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The Presidential Nobel

October 14, 2009 2 comments

After President Obama was conferred the Nobel peace prize last week, I have received several emails asking my opinion and particularly if I thought that it was necessary for him to be given this prestigious prize. Apart from considering such questions far beyond my capacity to answer or reason, I believe that such an award being conferred on someone such as President Obama has concrete reasons of validity far beyond the wave of change that ensured his election as the American Chief Executive. And this most certainly hasn’t much of Afro-American empathy alone to go with it, I must say, not to mention the seeming soft-placating of the Nobel committee that many see as an act of quickly estimating a player even before the game is over.

For starters, Obama’s commitment to an all inclusive American social structure complimenting world demographics was well known before his election to the Presidential Office, as a community organizer and a civil rights attorney in Chicago. One would, at this point in time, want to recall his efforts, in 1992, involved in registration of a hundred and fifty thousand African-Americans in Illinois, which came to be known as Project Vote and became a highly successful campaign prompting him to be named Crain’s Chicago Business’s 1993 list of “40 under Forty” powers to be! Would one not like to attribute this to a socio-culture gap being bridged in a modern society that has still deep rooted racial instances running inside of it?

As a Senator, he voted in favour of the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, an immigration reform bill introduced by then Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy, calling for incorporating guest worker programs among other things while focusing on issues such as human trafficking and border control, the economic impact of such happenings having long bickered the United States. Only here, there was an instance of showcasing of humaneness, which the President to-be endorsed through this piece of legislation that he chose to favor! Surely, that does come under the ambit of cooperation between peoples?

Following his election to the executive office, he began with a pledge to extend a hand of friendship to the Muslim world, which continues to be vehemently despised for supporting the scourge of terrorism, which has in its grip many a nation and people! Turning a hand of friendship and a possibility of working upon a broken relationship, he offered Iran what no American president has in the recent past made good. With a marked departure in the manner in which Iran and its socio-political establishment is viewed, Obama pledged to re-look the American association with Iran, an action which surely requires commendation of a very high order. North Korea has been no different in Obama’s agenda, having been given a high degree of importance aimed at repairing a long faltered association with a thrust of focus on disengaging nuclear weapons.

His administration’s commitment to ensure closure of Guantanamo Bay and the ensuing torture practices there may not have earned him applause from within and outside the American union, but wouldn’t one not seek to view this in the light of a person’s characteristic to condemn inhuman practices such as the infamous waterboarding techniques endorsed and furthered by the previous administration?

Transparency in functioning has also been an area of paramount importance in the current administration. By reducing the amount of secrecy associated with presidential records and effecting changes in procedures and policies to promote disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, Obama has demonstrated his administration’s pledge to dispel ambiguity in the manner in which the current White House operates.

His commitment to reduce production of nuclear weapons and thereafter systematically, through meaningful partnerships, ensure their eradication may appear fictional to many geo-political observers, however, such a commitment could surely help the world rid itself of dangerous precincts in the times to come, would you not agree?

Talking about results, one must understand and take cognizance of the fact that an offer made needs a reciprocal for it to come into being. Such is the case presently when one reviews the American association with the world at large. It is certainly possible that the current administration’s policies and procedures give way for a new beginning as is envisaged by Obama himself. It takes an epoch in the measure of time if one must insist on seeing actions being translated into results, and that by no means is the only qualifier for being recognized for the efforts that have been so diligently made!

And since the Nobel peace prize was accorded to him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” I would concur that it has been done so, in recognition of the serious efforts that have been made by a man who has committed himself and his administration to realize a vision, which he believes can redefine the manner in which his country interacts with the world – by a measure of change!

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A Q Khan and some candid admissions

September 22, 2009 2 comments

The ISI and some elements from within the Pakistan government must be a worried lot, especially in the wake of some candid admissions by an “aggrieved, wounded and humiliated” A.Q. Khan, the erstwhile head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, disgraced and now reduced to a common criminal for his illegal proliferation of nuclear weapons technology through a vast network of people spread across many countries who hankered to enter the coveted list of those rare ones in possession of nuclear delivery.

His admission in letters dating to the year of his arrest, that his activities involving nuclear proliferation which included exchanging and passing nuclear blue-prints and equipment to countries such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Libya were conducted with the complicity of the Pakistani government and military comes as no surprise, for all along the proceedings of his actions, it was well known that he had the blessings and the support of the Pakistani establishment.

The illegal proliferation network aided by Pakistan ensured its presence in many a nation willing to pay for entry into the nuclear club and was taken notice by the American CIA although information passed on later to the US State Department remained not acted upon for fear of upsetting what Americans saw as a strategic partner in the war on terror! Overlooking what it very well knew was not condonable, the United States allowed Pakistan to continue its game of misadventure, tracking its every move in extensive detail. Furthermore, the Americans were aware of this from a very early age which can be traced to the premiership of Benzair Bhutto. Therefore, to conclude that Pakistan’s activities involving nuclear proliferation is of recent times is blatantly foolish.

The Americans sat up and brought to light their knowledge after the 9/11 incidents which required them to see world terror and its assistants in a different light. Mounting severe pressure over Pakistan, post the world trade tower incidents, and also making it a partner in the war on terror, United States more than just nudged Pakistan into admitting to this ominous network. Suddenly then American First Citizen increased his tirade against an axis of evil, which included North Korea and Iran, both of whom co-incidentally were also part of the list of beneficiaries of Pakistan’s well charted nuclear proliferation network!

In a desperate attempt to save face, then head of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf looked within the establishment for a scapegoat that he could nail for the expose and showcase to the world, hoping to silence the Americans and cap the pressure emanating on him. Thus happened the disgrace of Abdul Qadeer Khan, who from 1976 was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear program until 2001, when he was sacked from his position as the Chairman of the Kahuta Research Laboratories! His scripted downfall came in 2002 when the United States called for examination of his role in Pakistan’s activities of nuclear proliferation, which the Pakistanis emphatically dismissed as concocted. Then in 2003, following revelations from Iran and Libya, his fate appeared to be sealed and he was forever removed from the ‘inner circle’ and was made to sign a confession detailing his activities pertinent to nuclear proliferation!

President Musharraf however granted him pardon while he continued to be held under house arrest. Perhaps this was Musharraf’s way of granting him a breather while having made him shoulder the blame for a foul game that the Pakistani establishment had willfully played for a very long time!

Though the media has over the past couple of days highlighted extensively the letters containing Khan’s assertions, it comes as no surprise for the role of the Pakistani establishment was always known to the world, at least the world of the US State Department and the CIA, both of whom considered it best to ignore it for the succession of better bilateral ties! Moreover the letter itself, that so lucidly describes many a happenstance in the Pakistani nuclear ambit was written in 2003 immediately after Khan’s arrest and is by no means a recent production!

That it has now been made public is probably the beginning of another dramatic orchestration of events that will not be known in full light until the passage of many years! But perhaps, Khan should have known better than to trust his masters and taken strong wind of the stern advice given to him by Li Chew, then minister and head of China’s nuclear-weapons program. For if he had done so then “The bastards first used us and are now playing dirty games with us,” would have been more of a passable collection of words with little or no significance whatsoever!

Pakistan's nuclear agenda – The compelling problem!

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

News about Pakistan’s modification of the Harpoon missiles aimed to possibly launch on Indian targets comes as a somber reminder of a dreaded neighbour whose intentions can many a times be very misleading, contrary to what is thought of. History has rightly indicated how bitterly Indian overtures for dialogue and peace have been met with counter productive misadventures, Kargil being among the many such gaffes on the part of Pakistan.

Breaking the news, New York Times carried a feature that detailed how Pakistan had illegally modified Harpoon anti-ship missiles, that it had acquired from the United States, in order to now give it the ability to strike land targets in India. While American intelligence agencies got wind of this through information acquired from a test conducted by Pakistan on April 23rd, this year, Pakistan itself claims that such is not the case. It states that no modifications have been done to the Harpoon and that the previous tests, claimed by US agencies pertain to an altogether different missile developed indigenously by Pakistan.

Americans on the other hand claim that Pakistan stands in violation of the Arms Control Export Act, under which encumbrance the Harpoon sale had been effected. It will not immediately be known if the missile in question is the Harpoon itself or a home grown technology or if it has been bought over from China. But the general concern is that such a technology now presents Pakistan with a new ability, one that will enable it to launch strikes on Indian targets which were hitherto out of reach or considered to be so!

Interestingly, this allegation comes at a time when President Obama’s administration sought congressional approval of a staggering $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next couple of years, which it says is a measure to arm an ally in its concerted efforts in the war against terror!

The sooner the Americans come to terms with the fact, one that they already know about, that Pakistan has been siphoning off money and arms supplied to it to aide illicit operations, the war on terror stands won on many grounds!

Barely, hours after this report, an American scientist, Hans M Kristensen, belong to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), reported that Pakistan has increased its number of ready-to-use nuclear warheads to a staggering 90 in number! His article on the FAS page that Pakistan has stored nuclear warheads in fully assembled condition indicates that they can be called for use at a short notice. On the contrary, India, which has a respectable no first strike policy ensures that war heads are not mounted on missiles and stores either of them separately.

The growing concern pertaining to Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal was expressed by the Chief of Indian Army, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, who in his statement mentioned that this was clearly beyond the level of deterrence that a country needed.

Meanwhile, FAS sources claim that Pakistan has been developing two new cruise missiles, which include the ground-launched Babur and the air-launched Ra’ad, both of which have nuclear delivery capability. Added to the tweaked Harpoons, Pakistan now has a variety of delivery measures with which it could exact a nuclear attack, something which is a serious threat to the Indian nation, over and above that which already exists! That they intend to increase their nuclear weapons capability is without doubt, considering the emerging plutonium reactors plants and the additional chemical separation facility.

A senior nuclear policy expert, Bharat Karnad states that Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions are no secret. According to him “they have had it for several years. The reason why they are doing is that they want to be ready to detain any threat at any point. They also apprehend danger to nuclear weapons by outside countries which they don’t want to name but by implication they have the United States, Israel and India that is who they fear will attack them.”

Quite co-incidentally, the disgraced pioneer of Pakistan’s nuclear program, A. Q. Khan, who until a while ago faced serious restrictions imposed by the law, has now been rewarded, or shall we say compensated, with significantly reduced sanctions! I’m wondering if this is the establishment’s way of asking him to once again participate in the revival of Pakistan’s nuclear agenda. If so, Pakistan is seriously embarking upon a long and well planned construction of a nuclear delivery system, which in the time to come will be a force to reckon with and perhaps an overt threat to the peace and stability in the region!

Karzai or Abdullah? Who will emerge front-runner in the Afghan elections?

Amidst sporadic violence, reports of armed coercion, bribery, election fraud, voter cards being sold, irregularities and a low voter turnout, Afghanistan has gone to the polls for the second time, to elect a President, in an exercise that was closely watched by the United Nations, the United States, neighbouring countries and independent agencies. Officials of NATO stated that approximately 15.6 million voters had registered to vote. The number, which amounts to half of the nations population, is staggering considering the turbulent phases in time that the country has witnessed despite the Taliban having been ousted many years ago.

Under the regime of Hamid Karzai, a great deal had progressed in a difficult and tense environment constantly watched over and viewed as a breeding ground for international terrorism, however, the strangulating influence of the Taliban was witnessed many a times, in the form of many skirmishes between the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rebels, the former of which is now largely reduced to combat personnel of the United States alone, other member nations having gradually pulled out of the arrangement, sensing a long drawn combat operation which faced flak for being frustrating, costly and severely life threatening to military personnel.

Although the government machinery has largely been overhauled, the Afghan mindset largely remains unaltered and battling warlords still call the shots in what is more of a deeply divided nation which is clearly demarcated by ethnicity, caste and muscle power, all of which seems extensively prevalent over a social structure which is precariously balanced and hinges even now upon its disturbed past. The Afghan state is embroiled in many distinct identities, no one of which can claim superiority or dominance alone or for that matter a certain extended period of time. Cooperation and coordination are words unheard of where negotiations and truce face obsolescence even before implementation.

This time, the theater saw heavy weights in the form of Hamid Karzai, the incumbent President and Abdullah Abdullah, his foreign minister in the fray for the top job amidst many political twists and turns that may have affected one another in their attempt to woo a population that has long been tormented by unrest and turmoil, for the duration of all or most of their tumultuous lives. Karzai on his part seems to have been no lesser of an immoral by virtue of his proximity to what the United States calls dreaded warlords responsible for a chaotic Afghanistan. It is alleged that both of Karzai’s vice-presidential candidates and a number of his key allies in the election were responsible for many instances of human rights violations and war crimes. The independent body, Human Rights Watch has called for Vice President Karim Khalili and key ally, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, to face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes. Khalili is alleged to have been responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.

Prominent and conspicuous among the events, was the return from-exile of  General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who once held the post of Chief of Army Staff to President Karzai. Arriving from Turkey, where he was exiled for allegedly manhandling a political rival, he created headlines by pledging support for Karzai and campaigning for him, a move widely seen as an effort to send a tough message to erring warlords and thereby win their support. Gen Dostum was also a key ally of the United States in the 2001 invasion, following the attacks on the world trade center.

Political analysts insist that all this hobnobbing with local militia and warlords was indeed a strategy employed by the Karzai camp to secure large blocs of votes in return for key positions and influence in his new government or other significant promises. One may also recall his invitation to the dreaded Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to become his Vice President, when his attacks on government troops became systematically orchestrated and unstoppable.

Abdullah, on the other hand with a clean and suave image has certainly managed to dent Karzai’s fortunes to an extent, prompting officials to believe that the race may be more closely tied than expected, exacting a possibility of a run-off in October if neither party manages to garner the required 50% mark. While Abdullah may represent a different paradigm for a nation troubled by war, poverty, unrest and ethnic divisions, Karzai certainly has an upper hand in the battle given his close connections that can translate to more votes and the ability to nudge perpetually warring splinter groups to pledge support in unison although they may do so with reluctance. Given Abdullah’s surprise over the scale of alleged fraud in counting of the votes, one can sense a disconnect in his ability to control and monitor situations in the ground, something which Karzai surely has more knowledge and control of.

Apparently the United States is not very happy with the developments in Afghanistan, whose military and security responsibility lies with it. Richard Holbrooke, America’s special envoy to Afghanistan has, in a meeting with President Karzai, expressed fears and concerns over reports of election fraud, something that Karzai has not taken too well coming from the United States.

Latest indications suggest that Karzai is pegged at 45% of votes, amounting to 422,000 while Abdullah has garnered 35% votes at 330,000 in number. Reports now indicate that the finally tally may be delayed a while.

While the world waits and watches, it will be interesting to follow the United States and the international community in their policies towards the Afghan nation. More importantly, it will be exciting to deduce and subsequently watch India’s stand considering the possibilities. Karzai and his administration enjoy a warm relationship with India, and so also is the case with Dr. Abdullah.

So what is it that will change in the Afghan heartland? September will tell, presumably!

Pakistan's call to ban nuclear weapons – An Analysis

August 13, 2009 6 comments

One would need to take a very cautiously optimistic approach while welcoming Pakistan’s call to ban nuclear weapons! Cautiously optimistic approach because, it remains to be discerned whether its nuclear arsenal is well within the control of the elected government! Besides, the statement that it “subscribes to the goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and has always played an active and constructive role in the conference” should be seen as one among the many last ditch face saving attempts by a desperate nation embroiled in a state of terror which was created, financed and proliferated by its own agencies, who now are, in part, working to control the menace.

Probably intended to convey to the world of a reviewed intention in the arena of nuclear politics, Pakistan has, with this statement too, been ineffective to assure the international community in convincing them of its intentions which largely remain unclear and uncharacteristic to the extent that they are unbelievable! British envoy to the Conference on Disarmament, John Duncan said, “Pakistan’s stand was disappointing as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain as well as Iran, North Korea and Israel, back the consensus.” Sweden, which is another member nation, currently in position of holding the European Union’s revolving presidency has termed Pakistan’s stand as a procedural maneuver, aimed at stalling any significant agreement on reducing weaponry, which in essence is a treaty to halt production of fissile material. One wonders if Pakistan is merely responding to a veiled comment by the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi asking the forum to expedite talks on a treaty to halt production of fissile material used to make nuclear weapons, which has been seen as partly aimed at it?

Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions began largely as a measure to counter a perceived Indian threat and it continues to remain a non signatory of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is easy to see why Pakistan is playing ball in a forum, whose significance, rather insignificance so far has been non-achievement of consensus to chart a treaty to reduce production of fissile material. Pakistan is neither a nuclear power nor is it a signatory of the NPT, as mentioned before. However, given the current situation and flux that is has come to witness, it is important for it to take a stand on terrorism and associated concerns, nuclear weapons in particular. By calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, Pakistan has schemed a two fold objective, the first being a sound byte to the International Community on how its policies are focused on committing to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons and secondly a pressure on the Conference of Disarmament to further play footsie on the fissile treaty, opinions on which could now be divided, even though realistically speaking, the envisioning of a world free of nuclear weapons is largely Utopian, and cannot attain practical application! By echoing such a stand, Pakistan is doing nothing to change its current posture or policy, which unlike India’s does not hinge on a no-first strike! To make matters worse, the nuclear arsenal is controlled and commanded by the Pakistan army and not by the civilian government, which is unlike India, where such a system is overseen by the Nuclear Command Authority which comprises the Prime Minister and other key functionaries of the government, apart from echelons of the Armed Forces.

It is interesting to note Pakistan’s demands, at the Conference of Disarmament, which include general nuclear disarmament, guarantees from nuclear powers that they would not attack non-nuclear states, banning nuclear weapons from outer space, and the fissile cut-off pact. Given the stance that Pakistan has almost suddenly taken, one wonders, pondering over several questions that have arisen as a result. Is Pakistan firstly capable of weapons grade nuclear delivery? If so, is the nuclear arsenal in safe hands? Is there any threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the coming future?

As for the Geneva based Conference on Disarmament, which is a UN body, I would not attribute much to its actions until a concrete agreement has been hammered out, speaking of which I’d like to remind the readers of a series of timeless haggling over the past 12 years that have largely stalled its activities and agenda! Now, as I write this post, word is that ‘the way forward has been finally achieved,’ a path to begin negotiations that have been frozen for a long time now!

So much for hard bargained progress!

Hillary Clinton's visit – An Analysis

July 21, 2009 2 comments

Hillary Clinton’s love for India is not the same that is echoed by the U.S. State Department. No irony here, only reality! A number of media addresses, emphasis on education, interaction with the captains of industry and shopping expeditions later, one questions the progress of Indo-American relations given the hawkish view of the State Department and the perpetual threat of terrorism emanating from an ever turbulent Pakistan, something that hasn’t been addressed the way India would have liked the United States to have!

The Indian media made a huge fanfare of the visit and went long miles to please the visiting dignitary. The weekend newspapers were emblazoned with pictures and snippets of the Secretary while the delegation was given a warm welcome and treated to soulful Indian curries by the platter, even as news media channels staged live debates and analysis of this visit, as if it were a second-coming of the Lord himself! But, make no mistake, for Secretary Clinton came calling in warm terms as a ‘friend of India’ to which the Indian machinery found themselves swinging in musical pleasure!

I do not intend to negate or in any manner undermine the relationship Clinton shares with India, particularly in the light of her founding the India caucus in the upper house of the U.S. Congress, following her election as the senator from New York. A whole lot more has happened to cause particular warmth between her person and our nation, undoubtedly. But this visit was different and needed to be looked at differently, considering her position and Obama administration’s commitment to the world to aid ‘democratic nations’ in the war against terror.

While the State Department has sometimes, coming under some diplomatic pressure, echoed Secretary Clinton’s India bonhomie, it is common knowledge that their inclination lies oriented towards Pakistan, something which has been a happenstance for many many decades now. This attitude needs to change to bring about some level of credibility towards the statements that have been made warranting the need for increased cooperation and bilateral ties between both nations.

And then, there is the issue of terrorism originating from Pakistan, which has been proved a number of times of having the backing and complicity of state actors. This needs to be viewed very seriously. That Pakistan is an ally of the United States in the War on Terror, automatically makes it mandatory for it to shun any support for terror directed towards the Indian sovereign, something that it has repeatedly failed to adhere to as was seen even during the 26/11 episode. The United States, particularly the State Department needs to understand that a conducive environment is needed for solving issues that have long been kept at bay and state sponsored terrorism, such as that orchestrated by Pakistan, cannot help achieve such a climate.

Pakistan is fast becoming the breeding ground for global jihad and Washington needs to take cognizance of this fact and shape policies towards countering terrorist activists. While Hillary’s statement that “both nations have suffered at the hands of terrorists. And the breeding ground of this threat is India’s neighbour, Pakistan. Thus, when South Asia, described as the world’s most dangerous place and where India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are situated, is boiling, who can be the stabilizer? It can only be India which has a Muslim population that is almost five times that of Afghanistan and almost equals Pakistan’s” echoes the reality that is faced by India, it is also important to understand that anti-state elements in Pakistan were a creation of Pakistan itself and not the handiwork of an external force or element!

Terrorism is only one of the many issues that is an area of concern, apart from which there are areas such as trade, outsourcing, climate change, education and so on needing attention.

After this much publicized whirlwind trip, one really wonders about the possible outcome. Is the reality going to change? Will Indo-US relations scale new heights or is this just an eyewash that has been made to make India ‘feel good’ ahead of an impending statement in the not so distant future, which as seen in the past, will favour Pakistan and ignore the ground reality?

Also, what guarantee has the United States received that a next terror attack on its soil will not be aided by Pakistan or as they say ‘elements from within?’