. Operation Desert Storm and the subsequent Information Order coincided with new economic policies bringing India in line with globalization, then on a gallop. The World Is Flat, declared Thomas Friedman in his bestselling book. He was treated like a local hero by Bengaluru’s IT pundits.

The neo-liberal economic policies rapidly augmented the ranks of the Maruti-plus middle class. To cater to the burgeoning consumerism this class brought in its wake, came the mushroom growth of electronic media.

Both, the media as well as the new middle class found itself out of sync with another reality. The country was gripped by unprecedented social disharmony after the Babri Masjid was pulled down by BJP volunteers on December 6, 1992. This was the period when Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister, was promoting new economic policies.

The new middle class, was looking at the stars. A bonanza was writ on the horizon. He was impatient with the conflation in his mind of the war on terror and social disharmony in India. The Muslim was spoiling the game.

The new TV channels, creatures of globalization, were brazenly imitative of the way the western media covered the war on terror. As I have said earlier, western coverage created a distance between nations – Western and Muslim. Indian coverage distanced 180 million Muslims with a distinct nuance on the war on terror. It strengthened majoritarianism.

I am not for a moment suggesting that all the western media dissembles. They do, however, see the world from their own perspective. For us to swallow everything doled out to us by these sources will cause us to lost sight of reality.

“What nationalism” taunted a scholar recently in London. “You don’t allow travel between yourselves and a neighbouring country you helped create.” I thought this was the usual harangue about a Pakistan policy we have grown accustomed to. But his punchline was devastating:

“And your entire elite, without exception, aches for a Green Card for its progeny, to be parked permanently in the United States of America – what nationalism?”

(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)

Demonitisation: The invisible economic assassination

OPEN LETTER TO FINANCE MINISTER ARUN JAITLEY

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

Mr Jaitley while defending his demonetisation scheme described the 750 words speech of the former Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh in Parliament, as lacking in substance and that the 2G and coal scamsters had forfeited their right to lecture on probity.

Harsh words from a lawyer, whose knowledge of economics or the lack of it, has plunged the entire nation into an unprecedented man-made financial chaos which will be his epitaph, irrespective of whether he or we are all dead in the long run or the short run!

Mr Jaitley would do well to answer the following questions with embedded answers which is also an expose on his track record on black money:

Questions on Phony efforts to unearth black-money/wealth abroad:

  • Is it not a fact that while these tiny offshore tax-haven countries which have played havoc with the India’s black money by providing a legal shield for laundering money, it was the larger countries like Germany and France which provided information on tax evaders?
  • Is it not a fact that despite the tall promises made during elections on recovery of huge amounts of black-money stashed abroad, the government was unwilling to act against sundry tiny countries which were responsible for laundering most of the black money into India?
  • Is it not a fact that the information that the government had on foreign black money was from the German government, which paid Heinrich Keiber $ 7.9 million to obtain information on money stashed in LGT Bank of Liechtenstein, and the French Government, which paid for information on HSBC Bank in Switzerland to whistle-blower Hervé Falciani. And is it not a fact that both governments shared the information with the Indian Government for free?
  • Is it not a fact that the Indian Government refused to pay the same informer Hervé Falciani when he offered more information on Indian entities than the 1600 entities provided by French Government?
  • Is it not a fact that under the Black Money UFIA Act only 644 disclosures were made and that these were from entities whose names were on the various lists but to whom notice was not given under section 71 for accounts held in other Banks?
  • Is it not true that the scheme in effect was a bailout for these persons and others involved in stock market scams and who were already under the scanner by the SIT so that they would pay lesser taxes and not have their names revealed and leave their reputation intact?
  • Is it not true that 95% of the black wealth is neither held as deposits in foreign bank accounts or in Indian currency but is converted into wealth in assets all over the world, or invested in India either through the stock market (P notes, FDI FPI etc.), real estate or gold and bullion or other assets?
  • Is it not true that that large holders of black money have laundered their money through small and insignificant countries like Mauritius, Cyprus and Singapore after sending it abroad through havala and bringing it back through faceless and anonymous front companies into India as ‘Foreign Investments?’
  • Is it not true that all this black money laundered through the tax havens by round tripping method has become legitimate white money and is no more considered black money by the Government/RBI/SEBI?
  • Is it not true that apart from the black money brought in as FDI, large amounts of this anonymous black money is invested in the Stock Market through P-Notes whose true ownership has not been allowed to be declared by the Government/RBI/SEBI?
  • Is it not true that the SIT constituted by the Supreme Court identified these P Notes as the major source of black money, recommended that the true identity of the persons (beneficial ownership) investing in P-Notes be revealed and the loophole be plugged?
  • Is it not true that the outstanding on P-Notes in Jan 2015 was Rs. 2.15 lac crores?
  • Is it not true that the outstanding Offshore Derivative Instruments (ODIs) from the tiny island of Cayman Island alone was Rs. 85,000 crores as stated by SIT below?

It is clear from above that a major chunk of outstanding ODIs invested in India are from Cayman Islands i.e. 31.31%. This translates to roughly Rs. 85,006 Crores. The Cayman Islands had a population of 54,397 in 2010 according to Wikipedia. It does not seem conceivable that a jurisdiction with a population of less than 55,000 could invest Rs. 85,000 crores in one country.

  • Is it not true that the government refuses to act against the black money laundered through these tiny islands, despite the recommendation of the SIT and orders of the Apex Court, as its considers this black money as good black money, in the national interest of getting foreign investment and its bullish effect on the stock market?
  • Is it not true that while the GOI is acting against the helpless poor and the marginalised who are either depositing their own money or renting their account for petty deposits along with the domestic hoarders of black-wealth in currency, it is powerless against these tiny countries like Mauritius, Cayman island, Singapore, Seychelles, Panama, British Virgin Island etc. and has negotiated soft and humiliating treaties with them to let off the big sharks involved in generation and laundering of black money?
  • Is it not true that all the treaties negotiated with all these tiny countries are with prospective effect, that is from 2017 onwards when they would be obliged to make disclosures and share information on tax evasion but does not cover the prior period?
  • Is it not true that information from Switzerland will be made available for accounts opened after Sept 2018 and that too in Sept 2019?
  • Is it not true that no person is foolish to leave his cash in foreign banks and that all black money laundered through foreign countries has become legitimate money?
  • Is it not true that for all practical purposes only Rs 2428 crores in taxes is all that has been received from the much-touted black money lying abroad along with some amounts which may come in because of information provided by the German and the French government, no further black money will be unearthed from the large evaders who have used the foreign route to launder their money?
  • Is it not true that it was the earlier NDA government which had replaced FERA with FEMA to undo the criminal liability and then took almost three years to enact the Prevention of Money Laundering Act which had criminal liability and this move emboldened the super-rich in salting their wealth abroad?

Domestic Black Money and Disclosure Scheme

  • Is it not true that the second round of domestic amnesty under the Income Declaration Scheme on payment of 45% was preceded by a massive amount of income tax notices (around 7 lac) to ensure its success?
  • Is it not true that most of the money declared under the domestic IDS was declaration made from the popular practice of laundering money on the stock market by claiming fictitious long term gains (with zero tax) from appreciation of penny stocks whose prices were manipulated by brokers on the stock market?
  • Is it not true that instead of proceeding with criminal charges on these brokers on price manipulations they are being rewarded by allowing them to get listed on NSE and the BSE so that they sell their shares at huge premium?

Existing sources of generation of black money like bribes etc. to continue:

  • Is it not true that most of the black money is generated from bribes, real estate transaction, capitation on education, over invoicing of costs, and proceeds from crime like drug trade, kidnapping, protection money, child trafficking, prostitution, smuggling, grant of mining leases through renewal of licenses, betting on outcome of cricket matches etc?
  • Is it not true that neither bribes or any of the above-mentioned activity can be conducted through white money and that white money must be converted into black to pay for bribes and the rest of the transactions mentioned above?
  • Is it not true that far from taking steps to prevent the future generation of black money changes in law has been proposed to encourage the generation of black money?

On legal steps taken to promote corruption

  • Is it not true that the government has done nothing to discourage corruption but on the other hand has taken steps to encourage it?
  • Is it not true that not even the initial steps have been taken for the appointment of Lokpal in the last two and a half years?
  • Is it not true that the public servants who were bound to declare their assets under the Lokpal Act have been given six extensions since 2014 to declare their assets and they too could have availed the benefit of the two income tax amnesty schemes to launder their loot stashed abroad and in India to legitimate assets through their close relatives?
  • Is it not true that amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act is proposed to dilute the Act and to liberalise the definition of Corruption?
  • Is it not true that undue benefits given to favored persons will not be considered corruption and prior permission from the government must be obtained to commence investigations against corrupt officials?
  • Is it not true that the key section of the PCA, 13(1) (c) and (d) under which most of the corrupt are charged is being deleted?

On black money in real estate:

  • Is it not true that the difference in taxation on investment made in stock market and investment made in real estate is one of the main reasons for investing black money in real estate?
  • Is it not true that while long-term gains on investment in shares has zero tax, there is a tax of twenty percent on long term gain in real estates?
  • Is it not true that long term gains in shares is defined as one year while it is defined as three years for real estate?
  • Is it not true that an additional 8% of stamp duty is to be borne by the buyer?
  • Is it not true that because of this disparity of 28% in taxation there is undervaluation and creation of black money in property deals as properties may not appreciate by a 28% in three years in addition to the reason of 30% bribes paid by builders to get clearances?

Black money in the education sector:

  • Is it not true that the discretionary management quota is responsible for the auction of seats in professional courses?
  • Is it not true apart from hefty under the table payments on discretionary quota admissions, in most cases of routine admission a coercive donation to the trust is a must?
  • Is it not true that the faithful have been allotted land by the States under BJP to profiteer by opening private educational institution?
  • Is it not true that the Government ensured that the common medical entrance test under NEET upheld by the Apex Court, was over-ruled to ensure that the private state medical colleges conduct another test?
  • Is it not true that private education is supposed to be not-for-profit organisation but nevertheless make massive profits through sub-contracting?

Why losses caused to the exchequer by the present government far more than the losses in the 2G and Coal Scam:

  • Is it not true that accusing the previous government of various scams is a favorite pastime of the present government whereas the truth is that far more losses has been caused to the public exchequer by the present government compared with the previous government?
  • Is it not true that several iron ore mines whose leases were expiring and should have been put to auction have been renewed and benefits of lacs of crores been given to these mine owners, the prominent one being Anil Agarwal of Sesa Goa/Strelite?
  • Is it not true the iron ore mine renewed to favour Anil Agarwal of Sterlite alone is worth more than one lac crore?
  • Is it not true that the lease for the oil fields like Panna, Mukta, Tapti which too is expiring and in which industrialists like Reliance and Essar have made billions of dollars are proposed to be renewed instead of the government resuming them? The benefit to Essar/RIL etc. is worth billions of dollars.
  • Is it not true the lease of the land based oil fields of Cairns Vedanta which produces oil at an operating cost of three dollars is also being proposed to be extended? This benefit would be worth four to five billions to Anil Agarwal’s company depending on the duration of extension and the price of crude and gas.
  • Is it not true that by these renewal of leases, the government is going to lose billions of dollars?
  • Is it not true that in the 2G scam, due to intervention of activists like Prashant Bhushan and Dr Swamy, the Hon’ble Court overturned the government decision and thus no losses took place when the auction took place? (It may be mentioned that the first FIR in the 2G scam was filed by the CBI on the complaint of the author of this article and finds a mention in the 2G judgment)
  • Is it not true that similarly the anticipated losses in the coal mine scam was salvaged by the decision of the Court ordering the subsequent auctioning of the mines?
  • Is it not true that the losses were prevented by the Hon’ble Court and activist litigants (Dr Swamy had not merged his party at the time) and that the BJP had no role to play in it?
  • Is it not true that the losses by renewal of leases of iron ore mine fields and oil-fields is/will be greater than the actual losses of the 2G and the coal scam?

Black money generated by over-invoicing:

  • Is it not true that despite seizure of records of massive over-invoicing of coal imports and power equipment of over Rs 45,000 crores by prominent industrial houses resulting in money laundering and generation of black money, no action is being taken against these industrial houses?
  • Is it not true that the case against Ravi Rishi, the manufacturer of left hand drive Tatra trucks being supplied to the Armed Forces accused of over invoicing of trucks for decades, by the former Chief of the Army and now a Minister, has been closed?
  • Is it not true that the government is losing almost every taxation and arbitration cases involving large corporation and in one case the AG, who had earlier appeared for the opposite side, also appeared for the State and lost the Rs 700 crore case with the order of the Apex Court stating: Delay condoned, dismissed?

Re: Black money from criminal activities to continue

  • Is it not true that there has been no campaign or crack down on the black money generated from the usual criminal trades like drug trafficking, kidnapping, protection money, child trafficking, prostitution, smuggling, betting on outcome of cricket matches etc?

On monumental mismanagement

  • Is it not true that when the announcement of demonetisation was made on 8/11/16, normalcy and a smooth transition was assured in three days over the weekend?
  • Is it not true that the government had thought that liquidity of 15 lac crores in Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes could be replaced with 2 lac crores of Rs 2000 notes and had not printed any new Rs 500 notes before the announcement?
  • Is it not true that the hoarding of smaller notes, due to shortage of liquidity ensued and this too was not anticipated by the decision-makers at RBI and the Ministry?
  • Is it not true that it was only after a national crisis was caused that the government decided to print and introduce the new Rs 500 notes immediately?
  • Is it not true that it will take at least six months to remonetise the economy given the capacity of the currency printing press?
  • Is it not true that most of the fake currency which is substantially higher that the government estimates too will be deposited without getting detected by the Banks and this may further boost the deposits to a higher figure that the notes outstanding?
  • Is it not true that the fake currency is printed by hostile government who have access to similar technology of note-printing and hence detection of fake is difficult?
  • Is it not true that the government decision of demonetising 15.44 lakhs crores of currency without any remonetisation plan in place was not only a monumental managerial failure but a monumental blunder?
  • Does not the country have a right to know as to who was responsible for the execution of the remonetisation of the 85% of the currency and why responsibility is not being fixed for causing untold hardship to the people of the country for no fault of theirs?

Implication of surgical strike against black money, collateral damage, loss of savings of the unbanked?

  • Was the freezing of the liquidity of the entire population without any alternative not a criminal act against those who needed money for financial emergencies, against the daily wage earner who remained unemployed and against those who are out of the banking system?
  • Was the surgical strike planned with the inputs of the experts, namely the economists, currency officials, re-monetisation experts or was this surgical strike the brain child of the ill-informed persons who did not know the fallouts of their decision?
  • Is it not true that due to lack of banking infrastructure, Ponzi companies like Sahara, Pearl and Saradha sprung up to provide them with door step service and the poor unbanked people deposited their hard-earned savings with them and lost them?
  • Is it not true that in spite Sahara depositing over 10,000 crores, the poor who have lost their life time savings have not received even Rs 100 crores of their deposits back and the government will appropriate the deposit of the poor unbanked people by claiming that it is unclaimed?
  • Is it not true that in spite of the unbanked persons in the rural arear losing thousands of crores to the ponzi companies no concerted efforts have been made to provide them banking services by opening larger number of rural branches?
  • If demonetisation was a surgical strike against the black money of the political opponents and tax evaders, then were not the rest of the citizens victims of the collateral damage?
  • Is it not true that the collateral damage involved more than 95% of the population and if so then as to whether this type of excesses is acceptable in a democracy?
  • Is it not true that this lack of liquidity is effecting those the most who are not serviced by banks, do not have a smart phone, are illiterate and technologically challenged?
  • Is not money a means to live and denial of access to one’s own money denial of right to Life which is a fundamental right?

On holding wealth in cash

  • Is it possible to distinguish which cash is black and which cash is white or which cash is savings of years or cash for transacting legal/illegal business?
  • Is it not easier to trace illegal assets like house property, gold, smuggled goods, investments on the stock market?
  • Is it compulsory to deposit one’s money in banks which are bankrupt (their net worth is less than the bad loans)?
  • Is it not true that there are many Indians who for various reasons do not deposit their savings in the Bank and hold in cash and cannot produce a record of the cash holding?
  • Is it not true if the Finance Minister can hold cash of 1.35 crores (return filed with election commission) then other citizens too can also have a high cash holding?
  • Does not the FM need to explain the necessity to hold such large amounts of cash in hand when there are all types of different digital modes of payment? Is this cash because of withdrawal from the Bank?
  • Is it not true that now you see the scheme failing, as the unscrupulous elements are taking advantage of the ambiguous nature of cash deposits that you are going against the people with a vengeance and frightening them with misuse of IT Act even on the small deposits of savings being made by the poor and the marginalised?

Motive of demonetisation to help the super-rich responsible for making the banks sick

  • Is it not true that the entire exercise of demonetisation was done with the motive of lowering the interest rate in order to keep on providing cheap loans to the large capitalist and to recapitalise the Banks to provide them with more loans?
  • Is it not true that the net worth of the Banks has been wiped out because of dubious loans to large business houses, who have been defaulting on the payment of their loans?
  • Is it not true that for every Rs 100 borrowed by the capitalist they must spend Rs 10 on bribes (party donation, administrative clearances, loan sanctions etc.) and divert another Rs 10 as promoter’s equity/or as his contribution for obtaining the loan/salted away leading to unviability of the project and the account becoming sick?
  • Is it not true that the NPAs (Non-Performing Assets) of the Bank are around Rs 8 lakh crores and that the actual net worth of some of the Banks is negative?
  • Is it not true that the Banks are turning sick by lending the money of the depositors to crony capitalists like Essar, Reliance and Adani, who in turn have been found to be converting the depositors’ money into black money through over-invoicing of imports.
  • Is it not true that the Banks’ imprudent lending has led to unrecoverable loans of over 8 lakh crores and this is going to be funded by the depositors and the and the tax payer?
  • Is it not true that this gap of eight lakh crores was sought to be partly filled up by the demonetised scheme in which it was estimated that atleast 3 lakh crores would not be deposited?
  • Is it not true that this money would have been used to recapitalise the Bank who would have the means to relend to the crony capitalist who in turn would create more black money for themselves, the political parties, and the bureaucracy?
  • Is it not true that the ADAG (Anil Ambani Reliance Group) alone owes 1.22 lac crores to the Banks, Adanis owe 0.96 lac crores, Essar 1.01 lac crores and are not in a position to even pay the mounting interest liability of around ten thousand crores.
  • Is it not true that these companies are also involved in massive over-invoicing of coal imports and power equipment of Rs 45,000 crores, resulting in money laundering and no action is being taken against them?
  • Is it not true that ADAG group entered into a tie-up with the French manufacturer of the Rafale jets the moment India signed a deal? Is it a mighty coincidence or evidence of crony capitalism?
  • Is it not true that no due diligence or security clearance has been done while involving the group in a critical area?
  • Is it not true that the $21 million Coal/Railway/Port project of Adanis in Australia which has full backing of the government and is to be funded by the SBI is also a manifestation of crony capitalism?
  • Is it not true that demonetisation is a devise to use the wealth and savings of the informal sector/labour/poor, the mid- sized trader/producer to subsidise the crony capitalist of the government through cheap loans which are to turn into NPA?

Quantum of black wealth in currency and demonetisation Ineffective:

  • Is it not true that only a small portion of wealth created through black money is in currency and this could not be more than 2% of the total black wealth in India and abroad?
  • Is it not true that most of the big fish having large amounts of demonetised black currency have managed to convert them into legitimate assets by discounting it in the market and this too has generated more of black money to the persons concerned?
  • Is it not true that the losses due to fall in GDP, unemployment, foregone consumption, fall in the stock market index, withdrawal of foreign investment which are directly attributable to the demonetisation is far greater than any gain that may accrue?
  • Is there not a strong possibility that more money will be surrendered than the 15.44 lakh crore outstanding on account of gross underestimation of counterfeit currency which will go undetected?

Better methods of increasing government revenue:

  • Will the government impose 20% tax on long term capital gains on shares as against nil presently and bring it on par with the capital gains on real estate, to boost the government revenue by thousands of crores if not a lac crore each year?
  • Will the government give informers on Income Tax evasion parity with the informers on Central excise, customs and service tax evaders?
  • Is it not true that while 10%-20% of tax recovered along with interest and penalty can be paid to informers without any ceiling in case of evasion under the CBEC, in case of informers of Income Tax it is subject to a maximum ceiling of Rs 10 lacs to an informer and the total reward paid by Income Tax to informers in a single year is maximum of 3 crores which means that only Rs 30 crores of tax is recovered through the informer channel as against the seven lac crore of Income Tax collected?
  • Is it not more logical to announce that reward of 10% without limit will be paid to informers, give wide publicity to the scheme, ensure its implementation through a separate authority supervised by an ex-Supreme Court Judge to ensure that black money on which tax is being evaded is eliminated as the mere the threat of being informed will act as a deterrent?
  • Is it not true that substantial revenue is lost by the government due to SEBI and stock exchanges colluding with the delinquent corporates?
  • Is it not true that neither the government nor SEBI is willing to investigate the price manipulation and insider trading by RIL in which Rs 3500 crores was made illegally and on which three times penalty can be levied?
  • Is it not true that in another case SEBI gave a largesse of over Rs. 650 crores to the erstwhile owners of Bank of Rajasthan group by letting them off with a petty fine of only Rs 30 crores, in spite of a complaint pending with you on corruption?
  • Is it not true that it was only after the constitution of the SIT that the money-laundering on the stock exchange going on for decades through the bogus long term gain was checked?
  • Is it not true that lacs of crores have been laundered through this route?
  • Is it not true that the government is unwilling to disclose the name of the persons who have disclosed their black-money in the amnesty scheme or those who are major defaulters with the Bank?

The Finance Minister

  • Is it not true that being the lawyer of first choice in appearing against PILs while practising as a senior counsel has in some ways made the FM insensitive to public suffering? Is it not true that FM brings the same passion in arguing in favour of grossly mismanaged demonetisation which is not public interest?
  • Is it not true that the presumptive tax introduced by the FM in the last budget for which no accounts has to be kept on a 2-crore trade for 8% profit and 50% profit on Rs 50 lacs income of professionals is a loophole to launder money and to generate further black money?
  • Is it not true that as an opposition MP (not LOP) the FM was appearing in Court and earning substantial fees while Parliament was in session, a practice carried on by many senior counsels who are members of the Parliament?
  • Is not true that life is not an argument which has to be won, and if blunders have been made then it is better to admit and re-work the policy rather than stick it out and make people suffer further?
  • Is it not true that the government being vindictive and using all legal means to terrorize the people of this country after the failure of the demonetisation scheme?
  • Is it true that scheme is causing far more suffering than was caused during EMERGENCY?
  • Will this monumental blunder of demonetisation be the EPITAPH of the government?

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar. 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)

Has ISI found a new base in West Bengal?

BY RSN SINGH

Why has the West Bengal Chief Minister panicked after the demonetization move by the Central Government? Such desperado behaviour was exhibited a few years back by Mr Manmohan Singh in the run-up to the Indo-US nuclear deal. The West Bengal CM is also behaving incoherently in a manner that the world has come to an end. It does betrays the dying pressure being exerted by sinister quarters. A beleaguered CM is trying to clutch on any straw.

In other states, too political players or political parties are indeed bitter over the demonetization move because of their political and dynastic financial misfortune that has befallen, but in the case of West Bengal the reasons are intriguing and have seedy internal as well as external dimensions.

The state of West Bengal, particularly its capital, Kolkata, has traditionally served as the financial hub of India’s East and Northeast. Kolkata also is the financial destination and get-away for all the illegal money that flows from Bangladesh into India. It may be mentioned that West Bengal has been under deep financial crisis over several decades now. The government, after meeting its essential expenditures and loan liabilities is left with very little or no money for development projects. In fact, West Bengal is one of the worst revenue deficit states in India. The state may be poor but its politicians and the people who drive politics are rich. So where does this money come from? What are the economic drivers of politics in the state?

Kolkata is the financial terminus of most of the insurgent groups industry, the Maoists industry, the jihadi industry (straddles West Bengal – Bangladesh), the cattle smuggling industry from India to Bangladesh, the illegal mining industry and the fake currency industry. It is a well-known fact that insurgent groups in the Northeast have fine -tuned parallel economy arrangements. The Chief Ministers of some of these states are obliged for reasons of survival to part with a significant proportion of the official budget in favour of the insurgent groups. A weak sense of nationalism further fuels this parallel economy. Many analysts are of the view that in measure of corrupt proclivities, most politicians and officials in the northeast are way ahead of competitors in the Indian hinterland. The insurgent leaders have vested interests in enriching themselves and keeping the people and the region in a state of poverty.

Kolkata serves as a major hub for cycling and recycling the extortion money raised by insurgent group in northeast. It runs into several thousand crores. Historically, the mining industry in the eastern part of India has strong financial umbilical with Kolkata. Over the years, one of the biggest generators of black money has been the mining sector of India. The mining industry in Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Assam has been feeding into the black money industry of West Bengal. In the last two decades, the Maoists have emerged as one of the leading players in illegal mining industry. There have been several inputs to suggest that iron ore, illegally mined by the Maoists, was being shipped to China through the Haldia port in West Bengal. The shipping industry operating from West Bengal has been one of the major beneficiaries of dirty money.

Cattle smuggling into Bangladesh is a massive enterprise. Between 4000 and 5000 cattle are smuggled everyday. The scale and magnitude is as per one estimate $ 5 billion annually. In fact, Bangladeshis has much of its food security predicated on this enterprise. This enterprise generates windfall profits and parallel economy, which in turn lubricates politicians and politics in the state. Another smuggling enterprise is that of phensedyl cough syrup from India to Bangladesh. It is used as a substitute for alcohol in the country. Lacs of bottles of phensedyl are smuggled every month.

The jihadi industry in the districts adjoining Bangladesh has acquired formidable proportions. Every pan-Islamic jihadi group has its presence today in the state. This includes the Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), variants of the Islamic State (IS), Jamait-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the mother of all jihadi groups the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). The JeI of Bangladesh, after several of its top leaders were hanged by the current Hasina regime including Abdul Quadir Mollah (butcher of Mirpur) and Moitur Rehman Nizami (former minister) for war crimes in 1971, has literally bought bases in West Bengal. Significantly the National Assembly in Pakistan condemned the hangings. The JeI in Bangladesh had before the crackdown acquired the status of ‘state within state’ and ‘economy within economy.’ According to the known Bangladeshi economist the net annual profits of JeI from various ventures is 278 million.

A majority of these fundamentalist/jihadi groups have found safe heavens in West Bengal after being uprooted by Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. The patronage provided by the West Bengal government is not without a financial and political price in terms of vote-bank. These elements have become the financial and physical muscle of one particular political party. The violence that they are capable of unleashing was evident in Nandigram. The border districts of West Bengal and the madrasas therein have become nursery of jihadis. The cost of the expansion of the network of madrasas in the state, the recruitment and indoctrination of jihadis, is borne by countries like Saudi Arabia and agencies like ISI of Pakistan. The jihadi money finally gets amalgamated with the politics in the state.

Districts like Burdwan and Malda have been the major centres of trade in counterfeit Indian currency. Pakistan’s ISI has been using its High Commission in Bangladesh for pushing counterfeit currency into West Bengal. The Bangladesh government deported one such diplomatic official into 2014 for his role into smuggling of counterfeit currency in India. Report suggest that hundred Rs. 1000 Indian notes of the value of Rs.one lac was being sold in Malda for Rs. 20,000 and it went up to Rs. 40,000 once Shaikh Hasina crack-down. The counterfeit currency industry was a major earner for very many politicians and jihadis based in West Bengal.

In parts of Malda district, specially Gopalganj, locals are engaged in large scale opium cultivation. In fact the area has earned the epithet of ‘mini Afghanistan.’ As per police sources the drug money thus generated is used for buying sophisticated weapons through sources in Bangladesh and running of unregistered madrasas.

West Bengal thus has acquired the status of a huge regional and sub-national parallel economy. The consequences of the attack on this parallel economy are therefore on the entire region. It is definitely a severe blow to insurgents, terrorists, smugglers and politicians.

The irony is that there is a prime minister in Bangladesh, whose decisions and actions in effect has contributed immensely in improving India’s security environment, but without any complementary support or effort by West Bengal. We have a dispensation in West Bengal, acting frantic to neutralize every positive effort by Sheikh Hasina. Is it at the behest of external powers? It is well known that the ISI had been using the territory of Bangladesh to foment insurgency and terrorism in India’s eastern regions. Hein G Kiessling in his book ‘The ISI of Pakistan’ says that the involvement of ISI in India’s northeast had begun in 1957. Naga rebels were provided safe havens in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The Mizo National Front (MNF) also found shelter in East Pakistan. Even after creation of Bangladesh Non-Awami League governments continued to facilitate such anti-India activities. Later, apart from other insurgent groups the biggest beneficiary of Bangladesh patronage was the ULFA. It is only when the present dispensation under Sheikh Hasina came to power that the ISI was compelled to abandon its bases and operations against India.

Has ISI found a new base in West Bengal?.

(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)